Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Calgon, take me away.....

Today was one of those days.  Nothing bad happened, really, but I just feel overwhelmed.  The house is a mess (remember those spaces I showed you that I'd tidied up?  well.......not so tidy today) and my to-do list has about 34 sub-lists.  I feel so snowed in and yet do you know what I just did?  Watched two shows on my DVR.  Yeah, that was certainly NOT the solution.

Do you ever get in that place?  Where there is so much to do that you just sort of pull your head in like a turtle and rest inside of your shell for a while?  I would think that's not the wisest plan of attack but the weird part is now I feel sort of energized to get a few things done.  Maybe 2 hours of CSI: NY was my version of a power nap?

I have no idea, but I'm going to run with it.

 (here's my resident Expert Power Napper)

How do you motivate yourself when you are starting to lose the battle against the clutter?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Today's mess, courtesy of Amy.

Greetings!  Today I bring you "Horrible Mess on Top of a Bookshelf," a true work of art currently on display in the Room of Doom.  It's a dumping spot for things I don't know what to do with, which makes it especially hard to clean (not a lot of trash there).  Well, let's get started.  Here's the before:

And after a little work we have this:

To be honest,this is now a tidy spot but I'm still not happy with it.  Typically my books are organized (by type of book - i.e. poetry - or type of author - i.e. Beat writer - etc.) and these are just a hodge-podge that somehow ended up here.  But I am trying to stick with my guideline that you don't start a new project in the middle of your current one so I simply tidied up the shelf.   Next time I will think about reviewing (and maybe rehousing) some of the books.

On to the next mess.....

Monday, March 28, 2011

Making the most of a mess.

This weekend I was able to have some free electrical work done on my house (you can't beat that price).  Naturally, when you have lovely plaster walls (sarcasm alert) they crumble and make a gigantic mess when they're worked on.  The good part of all of this is that it got me to clean areas that normally don't make to the regular housecleaning rota. 

For example, I have a wire shelf next to my kitchen that holds cookbooks, the cat eating area, and  some decorative items. I normally wipe up the cat area every so often but the shelves never get dusted!  I don't know why!  I never even think of them (probably because I don't cook so the books never get touched).  When I had to move the shelf to get to an outlet I wiped down the WHOLE area - fridge and all -- and vacuumed up the dust bunnies, and even wiped down the scroll-y wire on the shelf.  I also took the opportunity to cull through the cookbooks and kept only what fit on the shelf (previously they were overflowing).  I wish I had taken a before shot, but here's the after:

Big improvement (trust me)!  This sounds sort of nerdy, but I also love knowing how clean it is!  It feels good that an entire corner of my kitchen is truly sparkling clean and clutter free.

Now I need to go vacuum up the plaster dust in the living room...wonder what I can de-clutter in there, while I'm at it?

Friday, March 25, 2011

There's no place like home.

Look around you and find one piece of clutter. Can you tell me why it's "clutter"?  For me, 80% (yes, I am making up this number.  Let's just say "a lot") of the time an item is considered clutter because it has no home.  In my house, things that have homes get put away.  Purse?  Bench by the door.  Current issues of magazines?  On the desk.  Clean dishtowels?  In the bottom drawer.

I've found that if something has a designated and easy-to-get-to home (this second part is crucial -- if the "home" is hard to get to I often won't put the item away consistently) I am really, really good at putting it away (pats self on back).  But if it doesn't -- and this happens most with things that I bought or acquired without thinking about what they'd be used for or what they'd replace -- they end up with a "Hi!  I'm Clutter!" name badge.  That air freshener refill that doesn't fit any air freshener that I own?  Sitting on a bookshelf, smiling an evil grin.  Oversized photo album that doesn't fit on any shelf in my house?  Gathering dust on a stack of magazines in the Room of Doom. 

My goal today:  find a home for 10 items of clutter in my house.  This ultimately means making some decisions -- possibly letting go of things that don't "fit" in my life or cutting some sentimental attachments.  Their real home may really be someone else's home! 

What are you working on today?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Gimme a break.

One thing I'm trying to learn (out of the 29384729387 things I am working on) is that it is COMPLETELY, and TOTALLY ok to take a break.  Yesterday I wrote about how I'm trying really hard to be in the moment -- to really devote my attention 100% to whatever it is I'm doing.  I think that remembering to take a break (and allowing yourself to REALLY relax) goes hand in hand with this idea. 

Often I feel guilty when I am doing something fun at home -- I see the clutter around me, or the unfolded laundry, or the dust bunny nearby and instead of fully enjoying my book/movie/game/craft a little voice tells me I shouldn't be relaxing when there is so much to do. 

I don't mean that from now on I will relax 24 hours a day while the dust bunnies start their own colony in my living room, but it does mean that I want to try and remind myself that cleaning/decluttering/organizing does not need to happen every second of every day.  Things don't need to be perfect.  This is a journey, not a project with a deadline. 

I want to find, and take, those moments of fun and relaxation and really enjoy them -- and be confident that the work I'll do later will be and IS enough.

My cat has this strategy down pat. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Carpe diem. Or at least the moment.

I think about clutter a LOT.  When I walk in the door of my house.  When I sort my mail at the kitchen counter.  When I am cleaning up after a meal.  When I'm working on my computer.  When I'm watching a movie.  ALL OF THE TIME, it seems!  Sometimes I'll be reading a blog, or watching a movie online and instead of purely enjoying what I'm doing half of my brain says, "see that bag over there?  What's in it?  You should put that away."  And then 10 seconds later I pause the movie, and go check out the bag.  I have trouble staying on task -- even when it's something I enjoy.

I want to try harder to be in the moment -- not matter if it's something big and special like spending time with my family or something as small and ordinary as watching a movie on my computer.  I don't want to constantly be distracted by what I should be doing -- or what I'll do next -- or what I'll do later tonight.  I want to truly be IN the moment.  And that goes both ways:  I also want to focus 100% when I am devoting time to clearing out clutter, or other "chores" that I don't necessarily enjoy so much.  I think I will benefit more from every experience -- the fun and the not so fun -- if I can really seize those moments and give them my all.

How do you stay focused?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The shopping syndrome.

I admit it: I love to shop. This behavior is so unhealthy for so many reasons (I don't need to list them here) and I've been working hard at curbing it. However, it still happens (baby steps!) and I have developed some shopping "rules" to keep me in line when I do find myself in a store. One of them is if I can't think of where it would go in my house, what specific activity it would be used for, or what item it would replace, I can't buy it. This simple rule has actually helped me a lot -- and I have a good friend who often shops with me and we make each other follow it (most of the time).

There are days when I don't listen to my own wisdom, though, and come home with things like this:

I heart this. The colors, the design, the material (I love felt), even the price (cheap). But does it have a function? Nope. It's too nice to be a trashcan. It's too soft to store things (they bend it out of shape). It's just not useful (to me). But I love it! And I went against everything I knew I should do and bought it anyway. Now it's been at my house too long to return and has sat in a pile of stuff being nothing but a nuisance. When I think about giving it away or selling it I just can't do it.

What do I do now? Have you guys fallen into this trap?

Monday, March 21, 2011


I had some flooding in my basement last weekend (yes, the same weekend I had company -- thanks a LOT, Mother Nature!).  For a week it was a stinky, dirty, damp mess.  I couldn't do laundry, I couldn't walk on my treadmill (not so sad about that) :) and the wet smell crept up the stairs into the kitchen.  Yet I couldn't seem to get myself motivated to work on it.  WHY?

I have watched more than my fair share of the hoarding shows on TV.  One of the comments I hear a lot is "I'm a perfectionist" -- and this statement is often uttered (thanks to the producers, I'm sure) in front of a startling pile of junk, a moldy bathroom, or a sink filled with frightening piles of dishes.  At first I found it ironically funny:  what "perfectionist" can put up with filth like that?

It just clicked with me:  the perfectionist may have trouble addressing such big problems because they know they can (or may) never actually get them to be "perfect."  So to do nothing is the only way to avoid failure at perfection.  I'm not psychologist -- this is just my take on things.

So back to Mildew Central at my house.  How does perfectionism come into play here?  Well, I think it's because I DO (and not in a good way) have perfectionist tendencies.  I don't mean that I am perfect -- far, far from it.  I mean that I like things to be perfect.  Perfectly clean, perfectly organized, perfectly, crazy-making perfect.  I think that perfectionist tendency in me was just avoiding the scary basement mess because I KNEW I could never get it to look perfect.  Some of the rugs were stained or just plain ruined.  The cement floor, already a mess, was even worse.  Water had crept into places I probably didn't even know about and that bothered me, too.  So to just ignore the whole things was my way of avoiding failure -- my fear of not being able to make it right.

So how did I overcome this particular obstacle?  I called for help.  And luckily for me the best cleaner I know of is my mom :) and she was more than happy to spend an entire evening mopping, bagging wet stuff, laundering rugs, etc. etc.  Her positive and knowledgeable enthusiasm was what I needed to get going and address the problem.

Is my basement perfect?  No.  Do I feel better -- and am I trying to learn from this to help myself deal with future problems?  A big, resounding YES!  It's ok to NOT be perfect.  Someday I'll get that.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Looking for love in all the wrong places.

It's funny. Usually I have a million and one reasons why I should keep something (just call me Queen of Validation). It's useful! There's still some left! It's worth something! I spent a lot on it! My aunt/mother/grandfather/best friend from 2nd grade gave it to me!

You've heard all of the excuses.

But the funny part is that I can come up with even MORE reasons when I don't actually want something but think I should keep it.

Exhibit A:

My grandmother recently moved into an assisted living facility and had to pare down most of her possessions. A lot of these items trickled down to family members, including me. One of the items my father really wanted me to have is this commemorative candle. I think Princess Diana was a wonderful person and I am certain a lot of people own and love this candle that honors her. However, I don't need this to remember her. I don't know if my grandmother felt she she did, either. I have no idea where she got it. I don't burn candles (flame + fluffy cat tail = bad smell and frantic craziness) in the house and don't really like crystal/glassware.

Here are the reasons I keep telling myself why I should keep this:
  • it's from a family member
  • it's possibly worth something
  • my dad wants me to have it
  • my dad may notice someday that I don't have it
  • I should want it because it was my grandmother's possession
Here's the other side of this argument (I can do this all day):
  • I don't really like it
  • I have other things that are special that were my grandmother's and that I do love and enjoy
  • my dad would not be crushed forever if he knew I didn't want it
I know the answer to this argument. But it will still be hard when I give this back or rehouse it.

Please tell me I'm not the only one who does this.....

Thursday, March 17, 2011

What really matters.

Sometimes I get so caught up in thinking about clutter and my never-ending quest to conquer it....and I start to lose sight of what really matters. I let my possessions control me -- I know some of you can relate to this. For example, I'll be working through a pile of clutter and suddenly every item has unequaled worth, overwhelming sentimental value, or amazing utility. I get a little nutty.

Those are the times when I need to step back and think about what really, really matters. Is it the souvenir candy dish that once belonged to my grandmother? The 10 bottles of hand lotion that crowd my hall cupboard? The t-shirt celebrating a college event? NO. It's the people I love -- the friends and family that have made me who I am and help me be a better person every day. It's the job I'm fortunate to have. The roof over my head. The food that fills my refrigerator. These things matter -- those little clutter-y extras that I obsess about for HOURS at a time are NOT who make me who I am. They probably detract from who I am sometimes, sadly.

This rings especially true with me right now, as so many people and their families are struggling to overcome the tragedies that happened in Japan. 

So, I leave you with a picture of one of the many gifts in my world that does matter -- and a promise that I'll try to remember this the next time I'm haggling with myself over a half-used notebook.

What matters in your world?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The story of a box.

Meet my box.

She's lovely, right? Little ribbon design, "jewel" decoration, shiny bronze paper covering it? The inside has a mirror and two ribbon "hinges" on each side. The box came to me as part of a makeup kit I ordered online and I have NEVER USED IT. The makeup has been used up or given away but the box remains. Even the plastic protective cover on the mirror is still there.

But here it sits, in my Room of Doom. Why???? Because it might be useful some day. I hear people saying this exact phrase on those hoarding TV shows all time time and yet those words come out of my mouth, too. When is that some day going to be? 2045? It hasn't happened yet. But each and every time I try to get rid of this piece of velcro clutter it clings even tighter. I come up with MORE reasons why I need to keep it! Or, I find that suddenly my attention is needed elsewhere (anywhere but here) and the box goes back on a pile for another month. Sad, but true.

I do honestly believe this box is useful. But how long will it sit here until it becomes useful to me? I am afraid to think about how long I can hold out.

Do you guys have demons like these? If you are clutter-y folk like me, you will get it. Someone who's found this blog and doesn't "get" clutter will think I am just plum crazy. And they may be right.

ps -- does anyone need a box? :)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Clutterlove: The Sick Quilt

Because I admire Duchess Declutter's "object of my affection" posts (weekly she shares an item that is the opposite of clutter: something that she loves and makes her world better) I want to also share a few things that make my house a happy place for me.

Here's today's clutterlove:

I love quilts. I can't and don't make them, or even collect them, but I love the ones I have. These two are sitting on top of a cedar chest in my bedroom. They were both made by a long-passed family member and have been shared through generations. I am their current owner and they continue to bring comfort and happiness to my world. The top one is backed with flowered yellow flannel (why are all quilts not backed with flannel? It's perfection) and when I was little this is the quilt that I languished underneath whenever I was sick at home. It wasn't used for any other purpose -- don't know why -- and so I always called it the "sick quilt." It is made of tiny squares of scrap material -- looks to be mostly from clothing and curtains -- and not only is it a joy to cuddle with, it's a wonderful memory of the folks who came before me.

I absolutely love it.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Arrivals and departures.

I know my bad shopping habits won't be cured in a day. But I do have some shopping "rules" that help (usually) keep my shopping in check. One of these rules is that if I buy something, something else must leave the house (usually because the new item is replacing it, but not always). Bought new shoes? Then I have to get rid of an old pair. New makeup bag? Then I have to, um, well, let's talk about this later....

Anyhow. Here's today's semi-success story. I was in a 5th Avenue Boutique today (ok, it was Rite-Aid, so sue me) and saw some cups. They called to me! I DO NOT NEED CUPS, I said. Still, they called. I was almost to the register and finally turned back, grabbed, them, and ran (after paying, of course). This shopping method goes against all smart-buying-systems I know of. But still, it happens. So when I got home I thought, well, let's make good out of this impulse purchase -- some cups have to go!

I made some tough decisions:

Here's why this is a semi-success story. I bought TWO cups, got rid of THREE (success!). I bought two cups (FAIL! I have 2938472938 cups already!). Of course, if you ask me I'll give you 34 reasons why these new cups are superior to the old (which is insane: do they all hold liquid? Check. Isn't that all one needs?). But let's put this in the "keep trying" category and hope that next time I can resist the call of the impulse purchase.

You guys know the feeling, right?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Shredder.

Just call me The Shredder. Actually, don't -- because I HATE shredding. I just did a bag's worth and now (to be perfectly honest) I will probably put off the rest of the shredding for a few months again.

I don't know why I hate it so much. The tedium? The noise? The fact that I keep my shredder in a plastic bag in the icky basement and so whenever I use it it's a big huge gigantic deal (hmm -- I'm guessing it's the last one)?

I just learned that credit card statements can be shredded about a year -- or less -- after you get them (I have been keeping them for YEARS. Decades!). I should switch to paperless but, to be honest, I'm afraid I'll forget to pay them if they don't physically arrive in my mailbox and sit on my counter top for a few days. Everything else is electronic for me these days; credit cards.....not yet.

I have pay stubs from the 90's. Phone bills from numbers that I no longer have. Post Office receipts from packages mailed 10 years ago. What scares me the most is that I think I have MOVED some of these pounds of paper from house to house....state to state! Gack. Time to shred.

I think I might be brave and shred some more stuff while the shredder is out and ready for service. Then I'll go retrieve my scaredy-cat from where she's hiding under the bed.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Who do you clean for?

I am expecting company this weekend and have spent the week (yes, the entire week) cleaning like crazy. I have several lists (I get a little nutty with the lists) that I keep referring to, adding to, crossing items off of, etc. etc. This headless-chicken routine is something I do EVERY TIME I have guests. It's not that my house isn't pretty clean on its own, but that I have a weird idea that it must be white-glove clean for guests.

A few weeks ago, Barb at Cleaning up the Clutter wrote about "What Houseguests Secretly Think of Your Housekeeping Skills" and this post has been in my head all week. She is So. Right. On. Why does my house need to be sanitized for guests, when the rest of the time the "regular" clean is good enough for me? Will they notice that I lint-rollered the curtains (no, not joking)? Will they care that I polished the silver (my mom will; no one else)? Will they mind if I don't dust behind the television? Of course they won't -- and yet I find myself doing these things in a frantic rush before they arrive.

Ultimately, I want to think about priorities. What's more important: that some people that I love are all gathered together to share and have a good time, or that all of the glasses in the cupboard are facing the right way (don't worry, I don't do that....yet)? The answer is obvious and I know someday I'll get to a place where I can practice what I preach.

I'm getting there.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I'm no minimalist.

My de-clutter journey is a little different than for some -- I actually LIKE a bit of clutter. To me, having the things I love around me is comforting and warm. I have items that remind me of people I love, places I've been, or that I just like. I arrange them in a manner that pleases me and am totally ok with the dusting requirement that comes with this choice.

However, there is a point where an area no longer feels cozy -- it just feels cluttered and overwhelming. I'm not sure what the tipping point is, but it definitely exists. Here's an example of my version of "good" clutter:

This is a shelf near my kitchen sink -- filled with some items that hold sentimental value and others that are just pretty, inexpensive things from garage sales or ebay. To some people this might ALL qualify as clutter -- to me it's something pretty to look at while I wash dishes.

And then there's the "bad" clutter, which makes me tense, anxious, stressed, you name it. This clutter is a visual reminder of things I haven't /should have/need to do and that I am not doing. A visual reminder that I'm behind, or late, or just plain lazy. I HATE this kind of clutter yet I will admit it persists in various spots around the house. These are the areas I am working so hard to clear out.

Minimalist? No way. When I'm "done" cluttering (is there such a thing?) my house will still be full of stuff. Maybe too much for a lot of people -- but perfect for me.

What's your clutter comfort level?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

So not Julia Child.

I have a small side counter in my kitchen that is a PRIME dumping ground. One reason is that I don't cook much so that counter is rarely used for kitchen-y things. The other reason is that it's not in the main action area of the kitchen so the things there are out of the way and safe from spaghetti splatters -- so I can put items there and be lazy about them.

The problem with this is that if I have stuff I need to do something with (pay, decide, return, mail, read, etc.) it goes THERE. And sometimes it STAYS there.

After a busy week this spot can get pretty bad. Well, the good times are over, junk! Today you're getting cleaned up!



Here's what happened:
  • Cool Whip container put in bag in car to return to friend
  • makeup bag brought upstairs, put with the million other bags I need to weed through (remember my tip -- even if the final storage place needs work, don't mess with it until your primary mission has been accomplished)
  • Decorative candle put in bag in car to rehouse
  • Guitar book packaged up to be mailed; put in car so it's ready
  • Stinky used book put in freezer until I can think of something better (this sometimes works but not always)
Where are your trouble spots? How do you keep them under control?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Beware the siren song of the "organizer" bin.

Today I picked something small to declutter: this innocuous-looking bin in my desk. It holds office supplies and since my desk has no drawers it acts as one.

Because I usually pick what I need from the top of the bin, I had no idea what was actually lurking deep down inside:

To me there are two kinds of "bad" clutter: the kind that sits out in open spaces and openly mocks you, and the kind that hides (and multiplies) in boxes, bins, drawers, and other closed spaces. These closed spaces simply invite clutter, since they hide it so well. Open or closed, they are both evil in their own way.

This bin had so much stuff in it that I usually had to flatten out the top with my hand or it wouldn't slide back under the desk (and this fact I blithely ignored due to chronic laziness). Well, the drawer has had a makeover:

It's less than half full now and yet holds more than enough supplies for my home office (where serious work gets done that involves kitty-cat binder clips). Here's what got booted:
  • 2 cat pins (no clue, don't ask)
  • 3 dried-up rubber bands and 2 dried-up erasers
  • about 25 binder clips and at least 50 paper clips
  • 3 pencil sharpeners (isn't one enough? you tell me)
  • one of those weighted paper holders for typing (yes, I used this ALL THE TIME. Ok, maybe not)
I am now 12 cents richer and found an adorable pair of small scissors that will be perfect for journaling.

...anybody need a binder clip?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Velcro clutter.

I have lots of things that have been designated "out the door" (thank you, Peter Walsh) yet they are STILL HERE in my house. Why? They are my Velcro clutter -- attached by some mysterious yet uber-powerful force.

Sometimes it's pure laziness: I don't want to make the trip to the thrift shop.

Sometimes it's because I'm not really ready to let it go: even though they are destined for other homes they are still here! See? Still here! I still have them and can look at them and be near them (just kidding but sometimes clutter craziness can get like that).

Sometimes it's indecision: Do I really want this? Should I let it go? Does she or doesn't she? (sorry, got carried away)

Usually it's a mixture of all three and I think that makes for the strongest Velcro of all.

Here's a before/after set of a clutter pile that has been in the doorway of the Room of Doom (my horrible spare room) for about 2 weeks now.



It took a while to pull that Velcro apart but I did it. Well, most of it (my brown/turquoise nemesis is still sitting nearby laughing at me).

For now.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Pick a spot and run with it.

All of the writing about clutter I've seen says to keep the focus SMALL. One drawer at a time, one shelf, even just one item a day. This does work for me -- keeps me from getting overwhelmed and if I pick something discrete I can see my success quite quickly.

Today I decided to work on my desk top. Unfortunately, the clutter here seems to linger, mostly because it's something I'm currently using, don't know where to put, etc. -- all of the usual excuses. Let's take a look and see what I started with:

(I think you can click this picture to make it larger)

During the clear-out I:
  • put the samples in my makeup box to get used up
  • filled a small bag of samples for my mom/sister to use
  • tucked the tissues back where they belong behind the monitor
  • found the perfume refills and packaged them up with the atomizer. If my mom/sister don't want them I'll put them on Freecycle
  • put the flash drive with my others in the "computer stuff" storage bin (to be cleared out later)
  • copied the CD (there's one under the samples) to my iPod and will pass it on to my dad to enjoy
  • cleaned/wiped down the entire desk top (cat hair has a tendency to multiply)
Another tip I've learned from my clutter-reading is to put things away if they have a designated spot -- even if the final destination is another trouble spot (i.e. my flash drive storage bin). If you get distracted by starting another clear-out in the middle of a clear-out your focus is diluted and you will probably not finish EITHER ONE. Trust me on this.

Here's my "after" picture:

You'll see that in my world, de-cluttered doesn't mean empty. I actually like to have the things I use/need out in front of me (i.e. the pens and paper, lotion, cup) but there is a line that gets crossed -- from happy/homey/comfy to cluttered! I am back on the safe side of the line now.

What area will you de-clutter today?

First steps are always the hardest.

I'm taking a page from some of my favorite clutter blogs and documenting my own clutter-free journey here. Perhaps you, my readers and friends, will help keep me accountable!

I've always loved the phrase "let go and go on" -- usually applied to letting difficult situations, emotions, etc. go and moving forward to a happier and lighter place. But how appropriate for clutter, too... by letting go of physical items we find we are lighter -- both emotionally and physically -- and can move on to a happier frame of mind.

For years I've been fighting the clutter battle and the support of blogs like

Duchess Declutter
365 Less Things

and the folks at the Unclutterer forums

has made such a difference.

Here on this blog I'll share items that are leaving my house, perhaps some items that actually come INTO the house, and some of the items that make my house a better place. All of those items have a place -- the hard part is decided which of those are actually clutter.

Join me on my continued journey -- and share your successes (as well as setbacks) too!