Wednesday, November 10

Posted by Laurel Garver on Wednesday, November 10, 2010 14 comments
One of my goals this month (that I've dubbed NaBalWriMo) is to seek freedom from the things that are bogging me down--burnout, creative low-ebb, disorganization and mess.

Spend a day with me and you'd see these things are all tied. My environment could be worse, mind you, but it isn't yet the haven I and my family need. What I need it to live with less. Lots less. But then the excuses start piling up, and I let the clutter problem remain unaddressed.

Stephanie Culp's Streamlining Your Life to the rescue. Here are some of the best excuse busters I've yet come across:

Know your goals and remove obstacles to achieving them
Clutter keeps me from having the energy and time to write. It also keeps my husband and daughter from being their creative, productive best, too.

Clutter steals time
Moving stuff from here to there and there to here is a huge time suck. So is scrambling to find essentials. And we all want more time, especially to write!

Decluttering blesses others
The toys your kids aren't playing with could be blessing another family. Ditto with the toasty coat that's too snug, the magazines you've read already and the CDs you've loaded on to your MP3 player. St. Thomas Aquinas argues that not sharing from our over-abundance is a form of stealing.

If I lost this in a house fire or flood or tornado, would I really miss it?
I've been through a major house fire with my parents, and let me tell you, it wakes you up quickly to what's "just stuff" and what truly brings you joy. I find this question especially helpful for culling things that no longer fit this phase of my life.

Your clutter won't go away on its own
Ignoring accumulations won't solve the problem. You brought the stuff into the house, you have to carry it out. There is no magical solution to making clutter disappear--though such a device or power would make great fodder for spec fic. Even house fires have to be cleaned up. You can, however, hire someone to help you declutter--but you have to take the step of contacting them.

Good enough is good enough
You don't have to perfectly balance the "correct" number of possessions. This is not an algebra test with one right answer. You might accidentally get rid of something you wish you hadn't. Or you might put in the trash what might have been recycled or donated. You might not be ready to part with a boxed up collection you inherited from Grandma. It might take weeks of a half hour here, a half hour there. That's OK. Take a deep breath and remember your bigger goals--like having a streamlined life that allows time to write--and keep purging the best you can.

Which of these excuse-busters speaks to you? What dreams would you chase with a less cluttered life?


  1. I threw away a lot of stuff when we moved. I felt so much better afterward. Mail is the worst. I know open it by the garbage can.

  2. I grew up with these lessons! Thanks to my mom, I've had a very healthy outlook on keeping and giving away things. Sometimes it's hard letting go of something, but then I just wait a couple months. If I haven't used it or worn it since, then I know it's time to give it away. It's amazing how things accumulate. I go through my things every spring and fall, and always I have something to donate or recycle. It's like things just grow from the walls, LOL!

    My outlook is I hate packing and moving. The less stuff we have, the less work it will be when my husband and I buy a house and then the less work it'll be to maintain a clean, organized home! Also, it's easier to let go of something if you know it's going to someone who can use it and will love it. Donating is the way to go (as long as whatever you're donating is in good, clean shape!)

  3. I really do work better in uncluttered space, and have to clean the entire room before I sit down to study for an exam. Having less stuff is definitely the best way to remain organized. These are really great thoughts and tips for having an uncluttered life. :)

  4. They ALL speak to me. I am a huge fan of giving stuff away, though. I agree that it's an important act of service. :-)

  5. Tina: So true. Sadly I've been in my house 10 years with no future moves in sight. Maybe we should pretend we're going to move?

    Laura: Great thoughts here. My daughter is getting stoked about passing along her loved toys to a needy child. Very Toy Story 3, I guess. :-)

    Emy: I think my hubby is much the same way--he doesn't work well in messy places. But he's not a good organizer. So we're trying to work out how to distribute the labor better around here. I can organize for him if he takes on some of my chores. Could work with roommates too.

    Shannon: Indeed. I'm quicker to donate when I realize my "someday I might need this" excuse is keeping good stuff away from people who really need it now.

  6. Being a sentimentalist, I have to remind myself often to declutter. My mantra of late is, "Memories are not from things, they're from people." Thanks, Laurel. Great post.

  7. I really like the fire one! Definitely puts it in perspective. I may try this on my husband (I mean, tell him about it . . . he's a packrat!)

  8. I like the "Good enough" one where you take it in increments. If you look at the whole mountiain, it's too daunting. If you look at just the first step, you can take that!

  9. Dang, they all speak to me and you must have been watching over my shoulder today. I've got so much stuff it sometimes drives me to tears. In part because so much of it isn't mine - it's my husband's and I can't get him to go through it for even 15 minute increments most nights. If I thought my marriage would survive unscathed, I'd consider dumping stuff when he wasn't looking. We keep selling to move somewhere else where I can have the house I want, but even though moving does force him to get rid of things, he just gains more. I'm NOT a great housekeeper, so I make my own type of contributions and it just gets worse. We've lived in our current home for 5+ years and I still feel like I'm camping out because of the boxes of stuff. Where's the St. Thomas quote, Laurel? If I can't convince him, maybe a saint can!

  10. Oh, boy, do I need to de-clutter. Your tips are so good, but I'm my own enemy when it comes to doing something about it. My daughter on the other hand could live in a shoebox. If she hasn't used something recently, out it goes. She's a lean machine.

  11. Roxy: Culp's book has great suggestions for coping with those sentimental emotions. She recommends having a scheduled day in January that you sort through a years' worth of memories, savor the happy feelings, select a few choice items to keep, and lovingly say goodbye to others.

    Janet: It IS hugely helpful, especially if his packratting is of the paper variety. Culp says 80% of what we file we never look at again. Financial records are really all we need. I'm thinking of scanning some handwritten letters and recycling the originals.

  12. Mary: Yes. That tip was huge for me. I can be terribly perfectionistic, which means tasks become bigger than they have to be. Bit by bit works just fine!

    Victoria: I'm sorry, hon. Being weighed down by a spouse's stuff is SO hard. Here's a link to the whole bit on property and theft from Aquinas's Summa Theologica: I especially like this quote from St. Ambrose that Aquinas uses in his argument: "It is the hungry man's bread that you withhold, the naked man's cloak that you store away, the money that you bury in the earth is the price of the poor man's ransom and freedom." I mean WOW, that's how God sees miserly hoarding.

    Tricia: I'm all for harnessing our kids' ideas when it comes to having a home everyone enjoys. I've done organizing projects with my mom most of my life. We usually have a good time and she's so appreciative of my help, which feels great.

  13. I'm a clutter bug. It steals time, energy and motivation. This WHOLE post spoke to me!

  14. I just cleaned out my boys playroom and I feel so much better. I couldn't believe how many toys they had and didn't even play with. Of course, Christmas is coming soon which means more toys. At least I can say, without any doubts, 99% of the toys have come from their grandparents. My goal is to go through my whole house and get rid of all the stuff that we really don't use.