I’ve lived in my current home for a few years now. Not as many as some, but the most years of my adult life. (I’m a semi-reformed nomad who once moved five times in thirteen months.)
Whenever I moved, I purged my belongings and got rid of huge piles. Even so, I accumulated more and more stuff.
Treasures, yes. Needed equipment, yes.
But great piles of STUFF.
When I moved overseas after graduation, I brought with me two suitcases (back then, overseas flights allowed for two suitcases weighing up to seventy pounds each), a backpack, and a carry-on bag.
I brought with me four books: the first three Harry Potter installments and my bilingual Bible. Part of my love-hate affair with Hermione stems from those months when those were my only English books available. This was back before Kindle, Skype, and FaceTime.
Almost ten years later when I moved back to the US, I donated or threw away heaping piles of STUFF while paying a fortune to ship my favorite items home.
I’m glad I have my pretty dishes. I love my rice cooker, the first nice thing I bought for myself when my finances recovered from the moving costs. I’ll always treasure mementos of friendship.
But, as a writer/crafter/sentimentalist/memory-keeper, I hold on. All of my belongings, including photos, of the first few years of my life were destroyed/lost. I don’t have a single photo or item from my babyhood or toddlerhood.
And so I hold, and hold, and hold.
Until my shelves and cupboards groan, and creak, and burst.
Then, when I move again, I uncover all the real treasure of my life that I haven’t seen in years because they were buried under my STUFF.
A friend from childhood once had a wise method for controlling clutter in her home (that she keeps immaculate). When her children wanted to hold onto special but nonessential items, she allowed three days. After three days, unless it was something extraordinary, it had to go.
Digital photography has helped a lot, too. Now when I’m shopping, I often will take a photo of items I like instead of buying them. I save money and space.
I also remind myself of all the disappointment when I buy items that later break, fail to work, or require expensive repairs. I don’t mind money well spent on quality items, but I hate STUFF that took my money, space, and wastes my life.
I’ve told myself for the past few years that I have a relatively large amount of space for someone of my income level, and I’m not planning to move right now. Why not hold onto things until I move? Then, just in case I need something later, I don’t have to decide now.
I can’t find my needed or special items because my home is overflowing with STUFF.
(Wooden spoons are NOT stuff. Wooden spoons are a gift from the gods.)
I’ve tried various methods to keep the mess down, but they’re like sticking my finger into the dike. They help, but not enough. Little things, like:
- Washing dishes when they’re dirty, even if it’s only a fork or a cup, instead of waiting for the sink to fill up.
- Leaving the sink empty of dirty dishes every time I leave the house or go to bed (this is harder than it seems!).
- Taking out the trash (I keep small cans on purpose, both to reduce smell/creepy crawlies and to motivate myself) every time I go out for the day. Keeps my home cleaner, and I pick up extra trash whenever I tie up the bags. Plus, it leaves my cans empty so I’ll have a place to throw my next garbage.
- Setting a timer for 15 minutes once a day to clean up. I can do anything for 15 minutes.
- Dividing my home into 7 zones, assigning each zone a number, and randomly choosing one number each day. I spend my 15 minutes cleaning up that zone. (I like the element of surprise to keep myself interested.)
Recently, I’ve accidentally found another way. When I’ve moaned about my mess to friends, I’ve sent them photos of proof. (Photos of shame, if you will.)
Then a funny thing happens.
I look at the photo, usually a small area of my home, and start to see it differently. Instead of viewing it as one part of my entire, overwhelming mess, I look at it on its own. It’s one small area, and I can always find one or two ways to clean it up.
Most of the time, I end up with a second photo that shows off my hard work.
I’ve looked at decluttering/house-cleaning sites that show before and after pictures. Puh-leeze. The closets have maybe one hanger out of place and a sweater artfully hanging from a doorknob. The fridge has a single speck of dust and bottles not in alphabetical order.
If anything can make me feel inferior and slobbish, it’s house-cleaning sites.
I’m a visual person. Photos motivate me.
- Digital camera or a smartphone/Kindle/tablet with built-in camera
- Google Drive
- Paper/notebook/computer file (optional)
- Calendar (optional)
- Sturdy bags or boxes
- Basic cleaning supplies
- Positive attitude!
- Go through your home (mentally or physically) and divide the mess/clutter into roughly 40 areas. If you have a big mess or you are overwhelmed, subdivide your areas into separate ones.
- Take a photo of each of these 40 areas you want to clean up over the next 40 days. (Make sure location settings are turned off for your photos, and check that identifying information such as your home address, Social Security number, license plate number, etc. are not visible.) Include photos of car mess, too, if you like.
- Create a new folder in Google Drive. (If you need help doing this, let me know in the comments and I’ll show you.) I named mine The Great Cleanup of 2016.
- Contact any of us who are signing up for the challenge. Share your gmail address, and we’ll give you viewing privileges for our folders. (Ask for help if you don’t know how to do this.)
- Upload your 40 photos to the folder.
- Choose your method of attack. You can download the 40 bags in 40 days printable with a plan for which section to organize on which day. Or, if you like random methods the way I do, you can assign each photo a number from 1 to 40. I’ll go to random.org each day and ask it to choose a number. I’ll clean up the area associated with that number.
- Take a second photo of the area you clean each day.
- If you have a blog or other social media site, post before and after photos each day. We don’t care if you have a fancy house with expensive furniture. We really don’t care if your home is a mess. That’s kind of the point of this challenge, right? If you’d rather not post and just want to share through Google Drive, that’s fine, too!
- Come and celebrate each day!
Are you ready? If you are, please fill out this Google form (to keep email addresses private).We will share folder access with each other (please check “can view” instead of “can edit” when you send invitations).
This keeps private photos of our homes off the public space, but it allows us to motivate each other.
Once we’ve tidied an area and uploaded a new photo to show the progress, we’ll mark the original (star it as a favorite, add an annotation, etc.)
In 40 days, we’ll have nice, tidy, clutter-free homes.
Oh, okay. Let’s be realistic. We’ll still have clutter, but it won’t be as bad. We’ll tame the beast.
(I want to upload a photo of today’s decluttering, but my phone is being stubborn and I have waited long enough.)