Photos and Story by Monica K. Guthrie
Christmas was a blast – we had three families in our home which led to a lot of laughing, eating and gift unwrapping. In the aftermath, once everyone returned home, my husband and I realized we had too much stuff. We are in the military and blessed to be in a home (provided by the government) that is literally double the size of our last home. So, naturally, I filled the space. But now we are looking at possibly having to move to a new duty station, with a potentially smaller space. It’s time to clean and purge.
Here’s how we’re doing it.
- Tackle the project room by room
Many of you have heard of the snowball effect. It’s commonly used when talking about debt – you tackle the smallest debt first and ride that ride of excitement to push your commitment to tackling the next largest debt, and so on. We use it the same way – only instead of the smallest room, we pick the room with the least amount of “work” to do. For us, that means the guest bathroom.
We have a "room of requirement" in our house. It's supposed to be a storm shelter, and it started that way with blankets, bottles of water and emergency supplies, but then I added a vacuum, vases I'm not using, old toys, workout equipment ... it got cluttered fast. This is NOT a room I should tackle when I have only 30 minutes. I'll save this for when I get done with more of the other rooms. In fact, let's just close this door now.
- Detach as much emotion as possible
2a - I’m one of those people that has a sentimental attachment to just about everything – which is ridiculous. For example, my son makes a new piece of artwork every day. I don’t really need to keep the napkin that he doodled on when we were waiting for our food to arrive at Chilis. Toss it. Another example, my son will keep broken toys that should be thrown away, and I will keep clothes that I keep saying I’ll fit into again but we all know I never will. Just let it go. Last example: My parents brought me a box of high school “stuff” which brought back loads of memories – but! Do I really need the program from the musical I was in? Probably not. Detach and clear it all out.
2b – Get over how much you paid for it. As tough as it may be, try and forget that you spent $100 on that ugly sweater you never wear. Sometimes in life we make bad choices – like buying things we don’t need at a price we regret. Getting rid of things we don’t use is the consequence we have to pay. Out with it!
- Set a (realistic) goal for your time
If I only have 30 minutes, it’s not going to be enough time to clean my entire garage. I have to set realistic goals for the time I have. Ideally, I’d have an afternoon or a weekend set aside to focus on big projects, but the truth is I’m much more likely to have half an hour here, and 45 minutes there. Pick a realistic goal, so maybe instead of the entire garage, I tidy up one specific area. Or instead of cleaning an entire room, I focus on a closet (or a shelf in a closet, if your closet looks like mine).
My book shelf is a good place to work if I've only got half an hour to focus on cleaning. It gives me a realistic goal and when I'm done it gives me motivation to clean something else.
- Give things away
I have a friend who is brilliant at this. Every November she focuses on “thanks AND giving” during which she tries to give away many things that are nice, but unnecessary. She’ll put boxes on her porch and, using social media, let her friends and neighbors (and sometimes strangers) know that she is getting rid of sweaters or toys or books. It’s impressive. I just haul my stuff to a non-profit and donate my things. Either way. It helps you declutter and it can help those organizations help others. There is a 12-12-12 challenge which asks you to find 12 items to donate, 12 items to return to their proper home and 12 items to throw away – this can be a fun game with kids (a “snap! The jobs a game!” – that’s a Mary Poppins reference for those who don’t know).
There are a million websites, Pinterest images, Facebook groups, dedicated to organization. Find a style/system you like. I like having all my pens where I can see them on my desk so I have a cup that holds them. I also like having all my jewelry displayed so I can see them at a glance, same with my scarves – so I use a hanging board to hold them. I like having specific spots for my children’s books/toys so I use fabric totes to hold them – you can find all sorts of ideas that fit your lifestyle, your style and your home needs online. Just look around for a bit – but I would save this part for last, after you’ve decluttered so you know exactly what you need and what space it needs to fill.
- Don’t be too proud to ask for help
I have asked friends to help clean. I’ve asked friends to help watch kids while I clean. I even have a lady in my circle of friends who will clean your house for four hours for $75. If once you’re all done decluttering you find yourself without the energy or care to do some serious deep cleaning, ask for help.
What not to do:
- Don’t try and tackle it all at once.
- Don’t go buying a bunch of storage items before you’ve cleaned.
- Don’t give up. If you don’t finish a task completely, you’ll be demoralized. Finish the job.
- Don’t expect perfection – functional IS finished.
Monica K. Guthrie is an Army brat, an Army veteran (Rock of the Marne!) and now an Army spouse with two boys. She is currently the media relations officer for the public affairs office at Fort Sill, Okla., and writes a weekly column called the Okie Bucket List. She also has a photography and graphic design business, Pro Deo Creations, that she maintains between potty training and kissing scraped knees.