Decluttering My Life

Ryan and I have been married for almost twenty years. We have lived in a condo in St. Louis, three houses in Cincinnati, an apartment in Italy, and two houses in Atlanta. We have moved seven times. Seven. And except for the moves to Italy and our first move to Atlanta which were corporate moves, we have packed ourselves. We have become decluttering-purging-garage-sale-masters. 

And still we have too much crap.

I have found that although we have moved often and have become pretty good at purging, there is still a thing where you just pack it because sometimes that’s easier. My mind cycles regularly through our house, bringing forward images of all its problem areas: the random crates full of forgotten stuff in the basement, my daughters’ closets and drawers that are crammed with clothes that they don’t like, can’t find, or don’t fit, the kitchen pantry (Jesus, just fix it), underneath my bathroom sink, my closet, the desk, the office… I could go on. 

Just writing this makes me want to take a nap. 

I picked a word for 2019, a word to focus on for the year. You can read about that here. The word I’m thinking about this year is: Release. And I’m starting with clutter. There is actual, physical clutter (also known as crap in your house that you need to get rid of) and mind clutter and I think they’re destined to be connected to one another for eternity. 

When the clutter builds up around my house, when my closet is completely out of hand, when the laundry piles are so big and growing so quickly that I’m afraid they’ll start taking over the house, filling it up, and bursting through the windows, when the kitchen pantry looks like a family of wild boars has just had their way with it, it starts to feel like a physical burden. I feel as though this word, Release, is leading me in a very intentional direction this year and letting go of actual clutter in my house feels like the absolute right place to start. 

This clutter sits inside my own body as heavily as it sits inside my house and when it becomes too much and this need to declutter starts bubbling up inside me, I just want all of the projects to be done immediately. I think of all the projects as One Project. The entire house. And that’s just asinine. And while I know that it’s asinine, I still have this notion that the entire thing needs to be done at once. I have no idea where to start, I have no plan… I just have some energy and some motivation and some Swiffer dusters. And sometimes a new bottle of cleaning spray that smells really good. 

And so what sometimes happens is that I start organizing my bathroom by pulling everything out from the under-the-sink area and laying it out on my bathroom floor. Then I get up to grab a garbage bag and I notice all of the t-shirts that are half-folded on a shelf in my closet and I start refolding them, realizing how few of them I wear anymore, so I start making a donation pile. I remember the bathroom project and I stand up to grab that garbage bag when I glance at my nightstand. It’s so small and it’ll only take a second. So I start making piles: books I’m currently reading, books I am never going to read, books I am definitely going to read, books I might read, books I’ve read but can’t part with, books I hated but wonder if it was just because I was in a weird place in my life so I should probably keep them just in case, a stack of half-filled journals that I should probably throw away but then what will my family read and sob over when I die?, mostly empty journals that I am totally going to start writing in because I really should be the kind of person who journals, and then I open the drawer to my nightstand, look inside, and I feel the exhaustion of the moment travel deep within my bones. And so then I need a snack, obviously. And then the girls come home from school and then I have to make dinner. And then I have to clean the kitchen and sit on the couch and watch Netflix with Ryan or bribe my children to come out of their rooms with things like watching The Bachelor. And then I go upstairs to get ready for bed and I hate the entire world and everything in it because my bedroom and bathroom and closet look like some level of hell I didn’t even know existed. And of course now I have no energy and no motivation and I’m tired. So I step over everything and spend the next two weeks slowly dealing with it in ragey, irritable bursts. 

Perhaps this isn’t most effective way to approach organizing my home. 

So I’m tackling it in a different way this year. Instead of seeing my entire house as One Project, I’m breaking it down into parts. You know, the thing… how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. I’ve been trying to get my entire mouth around the elephant and eat it in one swallow when I should have been having a reasonable amount of elephant and eating it with a fork and knife like everyone else.*

I started out by making a list. Because everything in my life starts out by making a list. I looked through that mental rolodex of house clutter and wrote down all the areas that I wanted to organize. And then I thought about the most logical places to start and picked the top two. 

Our pantry is kind of small, gets junky really easily, and we use it every day. Plus we have teenagers who don’t care for one second about wrapping up and chip-clipping a bag that is literally just Dorito crumbs, will take the last package of Ritz sandwich crackers and leave the empty box just sitting there, and look past the half-eaten bag of Smartfood and open a brand new bag of Smartfood instead. They do these things like it is what they’re paid to do for an actual job. So the pantry seemed like the right place the start. Secondary to that became the girls’ rooms because it would be nice for them to be able to actually open their drawers or perhaps see the bottom of their closet. 

I started with the pantry. It took me a couple of hours and it was amazing… chips were consolidated, food was organized by shelf, empty or almost empty bags and boxes were tossed. The girls’ rooms were way more intense and took several days, but we got through all closets, overstuffed drawers, and desks. The relief is palpable. 

I am basically ready for my own home-organization business and I should probably be on HGTV very soon. I will post about both of those projects in more specific detail over the next week so that you can share in my delight, but it is fair to say that the effect has been tremendous. I feel lighter, like my shoulders aren’t quite so heavy, an invisible burden lifted.

I can’t keep my brain from cycling through my house, cataloging all the areas that are in need of decluttering and organization. If I’ve learned anything in 44 years of life, it is that my mind will always be a place of ceaseless thought production, churning out words and noise and thinking like an elf factory in December where all of the elves are taking cocaine and probably also have ADHD. (For the record, I don’t take cocaine nor do I have ADHD. But my brain definitely feels full of elves who are associated with both.) But, with a serious amount of grown-up effort, I can ignore my super high brain elves and make the One Project lots of little projects and actually accomplish something and release some of this clutter. So that now, as my brain cycles through all the crap that needs to be done in my house and it gets to the girls’ rooms, there will be a little, collective, brain-elf sigh that feels slightly contented with that particular part of my home. 

Unfortunately, the same really doesn’t hold true for the kitchen pantry. Unless there is a significant act of God or I padlock the pantry door shut, that bliss only lasted for about 27 minutes. 

But they sure were a good 27 minutes.  

*No elephants were harmed or eaten during the writing of this blog.

4 thoughts on “Decluttering My Life

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