Thursday, March 29, 2012

Purging. Just call it voluntary simplicity...

My kitchen counter at 7:30 in the morning.
This morning, bright and early, our carpenter friend called and asked for photos of some work he had done for us. So without warning we snapped pictures of my 4 x 10 foot solid maple dining table and the matching counter in the kitchen. How did I get ready? I moved my purse and the bowl of proofing sourdough. That was it. Nothing was piled with books, papers, toys, mail, or anything else. One of the critical parts of getting house cleaning under control is reducing the number of things you have to clean. American homes are palatial by global and historical standards and are stuffed to the gills with belongings, so much so that we even rent storage space to more things we can't stuff into our homes. While I admit to holding on to more than a few items because of nostalgia, I am Goodwill's best friend. I have a policy that unless I am very busy (like going to be out of town or have barfing kids) I always put together at least one tall kitchen garbage sack of things for any charity that calls. I always have a sack in the laundry room marked "Charity" that is available to fill and ready to go. I also constantly toss out things we don't need and think twice before I buy something. I have also trained my kids to not expect trinkets. All these things add up to a lack of clutter and that means that at 7:30 this morning, there was no mess to tidy up. So how to get the number of things you have to take care of under control?

My dining room; this table seats 14.

First: Give your things away!

You probably have lots of great things. You probably don't need them all. Start by getting rid of some of them and give them to people who don't have things so many or so nice. Since this is a food blog and you are here, you probably care something about food so why don't you start in the kitchen. I will never understand the American compulsion to have out as many plates, glasses and pieces of flatware as they need for Thanksgiving. Oh, that holiday! I hear it all the time. They need a table big enough for it, platters and serving ware for it, and wine glasses for it. I don't think you need all that for one day if it means paying for it, cleaning it, moving it around and storing it for the other 364 days out of the year. Ask your grandmother how they handled these events. She'll tell you that they asked relatives to bring dishes, extra chairs and folding tables. Using what you have is depression green, which means it is financially savvy and ecologically sound. You don't need more place setting than the number of people in your household times two or three. I actually go under this number because there are twelve people in my family and I cannot imagine having 36 bowls.

Get some produce boxes from the store and fill them up with extras. They are small and fill quickly and when they are full, put them in the car and the very next time you run an errand drive past the closest charitable thrift shop and drop them off. Don't wait. Don't go through the box. The last thing a clutter bug needs is temptation. If you have some very valuable (monetarily or sentimentally) items which are not used at least once a week, pack them in produce boxes and place in the basement for when you need them. If you do not use them withing in a year, give them away. If it is a family heirloom, give it to somebody who will use it. Don't hoard it. It will develop close bonds and a sense of gratitude.

Second: Throw away the junk and put away the rest!

If it is not working for you, if it is broken, damaged, ineffective then it is not worth giving to someone else. So recycle it or toss it out. I know, you will feel guilty for producing so much garbage but here is the difference: keep the garbage in the house or get it out of the house. it garbage already even if it is not actually in the garbage. Get some big, black garbage sacks (so you can't see in) and just toss it. If you are a paper mess, you need two things. First, get a  big wall calendar. Write dates on the calendar. Recycle paper. Don't tell me you need it out least you forget. We both know you forget anyway. Just stop kidding yourself. Second, get a few big binder clips. Take the bills' payment coupons, shred and recycle the rest, and clip to calendar. Write the due date on the calendar. After you pay the bill write the confirmation number on the calendar and shred and recycle. Keep this month's and last month's magazines and newsletters and recycle the rest. If you have piles of junk that belong in other rooms, do not leave the room to put them away. Make a pile and finish the kitchen tidying. Afterwards, put all the homeless things in a laundry basket and put them away all at once. If you don't, you will wander your house for an hour picking up other projects and never finishing this one.

Third: Banish things that don't belong in the room!

Don't allow the homeless objects to stay in a room overnight. Before you go to bed, get rid of the stragglers. Make it a habit and spend the next three weeks developing this habit so that it hurts your brain to walk past a pair of sneakers and unopened mail on the counter. Stand and look at your clear kitchen counter and be glad you did the work. Invite someone over and pat yourself on the back. You'll be glad you did.

Fourth: Pick the next room and do the same thing all over again!

You need to keep it going. You don't necessarily need to do it all in once day. Just make an effort to spend at least twenty minutes a day in the room that you are working on and do it until it is done. But pretty soon, you will find that there is less and less mess and more and more order. It feels good and is well worth the minor pain of twenty minutes a day.

Next week is dishes and food pets (think kefir grains) and is the last post in this weekly series. Need more inspiration for getting it all under control? See the other posts in my homemaking series:

  • Laundry, HERE
  • Bathrooms, HERE
  • Bite sized cleaning, HERE

So, is your kitchen the first place you are tackling or is it another room? Tell me, I'd love to hear about your plan!

Linking up to Pennywise Platter and Simple Lives!


  1. I have been getting rid of a lot of stuff lately. Since we're moving I'm determined not to move anything that we don't actually need - we have enough stuff as it is! My husband is the "but I might need it someday..." type but he's getting a little bit better as I tell him that the space is more valuable.

    I wanted to add that if you have something that's broken/ineffective you can try giving it away through Freecycle. I just got rid of two old laptops and a bunch of books with underlining in them. The laptops were far too old and slow for us (we're snobs in that way, I guess) but I got so many people who wanted them. I didn't think Goodwill would take the books because of the underlining but they're still perfectly useful to anyone who doesn't mind that sort of thing. Anyway, I've found Freecycle to be a great option for things that aren't top-notch but don't quite need to be thrown in the trash yet. It does take some time, though, but I wanted to throw it out there for any readers who do have the time to deal with it. :)

    1. That is true! Freecycle works well for a lot of people. I usually don't want to dedicate the space for things so I never have used it. Thanks for mentioning it.

  2. I need to work on decluttering again. I did pretty well in January and then got sick and then side tracked. If I hit each room 15 minutes a day and pack the car, I can drop it off on my way to school pickup. I'm really good about not going in the front door because I time the Goodwill dropoffs so close to school pickup. :)

  3. Is that Chuck's work? Wish I was up there- we have desperately outgrown our table!

    1. Actually, I have been thinking about hiring Chuck! I want the same stove hood he put in his wife's kitchen. But my table and counter were done by Erik Feltes. He is going to do the other half of the kitchen hopefully this summer or fall. He creates handmade pipes, too. Here are his pipes which can ship anywhere:

      The furniture and kitchens don't ship so well!

  4. It is so freeing to keep possessions, and therefore clutter, to a minimum! Five years ago when my hubby and I moved from a large house to a 1-bedroom apartment we had a lot of stuff to go through and get rid of. It's actually been really great living in a small space since it forces us to not accumulate lots of needles stuff!

  5. I could have written this, lol! I am a huge giver-thrower-seller-awayer of stuff! Too bad I live with many little people who are my polar opposites. I usually win, though! Glad to see others are minimalists!

  6. Yes! Thanks for this post. I read this last night and today I hit several hot spots in my house, removed a bag of garbage, 3 bags for the charity shop and one box for the used book store. I started going through the toys but that was too upsetting for my 3 year old, so I let him help me go through a cabinet and throw some of *my* stuff in the bag. He liked that part. :)

    1. I will have the kids help me bag things and then we put them in my closet for two weeks. If they can "name" something in that bag that they want, they can have it. They have to be able to describe it to me without looking in the bag. I have only had a kid remember once just what she wanted. It was a Minnie Mouse doll in a red velveteen dress. She described it perfectly and I got it out. But that is the only time it has ever happened.


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