Monday, 23 November 2009

De-cluttering



For many years, our family moved house on an annual basis. Although moving is an expensive, inconvenient and often distressing experience, it does have one silver lining: it forces a person to get rid of her rubbish.

Having to pack up one’s belongings sharpens the de-cluttering claws. If you have to carry it, or pay for its transportation, treasure really does turn to trash. A certain ruthlessness comes to the fore. I know that by the third day of packing for an international move, I am wresting beloved toys out of my children’s arms (do you really need 50 stuffed animals?) and begging friends and strangers both to help themselves from my pantry.

I love fresh starts, and actually take pleasure in setting up my kitchen or neatly organizing clothing drawers when I first move into a house. However, once a household has been established, I never am in the mood for seasonal cleaning – spring, or otherwise. Thus, even though the daily house maintenance falls to me, it is usually my husband that forces anything that might be described as “a project.”

Last night he said something along the lines of “we are drowning in clutter,” and although I chose to ignore that statement at the time, I started off the day by tackling some of the more annoying and obvious piles. This will be our fourth Christmas in The Barn – a personal best for our itinerant family -- and we are going to have a big crowd. I’m going to need all of the seats at the table, which means reclaiming at least half the space from the pile of newspapers, books, magazines and mail that has taken up semi-permanent residence there.

Although I can get rid of any piece of clothing that I haven’t worn in a year or two, when it comes to the written word, I suffer from a mental delusion. Despite all experience to the contrary, I still believe that someday I’m going to have the time to read this. I’m particularly prone to saving The Guardian Review, the RHS Garden magazine, and anything that has recipes. We have a kitchen chair stacked high with my favorites, in addition to the paper purgatory on the table. (I also have a stack of Reviews in my study, which I am guiltily gazing upon even as I write this.)

This morning I started out with firm resolve, and cleared the kitchen chair in one clean stroke. Then, I made a cup of tea and proceeded to flick through the large stack before it went to the recycling bin – just to make sure I hadn’t missed anything really important or interesting, you know. After an hour, and maybe three sections of Reviews that I never read during the summer, I realized that a more mindlessly efficient process was called for. Without even let myself look at the alluring titles, I started stuffing them into bags.

At that juncture, a friend called; and with the help of this distraction, I was able to completely empty a cabinet of dozens and dozens of cooking magazines – some of which I had been hoarding since the beginning of this decade. I immediately hauled them out to the car so I wouldn’t suffer from clearing remorse – and I’m proud to say that I only retrieved three of them from their shredding fate.

Flush with this success, (although not really flushed, because our house is freezing), I tackled the worst of the bookshelves. Even after careful review, I had to conclude that 99% of my books either (1) haven’t been read or (2) might want to be read again someday. After a great deal of internal debate, and some misgivings (it has to be said), I think that I managed to bag up about 10 books to go the charity shop.

Sadly, I still haven’t made much progress with the pile on the kitchen table. I had a quick look through it, and did throw away various bits of mail, but there are still so many newspapers and magazines of recent vintage there. I can’t quite let go of my belief that I am still going to read them. Someday.

47 comments:

Tracy Golightly-Garcia said...

Bee

I understand what you mean about clutter. We moved from a duplex to a house this past spring and I could not believe the stuff (mostly junk and old papers). I had work schedules from 2000 when I first started working my hospital job and I had over hundred books.

I gave most of my stuff to Goodwill and books to friends. It's hard for me to let go of stuff--especially school papers that belong to my daughter.

Great post!

Best
Tracy :)

jane said...

hey bee! i´ve been there (almost as many times as you) and know what you are going through. I always find that de-cluttering goes better with company. So if you need any help, you know where to find me. I always spend a week after i de-clutter asking my family if they can feel the "positive energy"... why do you think they laugh at me?... besos!

blackbird said...

Dear Bee, Good luck with your project.

I moved into my home when I was in college and every nook and cranny has been filled up over the years. But, I'm looking forward to the time when my children will both have homes of their own and I can have my own space back. Probably still full.

One of the great benefits of hosting Thanksgiving is the whole house clean and sort out that happens. It sets the stage for the festivities to follow.

willow said...

I've been doing the same thing this week, getting things ready for a house full. I bravely threw out a lot of magazines, but was left with a huge stack I couldn't bear to part with. I actually ended up buying a basket to stack them in. I need to sit down and browse through each one and tear out the articles and save them in my file. But not this week.

The Bug said...

We tossed LOTS of things when we moved this summer - but I still couldn't believe how much we ended up with. My poor sweetie's office is still crammed with boxes so he can't even use it. That's a project for December when he's between classes. Maybe we can be ruthless again! Except we like our neighbor Ruth - don't really want to get rid of her :)

Merisi said...

I empathize.
Deeply.
The written words,
you say it,
those have a tendency to pile up,
they grow in the dark,
I swear!

One way to make a pile smaller
in a hurry
is to rip out
the articles that may be of interest.
Deciding
which ones are not
does take time.
So,
I empathize.

Merisi said...

*giggles* @ willows:
I am sure Crate and Barrels and the like earn their living on the baskets the likes of us buy to keep our overflow contained.
Or so we think!

ArtSparker said...

Nothing like for a feeling of virtue...

ewix said...

It is rather wrenching getting rid of stuff
though I am the queen of it but we do have all the children's paintings from forever and I have all my notebooks and writing from forever.
I have got a bit better about books because of the circulating library in the laundry basement here.
One does get wedded to words.
Hope you aren't too very very chilly!
Thank God I married an American......

Just a Plane Ride Away said...

Go, Bee, Go!

Books are hard for me to part with... even if I hated them.

I still have unpacked boxes. Makes me wonder if I really need any of that stuff!

Polly said...

Gosh, this sounds so familiar (especially that I can actually imagine you in your kitchen going through the stack of magazines...)

I have no problems with getting rid of old clothes (or swapping them)but when it comes to books and magazines I also seem to have piles of old ones. And I think I never ever managed to select a book in my library that I could part with permanently.

Cyndy said...

Dear Bee,

Wishing you the best of luck with this project! As the whole world knows (since I decided to publicly denounce myself on my blog), I was beyond clutter in my home and embarked upon a purging project that still continues. It does feel fabulous to create new space!

As to magazines, may I make this recommendation? My daughter and I went through our piles recently, tearing out the pages we wanted to keep (recipes, decorating ideas, etc.) and put them into organized folder files. A pile that could have stood easily 4+ feet high became less than 6 inches deep ~ and it is organized and easy to use! A prize for our endeavors: pretty file boxes.

With the books, I, too, am holding on to all for that miraculous moment when I will have time to read them. I keep saying year 2020 will be the one ~ the year of perfect vision! : ) In the meantime, I find or make shelf space. We have big, wide stairs, for instance, so one set is used for travel books. In another area, I have a corner dedicated to poetry. In the kids' rooms, I use shelves in the middle of the room to create "walls." And so on. Not only does it help with organization, but it is part of my decor, as well.

Now if you could please help me with the clothes thing. Can't seem to tackle that...

Bee said...

Tracy - Your comment makes me uncomfortably aware of all of the academic folders/textbooks that I'm still hanging on to. But I DO believe in saving some of the special pieces of children's school work. Those go in plastic keepsake boxes!

Jane - You are so right, though! De-cluttering does bring positive energy . . . particularly if you dust after you clear.

Blackbird - We've only lived here for 3 1/2 years! I bow down to your superior experience of pack-ratting. And I agree about the holidays: that combination of people plus new stuff has lent some urgency to the clear-out.

Willow - For YEARS I have planned on doing that with my cooking magazines. But then I just decided that three years (plus) is the limit . . . and anyway, I have loads of cookbooks.

The Bug - No matter how ruthless I've been, I still always wonder why we used good money (and elbow grease) to move vast loads of rubbish!

Merisi - I'm sure I've dumped some treasures . . . but words do have a way of replenishing themselves. (When we left Houston, I dumped years of saved New York Times book reviews.)

ArtSparker - Yes, if one doesn't stall out . . .

Elizabeth - I'm quite sure that the only things one ever really misses are those that can't be replaced: children's work, diaries, letters. I sometimes regret clearing out my old love letters!

JAPRA - It is always so disconcerting to put things into storage (for years), and then realize you don't miss the stuff -- and can't even remember it.

Polly - I don't really feel guilty about keeping books. I occasionally give a few away as a sop to Sigmund. But magazines! They clutter the place up horribly, and I never seem to read them the whole way through; which makes them difficult to recycle without pain.

Bee said...

Cyndy - Good suggestion! Although sometimes proper de-cluttering requires organization, time and planning . . . and this was more about a quick blitz. A scorched earth policy.

As for clothes, for some reason, I find it easy to be ruthless. If I haven't worn it in two years, and if it is unflattering or never fit properly, I put it in a bag and take it to the charity shop. We have very limited closed space so I have to get rid of something if I buy something.

Nimble said...

It’s hard to look at the clutter in the face after learning to skim over it lightly from day to day. Clutter is so quiet. It takes up a lot of space but otherwise, so undemanding. But I’m sure you won’t regret those mags. I am an extremist, either I am hoarding all paper and fabric and objects because we might need them for some essential future event like… an afternoon of dress-up play. Or I become inebriated by the feeling of getting rid of stuff and secretly want the house to burn down.

Our eight year old’s birthday party over the weekend was a good prod to get some of our clutter tossed. The house looks better than it has in months. I recently read a house organizing tip that said if you are having trouble with clutter – send an invitation. It is good to have a deadline and it’s a reward as well. I am proud that I have almost completed our clothes weeding. I just have a few more bags to take to the donation dumpster.

Be strong and decisive, I have confidence in your ability to pitch the ephemeral reading materials *or* find a new place to squirrel them away.

Kelly H-Y said...

Sounds like you've made a lot of progress ... some of those things are so hard to part with. Good luck! And, the picture of the Barn in Autumn is stunning!

Sarah Laurence said...

We’ve been on a clearing out spree in our house too. Amazingly enough this was instigated by my teenaged son. Surprised? His plan is to turn the basement into a workout game space for himself, but he’s left me a gift wrapping and art shipping corner. I’m ashamed to say, we found boxes unpacked from our sabbatical in England from a year and a half ago. Maybe you could offer your girls some space to aid you in this chore.

CashmereLibrarian said...

No point in weeding out books. I'm also getting less likely to cut up a magazine, instead keeping them on shelves in our basement for posterity. I am really good at staying on top of paperwork and clothing, though, so I give myself a pass on reading material.
That's what I say now! We haven't moved recently yet and i still have a lot of my sons' stuff.

Anne said...

This post made me laugh. I had this image of you as keeping a fairly tidy house, with no real clutter to speak of. How endearing to find that your tendencies are closer to mine! I, too, suffer from Someday Syndrome.

Every time I move, I start the packing process thinking how great it will be to rid myself of some substantial percentage of the stuff that I accumulate. As the packing goes on, however, and the out-of-the-house deadline looms, I tend to revert from a policy of carefully considering whether or not I want to keep each item I pack to one of throwing everything in boxes indiscriminately and telling myself I'll sort it out later. Which of course I don't.

I'm hoping that last year's great purge of clutter will become a yearly tradition. As hard as it can be to get rid of some things (and I'm so with you on the written word!), it feels so good to have a clean, uncluttered house! It almost feels like a new home, as if I've moved without as much stress or expense.

steven said...

oh bee i had this idea you were so clutter free and poof there it goes. you're normal!! oh dear!!! i have piles of books and research articles everywhere. everywhere. i read anywhere anytime. it causes issues. i believe that i can read it all eventually and you do as well!! of course you do. you're a clever, insightful, intuitive - well leave it there. you can probably rationalize just as well as i can!!!! have a peaceful evening - reading. steven

kristina said...

I know, clothes are quite easy to part with, but books! magazines! they tend to stay...
unfortunately, I can't agree with you on that moving forces one to clear out stuff. I have some boxes in the basement that have moved with me several moves and have not been unpacked for years...

B said...

I do that! I keep the Review from the Saturday Guardian, always convinced that I'd have time to read it! It's sad really. I kind of started looking at my magazines and craft supplies yesterday but I couldn't get rid of much and started panicking... I need a proper plan and some time. Maybe we need to support each other through our blogs!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I do sympathize. I have the most difficult time cleaning out the magazines. And books? Forget it. I did have a good clean out of the bookshelves a couple of years ago and gave the rejects to my book club to pick and choose from. Unfortunately, I could only manage to let go of about five. Sad really.

Having lived in the same house for many years, I'll leave it to you to imagine how many books are in this place!

Nancy said...

I could relate to this post. I hate to throw anything away that can be read. And I keep buying magazines that never get read. Before I know it the Spring edition of something is a year old. Sheesh

David Cranmer said...

As I travel, I collect al kinds of garbage (heck even rocks now) but I never can bring myself to dump the written word. "... or pay for its transportation" is so true. I will discard clothes, wine etc ahead of my books. Just to damn hard.

julochka said...

i have a whole bunch of martha stewart living, martha stewart baby and martha stewart kids magazines from the early noughties. neatly in painted wooden ikea magazine boxes (albeit stashed on a shelf in one of the bedrooms). and i turn to one particular issue EVERY TIME i make a birthday cake. so, you say, why not just save that one issue? good question. but they're so nicely in those magazine boxes, that they don't seem that much like clutter. :-) so there's an idea for you.

Bee said...

Nimble - I find the idea of clutter being "quiet" rather endearing. It IS quiet, but then after you clear it away you discover how claustrophobic and smothered it made you feel. True for me, anyway.

Kelly - Thanks; although it is really the least attractive season. I'm already anxious for spring bulbs -- although I like winter's frost as well.

Sarah - Clearing a space for one's own use is very galvanizing. My study is our former junk room. Isn't it awful when boxes never get unpacked? We have some of those in the garage.

CashmereLibrarian - Do you ever go back and look at your magazines? I used to, but now I just feel I am drowning in reading material at all times.

Anne - I love clean, clear spaces, but I am not at all good at maintaining them. As I was writing this post, it occurred to me that it's time to do another post on the contents of my bedside table. OUT OF CONTROL!

Steven - I will reveal this to you: I have several years backlog of The Reading Teacher magazine and I haven't looked at them -- not even once -- since we moved to England.

Kristina - When we moved from Houston to England, the movers "forgot" to pack a box of my husband's papers. He had an absolute fit, and wanted the movers to airmail them at great expense. Instead, they went to live in my parent's garage . . . and as far as I know, he has entirely forgotten about them.

B - OR we could meet up in Oxford, with our accumulated Reviews, and spend an entire day reading, talking and drinking coffee.

Pamela - BUT I bet your books are beautifully arranged on ample bookshelves -- instead of stacked every which way like mine.

Nancy - I agree; magazines are the worst. I never read all of the articles, and then I feel loath to part with them.

David - Funny that you should mention rocks, because my daughter had left several specimens (including fossils) on our Welsh dresser . . . and I threw them out on the gravel walkway in front of the house! (I wonder if she will miss them?)

Beth said...

You win! I only managed to part with nine books for a United Way book sale. Perhaps I should go through my stash again? ;)

twebsterarmstrong said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
twebsterarmstrong said...

I love this post! You speak to women everywhere, apparently.

Every few months I have to remind myself to aspire to the Shaker existence...

rxBambi said...

I didn't read everyone's comments, but I also have a suggestion similar to cyndees. When ever I come across a recipe that I want I rip it out of the magazine and I have a 3 ring binder with clear pages that I put in it, so each page is a front/back with a new recipe. It has really worked well, and if I decide I don't want/need/like the recipe after I make it, I just take it out and put a new one in it's place. So instead of having tons of mags with only a few recipies, I just have the binder up there with all my real cookbooks. Not much planning either! Just have to remember to buy more of those plastic sheets (which by the way keep the pages from getting gunky!)

Alyson (New England Living) said...

Oh, we are so much alike! We move a lot too. We'll be in this house 3 years in January and that's the longest we've ever stayed in a house. Sad, huh?

I too am merciless when it comes to throwing things out during a move. No problem. Harder, though, is keeping that up whe you aren't going anywhere.

I feel your pain! Good luck.

herhimnbryn said...

Oh I know, indeed I do! I recommend baskets. The one on my kitchen counter is full of bits to read (paid)bills, dog collars etc. However, it is all in one place.

Christina said...

You will get it done! It is such a pain getting rid of the clutter. And when I am done, to reward myself, I go buy more magazines. Don't cha love my way of thinking?! I am a sad case. lol
xoxo

Kristen In London said...

A cautionary tale: somewhere in our de-cluttering-before-moving moments (we've moved 11 times in 20 years of marriage), I accidentally got rid of 1) all the entrance permission ID tags for libraries all over England and France for research on my dissertation, and 2) the telegrams I received when my daughter was born. I'd rather have the clutter of 20 years than have lost those two bundles of memory...

La Belette Rouge said...

I am paying over $200 a month just to store my books. It is better that than getting rid of any of them. My books are part of my history and identity and it is just oo hard to part with them.

Dave King said...

I understand your mental delusion perfectly - I suffer from it myself. We moved quite frequently during the early part of my career, but annually.... wow, I'm surprised you have kept your health and sanity! You deserve a medal.

Relyn said...

Me too. Oh, me too!! It's always the written word. I don't have much clutter that's not the written word. OK, I have none that isn't the written word. Me too! Kudos to you for your accomplishment.

linda said...

I hope that you manage to dredge through this terrible chore soon and i know exactly what you mean about the magazines...ANYthing that just "might" have something of value..my thing is garden magazines-used to be cooking but haven't found one i like recently and now gourmet is gone too--anyway, you will have so much glorious space when all is cleared away...what i have to do is chuck it all in one go, into a bag and then never ever look at it again...but every time i do this, i regret that i have lost something---some something i now need....oh, i shouldn't tell you that!

blessings...

kristina said...

Oh this is all so true. And I can completely relate to the getting distracted by and immersed in the reading material while trying to clear it out! I wish I could be as ruthless as you with clothes... K x

rachel said...

Oh dear, this one really touched a nerve! 'Clearing the heaps' requires supreme willpower and steely resolve - what helps me, especially when shredding the cleared heaps, is to do it with the papers upside down (and even minus reading glasses!) - I find I can spot the mustn't-destroy invoice or guarantee in the upside-down pile, but don't get drawn into reading stuff I've just hoarded. Books, though, are impossible to declutter!

Maggie May said...

ahha!! it's the magazines that get me too. impossible! you are heroic.

Dick said...

We are mere carbon traces at the bottom of the mass of detritus that fills our house. Before the move - probably not until January now - there will have to be a genocide of broken toys, ancient mags, babyclothes, empty-boxes-that-might-become-useful and other redundant impedimenta. And I'm dreading it...

Lisa said...

I have such a hard time parting with books. And I have a gardening magazine from the mid 1990s stuck in drawer and I know exactly where it is. I haven't looked at it a few years, but I can't bear to throw it out.

I know they are things, but some of them hold dreams and wishes and those are the ones I won't let go.

spudballoo said...

Oh I sympathise! Circumstances have meant I've been a ruthless declutter....our London house is big, but NO storage, nothing at all...all big openplan loft style living = nowhere to BLOODY put anything! So I decluttered.

Now we live in a small cottage awaiting the sale of the London huse and, er, there's nowhere to put anything so more decluttering and the rest in storage.

When we move I think I will have decluttered to the point where we on't own anything LOL!

That said, my 'weak' point is a chest of drawers in the dining room. The post and 'crap' pile up at an astonishing rate and threatening to overwhelm us on a daily basis...

x

Emm said...

Heh. My mum used to hoarde like crazy and after emigrating and then moving twice again in the next two years, I've become absolutely ruthless. I have one box of memories pre-2007 (mostly wedding and engagement stuff), one box since moving here and almost everything else is fair game. Books and cds are sacred and precious in ths house and rarely leave once they've entered! My solution to that has been to stop buying them!!

rebecca said...

Oh, how I adore decluttering! I know what you mean about books. Every now and again I dedicate a day to going over the books I have (and there are many! all taking up space in every nook and cranny) and sift through and marking them donations or keepers. The local library loves me. I still have many books at home that I've not yet read and vow to not buy another or take another out of the library until I've tacked those....yet....yet....

*sigh* well, at least I get an A for effort.