Maybe it's due to the start of a new year or to the overload of stuff that comes with Christmas or maybe it's because I've been reading a lot of minimalism and even some tiny-home blogs, but lately I've been really motivated to de-clutter and quiet our home. It's something I do pretty regularly anyway (I actually love to de-clutter), but then there are also times, like lately, when I get extra motivated to get the excess out of our house and find better ways to organize what's left. (Helpful hint: Always wait to organize until after you've first de-cluttered.)
Over the past several weeks, I've gone through clothes, kitchen drawers, closets, toys, books and even our basement storage and laundry rooms. I've been donating, selling things on Craigslist, and giving things away that we no longer need or use. It's not that I want to be a complete minimalist or live in a tiny-home (although I do find this a little bit fascinating), it's just that I love the idea behind all of it…. less stuff to maintain means more time to focus on other things that you love… your family and friends, travel, hobbies, whatever it is that you find important. I also love how my house feels with less stuff in it. I am way less overwhelmed when I don't have stuff everywhere to constantly pick up and put away. In fact, when I am feeling overwhelmed by the state of our home, instead of just cleaning and putting things away, I usually start tossing things in the trash and into the donate pile. And afterwards, I feel so much better! Give it a try sometime and let me know what you think!
Over the years, I've learned a lot about keeping the stuff in our home under control. I still have more to learn and this is an area I always push myself to do better in because it feels so good to have a tidy, organized home. One of the biggest challenges to having a tidy home right now is all the things that come with having three kids. Early on as a mom, I bought a lot of stuff for my kids. If it was on sale and I liked it (and we had the money), I bought it. It didn't so much matter if they already had all the shoes they needed, if I found a great deal on a cute pair of shoes, I would buy them. If Gap had a sale, I was there stocking up on cute clothes. This was not such a big deal when I just had one kid, but as we had more kids, the stuff just grew and grew. The more kids, the more stuff, and at times it just overwhelmed me. I felt like I was always picking up and putting things away, organizing and re-organizing. And finding spots for it all was challenging and frustrating. I don't remember when it happened, but overtime, I learned that constantly buying so much just wasn't working for me or helping me keep a tidy, un-cluttered home. So I started de-cluttering and it felt so good that I just kept doing it. Somewhere along the way, I learned about minimalism and although I don't think I would ever be true minimalist (I like warm and cozy spaces with textures and layers too much), I am so inspired by their perspectives on life and stuff. I could read minimalism blogs for hours. And over time, I feel in love with de-cluttering and organizing our home.
This really is a never-ending process because as much as I try to limit what comes in to our home, there is always stuff coming in. Whether from Christmas or birthdays, paper clutter, free things given to my kids, hand-me-downs from others, or stuff we buy on our own, there is always stuff coming in. So I have learned that I have to be very pro-active in consistently getting things out of our house or the stuff starts to take over.
In a sense, I am constantly challenging the things that are in our house with the statement, "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful." (quote by William Morris) Once an object stops being beautiful or helpful to our family, it's more of a hindrance to us if we keep it because then we have to maintain it, store it, clean it, pick it up, organize it, step over it, etc. Getting rid of things we neither need or love frees up both our time and our space to allow other things that are more important to us into our life.
Here are a few tips for de-cluttering that I have learned over the years...
1. Throw stuff away….all the time. Plastic junk toys (especially if they make noise!). Free stuff. Broken toys. Toys with missing pieces. Magazines. Socks with holes. Trinkets. Art projects. School papers. Random objects that you are clueless about. Just throw it away. Secret tip: when you put it in the trash, cover it up with another piece of trash so your kids don't see it and pull it back out like it's their long lost most favorite thing in the world.
2. Always have a donate box. Whether you keep it in the basement, laundry room, garage, or closet, have a box that is specifically for donating. Then when you come across anything that you know you no longer want or need or like, you can quickly just toss it in the box. So as soon as your kid grows out of a pair of shoes or pants, instead of shoving them back in the closet or bottom of the drawer to deal with later, just toss them in the donate box. It's that simple and you don't have to give things a second thought or waste a lot of time going through things. When the box gets full, donate it. And then immediately get another box and keep that process going. Another secret tip : Keep this box hidden from your kids or they will go through it and beg you to keep all the things!
3. Have a "toy holding box". This is a secret box or black garbage bag that you keep out of sight from your kids where you toss their toys, books, or stuffed animals when you notice that they don't play with them anymore. Don't donate these things right away, unless you're sure they are done with them. Wait and see if your kid asks for the toy in the upcoming weeks or months. If after a few months, your kid never even notices that you took away a toy, it's probably safe to donate it and it will never be missed. On the other hand, if they miss their toy soon after you take it away, it's great to be able to pull it out of the box and hand it back to them.
I do a very similar thing with their drawings, crafts, and art work. I will put it in a drawer for a while and see if they ever ask to look at it again. Sometimes they will and I can pull it back out and give it to them. But if several weeks go by and it's been forgotten, then I toss the picture, craft, art work, etc… in the trash (unless it's super special). Otherwise, I would have these things coming out my ears.
4. Be very selective and buy less. This is a big part of keeping your home tidy and de-cluttered. The less you bring into your home, the less you have to pick up, maintain, and find places to store. Remind yourself before you buy something that you will have to find a place to keep it. This thought automatically keeps me from buying giant plastic toys that will take up a large amount of floor space and become part of the room decor. I also remind myself that most likely I will be the one cleaning said toy or clothes or shoes up off the floor a lot. When you are buying birthday or Christmas presents for your kids, really think through each purchase because you are going to be the one tripping over it all the time. Think outside the box of just more toys too. You could get them tickets to a special event, sign them up for an extracurricular activity, camp, a sports team, piano lessons, etc.
I've read articles about how having less toys benefits your kids in many different ways. It really makes me think about how much my kids have and I feel better about limiting the amount of toys in our home. I also read about this mom who took her kids toys away and although I don't think I will ever go as far as she did, her story has stuck with me and I am intrigued by all the benefits like contentment, creativity, less fighting, and patience that she noticed in her kids afterwards.
When you are more selective and buy less, it also affords you the possibility of buying better quality things. Whether we are talking about toys, clothes, shoes, tools, or house stuff, less really is more! I finally learned that my kids don't need that many clothes and shoes. They almost always wear the same clothes over and over anyway. They have their favorites and the rest just takes up drawer and closet space. They just need enough so that I don't have to wash laundry all the time without them running out of anything. I feel the same way about shoes, the less the better. Otherwise I am constantly tripping over their shoes or trying to find the particular ones they want to wear. It's so much simpler to have less shoes.
5. Ask your kids what they don't want anymore. If they have 40 toy cars, could they pick out their top 20 or 30 and donate the rest? Can your daughter narrow down her baby dolls or stuffed animals to just a few favorites? If you have an older child that is reluctant to part with things, offer to sell their stuff on Craigslist or in a garage sell for them and let them have the money (This always motivates Tyson to find things he doesn't really play with). Or challenge them to find 5 things they don't want anymore, then celebrate with ice cream or a cookie. Baby steps.
6. Get rid of extras/multiples. Shampoo bottles and other bathroom supplies, duplicate toys and books, sheets, towels, blankets, travel coffee mugs, dishes, the list goes on. Figure out how many of something you really need/use and get rid of the rest. We don't have to be prepared for the apocalypse. Let some things go and trust that you will be able to survive with less. This will open up a ton of space in your cabinets and closets.
So those are my tips.
What about you guys? Do find it hard to keep your house de-cluttered? What's your biggest challenge in this area? Do you have any great tips for me?
One last tip: Start with the easiest stuff first and then work your way to the harder things. This way you will see a difference faster and be encouraged to keep going. Have fun!!