I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I’ve been overwhelmed by the clutter in our home for at least the last two years. There have been many times I made an attempt to clear it out and made progress. If you go back through my Facebook statuses I’m afraid you’ll find one too many excited posts about shipping the kids off to Grandma’s so I could FINALLY get the job done. To be painfully, brutally honest, the job never actually got done.
When I read the Orange Rhino’s book, “Yell Less, Love More” I started taking a good look at myself and my own responsibility for my yelling and I realized the clutter makes me yell. I yelled when I couldn’t find things. I yelled when I couldn’t do anything without tripping over toys. The clutter had to go. It was bringing us all down. It’s not just about cleaning, it’s about having entirely too much stuff and it’s a problem, that for some people, isn’t as easy as wanting it to be different. For me, it’s not a problem that’s going to go away without some real effort, but when the clutter makes you yell, it needs to go.
How Did I Get Here?
I suppose I’ve always been a bit of a pack rat but it always felt manageable. I realize I keep things for emotional reasons and I’m working on figuring out how to deal with all of that now. The things I kept didn’t often overwhelm me then. I lived in small apartments and I moved a lot. Then I had a baby. We had a system for the toys- a basket for cars, a basket for blocks and while I put him to sleep my husband picked up and sorted them back into their proper homes.
Then the “types” of toys started to outnumber the baskets.
We had sets of action figures from different shows, like Toy Story and Peter Pan. We had puzzles that came in wooden boxes with a compartment for each puzzle, with 4 puzzles in each box. The pieces were designated by a symbol on the back and my son literally destroyed every single wooden box by playing with it too rough. Somehow one box of 4 puzzles became 5 sets- with the pieces of all 20 puzzles mixed together.
Then I had another baby.
So the baby toys never went away.
And my oldest turned 3 so we bought educational games with tiny pieces and decks of cards before he was quite ready for them. His grandparents found these “busy books” with action figures and play mats that went with each story and it all fit together in the cardboard box with the book attached and decided that the kids needed EVERY SINGLE VERSION available. Batman, Thomas, Cars, Monsters Inc, Planes…. We have them ALL.
And the pieces got carried from room to room and jumbled all together and strewn across the house until nothing was where it belonged. I was too overwhelmed by it all- the mess, the crying baby, the exhaustion, the undercurrent of anxiety that now I had to keep two crazy daredevils safe, the anger at myself for not being able to handle it. Yeah, not fun.
“The mess was so big and so deep and so tall I could not pick it up, there was no way at all.” (Dr. Seuss really knows a lot about life). So I didn’t. I gave up. If I found some motivation from time to time- I shoved everything in a box and stacked it in our spare room to get it out of sight and be sorted later and later never came.
Until the room was so full it was about to burst and knowing it was there stressed me out and frustrated me even more. Every time I started to tackle it, the kids would go in there and mix everything up again.
So I locked the door and forgot about it a little longer.
I blamed the kids for the mess and my husband blamed us all.
People will tell you the mess can wait- you are making memories. If you have ever saved something because someone else might need it, or because it triggered a memory, or because you felt gulity you spent so much money on it, or because someone special gave it to you or your kids- PLEASE- get yourself a system before you get overwhelmed. Rotate those toys. Purge frequently. Do Something, Anything! Don’t let ignoring it become a habit like I did.
Now I’m overwhelmed and feeling stuck. SO overwhelmed that sometimes I wish we’d move and just leave everything we didn’t want behind. I’m feeling really tired of being overwhelmed and stuck. My kids are 5 & 3… I feel like I should be past that by now and moving into smooth sailing.
So I’m starting to clear out.
And it’s so impossibly hard for me. Like so hard I sometimes just stare at it all and feel defeated before I even begin.
If you feel this way too, you are not alone.
Don’t beat yourself up.
Make a plan and ask for help.
If you’re so overwhelmed you can’t make a plan or decide where to start…
You’re not alone. I’ve been researching some tips and found a few that make the job feel more manageable for me.
- Pick one project and set a timer.
- Think of creative uses for items and then donate them to someone who will actually do the project. For example, I donated the gift wrapping supplies I’d been saving to my son’s preschool class for dramatic play.
- Only start what you can finish.
- Make systems to help maintain order- like this file box for school papers.
Allow yourself to ask for help…. repeatedly.
I’ve acknowledged the problem and asked my husband for patience. When I get so far and know things need thrown away but I can’t make myself do it, I walk away and tell him I really wish it would disappear and he makes it happen. I sorted out 3 totes of books, a tote of sports equipment, a tote of puzzle pieces, 2 totes of random baby supplies that need to be sold or donated, a tote of wooden trains, a tote of stuffed animals, and a tote of construction trucks. Then I hit a wall. My sisters are coming soon to help.
I used to blame people for giving our kids too much stuff and feel bad about getting rid of it. I tried to tell them not to buy so much stuff. Of course, that didn’t work. Now I tell myself that the act of giving it to the kids gave them (and the kids) joy at the time. That doesn’t mean I have to keep them around forever.
If I find Target dollar bin items that my Mother in Law buys the kids for EVERY holiday- they get trashed. I let them keep the Christmas ones until the next holiday and then I throw them away. I’m getting ready to dump the Easter stuff now. When they aren’t looking, I throw out McDonald’s toys too. I’m throwing away pieces for board games that I know I will never find the rest of the pieces for and cardboard puzzles for the same reason. Even though it pains me, ripped books are going in the trash too.
My friend, Darla DeMorrow, a professional organizer, wrote a series of posts called “Breaking Up is Hard to Do” about emotional strategies for decluttering. If you struggle with that too- Go Read it! I especially love her tip about using a paper towel roll as a telescope to put blinders on and focus on one small area at a time.
As I’ve been cleaning out I’ve also been using these mantras to help power past difficult situations….
- If you can’t find it- you don’t own it.
- Someone else needs it more or if it’s junk- No one will ever want this.
- If I just moved and left this here would I even miss it?
- Would I save this from a fire?
- Do I want to be on the show hoarders? because if I keep this, I will end up there.
- If I died and someone went through my stuff would they save this? So why am I?
- I can do this. This is doable. (If you notice you’re telling yourself negative things- stop them in their tracks and tell yourself this instead.)
- Let it go.
- Less is more.
- When in doubt, throw it out.
If it triggers a memory- I’m going to try taking a picture of it instead of keeping it.
I don’t need a box full of things for my “scrapbook” that will never make it to the scrapbook.
Mementos and tokens. I’m going to lay them out- take a photo and then throw them away.
I admit, I am keeping a shelf for craft materials I collected to do projects. They are really hard to get rid of, because I see projects in my mind that I really wanted to do. Once the room is clean, if I make the time to actually complete the projects, awesome! If the stuff is still there in 3-6 months, it’s getting dumped.
I’m working on it when I feel refreshed and empowered, when I can move quickly. When I start to feel bogged down or it takes me forever to make a decision about something I stop and walk away from it.
When I had my son in 2010, my grandma (who has hoarding tendencies herself) tried to give me a bedding set from the early 90’s, brand new. Of course I didn’t want it; it was outdated. Remembering that story helps me get rid of the baby stuff now while it might still be useful to someone. I don’t want to be that old lady trying to re-home things that no one wants because it’s out of style or wasn’t taken care of. If I ever end up convincing my husband to have another baby, my family will buy us more. I don’t want that to sound entitled, but we had absolutely everything we needed when our second baby was born and they still bought more. He had to have his own, even though he wasn’t old enough to even know. So it all can go. I’m giving myself permission to “Let it go”.
I’m making progress, but I have a long way to go. I’m taking it one day at a time. You can too!
If you have any of your own tips to share, I’d love to hear them!
Amy Pessolano is a mom of two crazy boys and author of the blog Umbrella Tree Cafe. She strives to raise creative, unplugged kids and inspire others to live intentionally. Connect with her on Facebook or Pinterest!
I identify with this in a HUGE way. People like to give us so much stuff. They either found it on a deal or they thought our daughter just had to have it. And while I appreciate the thought, I don’t have the room for so much stuff. My mom just retired from teaching elementary school. I teach high school. She had so much stuff that she wanted to give me, but I walked into a classroom where the teacher had left almost 25 years worth of her old stuff. I had to tell my mother no to a lot of it, and all the while she made me feel bad by telling me how much stuff cost. I know it hurt her heart to see all that money go to waste, but I couldn’t use it at all. And I’m tired of clutter. My house is extremely cluttered right now because we moved from a 4 bedroom house to a two bedroom house. My classroom has to be clutter free for my sanity. All that to say that I completely understand where you are coming from and the panic that clutter makes you feel.
Christina @There's Just One Mommy
It’s so hard to deal with the toy clutter.
I am right there with you. At times I feel so overwhelmed I stop before I start. I keep hoping that they will outgrow some sets of toys and keep trying to not let them get new sets.
I definitely need these tips!
Angela @ Setting My Intention
I’m with you! I’m intentionally decluttering this year. It can get overwhelming. I’m excited that we are starting on our basement – it’s been an area of shame for me. I’m writing about our progress on the blog.
I have 3 kids-both boys & girls age 8,5 &3. It is so hard to purge when the little one still loves to dress up & play kitchen! I have gotten rid of 6 bags since school started. Not huge, but I am trying to reevaluate items every time we clean up…as well as every time I do laundry. If something is too little it does not go back to their room! I hide in laundry area then it goes to good will soon after. I have tried to just pick one thing like “organize book box”. That is doable & manageable. Organize pantry, small jobs…I am a long way from where I want to be…however, feel like I am making small amounts of progress. Good luck mamas. It is not easy…I often have “an airplane” seating arrangement in my Florida room as the kids rearrange furniture to accommodate their imagination. I try to embrace and not be OCD….it is not easy!
Thank you for posting! As I have a newborn trying to sleep now and a very energetic 4.5 year old boy, the clutter in our house is getting worse. My husband works 50+ hours a week and I am soon due back at work. Our clutter needs to go. Drives my husband crazy and I am tired of making new piles.
Bless you for your honesty, your tips, and your encouragement. Fighting my own battle with hoarding, sorting, and daily sprawl plus a 14 month old, unhelpful spouse (in this aspect) and full time job. Have set a goal of 100 items outta the house each week and if I want to count a stupid Coke rewards bottle cap as an item, I will. Every little bit helps, every little bit helps, every little bit helps.
Every little bit helps! You got this!!
I’m so glad I’m not alone in this. I have a hard time getting rid of things because when I go to throw something out or donate it, my daughter finds renewed interest in it!
Laura - The No Pressure Life
This really resonated with me! I’m an only child and my parents kept ALL THE THINGS. Granted, they were tucked away in the attic, basement, or storage shed so guests would have no idea how much crap there was. Yes, it’s fun that my 3 and 6 yo can play with my old toys (boy, does my daughter love Jem dolls and the original My Little Ponies), but there’s still so much. I have a hard time getting rid of my kids’ art projects and school papers. I keep trying different systems, but it’s tough. Keep up the good work! We will all get there eventually. BTW, I adore your blog’s name. Perfection!
This really spoke to me. I don’t FB and jusy started looking into Pinterest with a good friend’s suggestion. She also has twins. I had to become a single mom. Never thought that would happen to me like so many. I have a pair of very fantastic, busy special needs twins. I know that my desire to compensate my boys for our family situation contributes greatly to the accumulation of “stuff.” I have been working through this. I am tired of feeling overwhelmed and worrying that my small three bedroom condo will appear in an episode of “Hoarders.” I have been so embarrassed that I will not even invite friends over. I have been slowly and painfully purging. Time to get my home back. Thank you for the encouraging words and just knowing that there are many overwhelmed moms with this is reassuring. Nice to know that I am not a loser mom ;-).
No mom is a loser mom! We all have our struggles! No matter how perfect or put together one mom seems, we all are just trying our best not to lose our shit! Don’t be so hard on yourself, this is real life and it isn’t easy.
I have four kids who have SEVEN living grandparents so I know a thing or two about too much and clutter!
Here are some things I do instead of throwing toys away:
•donate to local YMCA preschool
•sell the McDs toys on eBay in lots you’d be surprised how quickly you can get rid of them
•take pictures of the kids artwork (we can only hang so much of it on the walls)
•take excess toys my kids love to their Sunday school classes (here they still get to see them/play with them but I don’t have to store them!)
• put on the floor the number of containers you want them to have (anything left over has to go!) our limit is 7 containers that fit into their IKEA toy storage racks
•donate old books to local schools even torn books can be used for cutting things out for picture collages in their art classes
•local libraries now accept used dvds! I love knowing all that $ spent will be appreciated by another child
•Ask grandparents and other family members to buy “time together ” like passes to a museum, movie theater, zoo, amusement park or favorite water park. These last so much longer than toys and
Gets them off of video games!