Decluttering Our Closet

One of my absolute favorite things in life is problem solving. I get gleeful when I find a solution to something that’s not working quite right in our home. I will think and think and think about it until I figure it out. It helps to be married to someone who is great at solving problems in a totally different way than I am. I’ll think for hours about something, whereas Ben will throw out wild, crazy ideas off the top of his head, and some of them are just too wild and crazy to be of use, but some jolt me out of the rut I’m stuck in, and give me a few more hours’ worth of material to mull over. I love mulling.

My latest problem to solve was in our closet. We have a massive closet, which is interesting since it’s my goal to own as few clothes as possible, without getting completely bored of my options. We simply do not need all that space, but you know what happens with space? We fill it. It’s so easy to get careless when there’s so much room to spread out, and I’ve been getting lazy with how I’m storing things.

I walked into my closet the other morning and thought, “This is stressful and unappealing. I want a pretty closet.” When I expressed this desire to Ben, he said blankly, “I never think about stuff like that.”

“I do,” I replied. “Our closet is ugly.”

He said, “I think you spend a lot more time in our closet than I do. I just go in and get my clothes.”

“That’s all I do, too, but I still think it’s ugly,” I told him.

So I stood in our closet and stared really hard at everything to figure out what the problem was, and suddenly it hit me: Everything making a mess could either be gotten rid of, or stored somewhere else. My goal was a bare, beautiful dresser, and zero clutter. And maybe some pretty pictures on the wall, eventually….

I started hauling things out. It has made the hugest difference for me. I can’t wait to go in there each morning, because that wide open space is peaceful and soothing to my soul. Three kids can produce astonishing amounts of clutter which I find difficult to keep under control, but they don’t mess up my closet, so this space stays as clean as I keep it.

Those piles cluttering up my dresser sat there for five years, and I never once thought it would be possible to get rid of them. They needed to be there. Except they didn’t, and I can’t believe, once again, how awesome it feels to ditch the clutter, pare down the belongings, and simplify.

I stand in the doorway to our closet and just look at it. I made Ben look at it, too, and he was moderately impressed, but I don’t know if he would have noticed if I hadn’t forced him to admire it. But that’s fine – I did it for me.

It makes me curious what other clutter areas are completely unnecessary, if I can only figure out how to think outside the box. Now I need to go make the rest of my house look as clean as this closet.;)

What do you think – is there any clutter in your house you’ve believed you NEED, but maybe you don’t?!

 

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Lightening My Load

I did something hard this weekend: I packed away all of my old cookbooks.

cookbooks

That doesn’t sound as though it should be very difficult, but as with most things, there was so much emotional baggage along for the ride, it was about far more than cookbooks.

Here’s the thing: It’s been over five years since I drastically changed my diet for health reasons, and it’s been a little over a year since the rest of my family joined me. Ben and the girls don’t have as restricted a diet as I do, but we haven’t had gluten, sugar or dairy in our house for a year.

I’ve bought some really great new cookbooks which contain many of my new favorite recipes, but for some reason, I just kept hanging on to those old cookbooks.

I kept thinking I might need them. (Hello, Pinterest. Really, no one would ever need to buy another recipe book.)

I kept thinking that someday, we might eat that food again. (I don’t know why – I feel so much better eating this way, I never want to go back to what we ate before.)

It seemed so scary and final to get them out of my life.

But we have some big changes happening in our house which are forcing me to do some major purging. After living here for a year, we’ve decided to let the girls have their own rooms. We wanted them to share a bedroom for a while, just to have the experience of it, and to learn how to live in a shared space.

With Anika turning 10 this year, and with an increasing need for her own space, we feel it’s a good time to make some changes.

Which means we lose our office. Suddenly, we have a lot of stuff from our office that needs to find a new home, so every drawer and shelf in the rest of the house needs to become extremely useful, organized and efficient.

A whole shelf of cookbooks which I haven’t touched in years does not seem to fit any of those descriptions.

So I packed them up. And I felt a little scared.

And then I felt really, really free.

I kept opening the doors to look at my newly organized space. I love making supper now, and going to my cupboard for a recipe book. I feel extremely organized and efficient as I grab the exact book I need without having to sort through clutter and mess to find it.

It makes me feel happy and comfortable to see only the books I actually use in my cupboard. I’m not being constantly reminded of all the food I can’t have – I’m reminded of how this is my new way of life, and I’m completely happy and settled in it.

cookbooks

“Settled” is pretty wonderful. Why didn’t I do this a few years sooner?

And what else can I get rid of that no longer defines my life or meets my current needs? How can I lighten the load?

I read a blog post on Monday morning which hit the spot: What’s Keeping You From Going Further?

“We often add all these “extras” to our packs, just in case. They could be extra clutter, unhealthy relationships, bad habits or self-sabotaging thoughts. Or maybe these extras give you a false sense of security.

The truth is that while they seem light independently, the weight of all those extras in your pack is unsustainable if you want to lead a beyond-average life.

Those just-in-case items are keeping you from a life of efficiency and focus. They’re keeping you from pursuing your dreams.”

Well now. Keeping my old cookbooks, or pursuing my dreams? That seems like an easy choice!:)

The feeling of decluttering is addicting! I am just getting started, and I can’t wait to keep attacking those closets and cupboards!

Have you ever hung on to belongings because they give you a false sense of security? Ever been reluctant to redefine your life and your stuff?

Why (and How!) I’m Choosing to Own Less Clothes

My feelings toward clothing changed when I became pregnant.

Suddenly, there was a very real and urgent need for an entirely new wardrobe. At no other time in my life have I ever gone out and purchased an entire new wardrobe.

It is very painful on the budget to do so. It was kind of stressful for me.

So I sat down and made a list of what was absolutely necessary. (That list looks a lot different when it’s made on paper, at home, rather than mentally, in the store, as you are already trying on a super fantastic shirt that fits perfectly and brings out the color of your eyes.)

As I thought about my needs honestly, logically, and frugally, I realized I needed only eight outfits, if I did laundry once a week – eight shirts or sweaters, and three pairs of pants. For me, I knew this was enough, and I couldn’t really justify getting more than that.

So that’s what I bought. I owned very nice maternity clothes, and all of it was great quality that was still in good shape at the end of my pregnancy.

I was a tiny little bit sick of my clothes by the end, but looking back, I actually miss those clothes. I really liked them.

And then I wasn’t pregnant anymore. And suddenly, I fell into thinking that I needed about five times as much clothing as I had during my pregnancy.

I started shopping much more carelessly, and without a list or even a real idea of what I truly needed. If there was room in the clothing budget, it meant I could buy new clothes, whether I really needed them or not. And before I knew it, there I was with a closet full of more clothes than what I truly needed.

Every week, that bothered me. I remembered the simple feeling of an empty closet on laundry day – the sure sign that I didn’t have too many clothes, because they had all been used, and all need to be washed.

I missed those days.

For a long time, I knew I should do something about it.

And then one day I finally did do something about it.

Here’s how I did it (keeping in mind that I’m a stay-at-home mom who doesn’t have to glide out of the house looking sophisticated or professional – ever) :

1) I wear only what I love.

I would rather wear my favorite jeans every single day of the week, than force myself to wear the ones that don’t really fit well, and don’t make me feel good about the way I look. But I wear them because I feel like I have to. Like people will think I’m weird if I wear the same pair of pants every time they see me.

Um..so what? And will anyone really even notice? And if they notice, do I truly need to care?

2) I wear out what I have.

When I own fewer clothes, I actually wear them out, because I use them a lot. Great! Then I will actually need to go out and buy new stuff. I never used to need new clothes. I wanted new clothes, so I had to somehow justify a reason for buying them that didn’t sound as lame as, “I want to be more stylish.”

But when you have oodles of clothes, you don’t wear them out, because they’re hardly worn. Better to shop well, spend less, own less, and then replace it when you really need to.

3) I try to shop with intention.

I never spent a lot of money on clothing, and I don’t think I had more clothing than the average person. But I thought shopping was fun, and my lines were blurry when it came to what I needed or what I wanted. I felt guilty sometimes for buying something I really loved, but knew deep down I probably didn’t really need.

That list I made when I was pregnant? That was a good list. It is good to know what I truly need. Shopping with intention, rather than for the fun of it, gets rid of the guilt, and is much easier on the budget and on the closet.

4) And then I stay away from the mall.

Very logical, I know. But as I don’t need as many clothes, and I don’t spend very much time  shopping, I can’t believe how much freer my life feels. I went on a shopping spree in January, and bought a number of things that I needed, all at once.

Now I don’t need to go shopping again for a very long time. I’m not tempted to buy stuff I don’t need if I don’t go into a mall. I am able to make logical choices more easily, because I don’t have “shopping brain”. I will need a new pair of jeans in the not-too-distant future. In the past, I would just have gone out and bought them already. But now, I realize that I can make it work with what I have until summer, maybe even fall.

Because you know what? Everyone can totally survive, even if a pair of my “at home” jeans have a hole in the knee. I don’t like wearing jeans with holes, but when I’m crawling around, washing the floor or playing Polly Pockets, it really is okay if my jeans have a small hole. Let’s wait for something a little more serious before we rush to the mall.

5) I’m trying to stop thinking about my clothes altogether.

I find enjoyment in things that look nice. Which is okay, unless it gets out of hand. Or if it starts defining who I am.

Nobody notices what I’m wearing as much as I do.

Some people don’t notice at all!

But they probably notice if I’m nice and friendly to them, and if the things I say build them up and brighten their day.

It is so time to get over myself. Nothing wrong with nice clothes. I will continue to take pleasure in things that look nice. But there are so many things that matter so much more.

I want to focus on what truly matters.

There are people who can do this while still having a huge, super-fantastic, fashionable wardrobe. And that’s awesome.

For me, I have found that as I pursue a simpler life, I am able to better focus on the important stuff when I strip away some of the distractions.

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There are some great posts to read on this topic. I found Katie’s “No New Clothes Challenge” an interesting read.

All of Rachel Meeks’ tips on dressing well with a small wardrobe are worth reading.

And of course, I am a huge fan of Joshua Becker‘s tips to living with less in general. This is the article that inspired my wardrobe changes: 7 Ways to Sample Living With Less

Okay, your turn! I’d love to hear your opinion. Do you shop out of need or pleasure? How do you find a balance between the two?

Tips For Purging

I am in pursuit of a simple, joyful life.

Lately, I’ve been achieving this through purging. Who knew there could be so much magic in the act of purging?!

I wrote a post on Friday about how purging is changing the way I feel about my life, but since then, I’ve been thinking there’s a lot more to be said about the topic.

Getting rid of stuff can be hard to do. It can be even harder to get your family on board, so today, I’m going to share with you a few of the practical tips I’ve been using to help my family purge along with me!

1. Provide physical evidence of what items do not get used.

Toys – I used to think our girls played with all the toys they owned. Maybe not all the time, but we don’t have tons of toys, and surely they would miss some of those fantastic toys if I just got rid of them.

Just to be sure, I put the toys to the test. I arranged a number of toys in a corner of our living room where they would be easily accessible, and over the next few days, I watched to see which ones my girls grabbed first. After a week, there were some that had never been touched. Out they went! The girls never even noticed.

Clothes A few years ago, Ben needed a little enlightenment. He was CONVINCED that he truly did wear all of his clothes in our closet. I was pretty positive he didn’t.

I had read in some organizing book that a simple way of testing this is to turn around all of your hangers so they’re hanging “backwards”. On laundry day, when you’re hanging up all the clean clothes, turn the hanger back so it’s hanging the way it normally does, and after a few weeks, you’ll have a pretty good idea, from the direction of your hangers, which items are not being worn.

I did this without telling Ben. He noticed the hangers looking a little funny, but never thought any further about it, and I never said anything. After a few months, I finally told him my little secret, and convinced him to get rid of almost all of his unused clothing. (Some really dressy stuff just isn’t used regularly, but we still needed to keep it.)

And apparently, we absolutely need to keep the sports jersey collection from around the world. Even if they aren’t worn, like…ever.

2. Get rid of things in stages.

A Box of Extras – Some things are just hard to get rid of. I get that. But it doesn’t mean they should be kept. For myself, I’m finding that if I don’t purge until it hurts a bit, I’m probably not getting rid of enough.

But sometimes, you just can’t let go. Ben has a navy fleece hoodie he really doesn’t wear, but he is unwilling to part with it. He believes a day will come when that hoodie will be the only article of clothing which will perfectly suit his needs.

And that’s fine. It’s his clothing, and I’m not going to bully him into getting rid of it. But he is okay with me putting a box on a shelf in our closet marked “Ben’s Extra Clothing”, where he can pull it out if he needs to. He’s agreed that if he hasn’t used the clothing in that box one year from now, we can get rid of it at that point.

I use the same method for our bathroom. I have a bin in our linen closet for items I’m not sure if we need, so we’ll wait for awhile, and if, in a few months, we haven’t taken anything out, I’ll feel okay about getting rid of everything.

The Second Sweep – I had already gone through our closet within the last six months, and there were some items I knew deep down I didn’t really use, but I just wasn’t ready to part with them. I left them in the farthest corning of the closet, rather than getting rid of them.

This time, I’m ruthless. It all goes. And somehow, something’s changed in the last six months. I almost got rid of stuff last time, and this time I’m actually able to let go. (Good grief, you’d think we were talking about something important here, but it’s just clothes! Still, it can be really hard!)

I thought it was just me, but then I read this blog post about going over things a second time, to get rid of even more. And that’s okay! Whether it’s a box to save for later, or going through things a second time, it’s okay to take some time to sort things out. Do what you need to do.

3. Get rid of the guilt.

Gifts – The most common reason I keep things is because of guilt. What if the person who gave me this item asks about it? (Do they ever?) What if they happen to see it at the thrift store I bring it to? (Seriously, what are the chances of that actually happening? Bring it to a thrift store far away from them!)

What I’ve come to realize is that whether the item was a gift or not, it’s still just STUFF. That person gave me stuff. Why? Because they love me, and wanted to express it in physical form. They wanted to bring pleasure to my life with an act of thoughtfulness and kindness.

And that is wonderful. I will bask in the kindness of receiving a gift from someone who loves me. I will focus on the intent behind the gift given. If I need  it and can use it, I will certainly do so.

If I  can’t make use of it, I will still be grateful for their thoughtfulness…and then I will send the gift to the thrift store. That may sound a little harsh, but for the sake of letting go of guilt and objects I do not need or want, I am choosing to think about the feelings behind the act of giving, rather than the object given.

Mistakes I Purchased –  I should not have bought that shirt. It fits funny. We did not need that popcorn popper, seeing as we never eat popcorn. I thought we might start eating it, but we didn’t.

I keep stuff because I think I should be using it.

No, I shouldn’t. We use what we use. I should not have to force myself to use our stuff. IT IS STUFF. If we haven’t used it yet, there’s an extremely good chance we never will. Get rid of it.

For some good reading on the emotions we attach to the things we own, read this post.

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And what if I suddenly realize we need an item we no longer have because I got rid of it?

Well, in all my years of moving and purging and simplifying, I don’t even remember it happening, until this last week! Anika came home from Awana and announced that she needed to wear green for St. Patrick’s Day this week.

Her only green shirt was in one of the eight boxes I had packed up to send to the thrift shop.

I had two choices – go through all those boxes (Please don’t make me!!), or buy a new green shirt for Anika.

But then I thought a little longer, and realized I had a few more options – she could borrow one from a friend, or I could look through a boxful of clothes that are a size too big for her, and waiting to be used next year. For one night, she could wear a shirt a size too big.

And guess what – there was a green shirt!! I was saved from the first two options, thank goodness!!

Moral of the Story: If you get rid of something you later end up needing, you might be able to find a way around it. It will just take some effort and creativity, but is that so bad?

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Your turn! I am eagerly awaiting any purging tips you care to share!

What I’m Learning As I Purge Our House

There was a time in my life when I moved at least once a year. It was during those college years, and the years of being newly married, before Ben and I finally built our little house in Niverville.

During that stretch of time, I didn’t have a lot of junk. I used what I owned, and I got rid of the rest. Moving is very handy that way.

But during the times when we’ve stayed in the same place for a number of years, and added a couple of kids to our family, oh my word, is it ever easy to store up stuff!!

STUFF! Tons of it is so unnecessary.

So as our moving day is approaching, I’m purging away like crazy, and I have lots of time to think while I’m emptying drawers and packing up boxes of belongings I do not wish to belong to anymore.

Here are some of the things I’m learning while getting ready to move again:

1. The less stuff I own, the happier I am.

I always think that shopping and getting new things is fun and exciting. But how long does the excitement last? (And how shallow is that excitement, anyway?!)

I’m finding that when I own less stuff, I get rid of guilt in my life over things I shouldn’t have bought in the first place, or don’t use because I don’t like it but feel that I should be making use of it.

For example, I read somewhere that we only wear 15% of the clothes we own. That’s a pretty small amount of clothing. I think I need lots of clothing so I will have lots of variety, and not get tired of my clothes, but then I only end up wearing my favorite stuff, anyway.

So I got rid of all the clothing I don’t actually like and never actually use, and it feels wonderful. You would not believe the joy I receive when I open our closet, and see only my favorite things in there. Pure happiness.

2. The more I get rid of, the less I feel like shopping.

All the effort of sorting and purging makes me think twice about buying more stuff. When I think about how much money I spent on all that stuff, and now it’s just getting shipped off to MCC, it seems like a very big waste.

When I choose to buy something, I am spending money on it, I’m spending energy on it by shopping for it, and then organizing it, and finally getting rid of it.  It would be better not to buy so much stuff in the first place.

To read more on that topic, check out this fantastic blog post.

3. There is a very fine line between owning stuff, and having it own you.

I want to have things. I want to own things. I look at stuff on Pinterest, and it is very beautiful. I go to the mall, and suddenly, I am very convinced that I must own all of those wonderful new things that will make me appear more stylish and trendy and rich. (It sounds so ugly, but let’s just get it all out there, shall we?)

But then I come home, and all of my stuff controls how much time I have to spend cleaning and organizing. My stuff takes up room in our house and in my head. I didn’t actually realize it until I started getting rid of it. When there is no guilt about items I’m not using, and there are no objects to clean around, and the girls actually play with most of their toys, and I actually like reading all of the kids books in the basket, I wonder why in the world I put up with all that stuff for so long. Now that it’s gone, I can feel the space it left behind – and it’s a very, very good kind of a space.

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Now, I realize that not everybody is actually moving right now, and are therefore not experiencing the same motivation. If you wish you had that same motivation, you could always try the little game Ben and I used to play when we were living in Niverville. We cleaned out our basement one spring, and the question we asked ourselves over and over again was, “If we were moving to Africa, would we keep this?”

Africa, because it needed to be somewhere very far away to make it more dramatic and obvious which items would have to be stored, and which items just WERE NOT WORTH IT!! It worked very well. I highly recommend it.

Wouldn’t it be fun if MCC stores were suddenly swamped with boxes because everyone was “moving to Africa”? 🙂 So much freedom, so much joy.

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For some practical tips on purging, read this post.