Tuesday, February 5, 2008


I was just reading over at picklebums here where she talks about organizing and de-cluttering...
I have to say that moving 2000 miles with only 20 boxes and 6 suitcases (for a family of 4 for a year) was an amazing lesson in how little STUFF we really need! I had a fairly massive freesale on my front lawn the day before I moved, and got rid of literally a roomful of stuff. It is so freeing to get rid of things! It's a little hard at first, I know. I was a pack rat for most of my childhood and teen years...but I finally am learning to let go of STUFF. Have I missed a few thing? Yes. Many things? NOPE! And I love that my tiny little apartment is reletively clutter-free!
Now that we know that we're going to stay up here long term, we're going to drive back down to Utah this summer and empty out the garage full of stuff that we left there. We have decided to keep a couple of things (heirloom cherry wood dressers, various sizes of childrens clothing, most of the books), but we are going to get rid of about 80% of what we have there. It costs more to move it than to replace it... My goal is that when we are buying new things, we will be buying the things we truly want or need, not just trying to replace what we had, does that make sense?! For example, we had a dozen little mismatched bookshelves to hold all our books--books which were stuffed in sideways and two deep in places just to try to get them to fit. Our ideal is to have a large wall (one) of built-in shelves (or a large matched set if we buy a home rather than build), and to get rid of books we won't read over and over, and have things neat and sorted and organized...

So, I think the general idea here was to try to help inspire others in their own de-cluttering efforts. So here are a few stepping stones! (Please know that I share these ideas with full confession that I'm a work in progress too! But these are my guiding lights...)

1) Clothing
a) go through all your own (adult) clothing. If you have not worn it in the last year, get rid of it. I don't care how much you love it, how much you spent on it, or how much you believe you're going to fit into it again...if you don't get into it once in a year, you're almost certainly not going to in the coming year. (The exceptions to this rule are maternity clothing and the occasional non-nursing item). Ditto on shoes: I mean, how many pair do you REALLY need?
This could apply to jewelry too...I finally came to the realization that as much as I love earrings, I have worn the same diamond studs for over a year. I have actually not even removed them in that time. What is the point in owning 20 pair if I only wear one? So I gave a bunch to my sister, who is a teenager, and changes them twice in a day.
b) consider how often you do laundry--if you wash clothing once a week, then you need enough clothing for a week, plus a spare or two. For my kids, I have 5-6 short sleeve shirts, 5-6 long sleeved ones, plus something dressy (for church). 4-6 jeans/shorts. 8 pairs of socks, 7-8 undies. Spares are always a good idea with kids, as they have a knack for getting into things like mud and puddles, but really, does the average kid need 20 of anything? And with fewer, it's easier to afford higher quality. I pared down my childrens clothing in all sizes, not just the ones my kids currently wear. (I did keep more extras for infant sizes, to allow for blowouts and barf, of course!) For myself, I have even less, because I don't get dirty as often!
c) quality shoes are worth the cost. The damage you can do to your feet with used or overworn or lousey shoes can hurt you (literally) for years. Don't go for style so much as quality and support. Real leather is worth the money. And take the time to make sure you have a good fit!!!

2) Toys
Please realize that I do not just mean children's playthings. I mean grown up toys too--books, movies, board games, collectables, and, yes, even fabric and yarn. (It's ok my knitting friends, we're in this together!)
a) If it's broken or busted, toss it. Does Johnny really play with the one-armed dinosaur? If he does, fine, but if he doens't...bye bye T-Rex, ya know?! Get rid of duplicates--how many wire wisks do you really need?!
b) If it is useless, get rid of it. If you're not willing to get rid of it, then use it! My mother has some heirloom china and crystal...which she uses for serving sunday dinner every week. Do pieces get broken? Of course. But they weren't doing anyone any good just sitting on the shelf, so she uses them.
I know there are people who love to collect trinkets and knick-knacks...this isn't evil in and of itself, but consider your reasons and the results. Does the collection take up a lot of space? Is it difficult to keep clean? Does it serve an additional purpose? (For example, we get magnets as souveniers when we travel--our fridge not only shows where we've been, but also of course we always have plenty of magnets! My mother-in-law collects christmas tree ornaments on her travels.)
c) Evaluate what is actually being used on a regular basis. With fabrics and fibers, evaluate if it's actually in line for a project, or just sitting around because it was so pretty you couldn't say no... If it just sits in the drawer/box/bin/shelf and collects dust, get rid of it. No matter how much you like it, spent on it, or think it's lovely...move it out. Now, I'm willing to give fiber/fabric a longer shelf life than clothing, because I know creative projects take time...so lets say if you have had it for 3 years and not gotten to it, then get rid of it...seriously people, 1000+ days is enough time to get to something!
d) Get the kids on board with cleaning out toys--they will probably be nearly as ruthless as you would! After all, THEY have a pretty good idea of what they do or don't play with! Have a yard sale and let them earn the money from anything they contribute! W made several dollars last summer!

3) General Tips
a) if you get something new, get rid of something old. This applies to closets, toy chests, kitchen drawers, etc. Don't allow stuff to accumulate.
b) just because it's free (or cheap) doesn't mean it's a good idea to take it. Consider whether you will actually use it! We were given a queen size fouton set when our neighbors got a new bed. We set it in the spare room, and did use it twice for guests to sleep on, but mostly it served as a trampoline for our preschooler. And it took up a lot of room. So when we moved, we got rid of it.
c) recycle or pass on what you can, but if it's junk, don't be afraid to just THROW IT OUT!!! Obviously the ultimate goal is to not accumulate junk in the first place, but I suspect we all have it, so, detox! Get rid of it!

I know I am ruthless. But you'll feel better afterwards, trust me! Physical clutter is emotionally and spiritually draining, even when you're surrounded by stuff you love.

4) Moving Forward Intelligently
the goal, of course, is to not repeat the past, and to not accumulate so much clutter again.
a) seek multi-functional items and open-ended toys. Legos, lincoln logs, building blocks, art supplies, playsilks, dolls, dress-up clothing, kitchen/food sets and the like lead to hours of imaginative, interactive play. And, for all that Johnny thinks he wants that latest greatest electronic talking whatever-it-is, it's very likely that the infatuation would be short lived. Once the novelty wears off, there is nothing additional to do with the toy, and so it is set aside in favor of more exciting things. Get your kids on board with this philosophy--W now often comments about why this toy is better than that, and now asks for higher quality items.
b) seek quality--get stainless steel or cast iron cookware, wooden toys rather than plastic, etc. If you use cloth diapers, put in the resources to have good ones. Be willing to spend a little more now, with the knowlege that items will last longer and work better. I LOVE my front-loading energystar washing machine. One small set of cutco knives serves ALL my cutlary needs, and will last me decades.
c) That said, if you are completely content with your simple hand mixer, don't fork out the money for the cousinart or kitchenaid. You probably won't use it much. I didn't. (anybody in the market for a kitchenaid stand mixer?!)
d) a place for everything, and everything in its place. And, I would add, if you discover that your things no longer fit in their place, you should get rid of some of them!!!

Whew, so, that was long, I know. For those of you who actually read the whole thing, maybe you feel inspired! I know I feel inspired to jump back in!


katef - www.picklebums.com said...

Oh my you are good.... so good!
I am pleased to report that I aspire to follow all your tips and probably am achieving most of them some of the time! LOL
Next time I report on our 'organise '08' campaign I am going to link to your post if that is ok!?!

brightonwoman said...

link away!!!

Anonymous said...

So do you have much stuff or do your kids just play with egg-cartons and your husband wear the same old ratty pair of jeans all the time?!?!?!

Brightonwoman said...

Yeah, my hubby wears ratty jeans...I keep trying to mend them but he keeps breaking them again. Silly Hubby.

But any mother knows that kids like the box better than the toy! What is an egg carton but a really cool box?!!

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