How Decluttering Saves Me Money, Time, And Stress
I reorganized our house. And by “reorganized,” I mean I went through every single closet, drawer, cabinet, and shelf, and every single t-shirt, shampoo bottle, and Christmas decoration that we own. And by “house,” I mean all of it: from the front hall to the basement to the new baby’s room, I systematically deconstructed every single inch of our living space. Even the guest bathroom, which, as it turned out, was harboring a most random panoply of unused toiletries, a humidifier, and a hairdryer I’d forgotten I owned.
This entire process took me an embarrassingly long stretch of time–I didn’t keep close track, but I’d say four or five months. Of course my work wasn’t constant, but rather, as all my work is, sporadic and crammed into naptime and preschool time and the ten minutes I can grab at any given moment during my hectically joyful days of parenting a two-year-old, being pregnant, managing a homestead, launching my book, and writing Frugalwoods.
I’ve so wanted to share how this process felt as it unfolded, but I knew I needed to finish it first. I think I was afraid if I told you about it before it was completed it might never get done. I did the same thing with my book–I didn’t want to tell you until after it was written for fear it might not happen. I think I’d do the same with my pregnancies–just show up one day with a baby–except that it’s quite obvious I’m carrying around an infant in there.
A Need For Control
I undertook this project in large part because I am pregnant and pregnancy overwhelms me with a desire to control my surroundings. I’m also keenly aware that an organization project like this won’t happen in the aftermath of birth, which lasts at least a year. Or two. Or more. The unknowns of birth and child-rearing terrify me (continually, daily) and I’m cognizant of how many factors stretch far beyond our control where our children are concerned. Organizing my house, however, is something I have complete control over. I did it on my own because I didn’t want Mr. FW’s help and I didn’t want to be beholden to anyone else’s schedule or organizational tactics. In Babywoods’ words, “I do it myself.” I will point out that I am remarkably consistent in my pregnancy neurosis as the last time I performed a whole-house organization was when I was pregnant with my first child; I have the proof right here: My Quest For A Clutter-Free Life.
Having a newborn is difficult (really difficult), but it’s even more difficult if you’re in a disorganized house where you’re constantly tripping over clutter and can’t find what you need. I’m all about controlling what I can control with the understanding that it’ll make all those uncontrollable factors easier to cope with.
I often talk about the liberation that stems from controlling your money and I feel the same way about my stuff. When you’re in charge of your money–when you know what you’re spending, where you’re invested, how much you need in order to reach your longterm aspirations–you’re empowered. Money can destroy lives, or it can be something that’s peacefully managed with a concrete plan. I find there are only two options: either you control your money or it controls you. Same story with material possessions.
When my husband and I started our quest for a financially independent life four years ago, I had no idea that the benefits and lessons of frugality would eventually extend to encompass every aspect of our lives. Once we were in complete and serene control of our money, I started to think about everything else I might be able to control. One of my ongoing quests is to control my stuff. I’ve learned that clutter stresses me out. I’ve realized that unnecessary objects sprinkled around my house are a source of contention. I now understand that I have minimalist tendencies and that I crave empty space and efficiency. It’s easier to operate in a home that’s not crammed with junk, it’s liberating to know where everything is, to have a clean spot for all your possessions, and to not waste time looking for things. It’s wonderful to not desire more stuff and it’s a boon to realize when you have enough.
Acknowledging That I Have Enough
What I’m finally learning is that my ‘enough’ includes quite a bit less stuff than I originally thought. The less money Mr. Frugalwoods and I spent in our extreme frugality approach, the happier we became. We ingrained a mindset of immense gratitude, we became more content with what we have, we were liberated from caring what other people thought about us, and we stepped out of the rat race and off the consumer carousel of always needing more, more, more. I’m starting to see the wisdom of owning less stuff. The more I own, the more I have to clean, the more I have to store, and the more I’m responsible for.
In many ways, it’s entirely possible to be owned by your stuff. To create lives beholden to material possessions. To spend our time cleaning, organizing, storing, and managing our stuff. We humans have a strange tendency to instill our belongings with far more respect that they deserve. We try to get stuff to serve as stand-ins for human emotions and we exalt material goods as more than their intended function. A couch is not the holder of memories–it’s a place to sit. A car is not an indicator of success–it’s a way to commute. Your clothes do not define you–they keep you warm. We can let things become more important to us than actual people and we can let the acquisition of more things start to dictate our finances. Or we can choose to use our possessions for their intended functions, be grateful to have them, and let go of the desire for more.
Through the process of combing through every single thing we own, I realized that more often than not, my stuff is holding me back as opposed to bringing me joy. I’m always going on about spending money only in service of things that bring you a high return on your happiness investment, but what about only keeping things that similarly deliver a good return on your investment of storing them? I’m not quite there yet, but I’m evolving.
I’m Not A Real Minimalist
In slight contradiction to everything I just said about the freedom of simplifying one’s life, I must say that I am not, nor will I ever be, a true full-on minimalist. A true minimalist would not keep a box of unused curtains in her basement. A true minimalist would not keep several different sizes of jeans on hand just in case… But I do all of these things for the simple reason that it’s frugal to do so. I choose to keep–in organized, labeled boxes–duplicates of things (such as multiple sets of sheets for the same bed), items we haven’t used in years but that are still functional (a blender that works perfectly), and sentimental items (Mr. FW’s boy scout uniform, my old ballet shoes).
I do this because it’s a cornerstone of my frugality, and my environmentalism, to reuse and repurpose instead of buying new. It makes no reasonable sense to me to get rid of sheet sets that I will surely need when my current set of sheets falls apart. And you never know when you might need some perfectly good curtains! I just put up three curtains in my office to create a nap room for our new baby, and those curtains hadn’t been used in years! But I had them and I didn’t have to buy them. For this reason, I will never be someone who owns very little. What I hope is that I’m becoming a person who only owns things that I either currently use or could reasonably see myself using in the near future.
My approach to decluttering, thus, is not perfect and would be frowned upon by the devotees of Marie Kondo and the minimalists among us. However, it’s a system that works for me. And that, ultimately, is the end goal of all of this soul-searching we perform together here on Frugalwoods. All of our budget conversations, our investing lessons, our Uber Frugal Month challenges, our Reader Case Studies… all of it is designed to help you figure out what works best in your life.
I’m of the belief that everyone has an optimal mode of life they can pursue, but that this optimal mode is different for everyone. The key is having the willingness and the self-awareness and the optimism to determine what that optimal system is for you. Socrates said that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” and how true that is.
We can float through life, beholden only to the expectations of others, or to how we’ve always done things, constantly frustrated by our daily routines, constantly unfulfilled by our work, constantly dismayed about our money, constantly furious about how our partner loads (or perhaps more aptly, does not load) the dishwasher. Or, we can step back, make a plan, and change things.
In one of her songs, Rilo Kiley intones, “all the immediate unknowns are better than knowing this tired and lonely fate,” which is a quote that guides my drive to act decisively and quickly. While re-organizing a house is not exactly a life-altering event, it was a soothing balm for me in this time of chaos. Accepting and leaning into the phase of life you’re in is an important approach for me. Having the perspective that I need to do what I feel called to do–even if it’s re-organizing a house–frees me from feeling any guilt around what I do. In my opinion, it’s inaction that stymies our longterm success, not action, no matter how banal it might seem (and I’ll warrant that house organization can seem pretty banal).
Don’t Complain, Take Action
I’ll be honest, I have a low threshold for tolerating people who complain endlessly about a situation but refuse to take actionable steps towards change. Know why I have such a low tolerance? Because I used to be that person 100% and to the core. Massive complainer; very little in the way of doing. After Mr. FW and I launched our radical life-transformation process in 2014, I learned to either: 1) begin work on a project or, 2) decide that it wasn’t all that important to me and to let it go, without complaint or guilt.
As an example of how I implement #2, I gave up (temporarily) on my desire to learn how to play the piano and to accompany myself while singing. Yes, it’s something I want to do, but I had to recognize and accept that it’s not a top priority for me right now and so it’s not going to happen. I’ll reopen that goal in future years, but for now, I’m at peace with letting it reside as a goal towards which I’ve made zero progress. There’s no sense in berating myself for not doing it; I merely accept that now’s not the time for it.
And now for an example of how I implement scenario #1: becoming a writer. This is one of those things that I wasted YEARS whining about wanting to do but never did anything about. Until I finally just sat down and–wait for it–started writing. It was that simple and that difficult. I stopped complaining and put all of that energy into action. It was the same story with this house reorganization project. Since we moved here with a five-month-old and a ton of outside homestead-related goals, Mr. FW and I sort of phoned in the whole unpacking and organization process when we moved in and this haphazard unpacking was eating away at me. Driving me nuts.
Devoted readers may recall that the outset of this reorganization process started with our basement, which had become a pit of despair. There’s really no other term for it, it was a certifiable pit of despair. I hated going down there. Half-unpacked moving boxes littered the concrete floor and no one could find anything. Needing to locate a hammer would initiate a hair-tearing 25-minute search. How ridiculous and inefficient is that?! What a massive waste of time and effort. And so, I knew I needed to take action.
Instead of complaining about it for weeks on end (as I would’ve done in the past), I simply got started and I was hardcore about it. I made Mr. FW haul off reams of cardboard boxes to recycling. I made Mr. FW drive entire CARLOADS of stuff to donate to the thrift store (I actually think we donated so much that they won’t let us give them any more stuff for awhile because they gave Mr. FW the stink eye last time he was there… ).
Instead of stewing over how deplorable our basement had become, I just did it. I started with one box and worked my way through the entire contents of our lives. A great deal of this problem stemmed from the fact that I packed up our Cambridge house while parenting a three-month-old infant. People, it was one of the worst packing jobs I’ve ever witnessed and I’ve moved a lot and I’ve helped a lot of other people move. I packed–this is not a joke–empty shampoo bottles because I was too exhausted to realize they were empty. I packed clothes we never wear. I packed–this is also not a joke–old electronic toothbrush heads (??!!!). Why I didn’t recycle this stuff at the time is beyond me although I distinctly recall singing to Babywoods who was nursing in a carrier on my chest as I madly threw stuff into my second-hand moving boxes. So uh yeah, I guess that’s how it happened… Needless to say, I needed to sift through every single item to separate the wheat from the chaff. And most of it turned out to be chaff.
The Cost Of Owning Too Much
There’s also a financial angle to decluttering. In addition to the time we spend rifling around a disorganized home in search of car keys or a screwdriver, there’s an entire industry devoted to selling us organizational equipment: boxes, bins, shelving, and storage units to be rented. I’m first in line to admit that I bought a fair number of shelves and storage boxes in order to get our house into shape. Tallying the monetary outlay for these items prodded me to be even more militant in my quest to get rid of things. The less I own, the less I need to pay to organize.
I also recognize that we paid movers to move a bunch of stuff into this house that we did not need and that we’ve now given away. Total waste of money. Had I been able to do this massive decluttering before moving here, this extra expense could’ve been avoided. So there’s a very real cost to owning too much and to owning things we don’t need.
Perhaps even more profound than the financial cost is the cost of time. I’m fond of saying that time and money are our most precious resources and that we should fiercely guard how we use both of these. Owning too much stuff in a disorganized home is an easy way to expend way too much time and way too much money. Recognizing these drains motivates me to be ruthless about what I choose to own.
How often are we overwhelmed by our stuff? How much time do we waste looking for things that are lost amid disorderly piles? How often do we bemoan cleaning and dusting and sorting and storing all of our stuff???? If you’re me, it used to be quite a lot. But as I simplify every area of my life, I find I’m wasting much less time in service of material possessions. Frugality encouraged me to streamline and create efficiencies in everything I do and this cleansing process of re-organizing our house helped me to understand all the ways in which I was allowing stuff to dictate my use of time.
A Note On Children And Stuff
Things have a way of accumulating when you have children and we certainly own a lot more stuff now that we have a child (and another on the way). A few practices help us keep the deluge of kid-related possessions at bay:
1) We don’t buy things. For the most part, we use hand-me-downs for Babywoods and when we do buy things, we buy them used. Without a trigger-happy finger on the Amazon order list, we’ve dramatically reduced the amount of stuff we own. It’s tempting, as a parent, to buy anything and everything that you think might possibly help your kid eat/sleep/play/learn better. But since we wait at least 72-hours before buying anything and also hate buying stuff, the influx of kid stuff is a trickle as opposed to a deluge. Often, whatever problem you’re trying to solve by buying something will resolve itself in due time, whether you buy the thing or not.
2) I read the book Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids. This had a profound impact on how we parent and especially how we think about stuff in relation to our child(ren). The author posits that when children have too many toys and too much stuff in their home environment, they have trouble focusing and playing earnestly with any given toy. They’ll flit from thing to thing without engaging in deep, concentrated play.
This book encouraged me to clear out Babywoods’ toys and streamline the things she has access to. Overwhelm is real for toddlers too and I find that she engages much more deeply with the decreased number of toys she has access to. I rotate out the toys she plays with in order to provide her with new challenges. We’ve found that she’s incredibly imaginative and inventive in her play when less stuff is out. This book also underscores my philosophy that children don’t need you to buy them a lot of stuff and that, as with many things in life, less is more.
3) No noisy or electronic toys. Mr. FW and I cannot abide toys that make noise. Nope. We have zero electronic and/or noise-generating toys, which leads to a more peaceful, quiet home. Babywoods makes up her own stories, songs, and games with her non-electronic panoply of toys, which is perfectly fine with me. This is largely a personal decision based on our hatred of incessant background noise and a belief that electronic toys zap creativity, but it was an important thing for us to realize in our parenting journey. You have to do what you are happy with!
4) Constant vigilance. I clear out our toy boxes with regularity and have realized I need to stay on top of the tide of kid stuff that could otherwise threaten to overtake our home.
I don’t have a perfect system, but I’m working to figure out practices and philosophies that align with our vision of a frugal, simplified life and a rich childhood of experiences, the outdoors, and quality family time for our kids.
It’s an ongoing process and one that I’ve become comfortable embracing in this constant evolution that is childhood. Having kids does not mean surrendering your simplified, clean home. It’s an adjustment, for sure, and we absolutely have a mini trampoline in the middle of our dining room, but we’re not inundated with kid stuff and I still consider our home to be organized and on the minimalist side.
The Sheer Bliss Of An Organized Home
It’s amazing. I can’t lie. Knowing where everything is, knowing that we only own what we need–or choose to have–and feeling in control of our environment has made me a distinctly happier person. My physical surroundings have the ability to stress me out if they’re in disarray or the ability to calm me if they’re organized and tidy. And people, I need calm in my life. I hadn’t fully internalized how frustrating a disorganized house was until I went through this process. I now understand that being in control of my stuff is almost as empowering as being in control of my money. I also let go of a lot of things during this process and donated box after box of stuff.
By acknowledging that I no longer need things, I’m able to pass them along to someone else as opposed to letting them sit untouched in my basement. And every box that left the house represents just that much less stuff that I’m beholden to. That much less stuff that I have to care for and manage. That much less stuff to hold me back from efficiency and organization. I know–I absolutely know–that this organization won’t last forever and that I’ll have to do it again someday. I did the same thing to our previous house before Babywoods was born, so I’m well aware of the eroding power of time.
I have to stay on top of these streamlined systems I’ve created for us and I also need to be more careful about what I allow to enter our lives. It’s tempting when people offer us free hand-me-downs, or I see a good deal at a garage sale, or a fabulous roadside trash find to grab it and hoard it. I’m trying to only take things that I truly need and that I have a place for. Just because it’s free doesn’t mean that I need it!!
Over the years of practicing frugality, it became our default, auto-pilot mode and my hope is that organization and a decluttered home can become a similarly effortless undertaking. I’ll let you know how it goes.
How To Get Started
If this feeling of being overwhelmed by your stuff resonates with you and you’re compelled to take action in your own home, here are the steps I took in case you find them useful.
1) Read the book: The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life Is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store.
Written by my real life friend, Cait Flanders, I read an advance copy of this book a few months ago and was inspired to adopt Cait’s minimalist approach to not just stuff, but life in general. An inspiring read sure to motivate you to pursue simplicity in all things and reap the tremendous rewards. It gave me a newfound understanding of why embracing the philosophy of “less” will set you free.
2) Make a plan.
Know what you’re hoping to accomplish in the process of your whole-house reorganization. I wanted to have everything streamlined, organized, and easier to find. It was also important to me to get rid of things we don’t use. On the practical level, I took three boxes with me to every room: one for items to donate, one for items to keep but that needed to move to another part of the house, and one for recycling (relevant mostly for paper cleared out of our offices). This meant that everything I picked up had a home to go to and couldn’t be simply cast aside.
3) Start with the worst area.
Starting with our basement made the most sense to me because it was the biggest disaster zone and definitely the toughest area to organize. I’d say 60% of my time over this whole project was spent solely on our basement. Once the basement was in hand, the rest of the house seemed easy to tackle by comparison.
Additionally, organizing the basement first meant that I had a tidy place for items from the upstairs to migrate down to. I found a lot of unused items on the main floors of our house that I wanted to store in the basement and, if the basement weren’t so organized, I likely would’ve just tossed things down into the pit of despair and never gotten around to organizing the whole thing. By beginning with the worst zone, I was empowered to continue on. Our kitchen pantry, for example, was so much less overwhelming after I had the achievement of THE ENTIRE BASEMENT under my organizational belt.
4) Actually remove everything from drawers and shelves.
Glancing at a drawer or shelf will not cut it. I had to physically remove everything from each drawer or shelf in order to see what all was in there. This also gave me the opportunity to clean the drawer/shelf in question, so really a win win! I know that Marie Kondo and other organizational gurus advise you to bring all of your fill-in-the-blank (shirts, plates, hairdryers) into the middle of your living room floor to sort, but uh, these people CLEARLY do not have kids.
No way in heck was I going to cart a bunch of stuff into the middle of the floor for my child to rifle around in. Yeah, no. I organized in place. When doing our kitchen, for example, I shut the baby gate that closes off the kitchen and put plates and bowls on the countertop or kitchen floor. This way, I was in the physical space of the kitchen with the objects of the kitchen and I could figure out the best system for storing everything.
5) Decide what you want easily accessible.
Another element of this organizational marathon was my goal of only having out what we use on a regular–by which I mean daily or weekly–basis. No longterm storage items in the living room. No once-a-year pans in the kitchen cabinets. The things that are easily accessible in our home are used all the freaking time. Your application of this practice will vary based on your available storage space in your home. Back in our days of living in apartments in the city, we didn’t have any distinction between current use or once-a-year-use stuff because we didn’t have any storage space. Now, however, we are beyond fortunate to have a basement and so I’ve availed myself of this new organizational methodology.
6) Get creative in how you organize.
Yes, you can buy expensive little sorting boxes and bins for every single drawer in your home and yes, I do in fact own plenty of these. However, I also repurpose old cardboard boxes to great effect. I typically tear the lids off of these boxes and–voila–perfect little containers for holding things like pens, paper clips, and baby socks. No need to buy custom-made boxes for every single situation: get creative with what you have on hand. I also went all out on repurposing things we already own for new and novel uses. For example, I needed a downstairs changing table for our soon-to-be-born second daughter and so I commissioned a previously decorative table and topped it with a travel changing pad for the purpose. Before assuming you need to buy even more stuff to organize the stuff you have, take a look around and see what clever reinventions you can preform.
7) Commit to following through.
I found this project to be very much a chain effect because invariably, items got redistricted from one part of the house to another and so it was only by committing to doing the entire house that I was able to legitimately complete the project. Plus, by doing every single room, I eliminated the temptation to have a hidden closet of shameful disorganization. I also now know exactly what we own (and how much of it), which is a huge factor in ensuring I don’t buy things we do not need or that we already own.
8) Give things away.
Another important aspect of bringing this to fruition was the understanding that I needed to let go of some of our stuff. In order to achieve maximum organization–and actually have empty shelves and drawers in some rooms–I needed to give stuff away. Knowing ahead of time that you’ll be downsizing your possessions makes it easier to tackle each disorderly space. You know that you can let go of anything you don’t need and that’s only serving to complicate, frustrate, and clutter your life. And please, please, please donate your stuff, don’t put it in the trash. Buy Nothing Groups, friends, thrift stores, Craigslist, Freecycle, the free table at your office/school/church, and online swap groups are all excellent venues for donating and passing along the things you no longer need.
9) Approach the task with joy and gratitude.
Don’t laugh! I’m serious! I will be honest that I do have a deep-seated love of organization, which is turned up to 11 when I’m pregnant, so it wasn’t too hard for me to get to a place of enjoying this process. However, I had plenty of frustration points where I wanted to give up and/or burn the house down. What I kept reminding myself of was how tremendously fortunate I am to have the time, the ability, the mental clarity, and the desire to get this project done. Additionally, I was able to reflect on my immense privilege and the gratitude I have for living in a safe, comfortable, spacious home with my family. We have everything we need and are blessed beyond belief. Organizing our stuff, while challenging at times, is decidedly a first world problem and truly, more of an opportunity for reflection on gratitude than a moment for complaint.
P.S. I WROTE A BOOK! I’m a little bit excited, can you tell?!? My book is now available to be pre-ordered, for which I will mail you a signed bookplate. Check out this post for all the details.
How do you manage the stuff of your life?
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Thank you for sharing this! I’ve been on a similar, slow journey of decluttering our home and also abide by the no-so-minimalist, but frugal (working on the) organized keeping of things. I find that control of my money is the easy thing, but control of stuff and my weight have been more difficult for me to master. But, embracing the slow process is helping me make strides in both.
Yeah, I’m with you: money is the easy part :)! It’s all the stuff that gets me!
I like the first pic of your house through the Christmas tree. Very simple and nice with the light in the front door. It’s nice like the rest of your house. Simplicity is the best.
Dropping Rilo Kiley lyrics – kudos! Such a great band, shame they’re gone.
I’m further away from being a minimalist than you guys are, but constantly experimenting with getting closer. I also love to re-purpose things, and to do that I often don’t get rid of them because I have an idea on how to reuse them. Very often it works out, but sometimes an object will sit around for years, with an associated unfulfilled idea.
Love that first pic of your house with the light on, beautiful!
I love Rilo Kiley!
“I often don’t get rid of them because I have an idea on how to reuse them”. I clam that quality and this is how I say it, “I collect things long before the need for them becomes apparent”. I’m retired and find myself with a life long health challenge, live only on my Social Security income and yet because of my ability to re-purpose and repair things I manage to still be buying a house and all the while living as happy as I have ever been.
What a coincidence! I just decluttered my office cubicle yesterday. I threw away so much paper I have accumulated over the past two years.
It made me feel so much lighter and organized. If I get laid off one day, I won’t have to spend hours cleaning up and wondering what I should take with me!
Love it! I’m on a similar quest – we’re planning to FIRE and move out the country to Panama in less than two years, so I figured we better get started. We’re tackling just a little section at a time and hopefully we’ll get to the point where we’re down to *mostly* essentials.
We’re not minimalists either, but regardless, it’s really one of the most freeing feelings to just get rid of crap that’s accumulated over time. Nice job on the process!
Thanks Mrs. Frugalwoods! You’ve just inspired me to go get rid of a bunch of Legos (I mean, pass them on to a friend!!). I love, love, love the book Simplicity Parenting, and it’s been amazing to me how much more my kids play with just a few toys and read just a few books than when their rooms were overloaded. It takes away the decision paralysis and they can focus on the few toys and books in front of them! 🙂 The pictures of your tidy house are also a huge inspiration. Maybe to finally put away the Christmas tree?!! 🙂
Hey, that is an old photo–we took our tree down right after New Year’s ;). So happy to hear that Simplicity Parenting applies to your older kiddos too! I absolutely LOVE that book. I should carry around copies with me to hand out 😉
Haha–I meant MY tree! 🙂 No judgment here! I’m beginning to think we’ll have ours up through the winter! I agree–I always recommend that book to everyone. It’s such simple, but also hard, advice to follow. But the kids respond so well.
Hahah, I was so on top of getting the Christmas decorations down this year because I was afraid that if I went into early labor, they’d be up for the rest of our lives 😉
We are right in the middle of doing this exact thing – and the peace it gives you to have an uncluttered, organized space is priceless. We’ve also given away a lot and people are so appreciative. Thanks for sharing your plan too. I think people want to do this, but can get so overwhelmed that they don’t know how to start.
Great Article. We are just starting on our year of de-cluttering with the aim that we may need to move for health reasons in a few years. We don’t want to be sorting “stuff” when we are older and in the meantime less “stuff” means less cleaning.
I did a similar decluttering/purge before I bought my house. I took a long term approach and slowly sold things on eBay, banking the earnings to put toward my house. It was a nice way to clear out and work toward my house goals!
My issue is that my parents, despite decluttering their space, seem to think I want every single hand me down ever. Minimalism can be a battle some times!
I really love the angle you took your method on, as I tried the Kondo method last year and actually got rid of things I found I needed/wanted later on. At the time they didn’t bring me joy (smaller clothes after gaining weight during pregnancy), but now those items would’ve saved me quite a bit of money on their replacement. I much prefer your frugal method of paring down and decluttering to following her process. It may work well for those more settled in their life, but you and are are in the younger flex years with little children and that makes a huge difference on future needs, outlooks, and returning to old hobbies.
Thanks again for all of the great writing and ideas! I’d love to have you on my podcast, The Lifelong Learning Podcast, to share more of your story in and outside of frugal living.
So true about life being in flux right now! Every week brings a different stage for us and so I’m at peace with keeping stuff I imagine us needing/using in the coming years. Thank you for the invite to your podcast! Shoot me an email (email@example.com) to schedule–sounds like fun :)!
I love the feeling of going through all your stuff and purging what you don’t need. You can make a bundle of money selling on Craigslist or a bundle of goodwill giving it away. People forget how luxurious space really is! You don’t need to buy a bigger house to get more space. You just need to let go of some stuff.
Love this post! Very motivating. We moved a year and a half ago but the clutter has been slowly creeping back in. I think I’m going to devote 10 minutes a day to the de-cluttering project, since otherwise I’ll be overwhelmed. Your house is really gorgeous:)
Been doing the same thing in preparing for a move(hopefully). An organized house is the best! Love giving things away to others who need them.
“No noisy or electronic toys” this is such a great idea. I have a infant now and I’d love to keep his toys on the quieter side as he gets older.
As I read your post I realize that I have a long way to go to finish organizing my home. Hopefully this is the kick in the but I need to get it done.
I loved reading your post! I am also a person who loves control over money and possessions. I also recycle, reuse and compost. Although my house is in good shape, you have inspired me to give it another look and see if I can make it even better! BTW, I have a Bumbo and Boppie pillow I need to donate. Let me know if you need it — Wink, Wink! 😉
This post really hit home for me because recently, I was forced into this situation due to extreme events out of my control – a house fire. What was truly heartbreaking is that I had just moved in with my boyfriend, so I had just done (what I thought) was a complete reorganizing/purge of belongings. However, I’ve learned an incredible amount from this horrific event. Most importantly, to be grateful for what you DO have (the knowledge that you only have the clothes on your back and whatever belongings are in your car is one of the most sobering feelings ever). I absolutely DREADED beginning to replace things, because I absolutely HATE shopping, but guess what? It was quite liberating to realize I only need ONE warm, winter jacket. ONE nice winter hat. Who needed all those cute boots anyway? One will do just fine. I was a minimalist at heart, but never REALLY embraced it because I couldn’t let go of a lot of things. It’s a work in progress, but with time I have realized it is actually quite nice to have a wiped, clean slate to start fresh from. All those jeans of different sizes I was hopefully holding on to? Out of sight, out of mind. So, thank you (once again) for another insightful and uplifting post. I’m counting down the days until your book arrives on my doorstep 🙂
I’m so sorry you had to go through a house fire! How awful! I’m inspired by the positive spin you’ve put on it–that is truly motivational. Good for you for having such an incredible outlook!
Thank YOU for an insightful comment here – you really cut to the heart of my debate. I save too much and need to realize that one is enough most often. (I MIGHT wear this light jacket but I haven’t so why do I need it when someone else can use it, etc.) I’m so sorry to hear you had to endure the fire to get that fresh slate, but how positive you are.
Thanks so much for this article. Yes we live in an over abundant wasteful society with too much stuff. People get overwhelmed with decluttering and organizing because they think it has to be done overnight. It’s a process that has to be broken down into smaller manageable pieces like you have done. You have nothing to be embarrassed about because it took you a long time. Visual clutter is very stressful and disorganization costs money.
Thanks for this! Something that is always on my mind but couldn’t put it in words. Your tips on organizing and storing fruits and vegs are interesting as well.
I’m also in the midst of a decluttering spree and it is a lot of work, but definitely worth it. Going forward, I have found it very valuable to remember the “true cost” of bringing items into the house (constant struggle with a 2 and 4 year old)…
From The Minimalists: “But the true cost of a thing goes well beyond the price on the pricetag.
The cost of…
Storing the thing.
Maintaining the thing.
Cleaning the thing.
Watering the thing.
Feeding the thing.
Charging the thing.
Accessorizing the thing.
Refueling the thing.
Changing the oil of thing.
Replacing the batteries of the thing.
Fixing the thing.
Repainting the thing.
Taking care of the thing.
Thinking about the thing.
Worrying about the thing.
Protecting the thing.
Replacing the thing.
When you add it all up, the actual cost of owning a thing is nearly immeasurable. So we better choose carefully what things we bring into our lives, because we can’t afford every-thing.”
Love this! And for real: insuring the thing!! Real costs worth thinking about.
I got the itch to declutter and organize over the holidays and already I am liking the small, slow progress we are making. I often am torn between the “I could use this” vs. ” I need this” question, but I have been working to get better, become more detached and take an objective view of our “stuff”.
I really like you balance between re-using and saving useful items and decluttering. I don’t consider myself a minimalist for similar reasons, I save and store what I will likely use in the future. I look forward to diving in a bit more over the coming weeks!
Oh- and the liberal arts geek in me was thrilled to see Socrates quoted 😉
The older I get, the more of an organization freak I become. Staying organized not only helps you save $ and time (by not having to care for and look for items), but also helps make your life easier.
I am not a minimalist either, but I lean this way naturally. Clutter makes me crazy, while order makes me feel peaceful. I live in an open-floor plan, one-room (other than the bathroom) loft so in my home, everything is on display — even more important to stay organized. I am constantly editing: like you: what I may think I “need” next month may be in my donation box. We change, so our perceptions of what we need change over time.
I really like Marie Kondo’s method and found her suggestions for storing clothing, etc super helpful. She maintains that you only need to do a mass-organization once, and after that, it is all maintenance. I found this to be true: I Kondo-ed my clothes years ago and everything is still organized. I feel peaceful when I see my colorful socks in the drawer, all lined up like happy little soldiers. Yes, I’m an organization nerd. Great article!
Ugh we need to tackle our basement ASAP. Our house is not too disorganized but not organized either. The basement is the biggest problem area but I can already see that we need to move things out of there and then move things from upstairs into those spaces. On an annual basis, we clean out our house and bring everything (and anything) sell-able to a swap meet. We make some spare cash and we can give our items a new home. This year we filled our camper with boxes and even cleared out a ton from my parents’ house too. Instead of tempting ourselves by bringing what didn’t sell home, we brought the excess immediately to Savers to donate. We drove directly there and did not pass go because if we didn’t, it would never leave our house! We put everything in boxes in one corner of the garage before the swap meet so it is out of sight until we get to the swap meet.
I consider myself a Minimalist even though my house doesn’t totally reflect the standard definition. I live in a large home that has been in the family 60+ years with lots of antiques and downsizing isn’t an option but within this situation I use the attitude of minimalism to make a non-Minimalist home function. I spent years removing the clutter from the home and now live with at least 70% less. I’m now very picky about what comes in to the house. I see minimalism as a guiding principle, not strict rules. It is this philosophy that give me freedom from excess housework and shopping to do what I really want to do with my time.
Yes! Yes! I never needed a post more than this one! Your home is so cozy looking…proof that uncluttered is NOT cold. As a senior who shares a house with my sister, we have been thinking of downsizing. After reading your great “how-to” we realize we can downsize where we are! Simpler is so much more restful. And a note on keeping your home peaceful and quiet for the two Babywoods…we did not get a television until I was 9 years old. Instead, my mom read books to us. The fact that I have written poetry for the last 55 years probably rests more on that quiet country home than anything else!
That’s wonderful! Yeah, Babywoods doesn’t watch any TV, which certainly helps us keep a quiet home and a very inventive child! Mr. FW and I, however, do like to watch one show a night together, which is our way of decompressing (and cuddling on the couch).
How romantic! And how frugal. I do not judge movie goers but I can get old black and white film noir on my computer…so fun to see…and free!
Oh yes, we only watch free TV! Haven’t been to a movie theatre in over a decade 🙂
FREE TV ???? Tell us about it ….I like Fox, and no way you can watch it free, it you know a way please let me know I will cancel my tv….except I do need internet, and what they do, they let you have internet for like $30 wish $, but you have to have their phone, and cable, then they get you for at least $100.00….you cancel and they raise your internet to $79.00 mo…..then they bug you for days offering you phone and cable and Internet all for $100.00 , so you figure that sounds good…but it’s disgusting….just to have a phone and watch one channel FOX…. You can get Magic Jack like for $30.00 yr. I did have it for about 4 yrs….I refuse to pay cable $39.00 mo. just for phone…..so I imagine it may be better now….if you talked too long on the phone you got disconnected…..and a couple of other issues, you could not call and talk to anyone, you had to chat, and it was a bunch of people who to me did not know what they were doing……kept passing your call on to someone else….until finally you got a hold of someone who maybe was able to help you…. this is what bugged me about them….but the price was definitely good…..only $39.00 for a whole year of phone service and it was Nation Wide and Free calls to Canada, and I had a friend in Canada whom I could call free….so it was worth it just to have that…..plus I already had a cell phone anyways…..but I hate having only a cell phone for my only phone….. I may try Magic Jack again, they offer some specials from time to time…..but seems we HAVE to have INTERNET !!!! I don’t know a way to get out of it….maybe sooner or later it will be free or a lot cheaper than just having to pay for it and nothing else….. If anyone knows please let me know as I will cancel my internet….. always looking for a bargain…..
Loooove this! Also, your basement looks AMAZING. We have attics here in Texas and currently keep nothing in there. All belongings have to fit in the house proper, which has been a challenge. I think we need to embark on our own decluttering mission. 🙂
THANK YOU! I’m so vain about my basement right now 😉
When the Houston flood happened (Harvey I think?) I was heartbroken to see all the waterlogged and destroyed stuff outside people’s houses destined for landfill. One way to limit the impact of a disaster is not to have too much stuff, and be able to carry what you can to higher floors/attic and make sure important papers and photos are near the door and can be grabbed when leaving. It wouldn’t have done much in the face of a terrible flood, but would have been helpful, and reduced what needed to be replaced.
What? As a Houston resident, this is beyond insulting. People lost their whole homes. I think the tragedy of the disaster transcends a need for organization and less clutter.
As a minimalist who is also frugal, I’m glad you address the difference between “true” minimalism and the frugal kind. For instance, it isn’t really worth it to get rid of baby stuff if you aren’t done having kids. Or those sheets or curtains, like you mentioned. Those kinds of things are always getting used and don’t need to be bought twice. And some multi-purpose minimalist gadgets are freaking expensive – especially if I already have two gadgets that do the same jobs. So I’m with you, wrestling between the two. 🙂
Yes! “Wrestling between the two” is a perfect way to put it. It’s definitely a balance for me, but I’m feeling pretty good about the frugal minimalist path I (hope) I’m on.
That’s the mindfulness answer… If you’re wrestling, you’re paying attention and will probably have an overall happier result than rigidly adhering to a set of arbitrary rules.
I moved a few times in the last ten years and it was overwhelming how much stuff we owned we never used (basement and garage were the worst)!
I never want to accumulate that much stuff again so whenever I think it may be getting out of control again, I start decluttering…one day at a time so it’s not as overwhelming.
Also my new rule is: One in, one out:)
Great tips! I need to tackle my basement – stuff from the rest of the house migrates down there and multiplies when no one is looking! I will never be a true minimalist either…but there is something about a clutter free home with some handy re-usable items neatly (key word!) stored somewhere. Good winter project for me to start, especially since my husband can never find anything when he needs it. lol
Stuff definitely multiplies in basements! I don’t know how it happens, but I swear it does ;). Good luck on your project–you will feel SO GOOD when it’s done.
Our plan is to relocate in a year, after living in the same house for 19 years. Although we are frugal, we have accumulated a ton of things. My husband is a… collector and doesn’t like to part with things. Like his childhood collection of action figures and associated vehicles. Long story short, over our winter vacation, we sold the entire lot- a large SUV full of toys for a fair price. I think we both feel better about not having to move with them. We are trying to go room by room, and think about what we want to keep but it is difficult when we both have different ideas about what items are important to hold on to. Really not looking forward to cleaning out the kitchen.
Caroline, I always thought the “one in, one out” rule only applied to clothes. I recently started applying it to EVERYTHING in the house, and I’m astounded at how little crap I’ve bought in the past year or so. I was only slightly tempted by the after-Christmas sales. About the only thing I truly want now is a Columbia three-season parka with the zip-out fleece jacket, and I think I might be able to make do without one.
Getting organized for the whole house. That’s a job well done! Congratulations! Many people could not finish it in decades. Thanks for sharing.
The more space we have, the more it got cluttered. 21 years ago, I came to US from China with 2 big suit cases, that was all my belongings. Two years later, my junk stuff occupied a one-bedroom apartment. After another 2 years, the junk exploded to an average-size house. I acclimated to this American culture pretty well. Moving helped me a lot on getting rid of stuff. I like a place with less stuff.
I have a disastrously messy pile of paperwork that I am actually afraid to tackle, everything dating back years. But you have inspired me, I bet lots of it can literally just be recycled and I can feel free once more. I KNOW it’s a mess, I know everything takes forever to find and is a cluttered tip, I know this. In the rest of my life, I’m quite organised, not a messy person, like a clean house, try and keep things somewhat organised… but in this one area I have a real mental block. Ridiculous! And no more. Before the end of this week I WILL get going properly and not go through ”oh where are the birth certificates” panic ever again.
Organizing paperwork is such a soothing balm! I promise! I have everything in a file cabinet and it is wonderful knowing where everything is! Plus, I recycled MOUNTAINS of paper in this process. Good luck to you!
I have a USB key (backed up on external HD and laptop) that I have saved all my important documents to in pdf format (birth certs, marriage certificate, house deed…). All bills are paid online, everything is on the USB, (even kids’ report cards which I keep in hard copy as well), only keeping taxes going back 7 years and most recent copy of investment statements. It really works for us.
I have usernames, passwords and bank info on Evernote so I’m never without, plus reminders, items of interest, internet links, etc.
Using these tools makes it MUCH easier to get rid of paper.
Thank you, as always, for getting right to a solution for this problem that plagues me too. No disrespect to Marie Kondo, because she got me started on decluttering, but after 2 years things are worse than ever. Out of sight doesn’t mean out of mind! I’m in the middle of this too and your thoughts are so helpful.
On another subject, I went to Costco yesterday and was amazed at how much money I saved on things I use every day (coffee, almonds, etc.). The UFM is life-changing!
Dear Mrs Frugalwoods,
Thank you for such an excellent, encouraging article on decluttering!
I have also realized that clutter free/minimalist home gives me a clear mind. I live in a two bedroom flat in London, GB with my husband and 9 month old son. I regularly declutter every single drawer of our home and often abide by a one year rule – if I haven’t used something for a year, I will most likely donate/throw away. Small case in point was my nail polish collection – I had about 10 nail polishes which I haven’t used one in the past year. I realized (when I used to) I always found doing nails too time consuming and just too much hassle – a lot of effort for an effect to last for only a few days. Thus my nail polish collection is gone, save for 2 polishes. I realized that I love peaceful and clutter free rooms and enjoy only having the most essential pieces for furniture and more opened space. For us it was keeping the furniture that works hard for us, such as a sofa, dining table and chairs and letting go of a massive chest ( used a coffee table and occupying a hefty chunk of space), elaborate wooden place mats where pieces of food would get stuck and require weekly deep cleaning, bedside tables and a globe/mini bar.
Thanks for your suggestion I have not purchased a single piece of clothing for my son – we gladly accepted hand me downs from my friend and sister in law. Sometimes I am short of some articles clothing – such as right now Wesley only has 4 long sleeved tops to wear on rotation for the next 2 months but we make do and don’t rush to make more tops. I have found that I prefer to have a small wardrobe for my baby and just to wear things on rotation – it greatly simplifies our life! The same was true for my maternity wardrobe – I just wore 5 dresses (some purchased used, some hand me downs) on repeat to work my entire pregnancy (save for leggings and a long sweater at home).
Many thanks for your wonderful suggestions!! You have truly changed my outlook on life for the better! And thanks to you, we started investing in low index funds 3 years ago:)
That is wonderful! And you so right about making do with baby and maternity clothes! Every time I think we’re low on a particular item for Babywoods, she either grows into the next size or it comes to us second-hand (or I find it at a garage sale/thrift store).
My husband and I have been going through our house room by room for the last two months and it’s amazing what a difference it is making. We can easily clean our living spaces each night and that is liberating. We can find things we need easily (even in the garage — recently organized!) I did find an exact copy of a mirror I bought a month ago in a bathroom drawer… Oops! But that’s a good example of how decluttering (and knowing our stuff) can help in our aim for frugality.
I also appreciate your distinction between decluttering and storing vs. true minimalism. I’m happy to keep things if they have a clear spot and future purpose. I prefer knowing I have resources available when things come up (I recently pulled out old curtains as well!).
Thanks for another great post!
Now here’s the real question: do I move everything up North with me and pare down my stuff once it’s combined with my boyfriend’s belongings, or do I pare down before I move? On the one hand, if I pare down first, less stuff to move. On the other hand, if I wait to do it up there, we can do a deep inventory of all our things and jointly decide what stays…. I have 450 sq ft and I’m drowning right now. Something has to happen!
It’s a tough call! One one hand, I feel so dumb for paying to move stuff we didn’t need; but on the other hand, we were moving to a wholly different lifestyle and I wasn’t sure what we needed!
Get rid of what’s easiest first. That will take some off the top. Then after you’ve moved tackle the rest.
Hey Gwen, I used to pare down and then move. But moving itself is so stressful – learning a new place, finding my new home, culture shock. I decided in the last move to just put everything in boxes — and not even in an orderly way — and sort it out later. I can’t tell you how much easier that way. Yes, it was more boxes to deal with but it was much less work to discard once I moved and had a good idea of what was duplicate and what I needed. Then I could sort through stuff at my own leisure. Hope this helps. (of course, if you have giant items like a dining able and Erik has one too, then it may not make sense to move duplicate furniture).
This post is so timely for me. Our family came to minimalism (of a sort) via our frugality, in a desire to buy fewer things, have fewer things, store fewer things, as well. I always thought “real” minimalism was for wealthy, child-free twenty somethings. It sounded absurd and unattainable for a suburban, married, 35-year-old mother of twins. But after hearing/reading about people who live “minimalist” lives not in the sense that they only own 12 things, but in the sense that they only have what they need (whatever that might look like for them) I was convinced.
I love love love The Minimalists (theminimalists.com), but Joshua Becker (becomingminimalist.com) is the one who convinced me that even average middle class folks with stuff and kids can be minimalists, and you don’t even have to live in a studio apartment that you’ve painted white and furnished with a single cactus.
No one would walk into my house and say “wow, these folks are minimalists”. They’d probably say “this house is tidy” especially considering the 2 kids, 2 dogs, and 2 cats in 1400 sqft. It’s easy for my kids to clean their rooms every day because they don’t have a bunch of extra stuff they don’t use taking up space. My weekly deep-clean every Saturday takes maybe an hour, tops, because there simply isn’t clutter to put away. Vacuum, mop, wipe down counters, all done. I have the rest of the day to spend doing things with my husband and kids, or quiet time by myself, or whatever I want. My kids have toys they love and use. Everyone knows where everything is located. Am I preaching with the excessive fervor of the recently converted?! Yup. Because just getting rid of a bunch of “stuff” can make THAT big of a difference, even if you’re not a “REAL minimalist.” 😀
Awesome! Love your comment on “…you don’t even have to live in a studio apartment that you’ve painted white and furnished with a single cactus.” That’s what I used to think minimalism was too and I knew that would never be for me, but I’m so happy I’ve discovered my own route to my own style of minimalism. Thank you for reinforcing that this lifestyle IS possible with children :)!
I always gravitated toward the idea of having less, but didn’t know how to start, and had never heard it discussed in a way that seemed feasible to me and my life. I’m finally figuring out how to do it in a way that works for me, and in a way that meshes with my frugality, and much of my inspiration came from Frugalwoods. I’ll save what I need to (I have 2 growing kids, so having zero “just in case” items would be silly), and I’ve pared my wardrobe waaaay down, and my clothing will still be purchased second-hand. It’s frugal and minimal to visit the library regularly instead of buying more and more physical books, and it’s a weekly trip my kids and I all look forward to. When my kids recently wanted their own rooms (after sharing for their whole lives so far) we managed to do it with $0 spent and 1 new item acquired (a necessary window blind) by repurposing furnishings from elsewhere in our house. My 9 year olds swear they’re the only ones in their class without iPads, but I refuse to spend that kind of money on something that will add digital clutter and noise to our lives. (They did recently receive plain Kindles which I’m a fan of – something “techy” that is fun for them and a way to check out library books, but is a dedicated e-reader without apps or LED screens.)
I read every blog post but never comment, but had to this time. I’m so happy to see others in the same mindset, whether they’re relatively new to frugality and/or minimalism (as I am) or years along in the journey. I’ve already been rewarded with newfound appreciation for the things I already have, more time to do things I love, and a cleaner home where every room is used and enjoyed.
Sorry, this was way too wordy. I just get so excited about finding ways to save money and also live more simply, and find so much joy in others doing the same!
Thank you for sharing your thoughts! So appreciated! And I’m with you—too bad if every other kid has an iPad ;)!!!
“….with a single cactus…”
Gosh, I laughed when I read that! I did get to the point two years ago where I was likely to do real harm to the next minimalist post I read to feature “the solitary house plant”! Would have been especially painful if I used said single cactus!
Right?! I almost happy-cried when I figured out I could be minimalist and still have brightly colored rooms with a shabby couch and Legos.
I absolutely loved this post! We went through an international move two years ago and I used it as my opportunity to SEVERELY declutter. At first I was too sentimental to throw anything out, but after reading Marie Kondo I really felt at peace about giving away things I previously thought would just be with me forever and ever amen. Like you I will never be a strict minimalist, but having permission to really streamline my life felt so freeing and empowering. We moved into a significantly smaller home abroad and it’s kept a tight limit on what we purchase. It truly made us question what we value and get enjoyment from. Local art from our new home country? YES. Kitchen gadgets we’ll use twice a year? Nope.
Can’t wait to read Simplicity Parenting next! I’ve added it to my library queue. Thanks for the tip.
Sorry to hear about your fire, Liana! I’m glad you’re safe.
I’m definitely a minimalist and always have been-even as a kid I went through my room and organized. Everyone has their own limit for how much disorder they can tolerate and how many possessions they can have. Mine is very low on both.
I’m a freak about not allowing new things into my very small (575sq. ft.) condo and regularly doing a sweep through of every shelf, drawer, cupboard and closet. I find kitchens are the worst for breeding multiples (you only need one can opener, bottle opener, peeler, etc.) and that toiletries are the trickiest thing to stop stocking up on-I’ll use that three pack of mascara eventually…as in over the next year.
The thing I find the hardest are things that were gifts-they come with such extra emotional weight and I find myself spending energy thinking of how I can use something someone gave me. My sister gave me an hourglass that she lugged from France to Singapore to Canada and…I don’t want it! I have one beautiful hourglass I bought years ago and don’t need or want another. Waa!
I cleaned our master closet over the holiday break and, every time I go in the closet, it brings me relief. I got rid of things we did not need and now can find everything. I started to clean out drawers, storage places last summer and could not believe how much those little spaces could hold as well as how little of the stuff we needed. BTW: Frugalhound must be learning quite a bit from having your daughter read to her.
So true that the decluttering never really stops, although a massive decluttering like you just did WILL last you a good long while. Back in 2013, I did a huge project (which I blogged about to keep myself accountable) that I called “50 Weeks to Organized,” and basically, I spent each week of the year focused on a different area of our home and did exactly what you did—went through literally every item in our then-apartment and decided if we REALLY needed it. When all was said and done, I got rid of probably half of our stuff, and it was just so FREEING. Since then, however, we’ve added a daughter and I also am pregnant with my second, and I am looooong overdue for a refresh of the project. Thank you for posting this—it was timely! Now I just need to decide where to begin 🙂
Several years ago, a New England, Episcopal teacher was horrified to find, on visiting her grandson in Chicago, that he had sooooo many toys. That first night all we’re put away, and following his breakfast and bath, he was allowed ONE toy to play with all day. Next day it was a different toy…..amazingly this child loved this game and playtime. I think this is what you too, are aiming for…..it’s so educational and inspirational
From “the pit of despair” to “twue loooove”! I bow down to YOU! I’m a new follower and absolutely loving your voice, style, and oh, those photos! On my path to FI/RE, I just moved from 1,000 sq feet to 300, and I’m already wanting to do another huge purge. It feels GREAT. Keep up the fabulous work!
When I moved cross country a year and a half ago I sold or gave away over half of what I owned, keeping only the things that would be more costly to replace. Now, my spare bedroom has become a giant storage bin, holding off season yard tools and items, cardboard boxes, papers I used to want to keep, and clothes that no longer fit.
After experiencing a full year of seasons (I used to live in California) I feel that I have a better take on what I need and don’t need in this new climate. So, it is finally time to go through things again, being even more ruthless. My home is evolving and so am I. I will also be adding a rug to my living room to soften and warm the space, so it’s not just about getting rid of things, but more like a refining process with more clarity each year.
Almost makes me want to get pregnant again for the burst of nesting energy. Almost. On the other hand, maybe I’ll try some extra strong coffee first before I go that extreme…
Hahah! I think there are easier ways to get inspired 😉
I love Cait, her blog inspired me to minimalize our home starting about 3 years ago. I’d love to support her by purchasing her new book. Decluttering can take a long time, but the reward is peace of mind and living in a more spacious, clutter free home. We’re empty nesters now, so its been easier to declutter. But a grandbaby is on the way soon and we’ll be needing to acquire a playpen, high chair etc for the baby at our house. I’m also planning on keeping some toys and lots of books for reading with Grandma. The other grandma-to-be is a huge shopper and will have tons of stuff for the baby, but I plan to keep things low key at our house. Also, we live in a smaller house and just don’t have the room. Plus growing up with 2 siblings, our house was not overflowing with toys but we were happy regardless.
I love Cait too! So happy to hear you’ll be buying her book! And for all the baby stuff you need, you can find most of it free or cheap on the used market–good luck in the hunt!
Being a grandma with frequent visits from the grandbabies we have a camp cot which obviously folks up, a high chair that clips onto the kitchen counter top and folds down and a baby rocket that also folks completely flat. They are easy to store but vey useful for the visits
I’m currently living with my sister in a small spare room, while having building work done. The schedule has slipped so a 14-week process is morphing into a six month one. I am sinking in clutter, when I’m normally simple, clean and neat, with empty drawers and plenty of gaps “in-between”.
I’ve noticed several things in the past six weeks in particular (in no particular order):
*. I’m starting to browse “homeware” sites, looking at how I can make my home (when I get back to it) “oh so cosy”. Cushion for £155 anyone?
*. I’m starting to regret having got rid of my jam-making kit and large stove pot. I have made jam twice in my life, currently work four long days a week, am at university the fifth day, commute three hours a day five days per week, no longer have fruit trees, study, sleep and eat. I am falling in love with the life I’d like to have, not the one I’m living (necessarily), right now. Mrs FW, you are so right about living in the season you’re in, and putting aside the other stuff.
*. Ditto all my baking goods which I donated. It is no surprise that, on 30 December, at a height of 5ft 1inch, I weighed 157lbs, deemed as medically obese for my height. I am not going to be a domestic goddess, because I eat everything I cook. So now I’m cooking the simple, frugal, healthy stuff, and enjoying it immensely. Lost 8lbs since 1 January. But again, it’s about seeking external reassurance- if I bake a lot, then I’m nurturing… what exactly? Another impossible fantasy, setting me up to fail because a fruit scone is NOT going to give me peace of mind.
My bedroom is grubby really: overwhelmed by stuff in too small a space, not cleaning it enough because of the overwhelm…and I’ve spent the last week in bed with flu, looking at it all and thinking “eurghhh”.
This post is a spirit saver. I shall go through everything in this room this weekend when I’m feeling better and I shall either donate, recycle or pack it away into my sister’s garage, as being not necessary for this life season.
Just goes to show how easy it is for me to slip back into stuffocation at an emotionally low point, when I truly know that less is more, for me.
PS. Even though I’m 52, could you adopt me please, Mrs FW?? Me and the hound, on that heated dog pad: I am so envious!
Suggestion, Denise, check out fantasy you/minimalism/persona (can’t remember what it’s called!) on Youtube. Decluttering youtubers will talk about their fantasy persona and what they did in that fantasy life (love of gardening, carpentry, becoming a piano player, love of cooking, etc) and talking to the camera about what they wish they had the time and inclination to do and what stuff they held on to if and when they were able to do all these things. Basically things you want to do, but it’s NEVER happened and likely never will. So they get rid of it. Very empowering as a way of being honest with yourself.
It’s hard to explain (search youtube for messy minimalist fantasy).
My fantasy Kim is to read all the books I have. Can never happen and I want to minimize so I’m decluttering my books!
Went through this–decluttering is what I spent my New Years Eve and New Years Day doing. So worth it.
Gave away a desk, dining table, chairs, and boxes of stuff to GoodWill. It’s work but feels so much better after.
However, we realized we can’t go completely minimalist either. We have roommates and over 50% of the stuff on the counter is not ours. In fact, we’re probably going to have to get a mini fridge to reduce tension in the shared common areas like kitchen. Yet it is more stuff but we’re spending time and energy looking for things at the back of the fridge, tetris packing stuff in, and getting passive aggressive door slamming that I think the $160 spent on a mini fridge will be worth the money in the long run.
Loved this article! I don’t normally make New Years resolutions, but this year I have decided “100 days, 100 things” I’m going to get rid of (donate or throw away if it’s not reusable) 100 things in the first 100 days of this year. I’m only 17 days in and I feel so much happier and “lighter”…aaand i realized how the physical clutter somehow seems to cause mental clutter. Thanks Mrs Frugalwoods for your lovely posts! I learned about the “no shopping year” from your blog and have decided to do that as well. Good bye clutter!
Simplicity Parenting was a game changer for me too. I was wondering if you had read it! As a mom of four boys, I gotta tell you: read his other book The Soul of Discipline quick before your girls get any older, and keep it handy! I wish I had found these books sooner in my parenting journey.
Thank you for the recommendation! I shall read it right away! I cannot tell you how much I love Simplicity Parenting 🙂
How do I manage the stuff in my life? Badly.
We have been living in our house for almost 14 years. In that time we have added 2 boys, now 11 and 5.
Have I mentioned that our house is 2BR, 1BA, 1100 sf, and no garage? Yeah. Our “storage” is a shed and the little spot under the front porch, where you have to use a screwdriver to remove the screen “window”, and crawl on hands and knees.
The thing with kids and stuff is that they have so much of it. Hand me downs, that are never the right size. So you store them, until they are (if you are lucky), or if you aren’t lucky, then you find them when it’s too late or the wrong season.
The sheer amount of paper that comes home from school is insane. Seriously.
Plus kid toys, half of one closet is legos, including those that were my husband’s when he was a child. Have I mentioned he’s almost 50? That’s a lot of Legos.
I cannot do it all, so periodically I just see something and toss it into the donate pile, or go through a single drawer. It’s not as good as hitting “everything”, but it’s all that I can manage.
I’ve been feeling for a few months now that I need to organize and declutter our space, as I’ve started feeling tense whenever I’m home on the weekends. It’s just too much stuff. It’s always seemed a gargantuan, unachievable task with two little ones running around, but reading this has inspired me to get started. I just have to accept that this will take much longer than a day or a week, and will have to be wedged in during weekend nap times. Here’s to some upcoming trips to Goodwill and the baby consignment store!
For me, it started in 2014, w/ a kitchen drawer; then another drawer, then a closet…I took STUFF to the Goodwill; to an high end resale shop that supports hospice w/ their profits, craft stuff to the lady in charge of crafts at work…thought I was done, but then… 🙂 I found more stuff at the bottom of the coat closet, and then I cleaned out my sewing room, and took fabric that I knew I would never use (even though it was new!) to a nearby church relief center where volunteers sew quilts & blankets, and where they also sell items too. Last Spring there was an announcement at church that they needed donations for a big yard sale–I thought I had a few things to donate…I found all sorts of STUFF I hadn’t used in years! One of my adult kids had left behind a lawn mower in my garage–she said I could donate it! yay! Life is less stressful w/ less STUFF! GOOD Article! I enjoy seeing pictures of your home b/c of the open simplicity of no clutter! AND, I agree w/ you not allowing electronics for your little girl. My 20 month old grandson had THREE musical toys playing at once last night–ugh.
I love your basement. How do you keep track of what is in each bin? You have helped me so much in clarifying my vision of what I want my home to be like.
As a professional organizer, if you’re saving large amounts of stuff for future use a spreadsheet is great. Something where you can keep track of what you have, specific sizes, location, etc and have it be searchable. It’s a bit of work to set up. But it saves work and money in the long run, because rather than having to wrack your memory on if you have curtains the right size, and then hunt them down and then unpack them and then measure them, etc. you can open up the spreadsheet and the information is right there. It makes storing practical items for long term use more practical, because it lowers the barrier to reusing from your current store and thus saves you money. Also really good idea if you store large amounts of food to keep an spreadsheet for that too.
See I was wondering if any sort of inventory/spreadsheet would be happening while I was reading this article since I remember The Frugalwoods talking about box inventories for moving from location to location, though maybe that was pre-Babywoods?
I’ve been casually looking for a pantry app where I could scan the barcodes of items to help build a pantry list faster but haven’t settled on anything yet, does anyone else use or recommend any apps to speed along inventory processing at home?
Oh yeah, the spreadsheet inventory was DEFINITELY pre-Babywoods! Those were some organized moves! This one… not so much, but we made it here in one piece :). I didn’t do any type of inventory list with this reorganization purely because I don’t have the time; but, it’s a great idea!
I lean toward minimalism, but while I’m committed to not buying new clothes for a long time, I plan to keep what I have until I wear them out. I don’t see the sense in culling my work wardrobe if I actually use everything.
Love what you said Secret Agent Woman….I also am Secret Agent Mom…..
Good to read you have begun decluttering too. I just knew you were going to do this at some point 🙂 and just like me you did it being pregnant of child number two. It is really the very best gift you can give yourself, and your kids to have a living space free of clutter and other useless objects. It is so great to just sit with your baby and seeing the whole livingroom being trashed by the other three kids, knowing that clearing it all will cost you about four minutes. Your kids are still small (and very small) so they will know nothing else than living in a sparse / minimalist household and I believe it is very beneficial.
Maybe the montessori-idea is something that works for you. The child has a few, well made, favourite, open-end toys on a low plank or low closet. No putting out of sight – out of mind. It makes the child take good care of the toys, it gives autonomy, keeps clutter under control and it even looks nice. They learn to put away their own stuff, but ot by throwing it in large boxes. Because Maria Montessori also knew that less is more, especially for kids.
I found the book Simplicity Parenting very helpful. It was a lovely read and I guess it will fit into your ideas of parenting 🙂
Have a wonderful pregnancy and I am very happy for you that you found so much joy in simplicity.
I’ve been on a similar path since I returned from visiting family this Christmas. With a only a one-bedroom place I’m making great progress already! Unfortunately I don’t even know where to start with my sewing room… How to discern between things I’ll reasonably use in the future and things I won’t is really challenging in a hobby space.
This is perfectly timed for me. My husband and I are looking to move within the next year with our son, and we have taken on the task of completely decluttering and reorganizing our home. We have accumulated too much junk in the past 6 years in our home, and we do not want to start off that way in our new home. I don’t even know where some of the stuff we have collected came from. It is quite depressing to see how much useless stuff we have, and we are want to declutter our life so we can have a more streamlined and efficient life.
I have taken a more open approach to it and am documenting it through a series on my blog. To me, this gives me the accountability and motivation to keep it going while giving encouragement to others to do the same.
Thank you for this post. It is nice to see others say how much better life can be with efficient and happy living spaces. This post, in itself, gives me encouragement. I love seeing the progress others have made. I know it is hard to post before and after photos, but it is wonderful encouragement for us.
Thank you for appreciating the before photos! I almost didn’t post them–they’re so awful! But I had to prove it really was a pit of despair 😉
Our attic is the same way. I’m working my way up to it. I would never get finished if I started there, I think. 😉 Congrats on your newly functional space! It really is a thing to marvel at after all that hard work.
Not sure if you stated before, but where did you get your fire place gate?
I got it for free off of our town email listserve. Not sure of the brand–sorry!
Mrs, Frugalwoods, I would say you have your own way of minimalism! Minimalism is not always white furnatu with white walls, and hardly anything in a room. That would be what us minimalists call “extreme minimalism”.White colors may or may not be included. ; P But just being a regular old minimalist is fine too! In fact, I would say your house looks very minimalist! No clutter in sight. : ) Everything has a place and is in its place. That is some great minimalism right there!
As a minimalist, the only thing I have lost recently was a pair of gloves I had just bought recently and months later, found them in one of my coat pockets, haha. : P The nice perk about being a minimalist is that you know where all of your stuff is at and nothing is ever lost. It’s the greatest feeling ever, I find! : )
This post literally just inspired me to baby-proof and clean out our house. We have a 10-month-old who just learned how to pull up to standing, and I now see all the potential dangers that are lurking behind our innocent-looking bathroom cabinets! Not only did I make sure our baby will be safe as he learns to explore, but I also threw out four garbage bags’ worth of expired, gross, or unnecessary toiletries. It feels fantastic to purge like this – I think the garage is next! Thank you for the positive and timely post.
You are so welcome! And yes, fully babyproofing our home (well, the areas where Babywoods is) makes our lives SO much easier. She is free to play and explore and we don’t have to worry. I find that the less stuff we have, the less I have to babyproof, so it’s a true win-win! And for bathroom cabinets, we installed those child-proof locks, which work well.
Thanks for this reminder Mrs. Frugalwoods!! We definitely need to declutter our place and since we looking for a home, we will not bother with decluttering process until we move out. Your post is great reminder that we can controlled by the stuff we own but if we take action and start eliminating them, you will be more organized. Spending all that time to find a single item that are in a stack full of boxes can take you a while to find but having that organization at home will have you find it in no time.
Thank you for this post! I needed the gentle reminder to stop complaining and do something about the clutter.
I love your basement and how organized it is. You have really motivated me in so many of your posts to live simpler. How do you keep track of what is in each bin?
The bins are all labeled (with masking tape and marker) and since I sorted through all of them, I know where everything is! I labeled the bins in all caps with the general contents such as: BABY TOYS, and then with the specifics in a bulleted list underneath, such as: Puzzles, Books, Dolls. They’re also on shelves according to their contents, so, all the holiday decorations are on one shelf, all of the household items on another, etc.
#3 – No noisy or electronic toys . . . oh I sincerely hope you are still writing this blog when Babywoods turns 15 and turns her Bruno Mars/Taylor Swift/One Direction up to the point your eardrums almost burst! Lol – I have a 17 and 20 year old . . . (I secretly like the Taylor Swift) 🙂
Yes! Fist pump. Yes!
(Minimalist comment 😀).
Last year after Uberfrugal July I did a Declutter August.
It doesn’t seem like a logical choice for a frugal person, to get rid of a lot of stuff that might be useful, but I agree that it’s about control. And not wasting things. My space is precious, and shouldnt’ be wasted on things I don’t need. And it’s less wasteful for things I don’t need to be put back into the world so that someone else can actually use it.
Loved this article – we move house in 9 days and I don’t want to take a single thing we don’t want / need – there’s a LOT of work to do 😱
Wow, I feel like you just described my life! I am also expecting my second child, a baby girl, in February, and have felt a serious urge to purge in the last few months. It’s just so satisfying to get that stuff out of the way and free up space. I started becoming more minimalist after my son was born 3 years ago. Becoming a mum was just such an overwhelming experience that I felt the only thing I could control was what was in my house. That helped me to cope more with the new situation, I think.
Funny you mentioned postponing the idea of learning the piano, as it was just this morning that I was reading over some goals I’d set myself, and one of them was “take guitar lessons so I can sing and accompany myself.” That one is definitely going on the back burner until both kids are in school, and I feel relieved to have realised that I don’t have to try to do it all now.
We moved into our new house just about 11 months ago and also moved some empty bottles and junk due to packing fatigue! Our basement is definitely your “before” pic though we have done some good work down there recently. I also organize in small bursts — 30 minutes here and there — otherwise I find the thought of it overwhelming. I am firmly against the accumulation of “stuff” and debated with my husband recently over the merits of buying a Kitchenaid Mixer. He does most of the cooking and baking (like Mr. FW) and it does make his life easier. But I drew the line at a crockpot.
I also took the plunge and cut my own hair a few days ago (thanks to your inspiration), using clippers and thinning shears (my hairstyle is a women’s pixie only slightly longer than Mr FWs hair). While I would say it’s not as sassy as the cuts I got in a salon, it’ll be better when it grows in a bit and I am thrilled to save $40/month, plus Xmas tip!
The real mind-trick of course is to not “take” that $40 and spend it on something else!
I love the idea of starting with the basement (l’m in U.K. So my garage is the equivalent). Usually I try to sort out the house – by putting the items I really don’t need/can’t decide upon into the garage. Then the garage becomes tooooo much of a task to ever attempt! But if I start with the garage then I can have a system already for spare items. Also the idea of only having the things you use constantly in the house is so simple but genius (that’s popcorn maker and mixer (no more pretending I will bake every week)heading to a newly designated area of the garage today!!)
Thanks for posting this…I always love reading your philosophies. I live in a one-bedroom apartment, and even it is bursting with clutter. I started by doing a full clean-out of the bathroom and it took almost 5 hours, so I’m sure a whole house is a much more daunting task. Hoping to establish a much more stringent organizational plan before I ever move to a bigger space.
We moved 10 months ago. Decluttering our previous house look spacious so it would be more appealing to buyers was a project. Then we bought a new house that was smaller than our old house. We went from 1354 sq ft to 1060 sq ft. This whole process has more than encouraged me to declutter-it became necessary in order to make a goal happen. I remember in our previous home there were 2 places that things would accumulate, the garage and the “closet of doom”. Now that we are in a new smaller house I try hard not to have accumulation places. However I’ve notice that one of our two sheds in the back is getting cluttered, it’s turning into the “shed of doom”! Time to clean it out and your post has encouraged me to stay on top of this process. Yes, it is a life long process.
As we think about moving toward a year on the road, we have definitely started to look at all of our things through the lens of “is this going to be worth paying for storage?” We’re still a few years out, but the big de-clutter is already on my mind. It may be time to start the run up now.
One day, I went into my basement and I realized I only had paths I could walk it.
I am the baby of the family, and had inherited all kinds of house goods from family members over the years because “you’ll need them!” As they moved across the country, downsized, or organized their possessions, the piles grew into mountains. The basement had become the collection hub for everyone’s “donations” and I was drowning in stained upholstery, boxes upon boxes of mismatched dishes, and knick knacks of every shape and color.
I love my family and greatly appreciated their generosity, but enough was enough. I decided to organize everything. Things I needed were kept. Items in good condition were sold in a rummage to pay off student loan debts. Everything else that was functional was donated. The basement is so clean now, I could do cartwheels in it. Great feeling when it was all done!
Mrs F – you are the bomb. I love your candor, clarity and honesty – at times it seems like you’re writing directly to me! I’m inspired by you and have sent your blog to numerous friends so they can reap the rewards of your insights!
At our house we called 2016 “The Year of Decluttering”. We referred to the cleaning out of paper clutter at “Paper-geddon.” Well here is 2018 and I think I need to declutter again, the paper stuff is good, but other things are cramping my space… I have multiple things listed on craigslist, and working at funding a trip fund to Rome!! Now that is motivation!!
Love the bit about children having too many toys. I’m a grandmother and a great believer that you buy a few good quality toys like Duplo. They can be used for many years and added to. It is a wonderfully creatine toy and my children, surrogate grandchildren and now my own grandchildren have played with the same set. It never ceases to amaze me how creative and imaginative they can be with a building toy that can span several age groups. Don’t fill their toy box with a mish mash of disconnected toys.
I love decluttering and usually do the whole house once to twice a year. My mantra is Gretchen Rubin’s statement – outer order leads to inner calm and I always feel more in control, less stressed and just all round happier when my house is sorted. Your basement job is amazing!
Good post Mrs. FrugalWoods! It made me smile. Why? The irony — once you have two toddlers, you’re constantly going to be picking up the clutter the children create. They’re like a force of nature. In mere minutes a couple of kids can have a room completely disorganized.
I remember fondly the days before kids when I could keep our household neat and organized. Now it’s a struggle to stay ahead of the hurricane that is our two boys. Still, it’s a good hurricane. 🙂
Last year we did the 30 day decluttering challenge. Day one 1 item, by day five it was 5 items and so on till day thirty it was 30 items. Because it is done over a relatively short time you get to day twenty and start to panic you won’t have enough things to part with, but we persevered and made it to the end. A total of over 460 items! The amazing thing is i now keep a box in my laundry and when I notice i don’t want something it goes straight into the box so it doesn’t get overlooked. We then periodically give the items away or they go to the charity shops. Sometimes less is more. I have only gone looking for one item of everything i got rid of and that was a platter i put my Christmas mince pies on. I just choose another plate. Love my home with less in it.
We’re doing a slow purge of our new condo as we unpack it as well. After each remodel project, we’re able to re-assess belongings and make decisions. We’re in a larger place now, but we don’t have formal storage (no garage), so everything we store needs to have a purpose. We actually purge once a year to make sure we only have things we need, want, love, and that have a use.
I’m still surprised by how much stuff we packed thinking ***maybe*** and now that its been boxed up for almost a year, our thoughts are drastically different. Clothes and even some keepsakes have just walked out of the house. Since we live in a condo, if we place something out by the dumpster, its gone almost immediately as someone else grabs it up. This was awesome as we purged some of little dudes toys after Christmas because we have a rule that all his toys need to fit in one toy chest from Ikea. Books and legos and puzzles are another story however…. but i’m intrigued by the idea of rotating toys and would love to see a blog post about it (get an idea of how often, how many are available at one time, etc).
I also love how tidy your basement is though, that’s amazing.
You go girl!! Love the after picture of your basement…out from the depths of despair! After reading Marie Kondo’s book I did a complete clean out of our home top to bottom. This was about 2 years ago. The attic was the issue, and was difficult to navigate…but all is gone or otherwise. I was wanting to get a nice set of coffee cups for when we have large groups over and low and behold there was a set that I forgot about in my attic! I now use them nearly every week! The other thing I found was a lot of the stuff was from my newly married daughter….So…now her stuff is in her basement where it belongs. With 2 of our 6 children home, it’s much easier to keep things in check.
Jumped down in the middle of the article to mention that Marie Kondo would be a huge fan of yours. Her overarching method is to keep what sparks joy, full stop. If keeping unused things for later sparks joy for you, then that is what your should do, without guilt. In fact, you are basically the epitome of her entire method, even though you came at it through another avenue. It is a pleasure to read about the joy your home gives you, and an inspiration!
For small toys buckets hanging on child reachable hooks are magic!Farm animals,one bucket.Crayons,scissors etc,one bucket,Lego,one BIG bucket!Picture on the side of the bucket serves as a reminder.When you bring the Lego out in a bucket there just isn’t any easier way to take it back than putting it back in it’s own bucket! It also highlights any category that might be in need of culling,and keeps parts of sets together,making them more fun to play with.
Encourages speed tidy-up to beat the alarm at the end of the day ,and encourages the habit of richness.(If exhausting the little ones is desirable,putting each bucket on a different stair is an option.(Just sayin’!)
I started a whole-house decluttering project when both my kids were finally in school all day. I got about 3/4 of the way through, and then we decided to homeschool them. It’s tough to be minimalistic while homeschooling, but you’re inspiring me!
I have noticed that you don’t have any area rugs in any of your photos — is that a conscious choice? Your floors are lovely but do they ever feel cold or uncozy? My kids like to sprawl on our floors and read or build or play games.
We don’t have any area rugs by choice. We once lived in a furnished rental with tons of area rugs and cleaning around and under the rugs drove us crazy. It’s a lot easier to keep the floors clean (especially with the occasional baby spit-up) with no rugs. Also, rugs are expensive and we don’t own any. It’s just one more element of our decision to embrace simple living and it’s not cold to us–we love it!
This is what brings me back to your site all the time. It is not must about money (a point you make in one of your comments). Living the FI life is the whole point of the money part and no one delves into the crevices of that better than the Frugalwoods. Thanks for sharing your insight. I have to head out to the garage and begin organizing now.
Thank you so much! I really appreciate that.
We thought we were pretty good at keeping our belongings under control. We also have a strict rule of one in one out, so when we get a thing something of this type needs to go. It was particilarly difficult with old but still working electronics but when we started selling them it helped a lot (we really don’t own that many items anyway).
But when we moved from 2 cars to one (we own a hybrid now. Loving it each day!), we realized that stuff in our garage suddenly expanded. I don’t think we have more than we did before, but I don’t know, they gained volume and now take a whole second parking space. It’s a dangerous thing and I need to investigate whether it is not a secret junk collection that moved in secretly.
Great post, thanks for it. Now I will go and deal with the pile of magazines in my office.
Thanks for the motivation! Organizing with the Less-Is-More mantra has been on my To-Do list for quite some time. This article will be the final straw of inspiration. We will be tackling our “situation” soon. Cheers!
Extremely inspiring article – and so timely for me as I’m clearing and cleaning this weekend. Thank you for sharing your insight and practical approach to managing stuff!
Thank you for the great article. I have been on a similar journey for the past five years. Devouring Greg McKeown’s book, Essentialism, put me into hyper-drive.
Wonderful article and advice. I started our organization process about 7 years ago. We’ve done at least 3 massive clean outs in this home. Even after completely emptying every nook and corner multiple times, we still find things to get donate to the thrift. We do own a retail business that has zero storage space, things like window display props end up cluttering my shed. Oddly enough it seems after I really got the house down to our current ideal level of minimalism, I began reorganizing our garden, repainting walls and installing new floors in the house and then- remodeling our store. All of which both gave us even more things to donate and uncovered a curious amount of more clutter we didn’t realize we had. Now the store, home and garden boast minimalist aspects. Surely this will never end.
My only advice is to please let go of those boxes of curtains and kitchen appliances stored in the basement. Get a quick buck for them on one of those phone apps. We made a ton of spare cash doing this and don’t miss a thing. My kitchen is far to small for an unused 4 year old stand mixer anyway.
I’ve always wanted control of my environment, although it was far more difficult when I had four teenagers at one point. I find it a lot easier to purge regularly than in huge infrequent episodic events. About once a month, I rummage through one or two rooms and get rid of anything that I should have purged the last time I looked or new things that have shown up. It doesn’t take long but I always end up with a bag of stuff to get rid of. Not bags since I do it more often but it gives me the on-going comfort of not being overwhelmed by stuff. We even moved this year and I thought it would be a great way to purge. I was disappointed at how little there was to rid ourselves of since I am so faithful in de-cluttering. The downside, I guess.
What a wonderful article! It felt like you were writing MY story: the impossible basement dilemma along with the rest of the house! TIME is a big factor for me, however, I am the type of person that wants to crank it all out in one day. Really not very realistic. So I have decided to break it down into 15min minimum chunks, and 30 min if I can manage it. Checking the basement task off my list, like accomplishing my workouts, or getting cooking done for the week, is the way I see it. Thanks for the inspiration! I can do this!! I just am wondering… what to do with all the old photo photos and albums that are boxed up. Sometime that puts a snag in my plans.
My husband and I did this five years ago and it took us about six months (working a few hours for a couple of days per month- each day ending with a trip to Goodwill and then to the dumpster for trash). It was liberating to know all our stuff was organized and that we were left with only what we needed. It was amazing to see how much stuff left the house! I wish we had tracked that, because it was truly shocking!
We’re now caring for a parent and have incorporated more stuff in our space. So, it’s time for us to do this project again. It’s quite a task! Unlike last time, I really do know what I’m getting into this time. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not. LOL Fortunately we have a lot less stuff than we did five years ago. One change I would love to make that would make life so much easier is to be totally digital. I hate paper!!!!! Anyway, wish us luck!
Thank you for this. I made the decision to declutter a few years ago and never looked back. This is a great piece with good pointers.
I just discovered your website posts here thru shifting suggestions that appear on something called “Pocket” that pops up with my MozilIa browser, and that I, as a 70-year-old digital technophobe, don’t really understand (like, how did it get there, and what is its agenda?). I am grateful that I have found your helpful, humorous writing and I immediately signed up to receive more. As a spinal cord injured person unable to walk for the last 51 years, I live with a lot of clutter in my living space, including extra supplies and parts for my wheelchair, tools for repair and maintenance, etc., and ditto for my work as a free-lance writer who is addicted to abundant paper back-ups for both my reading and writing, and distrustful of relying solely on digital storage. Your article inspires me to resume a de-cluttering effort I began in 2016 that was interrupted by a long sojourn for rehabilitation in a nursing home. Thank you for your great work and your great sense of humor!
I now feel dreadfully ashamed of our place. Your basement is a work of art!
Don’t be ashamed! Just look at my “before” photos ;)!!!
Wow, gotta love you millennials,all the blogging and public ideas…I just moved to downsize at 50 with my husband – you think you have a lot of stuff now???
I will read all of this and the comments. I am also trying to jettison stuff and get organized, since we had only a month to move out and find a house, most we took with us and are dealing with now. Luckily, my daughter could take much of it since she just moved out and her roommates were not bringing much, and also my son and daughter in law took some things. But it is especially hard when you have some memories and attachments. Luckily I now live blocks from Good Will, not to mention other charities that take donations. I am also disabled and can no longer work, so I really want to simplify and make it neat – I started in the new tiny kitchen and hung up some of those Ikea black wall racks for pots and such, along with some shelves. Thanks for this inspiration – I think post holiday and winter is a good time to reassess what you really need to function and enjoy, and if you don’t need it anymore, and it is still good, pass it on. If it is broken, or worn beyond hope, throw it out, and be mindful to buy less stuff. I especially realize more and more, things can own or control you, once they pile up, let alone the financial impact. Less really can be more!
This is exactly my life – balancing a frugal nature with a minimalist desire… and throw in two small children. We are currently renting a (quite small) house (my nine month old sleeps in a playpen in the dining room) but will be moving into our forever home this summer. I cannot WAIT to go through the boxes that have been in long term storage in our basement for 2.5 years. We have only missed a handful of things… so much of it is going, going, GONE forever in just a few months!! We’re building roughly half a mile from where we are currently living so we will be moving most of it ourselves – otherwise I would take your advice and purge before the move. If I had any room in our current shoebox home to spread it out on a floor without a baby eating it, I would. Thanks for sharing!
I’ve been reading quite a few minimalism blogs for a while now, and I think they would say you are a minimalist. They all seem to agree that it’s not about how much you have but the fact that you keep the things that are important to you and discard what isn’t. You might like Joshua Becker at Becoming Minimalist, in particular–a lot of what he writes about sounds similar to your posts. So don’t write yourself off as not being a “real” minimalist–there is no threshold!
I also thought you would appreciate this post from the blog Reading My Tea Leaves: http://readingmytealeaves.com/2017/03/baby-proof-beg-borrow-and-buy-secondhand.html At one point she says she thinks new parents often buy things because they are “looking for a magical unicorn” that will solve whatever problem they are dealing with at the moment, and that unicorn usually doesn’t exist. Your comment about problems often solving themselves in a few days reminded me of her post.
Also, you’ve inspired me to tackle a similar project in my own home! Thank you!
I love your post! This may be my favorite post yet in all of FrugalWoods. My husband, children and I are on a similar journey. We moved to the woods 3 months ago, and my basement looked a lot like yours. We have been working on unpacking and organizing, but I’m realizing now a fresh round of decluttering is our next big task. Thank you so much for sharing and encouraging me. Stuff is just stuff, and I need to spend less time, energy, money and brain space on it. My goal is to be finished in time to spend spring exploring our land, playing in the creek and tending our garden.
I wish you all the very best! You can do it :)!
We have zero noise producing/battery operated children’s toys too!
And that book, “Go, Dog Go!” 🙂
To save space, I want to transport my compact discs into albums. But, what do I do with the cases? Can they be recycled?
Its so true that we often try to buy something to solve our problem, but when we wait to buy we find either another way to solve the problem with what we have or we forget about the problem! Also the idea of taking everything out of drawers or closets just clicked for me after reading this. Now my wife is wondering why i just started removing everything from an insanely cluttered desk. For me its always out of sight out of mind so i stuff everything in drawers so i look organized but just because the disaster is hidden its still a disaster. I do the same thing in my comluter. loved this post. Thank you for taking the time to share it so thoroughly.
My wife and I decided to get rid of 1000 things last year and I’m happy to say that we accomplished that goal. The funny thing is that I still feel like we have a ton of stuff. I guess when you’re starting with hundreds of thousands of items (if you count each duplo block) then 1000 doesn’t even make a dent.
We are going to keep questioning every item in our home and continue to declutter and simplify. Now what to do with that VCR that I see up on a shelf as I’m writing this? Does anyone still use theirs?
Thank you for the book recommendation (Simplicity Parenting). My wife and I really enjoyed it and it aligns with what we’ve been struggling to do and articulate in a way that helped us organize our efforts. Very useful to us, thank you!
“Just because it’s free doesn’t mean that I need it!!”
My hubby has a similar saying, “Do not buy, what you do not want, just because it is cheap.”
Hi, first just want to say I am so so sorry to hear about your loss of Frugalhound. Also, thank you for sharing this very honest take on controlling clutter! We are moving next month, and have been ruthlessly purging. A difficult thing to go through was all the childhood memories/documents/etc that our parents handed off to us. Sometimes other people’s stuff can be a real emotional and physical burden. So once we released that and only kept what we truly cherished, wow, it was such a weight off our backs! Love reading your blog so much.
I put aside musical pursuits as well when my kids were little because of lack of time and priorities.. but went full Suzuki dad when my son started violin (they recommend practicing with child first year or so). Still at it now in middle age 🙂
Inspiring. I’m reminded of my daughter’s piano teacher from years ago. She taught a large number of students all year long and took a hiatus over the summer months. Every, single year….she would clean out everything. Yep. Everything. It was just the way she lived and I still think of her when I look into my messy junk drawer. This year, I can actually say that my junk drawer is fairly neat. There is still hope.
My life long goal is to de-clutter my house so that my children will never have to go through my stuff at the end of my life. I remember going through a lot of “stuff” after my mother passed away. It was emotionally exhausting. Your life style is not just for young families. Those of us who have raised families can learn so much from a simpler life. We already know that we do not need a lot of things to be happy. Now, we just have to figure out how to get rid of so much stuff.
Thank you for your article! I, too, read Simplicity Parenting. I happened to read it during a Major Renovation which took both our kids, and all their stuff, out of their respective bedrooms (and into ours). When it came time to move them back into their rooms (three months later, ahem), I was very specific about what was allowed back in their rooms. Since they had been without most of their toys for three months, they didn’t miss most of it. I watched in fascination as scenes from the book played out before my very eyes- my son laying in his nearly empty room, absorbed in imaginative play with a tiny fraction of the toys that used to clog his closets. Now he uses his almost empty closet as a hideout. Now I am focused on developing good habits with the dreaded pile of paper in the kitchen. Many thanks for your inspiration.
I love that story! Thank you for sharing! I am such a huge fan of Simplicity Parenting :)!!!
I loved this post! I too find it stressful living with clutter, and I’m going through a process of decluttering myself. It takes lots of time – I was beginning to feel guilty about this, so I’m reassured to hear it took you several months – but it’s well worth it.
I am really enjoying your blog. We live in a 700 square foot apartment – my partner is a minimalist. I am not. He has in fact sorted out bags of our stuff and we discovered we have enough shampoo of all things to last a year. I have donated/sold more clothes than I can count and yet when I look at my closet, I could probably halve or 1/4 what we own. Now, we think long and hard about what comes into the apartment – and 3 things minimum have to leave for one thing to come in.
I am amazed by the Zenlike order of your house. Very inspirational!
Just read this post from 1/18 and it’s refreshing-and reviving, my love of decluttering! We hauled several bags to Goodwill just today because of it. Totally got into the ConMari method and while I did a HUGE declutter about 4 years ago-out with anything baby related, etc. I have to say life does have its surprises and ours is named J.J. He’s 18 months now and I’m giving away the baby stuff as he outgrows it, but when I was pregnant with him(and kind of upset all my baby stuff was GONE) friends and coworkers showered us with so much baby gear I was in awe. Didn’t matter if it was used or not, I was happy with anything given(or better yet, lent) to us. Faced with the option to finish our basement, I’m going to challenge myself to try and declutter that space. The sooner it’s empty, the sooner we can start on making the space livable…. thanks for the newfound motivation Mrs. F!
That’s awesome, Cindy! Way to go!!! Feels so good to get that stuff out of the house!!
I learned a lot by reading this article. Now I feel as thought I have to tools, motivation and mindset to get crackin’ on organizing our house for downsizing. My husband and I share a phrase when we see a “shiny thing” at a garage sale or on discount at a store: “I can admire it, but I don’t need to own it”. Feel free to share this phrase. It works!