Thursday, January 29, 2015

Learning to be flexible

There’s the One Goal: I want to declutter my house.

There’s the Big Why: Freedom! Freedom to create art and a life I believe in; freedom from overwhelm.

There’s the Next Step: The Wing (mind map), which leads to the next steps - The plan in Unstuff Your Life: start with keys/wallet/mail/etc., then declutter kitchen/dining room, then the next step, declutter office/paperwork.

Then there’s the part where we stay flexible:

A leak under the bathroom sink needed fixing; which led to removing the sink that had been in place for 49 years (today’s plumbing components don’t play well with the old ones); which led to much discussion, many trips to the home stores, and more discussion; which led to clearing out the stuff that lives on top of the vanity and in the cabinets underneath, and moving said stuff to the newly cleaned off dining table (a good staging area); which led to the decision to make the main bath/laundry room our next decluttering project.

Bathroom sink - Before

We came close to getting side-tracked (or even de-railed) with this one. How much remodeling do we do? (I’d love to completely remodel the bath, but that’s not going to happen.) Should I make a rendering of our ideas at different levels of fix as an incentive? Can we do an interim fix that would be liveable, or even nicer than liveable?

The interim fix won out. We wanted to do something simple and as quick and easy as possible. Also, we wanted to keep the costs minimal. A major redo would have to wait. What could we do this weekend to get the sink working and looking good with the least disruption to our lives? The plan is to find a sink that will fit the existing counter top, and DH, being a very handy guy, is going to do the work.

Since the vanity top is an unusual size and shape (custom built for the house in 1966), and the sink a size and shape from the 60s, we would have to get creative. New sinks don’t come in the exact size (or even close enough size) to fit the space. We might be able to make one of them work, but… we want something closer to the right size, something that would look like it belongs there. It turns out the Habitat Home Store had one sink that would fit just right. Actually, it doesn’t fit the same way as the old sink, but sits on top of the counter and looks very good. It imitates today’s trend to have a sink sitting on top of the counter, and looks much better than the old sink. Yea!

New sink installed!

With the sink installed—once the decision was made, it took only a short time to install—and the leak fixed, we could call it done. However, there are a few cosmetic things we’d like to do to upgrade the area: add PVC frame across the back of the new sink to make it look more integrated; frame in the existing beveled edge mirror; and add two shelving units on top of the counter and flanking the sink to add storage space and make the area symmetrical.  Maybe we could paint the walls, and…?  OK, I could get carried away here, but the job is basically done and looking good.

Bathroom/laundry room declutter is done!

Now, we just need to go through all the stuff we pulled out of the cabinets and off the counter and make the hard decisions about what to get rid of, or to keep. The task won’t be done until it’s all put away. Today (1/25/15), we did the end-of-task. Done!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Big Why


Why am I doing this? What’s the big urgency?

My One goal, decluttering my house, is a goal that will take months (perhaps six months to a year). That’s a long time to stay motivated on what could be an onerous task. I’m notoriously flighty when it comes to long-term projects, so I needed to find a resonant reason to keep going: something that would ring a clarion call whenever I hit another wall of Resistance. As a way to keep myself motivated for the long haul, I did the exercise from David Delp at to “hook up my heart.” This is a free-writing exercise that should only take about five minutes, and should yield an answer that resonates in my heart and soul. Why do I want to accomplish this goal?

To hook up my heart, I state my goal, “I want to declutter my house.” Then ask, “Cathie, why do you want to declutter your house?” Then (this is where the Big Why comes in) I write down my answers, keep asking why about each answer, and keep writing those answers until one answer rings out and resonates.

Cathie, why do you want to declutter your house?


Because all this stuff weighs on my mind because my mother hoarded so much stuff and left a house (and large storage shed) so full there were only paths through the rooms and we children had a huge job to clean it out when she passed away; because several of my stitching friends left massive “stashes” when they passed away and it was a nightmare to sort through; because when I look around I feel overwhelmed with stuff; because I feel scattered and unprepared and shallow; I feel unproductive because I can’t decide what to work on among my many unfinished projects, and not wanting to start another thing.

Cathie, why do you want to declutter your house?


Because I feel stuck; because I have wanted to move to a smaller home but feel intimidated by the amount of stuff that’s in my possession; because when I go into my studio all I see is stuff piled up everywhere and can’t focus on any projects; because it’s all visual noise; all those potential projects and unfinished projects are clamoring to be done; because I have to spend time clearing off a surface before I can work on anything; I own lots of stuff, but nothing is important, it’s all just stuff.

I long for simplicity; I want to be free to move house or travel or work on a project without being distracted by stuff on every surface. I want to edit my life down to the essentials. I feel like something great is ready to come into my life when I let go of all the excess. I want the freedom to explore new possibilities. That’s why.

Freedom to create art and a life I believe in \ Freedom from overwhelm

The word Freedom! resonates with me; it will be my symbol that rings the bell, my "Big Why".  

Without a "Big Why" we eventually lose motivation to do the work necessary to accomplish great things."  - Glen Smith (The Growth Coach)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

One Goal

Photo courtesy of
 papaija2008 at Free Digital

Alright, so it’s a good goal, but don’t be obsessed with de-cluttering your house.” I read that somewhere. Don’t be obsessed; don’t have a one-track mind; you should have a more balanced approach. This sounds like sane advice. It also sounds like another form of Resistance. If I follow this advice, I get to pat myself on the back and say that I’m being balanced and rational while allowing this very important goal to sink into oblivion. I’ve been here before. A balanced approach doesn’t work; it just lets this important goal become buried among other important goals. But I’ve learned over the decades that “if everything is important, then nothing is important.” De-cluttering my house is important to me. This year I plan to keep my de-cluttering/Tidying-up goal at the forefront. Following the path laid out by Leo Babauta in his excellent book, The Power of Less:

This year I will make de-cluttering my house my One Goal.

Good. That decision is made. It simplifies things. It gives me focus. As David Delp ( says, “the reason we make goals is not because having achieved them will make us happier. We make goals so we can focus.”

Of course, there’s focus, and then there’s focus.

After the initial kitchen/dining room clear out, I've been tweaking things in these rooms this month (January). It has seemed to make sense to concentrate on one area/room/category of stuff for a whole month. That gives me time to build habits to keep the new order. It gives me time to live with my first pass at the project long enough to think of what I've missed, and to invent new solutions to parts of the project that were not quite working (the “make a Home” for everything part). For example, under the kitchen sink, aside from the cleaning products that do have a good Home, there are clean towels/wash cloths just piled in a plastic dish pan. They have a Home; I know where they are; I like them in that cupboard, but… It’s time to invent a different type of shelving or container to separate the types of cloths so I can easily grab the one I want.

After looking for open front plastic bins to buy (didn't find anything that was the right size), I repurposed some wooden crates (that Clementines come in). They’re not adequate (too small). DH found a solution (a set of plastic drawers) that is OK for now, but still not quite what I want. However, since it is OK, I will move on to the next thing and just keep an eye out for what I do want.

So, back to the focus: there’s focus on de-cluttering my house, and then there’s focus on tweaking the details of each area. I’m beginning to wonder whether this is too much focus on details. I want to set things up so they work well for us, but if I get lost in the details I may de-rail the de-cluttering project as a whole. I tend to do that kind of thing. So, I will practice the “end-of-task” habit that helps me complete things to finish off the kitchen project so I can move on to the next thing.

The end-of-task for the kitchen/dining room clear out is to clean the last few things: microwave, oven, refrigerator, floors. I don’t clean ovens, so that will be delegated to DH; the ‘fridge just needs a wipe down; floors, just a quick vacuum and mop up. And the microwave: cleaning the microwave turned out to be easier than I thought it would be. Nuking a bowl full of water and white vinegar seems to work to make whatever food residue is there soften and just wash right off. Easy. Except that DH and I started talking about replacing our decades-old built-in microwave. He thinks of this as a DIY project, but I’m a bit unsure. I want whatever we do to look good, professional, and, besides, I don’t want to derail the whole house de-cluttering project. That is my One Goal, and I need to do something to further that goal every day.  

It’s time to learn how to make this whole project happen, time to learn how to focus on a year-long project. Time to give my goal heart (next post)…

Successful people maintain a positive focus in life no matter what is going on around them. They stay focused on their past successes rather than their past failures, and on the next action steps they need to take to get them closer to the fulfillment of their goals rather than all the other distractions that life presents to them. Jack Canfield

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Getting it all done

I got up yesterday with the notion of “getting it all done today”. In fact, I did get the dining room clear-out done: Loaded up a box with donations for the thrift store, dusted all around (forgot the ceiling fan, though), and put back only those things we decided to keep. And, I had a good discussion with DH about how we really want to use the room.

We've allowed the dining room to become a pass through and dumping ground. We don’t usually eat our dinners in there. We don’t entertain people. It’s been quite a while since the whole family has gathered around the dining table for a holiday meal. And keeping the leaf in the table is a constant reminder of the fact that there are only two of us sharing meals in this house. We’re in a different phase of our lives now, so maybe the dining room can be re-purposed. I’d like to keep the option of having lots of people around the table for a big meal, but we really need to find another way to use this room on a daily basis. (Besides, the fireplace is in this room, and we’d like to use the room more so we can enjoy the fireplace when it’s cold.)

DH likes the idea of using the dining room as a work room. There’s space for using the computer and spreading out his papers. The table he’s using in the living room right now is very small and cramped, so having a bigger space where he can spread out appeals to him. The lighting in the dining room, however, is not adequate for working. I’d love to get the room re-wired, but I suspect we’ll just go with using the portable lamps that serve when my beading group meets here. All these things need to be worked out; the discussion will continue. “It all” is not done; is it ever "all done"?

‘Anything in existence, having somehow come about, is continually interpreted anew, requisitioned anew, transformed and redirected to a new purpose.’ -Friedrich Nietzsche

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Resistance monster showed up

The brick wall of Resistance

The Resistance monster, it's kind of like a brick wall... I've been sleeping-in past my stated time for getting up (6:00 am). I've already started questioning my desire to do the things I committed to: Do I really want to “Tidy Up” my house at all, much less do it within six months? Is six months realistic, or so ambitious as to be a pipe dream? Is tidying up something I really even want? My arm hurts. Oh, there are these classes I want to take and they will require homework time (there’ll be no time for Tidying). DH has been taking time off from his usual pursuits and I want to spend time with him. I’m just a wimp and incapable of following through on anything anyway. No, my arm really does hurt.

Right, Resistance.

In the forward to the book, The War of Art, screenwriter Robert McKee defines Resistance as the “destructive force inside human nature that rises whenever we consider a tough, long-term course of action that just might do for us or others, something that’s actually good”.

That Resistance.

Kitchen is staying tidy

OK, after taking a week off, it’s time to finish the Kitchen/dining room tidying project. Kitchen’s done, except for cleaning out the ‘fridge. I forgot about the ‘fridge. How can you forget about the ‘fridge? Like everything else in my life, the ‘fridge’s contents have become invisible, especially in the freezer. I do clean out the ‘fridge periodically, but, without the organizing principle of "Like with Like", I don’t really “see” what is left in there. So, it’s time to bring order to the contents of the ‘fridge. Then, there's the dining room.

Invisible things in residence on the mantle

The dining room is still in its usual chaotic state. A collection of nick knacks lives atop the fireplace mantle: invisible. Books, games, and stacks of printer paper, in addition to the printer, live on the printer stand in the corner. Does the printer really belong in the dining room? Stacks of papers, abandoned projects, and things to be returned to other rooms live on the dining table. Yeah, we rarely actually eat on the dining table. A collection of candles, trivets, notebooks, and the telephone and answering machine live on the sideboard, with shoes underneath. A project bag with my current take-along stitching project lives on a dining room chair. All these things (and a few others) have become invisible. They just live there whether they belong there or not. It’s time to remove non-dining room things from the dining room (including dust bunnies on the ceiling fan).

Projects awaiting processing

What’s my incentive? What about planning to serve a nice candle-lit dinner on the dining table? That should provide some incentive! Besides, I said I was turning pro. Turning Pro trumps Resistance.

Turning pro is a mindset. If we are struggling with fear, self-sabotage, procrastination, self-doubt, etc., the problem is, we're thinking like amateurs. Amateurs don't show up. Amateurs crap out. Amateurs let adversity defeat them. The pro thinks differently. He shows up, he does his work, he keeps on truckin', no matter what. -Steven Pressfield


Sunday, January 11, 2015

Day two in the Kitchen

New Home for fruit
After running errands, which included breakfast at our favorite diner, and getting a dedicated basket to hold fruit on the counter top, I sent DH “out for coffee” and started unloading all the rest of the cupboards. Wow. Piles of things covered all surfaces, including the floor. Lots of things: the largest category turned out to be plastic containers for food storage that I pulled from three cabinets (I think they must breed in there). These containers were not the repurposed variety, they were the good stuff: Tupperware™, Rubbermaid™. A lot of them were large sizes. With just two of us, large sizes make no sense. We needed to downsize.

An abundance of plastic containers
There were also some lids with no containers. How did that happen? A second category, pots and pans, also produced lids with no pans. So out they went. Baking pans, cupcake pans were in residence. Wait a minute, we don’t bake anymore, and besides some of those pans were in a condition I wouldn’t want to bake in. Out they went. A lovely simple ceramic tea pot, a cheerful ceramic pitcher, a salad bowl, all nice things that we haven’t used in years, out they went. I’m on a roll!

The donation boxes filled quickly. When DH arrived home from his day out and about, he claimed the large plastic containers (in like-new condition) for his beloved workplace, Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI) where they often have to find storage solutions for food after events. It feels good to know that some of the things we no longer need can be used by someone who does need them.

Cookbooks were another category to pare down. I used to buy cookbooks in the hope it would make me a better cook. The problem is that I would have to actually use the cookbooks and try recipes to improve my cooking skills. Not going to happen. I kept about half of the books on my one shelf and donated the rest. The keepers are subject to further reduction at a later date. If I could only keep one cookbook, it would be my old, trusty Joy of Cooking. I've had it since 1966, and it’s still my go-to book for almost everything.

Pantry for dry foods
We didn't have as much actual food as I thought we did, but it still takes up more room than I thought it would when consolidated into its designated pantry space.

With everything out in full view, and before putting things into the donation boxes, I was able to take stock and ask myself, “How do I feel?” I feel amazed that there is so much; I’m blessed with abundance. Not feeling wasteful, really, because there’s so much to share and people who could use these things. I feel relieved because I no longer have to be the “steward” of so many things, and because I don’t have to search through so many things to find the one I want. I feel lighter. I feel very tired.

A manageable number of plastic containers
And a really great thing about having DH help is that he has some ownership in what we have kept, and he knows where everything was put away. We can both function in the kitchen easily.
At the end of day two, DH took donations to the thrift store and put boxes to go to PARI in his car; we put things away in their cupboards; the food has a new “pantry” space (one of the cabinets that contained so much of the plastic containers as well as a cabinet that already contained dry foods).
The job still is not finished, though. There are four drawers that didn't get emptied out and culled. And, the dining room, open to the kitchen, still needs to be assessed. The cloth goods—pot holders, towels, dish cloths, napkins, placemats, coasters, etc.—still need to be looked at and Homes designated for those we keep.

I feel like this is the home stretch. I can see the end (I think). One more day should do it (I think).
It’s a good thing that, for the first few days of the year, we had no scheduled plans or events or appointments. It’s a good thing that DH was willing to participate in my project and help in ways I needed help. Almost done with the kitchen, yea!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Next Step: Unstuff the kitchen

Not too bad, right?

The kitchen is a good next step for me because I don’t have an overabundance of things in there (I think), and I’m not emotionally attached to most of the things. And, now armed with the questions from The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (especially “Does it spark joy?”), I can make easier decisions about things and respectfully let some of them go.

What’s in my kitchen, anyway? 

The computer-in-residence needs a new home!
The fruit needs a proper container.

After clarifying what I use the kitchen for (its intended use), the next step is a visual assessment of what’s on top of counter tops and ‘fridge, the visible stuff. I listed every item on the counters and ‘fridge, then took photos of everything. Wow. There’s more there than I thought. Most of it has become invisible, just part of the scenery. Some of the stuff I don’t even use; it has just taken up residence. The first step in this section of the process is to get real with myself. What do I really have? And do I really use it? And is it in the right place for use? We (DH and I) did the counter top clearing on New Year’s Eve.

So far so good. However, DH awoke on New Year’s Day with the suggestion that we go ahead and tackle the rest of the job this morning. Mellen, the author of Unstuff, recommends that you set aside two consecutive days for the emptying-cabinets-and-reloading-storage job because: One, when you empty all the cupboards and drawers, etc. the kitchen is in total disarray (disrupts your life), and two, you need to get the job done (a psychological issue). We had nothing else planned for New Year’s day and the day after.

Is enlisting spousal help a good thing?

DH’s offer of help turned out to be a mixed blessing. On the one hand, he has no patience with my need to delve into all the detail and theory offered in the book, especially if I try to read some of it to him. I needed to read through it so I’d know where we were heading, and how we were going to get there. He wanted to get to the part where we started doing something. He was ready for the action. In hindsight, I should have sent him for coffee or something while I finished reading the theory and got to the action part. I’m sorry to say I got a bit cranky.

Boxes ready to be filled
On the other hand, DH was very willing to do the lifting and find boxes for donations, and was really a willing helper. He also has great ideas (as mentioned in a previous post), and made a suggestion that we move the dishes from this cupboard to that cupboard and switch the things from that to this. Brilliant. This arrangement may help solve the log-jam of people (even with only two of us) that occurs in one corner of the kitchen. We’ll have to live with it for a while to see.

Shall we deviate from the plan laid out in the book?

Unfortunately, in the interest of not having the kitchen in disarray for very long, we only did about half the cupboards, the upper cupboards, and put the kitchen back together for use again. I say ‘unfortunately’ because given the way we did the job we missed some of the useful steps of assessing and eliminating some of our stuff outlined in the book. We did fill a rather large box for donation; but we only looked at and rearranged the upper cupboards, so the job still has to be completed.

Of the stuff we did get rid of, we agreed on most everything we wanted to donate. We do have a nice, rather large collection of stemware (we got from Arby's a decade ago) that has been awaiting the possibility of entertaining that never happens. We’re both reluctant to let them go, but don’t like to use them on a daily basis. So, it’s time to let someone else have them to entertain 12 of their closest friends. I can live with that.

Moving on to the rest of the stuff

Meanwhile, now that I've finished reading the chapter, I will send DH out to get coffee or something for a couple of days, and try for a whole-kitchen “Sorting-Purging-Arranging” and “Reloading the Storage.” It shouldn't be too difficult now that we've made a first pass. I just won’t get the full effect of ALL our stuff out at once.

According to Mellen, it is important to have all your stuff out so you can take stock of what you own, what you’re steward of, what you've accumulated. Ask yourself, “How do you feel?” “Are you feeling abundant… wasteful… sad… disappointed?” Sit with whatever for a few minutes (use a timer), and then move slowly and deliberately through your sorted piles. Pull out everything that you are certain that you don’t need, haven’t used, don’t know what it’s used for, and add it to the container for the thrift store.

“The beginning of the task is the identification of something obsolete. The end of the task is when it’s no longer in your possession. So it doesn't matter how you feel about any of this, it matters only that you finish!” 

So, it’s time to get in there and finish!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Tidying journey begins

Home for daily necessities
Now that the holidays are behind us, and I have control of the daily necessities (keys, wallet, mail, etc.), it's time to take action and finally tidy up (de-clutter) my home and my life. I hope to chronicle the process in this blog for several reasons:
  1. To have accountability, as in “So… How’s that tidying going? What progress have you made?”
  2. To declare a deadline for finishing, and
  3. To offer an example of one way to de-clutter/tidy up in the hopes that someone else who is struggling with the same issues can learn from my mistakes and successes. 

Using techniques I’m learning from several books and blogs, I plan to actually accomplish my goals instead of merely wishing and dreaming.

The three books on the top of my heap at the moment (in alphabetical order) are these: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo; SoulSpace by Xorin Balbes; and Unstuff Your Life by Andrew Mellen. All three of the books have you start by assessing your stuff/space, and asking and answering specific questions about and understand your stuff (SoulSpace), your relationship to stuff and your core values (Unstuff), and, the most important first question, “What motivated you to tidy in the first place?” (Tidying). There’s a fourth source, in addition to the three books mentioned above, that I will use to help answer the questions and connect my heart to the process: the Starter Kit from

In December, I made a great start by getting control of Purse, wallet, keys, mail, etc., using Chapter Two of Unstuff. If I do nothing else, that one step has made a real difference in how DH and I function. It feels good to be in control of at least one aspect of our lives. It feels so good that I'm motivated to keep going!

I answered the questions from Unstuff, and pondered the questions from SoulSpace, and now I've decided the next step is to answer the first question in Tidying, “What motivated you to tidy in the first place?” And then answer the very important second question, “What do you hope to gain by tidying?” (I think that “Tidying” has a more positive connotation than “de-cluttering”).

Before I answer those questions, though, I’d like to explain why I see this project as possible and doable within a deadline.

The all at once approach 

From The Life-Changing
Magic of Tidying Up

The job of tidying must be done all at once, according to Marie Kondo, in
Tidying Up. The gradual approach is too nebulous and open-ended; the task will never be done. I know this to be true from personal experience. I've tried de-cluttering for fifteen minutes every day; tried picking up and getting rid of one item every time I go through a room; tried de-cluttering one room at a time (this one still has merit with modification). The job seems overwhelming and never-ending. I compare the job of tidying to that of doing laundry.

Years ago, when starting out as a housewife, I did laundry every Monday (that’s the way it was done then). This included sorting, washing, drying, ironing, folding, and putting away. When I finished, the job was done for the week. Our family of four had all our clothes clean and ready to wear. For six whole days, I didn't have to even think about the laundry. It was done and everyone could find the clothes they needed. Done.

I still do laundry once a week, though I don't spend the whole day doing nothing-but-laundry. Now, I stay home one day/week to work on projects, and I deal with laundry during breaks. The result is the same: it's done for the week and I don't have to think about it for six whole days. Done.

The trend for doing laundry today seems to be a continuous daily process that is never done, and has you do a load (or more) of laundry every day (“A load a day keeps the laundry monster at bay”). That means there are clothes somewhere in the process all the time: Clothes in the sorting baskets; clothes in the washer that you have to remember to put in the dryer; clean clothes in a basket waiting to be folded; clean clothes folded and stacked on every surface in the bedrooms awaiting their owners to put them away. A couple of families in my life do laundry this way, so I've seen how it works. Now, I realize that when all the adults in the family are working, and all the kids are busy with soccer and other activities, finding a whole day for laundry could be impossible. The “load-a-day” system apparently works for them, and I’m all for what works for each family. I just personally find the “clothes-in-process-somewhere” system oppressive and demoralizing.

Likewise, I find the gradual or piecemeal approach to tidying (de-cluttering) just as oppressive and demoralizing. So, when I read in Tidying Up that Kondo recommends doing the whole job at once (she estimates that it takes 6 months), I felt an immediate connection to this way of thinking. This “all at once” approach sounds like the best way for me tackle my clutter monster. (The clutter in my house has become an oppressive monster in my mind.) So, if I can handle the job the way I do laundry, I might have a chance of reaching my goal of a clutter-free life. Once the initial tidying up is done, a clutter-free house is easier to maintain as such.

Homes for things, and keeping it all together

To help with the maintenance, you make a Home for everything and keep like things together. This tenet is a major part of the approach from Unstuff Your Life, as well: "a Home for Everything, and Like with Like." In the few areas of my house where do I have homes for things and keep like with like, I can function with ease. I can find things and return them to their homes almost without even thinking about it. And other people can always find the scissors or tape measure (for example), and return them to their homes. Easy.

Respect for your things

But making homes and keeping like with like isn't the whole story. The other side of living a clutter-free life involves a mind-set. How do you see the things in your life: on one hand do you see them as "things-that-need-to-be-conquered," or on the other hand do you see them as "friends or loved-ones?" Kondo’s approach includes the “friends or loved ones” attitude (those are not her terms, but they work for me). You only keep in your life things that spark joy, and you mindfully treat your things with respect (even those you are letting go). I’m ready to start treating my things with respect. 

The journey begins:

  1. First, set a deadline: July 1, 2015.
  2. Next, answer the important why questions (the process of which is explained so beautifully in the PilotFire Starter Kit).
  3. Meanwhile, continue to practice the “end-of-task” habit I talked about in an earlier post to maintain as much order as I can.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

I can find my keys!

December 1, 2014: I began to unstuff my life in earnest. After answering some tough questions about my relationship with things and people, and determining my core values (from chapter one), I started chapter two of Unstuff Your Life by Andrew Mellen by making a home for keys, purse, wallet, glasses, cell phone. And mail. And I got my hubby’s cooperation in the project. Woo hoo!

Before: the clutter just inside our usual entry
This first step seems so simple, almost a no-brainer. Who doesn't have a place for their keys/wallet/purse/glasses/cell phone (KWPGC)? These items are daily necessities. You can’t leave the house and function without them. And anyway, DH and I were pretty good about putting our KWPGC in the same vicinity almost all the time. Why the excitement?  Well, it turns out that “pretty good” isn't quite good enough. There were times when one of us would be searching for K, W, P, G, or C when we should have been leaving the house to go somewhere. There were times when DH would get to his volunteer job (an hour’s drive away) and discover that he had forgotten something (wallet, cell phone), not very often, but often enough to be memorable.

Besides, the place where we mostly kept our KWPGC was rather unsightly, a mess to look at when we came in the door or went into the kitchen/dining room. Our KWPGC didn't have a real Home. They just sort of existed on the counter inside the door, and sometimes they didn't even land there. So, as I said, pretty good isn't good enough. These items, the KWPGC, need a real Home; we need to be able to find them at a moment’s notice; we need to be able to grab them and go and be assured that we have everything we need every time. The Unstuff approach is the simplest, most practical method I've found so far from many de-cluttering/organizing books. You start with one very basic, necessary set of items you use every day and get control of them. Then, for a month, practice the habit of always, always, always (always) returning your KWPGC to their Homes. Always. Every time. No exceptions. 

Within two days, by making a real Home for our KWPGC, DH and I have made a dramatic difference in our lives. Not only can we always find our necessities, we enjoy the aesthetics of their new Homes.

Even though Mellen's approach calls for finding organizing solutions by using things you already own, I decided that a new shelf would be the best Home for all DH’s pocket things (including wallet and keys). I bought a lovely little shelf with three baskets in cubbies, and three hooks under the shelf for keys from Target. It’s the perfect size and configuration for DH. He has claimed it as his own, and has been really faithful with putting his things there as soon as he comes in the door.

Added center cabinet with drawer
My daily things already had a home in my purse (and I've been good about keeping them there). It was the purse that needed a real Home. For my purse’s Home, I was able to use a cabinet we already owned. The cabinet was in the garage, but was the same as a row of cabinets we have in the kitchen. There was a slot in the row of cabinets where the single cabinet from the garage could fit and look great. By moving that cabinet there, I eliminated the unsightly recycle bins (found them another Home), and added space, not only a shelf for my purse, but also a shelf (with basket) for incoming mail, and a drawer for “office” things (pens, note pads, stapler, letter opener, paper clips, etc.). So far this arrangement has been very handy and pleasing.

One shelf for purse and basket for things to take with me;
another shelf for incoming mail basket.
The second part of the first month’s Unstuff project is getting control of the mail. I did make a Home for the incoming mail (a basket in the cabinet where my purse lives), so now incoming mail goes there and does not live on the kitchen counter. So far so good. The problem is, I’m feeling a lot of Resistance to dealing with some kinds of mail (magazines, especially). In the Unstuff approach, there’s more to dealing with the mail than just making a Home for incoming mail, and that’s where I’m struggling. Mellen’s system also requires that one schedules regular times for processing, e.g. filing, and taking care of the action items from the mail, which is still a bit hit-or-miss for us.

The processing part mostly works: junk mail into recycle before it even comes into the house; and things to be filed into their basket. We just haven’t actually scheduled time for processing.  In the book there is also a process for dealing with catalogs (which works for us), and magazines. Magazines are another issue (pun intended). As part of my “art supplies,” magazines have a life of their own outside the mail processing system, and I haven’t really got a good Home or process for magazines. I promised myself I would address the Home for magazines issue before the end of the month, but …

MOST of my magazines (I think), gathered in one place

The Unstuff approach offers practical, concrete things you can do right away to make life easier. Getting control of daily necessities took only small effort for a big benefit. That was a category that didn't have too much “stuff” (well, maybe magazines), and so it was easy to implement the “Home for Everything” and “Like with Like” rules. This first step was quick and easy to implement at this busy time of year and helped us get through the holidays without losing or having to hunt for daily necessities. In the past, I've found that trying to de-clutter or organize bit by bit doesn't work for me. In this case, however, taking this one small category of things and getting control of it was a brilliant first step. 

Next up: from Unstuff, the kitchen; and from other sources, other compatible ideas. The journey has begun.

A Home for Everything and Like with Like… If everything you own has one home and only one home, it can only ever be two places… out being used or back in its home, awaiting its next use. – Andrew Mellen