Tag Archives: clutter

My best de-cluttering tips

I know many people have spent time during quarantine cleaning out their houses. I haven’t done too much because I’ve been committed to de-c!uttering for years. I got lots of good ideas from books when I became devoted to a clutter-free home and over time I’ve come up with a few of my own.

1. Ask yourself: If I was moving would I take this with me? I find this helps me see what something means to me & how much trouble it’s worth. If it’s not worth moving, why is it worth keeping?

2. Put a date on the object & put it aside. When you look at it again it’ll give you a better idea of whether you a) use it or b) missed it. I also like to put short notes on items I have some question about. “Needs new cord” or “extra” or “jeans too loose at waist.” Waiting awhile can eliminate my indecision or give me a fresh idea. It’s useful, if possible, to keep such items together somewhere they won’t be forgotten/overlooked.

3. Think of a person – someone you know or a celebrity – whose style you admire and who, to your knowledge, lives clutter-free in a nice home. Ask yourself: would such-and-so have this item in their house?

4. Consider if the item is one-of-a-kind; i.e. if you get rid of it & regret it, how hard would it be to replace? I had a conversation once with a cousin who was afraid she might get rid of something valuable, a concern lots of us have. I pointed out that if it was a box of gold bricks, she’d probably keep it.😁 Most things can be replaced and your life won’t be a shambles but for the excised object.

5. Go through all your belongings on a regular basis. What seemed important to keep two years ago might no longer seem so now. I’ve been surprised by what the passage of time can do to my desire to hang onto things.

About my winter (and 2020 resolutions)

I’ve had a good winter. It was productive and the little “kick” in my step I felt in the fall hasn’t gone away. There’s been a bit of reprieve from an on-going problem in my life (not because anybody did the right thing but just out of a change in circumstances) and it’s allowed me to breathe a little easier. So that was certainly part of it. Creating more focus and direction for myself in the last three years with the annual resolutions has helped me considerably. I’ve already made a good start.

In a post a few years ago I remember saying that I felt like my life was a big ship in need of minor course adjustments. But big ships don’t change direction easily. They groan and strain and balk when required to turn; momentum has got them chugging along straight and that’s the easiest path. My ship has groaned and strained and balked but BY GUM it has turned. I don’t feel as wasteful. Wasteful of time, energy, talents, potential.

I stayed in shape and ate well. That’s one of the most important things I do every winter. It’s important always but tougher in winter. I pushed myself to not get lazy or eat more calories than I burned. In years past I’d be very active in good weather and was burning off the calories I consumed but come winter, when I slowed down physically, my calorie intake didn’t. I have finally realized I need to start dialing back the portions, even in a fairly healthy diet, in the fall not later in winter. I ate fruit like it was my job. A good, juicy mandarin orange, for one, is an amazement each time.

Somewhat of an aside but I feel like mentioning this: Last summer and again this winter, I bought a lot of food from Amazon. I’m in an area where Amazon offers home grocery delivery for Prime members. I only get Prime, which I split with someone, occasionally and when I do, I go to town. See, a year of Prime is $119. However, if you pay by the month and get it, say six months a year, it costs, at $12.99 a month, $78 a year. I don’t need Prime every month and I don’t even need it six months a year (last year I believe I got it for two months and two separate weeks when they had a special). Point being, when I do get it, I make sure to get my money’s worth and part of that has become groceries, both shelf-stable and perishable. Having food delivered to me has been wonderful. It’s not perfect but it’s made my life better. My life really does revolve around meals.

I was doing yoga but injured myself (not doing that) and had to cut back in the last month but have kept up my other exercising (push-ups, hand-weights, walking, and so on).

One of my goals was 8 attempts at a pull-up (or chin-up). Not 8 consecutive attempts but 8 visits to a local playground to have a go at it. The bar is just out of reach, so that when I’m standing on the ground below it, just the tips of my fingers touch it. I have to jump up to catch hold of the bar and decided that if I could touch my chin to the bar that’d count as a success. On my third visit I was able to do that and did it once more to make sure I could. I wouldn’t call this a pull-up exactly. I think a real pull-up requires you to pull yourself from a dead weight (no jumping involved) and to get your chin over the bar. Still, I was pleased to accomplish what I did!

I’ve read 15 books (out of a goal of thirty). I recently discovered Playaway books at the public library. They are cute little recorded books that you plug ear buds or headphones into. I am really enjoying being “read to”. I’ve listened to two books I read in years past, Animal Farm and The Handmaid’s Tale as well as two other novels. It’s fun to have these for variety (in addition to actual books) and I can go outside or do routine chores while listening. Some readers are fantastic at the narration and their talents really add to my enjoyment. (I was half-expecting that Margaret Atwood would read her own book but it’s Claire Danes; the story’s narrator is a young woman so of course it makes sense to have a younger person narrate.) While I’ve listened to books on CD in the past, I’ve yet to listen to any podcasts and resist reading books on any kind on an electronic device (like Kindle) so the Playaway books are a big deal for me!

I am on a mission to get rid of stuff. I’ve already put 72 items on my list this year. I’m not living in an empty house by any means but it is streamlined and orderly and visually attractive. Getting rid of a lot of stuff in the last several years is a big reason for that. I can find things, I know where stuff is. There is something very freeing in getting rid of things. I haven’t stopped buying NEW things but right now the things are going out in larger quantities than they are coming in; I’m trying to be very particular about what comes into my home (and my life for that matter; it’s all connected).

In December I fixed up my kitchen with a a “poor woman’s” semi-Italian update. No major appliances left or came in; it was largely a cosmetic project but I’ve been very happy with it.

I went through ALL of my clothes, looking at everything with fresh eyes. I got rid of (charity, etc) anything that wasn’t working for me or made fixes that could turn clothes into better versions of themselves. Whether I get them new or second-hand, I routinely have to take “tucks” in most of my jeans, pants, and shorts at the waist in order for them to fit right. (If I buy a smaller size, then the rest of the garment is too tight.) Taking in “tucks” at the waist makes pants or shorts sit where they should so the rest fits better.

If I got a piece of clothing free or cheap, I feel freer to “operate” on it. I bought these cute Forever 21 shorts for a dollar at a rummage sale last year but realized they were just too big. I remedied that by hand-sewing new seams down both sides and cutting off the excess. Now the shorts fit and flatter me.

This Merona sweater (a former Target brand) that I think I got from a thrift store is very sweet but just a bit big and additionally, it “gapped” in between buttons (you women readers know what I’m talking about; people can look right in at your bra! I hate that.). I fixed the button-gapping by sewing buttons (I keep a small stash of extras) permanently on between the gapping buttons at the top. Now the sweater is a pullover – since the newly added buttons sewn right through the front – but that’s okay because at least it looks good and I’ll be more likely to wear it.


The second & fourth buttons are sewn right through the sweater

I also went through all jewelry. I think there’s a point, although I haven’t decided exactly where it is, where you can have too much of something to truly enjoy it. I think this is true of clothes and jewelry too. When I clear things out I can see what I have and I appreciate them more. This doesn’t mean I have hundreds of things because I don’t. Just that I want to manage anything I have where there’s reason (or desire) to have more than a few of it (clothes, jewelry, music, dishes, etc) so that I have a number that works for me. What is the point in merely collecting things in quantities you don’t actually use? Or really love? That’s where my head is at.

I’ve done 10 “good deeds” of the twenty on my resolutions list. The good deeds have to be something more than I might normally do; they can’t be everyday stuff I do all the time; I have to go a bit out of my way. And I have to do them with no idea of being rewarded. I hesitated to even mention this resolution when I wrote about my 2020 plans because I didn’t want it to sound self-congratulatory. I still don’t. But if I was reading this, I might want to know what kinds of things I’m talking about when I say “good deeds” so I will tell you one.

The small grocery store near me is having financial issues and going through changes. I have mixed feelings about the store but I don’t want it to fail and while I won’t give them extra cash (they’ve been doing quite a bit of fund raising) I will help in other ways if I can. On a recent Sunday many grocery carts were outside the store, where they’d been abandoned, rather than stored inside for new customers. Usually an employee is in charge of bringing the carts back inside but I could see nobody was around (maybe nobody ever does this task on Sundays or maybe it was just this particular Sunday). I took it upon myself to round up all the carts and bring them inside. It took a few trips. It is harder to push a line of carts than it looks! I came back through the store a few hours later to see if the carts needed to be brought in again but an employee had apparently already done it.

Basically, I’m keeping my eyes open for things I can do to be helpful or decent or kind, where it requires more effort from me than what I might normally do. And — except for here in this blog – I am keeping them to myself. They are secret good deeds, at least part of the time.

I cut back on my DVD watching. Less internet and less DVDS mean more reading, etc. I’m still doing crosswords and other mind-challenging activities. As much as I want my body to stay strong, I really, REALLY want my mind to stay strong. That said, I’m no zealot and I believe in entertainment. I’m catching up now on movies that were nominated for or won Oscars this year so my DVD-number is on the increase. I figure I’ll just slow it down later this year. I was uncertain about setting a number, but I think a movie a week is good, plus a few series.

It is always about balance. Modern life is not about balance. It’s about excess and immoderation, about indulging one’s self, and never having enough. Does that sound preachy? I don’t mean it to be. But everywhere I turn, I’m encouraged to overdo it and not in good, healthy ways. It is a real struggle to stay in your own lane and not be caught in anyone else’s agenda, be it an individual’s or a corporation’s, or even a government’s. You have to decide what is important to you and keep to it. Beat those distractions back with a stick! That’s what I tell myself.

I enjoyed this winter more than any in years.

Update on my 2019 “resolutions”

It’s over 6 months – yikes over half way – into 2019. Time for an update on my kinda, sorta resolutions. This is my second year nailing down specific, simple things I’d like to accomplish. I consider it a positive new thing. It gives focus and a certain order to my year.

I have read 25 books. The goal, which I expected to exceed, was 20. The most recent was the 400+ page Maybe You Should Talk To Someone by Lori Gottlieb. It’s part memoir, part nonfiction, a fascinating book for anyone psychologically minded. It gave me a lot to think about. It’s the longest book I’ve read since I got serious about reading again (less internet, more books).

I have slacked entirely so far as continuing the Italian language cds I started in late 2018. I think it’s because I didn’t feel successful. I never felt I had a knack for languages and I can’t say my opinion has improved! I will try again but maybe a different cd set. I can’t give up this easily; I mean, geez, I should nail down a few phrases at least.

I have kept up my crossword puzzles hobby and, as planned, got a hold of several New York Times Sunday papers so I could try theirs. I really like the NYT puzzle. The puzzles increase in difficulty over the course of a week (one of my commenters pointed this out to me but I didn’t know which day the NYT “week” officially started). The puzzle is easiest on Monday and most difficult Saturday,  with Sunday’s puzzle being equivalent to a Thursday in difficulty. Having that measuring stick is useful.

I didn’t do as well on all the puzzles I tried as the one pictured but I’m still pecking away at them (without using the internet for solutions). The puzzles are created by different people and a short bio is included. A 25 year old named Erik Agard, a professional puzzle maker, had, as of June 2, contributed nine puzzles to the Times this year, more than anyone else. Professional puzzle maker! At 25!! I look at the puzzles and (very) vaguely wonder if I could make them. I don’t see how you’d even begin. Daunting. Which makes the 25 year old maker that much more impressive.

My favorite thing from the NYT however, is “Spelling Bee” , a challenge of making words from proffered letters. I don’t know exactly what it is about this but I love coming up with words. I need a framework though, and as with “Spelling Bee” a way to rate my progress. The Times has: Good, Excellent, and Genius scores. Naturally I’m striving for Genius! And occasionally with actual success! (So why aren’t there JOBS that need such a skill?😕) Useful or not, I always enjoyed finding words from random letters but now I see the importance of such word games in keeping your mind sharp, more so as you age.  Mental (and physical) challenges were part of 2019’s resolutions.

My self-instructed yoga got off to a good start. I’ve done the “sun salutation” – a five minute pose set – 21 of a planned 50 times. Additionally I’ve done 30 minutes plus of yoga 12 of 25 planned times. I haven’t been doing yoga recently because I’m very active outdoors in Spring and Summer and I really don’t need extra exercise. I’ll plan to pick it back up later in the year. Since I’ve done just about half, I think I should hit my goals by December’s end. I’m intent enough that I bought a DVD player for the TV in the living room – the only spot in the home big enough – where I “practice” yoga, primarily using library DVDs. I tried different ones to see who I’d like. I’ve never used exercise DVDs so this is new. It kind of makes you feel like you have company although I wonder if repeatedly watching the same one or few would get old? (I won’t pony up for classes and don’t feel the need.) I think if you get bored of hearing the same things, you can turn the volume down and just follow the poses.


Sun Salutation (simple 5-minute set of poses


I regularly de-clutter and get rid of stuff – and have been at it for years – so at the end of December I made a modest goal to get rid of 15 things. What was I thinking?! I’ve already let go of 125 things. I surprised myself. Getting rid of stuff is addictive, though. And really, I’m down to almost all little things. It feels awfully good to shake off debris that no longer serves you. Keeping a list makes it more fun. Same with the other numerical goals.


A sample selection


I have not made any Thai food (yet). A Thai-inspired Cole Slaw prompted that goal.i

This wasn’t in the January post but after an unusual year of indulgence of sorts (relative I assure you) I wanted to bring my food spending down. I was prompted to spend less as a goal because the  $2,200 I spent on food in 2018 seemed like a lot and was decidedly more than I’d ever spent. I have markedly cut my food spending in the first 6 months of 2019 but I wonder how much of that owes to the fact I had, I see in retrospect, the equivalent of a small grocery store in my home! I had quite a stockpile going on. You’d think a stash like that would just last & last but no, it seems I ate most of it.😐

In the first six months I spent $766 on food, which, if doubled and divided by 365 is about $4.20 a day. I did this NOT by dieting or going hungry but by eliminating pricier products or prepared foods like the $5 pound of hummus I treated myself to occasionally in 2018. (That hummus is now $5.50 and shouldn’t a home cook like me be making her own hummus anyway?) I bought only fish (frozen or canned) and shellfish, no other animals (which is not to say I never will but as of now have no thought to). Other than Olive and Sesame I haven’t bought any fancy oils, such as the delicious Avocado oil I bought a few times in 2018. I’ve eaten well, nutritiously, and plentifully (I have to for my activity level), no complaints. At this rate, one I’m not sure I’ll maintain, I’d spend $600 less on food this year than last. I’ll be satisfied if I cut it by $300 (more beans, less pasta.😁) and that seems like a realistic or probable savings by year’s end.

The only real indulgence I’ve kept – so far – is an occasional bottle of Kalamata Olives. The point of cutting my food spending isn’t to be a martyr or self-punishing in any respect. I ADORE food and its importance in my life can’t be overstated. It’s to see if I can spend less and still be happy with my food and to get myself to make even more foods at home.

I’ve watched (or watched again) two Marx Brothers films. Who said goals can’t be fun?! I know I need it, more levity, and the Marx Brothers are a sure thing. I have watched A LOT of movies and several series this year but I’m not too concerned so long as nothing more important is short-changed. This is the first time I’ve kept a list; I simply had no idea how many hours I spend watching DVDs and I wanted to know.IMG_20190708_122736

Lastly, I ‘m maintaining my physical health and with the yoga earlier this year, definitely challenging myself. I was pleased to find I kept up with everything the instructors were doing in the DVDs. On other fronts, I haven’t mastered a chin-up or pull-up 😁 – something I’ve mentioned – but I don’t really expect to.

(More) thoughts on clutter and “stuff”

Every time I go through my stuff I find more to get rid of. I wonder how that can (still) be. I am far from a hoarder and I’ve worked diligently to create a home that is organized, user-friendly, and attractive. I have shed so much. I give away A LOT of things so I am uncertain at times how there can still be more to purge! I look around and say “What is all this sh*t??” WHAT IS IT??

In the last several weeks I’ve given away several bagfuls of belongings and moved many others by the road with a “FREE” sign. It feels good. It always feels good. I am in no danger, however, of sitting around in four bare walls holding just a bowl and a spoon.

I do believe we as humans tend to take over whatever space is available to us. It’s only when we move to smaller quarters do a lot of people, willingly or otherwise, get rid of lot of junk. I don’t want to wait for that. I want to stay on top of it.

One thing I am trying to do – and it’s utterly new to me – is become comfortable with empty spaces. A shelf with nothing on it. A bin with nothing to put in it. Empty hangers. Unconsciously I believed for a very long time that wasn’t right – all spaces should be filled. Like it was a rule.

Having addressed the initial discomfort, I find that seeing empty space is luxurious. It makes my mind feel open too. It’s just freeing. As I’ve seriously de-cluttered and organized over roughly the last 8 or so years, it never occurred to me there might one day be empty spaces, or that they would somehow challenge me.

The more I get rid of the more I want to get rid of. I look around and say, “What else?” “What else can go?”

I find that some of what I’ve hung onto suited a younger me and that I must reconsider it in light of middle-aged me. Does it still suit me? Is it age-appropriate? Is it representative of who I want to be? Is there a place for it in my future?

So why does all this matter? Well, I’ve known lots of people who either lived surrounded by stuff and junk or even lived in squalor (it’s hard to keep a place clean when there is stuff everywhere and no bare floors) and they weren’t happy. I understand we can have a powerful relationship to our possessions – I do too – but I also see when there’s a point the stuff OWNS YOU. People keep (too much) stuff around because it makes them feel secure, or so they think but in reality the stuff is helping to keep them insecure. That’s what I think anyway.

Here are two rules of thumb of mine that I’ve been using when approaching my stuff:

1) If I saw it in a store today would I buy it?
2) If I was moving tomorrow would I take it with me?

(I’ve got a 3rd somewhat macabre one you cannot disregard if it seems too dark, “If I was dead would someone else want this?”)

These questions  force my hand. They show me how much the item really does or does not mean to me. It has raised my standards too and that’s a good thing. What I’m willing to keep around is tied to how I think about myself. What I deserve. What I’m worth. How I want to live.

At times I believe our stuff gets shabby when we’re looking the other way. I mean a pair of socks, for instance, doesn’t get pilled or lose its elastic overnight. It happens gradually and that makes us less likely to notice. I need to look with fresh eyes and decide whether something is serving me, adding to my life. Whether it’s socks or more substantial things.

I am still a consumer. Still a shopper. But I am taking in less than I am moving out. And the quality of what I buy and/or bring home has gone up. Now I consider far more carefully before I decide I want something. Sometimes when I acquire an item I give myself a set amount of time to use it (same thing with things I’m thinking about getting rid of). If I don’t use it in that time frame it goes. No more one day, maybe in five years or whatever, I might need this. If I give it some thought I can usually figure out why I’m not using something and further, a self-imposed deadline gives me an incentive to use it and form an opinion one way or the other.

It’s hard to find the right words to convey – and I know I’ve tried before in this blog – but for me possessions and the way I live are directly tied into who I am. I have a vision. I have a vision of who I want to be and how I want to live. It’s tricky to totally articulate it as a wholesale philosophy since much of it is based in feeling. But I know this. I want things to be beautiful, pleasing to the eye and to the senses. I want to feel a sense of calm and comfort. I want to be at ease. I want to look around with pleasure. I want to feel secure and in control. I want to feel cared for. My “stuff” is part and parcel of that.

Clutter rules (no, Clutter RULES)

I’ve written before about de-cluttering and organizing, which, like any other practice or commitment, is ongoing. I have less clutter and am more organized than I’ve ever been in my life. My home is not high end but attractive and fairly stream-lined. I generally know where things are. I can look around with pleasure and a sense of accomplishment so I would not be embarrassed to show you around if you turned up unannounced (but don’t turn up unannounced, okay?!) Still, there is always more to get rid of and areas where things accumulate.

Several books helped me improve my thinking about possessions. I took many things to heart but one idea was that being surrounded by stuff and things could serve as a distraction, to keep someone from focusing on more important issues, specifically those they should be addressing. As is true of any other crutch, obsession, or addiction, once the coping element is removed, a person has to deal directly with whatever is really amiss. That is, when the tables are cleared, there is nothing between you and “the world,” you and your troubles – and that’s a good thing. That makes sense to me.

I was never a hoarder, never someone who had a serious issue with clutter. As a lifetime renter, hanging onto stuff (and moving it from place to place) was not an option. That alone was incentive to not own a whole lot. Having stayed in one place for some time now though, I’ve seen the temptation to collect.

My parents stayed in one place for decades and kept a lot of junk. Things were loosely organized. Yes, they had many children (and I absolutely understand when children are involved, there is going to be much more stuff), but even when those children were gone, the stuff stayed. My mother blamed my father for owning so much junk, but she kept a lot of stuff too, just different kinds. Regular de-cluttering was not part of the way I grew up. Hanging onto stuff, keeping it “in case” very much was. I took my parents’ attitudes into my adulthood but I didn’t see that for a long time. I had to examine what was in my head from childhood versus how things could be. Chances are most people repeat the patterns they knew early.

There are specific practices that help me. When I am looking through my things with an eye to getting rid of stuff, I ask myself questions like:

1) If I was moving, would I take this?
2) If I died tomorrow, would somebody else want this item (or would it be promptly thrown out? “Good god, why was she keeping this??!”)
3) Would Madonna have this in her house? (You may substitute anybody you like but although she and I have very different lifestyles and means, Madonna works for me because she seems like somebody who treats herself well and wouldn’t keep crap around.)
4) Would I be sorry if I got rid of this? Would my life be any different?
5) Am I keeping this for reasons other than it’s useful, meaningful, or makes me happy?
6) Are the reasons I was keeping this no longer true?
7) Why am I keeping this?

This isn’t original, but one de-cluttering idea is to place all the clothes that are on hangers backward in your closet. As you remove and wear them, the hanger is turned back around. (If there is something about the garment you don’t like after wearing it, good-bye to it.) After 6 months or a year, it’s obvious what isn’t getting worn. This idea can be applied to other objects as well. I am currently doing the same thing with my music collection to see if I am hanging onto music I no longer like or listen to.

If I try on a piece of clothing in my closet and there’s something not right with it, I stick a little note on it with the date and what was wrong, such as on a pair of pants “4/16 too tight at the waist but baggy in the butt”. That way if I revisit the clothing in 6 months and the issue is still the same, I know it’s time to get rid of it. Sometimes I just write “not flattering” and see later if I still think that. I do the same thing with other objects as “needs cord” or “missing a piece” or “needs repair”. (Nothing is allowed to sit around listlessly for 3 years with a “needs repair” note stuck on it.)

I date things. If uncertain about whether to get rid of an item I put it in a box or bag with a date on it and set it out of the way. When it isn’t missed for 6 months or a year, there’s a better sense of how important it is or isn’t. I will also write dates on things indicating when a decision needs to be made.

I put my hands on everything I own on a regular basis. Otherwise they “cease to exist”. I will never have a box I don’t open for five years because what is the point?

An easy way to organize is to have numbered containers and a corresponding list saying what’s in each one. Same idea with a drawer or closet. Instead of rummaging around hunting for something, it’s quicker to consult a simple list. Every now and again I look to make sure the lists are current and accurate. This isn’t fancy stuff; just handwritten notes. It is just too easy to forget what you own and where it is otherwise, especially if it’s in the back of a closet or hidden away in an attic or on a top shelf out of sight. I tell myself all the time “I’ll remember so-and-so” – where I stored something – but often enough I don’t, so I know not to trust myself.