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.
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!).
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).
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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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