When I walk into a friend’s home, a hotel room, or anywhere that’s clutter-free, I feel a sense of calm wash over me. When my house is clean and tidy, I feel much less stressed. But when I open a drawer full of stuff or my shelves are packed with too much decor, I get a very visceral reaction.
I sometimes feel that I spend half of my day moving stuff from one place to another and it drives me nuts. I have thought a lot about this over the years but never really figured out what to do about it….
Until the Instragram algorithm suggested that I follow @thebartahouse, a decluttering account focused on living a beautiful life with less stuff. Heather, the woman behind the account, committed to getting rid of 75% of her stuff and changed her life completely. Her home and level of clutter is a step (or two) above what is realistic for me but it still inspired me in a big way.
Reduce the amount of stuff in our home by 50%. Why 50? It’s an arbitrary number but feels right for me and my family. It’s a lofty goal, I realize but it doesn’t overwhelm me at all which makes me feel like this is the right decision for our home.
My other goal in all of this is to continue to have a house that feels comfy, welcoming, and lived-in. I’m not giving up my patterns and colors, it’s just about the stuff!
Over the weekend I started decluttering willy nilly and quickly realized that this wasn’t going to work. So I wrote out a list on my phone categorizing room by room and space by space. In some areas, 50% isn’t possible. For example, I think I can probably purge 20-30% of our kitchen supplies but can go over 50% with clothes and accessories so it will even out in the end.
I’m also planning to do 2-3 passes for each space. Over the weekend I cleaned out my closet but I went back in today and found more things to sell and donate. Sometimes it feels too overwhelming to do it all in one pass so multiple steps are ok.
Primary Bedroom- Closet, dresser, jewelry, nightstands, linens, visual clutter, bathroom cabinets and drawers
Kids Rooms- Closets, dressers, toys, books
Kitchen- Pantry, cabinets, drawers, visual clutter (we’re installing a charging drawer to hide all the stuff we have plugged in and charging which I’m so excited for)
Family Room- Dog toys, cabinets, visual clutter
Office- Decor/visual clutter, office supplies, files (this is a longer project obviously), furniture (replacing desk and filing cabinets with a desk that has a file drawer)
Living Room- Visual clutter
Play Room- Toys and even some of our storage baskets
Dining Room- Table linens, glasses, bar cart, visual clutter
Basement- Toys, storage room (oof, big project)
Laundry Room- Visual clutter
Electronics- Computer desktop, iPhone apps, emails, text message conversations, photos
When to keep vs when to purge:
This is easier for me than most people because I’m not sentimental about things for the most part. So my decision-making process goes like this: Do I need it? Do I actually use/wear it? Does it (you guessed it!) spark joy? If not, it goes bye bye.
Where to donate/recycle items:
Not all donations are created equally. For example, a Goodwill drop off might be quick and easy but there is more to it than meets the eye. There are a lot of other great options out there, however. Look locally for women’s shelters, halfway houses, and schools looking for donations. It can take a little time calling around to find the perfect spot but it is 100% worth it when you donate products that people really need and appreciate.
For Days– This is the coolest concept ever! For $20, they’ll ship you a giant Take Back Bag that you can fill with 25 pounds of old clothing and textiles that are then downcycled into rags and insulation or resold. When they receives your bag of clothing/textiles, you get $20 in store credit, and everything it sells on its site is made with recyclable material. I’ve never done this but definitely will try in this process.
ThredUp– ThredUp is an online consignment store that will also send you a bag to send in your clothing. Whatever they can’t sell, they’ll donate for you. And when they do sell things, you get a kick back either in cash or store credit. I’ve used them many times and have found it to be an easy and seamless process.
Terracycle- TerraCycle recycles everything that you cant traditionally recycle like old tubes of toothpaste and VHS tapes. You have to pay to use their service, and it’s kind of pricey but if you have a lot to get rid of, it is a wonderfully responsible option. They send you a box with a prepaid shipping label that you can fill with unwanted items (boxes start at $120) and they take it from there.
I found a great NY Times article on how to responsibly donate old clothing if you want to get into it further.
This is hard for a lot of us and I feel it very intensely as consuming is so tied to my work but there is consuming and then there is Consuming. It’s unrealistic to stop shopping completely (for me anyway) but doing it in a thoughtful way (which I already try to do) makes a big difference. More on this topic in the future if/when I figure it all out.
Q&A from Instagram:
Are you getting rid of knick knacks/decorative pieces? I am! Visual clutter is half the problem for me so I’m trying to tone it down everywhere. So if I have a table or shelf with 20 items, the goal is to pare that down to 10 or whatever feels right. A lot of this is based on gut feelings.
Someone else asked if I see colorful decor as “clutter” and my answer is a definitive no. I love color and pattern! You will never see me in a beige, neutral home as calm and serene as that sounds at times. I do think that you have to be careful with too much stuff especially when it’s colorful and bold.
What do you do with sentimental items? I’ve been thinking about this a lot because I have a ton of beautiful pieces from my grandmother and great grandmother who were both big travelers and collectors. I’ve had some of it appraised and there are a few things that are worth a pretty penny but I’m keeping it all because I know my kids will hate me if I donate or sell it. So the plan for now is to display my favorite things and put the rest (carefully!) into a storage bin in our basement for our children to use one day.
I also have a bin down there already labeled “Julia Sentimental” with things like tee shirts from when I was young and other random things I can’t get rid of. It’s only one bin and doesn’t take up too much space so I’m ok with that.
How do you store things that you’re selling on Poshmark to avoid more clutter? Right now I have it all in our guest room because no one is in there at the moment and hoping to get it all sold before we have any guests.
Do you think you’ll regret getting rid of so much after the fact? No way. I’ve been wanting to do something like this for years and I’m just so excited! Anything that I’m worried I might regret getting rid of, I’ll be putting in a box in our storage room and will give it a few months before I make the final call.
What to do with so much kids art? Unrelated to this (but also related to this), Anel found Artkive a few weeks ago and started taking pictures of the art we want to remember to upload to this super cool app that turns your kids’ art into memory books or prints. We plan to do one for each school year for each of the kids and can finally get rid of the art bin in our basement!
What is your plan for toys? Right before Christmas, Amalia and I went through her toys and I told her she had to donate at least 10 things. It was not hard for her because she has WAY too many toys. A big part of the issue is that my in-laws bring her and Luca each a new toy almost every week despite us (and Amalia) asking them not to. At this point we don’t know what else to do to stop it so we donate most of them.
All to say that she is already in the mindset of downsizing her toys. Yesterday I mentioned we would be cutting her toys in half and at first she got upset until she realized she would have full control of what would stay and go. She’s like me and hates clutter so I don’t think it will be too hard.
For Luca, he has his favorite 5 cars and favorite books and beyond that doesn’t really care so it will be a breeze.
Can you take videos while decluttering? I find it super motivating? 100% yes!
Why do you feel the need to get rid of things you like? The follower gave the example of me pairing down my (giant) blazer collection and my answer is this: because I dislike the feeling of too much stuff more than I like the blazer I chose to get rid of! If this doesn’t resonate with you than decluttering probably isn’t your jam but I feel it SO deeply.
My favorite decluttering tips from Instagram followers:
– For tough decisions I always ask myself will this bring someone else joy that I no longer have.
– Get your kids on it too! My 7 year old will now edit her space without issue.
– Don’t feel the need to keep something because it was a gift from family or friends.
– Store sentimental items that you don’t want out in a bin for future generations. Or take a picture of it and pass to someone else in the family who will appreciate it.
– If you can’t decide on something, store it in a box for a month or two and if you don’t go looking for it, get rid of it!