Krissie: Decluttering

I’ve noticed this before. I have very red lips. They’re thinning with (choke) age, but it’s surprising how red they are. Makes me think of the scene in Venetia when she first meets Damerel and he quotes a poem about “cherry ripe.” Ah, don’t I wish.
So, on to the topic at hand. In autumn I nest. I bring fake autumn foliage out and stuff them in vases (real stuff would make me sneeze), I have autumn table clothes etc., and I like to declutter.
But here’s the strange thing. I do the tiny stuff. I don’t seem to be able to deal with the big picture. Last weekend I folded up all my panties and arranged them in my top drawer. Man, it was lovely. Because I have way too many pairs of panties, and I’m throwing out anything that’s slightly worn, and now I’ve got to get rid of the over-sized ones.
But on Sunday I had energy. I went for my walk, and then I made bread, and while I was doing the bread my utensil drawers were ridiculous. I can’t find my apple slicer and I realized I have so much crap in the drawers that I use maybe twice a year. So I took out all the stuff I rarely use, tossed some old stuff. I still need to pare down — I have like 8 pairs of salad servers and we seldom use them We just toss them with the fork. I have maybe seven spatulas. 12 wooden spoons. I’m insane. Anyway, I started with the main utensil drawer:
And then, feeling encouraged, I kept going.
So … with my house in disarray, why do I spend my time on meentsy (new word) little things and not just make things look neat. My sister, who bordered on a candidate for Hoarders, used to pile things in corner and throw sheets over them, so everything looked sleek (relatively) but there was chaos beneath. Chaos and slime. Whereas I like things clean from the bottom up — surface mess is less worrisome that nasty stuff around the toilet or dishes shoved in the oven so no one will see them. Of course I see the point if someone is making an unexpected visit … ah, no I don’t. People know what I’m like and I can’t fit all my chaos into the oven.
I’m not sure if fidgeting around in re-arranging drawers is a way of avoiding things, or whether it’s a bird by bird thing. Problem is, I don’t know if I ever get to the big stuff.
Does anyone else do that? I spent a day polishing silver when I’m drowning in crap. Does that make sense? And yet I really have a hard time cleaning surfaces when there’s chaos underneath.
Maybe that’s always been my problem. I sweat the small stuff and my energy and interest seldom lasts till I get to the big stuff. I don’t get the same sense of accomplishment from straightening the living room, because to do that I just move things into a different room.
I think this time I have to do all the levels. Rearrange the drawers — done! Rearrange the cupboards and get rid of duplicates. Clear off the counters. Make space in the pantry for the appliances that don’t get regular use. Tell Richie to stop feeding the cats on the counter.
Or should I even start in the kitchen?
Overwhelmed. I guess I need to figure if I’m doing things all wrong, starting with the small stuff.
I think it’s like writing. You can’t look at the big picture – it’s overwhelming. Another thing Anne Lamott said, apart from the bird by bird thing? That you should think about writing a book like doing an oil painting, and you only have to do a postage stamp worth of work at a time and eventually it gets done.
All I know is that decluttering my house and keeping it clean has always been an Epic Fail. And I just can’t live that way any more.

51 thoughts on “Krissie: Decluttering

  1. Clutter. Yuck! I’ve made good progress this summer, but still have one filing cabinet that must be weeded out or it will burst. It’s in a hall closet and I swear it calls to me every time I pass by. I’ve taken to putting my fingers in my ears and singing. Ha ha.

  2. Office Wench Cherry says:

    (Hug) Living in a messy, chaotic house can be a huge energy suck and I’m not surprised you’ve reached your breaking point. You’ve done so much internal housework that now it’s time to do the external.

    I grew up in chaos. I can remember being a little kid – six or seven – and picking my clothes up off the floor and putting them in paper grocery bags so I wasn’t walking on them anymore. I grew up in a two room house that my grandfather built in the mid 40’s – two rooms, no indoor plumbing or electricity in the house. My mom did laundry in an old wringer washer we could plug in outside. I had my baths in an old tin washtub. My mom heated water for dishes on the propane stove. We had a propane fridge. The kitchen and living room were as neat as they could be with two little kids on a farm. The bedroom, on the other hand, was a mess. My parents slept on one side and my sister and I the other.

    My mom made an effort when my sister and I were little but later on she just gave up.

    My husband asked me one time about taking pride in things. Snort. Proud and stupid were two things you should never be in my family. My mom’s mom believed that if you were proud of something, God would take it away from you. My dad’s mom taught him that he wasn’t good enough to be proud of anything and, anyway, any sort of pride made you arrogant and that was not to be tolerated. I’ve never known what it means to take pride in my appearance or my home. I’d desperately like to.

    I can make a house look good – I have an eye for colour and design and I can tell whether an outfit is flattering or not but I can’t look at the end result and feel proud of it. I can be satisifed with my two budget kitchen remodels because they look like I spent waaaay more money that I did and I’ve improved the value of both houses. As much as I try to keep my boot on the throat of my maternal grandmother’s superstition sometimes it still hisses at me. I don’t feel like I deserve a healthy, fit body and a neat and tidy house. I’ve punished my ‘arrogance’ about my brain by abusing my body and that’s really sad. The truth is other people have made more of a fuss about me being smart than I ever have. I’m not super smart, I’m just curious and well read – like Hermione I’m all “books and cleverness”.

    wow. That all kind of just exploded out. All I wanted to say was that I understood the ability to clean the cutlery drawer and not have the strength to deal with the rest.

    • Rose says:

      I don’t have any words of wisdom to offer, but I wanted to send a hug. You *do* deserve a healthy, fit body and a neat house. We all do. I can relate more to the body thing than the clutter thing, though I know my living space could be neater. I feel like that’s something to conquer after I’ve made myself healthier. It’s odd how the the things I eat to “treat” myself often feel so much like punishments.

    • Maine Betty says:

      Boom!
      It’s all connected, which is one reason why it can be so darn hard to pick up the clutter. It’s more than just stuff, it’s history. Thanks for this.

  3. Tricia Halliday says:

    I do that. It is easier to do a smaller job and feel good about it then worry about the BIG jobs. They overwhelm you but the small ones are lovely and quick.

  4. I really love cleaning and organizing things. I look at your living room and just want to dive right in and organize it for you. But, I’m ruthless about tossing and donating things, so I’d probably traumatize you.

    • Hey, I’d take the trauma. I’ve been watching Clean House and railing at the people who won’t let go of stuff. There’s very little I wouldn’t let go of in terms of the final product. I may love certain things, have an emotional attachment, butI could let go of just about anything.

  5. I’m really not sure there’s a “wrong” way to do this stuff. The goal is to get it done and perhaps you haven’t yet found your process for reaching that goal. Liking writing a book. You have to try all sorts of things before you figure out what works for you.

    Sounds like you’re tackling small things in an effort to save your sanity from the chaos. If those small things needed done, then no harm no foul. But I still think you need to recruit help for the big stuff. Hire someone or coax in friends or hog tie some able bodied high schoolers.

    Bring in some help so you don’t feel like you’re tackling this alone. And then when you get them there, go about it however you want.

  6. Kendra says:

    I think it’s absolutely a bird-by-bird thing. And, just think, when you’ve got the cutlery drawers sorted, it’ll be easier to put away the clean dishes. And when you’ve got the cabinets sorted, it’ll be easier to put away the groceries. And before you know it, the kitchen will be done and only need minor upkeep, and then you can move on to one of the other rooms.

    You inspire me. 🙂

  7. Tabs says:

    As someone who has oil-painted, that quote made no sense at all to me. Why would you only paint a postage stamp at a time? Maybe I just missed the point entirely.

    • I know — for painting it really doesn’t make sense. I don’t think Anne Lamott ever painted. It was merely the thought of a filling up a canvas one tiny postage stamp area at a time.
      Which you don’t do.
      Maybe mosaics? I dunno.

  8. I, too, find the details soothing, and the “big picture” often overwhelming. So I totally get cleaning out drawers, which a) take little energy expenditure, physically or mentally and b) you can not only immediately see what needs to be done, but the payoff comes fairly quickly. After the year or so you’ve been through, it makes total sense to me that you need some sort of relatively immediate gratification/satisfaction.

    That said, after 30 years of raising five kids (meaning, a totally clean house happened twice a year, on Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve) and still living with three (and two dogs, two cats and a part-time grandkid), I have far less tolerance for clutter than I used to. And it’s as though everywhere I look I see STUFF that no longer fits my life (let alone my house). I seem to be peeling off layers of my old life in layers, though — every few months I see more that needs to go. All of which seems to be leading to a major downsizing in the near future, since the kids are mostly grown and I don’t want to rattle around on my own in a two-story, four-bedroom house…or clean the damn thing. But my point is, I do think these big transitions don’t happen all at once, but, as you say, bird by bird. Whether it’s big birds or little birds is immaterial.

    As a sidebar…when the kids were little, the first thing my husband and I would do after they went to bed was tidy up the living room, *especially* the floor. Don’t know why, but I can deal with clutter (to a certain extent!), as long as it’s not on the floor. A freshly vacuumed floor says “clean” to me, even if the rest of the house is less than pristine. Go figure. 🙂

    • JenniferNennifer says:

      My mother always said to make the bed – if the bed was made, the mess didn’t look so bad, but unmade bed in messy room looked like disaster. Next thing on her agenda was dirty dishes dealt with – from anywhere in the house, either washed (the old days) or in the dishwasher. She wasn’t so good with floors herself, but same principle – the floor is vacuumed, so this other stuff must be transitory……..

      • Rachel says:

        This is also my philosophy; beds made, no dirty dishes, and nothing to trip us up on the floor. Everyday. Beyond that, my housekeeping is haphazard. There is so much else to do that is more interesting and fulfilling to me than dusting a bookshelf. Like reading a book from said shelf.

        • I’m halfway there. I make my bed everyday, and have since my BFF came over and helped me haul apart my bedroom and closet. I had just started the habit of doing dishes every day 26 years ago when I got the call that I had a son, so that went right out the window.
          Time to bring it back in.

  9. Reb says:

    Moving stuff from room to room is just depressing. No wonder you don’t want to do it.

    Could you start with the big stuff in the sense of “space occupying” instead of “difficult”? Eg focus first on getting rid of all the unnecessary furniture. Then you’d have room to sort the rest of the stuff into.

    Does your church have a kitchen? Mine would love to take your extra wooden spoons and salad servers. We never have enough!

  10. Reb says:

    By the way, it’s really interesting what mess different people notice. My DH doesn’t care if the kitchen bench is covered in dirty dishes but unvacuumed carpets drive him bananas. I’m the opposite. He does all the vacuuming. 🙂

  11. Corina says:

    I love tiny tidying projects! Your drawers look fabulous. Small scale projects are satisfying, and every little bit does make a difference. Concentrating on a space with such defined boundaries (like a drawer) is so much easier than looking at an entire room! I’ve been following your blog all year, but only dip into the comments occasionally, so forgive me if somebody else has already recommended it, but have you every checked out http://unfuckyourhabitat.tumblr.com/ ? I find it very inspiring. (There’s an iPhone app too!) It’s funny and supportive and profane (obviously) and is all about little steps, doing what you can, and lots and lots of breaks. I have clutter issues myself and it’s helped me.

  12. Deb says:

    Love Venetia! Love Georgette Heyer! Really wish you would give yourself a break. You’ve had one hell of a summer…not only losing your mother but then having to go through all her stuff. And then having to go through your stuff on top of it. And then there was the fantastic play, and various family dramas…of course you’re worn out.

    Give yourself credit. You’ve accomplished so much. Take it a day at a time, don’t beat yourself up, and one day you’re going to realize how far you’ve come.

    As for organizing the hidden stuff first, my Mom does the same thing. But you know, you can’t put something away until you have a place to put it. So organizing the hidden stuff is valid progress.

    Stop being so hard on yourself! Thou art AMAZING!

      • Deb says:

        I can’t pick just one favorite…I rotate between Venetia, The Grand Sophy, and Fredrica. And then I’m reminded of The Talisman Ring and now I’m thinking of Sylvester or The Wicked Uncle.

        Oh, I’m torn. I’m so glad they’re being re-released. Though, have you noticed…in some of the new releases they misuse “ridicule” for “reticule” and they’ve made some other editing mistakes. It’s making me nuts.

  13. Kieran says:

    Krissie, how about this “Tumbleweed Tiny House Company” house for you and Richie? You can pull it on a trailer all around the USA. They have so many models. I want one *real* bad, as we say here in SC.

    You could dump everything in your big house and start anew!!!

  14. Catherine says:

    I think the core benefit of decluttering for me is function. If stuff is messy I can’t find things quickly. I know that’s pretty basic but realizing how much time I spent looking for my keys or a hairbrush really helped me organize my home differently. It was these tiny steps, these tiny improvements that have motivated me to unclog my house of stuff and operate more freely. My house is by no means Spartan… I have a lot of colour and texture.
    Tackling little projects and developing a routine where function and pretty combine has worked for me. My keys have a dish. A pressed glass dish. The dish sits on a mirrored demi-table with one plant and two candles. My glasses go on a small blue and white tray on my bedside table. The bedside table has the tray, a cut glass lamp and some moisturizer…I changed my focus and decluttering became easier. Truly for me it was seeing small changes build upon themselves into new habits that made all the difference.
    My home works for me now. I don’t work for my house.

  15. H says:

    I have the same problem. I’ve learned start with what’s in front of me. I don’t stop to strategize or worry about what will come next. I just pick the pile in front of me and get through it.

    Sometimes the timer trick works for me, too – set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes and say, “I will clean what I can in that time, and when the timer dings I’m DONE.” 10 minutes of folding clothes is better than none in my house.

    I’m pretty good about putting things away if they have a home, but my husband isn’t. If I can get him and the kids to stop putting things down and start putting them away, we might be able to get some traction on the clean house thing.

    Or maybe I’m dreaming…

  16. C.G. Morrison says:

    Krissie,
    It’s definitely a bird by bird situation, and sometimes the little things are problematic. When you need to tackle a larger space, like your living room, just do five minutes, ten minutes, and put away what you’ve taken out.

    So, maybe you clear off a chair…decide what you are keeping, and put the rest where it belongs. If that means you have to clear out a closet before you start on the chair, well, you start there. Sometimes it’s a matter of getting back to the start, doing that, and then the next day taking the next baby step. Or doing up to 15-20 minutes in each room/day or week.

    Whatever works for you. I’m guessing that cleaning out that drawer took only a few minutes, and then you were able to work on making your bread, right? So, it didn’t slow you down or derail you from the task you set out to do. “Cleaning the kitchen” would have meant no bread and a breakdown (at least, it would have for me! LOL) So, you took one step. Good for you!

    You know, there isn’t a right way to do this. Maybe you could work on not judging yourself for doing things “wrong.” However you do it, as you make tiny steps on getting where you are going, is the right way. You’re okay. Honest.

    • That’s what I should do. That’s what Flylady does, and I imagine what Unfuck does (sorry, but it’s too much trouble to figure out the initials and I figure Refabbers are tough broads — they can handle language).
      I need to break it down for myself, for my particular situation. Like I did with the baskets in my bedroom.

  17. carolc says:

    No, no, Krissie. Not Epic Fail. You just haven’t had consistent success YET. You will. And don’t forget you are dealing with 2 households worth of clutter right now. You will figure out a method that works for you.

    You might try starting with an easy room (not the kitchen!). Haul everything out that doesn’t belong there, either in one day or a little bit each day, until it is pristine. Then guard it like a pit bull. It will make you feel better while you are working on the rest of the house. Remember bird by bird. And I’ll be working on mine while you are working on yours.:)

  18. One drawer at a time. One corner at a time. One room at a time. So far I’ve decluttered the walk in wardrobe. The spare bedroom and the pantry. I discovered things in darkest recesses of the pantry that were quite baffling 🙂

  19. jinx says:

    One of the most interesting comments I ever read about clutter is that it tends to go with the traits of sentimentality and frugalness. You combine “oh, I remember this spoon” with “if I were to lend somebody my hard-boiled egg slicer, I might NEED this other hard-boiled egg slicer” and you end up with drawer upon stack upon tupperware container full of things you feel irrationally attached to or think you might could possibly, maybe with a house full of guests and a wedding buffet’s worth of food to prepare, USE someday.

    Or, at least *I* do.

  20. Micki says:

    I agree with others that you shouldn’t beat yourself up. When you open your silverware drawer now, I think you should rejoice in being able to find stuff, and NOT think, “oh, I should have been working on something else.” There is such a joy in little things sometimes.

    That said, I’m great at planning and thinking, but terrible at actually doing. I did a 20 minute unfuck which accomplished a lot on half a shelf, but haven’t had the time/energy/motivation to go onto the other half of the shelf. Must do that tonight — we’re leaving for the weekend, and I’ve got a lot of tupperware on the table waiting to go back on the shelf.

    One idea that I love is sticking seasonal stuff in a little plastic box, and pulling it out two weeks to a month before the “season” and getting it put away by one week after the “season.” Canning stuff should really be put away or it gets greasy through the year. Halloween, Christmas and Easter utensils would also deserve a box . . . I’ve kind of done it with mugs, but not with cookie cutters and cupcake thingies and all that.

    BTW, LOVE the red lips and red quilt!

  21. Lynda says:

    One problem I have with decluttering is that I’m always thinking, “I ought to save this because somebody else could get some use out of it.” But lately I’ve been telling myself that it would much more sensible to ask myself, “If I throw this away, will anybody go hungry or be naked or lack a roof over her head?” Unless the answer to that question is yes, there’s no reason not to toss things.

  22. Lois says:

    Wow Krissie, we are 2 peas in a pod. My friends used to tease me about how I could easily have a blind person find things in my drawers but the rest of my house was cluttered. Of course that was because if I couldn’t put something where it belonged it didn’t get put away at all.
    Now tho after yrs of care giving and exhaustion things have escalated to some new level of hell in the clutter department. I can no longer find anything I am looking for. The comment Jinx made was so appropriate for me.

    Yesterday I cleaned off my desk (and the chair) – jumping for joy here!! I wish equal joy for you 🙂

  23. Denisetwin says:

    I do not know if this is you, but for me, when I try to do big cleanings I get distracted, I pick up an armload of kids stuff from the dining room and begin putting it away, as I do I noticed their bathroom sink needs cleaned so I do that, then as I put something from the bathroom into a their bedrooms I notice clothes on the floor, I pick those up, which makes me notice I need to start a load of laundry so I do that and so on and so forth until hours later I’m back in the dining room thinking damn I didn’t do a thing to this mess! Now I concentrate on ONE room, I take a trash bag along and a bag for doesn’t belong here – I never leave the room while cleaning, trash in the one bag, stuff that needs to go elsewhere in the other – if there is a lot of needs to go elsewhere I grab a box. When I’m finished, the beautiful room is such a source of pride for days and I guard that jealously, keeping it picked up only takes a few minutes because its done. If the room was a disaster I do this for just one area of it a day until the whole room is done. Good luck with your decluttering!

  24. Kate Ramos says:

    So what you are saying is that you can do the thinking but you can’t do the labor?? Isn’t that kind of a health issue? In the sense that if you were healthier it would be easier to continue the physical nature of cleaning without starting to feel tired and cranky. I am sorry about how you feel. I figured out a long time ago (when I was in college and couldn’t face homework with a dirty house) that the only way to deal with anxiety was to be surrounded by clean and calm. Personally I would stop trying to do it step by step. I think that is what is driving you crazy. I would hirer some cheap labor to haul stuff out, sit in your chair and tell people what to do. Yeah it is spending money to hirer help, but damn if you don’t get this house clean now and start over with your new approach to live, it is going to kill you. I just disagree with the small and slow approach. Get this done and you can go on with the rest of your life. If you can’t do, then find someone who can. How much time have you wasted on this when you could be doing something productive? And making money! This is not productive. Small sections at a time, knowing you have more. How are you supposed to feel better? It will take years at this point. Get it done and move the (swear word) on. You are wasting something valuable – your life.

  25. Jen Wyatt says:

    I totally relate to how you feel right now. I feel so overwhelmed, and this is after my mom came and filled her Honda with toys and junk from my house. I have six boxes piled up for the paralyzed vets charity to pick up tomorrow but yet my house is still stressing me out.
    Sometimes I jokingly tell my husband “I want to just throw a match and run like hell” but I’m too materialistic for that to ever happen.
    Arghhh!

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