Thursday, August 24, 2006

I Need Some Help

I don't know about you, but I am really good at noticing others' faults and figuring out ways that
  • their lives could be easier,
  • their children would be better behaved or
  • their day would run more efficiently.
When I was at my grandmother's house last week, one thing that she really wanted to do is to tackle the "stuff" that had accumulated in the garage, on shelves, and in closets and drawers and cabinets. We threw away a lot--old magazines and papers, mostly. I convinced her to give some things away as well. I really did not do that much, but she was pleased. In my quest to make some room, I kept repeating that if she didn't use something or need it, that we should get rid of it. For example, she had twin sheets, but no twin beds. She had at least 6 sets of full sized sheets for her guest room bed that was only slept in five to ten nights a year. One thing that I did manage to convince her to do was to pare down the number of linens, which left room for some other things on the shelves.

Am I born organizer? Is my house all pared down itself? Um, no, not quite. I found that it is much easier to convince someone else all of the rational reasons why certain things need to go. I once read (in this Don Aslett book I think) that people hold on to things for a variety of reasons, and none of them are good ones.

1. It was a gift. It does seem like a good idea to hold on to something that someone gave with good intentions. But they gave it to you for your enjoyment. Clutter complicates your life. Unused or unwanted items are clutter.

2. I might use it someday. I am guilty here. I love kitchen stuff, but I don't use all of it. Serving pieces, bowls, gadgets. . . . The advice is that if you haven't used it in a year (you could stretch it and say two), then get rid of it. If an occasion comes up to use it, you could likely easily borrow it from someone else.

3. I might wear it again. The same applies here. If you haven't worn it in a year (unless it's some sort of special occasion item), then get rid of it. The clutter in your drawers and closets make it harder to find and use things that you do want. I have moved several times and I often ask myself, "Why did I move this?" and yet I still have it.

The other thing that I read that could make it easier if it is difficult for you to let go is to put the things that make you feel doubtful in a box. Label it with the date. If a year goes by, take the unopened box to the donation site of your choice.

I am revisiting these ideas because it was so easy for me to point out ways for her to simplify, and now I want to take it to heart myself. I know that I can get rid of the extra (and well worn) sets of towels that are filling my linen closet. I know that there are clothes I can get rid of. I think that these tasks will be fairly easy. But I know that I can go deeper. So, just as it was easy for me to counsel Mimi in the ways to simplify her life, I'm asking you for ways that you have been able to pare down (or to avoid clutter in the first place if you are one of those born organized types).

What have you gotten rid of that you haven't missed? How do you keep clutter from taking over your home and your life? Do you have a system of clearing out on a regular basis?


Katrina said...

Well, my house is in need of a major decluttering, since I have not dealt with closets, drawers, etc. since before I got pregnant (a year ago!). But I have big plans to get working on it this fall. Here are some of the things I do to keep clutter down or get it back under control:

- Open the mail over the garbage can, and deal with every piece of mail immediately (bills go in a folder to pay on bill-paying day) - I never leave mail sitting on the counter, table, etc.

- Put things I haven't used in a while in boxes and put them in the basement. If I haven't used them in 6-12 months, my husband (who has no problem throwing things away) tosses them for me.

- Clean off flat surfaces every evening - the counter, dining room table, coffee table. I hate coming downstairs in the morning to cluttered surfaces!

I don't want to hog up the comment space, so I'll stop now. :)

Rachel Anne said...

Well, Katrina has some great ideas here! I like doing a once-over straightening and picking up before going to bed. That way the morning gets off to a neat start. I manage to keep things fairly tidy, but the CLOSETS! It's hard to stay on top of those!

Things I never use and ought to get rid of: chopper thingy, coffee grinder, old food processor that is missing parts.

Heather Sanders said...

We got rid of nearly everything when we moved from a 2500 sq. ft home to a 1230 sq. ft. home. WHAT A BLESSING.

If we hadn't used it in 6 months and it wasn't a seasonal item, it was gone.

If we couldn't fit into it and it couldn't be a good hand me down to the next kid, it was gone.

If it wouldn't fit in the kitchen cabinets, it was gone.

If it was china - it was sold on ebay! HA!

And on and on - because we learned that we wanted to simplify and disliked clutter.

My girls are learning slower, but last week I warned them to clean their room and they ignored. I went through the whole room with a large Army duffle and tossed all things not put up in to the duffle. They could 'earn' it back. They haven't and they've asked for NONE OF IT. The bag is going to Good Will tomorrow.

I love a clean and uncluttered home. I've few items that have emotional attachments - if someone else needs it, take it. I bet off on knick knacks and have truly simplified. The only thing we struggled with hoarding is books - and even with that we are regular contributors to our local library's stock.

Kailani said...

As for clothes, if I haven't worn it in the past year, out it goes. Sometimes I think I over simplify. I get rid of things that I wish I didn't later on.

Magnanimity said...

Just buy a bigger house. Throw it in the barn! My grandkids might like it someday! :-((((

Um...I need professional help (or just a friend to do what you did).

Joshua Lake said...

I wish I was a born organizer! I'm getting a wakeup call because I'll have a roomate this semester and so I'm now trying to cut my junk in half.

For me, I've found it helpful to look at each item and ask myself, "When was the last time I used this?" Then I ask, "When was the last time I even thought about using this?" Finally, I ask, "Will I use this in the next week?" If I can't come up with answers to the first two and I say 'no' to the last, then it goes into the donation box. Its been difficult, because I'm sentimental by nature and I have the tendency to be a packrat, but it's been rewarding to watch my room clear up and the usable space increase.

Full disclosure: I haven't been able to apply my rule to books. I have only given away or sold three non-school books in my life. It's just too hard to let books go; they each take on a personality of their own - even if I haven't read them yet.

Jennifer said...

Thanks for the helps--

Katrina--yes, mail is a bit culprit. I do throw away, but still end up with random piles sitting. I know if I resolved to tackle that, it would help out.

Rachel Anne--that's a good one--anything that is incomplete should be tossed.

Heather--It really is a blessing, and I'm going to remember that next week as I am tackling and struggling.

Mag--one thing that helped me is that we moved into a smaller house, so it made me rethink some things. I think that too much storage is not always good. In our last home with a HUGE kitchen, I had at least 4 junk drawers.

Joshua--Yes, I have books, too, but I have and do get rid of some (gradually), but I at least I have them stored neatly, so I'm okay with that for now.

Melissa said...


Sorry for coming to the discussion late. I tried Fly Lady, but that was too much stress. One thing I learned, though, was to go through a room and throw away 27 things you don't need, want, or that don't make you feel good. You do this in all rooms, then go back & repeat for as many times as you need to (not all in one day...just take one room/closet per day). You do it quick...first you don't think twice about it. It's helped me tremendously.

As far as books...I love to read Christian fiction, and usually my town library doesn't have much to offer. So, I buy them, read, then donate to my church library. (Not so with my classics & Christian non-fiction, though).

Jennifer said...

Melissa--you're not too late! In fact, I was thinking after I wrote the comment, that maybe others would think that we had it all figured out. I had forgotten about the 27 thing fling, but you're right, it works well. I don't think twice about tossing a happy meal toy in there, whereas if I'm "just cleaning," I think about the merits of this dumb free toy and why I should keep it.

Keep the comments and advice coming!

Heather said...

Good advice! I'm guilty about the first reason. I'm afraid of hurting someone's feelings. Of course, they may have forgotten they gave me the gift, especially if it's been sitting in a closet for 2 years.
I'm also just flat out lazy about going through my closet.
I think we need to move just to force us to go through junk.

Katrina said...

Oh yes, moving is a big help!! When we moved 1 1/2 years ago, we got a big dumpster, put it outside our old house and filled it - twice - with stuff that we didn't need. Furniture, books (which was very hard!), all kinds of stuff. It probably would have been better to try to sell some of it or give it away, but the whole moving thing happened quickly and we didn't have time - we just had to toss so we didn't have to move all that stuff!

And Mag, your post really made me laugh because my father-in-law built a barn in their backyard 20 years ago - so he had a place to keep all his stuff! But when he goes out of town, my mother-in-law (who loves to declutter) still goes in there and throws stuff away. :)

Dad said...

When will you be back to Texas?

Dianne said...

I do like Katrina does - toss most of the mail as soon as I go through it. Yes, I've accidentally tossed a few bills before - oops!

Also I do the Flylady 27-Fling Boogie every so often - just take a bag and go around and pick out 27 things I can pitch. SOmetimes I focus on one spot (closet or cupboard) other times it's just a general "this-stuff-is-driving-me-crazy-something's-gotta-go" fury! But it helps!

BTW - Katrina's husband has no problems tossing things because his mom is that way - I have memories of her coming over to help my mom pack when I was a kid!

Jennifer said...

Dad--I think Susan can take care of herself.

Dianne--I agree that the 27 fling fury helps, even if I'm counting trash and mail and stuff as part of the 27.

org junkie said...

Oh Jennifer I'm so sad I missed this post yesterday. Organizing is a hobbie for me (just don't ask me about my cleaning ability...two totally different things believe I'm an overwhelmed busy mom like everyone else so I can totally relate to the frustrations. I hope my site can offer some encouragement and support when it comes to organizing. I am always looking for blogging inspiration so if you have any specific topics you'd like me to cover just let me know. If its okay I may even do a post related to yours (I'll link you of course). Thanks for visiting my "new" site today. Laura

org junkie said...

Hi again, I wanted to tell you that I really like the site Susie did for you as well. She is so talented! Looking forward to reading more of your posts. Laura

Code Yellow Mom said...

This is a tough one! I have A ROOM that we moved boxes into back in February that I have yet to tackle and it's things like letters and papers - tedious to sort through, but too risky to just dump without looking (I'm pretty sure there are notes from my grandparents, etc. that would be precious to me if I bothered to find them...)

Anyway, two things I am happy about discarding are back issues of magazines and catalogs AND "the wrapping paper stash." The magazines I have just decided that anything I ever need to look up or reference is mush easier found on the internet than rummaging through a stack of magazines trying to remember what the cover of the one that had that article looked like...And the wrapping paper thing I'm going to post on my blog in the next day or two...:)

I am a big believer in get rid of anything you haven't used in a year. Truly - we need to own our things instead of our things owning us.

PEZmama said...

I have, since the beginning of 2006, been slowly decluttering, ala Fly Lady. (

I have gotten rid of books, clothing, tons of unused cosmetic items, linens, a george foreman grill. So much stuff, really. I am definitely using the "if I haven't used it in a year" rule for clothes and for many other things as well.

I don't miss anything I have gotten rid of. When you don't miss the stuff, and you start to love how UNcluttered everything is, it gets a lot easier to let go of things without much thought.

Other things I have done: called companies that are sending me catalogs to get my name off of their mailing list. I figure I can go online if I really want something; do something with the mail as soon as it comes in the house (pitch it or file where it needs to be;) purchase storage containers so that the things I do keep have their own space; when purchasing things, my goal is to only do so if takes the place of something that I am going to get rid of.

I do get two magazines that I really do like to refer back to. For my quilt magazines, I keep them in a magazine file, but only if there is pattern in them I want to try. For the "Family Fun" magazine, I cut out the projects that I want to do with the kids, slip them in a plastic page protector, and file them all in a binder. This way I don't have to keep the whole magazine.

Also thinking about getting rid of a couch. It NEVER gets used... it just collects junk, so why keep it?

Life is definitely less complicated when you have less stuff. And I like that. A LOT!

I have found some good tips at too.