Sorting Through Ten Years Of Stuff
Posted on May 20, 2021 Posted by Athena Scalzi 83 Comments
For pretty much most of my life, my room has been a mess. I’ve always considered myself someone who is a bit disorganized and a little messy, but it’s never really been noticeable because I’ve lived with my parents my whole life, and my mom always picked up after me before I’d even start to notice that I’d made a mess at all. Now that I’m not a child, and I treat my mom like a maid way less, I’ve noticed that maybe I don’t have all my eggs in my basket.
My room has never been, like, dirty. There’s no dishes piled up, no food rotting, and there certainly aren’t bugs and muddy shoes in the corners. It’s not filthy or anything. It’s always just been very full of stuff. Mostly clothes. In fact, more often than not, the thing preventing my bed (and floor) from being seen is stacks of clean, folded clothes that my mom has laundered for me and left for me to put away. But I never put them away, so they just end up hanging out.
For years, my room has been a point of stress for me. I don’t enjoy being in my room, I never hang out in my room, and I never showed friends that came over my room. Every time I looked at it, I would just feel overwhelming stress and anxiety. I wanted it clean. But how could I go about cleaning it? It seemed like so much work, and even thinking about it was too much effort.
The only thing I’ve used my room for for the past few years is getting dressed in it, and sometimes sleeping in it (I actually sleep on the couch a lot because I can’t be bothered to move everything off my bed so I can sleep on it).
So, needless to say, it was time for a change. But, like I said, the very idea of change was so incredibly overwhelming, I almost would’ve rather continued to suffer than even begin to attempt to clean it.
Basically, my issue is that I have too many clothes. My closet and two dressers were completely packed with clothes, and everything that was laying around my room was clothes that I just didn’t have space for. I physically could not put away my clothes, they had nowhere to go.
So, why not just get rid of some clothes? Certainly I don’t need that many when I really only wear like, the same five outfits over and over again, right? I seem to have a bit of hoarding tendencies, though. I can’t seem to let go of stuff. I want my stuff. I bought it because I like it, so why would I get rid of it? What if I get rid of it and then miss it? I can’t bear to let go of things, even if I didn’t remember I had it until I saw it.
I knew that cleaning my room would be hard for me, and push me out of comfort zone, but I truly felt it had to be done. I can’t continue living life with my own bedroom making me miserable everyday. So, I took to the closet. Without a doubt, the closet is the biggest issue. This is because for the past decade, everything I don’t need has been shoved in there. Everything I’ve decided to just put out of sight and get back to later, now bursting out into the rest of my room.
To prepare, I went to the store and bought the entire supply of extra large totes. They had six, which seemed like plenty, if not one or two too many. However, I ended up filling every single tote to the brim by emptying my entire closet. Pajamas I wore in fourth grade, board games and harmonicas from my childhood, friendship bracelets from summer camp, art supplies from every year of elementary school, con badges through the ages, so much fucking shit.
I filled two big trash bags with things I could actually bring myself to toss (like the boxes of crayons from third grade), and then put all the totes in the basement. Currently, my closet now stands empty for the first time in my life since we moved in in 2001.
It took a few hours, but I was on a grind and managed to get through the hardest part. Then, I took a break, and now it’s been two days since I’ve touched it. I have a very bad habit of starting something, taking a break, and then never returning to it. It’s a lifelong problem, and I knew that if I tried it with my room, I’d do the same thing, but I did it anyways. Now I have to re-motivate myself to get back to it.
I keep telling myself the hardest part is already over, so it should be easy to get back to working on it, but good lord I do not want to continue working on it. I just want it to be done. But it takes longer than a couple hours to undo years of disorganization and neglect.
My long term plan is to paint, put in new carpet, get a bed frame, and get new furniture. Why so much change, you may ask? Well, when I was eleven, my parents got the entire house painted and carpeted, and I got to pick whatever colors I wanted for my room. Up until then, I’d had white carpet and white walls, and I was eleven, so obviously I picked purple carpet and black and pink walls. Over a decade later, I am so beyond sick of it.
This time, I’m thinking of going for light blue walls with a light grey accent wall, light grey carpet, white baseboard, and white dressers. But we’ll see what I actually end up deciding on after I manage to finish cleaning my room.
Definitely a bit of a first world problem here, but it’s exhausting having so many material possessions, I don’t want this many! But it’s almost painful for me to not have stuff. I can’t get rid of it, though simultaneously I feel desperate to be rid of it, y’know?
Anyways, taking care of my room is something that is a long time coming. As difficult as it is, I wish I’d done it sooner. I’ve literally been unhappy with it for years. Like how do I do that to myself?! How do I let my own room be a problem in my life? No longer, I say!
I thought about taking before and after pictures, but I don’t think I could stand to let anyone see how bad it was. It was a depression den. I don’t want people to see that, you know? I want my room to look nice and neat and pretty, not be a visual representation of my declining mental health.
So, yeah, the end of this post is me vowing to myself and to y’all that as soon as I submit this post, I’m going to go work on my room! I have to get through it! It’s almost done. I can do this. Right? Right.
Can confirm Athena is, at this moment, clearing out her room of stuff.
Oof! So many of your posts, Athena, I feel like you’re me, just 30 years ago.. :)
Hoarder of emotional things and clothing (especially given weight changes)? Check
Procrastinator extraordinaire? Check
Frustrated with clutter but can’t seem to move past keeping everything? Check
Totally overwhelmed by all of it? Double check!!
At 53 I’m just now starting to get a handle on the clutter and stuff in my house. One of the things I’ve learned is that you shouldn’t buy any new storage solutions until AFTER you’ve decluttered. Buying totes and boxes only means you’ll fill them up with more stuff and they’ll become more clutter you’ll deal with a few years from now.
I’m finally getting a handle on things around here and realizing how nice it is to have a clean, open space. It’s by no means minimalist because I will never be that, but it’s less full of stuff that makes me edgy and feel hemmed in and trapped.
I know it’s trite and some people are put off by it, but I really did get a lot of incentive from reading Marie Kondo’s “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”. The book by itself didn’t do it for me, but watching her on the Netflix series made the book come alive and made me sort of understand that she’s not about “minimalism”, just about less clutter.
The idea of keeping items that spark joy has helped me immensely – and learning how to determine what “sparks joy” and what that means for me has been so helpful.
It might be worth it for you to check out the Netflix series, if not the book!
I can’t necessarily speak to your room as a whole, but Albert Einstein famously pointed out that “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” Mine–like most other horizontal surfaces in my office–is piled to the angle of repose, yet I can somehow lay my hands fairly quickly on almost anything I want (by moving some of the overburden to other surfaces).
I suspect that the urge to hang onto stuff correlates directly with how hard it is, or was, or was perceived to have been, hard to get. That said, we’re currently torn between the ideas of a giant potlatch…or renting a 10-yard roll-on dumpster.
W/r/t clothes in particular (but other stuff as well), these are times when all too many people are having a hard time getting what they need. Think nonprofit thrift stores!
Sounds like quite an undertaking! good job tackling it!
By the way, Old crayons can be combined with cardboard egg cartons to make great fire starters for when camping or setting up a bonfire or something. I expect you can find a video about it on Youtube if you’re curious.
I’ve been doing a remarkably similar thing. I will have been in my current place for a decade in a few months, and I’m seriously considering moving.
Little known fact: when you live alone in a place that’s too big for one person, possessions begin to grow of their own accord. Books begin crowding each other out and building up in piles. You find jackets you can’t remember in that closet in the room you don’t go in that often. Half-finished projects bloom that never complete themselves.
It is the sort of thing that leads to cost-benefit analysis along the lines of, “I probably shouldn’t google ‘disappear in Mexico’ from my own machine.” And “Maybe I could just die, instead. That sounds so much easier and pleasant than moving.”
Geez I figured by the time I commented there’d be about a hundred ‘me too’ comments before mine. I once thought about hiring someone to come to my house and clear out all the junk. But then I realized I, too, couldn’t stand to let anyone else see it.
I keep vowing to get to it and sometimes I do. But each time I clear out a little bit, twice as much seems to fill the space. It’s like my house has a horrible disease, except I can’t blame it on the house. Or can I?
Have you checked out the Unfuck Your Habitat Tumblr/website/book/branding machine?
I never learned how to clean, it was tied to stressful times in my life, life was too short to clean. The UfYH method and lots of swearing has made me get to the point where I can have mere acquaintances over with 5 minutes notice…. as long as they don’t get too nosey….
Also, I just got sucked into the wool& challenge (wear one of their dresses for 100 days straight, they give you $100 to buy another) and the Facebook group that goes along with it is the sweetest, most positive web place I’ve ever been. (The second most positive place is YNAB – you need a budget- but maybe that’s enough advice from a stranger for today)
Unfuck your habitat may be of use to you:
It addresses big jobs in organizing a space and breaking it down, but it isn’t “mom and kids” housekeeping stuff.
Your stuff is not being loved and used. It should go where it will be loved!
That thought helps me get rid of stuff. It’s not a loss; it’s someone else’s gain.
If it’s hard to bundle stuff off to Goodwill and unknown recipients, perhaps you could invite friends over for a giveaway.
I feel this. Marie Mondo’s book finally helped me find a way to let go off all my stuff, so much so that we actually ended up selling our house & downsizing to a much smaller place. The stuff went to charity, to people who actually needed clothes and such, and the house turned a nice profit 😁. Three years later, I can say that we are happier, less stressed and depressed, healthier, and enjoy company, in small doses. Still introverts, but happy in our space, with only stuff that we truly love or is frequency used. I wish you fortitude and joy in your process!
My technique (for myself and my daughters) is to empty the closet of EVERYTHING. It all goes in the downstairs hallway. The only items allowed back in are those that were dug out of the hallway and used. This takes months but is effective. Next do the bureau, then the stuff under the bed, etc.
Good luck. It is never easy.
*Kondo! Marie Kondo. Argh autocorrect 😃😳
Good job! You are starting the process way younger than I did. My first purge was in 2001 when I moved from my 1400 sq foot house in Phoenix to a 900 sq foot house in Tucson. In Phoenix I had an entire bedroom full floor to ceiling with crap. The rest of my house was nominally clean for guests. Me second was in 2006 when I planned to move to Costa Rica. I got rid of literally everything. I even auctioned off dozens of my own paintings for pennies on the dollar. I filled one of those giant garbage cans in the alley with snapshots. Then I didn’t move. Instead I got married and started acquiring stuff again, along with having a photo gallery which required a printer, frames, and flat files full of unsold photos. When O got divorced, all that stuff moved into a 600 sq ft guest house. There simply wasn’t enough room, so, like you, I never had guests. This spring, I retired to Oaxaca and made it my goal to drive down in my CRV and still be able to see out the back. I took some books, three boxes of small art pieces by my friends, two laptops, a camera and some camping stuff. That is all my possessions now. Isn’t purging fun!
sorry about the typos
When I had my first child, my office had to be emptied to make room for him. It was overwhelming (and I was pregnant!) but it had to be done. One of my friends came over and her mantra was “DARE TO TOSS!” Each time I managed to get something into the “out of the house” or recycle pile, she reminded me I was being brave. If I hesitated, she’d say again “DARE TO TOSS!”. 25 years later, there is not a single thing I tossed that I miss now. It’s become an awesome mantra for me, too, especially on purging days. (Though Marie Kondo would find my place too cluttered, but, hey, we all can’t be minimalists!)
You can do this! fwiw, I am still hoarding a few things from much younger/slimmer/more fabulous days, but moving from a giant 2BR/2BA lifetime apartment with a 12-ft-wide reach-in to a tiny tract house with a 5-ft-wide reach-in kind of forced some decisions.
Also fwiw my bedroom has a different color of paint on each wall. Voyage Blue, Fashion Grey, Ultra Pure White, and a metallic gold. The grey and gold walls are for art, the blue one is behind my bed. One of the great things about paint: it is really quite easy and inexpensive to change. :-)
Good job, Athena! Hope you’ll be happier.
I tried putting date stickers on stuff, and if it wasn’t used in 6 months to a year, out it went. But it didn’t work so well and required too much self maintenance.
The only thing that has worked is the trade rule: if I want something new, I have to get rid of something like it first.
Anyway, keep at it. You got this!
GO GO GO!!! YOU CAN DO IT! DARE TO PARE!
My mantras when decluttering are to chuck things I’m not using that are sold every day at Walmart, and keep things I will use, not some pretend version of me that sits in gauzy dresses in the backyard sipping afternoon tea or makes her own pasta or does other things real me is never gonna do.
If I can’t find the thing, I’ll forget I have it and end up buying a new one anyway.
One way to deal with this is to toss what you can, and box the rest. Then, once a week, schedule a steady evening to either clean or, once a month, go through a box (or tote). You might find yourself deciding you really can give away those PJs. Or maybe you actually do need that sweater, and it can go back into the drawer. That way, you’ll feel less bad about storing stuff, and less pressure to decide now.
We all have stuff. George Carlin has a very funny schtick about it (NSFW). Eventually, most of us enter what I call the deacquisition phase of life, usually after 60 or 70, when we start to get rid of stuff. Those that don’t doom their children or friends to needlessly filling dumpsters. Better to recycle it and pass it on usefully now, and know it’s being put to good use.
I am a notorious pack-rat. I horde things (which is likely why I am an Aries Dragon astrologically)
That said, I can greatly relate to having so much stuff and the very difficult urge to clean it up or throw it out.
Congratulations on starting this effort and I hope you continue to work on it
Cleaning is overrated. Witness:
Replace “clothes” with “books” and you’ve described me. I did a major purge over the past 2 years, getting rid of 2/3 of my books. Yet I still have too many books.
Don’t worry John, I’m guessing I’ve still got 70% of your books somewhere around here. The other 30% I didn’t notice you’d published (currently reading Fuzzy Nation from the library, which I wasn’t aware of until about a week ago) (PS, I’m loving it, and will be looking for the Piper version)
Having some “precious” items stolen in a couple of burglaries a couple of decades ago turned out to be a good thing for me. Not that I’d recommend it, but it got a lot easier to be ruthless. Next step: culling at least 50% of the books in the house, starting with anything buried so deeply that I’d buy an ebook version new before I’d look for the one I’m pretty sure is around somewhere.
I find it helpful to take photos of items that have meaning, but that I can’t keep for various reasons. That way, I can still see them,; they just aren’t cluttering up my life.
First, great job on getting started! It is, as they say, the hardest part.
And I totally understand the “got halfway through, was on a roll, but then [something] came up and I lost the momentum”.
Several folks have recommended Mari Kondo and I’ll second them with the caveat that her system isn’t for everyone, and it’s fine to just use the bits that work for you (personally I think her thing about socks is weird, nor do I think it’s sensible for me to empty my purse every night).
There is something delightful about dropping bags of clothes off at Goodwill or whatever your local thrift store is (though the places that immediately give you a coupon can be dangerous!).
And when all else fails – bribes. “If I break down all the cardboard I get 15 minutes of Twitter”, “If I sort this whole tote I get a fancy coffee”, that kind of thing.
I’ve also found “chore TV” to work well – I may only watch these specific YouTube channels while I fold and put away laundry.
(Pretty organization systems are great too, but logistically it makes more sense to buy them after the purge so you know how much you need.)
Your color scheme sounds lovely, soothing without being cold, and timeless.
check out a book/audiobook called “decluttering at the speed of life” by Dana K. White. She has had a blog for years but just found her via her vbook at the library.
She has a great voice and I found her style very relatable unlike Maria Kondo who is way too extreme for me!
I will be 66 in August.
I’ve lived in my house since 1993.
Cleaning my room has been a lifelong struggle. But I’m getting serious about it, now. I don’t want to follow the family tradition of leaving a mess for others to clean up when I go. Which I hope is not soon.
I thought I could add something to the excellent comments to help you out, but much of my wisdom has already been shared.
Since you have a basement, purchase three wardrobe storage closets. A wheeled stand with a cloths pole connect the two stands. The structure is coved in a canvas, with a zipper on the front.
Your goal is to have only summer clothes left in your room.
The winter clothes go in one, fall, and spring in the other two.
Naturally as you sort you give away clothes that are no longer in style. Have a stylish gal pal help in your decision making process and gives you the courage to “throw it away”.
All cloths purchased before the age of 16 should go, to a new home. You no longer have a child’s proportions.
Then you have your stuff and can rotate your wardrobe with the seasons. Your room will only have to carry 1 fourth of your stuff.
Put a note on each box in the basement, with today’s date on it. Update the box each time you take something out of it and use.
Place this item that you used in a new separate tote.
In two years time, or when you officially move out, the only tote you take is the new tote filled with things you actually used in the past 2 years!
If it has been two years and you have not needed that stuff, George Carlin in correct, you do not need that stuff.
I recommend that you have a Rent the runway account, and budget. You do not buy fancy dresses, you rent them for an event. Always in fashion, always clean, a wide assortment, and not stored in your closet.
I get you. I AM you.
It does not get any easier. What you have going for you over many of us is your bravery in discussing how hard giving things up is.
Congratulations, that’s several big steps you’ve taken.
The struggles you have with keeping things, accumulating things, getting started, and keeping the momentum going, sound like a certain friend of mine who has ADHD. One of her interesting insights was that her brain typically goes somewhere else when a big job is 60% done and that breaking big jobs down into very small steps help her.
I’m not surprised in the least to see that others have already mentioned Marie Kondo. I haven’t read her book, but I watched the Netflix show, which I suspect gives a gentler introduction to her system, focusing mostly on the core principle: grab everything you have in X category and pile it up in one place, then go through it and ask yourself, which of these things really spark joy? Having it all in front of you at once makes it easier to distinguish between “well, I sort of like this shirt” and “omg this is one of my favorite shirts ever” — to find the things that hold actual meaning and delight for you, amidst the chaff of the stuff that’s merely okay and the dreck that you don’t actually like and will never wear/use but you feel as if you shouldn’t get rid of it because . . . reasons?
And I think there’s real merit for some people — of whom you might be one — in taking a moment to thank your possessions for what they’ve brought into your life, before you let them pass out of it again. For some people that’s too woo, but for others it really works.
For me, the Big Clean was when I went to college, because it was the first time in my life I’d ever moved. My parents still live in the house I grew up in (though they just put it up for sale, yeeks!), so I’d never had to relocate any meaningful quantity of my belongings anywhere. How could I figure out what to take to college, and what to leave behind??? That question was literally unanswerable for me until I reduced the mountain down to a more manageable size. It was a big transition point, realizing that e.g. the report I wrote on parrots in the fourth grade did not actually mean much of anything to me anymore, so I could let it go.
When I was able to do that . . . honestly, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off me. I didn’t have to pour time and mental energy into dealing with quite so much Stuff anymore, and so I could spend more of that on enjoying the things I really cared about. (Starting with being able to find those things without twenty minutes of hunting.) I’m not remotely a minimalist these days, but I’m not as much of a pack rat as I used to be, and it genuinely feels pretty great.
I believe in you!
There used to be a show on some Home and Garden show on cable. Someone would come out and help people organize their stuff. It seemed like it was really difficult for most people to be able to just let go of their stuff.
Maybe if you had someone to help — not do it for you, but to motivate you. You get three piles: Trash, Keep, and Donate.
And your friend or parent is there to give you a push when you feel like everything has to go into the Keep pile. Sometimes, just having the company and the encouragement is enough to get you motivated and not feel so overwhelmed.
However you decide to handle it, you made progress. You got this!
I hear you on the boom/bust of starting a project, going all-in and trying to get it all done at once, and then running out of steam and not finishing.
After many years of operating like that, I’m slowly working on learning how to pace myself and to not use up all my energy and enthusiasm in the first phase of a project. I’m learning how to break things up into manageable chunks that I can easily finish to give myself a sense of completion and a feeling of progress (eg sort the sock drawer and get rid of all the odd socks, go through my shoes, weed one bed in the garden). I also have had to realize that some projects are long-term endeavours and to trust myself to keep plugging away at them. As much as I desperately want to finish it all in one go, I just have to slowly and surely make steady progress towards my end vision. It’s not been easy and I get frustrated at how long things take, but the end results have been worth it!
I used to keep everything, too. Well, except clothes; after I outgrew them or wore them out, I got rid of them. But everything else, I kept. There was a strange comfort in knowing somewhere in that closet was the transistor radio I got when I was 5.
Then I got married, and then I got divorced, and a bunch of unfortunate additional things happened, and I came out of it all with some clothes, my hifi equipment, a couple of end tables, and a computer chair.
It was incredibly painful to mourn that loss. But then something incredible happened: I felt free! Not owning stuff, it turned out, left me feeling lighter than I’d felt ever in my life.
It’s been 15 years since that happened, and I have amassed some stuff again. But there are limits. Only so many books. Only so many clothes. Only so many keepsakes. Because I truly can live without all that stuff — more happily than when I had it all.
It’s a waste of time to clean. What you need to do change your behaviour. Until and unless you do that, you will be caught in an endless loop of messes.
I figure in the not too distant future you’ll be getting your own place. What happens to this stuff then? Will your parents want to keep it?
I, too, can recommend Marie Kondo. The book is slim, you don’t have to do everything she says, but asking yourself, “Do I LOVE this?” really helps you make a decision. Why hang onto stuff, especially clothes, you don’t love?
Way to go getting started! Developing the habit to keep going is the next step, and unfortunately it’s hard too – I’ve been working on it for years… I’ve always been a clutter keeper, but I’m making some progress. Having to clean out my parents’ house of 40 years of stuff has helped me to be more ruthless in tossing/recycling/donating stuff – I don’t want to leave a mess for my own kids some day.
A lot of the things that have helped have been mentioned by others, but I have a couple I haven’t seen yet and I figure it helps to have a lot of strategies to try to see what works for you. So, first up is Declutter 365 (Google will find it), which is meant more for people with a whole house to declutter and run — so more than you need now, but the key takeaway from the it is breaking tasks down into manageable chunks and then spending just 15 min a day working on a chunk to make it a habit.
And the other one is using Habitica as a motivator/reward system. I definitely do better with some sort of external validation. Crossing things off a list feels good, but checking them off on Habitica and getting an animal egg to hatch or food to feed it feels so much niftier. And since you set up your own tasks in it, you can use it not just for cleaning your room but for anything you struggle with. There are also groups you can join to share victories and ask for advice from others, and that can be motivating too.
Good luck keeping it going!
Athena, I have no “sure thing” ideas, but I have random ideas:
Clutterers Anonymous would be accessible now, by zoom, because local in-person meetings are not possible.
On May 25th on my blog I will post a funny-to-my-classmates self-disclose post about clutter.
Intellectuals have other priorities: My smart sister gets depressed every time she housecleans.
At my local sf and fantasy convention none of the writers ever showed up in costume. Not because they were boring wimps wearing beige, but because of priorities: Every hour sewing was an hour they couldn’t read or write.
I have a hack against both depression and guilt: Maybe you can use the same principle for something else, such as comic book page turning…. For me, being sans cable TV, sans roof antenna, sans rabbit ears, I love my rare TV watching. A hack: Writing a detailed sequence of stuff to do, and then doing it while I have paused my TV DVD at the spot for a commercial. Works well, counters depression.
Say, do you know why TV shows no longer start with a ballad? The time allowed for commercials has been increased from 12 to sixteen minutes out of every hour. Maybe that explains the speeding end credits.
This isn’t just a you problem, but it’s good that you’re addressing something that bothers you now. May I suggest two excellent resources on the subject?
Secondhand- travels in the new global garage sale by Adam Minter, a superb read.
And these folks: https://www.unfuckyourhabitat.com/
Best of luck with your cleanup. Don’t let it get you down.
Yeeaaaaaaahhhhh. I totally resemble this issue. Mine was augmented by having a hoarder parent so most of my accomplishments come from marrying someone with sorting skills.
I concur with the don’t do everything now just sort for garbage crowd in the comments above. Once everything was put away my wife got me to sort sections at a time (sometimes weeks later) into can’t, might, and will. Can’t was donated. Will was put right back into the closet. Might was thrown into a box for a better mind functionality day.
Sending strength and perseverance your way.
One thing I’ve found very useful in getting rid of stuff is joining a local Facebook “buy nothing” group & offering up what I need to get rid of, because useful stuff I can’t bear to throw out I can still give away to someone who can use it. But my problem is projects that didn’t work out, or gifts I don’t want to throw away. You mention clothes; those you can probably give to charity.
You need to examine what this stuff means to you & why you’re hanging onto it. It’s an emotional process, which is why Marie Kondo tells you to boot everything that does not spark joy.
From personal experience, I understand how hard it is to part with things that have significance to you. I come from a household of hoarders. It was eye opening to learn that I was also one (not a visible hoarder but I sure did love hiding everything in closets, drawers, under my bed, etc).
I had a hard time at first, but 8 years later, I do not miss any of the things I parted with.
It is great that you know you want to make a change. It is daunting to look at your room (or home, or closet) as a whole, seeing so much stuff. Do not look at it that way.
Ask most professional organizers for how to tackle clutter and they will tell you to make a plan of attack. And each day you select one section of your space you want to declutter. Spend two hours on that space, making sure to take a small break each hour. During those two hours, categorize each item you have in that space and place in four distinct piles: Keep, Maybe, Donate, Discard.
You only work on this space during those two hours. When you are done, you stop, give yourself a pack on the back because, Hey! You made progress! Great Job! Let’s do it again tomorrow, for another two hours.
It will take time and that is okay. It is okay to make progress slowly. Just keep making progress. Before you know it, you will have a room you want to be in and show off to everyone!
Another thing professional organizers would tell you is that make sure the items you keep have a home. It should have it’s own special place.
You can do this!
This post is way, way too relatable…and I’m 30. It’s so relatable, in fact, that this is one of the very few times I’m posting a comment. I mostly lurk on this site.
The rest of my place is relatively clean and organized. My bedroom???
Yeah, I also have serious cleaning out to do. As did my vehicle. But good news for me and getting my shit together this year after 2020 being a long slog of a year, I actually cleaned out my vehicle.
But now I need to work on my bedroom.
So yeah…I feel your pain, only it comes with an extra dose of shame because I am now 30 years old and still don’t have my shit together.
So Athena, I’ll say this for you: Keep going, you can do it, and you’re already doing better than I am because you’re doing it now
Your post has been relatable and it has been an inspiration. Here’s hoping I, too, can get my room cleared and cleaned in the next week. Wishing you all the best from Alberta, Canada, and I hope you have a good rest of your day :)
I always had a mess in my bedroom growing up, because I could always escape to another room. When I got to college I suddenly had a tidy room with no effort, because all the escape spaces had (eek) people in them.
Most people I know who hoard (including me) are upper-middle class and can too easily buy stuff. As I continue to buy more, I try to remember that most of the cheap shit is made by exploited laborers in other countries. I’m not good at this.
I still love to shop and find a bargain, but I’ve been mostly doing it at thrift stores (until the shutdown a year ago). I no longer buy plasticware at Target, because it will turn up at Goodwill soon enough. And it’s always a treasure hunt.
I see a lot of suggestions for decluttering, so I’ll leave that alone. What I do suggest is that you paint the closet interior before putting anything back in. A lot of people forget to paint closets. We did ours last year and it had the psychological effect of making me treat the space better because it looked nicer.
tl; dr: It can be tough on relationships, too.
My spouse has a great excuse for his hoarding tendencies. He was raised by a single mom who made her living as a mimeo-newsletter preacher. They once held a garage sale and sold even the family photos (I think these were pity-purchased by church friends). We have NO pics of him as youngster.
And I can’t be high and mighty because I hoard, too. But I’ve sorted/tossed stuff in a rare burst once in a while, and he hasn’t. Thank goodness trash collection didn’t stop during the shutdown!
We have to have “his” and “her” spaces and a much bigger house that we’d otherwise need. Until we moved, STUFF was the biggest problem in our marriage of 43 years. (I have been known to envy divorcing friends — but only for getting a fresh start with STUFF.) Probably good that we chose not to have kids; on our deaths someone can turf out our place unsentimentally.
OTOH, I don’t think spouse has much excuse for being extraordinarily slow at sorting stuff. He’ll pick up a mostly-faded receipt off the floor, gaze at it and say, “Oh, I bought a book in October 2012.” Twenty seconds minimum for Every. Single. Item.
I cannot sit patiently and help him; I end up going into another room to scream. He won’t let me do it for him. Friends have occasionally helped for bursts.
(I still love him to bits.)
I’m a little bit of a pack rat. I have three wardrobes because my weight fluctuates noticeably: too large, too small, and fits. It took moving several hours away to get me to pare things down. Hubby is more of a pack rat, and doesn’t have the urge to have everything in its own place. It’s frustrating at times. Fibrofog means I need to find things in the same place. So, you have a lot of sympathy here.
Keep in mind that it doesn’t all have to be done at once, many hands make light work, and the end is worth the process. You have plenty of other advice. I’ll stop here.
I definitely hear you. My stuff has a tendency to fill the available space. Sigh. Go ahead and inspire me (and make me feel guilty). I’ll be cheering from the sidelines.
Having raised daughters, I must say that you are remarkably well adjusted for someone living with a black, pink, and purple room.
I’m sure that by now you have completed this.
I have two possibly helpful suggestions:
Give yourself 10 minutes. I find that if there’s a task I can’t stand doing (unloading the dishwasher), I give myself 10 minutes. I set a timer and when it goes off, I’m free to move on to better things. One of two things happen: I move on to better things feeling I’ve done what I set out to do or I keep going a little (or a lot) longer and still feel that I’ve done what I’ve set out to do. Over enough 10 minute sessions, you can get sh*t done.
Put the things you don’t want to get rid of, but realistically don’t use/haven’t touched in years, in a box or tote or whatever. Put that away. If you don’t have any idea of what’s in the box in a few months / years – you can get rid of it, sight unseen, secure in knowing you won’t miss it.
I think when you are “hoarding” pajamas you wore in fourth grade, then yeah, you have something of a problem. On the other hand, I do get the “I want my stuff” thing, I have that hoarding gene too (though you seem to have a “too lazy to do it” addition), but I, being somewhat anal (Annie Hall: “Yeah, that’s one word for what you are”), could not live that way. I won’t say I’m a neatness or cleanliness freak, but maybe something like it. It’s easy: just put things away where they belong, like dirty clothes in the hamper, dishes in the sink (though I need to wash them immediately – anal, you see), etc. But I still have notebooks and yearbooks and other memorabilia going back to around the time your father was born, it’s just all put away out of sight.
One other thing I would consider, though that doesn’t seem in your plan, is get rid of the rug. We got rid of all of our rugs maybe ten years ago – granted, we had nice parquet under some of them – and have been much happier (and allergy-free) since.
Good luck with the cleanup.
I don’t know if this shows up in Kondo or UfYH or any of the other above-mentioned aids, but something that helped me a lot was changing the question I asked myself. It used to be “might I need/want/use this again some time?” which is a real packrat-enabler question. I changed it to “if I want this again and it’s gone, how bad would that be?” If the answer is “mildly inconvenient” or less…into the bin it goes.
In theory, at least. The next time we move there’s gonna be some difficult decisions to make.
Athena, Goddess of War and Hero of the Battle of Bedroom (against the Hoarding Horde)
I mean, my method was to leave my stuff in my parents’ basement until they asked me decades later if they could take it to goodwill. So…
Two things that got me to get serious about reducing the amount of Stuff I had.
Dad died 4 years ago. He had a 4500 square foot house that was full of stuff. I sorted through it for the few things I had room for (some furniture, kitchen stuff, approx 50,000 slides). The local school got his books, the local art gallery his art, Stanford got his glacier map collection. The rest was sold by the estate sale company.
About a year later my friend Gloree’s second husband died. She was moving to her son’s farm and there wasn’t room for all the stuff. So I helped her son clean out the place. We went over there and filled his F150 full of stuff for either Goodwill or the landfill. Every Saturday. For three months.
Two years later I finally had more storage space than stuff.
Can’t stand Marie Kondo (Not one thing I’ve ever owned or wanted to own has “sparked Joy”) but she does have some good points. Right now I’m in the middle of a months long effort to actually trim my library to something almost manageable in a relatively modest apartment. It’s months long because I tend to work in bursts separated by weeks of “I really ought to work on this today… Ooohhh, new Love Death and Robots episodes!” Or “Squeee, a new book came in!” or just “Meh, I’d rather play Civ today.”
(It could be worse, once the books are trimmed, the next task is organizing my comic collection. That could end up taking a couple of years).
I just wanted to say- you’re not alone. Good for you for organizing your place.
I won’t get into the whole story, but when my marriage ended, I had to deal with getting rid of a lifetime of clutter in less than two weeks. I had to relocate a few states away, and could only take what would fit into the back of an SUV. A lifetime of comics, CDs, books, video games, clothes…gone. (Sold, actually.) It was hellacious work…
And then I finished the move, and got a new place, and the lightness from getting rid of STUFF was amazing and invigorating. I still have some stuff that’s important to me, but now I could start my life without the burden of taking care of all that…STUFF! It was a life-changing experience, and it gave me a way of turning a terrible situation into a launching pad for my new life.
One point that helped me- as I set up my new place (as you’re setting up yours), I put together a LOT of IKEA furniture. IKEA gets a bit of a bum’s rap, but it’s affordable, and the process of looking at what’s available, selecting furniture, and putting it together allowed me to shape my life in my new place. Those decisions turned out to be key during the pandemic (my living room is both my entertainment center and my office). As you clean up and clean out, think about how basic furniture would help provide structure in your life.
I hope I’m making sense. Either way, congrats on starting the project! I wish you the best.
I hope you were able to follow through on that self promise.
However struggling in my 60’s with a similar difficulty doing what needs to be done I congratulate you on a good start, and reassurance, that if finishing still looks on the horizon that starting now (any and all now’s) Also works.
We are imperfect and we are enough.
I always enjoyed this scurrilous gossip about Sir William Rowan Hamilton:
“After his death scores of mutton chop bones on plates were found sandwiched among his papers.”
Or in another rendition: “plates sufficient in number to furnish a kitchen.”
In fairness to Hamilton, this is on a par with George Washington’s cherry tree, and one can trace its imaginative development across a series of biographers. Still, it is good to have in the public record that at this time there are no mutton chop bones to be found in your room, though facts will not long stand as a bar to calumny.
Full disclosure: I keep a large jar of cashews on the desk in my den.
So with you on this. My office (where I’ve been spending 110% of my time during the pandemic) had a rug I hated and was filled with Stuff. I did the same thing you did: filled totes , donated the rug, cleaned up.
And…magic. Craigslist had exactly the rug I wanted. A couple of pieces of nice compact gym equipment fell into place for free. My clean desk is so easy to work on.
Now I have a place I like.
You’re going to love your new room! And the process is part of the enjoyment. No need to hurry. Enjoy every minute.
You can. I believe in you.
Ok, light blue walls with a light grey accent wall: probably not enough contrast so will appear bland and possibly just drab. Some shades of light blue would work with some shades of grey so get little samples from Lowe’s and paint swatches on your walls and look at them for several days in various light and dark so you can get a good feel for how those colors will play in your room. Consider a more robin’s egg blue, a blue with some green in it. This will be less cold. But personally I would rather have grey walls with an accent wall of some other color, like maybe a soft melon? I like grey with a lot of brown in it so it is softer. In any case, def do the sample thing.
Now you’ve emptied the closet (very good of you, to get all that done in one go!), you can use it to store all the clothes you like and wear. If you store those in the closet instead of on the bed or the floor, the room may already look a lot more neat and attractive right away.
If you’ve got too many clothes (that fit you and look good and that you like to wear) to fit in the closet, I second the suggestion made above.
Either get a second wardrobe or chest of drawers, in your room or in the cellar, or one of those movable clothes racks.
Divide your clothes into “clothes for warm weather” and “clothes for cold weather”, and “clothes for all seasons”.
Drawers are good for socks, underwear and Tshirts, pyamas and scarves and such things that can be folded instead of hung out, and tend to be all seasons wear. Empty shoeboxes work well for organising drawers, e.g. blue socks in one, brown and green socks in the other, and both kept separate from the underwear.
Then you can keep the all seasons stuff permanently in your closet or drawers, and change out the warm and cool weather clothes as appropriate.
That might be enough to get everything neatly behind closed doors, which really helps with the room looking neat!
Personally I like colors, so I keep my clothes sorted by color: a pile of blue shirts (well okay, two piles, one of darker blue and one of turquoise and light blue), a pile of green shirts, and a pile of brown(ish) shirts; and my summer dresses grouped more-or-less similarly. I find it motivating, to open the closet door, see these colorful piles, and pick a color I feel like wearing today.
I’ve heard others like to keep outfits together, or graduate from favorites on one end to seldom worn but needed to go to funerals or job interviews on the other end, or divide their hangers into a ‘clean’ and a ‘worn one day, put in the laundry after I wear it again’ side. You can order them in whatever way works for you, even higgledy-piggledy all mixed together, as long as they are in a closet or drawer.
As long as it makes you happy to open your closet and see all these clothes you love to wear!
I grew up in a house where purging was the norm – my mom attaches 0 sentimentality to objects.
I married a hoarder.
I dream of minimalism, and now that I am no longer with the hoarder can’t blame them for my mess, but minimalist does not describe my life!
It’s hard. Throwing out the hoarder’s stuff was easy and fun, especially flinging things off the side of a dumpster and watching them explode. But my stuff? Yikes, I am not good at getting rid of it, including things I don’t really like but…I haven’t used them enough, I should use them more. It’s weird what our brains do.
No advice, you’ve gotten lots of that. I hope you find a way that works for you. And your vision for your room sounds lovely!
(Am professional organizer)
1) get Marie Kondo’s book.
2) a card table for sorting makes a huge difference.
3) put the current date on your totes. Update it if you ever open it. Ten bucks says you won’t open them for two years, maybe five. At that point, toss the whole thing without opening it.
3) I guarantee you’ll feel so much “lighter” once you are done. De-cluttering is freeing.
You can do this!!!
You can do this!!!
You can do this!!!
You can do this!!!
You can do this!!!
You can do this!!!
(And if you’re like me, and you’re motivated by relationship, you might consider asking a trusted friend to come over and help you get through it. I have to do that every time. And it helps, and we have fun together. You know how you work, so motivate yourself with whatever that is!)
I’m fascinated by the psychology of humans valuing and owning objects. Even currency itself is about that.
Me, I’m no stranger to the feeling of getting attached to objects, but clutter in my house really puts me on edge, so I actually declutter too much. It means that the house is always tidy, but it also means that I’m constantly re-evaluating my possessions needlessly.
Years ago, I did a little bit of work basically being a substitute professional organizer. I enjoyed that, but my adult job has little or nothing to do with that, and I’m not sure I would like doing it full time. It was a thought, though!
Ooo, I definitely hear on on this issue. Stuff is heavy mentally but I love stuff too. But Congrats, you’ve accomplished the first step of getting rid of stuff. Now, set your calendar reminder for 1 year from now, and if you didn’t go to the basement to open those totes for anything all year, Donate them without even opening them. If you didn’t use it in a year you don’t need it and really don’t want it. If in the future you think, man I wish I had xyz board game or man I wish I had that one comfy pair of jeans, buy new ones. But don’t store it if you don’t use it. It’s taken me awhile to work out this system for myself and it actually works really well for me. Good Luck figuring out your own system. I’ve found the space in my home & in my thinking is SO much more valuable than anything I’ve donated.
I’m happy you are here, posting and grappling with life. Thanks for sharing this with us.
Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, worked well for us. We only did parts. Piling all similar things together, then lifting them and feeling for whether they sparked joy went surprisingly quickly. Also surprising was how much lighter we felt after doing it, and how magically what was left fit into the space we had to hold it. Her ideas for organizing drawers with vertical storage made it easy to see what’s in them and prettier when we opened them, too. Of course your mileage may vary!
But that was at our last home. We are now living in a place that’s half the size, and we haven’t repeated the process to fit here. We have attachments to our stuff, we still hope we will be able to afford a bigger place again, there’s been a pandemic… all to say, whatever you are able to do is admirable to me. This is deep work, and what’ve you done already is great.
With all my best wishes,
Oh Lord, Athena, don’t remind me. I need to “Marie Kondo” my closet too, in a big way. And some of my clothing drawers and cabinets, too.
I did a lot of thinning out when I moved from one apartment to another, but it’s been a few years since then and things are piling up again.
Let’s just say you have my sympathy.
You’re only in your twenties and you are learning this! Excellent work! It took me until I was over 30 to start learning this. It takes some time/energy and strategy and emotional adaptation, and even if you only make tiny steps, you’re doing the equivalent of a couch-to-5K program, except you’re training yourself in how to make your nest non-oppressive instead of finishing a 5K!
Keep going, write down whatever things work really well for you (either physical strategies for making the work manageable – like above-mentioned work-chunking methods – or mental reframing techniques like “it’s unlikely I’ll use this again, but someone else would use it and love it!” or “if I get rid of this item and want its function purpose again someday, I can buy it at a thrift store; we’re good”), and build these Taming The Stuff Monster muscles, because they will serve you well later. :-)
You’ll also be building Dealing With Unpleasant But Necessary Tasks muscles at the same time (even if slowly/fitfully) – again, this is something that will take a while, but that will serve you so well through the entire rest of your life. Well done!
This was the post I needed to read today (so wonderfully relatable that I nodded all through it.)
Lots of folks have suggested some very good methods for deciding what to keep and what to give away, but my problem has always been getting started. Someone suggested the “set a timer” method and it IS helpful (I use 20 minutes myself), but doesn’t help so much getting me to start the next day.
I’ve found that promising myself a treat for finishing everyday to help overcome each day’s inertia. A treat can be a food, something I want to do, or really anything that will motivate me. Or I can bank several day’s “treats” for a “toy.” (Of course, my toy of choice is almost always a book…. New books are always a big motivator.)
Sometimes that’s the only way to keep myself motivated to come back to larger projects that have to get done.
I’m old (56) and it took me quite a while to work out a motivational system that works for me. Good on you for tackling it when you’re younger!
Will not talk about de-cluttering, years ago I built a new 2300 sq ft building that has turned to to be mostly for stuff…
But I will make a recommendation for painting the room. Do each surface with a different pastel color. 4 walls, four diff colors. But not harsh bright colors, gentle purple, lavender, green, yellow, rose. No white, no black.
Go to Lowe’s paint department and pick out color tabs for each of those basic colors, they will vary from very pastel to not very pastel — then pick a few shades, and try to stick to the pastel end of the chart. Remember that it’s easy to paint over a pale rose with a slightly darker rose if you decide a wall is too pastel.
Our small house in the Arizona desert mountains — each room has 4 or 5 colors, depending on whether it has two slopes of ceilings. The two larger rooms do have two different ceiling slopes, each one with a different pastel color.
The master bedroom is the biggest room, not square/rectangular, but “L” shaped, so 6 walls and two ceiling shapes, for 8 possible sections of paint. I didn’t go quite that far, but I did break up the room’s colors as well as I could with 5 colors of paint. The colors I used are also colors found in the landscape out there, in the distant views as you travel around.
Have fun, hope the horror of discarding stuff pales beside the pleasure of new fun colors!
You. Can (and Will). Do. This!
I found moving 5,500 miles helped, after 10 years my folks threw away everything I left behind “just in case”.
What’s the worst thing that can happen if you throw out too many clothes – just wear something else!
Athena, what you are struggling with is a floordrobe.
Let me introduce you to my housekeeping guru, Rachel Hoffman, and her UnF*** Your Habitat web site. (I’d drop a link, but I’m not sure if that would send me straight to the spam filter or not). She understands us messy people! You’re trying to do everything in a “marathon” and that’s exhausting just thinking about it. Instead, she suggests 20/10s. Spend 20 minutes on the thing you’re avoiding (usually housework, sometimes it’s something else like homework or job hunting) and then take a 10 minute break. Maybe you only spent 20 minutes a day, maybe you’re inspired to do a couple of cycles of 20/10s. Her main message is that something is better than nothing. Her web site has all kinds of tips, and her Tumblr has inspirational photos of what her followers have accomplished via 20/10s. I have emotional baggage around cleaning, and 20/10s really help me get around that and have a much less messy house.
She also has two books, UnF*** Your Habitat: You’re Better Than Your Mess and Cleaning Sucks: And UFYH Guided Journal. (As you might guess, there’s a bit of swearing involved, but I find that housework usually involves swearing. ;-) )
You aren’t alone. My family and I need to work on this, too. It is wonderful that you are doing this now and not in five or ten years (or, like my in-laws, in your 80s ….)
It helps so much to leave behind the idea of motivation. Motivation, like willpower, ebbs and flows. It is much easier to think about building habits that you enjoy and that support your life. Can you get into the habit of culling five things each day? Or, when you buy something new, choose one old item to donate or discard? We’re motivated to do things we enjoy and things where we excel. But for all other areas of life, it helps to have some other way to get started.
You could also consider an external deadline. Have your parents say, the room needs to be ready for the renovation by July 1. Otherwise you get to keep the purple/black/pink. Sometimes external deadlines can get us moving.
Forget Marie Kondo. Just give away half, to the thrift store or Goodwill. Put the other half away — not on the floor.
You’re lucky to have a lenient Mom. When I was a kid in the Sixties the rule was if it’s on the floor and not shoes, it’s GONE. Meaning I never saw it again, it went to Salvation Army or the thrift store. Since I only got a buck a week allowance (if I did my chores), I couldn’t buy replacements. So if I wanted to keep it, I had to put it away, and piled on flat surfaces wasn’t allowed either.
Know what? I soon learned it made a lot of sense, and I valued what I had.
Thanks, Julie. I just looked this up.
I shared before that not having stuff was freeing after my divorce. Now, a few years later, my new girlfriend and I are slowly moving towards cohabitating, and we’re both aware of our previous errors in terms of clutter and mess. We’re really good at talking about this. I’m going to take a look at those books and see what we can use.
I have a piece of advice for when it’s time to paint. I learned this when we did the whole house reno just after we bought it. We had everything painted. What wasn’t “apartment white” was an eye-melting yellow or an overdone Wedgwood blue with matching gingham accents. Yuck. Once we chose our potential colors, we got little samples from the Home Despot. We painted swatches on a spare piece of drywall and brought them in the house where we were staying. We looked at them in all sorts of light throughout the day, and even held our arms up against them to see which ones just reflected worse on our skin. That trial by all sorts of lighting clarified things immensely. Behr’s Flashpoint and Sea Ice (master suite only) look great in the house. We picked colors close to what was already on the house for the exterior. Remember, they will custom blend colors for you if you don’t see what you like.
A dumpster is at my neighbor’s house and guys with scoop shovels are filling it. Note to self: Avoid this, clean up your own mess. I recommend the methods mentioned above, especially taking breaks and moving toward a goal of having what makes sense and you like to see around you. I find a periwinkle blue is more to my taste, but you have your own taste and it’s not mine, so go with what you like, and change it if it doesn’t work for you. Good luck!
One things I found helpful as someone who leans toward keeping things for sentimental reasons- I started taking pictures of them and then letting the thing go. I realized what I wanted is the visual reminder which brings back the story. “Ah this t-shirt- I remember I bought it when on vacation….” or “This was the stuffed animal I had when I went to university…” The pictures let me remember the story while letting the item go.