I honestly can’t count the number of times I have tried and failed to add up the hours I’ve spent cleaning, organizing, and purging stuff from our house, but it is likely in the tens of thousands. And every time I begin a new round of purging, the process stages click off and by like an old friend, quietly but quickly reminding me that, like grief, there are these specific stages to certain processes in life.
Angry at the mess? Check.
Disgusted that busy lives have led to a sometimes crazy level of disorder? Check.
Mad at children who seem to be incapable of actually putting items in their neatly designated spaces? Check.
Worried that I’m ruining my children by throwing away precious treasures? Double Check!
Eventually, I always come around to embracing the purge and remember that so many live with much less. It’s always a warm reminder of a favorite photographer, Peter Menzel, and his Material World: A Global Family Portrait study of households worldwide and what they contain.
“If you have clutter, you’re richer than you think!”― Donna Smallin
Here are a few tried and true tips, from this mom of six, to you:
#1: Not everything is a treasure to keep, and some things should be an online memory.
We are so blessed to live in an era where the physical presence of an object, art project, or photograph isn’t necessary for it to remain in our lives. Taking photos or scanning a child’s artwork is a fabulous alternative to keeping many papers around. Long gone are the days when photographs were expensive to develop, so our ancestors either kept them for only special occasions or because they were so costly they couldn’t bear to throw them out. We can cycle photos on our television screensaver, have them as the background on our smartwatch, or even print them on a throw blanket to snuggle up with while watching a movie.
#2: Seeing is believing and organizing.
Living the lie of “out of sight, out of mind” is a considerable roadblock to organizing and living a clutter-free life. Usable items in a long-forgotten box on the top shelf in a closet can often be helpful to others, and overcoming the desire to keep things that were once useful is paramount. I, for one, think many should try to organize like Marie Kondo because she understands the psychological nature of keeping things and the value of letting them go.
I use these tremendous see-through fabric storage bins in our playroom as I learned very quickly that if children can see what’s there without dumping it out, I can have some clean-up time back for myself or other projects. I chose these, not the iDesign clear bins like I have elsewhere in our house because they are exponentially less likely to be flipped over, used as steps and stools, and get broken.
#3: You can’t take it with you and other great lessons from the Swedish art of döstädning.
Döstädning, or death cleaning, may have a semi-morbid name, but the practice is something that I embrace as a mom and as a child.
Who is going to want all of this after we are gone?
The generations containing our parents, their parents, beyond historically, have saddled the living with more than anyone one person could need. More stuff, more stress, and more emotional turmoil typically accompany losing a loved one who very likely never wanted to make themselves a burden. Having frank conversations with our families and ourselves about who will be left to deal with all the stuff left after a lifetime is such a freeing and emotionally satisfying process. Sharing the memories of items while someone is living can keep us all more emotionally sane while grieving.
#4: Sometimes, it is just trash, and that’s okay.
I have often witnessed people trying to donate, sell, or pass along items that no longer are useful. Whether it is clothing or towels that are stained or torn, electronics or appliances that are broken, or even recalled things, we have to respect that sometimes items are no longer helpful and should just be recycled or thrown out.
Car seats, and most plastic products, have an expiration date to help keep our babies safe. However, they can still come in handy when Target and old eyeglasses can find another lifetime of usefulness when donated to a Lions International recycling center. Maybe you stumbled upon a box of old clothes that aren’t entirely hand-me-down-worthy. Blue Jeans Go Green helps keep 90% or higher cotton and denim textiles out of landfills and recycles them in partnership with Zappos for Good to even provide free shipping for donations within set weight parameters.
Here in Pensacola, the annual tradition of Mayor’s Neighborhood Cleanup is music to my ears and balm to my soul as it lets us safely and correctly dispose of unuseful household items, cleaning supplies, paint, and so much more.
#5: Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you feel overwhelmed.
No man, or woman, is an island unto themselves, and asking for help is always ok. I always approach a big task with the mindset that you don’t have to spend hundreds on a professional organizer when sometimes you simply need the kids out of the house. Making plans with a couple of friends or neighbors to take turns keeping kids busy or pitching in at each other’s homes may be exactly what you need to help you on your way to conquering that nagging mess or clutter.
“Every minute you spend looking through the clutter, wondering where you put this or that, being unable to focus because you’re not organized costs you: time you could have spent with family or friends, time you could have been productive around the house, time you could have been making money.”
― Jean Chatzky
If you’re still struggling, please remember that, just like Elsa told us, it can do a world of good to just “Let it Go.”