Decluttering is a hot topic right now. And that’s really good, because we need less stuff that clutters our lives and more stuff that adds value. But how do we know which is which and how to get from here to there? Here are 8 steps I’ve taken over the past 6 months. I hope sharing them will give one real life example to encourage you and get your wheels turning about what this could look like for you.
1. Embraced the idea
A couple of years ago I started reading books like American Mania and Shiny Objects that made me start to really reevaluate how I viewed stuff, the role it should have in our lives, and the pros and cons of owning more vs less. I began to truly become convinced that the kids would not only be ok, but actually happier and more creative if they had fewer toys. I also started to believe that I would be freer with fewer possessions sitting around the house ‘available’ for ideas or projects, than the freedom I thought I had in keeping those items on hand. In short, I think the first crucial step to decluttering is to believe (or at least embrace the hope) that it will improve your quality of life and get you closer to your values and the life you want for your family.
2. Took stuff away for a trial period
So I began to put things away in the attic. Fortunately we have a fairly large attic space into which I was able to pack more and more items to see if we would miss them. I would frequently be frustrated at how poorly the boys would pick up their toys. Whenever I ended up picking up after them, I started taking the toys and keeping them. I’d fill a box and put them in the attic, often reuniting special sets of toys and keeping them out. What worked best was to rotate the toys, leaving a few sets out, putting others away and then switching them out. Right now the duplos are away, but I’m about to get them out and put the wooden trains away.
As a guiding principle I’ve used the idea from Organized Simplicity by Tsh Oxenreider of keeping what I know to be functional or believe to be useful. I keep it out if I use it or love it. I have a beautiful, simple light blue pitcher on a shelf in my kitchen. I rarely use it, but it makes me smile, so it’s staying right where it is. The candle next to it is destined for the next garage sale.
For several months I’ve been accumulating stuff in the attic and waiting to see what we will miss, what I will pull out to entertain the boys, what they will ask for. Some toys such as nerf guns, and hotwheels track are good for rotating and rainy days but are time-consuming to supervise and clean up after. So while these spend a good deal of time in the attic, I am not going to get rid of them. When I set those aside, I am left with a large portion of our attic full of perfectly good items that we simply haven’t missed and don’t need.
3. Started with the easy stuff
Last month I went through the house and gave myself permission to either trash or donate everything that I didn’t want in the house that would cost $5 or less to replace. This was particularly helpful in the pantry, and with cheap toys and some craft supplies. Stripping away this layer gave me momentum, a feeling of accomplishment, and the confidence to take the next step.
4. Letting go and looking ahead
An idea that is currently gaining traction is the capsule wardrobe. You may have heard of it through the idea of Project 333 (wear only 33 items for 3 months) or similar ideas like a 40-item wardrobe. While I am currently in my ‘transition’ clothes while I’m losing the baby weight from my fourth and final pregnancy, I am quite intrigued by the idea. After each baby I have gotten mostly to my ‘pre-baby’ weight, but not really to my ‘pre-marriage’/’pre-first-baby’ weight so I have clothes that I have kept along the way, for the day that I would be ‘myself again’ and fit into them. I’ve gone through them over the years and whittled them down, I thought.
But I’ve found incredible freedom in the idea of trying Project 333 when I get back to 140ish lbs, and then switching to more of a capsule wardrobe idea, where you just have quality clothes you really love, that go together, and when you buy new items, something has to go. This idea has freed me to get rid of several more bins of clothes, many of which I’ve realized I wouldn’t want to wear anyway, because let’s face it, as 35 yr old I won’t be wearing the same thing I was wearing 10 years ago as a 25 year old. I’ve grown up, and the world (of fashion) has moved on too. I do have certain items that I’ve kept, but it was so freeing to just keep the clothes i loved and not keep anything just because it’ll fit if and when I am that size again.
5. Sorted stuff by destination
I found out when our neighborhood garage sale is (in 2 weeks), and I saved a letter we got in the mail that included a bag and told me what day they’d come by to pick up donations. This past winter I filled a bag or two a few times and sent my husband to drop them off at Goodwill. I knew I could add additional bags, so I decided to take advantage of the opportunity and donate all the small stuff, mostly clothes, books and toys, that would be a hassle at a garage sale. I put out so many bags and boxes – nearly a dozen – that I worried they wouldn’t take them all, but when I got home this afternoon they were gone.
I already feel lighter, and I’m also amazed at how much stuff is still upstairs the attic and the empty bedroom I’ve currently taken over as my overflow/organizing room. I’m in the process of bringing everything down to the garage for the yard sale. We have an old desk, a dresser, a baby swing, a batcave, a kids size table and chairs, and similar large and medium size items to sell. I decided the books, clothes and small toys wouldn’t be worth it and it really gave me a boost to go ahead and get that much stuff out of the house today.
6. Took pictures of ‘special’ items
As my oldest two boys (5 and 7) have gotten older, their creations started to take over the house, especially when they started saving all of our amazon boxes and turning them into nexo knight heroes and villains. We let them make, keep, and play with a bunch over Christmas break and then when the novelty wore off, I began to talk to them about the value of creativity, but also the reality that we can’t keep everything.
I found that when I involved them and gave them the option to put in their room what they wanted to keep, they would throw out most things, sometimes keeping a few of their most recent creations. They are in the habit now of asking me to take a picture of something such as a box-turned-robot and then taking it out to the recyclable bin. We stopped holding onto recyclables for projects ahead of time because the pile got too large. If we have an idea then we’ll save stuff for it.
7. Took the rest of the toys away
We were having trouble with toys not getting picked up and the boys not keeping their room clean. One day after a healthy but heated argument with my husband, something clicked and I was finally fed up, and while they were at school one day I took everything on their floor and from the living room and downstairs toy shelves and put them away in boxes. I left some for the baby and toddler and for the big boys I left out their legos, art supplies and books. To my surprise they didn’t notice or miss anything right away.
Five days later they asked for some of their stuffed animals and then later for the dart guns which I haven’t given them yet but I will keep for them to earn the privilege of playing with. For the kids I’m finding the best toys are collections and sets like legos and transformers that help them construct their own world. The boys like that their room is more pleasant and easier to keep clean.
8. Made a sacrifice
I have had to get to the point where I am willing to invest time and energy in the process of decluttering. I worked on clutter this weekend in all my spare time instead of writing at all, which was hard. But long term I believe I’ll have a better writing environment, a happier family, and hopefully a house that takes less time to clean.
I’m going to have a yard sale in a couple weeks, something I’ve typically avoided, but I’ve determined it will be a good experience for more than just the money (more on that after the yard sale). I’m continuing to invest the time and energy to go through the house and find more things to simplify or remove. I’m hoping to get to the point where deep cleaning and routine maintenance is easier. I took ‘before’ pictures, and my goal is to get to the point of having ‘after’ pictures worth sharing, and a house that helps us all feel nurtured, inspired and creative.
5/24/17 Update: I had my yard sale this past weekend. I sold about a third of the stuff, donated about a third afterward and put the rest in the garage for another community yard sale in July. I made $50, which was fine. I really enjoyed talking to people and blessing people with good prices on useful things. For years I have simply donated items when I had them instead of having a yard sale because it didn’t seem worth the effort. I would say it does not pay well by the hour, but in Tsh Oxenreider’s book Organized Simplicity she encourages readers to have a yard sale anyway, because of what you experience during the process, seeing all of your stuff out in one place, and going through more of an ordeal to have it leave the house. I like this and I think she is right that the process has value. I felt it more than if I had just pulled it together and sent my husband to take it to goodwill.
Two of my rooms feel noticeably decluttered and peaceful – our master bedroom, and the nursery. The other boys rooms’ also feel more purposeful and easier to clean because all that is left are their favorite possessions and a few toys they play with regularly.