electric boogaloo

Clutter Mountain High

I’m like an alcoholic spouse, swearing to Kevin that for real — this time I am going to get control of our stuff and get organized and by heck I am going to become that person.

I’ve been clearing out junk and trying to organize what we keep. So far I’ve made huge progress in the kitchen, the dining area, the kids’ room, my office, the linen closet, and the garage. I am now at the point where I normally abandon the project, put the remaining piles of miscellaneous into a box or a grocery bag and decide that’s good enough because later. I’ll deal with it later.

I don’t have any proof that I’m really going to see it through this time; in fact my many past attempts make me feel like an idiot for even thinking that I’m going to do it because im definitely not. But what’s the fun in committing to maybe kind of trying to clean up a little? No way, I am going to defeat every room, every corner, every “hey, just stack this here.” pile. And then I’ll become that person who keeps things mostly under control. Hey, this summer I became that fancy lady who parks inside her house, so you never know. People can transform.

After working on things slowly for a couple of weeks, I sort of freaked out the other day. Starting on one end of the house, i stalked into every room and grabbed up every bin, bag, hill or pile of jumbled up stuff I could find. I put everything onto our bed. So there’d be a deadline, see? Kevin has to go to bed pretty early this week, so putting it all over our bed would force me to go through it all by then. This plan is one of those that’s pass/fail — if it works, you’re brilliant! If it doesn’t work, you are an asshole. I have made this gamble with Clean Laundry Mountain many times, and many times I have lost. Kevin ends up scooting the clothes over to my side of the bed and I forget all about them until I come to bed and the dog jumps up there and oh no, please don’t get dogginess all over the clean clothes… then the stupid clean clothes end up being shoved into baskets or moved to the couch so then I just feel silly for thinking this was a great idea.

So I set the boys up with a Martha Speaks marathon and set to work on Miscellaneous Crap Mountain. I sat on the edge of our queen-sized bed with a trash bag, a recycle box, and a big bag for goodwill stuff. For everything else, I came armed with a new box of 40 ziplock bags, gallon-sized.

About halfway through I wanted to cry. I wanted to give up. Just forget it! What’s the point? No matter how many hours you work on it, you can’t make a dent in an infinite mess. It’s still the same size.

I took a break. We had an early dinner. I hugged my children and said goodbye. Back to the mountain. By now I was moving through things faster; not sure if I was getting better at sorting? Or less discriminating? All I know is, those people who work at Goodwill are going to definitely appreciate the nice assortment of unrelated things. Toys, games, puzzles with no picture to guide you (all the pieces are there! But you have no idea what you’re making), little notebooks, old shoes, and all manner of the kind of weird thing we find for sale at the Goodwill store. No, you’re right, it is stupid of me to donate clutter to Goodwill and then shop for more right away but we are right there at Goodwill. And would you look at these amazing prices! Plus we are helping people — the sign right there says in all caps THANK YOU FOR YOUR BUSINESS Your inefficient middle-class neurotic consumerist cycle is putting people to work!

Anyway, you know what? I defeated Crap Mountain. No kidding.

After just a few short, horrible hours I was done! Trash in the trash, recycle in the recycle thing, goodwill in one bag, tools and hardware in another, with smaller ziploc bags for separating ink pens, art supplies, blank paper, live mallards, inkjet printers, piston engines, jackknives, picture puzzles, cortizone creams, hole punches, punched hole restoration kits, backpacks, playing cards, flatware (spoons! where were you, spoons? We bought new spoons because we thought you weren’t coming back! Now it is awkward because the new spoons are so much nicer. Please understand — we thought we would never see you again), bills, letters from the insurance company saying dear person haha we didn’t pay for your lab test because we thought it would be funny to see your reaction to getting the bill oh my god $700 you should have seen the look on your face!, old photos, computer batteries, flashlights, flashlight components, flashlight batteries, one of my brother Tony’s friends from elementary school, and hundreds of pennies. There. Was that so hard?

But there are still uncharted areas of crap. Today I woke up determined to keep going. I cleaned out the linen closet, which it turns out was mostly full of bedding that we never use. Go away, bedding we never use! You aren’t welcome here anymore.

Next I went through our books. Oh no. Not books! But don’t we live in a digital age and everything? Can’t we look up all of this information? Do I really need books about software? And for that matter, Shakespeare wrote a LOT of words, and do we really need to physically carry those words with us every time we move? Words don’t weigh much but you add em all up and durn. I can put them all on the iPad for like $1.99.

I tried to be ruthless with the books, but a few of them pouted from the out box until I gave in. Still, ah. The bookshelf looks weirdly relaxing with empty space on it.

Tomorrow I want to work on Kid Book Mountain. That’s going to be harder because there’s all kinds of cuteness and emotion and memories tied in there. But there’s a ton of stuff that they’ve outgrown or don’t like or maybe someday will like but who knows. They have three of those basic little shelving things crammed full of books. Overflowing. Literacy and a love for books is nice and everything but for goodness sake, let’s not get crazy.

After the books, there’s still more. We have a small junk drawer. I still need to organize our medicines, our cleaning stuff under the kitchen sink, and a few boxes of miscellaneous papers. Oh and tools in the garage. And all of the canned food/baking stuff/etc. And the laundry room. And and and…

It’s overwhelming but I really like the idea of being that person. Give me your best tricks for controlling stuff, please? Especially if you are naturally a mess and have learned how to not be so gross all the time. Kitchen, kid stuff, bathroom, car, laundry, anything you have figured out that tricks your brain into doing the right thing more often?

posted by electric boogaloo in Journal and have Comments (27)

27 Responses to “Clutter Mountain High”

  1. Nikki says:

    I don’t have any tips or tricks for you. I just wanted to say this is exactly how I feel about the clutter and crap in my own home. I want so badly to be that person that has a tidy home. I want to reduce our stuff by half. I almost panic at the thought of it never happening.

  2. erin says:

    My best tip is labeled bins. If you can get rid of enough stuff that there’s room for bins in your closets and cabinets and such, and then you label them as specifically as possible, then you always know exactly where everything should go. For me, this is fully 70% of the problem…

    And also, Apartment Therapy’s Outbox idea is helpful for those of us with irrationally sentimental attachemnts (I am still, years later, mocked by my husband for protesting getting rid of my “best-favorite high-school pillow case”). You can put everything you think you might like to get rid of in a box, and then if you want any of it back, you can have it back, but only things you think of without looking in the box.

    Good luck! It sounds like you’re on the right track!

  3. Amanda P. says:

    The only one I’ve got is “as soon (immediately, do not pass go, do not collect $200) as you are done with something, PUT IT AWAY!” It has a home. It should live there.

    Unfortunately, I’m not good at that, and my husband is worse. he carries things around, sets them down and has NO IDEA that he ever picked it up in the first place. I’m never going to be be one of “those” people. :(

  4. Anne says:

    The best thing I can tell myself when I start cleaning up an area is “be ruthless.” If I find myself debating more than 5 seconds over whether we need something or not, I get rid of it. This gets easier the more you do it, so the first thing I throw out/recycle/Goodwill is painful, but if you keep at it, it won’t hurt so much later on.

    I just tackled the “junk bin” in our kitchen last night! I feel so clean and tidy!

  5. Brainy girl says:

    Wow, I’m going to come back to this post many times for inspiration. Every moment of every day, I glance around at every room in my house, and know that though I am fully capable of getting it under control, I would need like 3 months off of all other responsibilities to make it happen. We moved into a new place 6 months ago, and though we THOUGHT we got rid of an insane amount of stuff before we moved, it turns out we STILL have an insane amount of stuff and now we have fewer places to put it all, so… piles of half-emptied boxes, heaps and mounds of paper because I haven’t figured out a new filing system yet, miscellaneous bins full of kids’ projects which keep coming day after day after day… ugh. My latest effort is to do SOMETHING to improve each room I enter and exit, even if it’s just to throw one thing in the garbage as I leave. It’s a start.

  6. Jen says:

    Flylady says to make it a habit, one little baby step at a time. I’m not good at following good advice right now, but once upon a time I tried it because I could at least recognize good advice, and it did help a lot.
    One thing that helps and that I actually enjoy is running around the house finding 20 (or 30 or 50 or 100) things to throw away. It’s embarrassingly easy to find random garbage floating around my house, and then I get to feel like I had this major accomplishment when I get rid of it. Repeat every week/day/hour.

  7. Wendy says:

    I have pretty much given up hope that I will ever be that person. I so very much WANT to be that person. And sometimes for like 2 or 3 weeks I CAN be that person. But then I fail in one little area and then I give up on myself and like 2 days later my house is a completely disaster.

    As a family, when a room is looking particularly horrific, I’ll get all of my kids into the room and yell “20 item pickup!” and everyone has to pick up 20 things. I don’t care what 20 things. but it has to be 20 things. we find this kind of fun and spontaneous. the room looks better when we’re done. it’s not every great and fully clean, but at least it doesn’t look like a bunch of frat boys had a party in there and then died and no one found them for like 20 days.

    of course, my daughter is awesome at working it so her 20 things are the easiest 20 possible… those cheerios that spilled? I”ll pick up 20 of those and THERE! DONE! *sigh*

    Someone once told me not to have anything in your house that didn’t make you smile or feel good. I went through my house one time thinking that and threw/gave away anything that fit the category and what a difference that made! All of that stuff you kept out of guilt because so and so gave it to you? tossed it. I felt about 50 pounds lighter after that.

    I have a friend with wood floors. she grabs the big dust broom thinger and sweeps everything up into one pile. then yells “crap pile! 20 minutes!” or whatever time frame she wants. the rules are if you have crap in that pile, you’d better come rescue it because in 20 minutes, whatever is left is getting thrown in the trash. she has very clean floors. If we did this at my house, my daughter would quickly run out of all things hers. but the idea is a good one.

  8. Sonja says:

    I’m reading this post and thinking, “You go, Tiffany! That’s so fantastic!” Then I contemplate doing the same thing you’re doing, and I say, “Don’t be ridiculous, Sonja! You could never do that!”

    In other words, no tips or tricks here. But congratulations on all the progress you’re making!

  9. Patti D. H. says:

    Quel irony: I just checked in here to see if you had a new post as a way to procrastinate decluttering the dining room table! I was getting inspired by you but then I checked that “flylady” link and was so frightened by “Day 2″ that I’m now going to have to go waste at least half an hour checking Facebook before I venture back into the dining room… hey – it’ll be dinner time by then, and who can organize after dinner? (Oh, wait – YOU can. Bowing in your direction…)

  10. jwg says:

    I have no magic solution. The only time in the last 40 or so years I have been decluttered was the day we moved after living in the same house for 32 years. And don’t forget the drawers in your nightstand/bedside table or whatever.

  11. golfinggrannie says:

    I’ve always thought that moving house should be compulsory every two years. Having said that, I’ve lived here for twenty years…..oh dear!!

  12. Kat says:

    My brain is like this too. I don’t have any children yet, so at least when I put something away it stays there. I recommend easily accessible dump zones for miscellaneous items. I use this for video games, but you could fit toys inside this (and it’s on sale right now!) http://www.target.com/p/Storage-Ottoman-Brown/-/A-10320236

    I promise I don’t work for Target, though I do have an on again off again relationship with them.

    Also, this is a new trick I am trying. When I know I should put something but I am either bored by that idea or tell myself I will do it later – that’s when things pile up and turn into mega jobs. Now when I get that feeling, I just tell myself to do it right away so I can avoid that overwhelmed feeling. It works most of the time, because I hate stress! But I also hate cleaning, so it’s an inner battle.

    I thought this looked like a fun experiment for kids, and this is much more useful than my advice. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=bring-science-home-leaf-colors

  13. andrea says:

    Congratulations – that is huge progress! Don’t get bogged down by what is left, definitely celebrate your success.

    Then, I think the most important thing is to severely limit what is allowed into your house. For each item that is to gain entry into your house ask, “where will this live?” If you don’t have a specific place in mind, then it will end up as clutter without a home. You can also try the one in / one out idea so that a new t-shirt (free! so I have to take it!) means that an old one has to go out.

    Easier said than done here, but we’re over the hump and things are slowly looking more and more organized. Good luck!

  14. erin says:

    I came back to say, the Apartment Therapy Cure is starting soon, and if group effort is motivating for you, it might be really helpful!


  15. Not on Fire says:

    I second the flylady.net link. I do flylady light. I like the idea. Her mantra is “You are not behind. You do not need to catch up.” You take each day as it comes. She has a great technique where you set a timer and do one of the overwhelming tasks for just 15 minutes. It allows you to get started. She also does zones so that you only worry about digging deep in one area of the house each week. This is going on a bit but it has been a lifesaver for me.

  16. Toni Steres says:

    And when you’re done, you’re coming up to IL to do my house right? I try and try and try…and yet, it’s still covered with crap. 3 trips to Goodwill (minivan FULL) is still not enough. Perhaps I need to go on a ‘no buying’ month again.

  17. brenna says:

    TIF-FA-NY TIF-FA-NY!! That is fantastic progress! You should feel great about it! If you feel overwhelmed, just keep visiting the parts of your home that used to make your stomach knot up and don’t anymore.
    Yesterday my husband and I walked from room to room and said “What do we actually use this space for?” and started a plan that will make our house more functional. We are in a little townhouse with three kids and we need to utilize every inch and we are… not. I don’t normally recommend buying things to “help” you organize, but I identified a specific need (homeschool shelves the kids can access) found what I wanted on the ikea website, found someone on craigslist selling it, and voila. This prompted some re-organizing that we desperately needed. It’s okay to be a work in progress– it’s the progress that is the important part.

    Again, woo-hoo, you!!

  18. electric boogaloo says:

    You guys are all awesome. I need to stop hanging out on reddit — over there I get “Seriously? How hard is it to clean your damned house? Just do it every day and it will be done!”

    Today I’m struggling with where to put clothes that WILL FIT AGAIN I SWEAR, but they don’t fit right now… in the meantime they are annoying and depressing to look at.

  19. Jen says:

    Tiffany, I am awed by your determination! I am downsizing soon, and have done one pass through our clutter, and will shortly start pass two. The trick for me was to focus on how great it feels to be light. If I end up getting rid of something I wish I had later, no problem — I promise myself I’ll by another one. And I take pictures of items of sentimental value, then dump them. Yay!

  20. andrea says:

    Clothes – Goodwill. I did (OK, do) the same thing with clothes that I SWEAR WILL FIT AGAIN. When I send those clothes away, the space I’ve reclaimed has made me feel so much better and lighter than the clothes ever did. You said it yourself, they are annoying and depressing. Release them. You will love to buy yourself something flattering if and when you need it. In the meantime, you will have a decluttered space and a much better headspace looking in your closet at all good options that fit you NOW! Even though I know this and have experienced the feeling, it is hard to do it each and every time. Give it a try! Good luck.

  21. Bonnie says:

    Congratulations! You deserve to be really proud of your accomplishment. It’s tremendously big. I think that looking at the area that you’ve successfully tackled and really noting how you feel about that new space of clean and empty can be carried over into other areas. I know that piles (shut up, giant stack of papers that need to be filed! I CAN HEAR YOU.) make me feel sad and a clean space makes me feel happy, so I want to make more clean spaces and less piles.

  22. Kate says:

    The ointments! Oh my god, the ointments. I am constantly finding tubes of cortizone cream, benadryl cream, whatever cream tucked away in weird places and I’m constantly buying new because I can’t remember where I put the old ones.

  23. Meg says:

    Oh, man, I *hear* you.

    I have a couple little tricks that confuse my stupid brain into doing more things. I need to find more tricks like this.

    - I have a sponge and a couple scrubbing brushes in the bathroom in easy reach so if the sink’s disgusting or the shower wall needs scrubbing, I just do it when I’m there

    - I know it’s terrible for water usage etc. but since I got one of those dish scrubbing sponge things where you pour dishwashing liquid in the handle, I’ve done the dishes way more often and without having to force myself into it

    So basically I am lazy and if I can just do a little of something very easily, I’m more likely to end up doing quite a lot of it. If it’s a production and a pain in the ass to get started and I feel like I have to do it all the way through to the end because it *is* such a production and a pain, then I’m much less likely to do it often.

    I’m enjoying the comments!

  24. Jen says:

    If your kids are anything like my 6-year-old, I have the most brilliant idea for you.

    Every few months, we have a Penny Purge. My daughter goes into her room, finds things she can give away or throw away, and I pay her one penny for each thing that leaves her room. Normally, she needs everything and it’s all very special to her, but when she desperately wants to buy a new toy or book, the thought of all that money is a powerful incentive to part with her stuff. We never give her money for any other reason, so it’s a now-or-never, one-day-only prospect.

    The first time, she got rid of almost 800 things. For less than $8, I got a seriously diminished amount of clutter in my house, and she did the work. She was even HAPPY to do the work! Last time, it was about 400. I’m in the middle of counting an enormous pile of stuff from today’s Penny Purge that will probably earn her the $5 she wants to spend at her school’s book fair. 500 things out, 1 thing in.

    Fully half of the things she purges are little scraps of paper that are so precious they MUST stay in a heap on her dresser… until there’s money involved. Presto! Garbage is finally gone! Yippee!

  25. Meg says:

    Jen, that is AWESOME.

  26. Nan says:

    My friend gives out copies of “Clear your clutter with Feng Shui”. Kind of hilarious, but filled with tips (like the one mentioned earlier about taking a picture of the thing you are keeping for sentimental reasons, but will never use and then tossing the thing).

  27. Andrea says:

    I am so proud of you. I may even tackle one of my crap mountains today.

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