Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Heather's Law of Decluttering

It's my version of Murphy's Law as it relates to the act of decluttering. Ready? Here goes:

The effectiveness of your decluttering efforts is inversely proportional to the amount of aggravation you feel towards the clutter.

At least that's true of me. I am really frustrated with the amount of superfluous "stuff" floating around my house. First, I should give you some background information. Once upon a time, I went through an EXTREME minimalist phase. I owned seven pairs of black pants, seven shirts, one dress, seven pairs of socks & underwear, two pairs of shoes, two coats and two pairs of Pj's. That's it. My goal was to be able to pack all of my clothes in a suitcase and I achieved my goal. Crazy huh? My room had three pieces of furniture, a bed and two nightstands that doubled as dressers.  We each had a lamp, an alarm clock and there was one picture on the wall. We were very well-edited. I give you this information so you understand just how low my clutter tolerance is.

Lovely and zen-like storage from Storage and Glee.
I think you'd need pretty clothes to pull it off though.
My aggravation towards the clutter causes me to stand in the middle of house and make pronouncements beginning with the words "That's it." Not "That's it! I've discovered the formula for turning aluminum foil into gold!" more like "That's it! If you blow that whistle in the car again I'm going to throw it out the window!" My aggravated "That's it" pronouncements usually go something like this "THAT'S IT!" (I say looking at the piles of laundry) "Everyone gets two sets of clothes, one to wear and one to wash! How many articles of clothing does one person need!" or "THAT'S IT!" (I say as I survey the sink and counters filled with dirty dishes) "Everyone gets one plate and one fork, spoon, knife and glass and you are responsible for washing them between meals!" (Do I sound crazy? Wait, don't answer that.) Yes, when I am facing my clutter with extreme aggravation, I get the urge to throw the entire contents of the house into garbage bags and haul it all away.  My family has learned to ignore me when I do this, as opposed to my "Decluttering with Threats and a Garbage Bag" method of home maintenance. They pay attention when I do that. More on that below.

Elegant, handmade book covers from Paislee Press. I want to do this in my living room.

My penchant for attacking clutter while aggravated has caused me some problems in the past. "There!" I say with a self-satisfied smile, "Just look at how zen this room is. Now I will curl up on the couch with a good book and a cup of hot cocoa... or I would, except I threw them all out." I have actually wound up re-purchasing items which I have tossed in a fit of aggravated, reckless decluttering. My DH finds re-buying stuff very annoying, so I try not to weed out while aggravated too often.

A simple entryway from Country Living. It's such a cute idea.
Of course it would never look like that at my house.
I love what Porter Knight, a professional organizer who owns Organized by Knight, once told me. She said to be ruthless not reckless when weeding out. Ruthless is getting rid of stuff that you neither need nor use, even if it has sentimental value, it was a gift, etc... Reckless is getting rid of things that are necessary and/or important, even if they're not useful. Here's an example: Ruthless is tossing your "Guns and Roses" t-shirt (I'm dating myself) with the holes in it, even though it was the first concert you attended. Reckless is tossing the love letters your grandfather wrote to your grandmother. Ruthless s tossing your daughter's "My Mother Doesn't Want Your Advice" onesie with the stains on it. Reckless is tossing the heirloom, hand-smocked dress your cousin made for her. Ruthless/Reckless I tend toward the latter when I'm aggravated with the mess. Reckless = regrets.

I love the feel of this kitchen  featured at Design Sponge.
So simple, so calming, so zen... the seat cushions wouldn't last a single dinner
at my house. A girl can dream though.

Decluttering with Threats and a Garbage Bag

Here's another hindrance to my weeding out efforts: I have two children who really like their stuff and they have a lot of it. My kids are fourteen and ten and are old enough to be able to tell when I have edited their rooms. In the past I've gotten in serious trouble because I've weeded something important. I've reached the point where I can leave their stuff alone, provided it stays in their rooms. That's where "Decluttering with Threats and a Garbage Bag" comes is handy. 
I stand in the living room with a garbage bag and say (loudly), 
"You people need to get out here and bring ALL of your stuff to your rooms NOW or I am going to throw it out." 
............................. silence......................... then, 
"Did you say something Mom? I had my headphones on." 
................. crickets chirping ................
"What? I was in the basement playing my game." 
*coughs, clears throat* 
.........irritated voices say,
"OK!!! Geez mom, don't have a fit."
Ah, the tweens/teens. Love it.
Once they've actually heard and processed what I've said, they hop to it. I have yet to actually place an item in the bag. This technique has proven very effective.

Shakers were practitioners of minimalism. Their designs are still lovely today.
from Coco & Me

So, I'm going to begin my decluttering exercise calmly at my front door. I will be ruthless, not reckless and I will be taking the fruits of my decluttering to Goodwill each time I'm in Augusta. That's the other place where I sabotage my efforts. I get it all weeded out and then leave it in my house. The hauling it all away is the crucial last step. I used to hire a friend to come over and help me weed every year. The rule was that she had to take everything with her when she left. She was always looking for stuff and I was always looking to get rid of stuff so the arrangement worked out well. Stuff symbiosis, every minimalist needs a friend who's a happy pack rat. 

So, do you want me to post some (bad) pictures of the process? It might make you cry. It might make you feel better by comparison, which is all right with me. 

Do you weed out & if so what techniques do you use? I'd like to know.


  1. Great Post Heather, I have been trying to do the same here today. Usually I am outside working but the rain has kept me inside so thought I would do some weeding. Keep up the great blog, love it.

  2. Thanks Noreen! I'm so glad you like the blog!

    I have no idea how I can weed out every six months and still have more to go. My stuff seems to multiply.

  3. It doesn't matter how cute or pretty an arrangement of tidiness is, if I can't keep it that way, and easily, then I need to find another way. I have also become more strict with myself about new purchases for the home and personal items. If I don't love it, I don't need it. I have saved money, space, and the time caring for said unuseful unlovely items with this method.

  4. That is an excellent point, not buying the stuff in the first place is the first, best way to keep a clutter-free space. I need to take a lesson from you! Especially with my kids.


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