Lessons from Decluttering Everything

We did it! We have successfully touched every single thing in our house. I have taken 6 loads to the thrift store. Everything left in our home has a place to go. We spent this weekend double checking all the rooms, dusting, vacuuming, changing sheets, and mopping. I can tell you that my house is really and truly cleaned and organized for the first time ever and it feels amazing.Β I’ve written updates on organizing clothes, books, and the bathrooms and kitchen. Tackling decluttering for real was life-changing. Here are a few things I learned along the way:

  1. The Best is Better than More – I was hesitant to get rid of board books. declutter booksLui is an avid reader (meaning he demands us to read to him all day long). He reads all of his board books. But the box in which they reside was overflowing. There was no way to organize them to see them all. So I experimented. I kept his very favorites in the box and organized it so you could see all of them and put the rest in the closet. This made a huge difference. Instead of having to throw all the books out of the box to get to the one he really wants, he just takes the one he wants out. And even if he empties the box with all of his reading, it takes me exactly one minute to re-set the box. Worth it.
  2. Big Changes Radiate to the Kids Eventually – I was worried about the kids being on board. I started in their room and we had discussions about what they loved, what they used, and what they read. We gave away a large box of kids books based on these discussions before we started anything else around the house. I was easy on them. I just brought up the discussion, we gave away duplicate books and ones they agreed were “so boring.” Then Mr. T and I started the overhaul of the rest of the house. For the next few weeks, when the girls would clean their room, they would bring me another toy (by choice!) they decided they didn’t really use to give away. They started to make their own big changes to their room because they saw the difference in other places in the house after Mr. T and I were done with it.
  3. I’m Never Buying Shampoo Again – the KonMari method says to throw out all your hotel shampoos. I disagree. I’m currently using shampoo and conditioner from my honeymoon (*cough* over ten years ago) and it’s bringing me joy every morning. I’m excited to re-live my travels through the shampoos. If having them in a bag somewhere stresses you out or if they are from miserable work trips, chuck them!
  4. Joy is an Odd Measure – Mr. T and I are weird. That’s not a secret. And declutter stuffwe have no problem getting rid of useful stuff we don’t use. But what about this elaborate monkey pod servingware? As I argued, “It’s a one-trick pony.” Mr. T’s rebuttal: “But it’s a glorious trick!” If we’re being honest, we’ve used it maybe once a year since owning it. It’s gigantic (can be broken down slightly for storage, but still gigantic). But it brings us tremendous joy. For the most part, we tried to keep the stuff-we-love-but-have-no-purpose category confined to one shoebox (my coin collection, my grandmother’s old metal credit card, etc.), but we kept the monkey pod.
  5. There are Different Levels of Joy – Mr. T and I love that monkey pod. But it didn’t compare to the level of unexpected joy I felt when I pulled out the box of Cambodian silks we bought on our trip there seven years ago. The silk ladies set baby Penny on a big pile of silk with a small radio playing in front of her while we ran our fingers across the piles of silks. I was paranoid Penny’s diaper wouldn’t hold up or she would spit up all over the fabrics, but it all ended up being fine. We had a lovely time chatting with the ladies. I still remember the music playing on that radioΒ and the fan attached to the pillar next to us pointing in the wrong direction. I hadn’t planned to get rid of the silks (though we’ve done nothing but carry them around for seven years), but I did not anticipate all that joy flooding right back to me upon opening the box again.Baby Penny sitting on silks in Cambodia
  6. Channeling Someone Else’s Joy is Hard – The hardest category for me was the craft stuff. I’m not inherently crafty. I don’t find joy in all of it. I love me a few skeins of yarn for crocheting, but that’s about it. The play-doh, stickers, pom-poms, fabric, thread, pipe cleaners, etc. was all very organized in Lui’s closet, but I refused to touch anything in his room until the rest of the house was done because it was so stressful. I declared to Mr. T that the entire closet was “organized crap” and it all had to go! Florin and especially Penny are crafters and artisans. They use this stuff every. single. day. They obviously get it from Mr. T (the three of them once spent several hours cutting elaborate paper snowflakes just for fun). I had to figure out how to channel their joy (and not get rid of everything!). This was the hardest part of the whole process. I want to encourage their creativity but I often hate the “stuff” that involves. Luckily, Mr. T has a deeper understanding of this joy of my children and was able to talk me off the ledge and we worked through it together.
  7. Moving and Touching Everything is Important – It would be so easy to open a drawer or look on a shelf and just mentally decide to keep it or get rid of it. When you force yourself to take all the books off the shelf, dust the shelf, touch and wipe each book, your outlook changes. The momentum moves from keeping those things on the shelf to thoughtfully deciding which things you think deserve to be displayed on that nice, clean shelf or go back into that clean, empty drawer. This was most clear to me in the kitchen, where we could have easily opened every cabinet, seen that the plates were still in a nice stack, and closed them. But we took every plate/dish/pot/utensil out, discussed its usefulness, cleaned the shelf, and put what we really wanted back. Once all the pots were out of the pot drawer, we realized we hated that the lids were under the stove and not with the pots. The lids drawer has always been frustrating to me (I hate inanimate objects that don’t cooperate). We got rid of a handful of lids we never used, moved the rarely-used bakeware under the stove, and put the lids with the pots. This discussion would never have happened if we weren’t committed to touching and moving every single thing in the house.
  8. Organizing by Category – I really just wanted everything to make sense this go-around. Our house had become a collection of things put away into places where they fit. It didn’t make sense. The servingware was in the cabinet by the kitchen, but the monkey pod was in the downstairs closet with the games. The cords were by the electronics, but also under the bed… and in another random drawer somewhere else. As we worked through our home, we constantly asked ourselves: “Where would we go to look for this if we needed it? Where are we when we need it the most?” For things we knew we wanted to keep, but had no place for, we started a pile on a big shelf. As we worked through the house, we made sure we didn’t just move things from room to room. If there wasn’t an obvious place yet, it went on the shelf. When we were finished going through every room, we tackled the shelf. At this point, we were ready. The house was organized and things either had an obvious place to go in the newly organized house or we found ourselves ready to let go of them.
  9. I Really Was Losing Money by Having Too Much Stuff! – People always cite this as one of the reasons to get rid of stuff. “You lose what you have so you buy a new one.” Rubbish, I said! But then I found printer ink we had just replaced and a box of checks we also just replaced. Curses! You’re right. Because everything was all over our house in a jumble, I really did buy multiples!
  10. Organization Comes Last – In this long process of touching every item in our home, we spent exactly one day organizing. The majority of the time was spent moving things off shelves, removing lots of the things, and then putting the remaining things back on the shelf in an organized manner. It wasn’t until we had gone through every category and room in our home that we actually spent a day (and a gift card at Lowes) adding a few shelves to a closet and a few clear, plastic bins. This process was the frosting on the cake. Organized crap is still crap, and removing the excess first made the organization process straightforward and painless. In times past, we spent too much time focusing on the organization part and too little time on the “removing excess” part.

We haven’t decluttered the garage, but we’re ready. We’re armed with knowledge and experience, and as soon as warm weather rolls around, we’ll do it. Our home has changed so dramatically in the past two months, I look forward to the changes that will radiate into our lives.

organizing stuff

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40 Comments

  1. Thank you for this thorough breakdown. We decluttered our shed and garage last year – and were so lucky! Our shed blew apart in a storm last week, and it was sad. But it was also powerful to see that we only had to find a place for things we really needed.

    • MaggieBanks

      Yes, decluttering makes things a lot easier when something like that happens. You guys keep getting hit with terrible things like that! I’m so sorry!

  2. Keep writing decluttering posts… They inspire to get at least started. I now do 1 declutter action per weekend. Better than nothing.

    We have not yet included the kids in this…

    • MaggieBanks

      Oh, I’m sure as I discover spillover effects of the purge and tackle my garage, more posts will be forthcoming. πŸ™‚

  3. Kim from Philadelphia

    This is really phenomenal, Penny! What a life-changing experience for your family.

    I think your tiered server is awesome, and could just imagine all those little bowls holding toppings for a make your own custom party (salad, sundaes, tacos)

    You are keeping me motivated to continue to keep things streamlined at home!

    • MaggieBanks

      Oh, that thing IS awesome. Mr. T was saying at the next party, we’ll hand out all the tiny bowls, have people fill them with treats, and then when they come, we just stick their bowl full of treats in the big thing and everyone will have contributed! Also… did I mention that the pineapple leaves are actually little shallow scoops for dip, etc? Totally awesome!

  4. Kim from Philadelphia

    Oh- have you thought of making a table runner (backed on a heavier material) or several pillows out of your favorite silks, so you can see and enjoy them everyday?

    • MaggieBanks

      Oh, I’ve thought of tons of projects… but the kiddos destroyed our previous silk pillows, so I’m waiting to avoid that happening again. πŸ™‚

  5. Great job! I’m inspired to get started. Of course, my focus often shifts to what I can sell on eBay or a garage sale. But it would be nice to get rid of some stuff. Little Trey has started crawling, so we could use more, non-cluttered room for him to roam.

    • MaggieBanks

      I have a few items in a pile to list on ebay. But most of it wasn’t worth the effort. I just wanted it OUT and I was doing such a major overhaul, I didn’t want to get bogged down trying to sell so many things. πŸ™‚

  6. Tawcan

    These are great lessons. Just this morning I was using shampoo from the Italian hotel that we stayed at for our honeymoon 4 years ago. No shame about that. πŸ™‚

  7. I think I’ve mentioned how much I love this idea. I love decluttering. I am really looking forward to trying to get rid of ~50% of our belongings once we move. My husband is a little bit more on the hoarder side of things, so I think that goal is a pipe dream. I do hate having things like a chip platter, or a punch bowl… I keep getting rid of them, and people keep giving them back! I have no problems eating chips off a plate πŸ™‚

    • MaggieBanks

      Sounds like you and MR. SSC better decide on the percentage of stuff you plan to get rid of! πŸ™‚ We don’t own a chip platter or a bunch bowl. Though we do own a cakeplate and use it for birthday cake because it stores the cake so nicely. We put our chips in a regular mixing bowl if we’re setting out chips. πŸ™‚

  8. Great job! This must have been a huge endorphin rush for you! And I’m really impressed how quickly you went through all the rooms in your home.

    • MaggieBanks

      Totally! Ironically, the day after I finished the final wipe-down/sheets cleaning/dusting/mopping, etc, I came down with a horrible cold and have been in my bed since the weekend. I’m glad I got it all done before falling ill!

  9. I think the one trick pony monkey bowl is awesome! We have several versions of that type of thing, and all were gifts. I find when I do big cleanouts, touching stuff is really the best way too. Some things I look at and think, “I need that” or “I still want that” but then when I pick it up, thumb through it, or just look at it, if there are no memories or feelings associated with it, it’s gone.

    I may be more “hoarder-ish” than Mrs. SSC but we do a good job of staying on top of the clutter and unused stuff by doing the 70 in 7 challenges, where we find 10 items a day for a week that we will get rid of, donate, or sell. That alone cuts through a lot of stuff. Whenw e move, man will we get rid of a lot. Maybe not 50% but a LOT of stuff will go.

    • MaggieBanks

      Mr. T and I are both a bit guilty of being hoarder-ish – which makes this even more of a bold move for us. It took getting over ourselves a bit. But, in the end, we did keep a few ridiculous things – Monkey Pod included (did I mention the leaves of the pineapple are actually shallow scoops for dips, etc?!)

      • You didn’t but I wouldn’t be surprised with the intricacy of that piece. πŸ™‚ Growing up in a very “hoarder” style family, I found that initially getting rid of things was difficult. Then I realized that not everything was emotionally connected. After that, it made cleaning and decluttering so much easier. Even when I was single, I would go through my stuff yearly and purge anything not used, not needed or things that had become just everyday clutter. It feels refreshing now, almost like a weight off, but it was difficult when I first started doing it.

        • MaggieBanks

          As Mr. T says, we now do a full-blown big purge every ten years to make up for being horrible at annual ones. πŸ™‚

  10. Kim from Philadelphia

    I cannot believe the pineapple leaves are scoops!!!!!! That’s too good to be true.

  11. I never throw out the hotel soap, but for a new reason. I heard about this awesome charity called Clean the World that takes hotel soaps and sends them to people in need all over the world…in case there is anyone out there who does want to donate the memory of work travel. πŸ™‚

    • MaggieBanks

      That’s awesome! Since we don’t really travel for work (except once a year), we don’t have that many hotel soaps in our collection… just one small bag. But what a great idea for people with much more!

  12. Wow that was a big task, very inspiring. Yes I use the shampoos for the kids after swimming lessons every week, they come in handy. Love the monkey pod – the uses are endless … collecting different currencies from all the countries you are planning on visiting?

  13. seattlegirluw

    Very impressive! We don’t go through and touch every single thing, but we do make concerted efforts at going through one room at a time and trying to organize/declutter. Problem is we try to only do one room a day to conserve our energy (yay fatigue), and we tend to lose steam the third day. So each time we do it, I have to start us in a different room to make sure they all eventually get dealt with.

    On the other hand, when we lost a key recently, all of the junk drawers got emptied and sorted. Now we’re keeping all extra batteries in a bag, charge cords in another one and so on. That’s… something.

    • MaggieBanks

      Every little bit helps – but I did find myself in a constant cycle of doing room after room. We took it slow – we only did it one day a week. But I made sure nothing moved into the other rooms that didn’t make sense. I had a giant junk pile I didn’t tackle until all the rooms were done. Then, if they made sense somewhere, they went there. If they didn’t, they left.

  14. J

    Congratulations for getting through everything! And thank you for sharing the whole experience with us. This is an inspiring and encouraging post – one that made me think about my own clutter (I did the vanity drawer and my study yesterday, it was a success!). I keep free toiletries from travel too. I don’t use them at home but I take them when we travel just in case the place we booked don’t provide any. I still have some from 2-3 years ago. ;P I love how your entire family embraced the process, I bet that made it a lot easier and funner.

    Good luck on decluttering your garage and I hope you give us a detailed update of that too!

    P.S. How is your Cambodian going?

    • MaggieBanks

      Thanks, J! I’m sure we’ll give a detailed update on garage happenings as well. Thanks for asking about the Cambodian! I really wasn’t getting anywhere doing it alone – it was frustrating. So, I made it one of my goals for the year to take lessons from a girl online. As soon as the house was done, I was going to figure out when to start those. Maybe now’s a good time!

  15. I generally don’t enjoy decluttering and consider myself more of a hoarder. When it comes to old clothes, I keep telling myself I’ll recycle them, when it comes to old books, I keep telling myself I’ll read them again, and the list goes on and on. But I know I have to change that attitude because infinite items cannot fit into limited spaces. I like that you sorted things out by category. It makes the task a lot less daunting

    • MaggieBanks

      It really does make a big difference picking things up and touching them. Things you thought you had emotional attachment to, you’ll find you feel nothing for. Good luck!

  16. Wow, sounds like you guys were extremely productive. I needed to read this as I’ve been hesitating starting round 2 of our decluttering which will be an ever bigger effort than round 1.

    The kids’ crafts are always tough. On one hand you want to keep them, but all their stuff seems to multiply and before you know it, it’s everywhere!

    • MaggieBanks

      We have art clips on the fridge to display their art. When the magnetic clip gets too heavy and starts to slide down the fridge, they have to recycle some stuff. Then, in their bedroom closet, I have one of those wire cube shelves – one of those cubes is divided in half – anything too big for the clip can go there. This works great because they can’t keep little stuff (it would fall through the wires) and they are in charge of making sure their own amount of art is within those boundaries. πŸ™‚

  17. Jacq

    I went upstairs and picked out tshirts and put the rest aside, if I don’t miss them I’ll donate them I picked out 4 that can go now. I’ve also been meaning to move dress shirts to a different closet and if I don’t go looking for them then those can go too. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • MaggieBanks

      Good luck! It really is a fabulous feeling even almost a year later. Changed our lives!

  18. I hear you on the board books. We actually have a policy where we rarely buy new ones. My wife is always going to the library and checking out 5 or 6 books. We read them for 2 weeks to a month and then exchange them out. We will occasionally buy books. Ones we really like (or occasionally our son really likes).

    As for decluttering- nicely done! A mother way to do it is by moving homes. We decluttered 6 months ago when we moved from New Orleans. Then we decluttered last month moving from our apartment to the house we bought. It’s crazy how we still had to declutter despite the New Orleans move. The next big decluttering will be if we decide not to have a second child. We have been keeping the baby clothes, crib, etc around just waiting.

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