The Great Clutter Purge of 2011

Piles of Clutter

At the end of 2010, I walked my husband through our house. I pointed out the workshop he couldn’t use, the bikes he didn’t have room to fix or improve, the unusable, piled-high workbenches. I showed him the first floor rooms he couldn’t fix because they were piled wall to wall, almost floor to ceiling, with our stuff. I opened every overflowing closet, jam-packed drawer, and stuffed cabinet. We talked about how our living space was uncomfortable because it had so much furniture and other stuff piled around us.

Six years before we had combined our two adult lives into a 3 bedroom, 2 bath, 2-car garage half-acre property in the country that was piled high with stuff sentimental to my husband. And then we moved twice into successively smaller homes without getting rid of much.

We had a HUGE amount of stuff packed into our home.

In January of 2011, we started purging. We would work during nap time, after bed time, and friends and family would come over and watch the kids so we could work. A couple of times we even hired babysitters so that we could sort clutter.

We worked one room at a time, breaking it down into smaller, bite-sized tasks. We broke it down by the 13 rooms (leaving out the tiny 2nd floor bathroom  that took 5 minutes to de-clutter) and then by the big things within those rooms. I kept a running list that looked like this:

J Bedroom:

  • Toys
  • Under bed storage
  • Storage shelves
  • Dresser

Our Bedroom:

  • Under bed storage
  • Christi closet
  • Jason closet
  • Shelves
  • Cabinets
  • Dresser
  • Desk

You get the idea.

It was a daunting list, but we did it. We went through every area on that list, crossing them all off.

It took us about 10 months to finish the entire house. We sold things where we could, had a yard sale, and then donated or gave the rest to friends.

This was hard. I don’t like clutter and am more of a minimalist, but I’m married to someone who doesn’t throw anything away. Ever. It was exhausting to constantly remind myself to be patient and talk a certain item through with him rather than just yelling “Throw it out!” like I really wanted to. And it was hard even for me sometimes to get rid of things. While we worked together there were arguments, but there was much more laughter as we started to feel good about tackling this stuff.

The more we pitched, the more we wanted to pitch.

We realized what a burden all this stuff had been–the one whole room piled high with unopened boxes from our move 5 years before, the huge amounts of clothes we didn’t wear, the chainsaw we were keeping even though the home we currently own doesn’t have a tree.

It cost us money to have all of that stuff. We pay a mortgage, insurance and taxes on a 2,000+ square foot home, and we could only walk through it in paths. We were paying for a giant storage area that we couldn’t use any other way, not a home in which to raise our kids. Things were being broken from being piled. We were buying something we already had because we needed it but couldn’t find it. Food was expiring in the back of the cabinet. And then there’s the time and money spent cleaning, ironing, fixing or maintaining so many things.

A year after finishing, I have 75% less clothing. I donated about 20 pairs of shoes, maybe more. I donated my wedding dress. We donated most of our books if they weren’t reference or something we read close to yearly.

We were able to use our stuff to help others, helping us feel even better about the purge process.

  • My wedding dress went to Brides Against Breast Cancer in honor of my cousin Suzie
  • My dress clothes, suits, and professional-looking shoes went to Dress for Success.
  • Pantry foods and unopened health and beauty items went to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.
  • Countless items went to Goodwill.
  • Opened food and health and beauty items went on Freecycle.
  • And we were able to help a friend out who was moving into a new home.

The most important thing I learned from the de-cluttering process is that it IS a process. I made sure to talk to Jason about how he was feeling through every step of the process, asking him what he was thinking about when he looked at a certain item. We both had many hobbies that had lots of stuff attached, and it was time to acknowledge the people we are either don’t enjoy some of them any more or just won’t have time for them for the next 20 years. 

I spent time searching the internet for ideas on how to keep memories of some item but not the item itself. A quick example: Jason had fond memories of his grandfather using a large lathe, so he had moved that lathe with him wherever he went. It was huge, heavy, and not his grandfather. I encouraged him to take lots of photos of it and to pry off the very cool metal info tag and keep that in his workshop where he’d see it every day.

Getting rid of the books ended up being really tough, but we have a fantastic library system in Pittsburgh. Most weren’t books that we’d re-read; most just looked good on a shelf. We kept books we truly loved and re-read and many of the how-to books useful for rebuilding a home or cooking.

It was hard, but our quality of life skyrocketed and we felt relieved of a huge burden. Most people didn’t notice a difference because our living space didn’t change much. But every closet, cabinet and drawer doesn’t overflow, and things can be found. The biggest difference is in the 6 rooms (+ a bathroom) downstairs and in the basement. There is finally room for Jason to have a little workshop, and room in the garage for the bikes and his bike repair equipment.

And it finally became possible to hire help to finish our construction project!


Next week, I’m going to write about battling Clutter Creep. 

I’d love to hear your strategies for keeping the clutter down!


3 responses to this post.

  1. […] One in, one out rule. Some folks apply this to clothing. We’re not too strict about this since we had so little left after 2011′s purge. […]

  2. You’re sweet! I’ve seen your stress levels drop firsthand–and remember how excited you were to create a real workshop, even if the ceiling is one inch lower than the top of your head in many places?

  3. Posted by Jason on September 7, 2012 at 8:36 pm

    It was such a difficult thing for me to do, but Christi’s encouragement and organization really helped me get though it. I couldn’t believe how liberating it felt to get rid of stuff! My stress levels dropped significantly.

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