Archive for the ‘Clearing clutter’ Category

It’s been awhile since I posted a blog entry. I went on vacation for Thanksgiving and although I was only physically gone a few days, I obviously have been mentally still on vacation for quite some time. But I’m back now (for the most part).

It’s also been awhile since I cleared clutter in the house. I had a good run there for a short time, clearing Charlie’s closet, our kitchen cabinets, and the front hall landing zone, but like any well-intentioned-yet-completely-out-of-her-element person, I reverted to old habits and ignored all sorts of cluttered areas of the house. But three factors contributed to me jumping back on the clearing clutter wagon:

  1. I made The List. Oh, The List. I thought this list of inexpensive (many even free) tasks I’ve been meaning to get to around the house would be inspiring, but instead it’s just a reminder of all the things I haven’t done. One of the items on the list is to clear clutter in ALL of the closets in the house. Good grief. I may never finish that task. One closet seems like a major accomplishment. So although the list is intimidating, it does on occasion cause brief, productive bursts of guilt inspiration.
  2. My mom, who does more in a day than I seem to get done in a week, came to visit and helped me.
  3. Just one half of one episode of this horrific program on TLC called “Hoarding: Buried Alive,” sent me running to the nearest cluttered area to atone. Have you seen this show? Sweet mercy, it is terrifying. No joke. This is how it is described on their website: “Hoarding goes inside the homes of extreme hoarders to explore the psychology behind their compulsion to accumulate & store large quantities of nonessential things.” Enough said.

Anyhow, I attacked two different closets. First up: the catch-all closet in the front hall. This closet had become our behind closed (closet) doors dumping ground since shortly after we moved in. It had no order to it, we just shoved things in there that we couldn’t find a home for elsewhere or that should have gone to live in the garage but we were too lazy to take to the garage. It had gotten to the point where we’d open the closet door and things would tumble out.

Sorry, the picture of this closest isn’t good because it’s in a tight space in the house and it’s impossible to get a good angle on it for a photo.

Here are just some of the things I pulled out of the closet:

To clear this closet, I threw out a lot of stuff, but I also just moved things to a better location. For example, we had a lot of paint supplies, so almost all of those (except the ones we use most frequently) got moved to the garage. To give you a sense of the kind of stuff we were holding on to in that closet but didn’t realize it, the pile above included paint chips for just about every color we ever considered painting each room in this house. For example, here are the reds we considered in 2004 when we were choosing a color for the living room:

And, in fact, none of those large paint chips are for the color we actually ended up choosing. I think we ended up with the red color that’s circled in the bottom right of the photo. I think.

After a lot of work, here’s the final result of the hallway closet de-cluttering project:

Now the closet stores luggage and golf clubs, both of which get used at about the same rate which is to say almost never.

Next up, the linen closet. This one wasn’t nearly as cluttered as the hallway closet, but it lacked any form of organization and I’d lost track of what was in there.

This is the closet my mom helped me with. We took everything out of the closet and created lots of piles to sort each item, including piles for twin sheets, queen sheets, duvet covers, hand towels, bath towels, and wash cloths. We also made the ever-important “thrift store” pile which, I’m happy to report, was quite large by the time we were finished. I’m even happier to report that my mom took the big pile of things to the thrift store and brought back a receipt for tax deduction purposes. Then we put everything that remained back into the closet, keeping each item in its sorted pile.

My mom even went all Ms. Organization on me and, after she flew home, created a bunch of labels and mailed them to me, so now I’ll always know where things go. Thanks, Mom!

I still have a long way to go on my quest to clear clutter in the house — heck, I have a long way to go just to clear clutter in the rest of our closets — but little by little, I’m working on it. Or, at least, I’m thinking about working on it.


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A few weeks ago, I posted my first tale of clearing clutter. I mentioned then that Karen Kingston, in her book, Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, claims that removing clutter allows good things to come into your life. Ms. Kingston even notes that one of these good things may be money. Now, I didn’t start clearing clutter in our house because I am a feng shui follower, but you know I was open to this particular principle.

Last week, I de-cluttered our front hall landing zone — the place where the mail gets piled up, some of it never to be seen again. Well, I’m proud to report that we’ve been doing great with our new mail sorting system. Junk mail gets put right into the trash/recycling bin and the rest gets opened on the spot, with the important stuff put into a pretty blue bowl.

A day or two after I created our new mail sorting system, a completely nondescript letter in a business envelope arrived in the mail addressed to me. This was clearly not a bill and the return address was just a P.O. box in another state. In short, this was the very type of letter that previously would end up at the bottom of our cluttered pile. But, due entirely to our new system, I opened the letter. And guess what it said? I’m a member of a recently settled class action lawsuit (actually, it said that I may be a member, but upon reading the criteria to determine membership, I know that I qualify) and that I was entitled to about $20 in cash. Then it said that I will just be mailed a check. I know that $20 isn’t a lot, but this is money for which I had to do absolutely nothing. And, with our mail sorting system working so well, I’ll now know exactly when that check comes and it won’t get buried under a pile of clutter.

So, I ask you: is this notification of the class action lawsuit coincidence, or is it feng shui?

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Just as you enter our house, there’s a small chest which has turned into a dumping ground. This is where the mail gets piled, the cell phone gets thrown, and keys disappear under the clutter (I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that it’s my cell phone and keys that end up stashed here; Mark is much tidier than I am). More than once bills have gotten lost in the pile and haven’t been discovered until after they were due and late fees had been assigned.

This is what the top of the chest typically looks like:

This is not really a great way to say, “Welcome home!” So it seemed to me that it was time to not only clear the clutter, but also figure out a system so that we aren’t tempted to keep piling stuff here and we always know when a bill has arrived.

I sorted through everything on the chest and made three piles: recycling, trash, and items I wanted to keep but needed a home. Then I found a home for all those items. Some went into the top couple of drawers, Charlie’s things went back to his room, and the bills went to be paid.

Now, the top of the chest looks like this:

The vase on the left is the camellia bouquet I made this weekend which I moved from the kitchen because I thought it would add a nice pop of color on the chest. The small bowl on the right was a Christmas gift from my boss. It holds keys and my cell phone. The larger bowl in the middle was a gift from a dear friend and neighbor. It will now hold all of our needs-attention-mail, like bills and magazines.

As nice as this is, it didn’t seem like enough to prevent us from piling. So I grabbed a waste basket we weren’t using and put it on the floor next to the chest. The waste basket is for mail that goes immediately into the trash or the recycling bin. It’s not very pretty, but it’s free and I think it will work.

So that’s the plan for the front hall dumping zone.

Does anyone else have mail-sorting systems, or designated places for keys and cell phones? What’s worked and, maybe more importantly, what hasn’t?

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Last night I decided to combine two recent yikes money interests: clearing clutter and improving my kitchen. I targeted three different areas: the top of the refrigerator and two sets of upper cabinets. First up, the top of the refrigerator which started as a storage place for cereal boxes but has also become a general junk area for things that we don’t have room for in cabinets or that otherwise don’t have a real home.

With a little rearranging of our lower cabinets, I was able to find a new home for the cereal boxes and Charlie’s beloved goldfish crackers:

Mark was concerned that the cereal would spill out with the boxes tilted on their sides, so I just clipped a clothes pin on each bag inside the cereal box which will ensure the cereal doesn’t spill and will keep it from going stale.

Everything else on top of the fridge got thrown out or moved to a more sensible home, so now the top of the refrigerator looks like this:

The fire extinguisher has never really had a proper home so it’s always lived on top of the fridge. At least now we can get to it easily in an emergency. Does anyone have any good ideas for where to store fire extinguishers?

Next, I moved on to the upper cabinets. Here’s the first set:

I pulled everything out of the cabinets to get a good look at what I had. Going through these cabinets was a little painful because I came across about half a dozen food items that had passed their expiration date and really needed to be thrown out. Some of it I could compost, but some of it went straight into the trash — so sad, and should inspire me to clean out my cabinets more often to avoid this in the future. On the flip side, I found a few food items I’d forgotten about but are still perfectly good.

As I put everything back into the cabinets, I tried to group similar items (the cabinets definitely had no real sense of order before).  So for example, spices are on the bottom on the right, chips and nuts are on the shelf immediately above them, and oils and vinegars are to the left of the chips.

Then I moved on to the next set of upper cabinets:

Again, I took everything out to see what I had. I was able to consolidate a few items — wheat flour that had been in two separate containers, paper plates and other picnic supplies, and two bags of rice. So now the cabinets look like this:

These cabinets actually revealed a little money-saving for me: we had some leftover party supplies from Charlie’s birthday last year that I can use for this year’s party.

Finally, I thought I’d take this little de-cluttering project one tiny step further. I don’t keep photo albums. I have a lot of guilt about that, but the reality is that I’m not likely to change my photo-lazy ways.  Consequently, we have a lot of loose photos lying around the house. So I grabbed some of them, put a little tape on the back of each one, and taped photos to the insides of the cabinets. As I come across more photos in the house I’ll just add them to my cabinets for an instant photo album effect.

Now I don’t feel quite so guilty about failing to create albums and I can enjoy the photos every time I open the cabinets. I actually got this idea from somebody’s website somewhere (sorry, I can’t remember whose). He or she had taped in their cabinets all their holiday greetings photo cards from friends and family to enjoy through the year.

My two favorite things about this little de-cluttering project are the top of the refrigerator and the photos in the cabinets. Clearing off the top of the fridge really makes the room feel more spacious which I hadn’t counted on but is very welcome. And, of course, the photos are just plain fun.

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Many years ago, my sister gave me a copy of Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui by Karen Kingston. It’s an inspiring little book whose fundamental message is that clutter creates stuck energy in your life and by removing it, you clear a path for wonderful opportunities to come your way. If you’re my sister, you read this book, took it to heart, and never allowed another ounce of clutter to come into your home. If you’re me, you were inspired to clean out a closet, wondered why the universe didn’t reward you handsomely, and continued to clutter up your house with abandon.

I regularly read a design blog called Young House Love written by a couple in Virginia. This past Friday, they posted a weekend challenge: they were going to clean out some of their closet clutter and challenged readers to join them. Well, why not? Goodness knows, I didn’t have to look hard in this house to find a closet to de-clutter. Actually, the difficulty was in choosing which closet I’d de-clutter. In the end, I chose Charlie’s bedroom closet because it’s ridiculously full and I had no idea what little treasures lay in there just waiting to be rediscovered.

And here is a picture of the closet Saturday morning:

Scary, I know.

In order to make the task of clearing out the closet a little less daunting, I broke the job up into manageable pieces. I started with the top shelf. I took everything out and sorted it on the floor into five piles: trash, recycle, save and put in a box in the attic, keep in the closet, and give away or sell. Then I took a break. Later I came back to the closet and did the second shelf using the same process. After another break, I sorted the rest of the items in the closet.

It turned out I was right; Charlie’s closet held lots of little jewels including:

  • a backpack of mine I’d been missing for two years
  • several items I think I can sell either at a garage sale or on Craig’s list
  • about half a dozen toys that were gifts for Charlie that were too sophisticated for him at the time (but are perfect now)

And here’s Charlie’s inspiring closet now:

Nice, eh?

The best part of all this is now I can take these found toys, wrap them up, and give them to Charlie as new.

Lesson learned?  Feng shui = free new toys for Charlie.

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