A Job Half Done
Would you like a clean and organized home that makes it easy to get on with living the life you want?
Two years ago, when we thought we might have to move, I started seriously decluttering many years of accumulation. I went room by room, weeding things out, and then weeding some more. Midway through the process we suddenly sold the house and had to move. I never quite finished the decluttering and many boxes of the unfinished business moved along with us.
In the past few weeks I’ve been trying to finish the process. Thoroughly. No monkey business this time.
Decluttering Has Become A Sexy Business
When I look online for decluttering and organizational ideas, I see a lot of ‘experts’ suggesting you buying lots of spiffy binders, folders, boxes, bins, label makers, tags, and shelves to neatly store all your stuff. But for me, that’s just another branch of hoarding. Pretty excess.
I’m not saying I don’t find it attractive (I do, somewhat) but it’s often not really dealing with the problem of having too much stuff or spending too much time managing stuff. And it’s costly.
For me, the effort and investment has to match how frequently the stuff is used. I’ll write more on priority organizing another time. It’s a method I employed at business I used to work for and it saved a lot of time and money. Hint: don’t spend time with a lot of file folders and alphabetization for rarely accessed information.
On the other end of the spectrum, going full-out minimalist can turn into another form of hoarding. Instead of hoarding stuff, one hoards the absence of stuff. In an extreme example, the quest to have a very sparse home and protect it from any new acquisitions starts shutting out people and experiences. The rules take presidente over the relationships.
I’ve leaned toward this end of the Stuff Spectrum as well and it quickly becomes dysfunctional, particularly if you are at all artistically inclined. Making stuff uses supplies and takes up space. And it’s fun. Which is kind of the point of living, no?
My goal right now is to declutter and get the house in good, working order without buying anything. Or waiting a good long time to make sure I really want and need to. I love the idea that I don’t really need anything new and I can work it out without adding anything more. In other words, the ruby slippers have been on my feet all along and everything I need is already right here.
I have one of those odd families that neither notices mess or clutter or care whether it’s there or not. Though, when presented with the idea of reducing clutter, they lean heavily toward ‘Ah, just leave it for now.’ Which translates as ‘forever’. I, however, was one of those freaky little kids who found cleaning my room to be tremendously therapeutic. Still do.
Today, as the Chief Domestic Engineer in our household, I need the house organized in a way that makes sense to me, and is easy to clean and find things. I love a tidy-looking home along with the pursuit of lots of creative endeavors. For many years this was not within my grasp but now, as the kids are older, I finally get to have my cake and eat it too. Clean, comfortable, and fun.
How To Get There
It’s simply a lot easier to do my job if:
- we just have what we need (not more)
- everything we do have has a logical place (everyone knows where to find stuff)
- each room is easy to keep clean and performs the intended function.
Emotionally-Charged Stuff Is Highly Overrated
As I’ve been working on this recent round of decluttering I realized that I clearly left the hardest decisions to last. At the old house I got rid of the easy, low-hanging fruit. Now it’s down to the nitty gritty. Everyone will find certain aspects of decluttering straight forward and later stumble upon their own emotional hotspots.
I had an epiphany as I got rid of stuff at our old house one day when I asked my husband about something and realized that the stuff I was hanging onto had zero meaning for him, and the stuff that he hangs onto has no meaning for me. I know I can’t change what he keeps, but that objectivity from him enabled me to let go of whole bunch of things that were really just my own emotional clutter in a bunch of tidy looking bins. You can save stuff from the past and try to give it to future generations but really, for the most part, they want to come up with their own treasures.
Reasons We Keep Stuff
Beyond the items we use and enjoy each day, most of us own a lot of stuff that rarely gets used. The reasons for hanging onto it generally falls into these categories:
- Sentimental (memorabilia)
- Bargains (didn’t need it but it was a good deal)
- Technology (there’s always something shiny and new to behold)
- Knowledge (books)
- Hidden Clutter (easier to stuff into spaces than deal with)
- I (Or Someone Else) Might Need That One Day (and caring too much about where stuff ends up)
While I have lived through all of these reasons and have gradually shed them one by one, my last holdout seems to be I (Or Someone Else) Might Need That One Day which left me with a lot of tools and hardware to sort, some fancy old sewing machines, and some what-if piles of riff raff.
The I Might Need That One Day excuse is growing old for me. Yes, I might need that widget or wadget, and yes, stuff costs money and why waste it?, but really, if you measure the stress of keeping, maintaining, organizing, cleaning, storing, and moving many items, their value wears thin. Easier to borrow or obtain what’s needed later if the need really truly arises. Or just do without and go do something fun instead. I mean, we are burning daylight here.
That said, I do think it’s wise to engage in some emergency preparedness but the stuff we all hoard rarely falls into the category of useful during times of woe.
Ways To Declutter and Get Organized
If I had it to do over when my kids were little, I would organize the rooms by purpose, centralizing all books, art supplies, games, toys, and other items used by everyone. This would clear a lot of bedroom clutter and make sure good supplies do not get overlooked or repurchased.
I like this idea of centralized resources for neighborhoods as well: think of all the items we each purchase but rarely use (specialized garden tools, ladders, etc.). In a better world we could be sharing these things and saving a lot of money. Hippy dreams forever.
Peter Walsh has excellent advice on decluttering and home organization. My favourite is the audio version of his book, Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat? The name comes from the rather intriguing relationship between excess, clutter, overconsuming, debt, and overeating. Booya!
Peter poses these questions when decluttering:
- What do you want from your life?
- What is the purpose of each space in your home?
Useful Decluttering Tips
- Instead of tidying up and trying to make everything fit in neat, labelled bins, try assessing the real purpose and function of each room. Empty the room and then just return that which supports its purpose. If it doesn’t fit the space or function, get rid of it.
- If you enjoy a tidy look, keep all flat surfaces clear.
- When you give everything a place, make sure your choices are realistic. Is it easy to get to frequently used items? Will I be able to maintain this?
- When decluttering, start small. For me, getting the fridge clean and nicely sorted provided an excellent start. Others find cleaning out their clothes closet a fresh, new beginning.
- Never acquire any new shelves or containers until you have completely sorted, reduced, and organized the items so you can see what you actually need. If you’re like me, you may not need anything to make it work.
- Stop shopping. Take a month off from buying anything but food. This is a great way to become aware of your habits, step back, and see what you really want and need and discover how much of your current stuff you actually use. Again, the connection between clutter, overconsumption, debt, and overeating may come into focus.
Solutions For Typical Clutter Excuses
- Sentimental (memorabilia) – Emotional Clutter – keep one or two items and display them prominently. Take photos of the rest and let it go.
- Bargains (didn’t need it but it was a good deal) – Adrenalin Clutter – Stop shopping. Donate the surplus to charities. There’s always another sale….
- Technology (so much easier to buy electronics than responsibly dispose of them) – Trend Clutter – Consider using things up until they have worn out.
- Knowledge (books) – Ego Clutter – Allow one bookshelf of favourites you will read again and let the rest go. You really don’t have to prove your worth.
- Hidden Clutter (easier to stuff into spaces than deal with) – Emotional Clutter – You can run but you can’t hide. Get it all out in the open, do inventory, assess your needs, and let the rest go.
- I (Or Someone Else) Might Need That One Day – Fear-based Clutter – trust that will be able to get what you need when you need it and not have to stockpile for every eventuality. And, when getting rid of stuff, it’s truly not worth the time and energy to stress over who gets what. Just let it go and get on with it.
How I’m Doing It
- Fridge – So important to keep the fridge well-organized and clean, especially during the harvest months when so much food is passing through. As I mentioned, some people get a real boost by starting with a closet decluttering, but we don’t really have closet issues here. Punny!
- Shed – It was a huge challenge to get the frequently used seasonal items in order without buying any storage gizmos. All the tools were sent to the basement for central sorting.
- Patio – This is my garden art making headquarters and it was looking pretty wild. All tools and supplies from here were also sent to the basement for sorting.
- Bedrooms – We don’t have many clothes or shoes so this was easy. Our closets were already sparse. Clothes not worn in a year were removed for donation.
- Bathrooms – Not much stuff in here either. Phew!
- My Office – This was a tricky one. It’s headquarters for our businesses (papers!) plus creative endeavors (writing, painting, knitting, sewing, quilting). Decided to take the plunge and sell all but the two healthiest sewing machines (neither one is fully functional). Selling some cool older ones I collected.
- Livingroom – Cabinet with office supplies was emptied and everything went to basement to create a central inventory location to avoid duplicate purchases in the future. Rest of livingroom is sparse, comfortable, and easy to clean.
- Diningroom – Not much here except a cute rabbit, the piano, and my boxes of garden seeds on the table!
- Kitchen – I seriously cleaned up our kitchen supplies before we moved so it’s not too crazy. Plus we have more cabinet space than we need. Never thought I’d be able to say that. More minor sorting to do here.
- Basement – It took three days to sort through the tools etc. Mentally draining! It’s all good now. Just need something to put nails, screws, etc in. Will hold out for a good sale on hardware cabinets if I can’t find used ones. This may be my only purchase after decluttering the entire house. Not bad.
- Laundry Room – Ended up painting the wood panelling white. Looks good! This room houses the tools and paint. Everything has a place and is easy to find. Love it! Plus there’s lots of room to hang laundry to dry. I’m proud to say I don’t actually know how to use our dryer.
- Garage – I know this can be a trouble zone for some families but not us. It really just has our bikes and stuff for donation and disposal and empty boxes from moving. We have the space for the boxes and will use them again so it’s fine. Getting rid of the unwanted pile of stuff is my next challenge. Ug. And double Ug. In our old town it was as simple as putting it out on the curb with a ‘free’ sign. Here, it requires ads, planning, and effort.
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