Sunday, December 14, 2008

Clutter-induced stress

I am staying home from church today with my little guy who has a bad cold. While he is playing and resting, I am tackling some long overdue de-cluttering. I HATE HATE HATE clutter. However, it builds up so quickly in our house that I can't seem to stay on top of it. I try to remind myself that it could be worse. For example, my boys' babysitter has TONS of toys in her finished basement. She has so many that you can't even see the floor. I'm serious. Just being down there makes me a little twitchy. Lest you think I live in a pristine, completely organized environment, here is what my little boy said to me just a few minutes ago when he walked into his big brother's room AFTER the decluttering: "HEY! What happened to all the stuff?" I said, "Do you mean what happened to the mess?" He said, "Yes, where are all the toys?" Yeah. Obviously the kid is not used to seeing a tidy home. My bad.

Last night I was able to relax a little and read an article in the newest issue of Oprah magazine. (My mother-in-law buys me a subscription to it. Thanks, Donna!) It was about voluntary simplicity. Basically, this is the idea that many people are choosing a simpler lifestyle where they are less tied to material possessions and accumulating wealth. The philosophy is more complicated than that, of course, but the concept really struck a chord with me. I have so often said (when I'm really stressed out) that I wish I could pack up the family and move to a cabin in the woods. We are actually blessed to live on a 2-acre lot in the country where we can see the stars every night and we have room to breathe. And I am very grateful for that. Still, I find myself stressed on a daily basis because so much of my time seems to be spent on taking care of or thinking about our stuff. This morning, I spent probably a good 40 minutes just putting away and picking up stuff in my oldest son's room. And as I was looking at all of it, I realized that he doesn't even play with at least half of it. All kinds of ideas ran through my mind..........could we make an effort to considerably reduce what we have and only keep what is necessary? The Oprah article cited some families who have intentionally moved into smaller homes to force themselves to purge uneeded possessions. I once read about a person who had only one bowl, one plate, one spoon and one cup. I think it was a fictional story, but I have never forgotten it. Wouldn't it be so much easier and even freeing to have only a few things to take care of? Think of how much more time could be spent connecting with your family. My dream would be to live in a little cozy cabin with wall-to-wall bookshelves, little decoration other than things found in nature, and only a few needed possessions. Doesn't that sound restful?

I am going to talk to the DH about this and see if we can come up with a plan to reduce what we have. It's going to be a tough sell with him because he likes to hang onto stuff. And I'm afraid he will think we shouldn't get rid of too much of the boys' stuff because they might get upset, etc. So we'll see where this all goes. If nothing else, maybe I can just gradually start sneaking things out of the house that I'm pretty sure no one will notice. My "stuff" will not be untouched. I have a lot of books and craft stuff that can probably be purged. I like the idea of giving everyone a few of those big Rubbermaid bins and telling them they can keep what will fit into those. I think this would be hard with the boys, though. If you are reading this I would love to hear from you about any great ideas you may have for cutting back on STUFF, especially all the kids' toys. For now, I have to go. More clutter to bust in the basement..............


Anna said...

I had exactly this experience about a year ago. It is hard with children (mine are 8,6 and 4) because they are constantly being given things, or are making things ro otherwise accumulating. I hatched a plan which I have been enacting ever since. The theory is that if something isn't used then it isn't needed. With the help of each child we went through their bedrooms putting things into piles of 1. used all the time, 2. used occasionally but loved,.3. never used not loved. Number 1 things were organised into the right sized baskets and put on shelves. No.2 things were packed into easily accessible under bed boxes and number 3 things went to the charity shop or bin. So, the bedrooms were much clearer. The deal is that each child has to clean their rooms on a sunday - "mummy tidy". There isn't much left but I think that what kods actually need is space, inside and out.

Then I attacked each of the other rooms. I sorted my clothes into work and home and then applied the 3 rules to them. Anything we wanted to keep but not have out went into the loft. The biggest project was the playroom. I watched for a while and realised that we needed craft materials, board games, silk scarves and the dolls house. Other than that I organised a shelf for the then 3 year old with montessori home activities. The best thig all this gave us is space.

The mess still threatens but I know how to deal with it now .
My next project is to find a way of stopping things from piling up in rubbish tips in the kitchen!!!

Laura said...

Thanks so much for your great ideas. I talked to the DH after he got home and he is all game for reducing. So.......we're going to make and implement a plan. I agree.....more space to play and create will be a wonderful gift for our family. I'm sure we'll incorporate some of your ideas. Thanks again!

Beth D. said...

My thoughts exactly, Laura! Stuff is the bane of my existence! I too have thought often about how much of my time is taken up with clutter management. It is VERY hard with kids to cut down on the stuff, but many of my relatives are trying to give less now for gifts. Reed even had his friends donate to the World Wildlife Fund this year and last instead of giving him birthday presents. He said he doesn't need anymore stuff lying around his room and he likes feeling like he made a difference in helping animals. I was proud of him!

I really think we all live better with space and less stuff to think about or spend our time on. Less is more! I have really worked on taking lots of things to the consinement shop or Goodwill this year. That has been a great help. Though I love books dearly, I think very carefully about what books we are purchasing. If we will only read it once, we try to get it at the library. Libraries are really a great recycling experience.

Sometimes I think we should move to a bigger house to have more storage room, but then I think no, we need to stay where we are and live more with the essentials. I still want to scream though, when I look in our storage room!

We haven't solved our clutter problem totally, but we are making headway!

Krys said...

I can relate totally! Thanks for sharing your story and reminding me it's past time to do it again! :) The only time our house is toy clutter-free is when someone is coming over LOL!
I'm a natural packrat, but my husband has taught me well.

We go through our "stuff" about 3-4 times a year - we call it the "purge". It happens around birthday's and holidays where gift-giving is involved. We have a large extended famiy, so it can get crazy.

My little ones are 7, 5, 3 and they actually look forward to the "purge"! They see how it makes their room easier to clean and they actually will do it on their own sometimes. The items are donated to a womans/family shelter for the displaced families or to sell in their shop for money for the shelter.
I let the kids throw what they don't want in the hallway or in boxes outside their rooms. I go in and talk them into giving away the other items that I notice aren't played with.
They've also learned to give some of their items they might like, but they understand someone else might need/want it more.

The sentimental items that aren't played with I put in their memory boxes or our wooden chest for safe keeping.

rainbowmummy said...

I have lot of thoughts on this poat WAY to many to post a comment. I am inking in the clutter here, I just want it gone.

rainbowmummy said...

That was Sinking btw, lol!

Teresa said...


I've not got a house or a family of my own yet (still at university) but I have been trying to reduce what I have stored both at uni and at my parents' house.

I don't like to think of sending my precious and personal things "to the charity shop". I do like to think of it as sending them to "bless someone else". If it is an item that means something to me, or that I especially like, I try and find a person I know to give it to. Thinking of my things doing someone else good, rather than cluttering up my life makes me happy! :)

You might enjoy the declutter tips on this page.

Good Luck!

Krystal said...

Hi Laura! I also read that article in the Oprah magazine and it left a big impression on me. I've heard of this concept before, but the picture of that couple's possessions displayed on their lawn made me think long and hard about what we really "need" in life. When I scan the room I am sitting in right now, I see Chap Stick, I-Pods, CDs, numerous computer monitors, a Star Wars watch that doesn't work, a toy monster truck, and a People magazine. True, I am sitting in our basement, which is mainly my husband's space for his computer junkie fixes, but the fact remains that we have a ton of STUFF!

I hate clutter as well. I think the hardest thing for me is to not buy so much freaking crap in the first place. My kids are always asking me for things, and I have gotten a lot better about saying "no", but there are still the birthday parties, Christmas, etc. I just feel like advertising, media, and society in general has done a superb job of programming us to believe that we absolutely need three types of Glade Plug-Ins, or those completely necessary plastic liners for your crock pot. Not that I am trying to blame society for my wasteful purchases. I take full responsibility for every Happy Meal toy that finds its place in our toy box. It just sucks when I get caught up in the mindset of "more stuff will make you happy and fill that void inside".

Sorry for my rambling, but the Oprah article totally made sense to me, both environmentally and emotionally. I am not where I want to be with doing what I can for the environment, both outside my home and inside, so this article is a great thing for me to ponder every day and think about small steps I can take to eliminate clutter.