the art of decluttering

It has been told to me, from time to time, that I have an odd definition of sexy.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love a bearded Chris Evans as much as the nice gal (who is interested in dudes from time to time, and the rest of the time checks out Hayley Atwell, because dang, girl). But when I go looking online for pictures to drool over, it’s less this:

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(okay, sometimes it’s this)

and more this:

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DON’T YOU JUST WANT TO CRAWL IN AND STAY FOREVER

I’ll admit it—I’m kind of an interior design junkie. I check Apartment Therapy religiously. I go into HomeGoods and Pottery Barn and West Elm and just kind of look at things, picturing how they’d look in the adorable cottage home I’d love to own someday. I scroll through Instagram posts of bright, sunny apartments and gorgeously organized home offices, and sigh wistfully.

The reason for my wistful sigh is two-fold. First, I have a husband whose taste in interior décor is a little less rustic chic and a little more “HEY WIFE I FOUND THIS PICTURE OF A ZEBRA, CAN WE KEEP IT?”, as well as an insane dog who takes great delight in eating stuff that is not dog food, and can’t be left alone within reach of any kind of paper, leather, or even synthetic fabric that might resemble leather.

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“Who, me?”

Second, I’m kind of a pack rat. This has been true for pretty much my entire life. I’ve always been something of a magpie, but instead of shiny things, I pick up books and throw pillows (to the point where I’m no longer allowed in Target unsupervised) and journals and stationary supplies. I suspect I inherited this from my mother, whose addiction of choice is Saturday morning yard sales and library book fairs.

These two factors combined have resulted in a home that is full of an interesting collection of vaguely mismatched furniture (a combination of new, used, and inherited), more books than we know what to do with, a bunch of really weird artwork (including some Dali prints that I refuse to have in our bedroom, because I have bad enough insomnia already, dear), and just a lot of stuff. Maybe it’s because we’ve moved so many times in the past few years, but we’ve acquired doubles of a lot of stuff, as well as a bunch of stuff from our college days that not only do we not need, we don’t even really want. And yet, there it is, in our basement!

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Moving Day 2015. Not even one room’s worth of stuff. I cried. A lot. 

 

For the most part, I’ve been okay with all this stuff around the house, because it means living in a home that’s full of warmth and coziness and clearly well loved things. But as another relocation starts to loom on the horizon (more on that in a future post, when we’ve got a bit more info) and the idea of downsizing starts to look very real, I’ve had to look our stuff habit square in the eye and really start to figure out just how much of this stuff needs to stay.

Every packrat has a litany of justifications for their reluctance to get rid of things. I’m a combination of the just in case-er and the sentimentalist. Oh, those jeans in my closet that are completely unflattering and three sizes too small? Maybe my entire body shape and size will change! Those DVDs we never watch anymore because all our movies are on our hard drive? Maybe we’ll feel like watching the special features! (Actually, this one is legit; I do watch a bunch of the special features on DVDs all the time. The extended Lord of the Rings trilogy appendices and I have spent a lot of time together.) Those paperbacks on the bookshelf that I haven’t read in years? I had such a good time reading them, I like to look at them and think about how much fun they were! Those cookbooks we never use? They were a move-in present when I got my first apartment in college!

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SO MANY BOOKS. featuring a skinny dog who has fortunately gained more weight since this picture was taken.

Like I said: always a justification.

But as I’ve moved from room to room in our house, thinking about the very real possibility of going down to a smaller apartment without basement storage space and tons of square footage and dreading the idea of packing up all our crap yet again, I’ve slowly begun to admit to myself that it’s time to start getting rid of some of this nonsense.

So I made a list of the rooms in our house, and within those rooms, where de-cluttering and downsizing needs to happen. In the kitchen, it’s cookbooks and Tupperware and mugs (not the cute ones we’ve acquired over our years together, but the boring ones that came in four-packs and just take up space). In the living room, it’s books and board games and movies. In the bedroom, it’s clothes.

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Or as Sammi calls them, “those comfy things I lie down on.”

Once I made the list of rooms that needed purging, I set about the next task: identifying local charities and organizations that accept donations of the stuff we’ve got to give. This project gave me more of a reason to actually get this project done: getting things to people who will actually make use of them. What am I doing with clothes I don’t wear, books I don’t read, kitchen utensils I don’t use? Wasting space. Someone else, though, could ace a job interview, find a favorite novel, furnish a new kitchen after leaving a bad marriage or starting out on their own for the first time.

Seems like a better use of stuff, in my opinion.

So how does this stuff work in practice?

Actually really well. For my first de-cluttering project, I tackled my closet, a jungle of hanging clothes that has taken on wardrobe to Narnia proportions over the past few years. One hanger at a time, I looked at each shirt, skirt, dress, and sweater (oh my lord, you guys, I had so many cardigans), and really asked myself: have I worn this in the past six months? Will I wear it in the next six months? Do I like the way the fabric feels? Do I like the way it looks on my body? What do I wear it with to make an outfit? Do I actually really want to keep it? An hour later, I found myself with a greatly downsized closet, and a profound feeling of relief.

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The kept.

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The rejected. Featuring pillows smooshed by the dog.

Since my closet makeover, I’ve been able to get dressed in the morning without sorting through twenty hangers of stuff I haven’t worn in years. I was able to call my work wife over and have her go through my downsized pile and take all the stuff she wanted to build a work wardrobe (and now I get to see how cute she looks when she wears it!). The rest went to a local immigration center, which provides comprehensive services to immigrant individuals and families transitioning to the area.

We’ll see how I do when I get to books. I suspect less well. But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. I don’t think I’m ever going to have one of those streamlined, utterly neat apartments with nothing on the floor and beautifully clean surfaces—I’m just not that sort of person. But as I move through the different rooms of my house, cooking in one, relaxing in another, I’ve started to get an idea of which things in the room stress me out, and which make me smile when I see them. I’ve started to figure out what areas feel busy and cluttered, and which feel comfortably lived-in.

I’ve started to understand, one project at a time, what makes something worth keeping.

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Spoilers: It’s less about the stuff, and more about who you share it with.

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