There are two kinds of people in the world. Those whose clutter makes them feel secure and gives them comfort. And those whose clutter gives them anxiety.
I fall into the second category. I feel overwhelmed by too much.
My mother and my husband fall into the first category. This is a problem. Not for them, but for me. People who enjoy clutter are seldom bothered by those who do not. At least until their clutter goes missing.
My mother’s house is one (of many) reasons I fled Illinois at the age of 20 and moved to Texas — to find some wide open uncluttered space, albeit in a 350-square foot apartment. All I owned at the time was a box of coat hangers so clutter was not a problem. My husband, on the other hand, with that whole until death do us part thing, I can’t really just move to another state. So I gotta figure something out.
Let it be said first and foremost, that I love my mother with all of my heart. I love her and I admire her. I just can’t be in her house for more than a day. People love to drop by and visit my mother’s house, the door is always open and the coffee pot always on, but growing up in her house was stressful for me. There was never any place to set anything down, you couldn’t ever find what you needed and if you did happen to find it, you would knock over or spill something in the process of getting to it and then once you had it in your hands, there was no place to set it down.
On the contrary, I could go out to the garage, my father’s domain, and every nut and bolt was stored neatly together by size and clearly labeled. And that made me feel happy and peaceful and as though all was well in the world. Everything had a place and when not in use, was right there, in its happy little place. My dad and I were alike and he was very happily married to my mother who is like AD — so I know a mixed marriage can work. Somehow. On the other hand my dad was a really easy going guy, a go with the flow sort of guy and I don’t believe anyone has ever described me that way.
Let it also be said that I love my husband, but for the past 15 years I have slowly given up on trying to keep order and have succumbed to drowning in his clutter. But recently it has become apparent to me that the disorder and clutter that I had come to accept was causing chaos in our lives and that chaos created a lingering gray cloud of unhappiness and strife. We were always cross with one another. We were living in a constant state of emergency, constantly running late, never able to find anything because 90% of our space was being occupied by stuff that we don’t use, won’t use, can’t use and don’t love. And I felt some resentment about that and that resentment further contributed to the collective unhappy. Resentment never adds to happy, does it?
And more than anything in this whole world, I want a peaceful house and a happy family – so some changes are in order.
You might think that one day I snapped and said, no more, but that’s not really what happened, although that’s usually how things go with me. What happened was that one day I decided to work on me, to do what I could with de-cluttering and bringing order to my own small realm, bit by bit, day by day.
My guiding philosophy to de-cluttering and bringing order is this: Do I use it? Do I love it? If the answer is no to both of these questions, then it has to go. Clutterers will say, no I don’t love it, and I can’t use it, but it’s good, somebody might need this, someday I might need this. I say, if it is good and useful, give it to someone who will use it right now, not some day. Hanging on to stuff until it is no longer usable by anyone is one of the defining characteristics of hoarding.
I started by de-cluttering my on-line life. (My friend Karla writes about that here.) I had numerous email accounts. I closed most of them. I closed on-line accounts and unsubscribed to email lists and blog feeds. I had a number of web sites; I pared them down to three. I got a password manager so all my passwords would be in one place. And that’s the key to bringing order to life: cut out the unnecessary and unused and put all similar items together in one place.
One day I woke up and the silk plants were on my nerves. They were dusty, and truth be told, I never liked fake greenery. So I got a garbage bag and went around the house and gathered them up and ruthlessly tossed them in, I maybe even tossed them in with a little therapeutic force. Such a small thing, but it felt amazing to have them gone.
One day I woke up and all the magazines and books were on my nerves. So I culled out the books I love and use and the rest I boxed up and sold to Half Price Books or sent to charity. Text books from college did not need to occupy space in my life, nor did magazines or newspapers. Listen up people, if you haven’t read an article within one month of the publication date, it’s probably out of date. And even if it isn’t, you can find it on the information highway.
One day I woke up and sifted through my closet. I pulled out 50% of my clothes and shoes and purses and sent them to charity. I had stuff in my closet that I had not worn in three years, or even10 years, and in some cases probably 30 years — and I wasn’t going to ever wear that stuff ever again. Several months later I weeded out again. I could still get rid of another 50% of my clothes and have more clothes than a girl needs. I keep a box in my closet and when I try something on and it doesn’t work, into the box it goes. When the box gets full, I take a second glance just to make sure and then I send it off. Now I have a little space between my clothes as they hang peacefully in the closet and I can see exactly what I have. I no longer go out and buy another white shirt because I know what I have.
One day I woke up and Sean’s toys were on my nerves. So I sorted through them and chunked all the fast food toys and broken toys. I stored all the toys in the attic that he had outgrown but that we still have a sentimental attachment. Maybe in another year, we won’t feel sentimental towards those things and we’ll pass them along. It’s always good to re-visit and re-evaluate the things you have stashed away.
One day I woke up and my medicine cabinet was on my nerves. I tossed out all the expired prescriptions. I put all the band-aids together in one space, all the tummy medicine in one space, all the other like medicines together. I must have had six boxes of Benedryl. Because our allergies are that bad? No, because I could never find the Benedryl so I would go out and buy more.
The next day I purged my make-up drawer and the drawer I keep brushes and combs in. I threw out bottles of lotion that had gone bad and probably weren’t good to begin with.
I threw out all the hotel soaps and shampoos we had hoarded over the years. And we have travelled a lot so we had a very large supply. But let’s face it. If you don’t use them at the hotel, why would you use them at home? You won’t. Don’t bring them home.
I plan to go through my paper photos and pull out the good ones and throw out the rest. There is no reason to keep a blurry photo of the ceiling. I will organize my pared down collection of good photos in an orderly way so that I can actually enjoy them instead of looking at a massive box of photos and feel so overwhelmed that I just shove it back on the shelf.
The process of de-cluttering the whole house overwhelmed me for so long that I just couldn’t get started, it was easier to let it go another day, and then all those days turned into years. I think what happened for me naturally, just focusing on paring down one item at a time, starting with something like dusty fake greenery that didn’t require an emotional decision, helped make it doable and helped to get me started. And it felt so good that it wasn’t hard to keep going and I realized I didn’t have to do it all at once.
I’m just getting started. I have got a long way to go, but I am on a mission to bring order to my house and peace and happy to my family and I’m going to do it, one box at a time.
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Instead of 50 ways to leave your clutter, how about 101? If you are interested in simplifying and minimizing your life, Becoming Minimalist is a great place to start.