Elizabeth Elizabeth is a divorced mother of two elementary-aged boys. She is a former English professor and lay minister who now manages the office and communications for a local church. When she's not working or writing, you'll usually find her cooking for her loved ones or hanging out at coffee shops and bookstores. Contact her by e-mailing her at Elizabeth@mumblingmommy.com.

A few weeks after moving into my current house, I had a nightmare. We suddenly had to move again, and I felt I could handle it — except for the books. We have a lot of books, and in my dream, I couldn’t bear the thought of moving them again and to declutter. They were just too much work.

Four years later, we have even more books and, in general, more stuff. We are a family of four, and we live in a three-bedroom, two-bath, one-level house with a basement. Like fellow blogger Rachael, I like my smaller-than-average house and don’t feel crowded. But even in a small house, we’ve managed to accumulate far more stuff than we actually need or use.A few “hot spots” have formed in the house — the basement play area, my office, the master bath — and they’ve grown disorganized and cluttered over time. For a while, I was convinced this was an organizational problem. Maybe I just don’t have a “highly organized” personality. Or maybe it’s an equipment problem: if only I had the right boxes, labels, and file folders, I could get everything organized, right? Wrong. Recently I realized that I don’t have an “organizational” problem. I have a “stuff” problem.

I realized this when I volunteered in December at a community center that our church supports. We were organizing a “Christmas market” for the community in which people could get new clothes, toys, and household goods for their families at no cost. It was a great event and a huge boon to an impoverished community. I was given the task of sorting through and hanging up baby clothes. I quickly developed a system of sorting by gender and size, then came up with a way to create stand-up signs on the rack (like you see in stores) so that the shoppers could quickly find the size they needed. People remarked on my efficiency and organization. Wait, my efficiency and organization? Have these people seen my home office? My basement? (Clearly, no.)

That’s when a completely new thought hit me: I’m not a hopelessly disorganized person. Like many middle-class Americans, I just have too much stuff. 

So at the turn of the new year, I made a resolution: 2015 is the Year of the Great Declutter. I’m giving myself a whole year, because I knew if I only gave myself a week or a month, I wouldn’t be able to finish the project and would just be frustrated. I’m also not making hard-and-fast rules about what to de-clutter and when (Because as soon as I encounter a “rule,” I instinctively rebel against it. Feel free to take a moment to feel sorry for my mother …).\

How I Declutter

My method is simple: two to three times per week I spend 20-60 minutes clearing out a “hot spot” or part of one. So far I’ve cleaned out my master bath (which looks so much prettier now), a few drawers in the kitchen, a linen closet, a clothes closet, and also sorted through and organized the kids’ art supplies, which were spread out in three different messy boxes on two levels. I’ve gotten rid of several trash bags of trash/recycling, one van-load of giveaways, and I’m working on a second van-load for this week. The pounds mentioned in my title above are an estimate from a moving website. And I believe it! As a side benefit, all of this de-cluttering has been good exercise.

Master bath: Before

And what I have gained? Space, time, money, and beauty. Space is obvious: less stuff means less crowding. And time? Apparently what my mother has been telling me for years is true: when you are organized, you spend less time searching for things. Money? For one, I haven’t wasted money running out and buying filing cabinets, containers, shelves, etc. Clearing out means that I can use the organizational tools I already have instead of spending money on more. It also means that there’s less chance of buying something I already have. For example, when I organized the kids’ art supplies, I discovered that we have a lot more paint than I thought. I won’t be buying them new paint for months!

Master bath: After

I’ve also saved money by changing my mentality. When you switch from thinking, “What can I buy to make me/us happy?” to “Do I really need this or can I live without it?” you spend less money.  I’ve never been an overly materialistic person, and yet I fell into that trap many times without realizing it. I don’t actually need more clothes, books, or kitchen utensils to be happy. Having less makes me happy because my stuff doesn’t overwhelm me anymore. And the kids aren’t happier when they get more toys than they can play with either. 

And beauty? To me, a less cluttered space is more beautiful and restful. And I have the time and space to make things more beautiful. I’ve been enjoying taking on painting and home improvement projects around the house, too, which I would not have thought to do before I cleared out the space first. Also, if I get rid of the junk, I have room to display beautiful objects that were just gathering dust before.

I’m only a few weeks into this declutter project, and I have a long way to go. But I’ve already seen the benefits and have made it flexible enough to keep going for the long haul. I hope this time next year I can look back at 2015 as a year when I gained space, time, money, and beauty — not just more stuff.

How do you declutter the things in your life? 


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Tags: clutter