Eating The Elephant of Clutter (Episode 274)
You know that old saying about how to eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Well that's definitely the case for clutter. It can get out of hand, and then you're hit with way too much and not sure where to start. Well look no further. Let's take it a "bite" at a time and see how clutter can be curbed, and your home can be a place of joy.
What Are You Tolerating?
As I was looking at what we wanted to address on the Mama Says Namaste podcast, I posed this question to our audience online:
What are you tolerating that you'd like to change in your house?
You can answer the question and share your story on any of these links below - we'll be addressing the answers on the next few podcast episodes:
Not only do I want to hear what you're tolerating, if you've moved through this and gotten to the other side, I want to hear your story! Can you share about something that was a struggle in the past that you've now moved past and overcome? Drop me a note and share your story. It may be the inspiration and encouragement someone else needs to hear.
We're not waiting for life to be perfect; simply to keep the flow of goodness in our lives going as smoothly as we can as we learn new insights!
Less Is More
There once was a time I lived in a house over 3,000 square feet. I got married, and Nathan 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… Nathan – he had an equally ridiculous (at least in my opinion) of dead animals! Yes, 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.
It's Okay To Go 80/20
As I cleaned up and cleared out, I had to be conscious of not beating myself up when I added one more thing to the clutter, or couldn't yet let go of something. Don’t be such a die-hard that it stresses you out and you can allow for no flexibility. So 80% of the time, stay true with what lines up for you – being vegan, a minimalist, whatever.
And 20% of the time, it’s okay to change that up a bit – don’t be so strict in your rules that you won’t bend to accommodate another. Especially when it comes to what brings someone else joy, like gift-giving. We address this on the podcast - the greatest gift for the giver is that it is received well, and oftentimes gifts are given with the greatest of intentions. That's ultimately going to result in some things being added to your home that weren't what you intended.
On the topic of gift-giving, look beyond a physical gift and think about experiences or consumables that don’t take up space - it's a great thing to suggest to friends and family, as well as something you can do as gifts beyond adding one more thing to someone else's home. Here is a whole episode on being a minimalist family with clutter-loving friends.
Trim your clutter back to what is needed and used – do you really need the WHOLE cooking set? Five spatulas? Do you need to hold on to items that are a gadget that is used only once a year?How many things take up space in our house for the sake of saving a few minutes in the preparation process?
Maybe slowing down the prep process helps you get more intentional with your cooking. It's all about the way you perceive it.
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. Maybe you do one closet. One room. The garage. Or maybe it's just a junk drawer. Do you really need to hold on to every screw and electronic cord? How expensive is it in the “one day” event that you may need it?
Or, if you want to go more Marie Kondo style, choose one theme. Books, clothes, electronics and cords...gather every single one of them in your house. Focus on a theme and start sorting those.
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 your mind a chance to see it with new creative eyes.
Completely clean the area – make it all bare. Start with a clean slate. Then only put out what is essential. If it’s something you don’t use frequently, you don’t need to have it all out on display.
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.
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.
Allow for some blank space for your eyes to rest – the same as reading a book.
Everything else is subject to the three piles.
- Thrift/Gift – practical, but not necessary…like having 5 spatulas. Maybe it’s something someone has admired in your home or it has a good story – and it’s even more special because it came from your home that you cherished. It’s even okay to (gasp) re-gift. Pass it on to people who really enjoy them. That doesn’t mean you just turn around and get rid of things, but sometimes they stay with you for a season and then it’s time to pass it on.
- Trash – take a picture if it’s special, and that may be nicer than holding on to a glitter-laden huge poster.
- Keep – you use it regularly, and/or it brings great joy to someone in your family.
#1 - To Give
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, Nextdoor, Craigslist and more.
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).
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!
Remember there are many ways to donate. And be careful not to be that person who just dumps your excess on someone else, like the friend who dumps all her children's hand-me-downs on the new mama who is now swimming in clothes that aren't even her style (yep, happened to me)!
Beyond Goodwill or the one friend who likes a deal but doesn't need the clutter, think about these options:
And, if you have that thing at your home a friend has admired, or you know someone who would truly enjoy it, maybe it's time to share the wealth as a thoughtful gift! I will openly admit, I am a second-hand gifter. This is different than dumping a box of giveaway items on someone. This is an intentional selection from your home because it reminds you of that person and you know it would bring them joy.
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 or using items that were collecting dust at my place. Remember the old adage, one (wo)man’s trash is another (wo)man’s treasure.
A Word On Clothes...
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, 99% of my clothes were bought second-hand and I had about a $20 rule on how much on spend on clothes for myself and the girls. It wasn't like I was getting rid of super pricey items, and it’s not like I couldn't replace them with something else easily. Women’s and children’s clothes are in abundance at consignment and thrift stores!
Honestly...this is something that has checked me a bit. Simply buying clothes second-hand isn't always the best option. For us, buying those second-hand clothes meant I was also less attached to them, and didn't hesitate on throwing them out because of those easy replacements. So the easy hand-offs to thrift store just justified more opportunities to bring in more clothes than necessary because of a "deal", and quickly throw them out vs. take time to mend something.
As we've become more and more conscious of our impact on the environment, it's come to our attention the alarming impact of the textile and clothing industry. We started looking at more sustainable fashion that takes into account their own carbon footprint.
While we still find things second-hand, I'm way more likely to invest in a quality piece of clothing from a sustainable source and wear it to the ground vs. wear something a few times and get rid of it. Here are a few places to start looking if you're interested in more sustainable options:
"It is estimated that 100 billion clothing items are made annually, and 92 million tonnes end up in landfills. That is the equivalent of 1 garbage truck every second.
The price is paid in:
- 10% of global carbon emissions
- 342 million barrels of petroleum for plastic fibers
- 20% of global wastewater
- garment worker exploitation and more
This is from @Environment and sourced from the BBC, Wired, The Guardian, CNN, Bloomberg, Earth.org, Business Insider, Restofworld.org and Good on You.
If you're looking to learn more about our climate and how we can make a positive impact, check out The Carbon Almanac and all the supporting free resources.
I'd love to hear from you in the comments below if there is a sustainable clothing option you love. As our girls have grown, they have gotten proactive in researching what they wear and the impact it has. I'm looking forward to slowly replacing our wardrobe with clothes we love and are good stewards of, as well as recognizing it's impact on our environment.
#2 - To Trash
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. This is key - don't think you're going to get to it "one day". It'll always remain "one day" until you put a date on it. So if you are keeping it to fix it, it is only if you have a time/date set on your calendar that it's happening, so it can go in the give or put back piles.
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).
#3 - To Love
There are those things that are just too hard to let go of. Sometimes because we're wrapped up in obligation, knowing the investment someone else made or the memory it holds. If you're like me, sometimes you just have too much of things you love, like all my crystals and geods - so many beautiful stones, yet it's not like I can lug every rock with me in an RV (if you haven't seen The Long Long Trailer with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, it's a hoot, and she tries to carry all her rocks in her RV).
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 reassess at a later date.
Use this clean slate to clear the clutter and go as minimal as possible. To experience your house without the clutter and the decoration, and just as it is from a fully functional standpoint.
Once your space is clean, don’t use this as permission to go out and bring more in. Ask yourself, “What is the goal for that item? What will it bring back into my life?” When you bring one thing in, maybe that’s when you eliminate 2-3 items you already have.
Don’t let things limit your experience. If your children’s clothes make you stressed for them to play and explore, are you holding them back from free play? It can be so fun to play dress-up. But when they are so fancy you have to sit prim and proper, it can truly limit you. Or you have so many outfits, your mind is spent just making a decision on what to wear. Get durable, sustainable clothes. Have your designated messy clothes. And use them all. Be a good steward of what you have by actually using - not storing - stuff in your home.
Don't get so overloaded with your things that your free time is spent just cleaning them up. Whatever items are in your home are to enhance what you want to create, not to pull away from. So if you spend more time putting all the pillows on your bed than you actually do enjoying them, maybe it's time to pull back on some throw pillows, for example (yes, something my husband begged for).
The more you trim choices down, the more clear and vibrant your decision-making will be.
Sleep on your decision-making. If you don’t touch it in six months, give it to someone else who would enjoy it. Sell quality items to save up money for the events you could do instead.
Look for ways to clear clutter, and focus more on one another. Go through my "minimalist to-do list" for more ideas, and share with us how you're decluttering.
As you go to declutter, look at the sustainability and stewardship of what you have in your home.
How will you shop differently moving forward?
How will you be a better steward of the items you already have in your home?
This week, maybe you don't go shopping. Don't bring back a "basketful of justifications", as Nathan says. What area of clutter in your home can you chip away at first?
We are bound to mess up. It's not about getting it perfect. Be aware. Look at what you're truly willing to "come back to" (listen to the podcast for reference)
Get clear on the what and the why for what fills space in your home. What is truly worth holding onto, and how can you be the best steward of it? Can you repurpose, re-gift, or highlight things in a different way so it truly brings joy in your home? Your home is your sanctuary. Make it a haven of peace and those things that light you up, not bring you down.
Live at the point of gratitude and abundance for what you have and what is. Notice how much of an impact it makes when you clear the space and give yourself a blank space to start - without guilt, shame or clutter. Simply start.
Open your eyes to a different level of awareness and different habits as a family. Focus on the blank space that allows your soul to breathe. Get intentional about making space for the things - even the literal knick knacks - that bring you joy, and ensure it's clear enough to notice them. Bring those joy sparks into your life on a daily basis, and allow the clutter of the past to be your fuel for awareness on a more spacious future!