Light and Loveliness

Reflections of Emily Sue Allen

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Put Clutter in it’s Place

Welcome friends.

This is day 10 of Soulful Simplicity, a 31-day series through the month of October. The first week of the series can be found here. I hope you are enriched by this series. If you have any questions or would otherwise like to connect, feel free to send me a note: lightandloveliness [at] gmail [dot] com.

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Have you ever wondered why the storage container industry is as lucrative as it is? Consider this cycle: A person buys some bins to hide the volume of their things away from view. More things find their way into the home. Person decides there is nowhere to put the new things because the existing bins are full of other stuff and it seems easier to add bins than to empty some. Person visits the container store for more bins. Not that I know anything about this cycle or anything.

It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we need more things in our lives in order to find more peace. Marketers put a lot of effort into sending us messages about what we ‘need’, and often we buy it (pun intended). Letting go of a few dollars feels less painful than the deeper, harder work of dealing with and clearing out the unnecessary things, so we settle for a temporary fix instead of engaging a real solution.

I feel like I should offer a confession that I am not the tidiest person, and organization has only become important to me in recent years because of the growing number of people who live in my house. Decluttering has become a necessary survival skill. Eight people living (and learning and making and eating) in a house can be a quick recipe for mayhem. It is simply not a choice to forego decluttering at regular intervals if I want to have any sense of order here.

In the past, clutter has been a source of shame for me. I am well aware that organization is not my forte, and have had a dramatic relationship with clutter for a lot of years. The constant, persistent, unending clutter cycle is at the top of my list for “things that make me frustrated”, and I have gone through cycles of ignoring it for as long as possible, followed by manic episodes of tearing apart every corner of the house–trying to purge unwanted stuff and not allowing anyone touch, play with, or make anything if it meant making a big mess to do it.

I have made a lot a progress in this area over the years. I don’t have any magic-bullet secrets for you, but I’ll share a few of the things that get me through.

Remembering my priorities and the purpose of my home helps me approach clutter and household organization with new eyes and intention.

I’m not a fan of perfectly organized homes at the expense of real-life lived with love, connection, and teamwork within the family. For me, remembering my priorities for family harmony help me both dig in to the decluttering process when its needed, and let it go when its not. My motivation is to hold the purpose of our home in high esteem, and all the effort I make to declutter and organize my home in light of that is made on purpose, not out of obligation or fear of the judgement of others.

Small steps toward order really make a difference. 

I see my household spaces a little bit like my refrigerator that can store what I put there for a time, but must eventually be inspected, cleaned out, and refreshed for the next items that need the space. When I take care of one small thing, that is one less thing left to do, and when I purpose to take a small step at a time, I don’t feel so overwhelmed by the larger need/project/task. Starting somewhere is the very thing that gets you places.

I try my best to deal with clutter matter of factly instead of getting caught up in clutter-drama.

I already know that I have to tackle the clutter monster at my house on a daily basis in order to create space for us to learn together, eat together, and rest together. I set micro-goals for myself to accomplish as I’m able (10 minutes on a timer with music in a particular space, one bigger organization project per week, etc) and find that knowing my organization/decluttering goals are met for the week help me continue making progress without allowing this stuff to hijack my other priorities. If I start getting discouraged, excessively frustrated, and less-than-kind with my kids about it, I will set everything down and come back to it when I have shed the drama. Most often, these are the times I’ll pack up and head to the park where there are lovely trees overhead and laughing children—all at a distance from me so I can clear my mind.

If I’m decluttering a room, I work from the perimeter and sweep or move everything into the center of the room where it can be seen. 

My kids know that when the pile starts forming, it is their job to find like items in it and put them together and/or put them away. On the spot, someone gets assigned lego (since there are lego bricks in literally every room of my house at all times), someone gets assigned recycleable items and prowls around with a paper grocery bag to get all the recycling into it, someone takes on shoes and laundry, etc. This real-time teamwork provides us a good amount of momentum, supplies an opportunity for the kids to work together and encourage each other, and has been more effective for me than assigning specific chores to individual children to be completed separately. It also makes clean up time last about 10 minutes when it would easily take me an hour by myself.

If I’m decluttering a closet, pantry, or closed container, I find a staging area and dump everything out where it can be seen. 

Then I instruct the kids to go through the same process of sorting and returning things to their proper places, with a heavy emphasis on things that go in the donate pile or trash bag. These are often the “once-a-week” deeper projects I engage, and once one is done for the week, I turn my attention to other things until the next week. I feel like this process keeps it manageable for me

Clutter seems to have the biggest hold when I don’t see it for what it is: stuff that takes up space but has no place or purpose in my home.

I find it easier to say goodbye to what is unnecessary when I can look at it and realize that it serves no purpose other than to make more work for me. No thanks, and out it goes!

What are some ways that you put clutter in its place? I’d love to hear your wisdom on this topic.

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