I’ve always felt over my head with homemaking. Keeping things clean AND tidy has been unattainable and once things get messy, it feels like it takes two straight days of cleaning to get everything in order. Or at least…it did. Before I did the stupid easy thing everyone said would fix it: GET RID OF THE STUFF.
A few months ago I had an epiphany after clearing out the big kids room of most of their toys. Before that, trying to get my six-year-old and three-year-old to clean their room was a traumatic experience. Tears, threats, and tantrums ensued–and the kids’ behavior was even worse (see what I did there?).
But one weekend while they were at grandma’s Daniel and I had a garage sale and got rid of about 50% of their stuff. THEY DIDN’T NOTICE ANYTHING WAS GONE (!) But they did thank me for cleaning their room for them. And have been able to maintain their room, for the most part, without much help. Win.
I started to think, “hmmmm. If that’s all it took to transform a nightmare into 10 minutes a day of easy clean up….maybe I should do that to the rest of the house. Maybe that whole decluttering craze has something to it.” Tack on putting our house up for sale (we’re moving to a farm, there will be goats, no big deal. jk. SUPER BIG DEAL where our apartment will be 650sq ft. for the five of us) and voila! Some pretty serious decluttering motivation!
So I went room by room. I tried to be downright ruthless. When I was feeling unsure about whether we needed to keep something I’d think…how much will this cost to move to TX? Is it worth the space? Most of the time, it wasn’t worth it. We sold a few things, gave items to friends, and dropped tons of boxes off to the local thrift store.
Daniel and I estimate that we got rid of ⅓ of our stuff in the past few months. ONE THIRD.
That means there’s a third less stuff to organize, keep orderly, and clean. Gone are the days of trying to stuff too many things into one cabinet. We can keep things neat and everything put away because now there’s actually somewhere to put them. Revolutionary, right?
It’s a whole new world.
Yes, things still get messy. We have three kids and we homeschool (because Voldemort hates homeschooling) so…just use your imagination. It’s chaos. But as long a I keep up with the laundry and dishes, when we are asked to show the house to a potential buyer with only a couple of hours notice, I can do a quick mop and wipe down of everything (with what I learned from my friend Jen), tidy up what’s being used, and we’re out the door with a show ready home in plenty of time.
And in the six months or so of decluttering, NEVER have I thought of an item we purged and wished we still had it. NEVER. So basically a third of what we owned was completely unnecessary and eating up our time to maintain, organize, and clean.
So I’m a believer now. And I’m so glad circumstances forced me to declutter, because this is the way I want to live. Less stuff. More time. More fun. Who’s with me?
Do you struggle with keeping the stuff under control? Any expert declutterers out there willing to share tips?
Can I ask what it was you got rid of? I’m moving myself soon and all I can think do is reduce the number of things that we do use. For example, cut down the number of cups. But I don’t think I could get rid of every cup (or book or toy). There’s not really one particular thing that I could get rid of or I would have already. Still seems like we have so much stuff. I guess I’m looking for some tips about how you decided what to keep.
The toy post was really helpful btw.
That was exactly my question. I would love to read about what categories of stuff you realized you could easily live without. I easily get stressed out by clutter, so I’m constantly donating little piles of stuff, but we’re doing a big garage sale soon and I’ve been going through the house for weeks now! So anyway… new post idea, maybe?
That’s a great question. Honestly, it’s hard to remember it all. And truly, as far as families of 5 go, we really didn’t have that much! But it’s amazing how all the little things take up space. My method was really just to go room-by-room cabinet by cabinet. So I didn’t really go through categories so much as spaces. There were a few things we packed up because we’re not taking them to the farm but we will want them later (like heirloom China). But mostly I just slowly went around the house, took everything out of a space, cleaned it, then decided what should go back. That lemon juicer that we used 6 years ago to make lemonade that one time we made lemonade?…….See ya. I got rid of any clothes that I didn’t love, went ahead and passed on Benjamin’s old clothes since by the time a new baby boy could fit into them the elastic would be old and the stains would be worse. It really was a loooong process and it looked better one room at a time.
Mandi Richards says
I’ve gotten rid of some of Lucia’s toys and she always notices. Maybe not right away but eventually she’ll say, “Mommy, I want to play with…Can you help me find it?” And so now, I have to tell her everything we get rid of and why because she feels betrayed and upset when I give her things away in secret. She’s usually pretty good about just saying, “Ok” to the things I want to give away but every once in a while, she’s not and I don’t mind keeping those things for her. But having to ask her about each individual thing does make the whole decluttering and packing process longer.
I’ve been pretty ruthless about my clothes over the past year or so. I’ve probably gotten rid of three or four large boxes of clothes. I have bought quite a bit (with my Twice credit) to fil in the holes in my wardrobe When we move next month, I think we only have about one box worth to take. And I haven’t missed or thought about any of it either. I just know that when I go to the closet, I can pretty much pick out anything and it fits me and it looks good and I like it. I have a really hard time being discerning about Lucia’s clothes though.
She’s an observant one, Mandi! I’ve been ruthless about my clothes, too. I think now that I have some clothes I really love from Twice and Stitch Fix, I don’t feel so bad about tossing that shirt “I might wear sometime in a pinch.”
Mandi Richards says
My problem was I had a lot of clothes I NEVER wore, not even in a pinch! But yes, I got rid of even the stuff I “kind of liked” because I want everything I wear to be something I love.
Yes! “I want everything I wear to be something I love.” That makes it so much easier to let go of uncomfortable and unflattering stuff, doesn’t it? I had my closet winnowed down to that a couple of years ago and, at first, it was a little ’empty’ looking. But every time I went to it, anything I grabbed was something that fit, felt great, and looked great on! WIN!
I admit, since then, quite a few not so great pieces have somehow crept in…time to go for it again! 🙂 Thanks for the reminder.
You are doing a wonderful thing for your daughter by asking her what she wants to keep and what to let go. She is learning that her opinions matter and that she has some say in what happens. She feels safe because her things don’t suddenly disappear. You are teaching her that she can make good decisions and her space feels better when it is tidy. You are teaching her to be a confident woman that can take care of herself.
Haha, I think I’d better start asking myself what I want to keep and what I can let go!
I like to watch our three and one year old play. Over time you notice they never Olay with certain toys. I get rid of those. Keeping stuffed animals to a minimum is big. We have a two bed house for five of us. Not a lot of room for messes. If been decluttering too, if you can’t remember when you last used it toss it. I just got rid of my desk, it was just becoming a catchall for stuff and I never used it. Small dresser I fixed up went in and art supplies is now organized and hidden.
Also a BIG tip for our small place is keep the fridge doors clean. If the fridge is clean the whole room looks less cluttered. Each kid is allowed one art work piece on it.
How do the stuffed animals multiply so quickly?! I took a giant GARBAGE BAG completely full of stuffed animals to the thrift store. I couldn’t believe how many we had.
Pretty sure stuffed animals bred
Because people LOVE giving stuffed animals to kids. We’re trying to declutter and our daughter got 4 (!!!) new stuffed animals for Easter, none from us… all from well meaning relatives, but I almost cried from pregnant frustration. We kept only the one that my daughter latched onto.
My MIL used to get my kids a stuffed animal for every occasion, and I mean EVERY occasion: St. Patrick’s day, Valentine’s day, Easter, Fourth of July, etc., and that’s not even counting the birthdays and Christmases. I was so over stuffed animals! So one day I write a joking email to my in laws, saying that the fire marshal had declared our home unsafe because of too many stuffed animals, so we couldn’t accept any more. That kept the tone light buy got the message across. It was years ago, but they still remember! Thank goodness!
A third?! Amazing. We are just starting a process to declutter and I’m hoping to get rid of a lot. We will be moving (God willing) next summer (and to who knows where! Ah, academia) and I’d like to have the junk gone before we need to pack. Over the last three years, we’ve acquired a lot of things like tools and yard work things as well as a LOT of things passed down from our parents. It seems as if so much is important either for sentiment or for family history. I’m already dreading the hard decisions!
It’s amazing how quickly it accumulates! We’ve only lived here for five years but whoa. So much stuff.
abby hummel says
I find that an impending more (or moving scare) is the best motivation for decluttering EVER. (I’ve had a few of both of those in our 6.5 years of marriage!) It’s taken a few moves (and a few years of marriage) for us to figure out our stuff threshold. We are both pretty frugal people and have never had much money because we committed to getting through grad school without living above our means. My husband hangs on to things “in case we need it,” and I have a hard time throwing something away because I either a) spent money on it! or b) got such a good deal on it! Well…. Everything I own fits in to one of those categories. I’ve made peace with accepting that the money was already spent and it’s not worth keeping something I don’t like, but it’s taken longer for my husband to let go of stuff. I showed him that he has 3x as many clothes and 3x as many hobby supplies as I do right now, and it’s helping him mentally/emotionally prepare to purge more stuff. (I throw away his clothes without asking when they get ratty. He agrees this is the best solution.)
We know we’ll be in our town less than two more years, but a two-months-notice move could happen ANY TIME before then. By this fall we will have added almost-irish-twins and a big dog to our entourage since we bought this house in the start of 2014. We decided to get the house as ready to pack up and move as possible by June 1st so that life will be easier with a newborn AND we’ll be able to move with less effort if needed. I think yard sales or selling on Craigslist is the ultimate motivator — earning a few extra bucks makes it SO much easier to say “goodbye,” plus I know I have a little cash if I want to get a nicer looking or better quality replacement for something.
The other thing I like to do is offer my bags of discarded clothes to friends… if they want it? Great! My stuff is in a nice new home, I don’t miss it. If they don’t? My friends don’t even want it if it is FREE! Why do I have it at all!? Either way, no regrets. And then when I do that and find I have “holes” in my wardrobe, it’s not hard to spend a little money buying a few quality items because I know *exactly* what I need. (And since I know exactly what I want/need, I can usually order it online and avoid the siren call of everything-else-I-don’t-need-at-GAP-that-is-30%-off.)
We have a deal that either one of us can throw away, return, or donate any gift we get that we don’t really like, no matter who gave it to us or how much it cost. Housewarming gifts from one of our parents, knick knacks from an aunt, whatever… doesn’t work for us? We don’t have it anymore. We have been pretty brutal about culling the baby toys we don’t like while we still have that power, and luckily our parents seem on board with our desires for fewer high-quality toys. I’ve heard of parents telling kids, “This is a one-day or one-week toy” when they get something that is junky or not what the parents really want. After the time is up, the toy goes away at night!
And even though he has a hard time getting rid of stuff, my husband agrees that we are both happier and we fight less after a big decluttering effort, too. A peaceful looking home makes it easier to live at peace.
I totally get that. We’ve been very frugal for our whole marriage and so it’s easy to say, “hey but we MIGHT need that or it cost THIS much.” But in the long run, we’re really not using it, so who cares how much it cost? And yes. A decluttered home is peacefuller. Enjoying it!
Sarah C. says
Great idea about time limit toys! I utilize a group on facebook to purge stuff and I buy most of our kids’ toys and clothes there. Only problem is that I buy far more than I sell. Oops! We decided to do a no-spend November to limit our spending to the necessities (i.e. milk and toilet paper). My goal for this month is also to eliminate all the clutter that has been earmarked to be discarded. I have a hard time letting go… but it’s so much easier when I get a) the satisfaction that things are going to a good home or b) money.
abby hummel says
Two other things! (Can you tell I’m also on a decluttering high? Ha!)
1) I like to say, “If everything burned to the ground, what would I need to replace?” Would I replace a lemon juicer (your example)? Nope. Would I replace a cutting board? Yes. Would I replace all six of my cutting boards? No. Keep the 3 nicest cutting boards and toss the juicer.
2) I like to write, so I keep a folder in my computer (and back it up online) with special memories about people. I don’t feel bad tossing anything with sentimental value – I totally just sold the dining room chairs my grandparents bought 50 years ago and tossed the apron my grandma made me. That grandma passed away a few months ago and I loved her dearly. (I named my daughter after her.) I don’t need to hang on to those things to remember her or prove my love! I can just bake bread like she showed me or remember the stories she used to tell me. That’s just as special as any furniture or knick-knack and doesn’t make more work for me around the house.
1) Oh, that’s a good way to discard especially since I know we’re changing climates. I don’t need snow boots anymore.
2) I’m not sure I could do that. Some of that stuff was given to us by family. My mother-in-law would be silently offended. My mother on the other hand would bring it up every time we talked. Some things they bought I could probably ditch, but others…yeah to keep peace I feel obligated to hold onto it.
I should also add that my mother-in-law is pretty understanding to a fashion. My mother is a hoarder. She has trouble getting rid of things that she sees as being useful.
abby hummel says
We live far away from family, so it’s a little easier to get rid of things… but I am also completely at peace with offending someone if that’s how they respond. My priority as a homemaker is making a peaceful home that works for my immediate family, not keeping our extended family happy, and my husband agrees that everyone else will have to get used to that. (I have noticed that the gifts have improved DRAMATICALLY in the past few years — and more gift cards! bonus!)
This would not be an option if my husband was upset about it, obviously! He has a hard time with things he is attached to, but he has come around quite a bit to trusting my discernment that we “really don’t need a random set of four soup bowls from your grandma that don’t match our other dishes anyway” or whatever. 😉
I’ve recently started to realize how much visual cutter stressed me out ad been doing this too. When I’m unsure of whether or not to get of something I’ll store it in a tub for a few months… if I need it or remember it’s sentimental value after those months I’ll keep it…. if not off it goes.
Yes! I didn’t realize how much it stressed me out, either. But especially with young kids in the house, if there’s STUFF that’s being moved around or dragged around all the time and being grabbed off the counters, I also get really irritable about it.
Great stuff in here! Although we aren’t moving something just clicked for me last year (i think it was part of my nesting instincts with our 3rd)I realized we didn’t need all this stuff- just stuff!
Sure enough over a period of a few months, cabinets by cabinet and closet by closet. I pulled out, cleaned, re-organized, and got rid of a TON! So liberating. It was also a great opportunity to re-think some of my storage areas and try some different use of spaces. It makes your house feel new!
Yes! I was able to get rid of some furniture that we just didn’t need now that there’s less stuff to store 🙂
How would you recommend getting a reluctant husband on board with decluttering? I have no qualms about tossing or donating my children’s excess stuff when they aren’t looking, but can’t do that with things my husband wants to keep.
Such a good question! I might crowd source it for you on the FB page because I’m sure some other folks have insights. But I think first of all relationships are more important than decluttering so you’re totally right about treading carefully. Daniel both hasn’t had as much time to declutter his stuff and he’s not as obsessed with it as I am, haha. I think he really appreciated how much nicer it was to be in our house after I decluttered my things and he agreed to let me put some of his miscellaneous stuff in boxes in the laundry room until he had a chance to go through it. That way it wasn’t driving me crazy and I wasn’t dumping his stuff without permission 😉
Thanks for your thoughts; I often tell my children “we love people more than things” — I suppose that goes for things we want as well as things we don’t want. I gave away/donated about 1/3 of my clothing earlier this year, which utterly amazed my husband. I’m basically living with a capsule wardrobe of maternity clothes and plan to create a nursing-friendly capsule once our little one arrives. But I’m sure there are plenty of other areas of our home that I can declutter without being disrespectful of my husband.
Jamie (@va_grown) says
We seem to go through a purge every couple of years and the hardest part is keeping it from all coming back as something else! I find the easiest way to help everyone else in the house that’s not on the bandwagon with me is to box up stuff I don’t think they need and say, “Let’s see how much we really use it” and leave it in a corner/closet/under the bed for a month. If we need to go get it, we keep it. If we learn to do without it, we put it on the porch for Purple Heart the next time they call. Usually my husband gets tired of the boxes stacked in the corner and just says, “Just get rid of it, clearly we don’t need it!” by the end of week 2.
Sarah C. says
I realize that not all families have space to do this, but I decided to move all my husband’s stuff into our master bedroom closet since he wasn’t on board with decluttering his stuff… only “my” stuff… like kid clothes/gear, my clothes, my craft stuff, and other household items. That meant moving all my clothes out (except laundry bins), so I took over our hall closet, which is rather spacious for a hall closet, but I do have to share space with our towels and various other household items. His closet has a giant pile in the middle of the floor, but I don’t feel like I have to be concerned about it!
Christine G. says
Great post! This is really motivational for me as I start another decluttering goal for this summer. I would LOVE a podcast episode on this topic… just a thought for my favorite podcast ever 🙂 Thank you and God bless!
Teresa G says
BAM! Doing this as we move to our new house!!! Our church is having a rummage sale next month. See ya, stuff!
I heard of a Christian family once (sorry, can’t remember who) that told their kids they could have 10 toys. Craft stuff, art stuff, musical instruments, books and sporting equipment were exempt. All the rest of the toys were donated to charity. Then, when they were given something new, they had to decided what they were giving away out of what they currently owned so the total ALWAYS remained 10 and no more. The parent said this revolutionised the family as the kids became very grateful, much less self-centred and most importantly hardly ever argued anymore. Cleaning up also became a breeze too.
I’ve not done this yet but love the concept.
Any tips for politely dealing with the inlaws(or any well meaning gift giver) giving too much? My inlaws get very hurt when we get rid of ANYTHING they give the kids, however they give them sooooo much! For example Auntie gave the entire Disney princess 12″ doll collection from the Disney store one year. (Where am I going to put 7+ Barbie dolls?!) that was just one of the inlaws! When we asked that they limit to just one gift per person because we just don’t have the space for so much it really offended them. We try to encourage spending time or fun experiences instead of things, but they seem to feel that the kids NEED stuff. 🙁
Suzi Whitford says
Wonderful post! It has been on my mind lately to declutter our home before our second little princess arrives in February. So I feel it is a way to make room for new life. Reading the comments made me realize that I need to go through my closet too!
Haley, have you dived deeped into the reason behind why we hold on to things so desperately? Why do we find it so difficult to let things go? Sentimentality? A bit of fear?
I feel I need to pray and ask God for help before I start this project, I definitely need some Divine intervention to help me get rid of things! I’ll share this on my FB as my friends and I were just talking about this yesterday! 🙂
Suzi Whitford says
This was the post that got met hooked on your blog! January is my clean out, donate, minimalism month.
But help! Why is it SO hard to do it? Lord help me to get rid of these unnecessary and unloved things…