I read this article on the real secret to decluttering your life, and I have to say that I was quite surprised at my reaction to this wisdom. What do you mean, Don’t Get Organized? Of COURSE I’m trying to get organized! But then I realized- I’ve been falling into these same pitfalls year after year!
This house- even just the bare minimum task of gutting out decades (and three generations!) worth of items, is a monumental task. And that’s not considering the fact that we’re living in the home as it’s being repaired, or even taking into account just how much actual repair work is happening! Standing alone, just the gutting of this property is enough to bring speed demon OCD cleaners who thrive on this shit right down to their knees, begging for mercy.
“I need to get organized again.”, I’d say. “We need to stay on top of organization.” I’d proclaim. I was wrong.
No, we didn’t need to get organized. We needed to get shit to the curb. Gut, Gut, GUT. Out the door, and out of our lives. Get rid of EVERYTHING that isn’t vital to living your daily life. Now, I’m not saying you should start pitching family photo albums and heirloom pieces, but if clutter and space are a problem for you, then it’s time to retrain how you view the things in your house- and how you view “organization” as a whole. I’m going to take a liberal adaption on this wonderful piece on “Myths About Clutter“. I found that even I was falling prey to some clutter traps- and I’m damn ruthless when it comes to gutting out a space! The recent gutting of our garage left Jay and I feeling like we’d had that crazy battle about the belching beer cuckoo clock from Roseanne- remember that gem of an episode?
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God bless you, Dan Conner. In fact, I’d actually love to have that thing here. Just for a laugh. But the fight that ensues between these two is often the core problem many have when trying to declutter their houses. Let’s just strip away all pretence, crazy awesome belching bear cuckoo clocks or not, shall we?
Clutter myths broken down
with realistic (and sometimes harsh) reality thrown in.
I need to be more organized.
No, baby. You need to get that shit out of your house. You can’t organize anything until you gut, gut, gut the clutter. Imagine just one cluttered area of your house. Your work desk, the laundry room, the kitchen table, whatever. Organizing it doesn’t mean you’ve created more space- it just means the swaths of papers are in stacks instead of loose and floating around. Sure, it looks better than it did a minute ago, but you haven’t really addressed the actual clutter problem. You’ve just successfully lied to yourself about it no longer being cluttered. Welcome to the Overton Window of organizing What a crock, right? Just get those papers into the round file. Need them? Scan them, back them up and THEN get them into the round file. I don’t normally subscribe to the idea that one needs to buy more crap to get organized (we’re gonna cover that shortly) but this is one purchase I’d recommend to EVERYONE. If papers are the bane of your clutter, this is the answer you’re looking for. The Neatdesk is amazing. I have the little one, and it’s a godsend for me, and it has so many more practical bonuses (Hurray for budget tracking! Double hurray for scanning business cards!!) that make it worth the purchase. Start backing up your crap and get it out the door. (Be sure to shred sensitive info, such as bank statements and old bills.)
Now, going all OCD on your concept of organization isn’t always the answer, either. I can’t really say don’t bother giving it a try, as I still clean up my DVDs into alphabetical order on a regular basis (I also color code my underwear drawer. TMI, sure, but it does give you a jumping off point on just where your level of hyper organization is at. If the idea of color coding and file folding your netherthings seems totally reasonable, then we’re on the same page, and we needn’t further discuss this topic. If you think I’ve gone a bit daft, then clearly, you don’t have a tendency to hyper-organize in the first place, and this entire paragraph was a superfluous waste of your time. Foo.
I should get pretty storage boxes to help me organize!
No. Don’t get me wrong, places like The Container Store get me a bit giddy. Sometimes a bit of storage is a blessing. But those places are designed to make you think you need to micromanage your storage to control your clutter. No, baby, no. You need to manage your clutter, period, and you do that by GETTING RID OF IT. If you gut it out of your life, the tantalizing storage options at The Container Store are just. more. clutter. You’re not organizing things by shoving them into pretty boxes. It’s just another version of sweeping dirt under the rug. I will say, however, that SOME items from such stores aren’t a bad thing. After all, kid’s toys have to go somewhere other than the floor, and shoes can’t just be left lying about in the middle of the floor. But if you’re cluttered before you buy those containers, you’re going to be cluttered after they’re in your home, too. Gut first. THEN see what needs storage.
But I might need that/fix that/fit into that again!
Live in the now, baby. Let it go. If you haven’t fixed it in the past 2 months, you’re probably not going to fix it. If you think you really need it, but haven’t used it in 2 months of seasonal use (i.e. It’s a sweater, and your two months were during the winter) than pitch it out the door. It’s fine to make donation piles, but ONLY if the items you’re setting aside for friends, family or charity organizations are actually delivered to the intended recipient by ONE WEEK’S TIME. Yes, one week. Be ruthless. You will be in charge of your house again.
Worried about clothes you might need? Most people have a summer and a winter wardrobe, and that’s just dandy. What I do to keep my closet neat and tidy is I hang everything with the hanger hooks facing toward me instead of the usual way. One reset of all of your hanging items is all you need to make this trick work, so go and give it a shot! After 2 months, any items that are still hanging the wrong way get donated. This, of course, does not include “specialty items” such as a nice suit for an interview, but DO NOT KEEP CLOTHES IN YOUR CLOSET THAT DO NOT FIT YOUR CURRENT BODY TYPE. Yes, I know you’re going to, come hell or high water, get back into those jeans you wore before you had your second baby. Yes, I’m sorry that a grave case of the flu has left you down a pants size. Or three. (Seriously, my friend- I don’t envy you that flu!) but if it’s not fitting you during your ruthless gut of your home, then it GETS PITCHED. PERIOD. There is only one exception to this rule- heirloom clothing! These items include wedding gowns, vintage furs passed down in your family, etc. (No, your vintage bell bottoms from the 70’s don’t count. Sorry. Also, if you have an excess of heirloom items? Trim the fat down to essentials. You don’t need 7 vintage fur coats. Pass them along to other family members and keep one for yourself.)
This was a gift, and I need it for when the gifter visits!
This is a lie. If you’re putting on a parade of things to please another person, you’re not being honest with yourself. If you aren’t using it, don’t like it and only keep it around to please someone who IS NOT EVEN LIVING IN YOUR HOME, then get it out of your house.
Oooh! Look at all of the space I’ve made on this shelf! What will I fill it up with now?
NO. You just cleared it out. Do not fill it back up again. Think of your home like a drawing or a painting. You need negative space to create a place for the eye to rest. If you house does not have a visual place for your eyes to rest, you’ll always feel buried under things. Don’t fill up shelving you just cleared away. Let the shelves breathe a bit! They deserve a break, too.
What NOT to throw out
- Family photos. Get them organized, make digital copies, keep them all backed up, whatever- but do NOT just pitch out photos. You don’t have to keep every single shot, but you must not just ditch them all.
- Family documents. Birth certificates, death certificates, insurance policies, etc. Keep em. File em. (We’ll talk about a proper filing system soon enough, I promise!)
- Family heirloom pieces. Use your best judgement here, but most family heirlooms are, by nature, irreplaceable. You don’t need a house filled with Grandma’s quilts, though. One or two in good repair will do just fine.
- Tax records. Keep 7 years of them, but keep them digitally and back them up! Hurray for no paper clutter!
- Sentimental items. Yes, this gets tricky. Keep only a few of these- the ones that are most special to you and your family. You do not need every single drawing your child has ever drawn. You do not need every piece of jewelry your mother wore over her (hopefully!) long and happy life. You do not need clutter to keep memories alive.
- Baby’s first favorite toy. We just came across one of Jay’s first toys in a box in the garage- that rabbit is getting a seat of honor in a nursery someday. I’ll never let that precious bunny go. (Please do note that only ONE childhood toy stayed.)
How’d you do? Think you can hack it? Take lots of photos and share your successes! Good luck, my dear friends!