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. 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:
- The Best is Better than More – I was hesitant to get rid of board books. Lui 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- Joy is an Odd Measure – Mr. T and I are weird. That’s not a secret. And we 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.
- 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 radio 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.