There once was a time I lived in a house over 3,000 square feet. I got married, and my husband and I moved into a tiny apartment in student housing while I completed my degree. My office space was literally 3 1/2 feet wide. Yet we made that sweet home ours, and this was the first of my experience of really letting go of “stuff”. I was ready to really, truly declutter.
I had a ridiculous collection of roses – with it being my favorite flower growing up as well as it being my middle name – it was the go-to gift for me. I had rose everything – teacups, knick knacks, dried flowers, more knick knacks… And Nathan – he had an equally ridiculous (at least in my opinion) of dead animals! I was that crazy vegetarian girl everyone joked would marry a hunter, and that’s exactly what I did! So we agreed to decorate our new home together, and let go of the antlers, animal skins, rose everything, and all the clutter we had accumulated from our teen years.
We moved to Knoxville lot lighter on stuff and with $462 in our pockets from the big garage sale we had – declutter success. And we started to create our own sweet little home together. With barely any money, struggling to find a job and going to school, we came upon “Freecycle” and had a hay day. We found (and sold) things on Craigslist, and created such a sweet little home. It was tiny, but it was ours, and just as we liked it.
Fast forward ten years later – we were at 1,450 square feet in our home in Nashville, with three children and a dog under our feet all the time. We were busting at the seams – my thrifty shopping and use of hand-me-downs meant that we had a ton of great deals and finds in our home, and so, so much clutter.
I was going crazy. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I’d walk into our home and immediately be hit with a wave of to-do lists. And my life was quickly becoming one clean-up project after another. I’d declutter one area to immediately find another. Or I’d throw it all in a box to deal with later, and then immediately have another buildup. There were so many clothes and children’s toys it was pointless to clean. Anyone else try to clean up with toddlers and a baby in the house? Yes, I hear you chuckling now. It’s an absolutely hopeless endeavor, especially when you have your house packed to the gills with STUFF.
So I started moving things out. I started looking carefully at what things we really needed, and what we didn’t. Here are some tips that allowed me to get my life back – to stop spending it weeding through or cleaning up all the stuff, but to have the time to just be and enjoy my family.
Declutter one room (or area) at a time:
Do a timeline that works for you – it may be you just focus in on one junk drawer, one closet, or one room. Take it in bite-size pieces so you aren’t overwhelmed. Don’t try to tackle the whole upstairs in one day! It’s all about baby steps to make it manageable.
Start with a blank slate.
Clear out everything. Don’t leave anything you have to work around. Empty out all the stuff – especially in a drawer or closet. This allows you to experience what the area looks like minus all the clutter, and gives you mind a chance to see it with new creative eyes.
You may come up with an idea for placement that is completely different. If you can do this with a whole room, props to you. If not, start in one corner and work your way around, looking at each small area with fresh eyes and assessing the big pieces first.
It’s amazing what a little Feng Shui mindset can do, and it starts with a bare space, and placement with intention. And don’t ever, ever, just fill your home with obligation. Make sure what you put out sings to you and your family – not just an obligatory gift you have to hang on to.
As you clear out and declutter, create three piles: Give, Love, and Trash.
Once you have that blank slate, you are going to put back the essentials – the things you use every day. In the kitchen, it will be the everyday dishes, the utensils, the cups. In the bathroom, your toothbrushes, toothpaste, and things you use everyday. You can immediately put back the everyday use items in every area. Everything else is subject to the three piles.
What all can you donate? What is perfectly useful but just isn’t needed much in your life? If you have something that is really worth a lot, you can always get some extra cash by posting it on FaceBook or Craigslist. At this point Facebook has plenty of “for sale” groups in every area where you can post things, and I like the personal aspect of it where you really know who is coming to your house to buy. I’ve sold quite a few things on there that have ended up going to people I know personally!
How many kitchen gadgets do you have that you haven’t used in a year? How about the single-function item you had, and then your new gizmo does this and so much more (i.e. me switching from a blender, chopper, smoothie maker, food processor, coffee grinder to the Vitamix, and a crock-pot, pressure cooker, yogurt maker, rice maker and soup pot to the one and only InstantPot).
What about those clothes you never wear and are just taking up space in your closet? You can try a little trick first – place all the hangers backward, and only switch them forward when you wear it – see how little you actually utilize in a 90 day time-period – you typically wear 20% of your clothes 80% of the time. For me, since 99% of my clothes are bought second-hand and I have about a $20 rule on how much on spend on clothes for myself and the girls, it’s not like I’m getting rid of super pricey items, and it’s not like I can’t replace them with something else easily. Women’s and children’s clothes are in abundance at consignment and thrift stores! If you’re like me, you also were blessed with so many hand-me-down items for your children, you can go until they are nine without ever shopping for clothes for them! And, I have to admit, it’s fun to shop for kid’s clothes – so only keep what they really wear, and give away the rest – spread the love, and if something is really needed, it’s a perfect excuse for a shopping trip with your child for some special one-on-one time.
Look at your countertops and shelves – anywhere out in the open. Make sure those are completely cleared off and be very intentional about what you put back up. Remember, less is more – it allows your soul to breathe. If it’s just taking up space on your counter and doesn’t really have a space in your heart, give it away!
And on that note, I will openly admit, I am a second-hand gifter. Oftentimes there are precious things I love – a beautiful vase, teapot, sweater, book…and yet it is just one more unnecessary item in my home. My first thought for gifting is who would really appreciate it that I know. I’m thrilled when my friends and family can benefit from something I had, and it’s fun to see them proudly wearing jewelry and clothes, using items that were collecting dust at my place. Remember the old adage, one (wo)man’s trash is another (wo)man’s treasure.
Broken? You have two choices – fix it or trash it. Rip in clothes? Mend it or trash it. If you are handy and want to fix things, create a pile that has to be fixed this week or it goes in the trash. Clothes with stains, super worn out, broken and super worn toys, the gazillion pieces of paper your child has scribbled on, little party favors (oh, those party favors. Consumables, people – one time use and they are done!) – throw it away. On those cute artsy things your children have done, save the most precious and take pictures of the rest. You can use a cool service like Chatbooks to make a photo album of them all and save yourself the clutter of a ton of different size pictures. (This is a great way to remember all the little mementos – favorite outfits, stuffed animals, etc – take a picture and put it in a little album! My girls love to look through these and reminisce about favorite items and moments).
This pile is when you just can’t bring yourself to get rid of it. These are the things you haven’t used in a while – that favorite shirt that is off-season for now, the sentimental trinket that has too much of a story to let go of, but it’s just too much bulk/clutter/dust collector to set out all the time, and those toys your children swear are so, so special (even though you haven’t seen them play with them in six months). For this stack, you have a bin, a garbage bag, or whatever container you want, and you can come back to these later. Put them in the attic or basement – somewhere completely out of sight and mind for a while. Not to get rid of, but to re-assess at a later date.
This is a start. Clear the clutter in your everyday space. Clean it out and go as minimal as possible.
Next we’ll get to the attic, garage and basement. For now, commit to one space every day for this next week. You have the weekend to get started.
On your busy days, tackle a toy box, a closet, or a drawer. And do at least one room this week. You’ll be amazed at how much this can do for your soul!
I’d love to see before and after pictures as you go through things, and hear stories of how you repurposed, re-gifted, and decluttered your spaces!