Over the last few months, the Marie Kondo method of decluttering your space has grown in popularity. She’s authored a book about it and now has a television show, helping people improve their personal spaces and feel joy in their surroundings. The theory is a good one, from how to fold clothes so drawers hold more to retaining items that really make you happy, and with her guidance, people are making positive changes to their homes.
I haven’t watched the show nor did I read the book, but I am wholly behind the premise that a decluttered space is better for your happiness. Personally, I don’t function well in a cluttered environment. I hate to look around and see piles of things or no open spaces. I don’t like to see every square inch of surface covered. It stresses me out, and I avoid looking at it, yet like a bad commercial, it gets stuck in your head.
We’re naturally neat freaks, yet life happens. I’m subscribed to about 12 different food and health magazines, and I’m so behind in reading them, they’re stacked up in a nook. They cry out READ ME. Having four kids, our linen cabinets were overflowing with Jurassic park blankets and Pokemon sheets from eras gone by. The mason jars I was going to fill with preserves were taking over almost an entire shelf in my kitchen cabinet, valuable real estate for a foodie. Then there was our china hutch, full of not only ALL the original crystal given to us at our wedding 25 years ago, but I’d managed to stack six years of food props, plastic cocktail glasses and various holiday decorations precariously on top.
I can’t ignore the cries of the magazines anymore, and I’m tired of not using my nice china because I don’t know what will fall out on my feet when I open the door. I want to stop buying new beach blankets because I can’t find my old ones. I also don’t need travel brochures from our trip to Hawaii 20 years ago or coupons for mini-golf in Myrtle Beach.
I guess the Marie Kondo method mentions a goal of around six months to declutter your house. I’m all for not stressing yourself out to rush through something that can be a monumental project, but if you’re like us and had a semi-handle on it, there are ways you can declutter your house fast, in just a few days. In my case, I decluttered my house in two days. Here is how I approached it, which may or may not be anything like the popular method, but it worked for me and I feel incredibly happy with the results.
First step was to walk around the house, taking note of what exactly was in store. I started upstairs in my office, where I spend most of my time. I opened the closet, the cabinets, the drawers. Boy, I had my work cut out for me. I opened night stand drawers in my bedroom, rifled through my clothes drawers and by the time I got downstairs, my head was spinning.
Downstairs was worse though.
We are NASCAR fans and we have a curio with drawers and shelves, covered in memorabilia. Dusting it is a nightmare. Other than the magazines, my living room and family rooms were okay. Then I opened the hall closet, a space big enough for a guest to sleep…a short guest. It’s huge as it wraps around under the stairs. (Disclaimer: in the back, we have old toys that we’re going to donate. They are still there as my son needs to give us the go ahead.) Our gift bags and wrapping paraphernalia stored in there were out of control.
Remember how I thought my office was the worst? I was in denial with my kitchen. The mental list of areas I’d have to spend time on grew. I wasn’t happy with the thought but at least I was prepared.
Once I had a handle on workload, I scheduled what days I could put in big blocks of time. I gathered a few boxes, one for trash and a few for storage for transport to the donation center. (The trash box would get repeatedly refilled with items for either the recycle can or the trash can. I got my steps in those two days for sure!) I also made sure I had adequate cleaning supplies to wipe down cabinet interiors, counter tops and items that were dirty from not being used.
With that all set, I found myself antsy to begin. I went back to work in my office, and found myself 20 minutes later, elbow-deep in going through my desk, my storage cabinet and the closet. One room done! The bug got a hold of me and I tore through all the cabinets upstairs, piling stacks of bedding, old bikinis and miscellaneous knee braces, unused puzzle books and even an old bag of lifesavers.
Motivated by the amazing feeling of extra space, I decided to rearrange my schedule for the next day so I could complete the downstairs. I’d already invested about four hours of time upstairs. It was fast, but it allowed me a “go big or go home” approach, where I could be brutal and not overthink things. I didn’t want to take time to contemplate each old pillowcase or ratty slippers. I wanted to look at each thing and think: when was the last time I used this? do I still need it? do I even like it? If I had used it but used it rarely, I considered if keeping it was worth its space, or if I could just buy a new one if the need actually arose for it again.
One big tip: allow yourself some space for sentimental items. I went hog wild with my old bathing suits and workout clothes that had seen better days, but I wasn’t going to get rid of notes my kids sent me, cards they made or items from people no longer with us. I’m not a hugely sentimental person as it is, so that pile was small. I didn’t want to be sorry later.
I started the next day around 9am. The kitchen loomed large, but I dove in so there were no excuses to wait. I pulled everything out of the shelves and when I grabbed something that I knew I didn’t want, I immediately put it in the appropriate box. Hold things as little as you can, it’s faster and you have less doubt. Gut instinct worked for me! Those four containers of my son’s favorite Chick-fil-a sauce went straight to the trash.
I realized I didn’t need 12 plastic margarita glasses that froze to keep the drinks cold. July 4th wine glasses from a party two years ago? Pitch. So on and so on, I narrowed it down to just 1/3 of the stuff I’d brought out of the shelves.
And then I hit the wall. The OMG HOW DO I MAKE IT ALL FIT IN THERE NOW THAT IT’S CLEAN, BECAUSE I WANT IT TO BE PERFECTLY ORGANIZED AND NOT RUIN MY HARD WORK moment.
That’s when the husband came home. He is the master of all things logistics. Storage and organization is his game. And thankfully, he offered to help. A couple hours later, we were done! While I was at it, I hand-washed stacks of baking pans that were dusty, and made sure that if it remained in my house, it was clean and usable.
Not only is the footprint of my belongings much smaller, but I know what I have now. I know where to find it and I can get to it easily. That in itself is worth all the time, because having nice things only matters if you can use them when you need them.
I’m also happier to use the things that I have now. I’m prouder of them, as they survived The Purge of 2019. I don’t necessarily believe that everything I kept gives me joy, and I sure as heck kept way more than 30 books, but I am happy with the state of my house now.
It’s ridiculously exciting!
I learned a few things in this process:
When I was stressed or feeling like maybe things weren’t going the way I wanted…job change, house not selling, whatever….I would go shopping and often buy cheap things. Those are the shoes whose soles fall off after a year, the plastic wine cups I never took out of the bag, and the dress that wasn’t flattering…but look what I bought ON SALE. No more of that.
I am obviously better at dealing with clutter than I thought. This means a new level of focus I didn’t know I had.
Having space doesn’t mean I need to fill it with things. They become one more thing to clean or dust. When it came time to decorate for the holidays, I had no room. Now I can really showcase the things that matter, on a special day or year-round.
Things don’t necessarily hold sentimental value. Memories are better. I had a moment of regret when I’d tossed a small doll blanket my mom had made me, one of the few things I have from either parent, but it paid off later when I found a quilt she’d made me, stuffed in the bottom of a blanket bench, unseen for years. Now I could enjoy the blanket without feeling guilty about not knowing where I’d store one random doll’s blanket when I have no small kids anymore.
I have a thing for pens. I found no less than 100. I need to stop buying pens.
Mentally, the idea of having my immediate surroundings under control is PRICELESS. This project is no longer hanging over my head.
Since I finished decluttering my house, I find it’s easier to question everything I bring in. Even going through the produce drawers is easier. I am more motivated to use what I have and not waste it. I now can sit down and read a magazine, staying on top of them as they arrive, without feeling bad about ignoring the gift bags and ribbons laying all over the floor of the hall closet.
To be clear, my house was never dirty. On the surface, it was neat and tidy. There were no piles of stuff around my house and I didn’t have to tell people I was remodeling to cover up a hoarding problem. (That show on TV will have you up at midnight cleaning.) Function was never a problem, but like most of our personalities and expressions, the outside can hide a lot of garbage going on in the inside. You’d never have guessed I had so much extraneous materialism going on. Now I have a certain pride in not re-cluttering, and when I buy yet another Marvel mug or Funko POP, no guilt!
Decluttering your house can be an emotional exercise. You will probably run into things that are difficult to handle. For me, it was handling my Yorkie’s items. She’s been gone since October 5 and I’d left her things all piled in a cabinet. I saw them from time to time and they were comforting. When cleaning up my office, I spontaneously put her bed and blanket away. That made it easier for me to take a deep breath, pull out all her clothes, grooming items, jackets, hair bows and toys into a big pile.
And it also made it easy for me to have an unintended cry, surrounded by so many of her precious things. I even felt her hair on her brush. It was really tough, but I pulled out a few things without any real attachment and put them in the donate pile. The rest went into a bag with her bowl, which I put back on the shelf. I will never get rid of them and I feel better knowing they are there.
Lightening the load isn’t just a physical issue, but it’s good for our mental health. Purging ourselves of things that make us feel crowded is relieving. The toughest thing now is to not let it happen again. We can have the best of intentions yet we slack, we see the latest deal and we think “it’s just one thing.” One thing in, one thing out is a good motto. I try it with my closet, and while it’s largely successful, when it comes to shoes, all bets are off.
Decluttering my house in two days, about 12 hours worth of work, was worth it all. If you’re feeling out of sorts, stressed, or just unsettled, take a look around your home. If you avoid looking in certain places, can’t find storage for your latest purchase or are moving stacks to get to things, you may benefit from decluttering your house, too.