My Quest For A Clutter-Free Life

I’m currently experiencing a simultaneous nest and de-clutter phase. While half of me is wholly dedicated to arranging, assembling, and acquiring hand-me-downs for Babywoods, the other half of my manic pregnant brain recently declared war on junk. I’ve become a one-woman chaos annihilator.

I'm super pleased with my freshly organized dresser drawers

I’m super pleased with my freshly organized dresser drawers

Let’s preface this with the fact that I’m admittedly the worst minimalist out there. This has become increasingly obvious as I befriend actual, real-life minimalists like Cait from Blonde On A Budget, who got rid of 75% of her stuff. Now that is some impressive minimalist action!

Despite my minimalist shortcomings, I hold a deep-seated grudge against useless and ill-organized belongings. My physical surroundings have a profound impact on my mood and I find that a coordinated space enables me to think more clearly, write more creatively, and feel more at peace.

There’s something about the tactile nature of both the act of organizing and then enjoying the results that brings me actual happiness. Sounds weird. I know. But I speak the truth! When I open a drawer and unruly rubber-bands, dog treats, and a box of salt spring out at me, I shudder. Conversely, a clean cupboard has the power to evoke euphoria. Ok maybe not euphoria, but I swear to you it’s close.

I’m also a firm believer in not being owned by one’s stuff. If we allow our possessions to dictate how we live our lives, we’ve lost control. If our homes are messy and crowded, then we’ve become servants of our material goods. It’s actually quite similar to how we manage our money. I like to be in charge of both my money and my things–neither rules my life; they’re both there to serve me at my discretion.

I’ve long had a penchant for organization and Mr. FW and I have always lived in a tidy, fairly minimalist home with plenty of blank spaces (I’m a fan of open space in a room). But something about the impending arrival of Babywoods, coupled with the knowledge that we’ll need to pack up this whole operation before too long in order to decamp to Vermont, has whipped me into a veritable frenzy of organizational orchestration.

Mrs. Frugalwoods’ ‘Take No Prisoners’ Sorting Method

My methodology at present is best described as “no drawer is safe.” Essentially, I’ve decided there’s nowhere for unneeded stuff to hide–I shall hunt it down and bring it to justice. The crusade began in our basement, where I systematically opened and sorted through every single storage bin, tub, box, and plastic pumpkin (yes, I store things in the plastic pumpkin that last year’s Halloween treats came in from Costco–it’s a great size and it has a lid!).

My storage pumpkin. It usually lives in the basement.

My storage pumpkin. It usually lives in the basement.

I then arranged the contents of each box as either 1) keep or 2) donate. My goal here isn’t to get rid of usable things just to reduce the amount we own; my goal is to eliminate ephemera that we haven’t used in years and likely never will. I then repackaged the “keep” piles, wrote new labels for their respective containers/pumpkins and stored them back on the basement shelves and racks.

Next, I moved upstairs and methodically removed every item from every closet, drawer, and cupboard and followed the same sorting and repacking scheme. Full disclosure: I’m not quite done with this project yet–several cupboards and closets remain for me to tackle with vengeance.

Clearly, this is not a scientific approach. Marie from The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up would probably rend her precisely folded clothing and weep minimalist tears of anguish if she heard about my regime (I did read the book, I swear), but it works for me. I’ll be honest–I won’t be hauling all of our clothing into the middle of the living room, lovingly touching it all, and sorting through it in one fell swoop anytime soon. I’m pregnant, I’m tired, and it ain’t gonna happen. But, what I am doing is tidying in a way that works for where I’m at in life right now (which is to say: pregnant, tired, and extremely busy).

Why Now?

Our first apartment: a windowless basement that we made as cheery as possible.

Our first apartment: a windowless basement we made as cheery as possible.

We’ve lived in this house for over three years now and this is my first full-out assault on every drawer, closet, and crevice. And I know why. And it’s a dangerous, lifestyle-inflationy reason too: we have too much space. In the past, when Mr. FW and I lived in far tinier abodes (aka one-bedroom basement apartments), we owned almost nothing that wasn’t in current use. We simply didn’t have the space. It was easy for us to comb through every box in every closet and we did so on a fairly regular basis. I mean, we only had three closets!

But let me tell you what, we have expanded and inflated our belongings like the proverbial primordial ooze in this bigger dwelling. The weird thing is that, as ya’ll know, we haven’t bought stuff–it’s just that stuff has assimilated into our lives and we haven’t been diligent about consistently getting rid of old things. I used to have an ever-present box destined for Goodwill in the front hall of our little apartment, which we’d drop stuff into and then deliver to Goodwill periodically. Let’s just say this practice fell by the wayside once we moved here… it’s been far easier to toss paraphernalia into a closet or, perilously, into the abyss of the basement.

Our current home: much more spacious

Our current home: much more spacious (+ a dog!)

Having a basement is the best of times and the worst of times. It’s the best of times because I have ample space for my frugal laundry activities, Mr. FW has a robust workbench for his tools, and we can easily store all of our gigantic Costco supplies. However, friends, it’s the worst of times because I can ferret away junk down there and it’ll never see the light of day again. Until now.

Since I’m acutely aware that our “free” time will became scarcer after Babywoods’ birth, I’m committed to executing this purge now. My goal is to have the entire Frugalwoods home organized by the time she’s born (11 weeks to go!). And I’m quite proud to say that I’m well on my way to achieving this little personal milestone. I don’t want to be flailing around in messy bedroom drawers trying to get ready in the morning while simultaneously feeding Babywoods and writing a blog post. I want to have our things under control and able to facilitate a smooth daily routine for our family. Plus, I realllllly don’t want to move a bunch-o-rubbish up to our Vermont homestead. Best to get this sorted out now!

However, since I’m not on a scorched earth campaign to eradicate all of our possessions, I’m taking a thoughtful approach to what we keep. And that is…

Why I’m Not A Minimalist

Frugal Hound scoping out the clothes we took to Goodwill last month

Frugal Hound scoping out clothes we donated

I really like minimalism. I think it’s nifty. I appreciate the philosophy behind it and I applaud those who are successful in its application. I, however, will likely never count myself among their hallowed ranks. Why? For the simple phrase “we might need it someday.”

This is the metric Mr. FW and I apply in making our decision to keep or toss an item. If it’s something that holds inherent utility for our lives (such as a set of bath towels), we keep it. Conversely, if it’s something that fails to deliver the promise of either current or future use (such as ugly throw pillows we received as hand-me-downs and never liked in the first place but were saving out of some combination of guilt/hope that one day our taste would change and we would suddenly like them), then it gets the axe.

While we can only use one bath towel each (don’t worry, we don’t share) at a time, I have two extra sets saved in the basement for several reasons: 1) the towels we currently use will one day wear out; 2) we have guests quite often who usually enjoy using a towel; 3) when we operate our homestead AirBnB properties, those guests will also want some towels. Hence, saving those towels is a future hedge against needing to purchase more towels. Keeping these towels is a strategic frugal decision, not a blatant disregard for de-cluttering.

The dreaded Sodastream tanks!

The dreaded Sodastream tanks!

What I’ve found mildly shocking, however, is the amount of true debris that we’ve held onto for years. Years, I tell you. There reaches a certain point in an object’s lifespan where its been out of rotation in the household for so long that we forget we even own it. Now THAT is the stuff that needs to go!

Thus far in our pre-baby purge, I’d estimate we’ve gotten rid of upwards of 300 items, including: dishes, clothes, pillows, 1 huge lamp, a chip-n-dip, picture frames, one wedding cake figurine, books, a coffee pot, and gear so miscellaneous I can’t even remember what it was.

Some of these things were tough decisions to make–namely, items that I like but that we never use. It’s hard for me to part with things that are aesthetically pleasing, but Mr. FW pointed out that there’s no point in keeping lovely things if they’re just crammed in a box in the basement. Touché. And some of this stuff was laughably easy to give away–like the three Sodastream canisters that I inexplicably kept for a full year after Mr. FW performed our Sodastream hack. Why on earth did I keep those? Who knows.

My Use It Up Methodology

Mr. FW's bath towel

Mr. FW’s bath towel

Were you wondering if I’d ever wind my way around to frugality in this bizarre rant against junk? I know I was. But here it is! My philosophy on material goods is that we use them up until they’re completely worn out.

Allow me to present the case study of: one bathroom hand towel. Mr. FW and I have used the same set of bathroom towels for all seven years of our marriage (in fact, they were a wedding gift!). And they’re still going strong… except for the hand towel. This demure square of cloth met its demise earlier this year after dedicated service to our wet hands.

The towel’s ends began to fray tremendously, but I wasn’t worried–I just snipped them off and we kept using the towel. Then, a more grievous hole erupted. While I did sew it back together, this turned out to be a mere transitory fix.

The towel had, for lack of a better phrase, thrown in the towel. It was at that point that we admitted defeat and surrendered the towel to our box of cleaning rags.

The hand towel's first repair

The hand towel’s first repair

I then pulled out the unused second hand towel that had arrived with the original set of bath towels. Yes, I’d kept it lo these seven years because I knew that eventually, hand towel #1 would crap out. In this way, we save the money of needing to purchase a new hand towel, and, when this hand towel meets the same fate as its predecessor, we’ll know it’s time to get a new set of towels.

We employ the same approach with our sheets, clothes, shoes, plates… you get the picture. Once something is used up beyond repair, it’s time to replace it. But not before then. I don’t have drawers of partially used hand towels–it’s all or nothing around here.

Donate Don’t Trash

The 4' tall lamp we gave away

The 4′ tall lamp we gave away

As a devout apostle of the used market, I believe in donating cast-offs, not throwing them away. I’m always surprised at how many folks want my hand-me-downs and I’m delighted that they can use them!

I honestly thought the ugly throw pillows, for example, were destined for a landfill until a friend from the Buy Nothing Project let me know that she’d be interested in recovering them. Perfect! And I was certain the Sodastream tanks were slated for the trash, but now I actually have more people interested in them than I have tanks. Serendipitous!

And someone was so excited to take our 4 foot tall lamp that they came within an hour of me posting it as available for free. Fantastic! Sidenote: I love that the person who took the lamp just so happened to give us baby clothes a few weeks ago. An ideal life cycle for these used goods!

The Buy Nothing Project makes it particularly easy for us to clear out old possessions. Instead of needing to haul our stuff to Goodwill, I just snap a photo, post it to the group, and a neighbor shows up at our house to pickup their newfound treasure. I find that the ease of this process is a key enabler of getting rid of more things. If you don’t have a Buy Nothing Project in your area, you can start one! Alternately, donations are always welcome at thrift stores.

Don’t Be Owned By Your Stuff

In addition to providing us with a less cluttered, more organized home, my clean-up methodology is rooted in the philosophy of not allowing my stuff to own me. If I find myself spending hours trying to find something in a jumbled closet, or tons of time sorting through boxes, then my things are owning me. They’re no longer yielding happiness; rather, they’re holding me back.

I never want to accumulate so much stuff that my life revolves around its storage, care, and maintenance. I want to own what we need and eliminate the rest. In much the same way as Mr. FW and I don’t focus on buying new stuff, I don’t want to focus on the stuff we already own. It’s here to serve us, not to control us. Having everything catalogued, easily accessible, and not falling out of the closet on top of me is liberating and allows me to clear my mind. And at the end of the day, if something isn’t bringing joy into my life, I get rid of it.

What’s your approach to organization? Do you enjoy purging old stuff?

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87 Responses

  1. I love organizing and agree that I can’t be a minimalist if it means getting rid of stuff I’ll just have to buy again later. Especially since we come by a lot of freebies and hand-me-downs that I’m willing to store for a while until we need them. But I also dislike chaotic space and abhor when clutter makes it hard to find what I need right now. We’ve been on a similar kick because 5 years in our home & 2 kids later, we’ve accumulated more stuff than I care to admit. We just tackled the garage last weekend and plan to turn a basement room that’s just storing junk into a guest bedroom by the end of the month. It’s a great idea to do this before baby arrives!

  2. Sarah says:

    Thanks for this post! I have been reading a lot about minimalism and decluttering and have taken some really good steps forward to start downsizing our stuff before we move into our own home (we currently rent). The part I have struggled with is getting rid of things that we would use at some point, and towels are a great example. We have far too many towels for just the two of us. Some are hand-me-downs, some were bought new when we married, but until they don’t function as towels any more I can’t bring myself to get rid of them!

  3. It’s been so interesting to me to see how everyone defines minimalism in different ways. I’m probably too early in the decluttering process to even toy with the idea of applying that label. Instead, I’d like to think I’m purposefully editing my belongings. It’s a constant battle in our house because Mr. P is of the mindset “well…maybe one day…” To that end, he tries to save old parts and the most random doodads. I put them in a box and if he hasn’t looked for them in a few months, then we decide to part with them. Your drawer looks wonderfully organized, and I love the “use it up” mindset. My favorite part about this post, though, is the idea of not being owned by stuff.

  4. I’m with you. As much as I enjoy the concept of minimalism, I also hate throwing things away I may one day need. Like food. I’ve been freezing various CSA vegetables and fruits for winter when I know I can’t buy them fresh. Plus, I’m kind of messy. And I easily lose motivation on declutter projects. I’m actually saving The Art of Tidying Up for a winter weekend when I won’t be so distracted by things outdoors 😉

  5. EA Mann says:

    Your article reminded me of this EB White essay:

    “For some weeks now I have been engaged in dispersing the contents of this apartment, trying to persuade hundreds of inanimate objects to scatter and leave me alone. It is not a simple matter. I am impressed by the reluctance of one’s worldly goods to go out again into the world. A home is like a reservoir equipped with a check valve: the valve permits influx but prevents outflow.”

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      That’s rather perfect! What an interesting way of describing the protracted battles we find ourselves in with our things.

  6. Catina Marie says:

    I just listened to “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”…it’s incredible! I’m a major purger/organizer freak….it clears mental clutter and makes room for more important decisions. Happy Friday Mrs. Frugalwoods!

  7. We get on a manic-depressive purge cycle when it comes to clutter. Stuff will sit around and pile up very slowly. Eventually we’re like “Oh crap, we’re out of room! There’s nowhere to store any awesome new stuff we acquire in the future as our needs change!”.

    PURGE PURGE PURGE PURGE. Relentlessly.

    Most recently it was a huge stack of old law school textbooks. The discard pile reached from floor to ceiling. Too much stuff that isn’t worth anything. We tossed it and now have seven “brand new” bookshelves and a mostly empty shelve in a closet thanks to that one small bit of decluttering.

    It felt good to get rid of all that stuff! I think we have less stuff now than we did when we moved to our current house 12 years ago, in spite of having 3 kids and all the material possessions that come with children.

  8. Pat says:

    Decluttering and organizing your home is one of the most freeing activities anyone can do. I

  9. J says:

    This is such a timely post because I’ve blocked out time this weekend to tackle the mess that is my hall closet. At last count I think there are five umbrellas stacked in there!

  10. bev says:

    Oh to hell with frugality! I laughed so hard at this post, I didn’t even care if I got any frugal message (although I did). It started with the phrase “one-woman chaos annihilator” and end with the “towel that threw in the towel”. I’m still laughing. Thank you for making me smile today. But it does sound a bit like the Type A personality manifesting itself in a new form! I am with you on the stuff/junk, clutter thing…..I thought I was an organized person until I met “the machinist”. Let me tell you, he can squeeze boxes into a tighter space than anyone alive. Every millimeter is measured to fit somewhere precisely. Me, I just stack till they look pretty and are safe! Great post…..thanks again!

  11. Kristen says:

    First, I think I subscribe more to your feelings on minimalism. There is value in keeping things you know you will need. I was listening to the podcast slow home, and Jeff Sandquist was a guest. I don’t have the exact quote but he was talking about having once had thousands of comics and now he only has about 100. He thinks it is about being mindful with what we keep, not about how much/how little we had. I liked his approach.

    I am a work in progress on organization. I like to be organized and find myself every few months having to re-organize things.
    Happy organizing!

  12. Sarah in Maryland says:

    I adore decluttering and organizing. I tend to do it at least once a year… Or any time something life changing or stressful comes about.But, I find that my home never really has a lot of blank space. We are 8 (soon to be 9) people in 1200 square feet and we operate our dump truck business from our home and we homeschool. All of that means that although it’s extremely important to be comfortable with our surroundings (since we spend so much time at home!), it’s also very difficult to make happen! I’m thankful that although our home is quite small, we have 5 acres where our children can spread out and enjoy nature. We also have a 4 car carport (storage for my van, my dad’s vintage pickup truck, our lawnmower, snowblower, our camper, and years’ worth of firewood), a shed (empty) and a 2 bay garage (lots of tools-my husband rebuilt a dump truck motor by himself, so these tools are quite necessary, and hand me downs for our 7 children), not to mention a small attic! In other words, we have a lot of storage spaces! All of this to say, I’m not a minimalist and the idea of having to move all of our belongings makes me hyperventilate but it works for us for now. After all, can you imagine buying new clothes for 7 children? Now, that’s something to hyperventilate over!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Oh wow–I’m impressed! Sounds like you are very organized to keep your ship running :). I can definitely see the wisdom in keeping all of the hand-me-downs for your kiddos–I already have a little stockpile going for future Babywoods sizes. So worth it to have the free clothing!

  13. Kim from Philadelphia says:

    I love to decluttering and organize and it’s close to joy when it happens ( geek alert!)
    Not a minimalist, however life is easier when stuff is where it needs to be. I did another round if purging this Summer and, prompted by a post from Robin ( The Thrifty Peach), I even donated my wedding dress.

    Life will be slightly insane when Babywoods arrives, so you are smart to tackle it now! Just yesterday I went through my son’s clothes- made a donation pile and added in new pieces from the kids consignment store. That’s definitely a helpful thing to be on top of with kids because they grow out of ( and into) things so quickly.

  14. I had the mixed blessing of being kicked out of my parents house at age 21 (they were VERY right to do so for what I was up to!) It happened very suddenly, so I was without every physical belonging I ever had. I had friends who let me crash on their couches for a while until I got my own place (and eventually reconciled with my parents) but I will never forget sitting at a park eating lunch with a friend the day after it happened, and feeling so – free. I was happy. I didn’t have a thing to my name but I was still happy. I couldn’t believe it. All my precious ‘stuff’ really meant nothing to me. Ever since then I’ve been much more of a minimalist then I probably ever would have.

  15. I’m a super organized person and I am not a strict minimalist by definition. I do like a good purge but have found that sometimes in my quest for organization I got rid of something I ended up needing down the road. I strive for a healthy balance and like things as simple as they can be for my life.

    • mike says:

      I’m the same way Maureen. I get rid of stuff all the time. And even though there are times that I wish I had something I got rid of, in the long run, I’d rather have gotten rid of something that I might need, than to keep everything that I might possibly use lying around.

      And Ms Frugalwoods, why so many books? With the library, kindle and computer, I find having a personal library to be a burden, but like you say, each of us has our own parameters.

  16. Beck says:

    About a year ago I did something called the “Minimalist Challenge.”

    At that time I ended up getting rid of 292 items. About a month ago I went through everything again and got rid of another 80 things. How do these things keep creeping into my life???!!! I have to admit this time around it was mostly baby/toddler toys that we were gifted…

  17. Love the apartment/home design and your incredible organization. Minimalism definitely has its extremists. I like to call myself a “failing minimalist.” I have stuff and there’s a little clutter. But I’m always looking to minimize. 😀

  18. jestjack says:

    What an interesting article….I read parts of it to my DW and it made us smile. Not so long ago when “dinos” roamed the earth we were young newlyweds and everything was kept nice and neat. BUT when you have kids and get a bit older life tends to get….well….messy….And it’s OK. Then you get to make the “tough decisions” on what get’s thrown out from your more than “adequate inventory” of articles that your children have made for you OR played with. I have on my desk at this moment ….staring at me no less…a small “mouse” paper weight that DD1 made for me 30 years ago as a Father’s Day gift. This was made from scraps of felt, old mop head string, a couple of funny looking eyes…… with her initials on the bottom written in “her script” with a marker. This “mouse” and I have been thru a lot together…
    As for the passing things along….I couldn’t agree more. You just never know who would find something useful. Recently we purchase a new portable dishwasher to replace our 28 year old unit. I placed the old unit on Craigslist for $75 and received a response within an hour. The guy showed up in less than 2 hours. I was up front and explained that the unit wasn’t perfect and had a small leak. The buyer’s response was this was a GREAT unit….that they couldn’t afford a new dishwasher for $600 but they COULD afford one for$75…they would live with the leak….And they left with the dishwasher….HAPPY CAMPERS….and I was $75 richer and felt very good that we improved someone’s life…Kind of a “win…win” from where I’m sitting…..

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      I think that’s so sweet you still have the mouse paperweight your daughter made you! What a wonderful thing to hold onto :). And, I’m with you on the win-win of re-selling/re-using old things. Such a better cycle than simply tossing stuff in the trash.

  19. I consider myself a wannabe minimalist. I love a good purge. It’s tougher when you have three kids fighting for their own stuff. I touch it, it doesn’t bring me joy, so I tell them to get rid of it. 🙂 why don’t they get it?

  20. Love this post. I do the contrary journey : I will go from a very big house to a smaller flat (death of my mother, departure of my son who studies far from Paris, it was time to go away before I am getting too old!).
    So I try to make a difference between what I want to keep and what I should’nt, even in my beloved books. Still too many things left, but my house will be sold in 4 months, so I don’t have choice, have I?

  21. I have a pretty similar haphazard approach to decluttering. When a space bothers me, I declutter it. And we have moved 9 times in 14 years, so we have had maaaaany opportunities to purge. But every time, we find nonsense that we can’t believe we’ve been carrying around all this time–ugly wall hangings, lamps that my grandmother gave us from her attic in 2001, etc.

    Children definitely present special decluttering challenges. First, their toys. People will give your children stupid toys. Then there’s the quandary of what outgrown things to keep. It can be, ahem, challenging to admit that since you are not going to have another baby and have indeed taken permanent steps in that direction, you should really let go of your beloved ring sling. (On the other hand, I just about had a party when I got rid of all my cloth diapers. And the previously ever-present wet bags that hung on the back of the bathroom door for years. Yuck, yuck, yuck.)

    I think I did keep, for each child, one tiny outfit of special significance and the first had made for them by Grandma FP. Everything else has long since gone to another baby.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      I am sure those other babies appreciate your hand-me-downs! But I can only imagine how tough it must be to let that stuff go… sniff.

  22. valhalla says:

    Nice post! I’m 32 weeks pregnant now, with the fourth. I think decluttering your house is one of the smartest things to do if you want to prepare for the first busy weeks with a newborn baby. Much more than cleaning or buying stuff 😉
    Even with 3 other kids who are 7, 5 and 2 I know cleaning the house and keeping it tidy won’t be a problem, since we all have very little stuff. The kids have their toys but I (or rather, they) can pick up everything, in all rooms combined in just a few minutes.
    For the kids, i also like to accept all hand me downs people offer me but I keep their wardrobes quite small. But not that small that I must do laundry every week because I’ll run out of clean clothes…
    For me, this combination of frugalty and minimalism works best. Gives me the most time to spend with my family, and costs the least. In the past years I’ve gotten rid of a very large part of all our stuff (and moving to another country helped a little extra) so it is just a question of maintaining it a little every now and then… love it.
    Wish you a very fine last trimester!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Sounds like you’ve got a great system going! I love the concept of freeing yourself from your stuff in order to have more time with family. Perfect! Hope all’s going well for you at the end of your pregnancy too :)!

  23. Kathy says:

    Just this morning I was musing how I have kept a complete set of silverware for “camp” one day … and now that day is here! I declared that I was going to become a minimalist but since then I have assimilated one drawing table, a rocking chair, approximately seven books … obviously I am not minimalist material – more like maximalist. I always say that phrase, too, “we may need it someday.” I have been using my towels for close to 20 years! I cut the frays off, too. Thank you for this validating post!

  24. Jennifer says:

    One of my favorite decluttering techniques is for items that have a sentimental but useless value. Take the card you took from that adorable restaurant in Paris, in case you ever go back to visit it again. It has been on the memo board for 2 years now. I take the card, photograph it on my cell phone and *wham* recycle it. This also works for my childhood dented and chipped memories that I can now throw in a garage sale because they are vintage. I haven’t lost the sentimental object, it’s in my photo library. Works well for me.

  25. I, too, hate having cluttered drawers! Also, I bought my towels and washcloths maybe 14 years ago and I have a real fear that I may have them the rest of my life! They show zero signs of wear!

    I will admit that I’m fascinated by minimalism but my aim isn’t to own very few items. It’s to own only what I need! I totally get holding onto some stuff you know you may need or use in the future. I always think there’s a line there somewhere (not that I know where). I do know that my Mom accepts and keeps anything that’s given to her in case she ever needs it! And she has way too much stuff. At the same time, I completely understand that she holds onto stuff because she may not be able to afford to replace it….if she ever needed it.

    Me, if I accidentally donate something I need in the future, I can always choose to live without or replace it if life can’t go on without it! So far, I haven’t regretted anything I’ve de-cluttered or donated!

  26. Marcia says:

    I love purging and I remember the urge when pregnant. I told my husband “we have to go through Kid#1’s closet and purge before Baby#2 comes.” And he said “nah, we’ll have plenty of time after.” I remember telling my MIL this too.

    See, I once said “nothing comes in unless something goes out”, which is a great mantra, if hard to implement. My MIL teased me “if you have this rule, how come your closet needs to be purged?” “Um, cuz we are adding a second child and not getting rid of the first!”

    This past weekend was purge-heaven. See, our house is 1100 sf, 2BR, 1 BA – no garage, no basement, no attic. We acquired used bunk beds for the boys, allowing us to go up. We got rid of the queen mattress that toddler was sleeping on (it was ours from 1994, so yes it went to trash). We swapped dressers with the boys. We got rid of a 1994 bookshelf that had stickers and water spots, and that we had no room for. We got rid of the diaper genie, yay! (And not so strangely, there’s no used market for those). We got rid of our computer chair from 1994 because it no longer fit. That went to the curb for trash day, and someone liked it before the trash guys came. We got rid of the large off-white area rug in the boys’ room that no longer fit. And was no longer white. I think someone picked that off the curb too.

    Now we just need a new smaller computer desk. Our current one is (you guessed it), from 1994 or 1995. And it doesn’t allow us to slide the chair under it.

    We also got rid of clothing. I finally decluttered most of my clothing. You see, pregnancy changes things. My weight has fluctuated since the first kid from 125 to 170 to 132 to 188 to 142. I had decided to challenge myself to buy no new clothing this year. Well, I didn’t quite make it (underwear, swimsuits because I swim a lot and they wear out, and a pair of shorts). I had clothing that I bought after I had kid#2 that was too big, because I lost 25 lbs last year. I had clothing that was too small because it was pre-kid#2. I was holding onto it until “I lose the last 5-7 lbs”, but I’ve been trying to do that since December. And things have shifted, so my broader shoulders and ribcage suggest that they aren’t going to fit ever (yay for swimming and babies?) It was time to stop storing these size small shirts.

    Anything that didn’t fit got tossed, with the exception of 3 pairs of shorts that are a little too big, because it’s hot and I need to wear something.

    We also purged kids’ clothing – we tend to stuff their drawers full and not notice when they grow out of it. We are blessed with friends who give us buckets of hand me downs, but it’s a lot of work keeping on top of it. We often find things when they’ve outgrown it. We bagged up 4 bags of out-grown kids clothing, plus baby blankets. We found the next tubs of kid clothing and replenished the drawers. And we have a “few” items for next year that they still need to grow into.

    I also purged my cookbooks.

    Our house is still not organized – the bookshelves/ kids’ toys need some serious work. And shoes. My toddler gets so many hand me down shoes. I don’t know how my friend can buy that many pairs of shoes. Really, my toddler has 2-3 pairs, and that’s it! I literally have 20-30 pairs from her. But we are getting there!

  27. JH says:

    I have major slob tendencies (in my family, I am best known for saying, in response to my mother’s question about the location of the TV Guide, “It should be on the first layer. I only dropped it 10 minutes ago.) Thankfully, I’m a purger, not a hoarder, so the piles of clutter do not get too high.

    I, too, am in the middle of a massive de-cluttering and reorganization project. For inspiration from someone who lacks the tidy gene but has developed practical tips for tidying an overwhelmingly messy home, I love to read the blog

  28. Ali says:

    I’m definitely a purger. My parents have a loft/attic that sounds a bit like your basement in that they always go ‘stick it in the loft for later’. I think that’s the reason I’m a purger and hate clutter and stuff. I also hate shopping and will use things to the bitter end like you did with your hand towel. And, like you, it then makes its way to the rag pile.

  29. Shelagh says:

    Gosh, it’s like I am going through the exact same thing right now. I am 33 weeks pregnant and moving to our homestead on October 1st, so I have been trying to purge and pack all at once. My downfall is that in my urgency to get things packs and ready to go, I am not purging as much as I would like. I think that is excellent planning on your part to start the purging process well before you move and before the baby comes.
    I can share the sentiment that you want less stuff in the house before the baby. I find myself rearranging the contents of the kitchen cabinets and putting things in new containers almost every day. My partner might be losing his mind when he tries to find the sugar I put on a new shelf almost every day, but I feel good trying to make things look tidier and less cluttered.

    It’s funny. So far we have brought one truck load of stuff down to the property and so our current house looks half empty with shelves and other pieces of furniture missing, but it also feels so open and spacious. It is also far easier to keep clean and move around.

    Thanks for sharing the post. Loved it.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Good luck with everything! Sounds like it’s all going well :)! Glad I’m not the only pregnant lady obsessed with this idea of pre-baby purging. There’s just something very soothing about it…

  30. Leigh says:

    This year has been an endless purge project! My boyfriend moved in to my two bedroom condo in December and he had previously had a one bedroom apartment to himself. We donated his mattress, box spring, metal bedframe and threw out his desk (no used market for the style in our city) to start. I had been using his closet as a bit of overflow, so I had to purge through that stuff. I also had to purge through my dresser and underbed drawers to give him some drawer space. We had a ton of doubles of most kitchen stuff, so we threw out some of the well-used stuff and donated extra items, like kettles, a toaster, a paper towel holder, etc. We’ve kept the extra pots and pans, dishes, and cutlery because a) they wear out eventually and b) when we have people over / cook multiple dishes in quick succession, it’s nice to have more to go around. When we replaced my big desk this summer, I boxed up all of the stuff that had been hiding in its cupboards and I still need to go through those boxes and purge. I’ve donated over $2,000 worth of stuff this year according to It’s Deductible. The condo is starting to look SO much better as we de-clutter. The main big things left are to sell my coffee table and end tables.

  31. I’m definitely a minimalist. I’m a wanderer, nomad, and dare I say hobo wannabe? 🙂 I think there are two kinds of innate genes that our modern population possesses: 1. those who still relate to our hunter-gatherer, tribal, social, nomadic days and 2. those who have assimilated into the ‘farmer’ mentality of putting down roots and having a homestead… whether that homestead is in the woods or in a rent controlled apartment overlooking Central Park. I for sure fall into the first category, so having and keeping stuff, no matter if it is free, just does not work for my mobile lifestyle. I think that is the real reason why we have extreme minimalists, versus those who just want to de-clutter, since everyone wants a tidy space.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Very interesting–thank you for sharing that! I am most certainly in the second category. I find a great deal of comfort in nesting down in my home–I just have to be careful not to nest with too many things 🙂

  32. Kelsey says:

    Mrs. FW, I just wanted to say thank you for this post and thank you for writing this blog! I have really enjoyed reading my way through it and look forward to updates on frugal parenthood and homesteading in the future. As a fellow Boston-area resident, your lifestyle is so inspiring!

    Regarding minimalism, I have moved almost every year over the last 13 years and each time I become more and more of a minimalist. The KonMarie method is brilliant and super motivational. She totally got me through my most recent move without losing my sanity. I also have come to appreciate a phrase I remember reading on MMM once…something to the extent of “let Craigslist keep it for you for a while”. I didn’t totally get it when I first read it, but now I very much agree. The things you are saving to use someday, you can just let them go and they will come back to you when you need them later. Trust in the universe, there’s no need to be a pack rat. This is coming from someone with an extreme pack rat mother and father-in-law though, so my current habits may be more of a reaction to the stress their homes spark in me! I find it very freeing to be able to let go of belongings, ignore their sunk cost and any nostalgia/guilt, and then just care for the things I really want in my house. Good luck with the de-cluterring!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thank you so much for reading and for sharing your thoughts–most appreciated :)! I agree with you on the KonMarie approach of only keeping things you really want–that was an eye-opening idea for me. It has definitely helped me to let go of more things!

  33. Norm says:

    The most unintentionally philosophical quote I’ve ever heard about clutter came from a college roommate as he was cleaning out for the year: “Every year we bring less stuff but we accumulate more crap!” I think the way he differentiated between “stuff” and “crap” was telling. All stuff is just stuff, but some stuff is crap. Maybe that should be the title of my own Marie Kondo book!

    Right now I’m building a shed to house stuff, so maybe I shouldn’t be talking about minimalism, but the shed is a replacement for a two-car garage, and I’ll be using it to store the gardening, camping and outdoor stuff in our now-cluttered basement. You know, the useful stuff 🙂

  34. Ali says:

    We are big fans of the minimalist lifestyle–over the past year, we have donated or sold 2/3 of our belongings. There are very few, if any, things that I miss (with the exception of my stockpot). We lived in a very small home and started to feel claustrophobic. Also, if we aren’t using it and someone else can, I feel that holding onto an object is wasteful (although I do appreciate your stance on saving for later).

    I grew up in a home that was filled to the brim with clutter and it always really bothered me. I shudder at the idea of having to help my parents pack and move out of my childhood home. My mother was always “organizing” but cannot throw anything away. One thing that I would recommend to everyone–don’t buy “organizational” tools. They are just more clutter. Donate things instead and save the money!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      That’s awesome, Ali! And, I agree with you on organizational tools–they usually just cause us to keep more stuff. I’m currently embracing the idea of having empty drawers/shelves in almost every room. It’s a new thing for me–we’ll see how it goes 🙂

  35. Loved this! I was the exact same way when we were preparing for Little Miss. I was in the “EVERYTHING MUST GO!!!” mentality and it was so awesome to use that motivation to declutter to really free up some space in our house and make it a more relaxing environment to be in. I am still working on decluttering more as we slowly bring in more toys, etc. for her. It can really be a struggle sometimes when you have a growing child and are planning on having another, to find ways to still keep your home decluttered. I think it will get easier too once we don’t plan on having any more babies and can donate things like her infant car seat, baby swing, bouncer, play mat, clothes, etc. I love Blonde on a Budget and Becoming Minimalist to read more about minimalism tendencies. I’m not a minimalist either, but definitely have gained some great inspiration from them!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Yes! They are both very inspirational to me too! Glad to hear I’m not the only one who felt this way before baby 🙂

  36. Kathy says:

    I love me some drawer organizing. Less clutter makes me less confused and more focus. I run childcare out of my home and decided recently that this would be my last year doing so. I keep mentally checking off what equipment and toys and supplies and swings and carriages will be able to go when I shut down the business. Gives me much pleasure. I do have a really hard time with books. I just cant seem to donate or give them away. My husband and I were big readers (we try now but four kids and the daycare, not so much) and we have a lot of books that have a hold on us. Least they look great on a shelf!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      I’m the same way with books. I think I’m emotionally attached to them ;). Good luck with the post-childcare business purge!

  37. Tarynkay says:

    Yes, I love getting rid of stuff. If we are not currently using it, I want it gone. My husband, on the other hand, wants to keep things that may hypothetically be useful someday. So I get rid of stuff and 5 years later, he asks where X is. I think the 5 years of not tripping over it is totally worth re-acquiring it while it makes him crazy to think that we owned it already, a mere half-decade ago.

    To me, this kind of thinking is why my grandparents have three barns full of junk, including 17 toilets. Yes, I counted the toilets. This is not counting the working toilets in their house. We are talking about 17 toilets sitting around in a barn for in case we need them someday. I am not sure in what post-apocylptic future 17 toilets would come in handy. I like to have faith in a future free of toilet shortages.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Oh wow–that’s a lot of toilets. Hey, if ever anyone called and asked if they had a toilet to spare…

  38. There is nothing more satisfying than getting rid of stuff. As soon as I think I’ve gotten rid of all that I can possibly get rid of, I move or go on a rampage and get rid of even more. When we sold our house a few years ago, I think we got rid of at least 30% of our stuff. Then as we unpacked, we got rid of another 10%. Then when it was time to pack again, 10% more made its way to Goodwill. I’m unpacking once again and guess where date night is tonight? Goodwill!!! We haven’t really acquired more stuff, so I’m constantly amazed at how much we have that we don’t need or want anymore. I should have taken pictures over the years so I had something scary to put on the mantle for Halloween.

  39. Meghan says:

    What a timely post! I just received notice from the library this morning that I can pick up The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I’m looking forward to reading it! Lately I have become intrigued by the minimalist culture and wish I could become one. I don’t think I will ever will be a full blown minimalist because I tend to have emotional difficulty with getting rid of things. I come from a family of hoarders. Seriously. My grandma’s two car garage is packed floor to ceiling, front to back with boxes and boxes of God knows what. While her house is very clean, it is packed to the brim with furniture, trinkets, things and stuff. My biggest fear is becoming like that where my stuff takes over my life. I’ve started to get the nesting/decluttering bug with five months before our second kid arrives. Happy decluttering!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Yes! I think you and I have very similar families :). I share that same fear and have really been trying to learn how to let go of more stuff. I wish you all the best in your decluttering too! We can do this :)!

  40. Diana says:

    I’m working on making decluttering more of a solo adventure rather than getting my husband involved. I’m not going to be throwing out any of his beloved baseball mitts any time soon, but for instance, I just gave one of the grill pans we got for our wedding to a friend. I’m not sure if he even knows that we had two grill pans. There is a 0% chance that the le creuset grill pan I’m keeping will ever wear out or break. It’s cast iron. But, if I brought him into the decision making about whether to gift the second grill pan, I would get a whole laundry list of reasons why we have to keep it just in case. Then for the next 5 years, he would never give it another thought, and I’d glare at it every time I open the cabinet it’s in.

    I know for sure that I’ll be one of those hormonal pregnant ladies that goes on a decluttering rampage to calm nerves someday. I’m sure my husband is very excited 🙂

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Haha, yes, I am definitely a hormonal pregnant lady on a decluttering rampage! Fortunately for me, Mr. FW is more of a minimalist than I am so he’s a champion for getting rid of more. I have to watch him to make sure he doesn’t get rid of too much :)!

  41. I do enjoy purging, but I tolerate a good bit more stuff than you do. Still, over time, I’ve become much less tolerant of hanging onto things that I might use, even though I haven’t used them in a decade. My biggest clutter challenge during the school year, is the amount of paperwork my daughter brings home from school. It’s shocking.

  42. Randall says:

    I keep things simple and minimal. It is only me in my studio apartment so only have what I need. For example I only have 1 coffee mug and a pour over drip coffee maker. If something comes in something goes out. Much easier to clean and I simply buy much less stuff. Less buying more savings.

  43. noreen says:

    I am an Empty Nester. I sold my 4 bedroom, 2 bath, 2 car attached garage (with unfinished story of it) house last year. It was a monumental chore. Good riddance. Hurt at first but God it feels so good now. I put 95% of my stuff on a flat bed and donated to hospice. Moved in with my Sig Other into a minute ranch. I love not having the beast of a house, and I it was just me and the dog (Boston Terrier) in it for about 10 years. We are all happier here. So small that clutter isn’t an option!

  44. Donna says:

    It is interesting as this quote, “I never want to accumulate so much stuff that my life revolves around its storage, care, and maintenance. I want to own what we need and eliminate the rest” from your posting is what I thought of as minimalism. At any rate, it is a good perspective on life and stuff. Keep writing! You are an inspiration!

  45. As much as possible, I want everything organized, which makes me feel good when everything is in place. I get rid of old stuff if the products or the stuff has not been used for more than 3 months. That’s the time I think whether to keep it or to get rid of it.

  46. Jill says:

    Decluttering has definitely become a popular theme. I really appreciate your logical approach to it. Well, and the KonMar emotional approach–maybe I am a dual-personality minimalist wannabe.
    I put items by the curb with free signs and even remembered what you had said about being able to easily look in open boxes. But I have decided to take the plunge and have followed your link to sign up to help admin a Buy Nothing group in my town, my main motivation being to get items to make a speedier departure from our home. Goodwill and other similar, wonderful establishments are 40 miles from us. I only have 35 months until our big move so the message is very timely.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      That’s so great you’re going to help out with a Buy Nothing group!! I hope it’s a wonderful experience!

  47. I LOVE purging old stuff. I feel so much less stress when I don’t have crap around. I’m kind of looking forward to moving next year so I can purge some more! Also if I donate stuff to non-profits, I can itemize those in my 1040!

  48. Amy says:

    I have a love/hate relationship with purging. I love to have things clean and organized, but struggle with what to keep and what to get rid of. I was trying to be minimalist, but realized I like the benefits of ‘having it for later’. Who wants to purchase something when you were given it for free at one time? I had a minimalist friend who would act like I was a hoarder because I held onto things for later. The minimalist friend also filed for bankruptcy and she would use her mom as a bank. I believe if I can save a $1 by hanging onto something and it isn’t making me crazy, then why not? I also find joy in giving things away to those who can use something I no longer need. I love that you found homes for your soda stream canisters, etc! Cool! Q: Are you collecting items for your homestead? Like buckets, yard tools, chicken wire etc. those items will come in handy, of course maybe your homestead will come with those things!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Great question! We do indeed collect homestead-y items when we come across them for free–such as tools, rakes, shovels, lumber, etc. We have a shed out back that holds that genre of stuff, so it’s been nice to start up a little collection.

  49. Laura Beth says:

    A few years ago I went through a similar life change. As a result, I discarded, sold or donated most of my household items, much of my clothing and furniture and anything that wasn’t adding joy to my life.

    It’s a decision I have never regretted.

    I completely understand your need to de-clutter in preparation of the new joys coming your way. Enjoyed the post.

    Laura Beth

  50. I have to say that you are ridiculously well organized. I tend to throw my stuff all over the place until I do my weekly cleanup and vacuuming.

  51. I need to do this project right now as well. I cringe when I open some drawers in the kitchen and office and we have some closets overstuffed. Fortunately I no longer have a basement, but you can still pack a lot of crap into 2,500 square feet (and garage).

    I struggle with mementos. I have some boxes that I can’t really seem to get rid of. They don’t take up much space, so I shoudl just keep it organized and out of the way. Even though they are in a box in the closet, it is nice to have pieces of home/childhood/college/etc with me all the time.

    Also, what do you do with manuals, boxes, etc? I tend to keep them too long. I guess since you don’t buy new, this is not a challenge for the frugalwoods clan.

  52. I’ve always been a minimalist, but I went the extra mile this year and went extreme when we moved to Florida. It’s a weird feeling. I can’t even explain it. I know I will climb out of the extreme barrel after a while, but it’s difficult because I don’t like acquiring things, so how do I do it? I think we extreme minimalists need a therapeutic show like the hoarders have. I guess we don’t have one because it would be pretty boring. Good luck keeping the clutter down once the baby arrives. Everyone LOVES to give them lots of stuff and feel insulted if they don’t see the baby either wearing or playing with it. Yikes!

  53. Shannon says:

    We recently tried out the KonMari method for organizing and decluttering. Made it through clothes and shoes. Books are next. But I have a basement of sooooo much stuff that needs to be looked at. That’s waiting for one rainy afternoon, but we need to be home for a weekend first.

  54. ARBM says:

    I am sort of with you with the “we might need it someday” thing. While I totally agree with a lot of the ideas behind minimalism and don’t want to be a mindless consumer, I also want to be prepared for the inevitable things that will pop up along the way. The key thing that I need to work on though is organizing the things that I have decided to keep “just-in-case” so that when they are needed, I know where to find them. I am most definitely a work in progress on that point.

  55. Jessica says:

    Great post. My own apartment has no closets or storage of any kind apart from a few kitchen cabinets. So any amount of stuff makes it seem pretty messy in here. I wish I had done a major purge before I moved! But it’s never too late! My current project is to replace unloved furniture with more useful versions that let’s us get more space out of our space. I.e. Replacing our old free but uncomfortable and ugly couch with one that turns into a bed so we can have guests stay over, or building under bed drawers so we can get rid of dressers to make space for a work desk. Of course the regular purging of junk must also continue but as blogs like yours and MMMs so compellingly illustrate, the real key to both clutter free living and financial independence is not buying shit you don’t need. More specifically developing a lifestyle that allows you to find happiness and fulfillment from relationships and activities rather than than from the fleeting ‘high’ of retail therapy. It might be a long process, but I will get there!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Exactly! You nailed it–avoiding buying in the first place is definitely the best way to go! But even still, I have a lot of junk I need to get rid of… We’ll both get there :)!

  56. Kathryn says:

    I really hope you finish. You sound so determined, I’m sure you will. I had the same goal, but my little darling arrived four months ago and our apartment is still cluttered. :,( Weer are working on it little by little but DH spends so much time at work and college and I spend nearly all of my time tending to the baby. I had NO idea how much time a baby takes! I’ll give you a clue–all of it! Right now I’m lying in bed exhausted, having hopefully got her to sleep for keeps at half past one in the morning after a few false starts, trying to get up the energy to go eat something before I crash myself. Don’t get me wrong–she is 100% worth everything and I am incredibly delighted to have her. I just wish with all my heart I had succeeded in getting the apartment clean first. 🙁

  57. Melinda says:

    Although our home does not look minimalist, I absolutely LOVE GETTING RID OF THINGS! It’s an illness ;). We don’t have stuff stored. Our things we love and use are out being loved and used. Just a few boxes downstairs of holiday decorations. I would get rid of more, but, alas, I don’t feel it’s right to throw away the belongings of our young adult children who are living with us right now. I do ask them to purge stuff before I make a trip to Goodwill to donate. I swear stuff multiplies on its own. I actually get a little bit happy when something breaks. That means I can throw it away. 🙂

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      It’s a wonderfully liberating feeling, isn’t it? I’ve been so happy with the whole decluttering process–makes me feel like I’m in charge of my stuff and not the other way around 🙂

  58. Marissa says:

    This comment is really late, but it’s also my first comment on your blog! Yay!

    From your habits of keeping a “stockpile” of new things to use later and keeping items you will truly need later on, I say you’re a minimalist at heart. ^^ I consider myself a minimalist and I like to buy bulk items at Costco I know I will use and need in the future and store them at my mom’s house where I am currently living. Never underestestimate the power of bulk items you will use and need someday. ; ) Costco is lovely for that reason!

    Although, when looking at pictures of inside of your house in different blog posts, your house furnature and decor isn’t a stereotypical minimalist design, but it’s a house that is clean and well cared for from what I can tell! ^^ Just as people who are minimalists who only own 100 items or 1000 and above, so is everybody’s path to minimalism is different from others. Doesn’t matter if you live out of a suitcase, a backpack, a car, an RV, an appartment, or a house, everybody is a minimalist in their own way on the path of minimalism. /preachy

    Hope your guys’ day has been well! C:

  59. Caroline says:

    This is serving as my new year inspiration… we are in the process of shifting children’s bedrooms / my office in quite a major way and it is the ideal time to properly sort out and get rid of stuff that’s just… there. Some of it is very sentimental, but really… a lot of it just languishes *because there’s always been a cupboard free*. Not anymore! We have plenty of cupboards and to my hoarder in-law’s open horror, our solution is to actually empty out what we have, NOT buy more cupboards. We recently cleaned out the garage, not a scorched-earth clean, it probably could have been done more seriously, but even just a fairly quick-n-dirty left me with a huge boot full of actual rubbish / recycling. I have donated boxes and boxes of books and clothes and… and…

    And yet, still there is more. Bedding for beds we no longer have ”but we might need it”… yes, but not since 07, no? And so it goes.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Nice!! Huge congrats on the decluttering! I too now have empty cupboards and shelves, which is actually quite liberating. Makes me feel like I’ve seriously accomplished something in life ;). Best of luck and enjoy the process!

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