Cleaning Out Closets ~ By Linda Bailey

So I tend to bite off more than I can chew. A few months ago the opportunity to have everyone out of the house for a weekend seemed like the perfect time to do some major cleaning up. I had high hopes. I was going to tackle the worst room in the house. It was filled floor to ceiling with boxes from the move and just had enough floor space to walk a thin path around it. Since the move had taken place some five years before I had the brilliant idea that it would be no sweat to clear out that area.

But where to start? I mean of course you wanted to start near the door so you could make sure you had room to actually get things in and out but What then? Well, I started out at the door. To the right of the door was a large bookshelf filled with odds and ends and stacked on top of the shelf were old boxes. I managed to get a step ladder and started from the top. The boxes were very heavy and I barely made it safely to the floor with them. I imagined they were books or something equally as hefty. As I opened them I discovered they were VHS tapes. Boxes and boxes of VHS tapes.

The hoarder in me wanted to save them as I had invested a lot of money completing my collection but I was reminded of my vow to stop collecting things. Things are not important. People and memories are. If I really wanted to remember a particular video I could just take a photo of it and remind myself to look it up later. I did, however, go through the boxes and take out the recordings of my family. I did not want to toss out memories, just junk. That took me some time and I hauled the boxes down the stairs and out to the street.

Moving on, I went through the rest of the bookshelf. I had three boxes with me. One was marked Goodwill, one was Trash and the last, smallest box was Keep. I went through those shelves ruthlessly tossing almost all of the junk into the goodwill pile. Broken dishes, bits of paper and so on went into the trash. That went quickly and I was relieved. Beyond the bookshelf was a walk in closet. It wasn’t the biggest closet, about the size of a twin bed. However it was packed with old clothes and more boxes, big ones.

I got the boxes down one by one. The first few largest ones were filled with blankets. Twin, King, Queen, quilts and throws and everything in between. Some I recognized as belonging to my great-grandmother and I set them aside. Others were down and were perfect for winter. The rest I threw in the Goodwill box. Although it is good to have extra blankets on hand I though three large boxes full was going a bit overboard. Especially when we had not used the in five years. Throw pillows, stuffed animals and other small soft things were in the next box. Then I got to the hard part. Boxes of photos and papers.

The photos had to be kept, of course, although I was not going to volunteer to sort through them and create an album. The papers were old enough that they could be tossed safely and I tossed as quickly as I could. A box of my old things from college was next and I couldn’t help but hold on to a relic or two. A small box of old comics went into a pile for eBay along with a few collectable toys.

All the dust was really starting to make my eyes water and I dragged some things downstairs for a break. Gathering a mask and washing my hands I ventured back into the never ending closet. The clothes were next on my list. I brought up trash bags and just started to go through the clothes one by one. Easter dresses, graduation gowns, old sweaters, Halloween costumes and anything else you probably would not miss packed the closet. The packed bags filled the floor of the closet and I was forced to drag everything out to my car before continuing. Exhausted and only halfway through with the closet I called it a night.

The next day I started up again. I finished the clothing leaving only a few outfits to decorate the bare walls. Before I could move on however I had to address the growing pile of bags and boxes in my living room. Far more than could fit in the trunk of my car I had to figure out a way to get them to Goodwill. I finally got my neighbor to drive a load up in the back of his pickup and we managed to get the whole thing done in one go.

When I returned to finish up the room I felt defeated. I had barely scratched the surface in a day and a half of steady work. On top of that the break from the family had been cut short and they were due back any minute. I forced myself to straighten up and make sure the walking path was navigable again. Thoroughly disgusted I felt like I had wasted my time. But then I thought about how much I had gotten rid of. Hundreds of pounds of junk was no longer in my house. Even though it might not look like much, it was that much less I would have to deal with in the future.

The experience also inspired me to tackle my own closet. It was much smaller and less daunting then the one I had already done. With only an hour or two of work I was able to get my closet in great shape and feel like I had accomplished something.

Beyond just cleaning up that closet I also learned a valuable lesson. Even good stuff that is stored away becomes bad stuff eventually. There is no sense in keeping things you are not going to use. It only makes it that much harder on you later. Now I have started to just throw away things that do not have to be kept. I try to get at least one bag a week in my trunk and off to Goodwill. This helps me to keep the clutter from building up again. Hopefully one day I can get the clutter in my home under control, but until that point I will try my best to not add to it.

I have started to think of clutter like the chains in Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol. Every day we build a new link in the chains that bind us when we continue to let junk build up in our lives. The only way to break free is to stop building the chains and start working to undo them.

Author Bio:

This post is contributed by Linda Bailey from housekeeping.org. She is a Texas-based writer who loves to write on the topics of housekeeping, green living, home décor, and more. She welcomes your comments which can be sent to b.lindahousekeeping @ gmail.com.

Today’s Mini Mission

Repair something that has been sitting useless so it can become useful again.

Eco Tip for the Day

Take a few lesson on sewing and/or simple handyman tasks. This way you can repair things rather than throwing them out and buying a new one. My local hardware store give free lessons or repairing and repurposing, maybe yours does too.

For a full list of my eco tips so far click here

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow


Continue reading with these posts:

  • Owning your life skill ~ By Doodle One of our long time regular readers Doodle has kindly agreed to help out here at 365 by writing a blog post for me every other Wednesday. Today is her first regular post although not the […]
  • Cleaning out closets ~ By Linda Bailey Here is a guest post from July 2013 by Linda Bailey from housekeeping.org that I thought was worth repeating for the lessons it contains. Enjoy! So I tend to bite off more than I can […]
  • Freeing up space I talk a lot about freeing up space in cupboards, closets, shelves and floors. No one ever seems to have questioned me as to what all this space is being freed up for. What is the point in […]
About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.

Comments

  1. I love using http://www.scheduleapickup.com/ for the Vietnam Veterans of America. I put my load out on the front porch and they come and pick it all up. It saves me time and I get that feeling of accomplishment much faster.

    • Kati, thank you so much for posting that link. I am in the process of getting rid of some things that I know my favorite cat charity will take, but I know they won’t want it all. The Vietnam Vets is a terrific organization and I think that will be my alternate charity. Thanks again!

    • That is a great idea! The ones I have used before only pick up big items like furniture, but I will be sure to check that out. Thanks for the help and the comment!

  2. Hi Linda. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I really like your remark, “Even good stuff that is stored away can become bad stuff eventually.” This is something I could keep in mind. Colleen will probably want to smack me in the head but I am embarrassed to admit that I have a few (maybe more than a few) boxes of what I consider “good stuff”. Gads!! I think most of us would say that we feel empowered when we get rid of bad stuff or useless stuff, but when it is what would be considered good stuff, well, that’s a whole different ballgame. I think Colleen is going to hit on “sentimental clutter” sometime in the near future, as well. 😉

    You made terrific progress, I think, and you will continue to be successful in this endeavor. Sure, it can be overwhelming, but you will keep doing well!

    • Thanks for the encouragement. Yes, I have problems throwing out stuff that is not broken or stained but I have learned that living with clutter is far worse than spending a little here and there to replace something I tossed.

  3. Oh Linda, I can relate so much to your story. First, I ditched a lot of school notes, second, I got rid of the majority of my stuffed animals. I sorted out my make up (hint: 90 percent is gone now). Many other things were decluttered and many trips to goodwill were made.

    Still I sometimes look around, see my belongings and despair. But then I think, I have made many trips to goodwill, each a truckload (I have to admit, I don’t own a large car, but mostly, a lot of filled-to-the-brim bags were donated each time). I also remember that I ‘lost’ a lot of storage. Also, it does help that I have ‘before’ pictures – sometimes I look back and wonder what I was thinking back then.

    Colleen, I love your mini mission and eco tip. Last Friday I bought a tube of glue (5 EUR) to repair my shoes (I did that last Saturday). Not only did I save at least 15 EUR (I usually buy cheap shoes, however, the next pair, when these shoes are beyond repair, I’m going for something that lasts a decade), but that is one less pair of shoes which aren’t going to the landfill on my behalf!

    • I love that you fixed those shoes yourself! Great job. I had a ton of school stuff I was keeping for no reason. Now I’m not missing it at all!

  4. “Even good stuff that is stored away can become bad stuff eventually.” This is so very true.

  5. Hello Linda,
    Thanks for contributing your post. I’m glad you haven’t given up after your marathon efforts! I empathise with the video situation. I have finally decided to let go of all of mine and also the machines that play them, though I am aware that if I stuck to videos only rather than DVDs, we would have less landfill of old videos! I hope someone will use them or that the cassettes are recyclable… It is interesting how one’s mind changes gradually over time and suddenly you feel able to let go of things that previously were kept as a matter of course. Technology helps as now I feel that getting hold of films I want to watch is much easier.
    Jane

    • I know what you mean. I used to record and save everything. Now I know I can just look it up on YouTube or Netflix and it helps me to relax. Thanks for commenting!

  6. I like to read Bea Johnson’s Zero Waste Home blog, and she said that it took her 5 years to get to the point that they are at now. I just remind myself of that. We don’t have a lot of clutter, but I am trying to change habits to be more eco-friendly and find it easy to fall back into old habits. I am doing better this year than last year, and next year will be more fine tuning. It takes time to develop good habits and keep them.

  7. I can relate to the overwhelming pile of clutter and feeling defeated after spending a ton of time and effort to have the space still be a cluttered mess. Back when I was in college I stayed with my grandmother one summer because I had an internship in her town and it was much easier to live with Grandma five days a week than to be driving daily from my apartment which was an hour away. During those 10 weeks, I would come home from work and head on down to her basement after supper. Her basement was packed with 50 years of stuff. I would bring box after box up for her and I to sort through. I did this almost every day for ten weeks. We tossed bags and bags worth of trash and at the end of each week I would fill my car to the brim with things for Goodwill and drop them off on my way back to my apartment. I think we were both exhausted when the ten weeks were up. That last evening I walked down those basement steps expecting to see a remarkable change waiting for me. Unfortunately, that just wasn’t the case. I still saw piles and piles of untouched boxes, racks and racks of clothing not yet gone through, and that was just in the room I had been focusing on! There were still 2 other rooms in that basement I didn’t get to. I also started to have my head fill with thoughts of ‘I wasted my time’ but I too came around and realized just how much we really had accomplished and that the task will be that much easier the next time someone goes down there to sort again.

    • Oh, wow, Melissa – what a huge help that was for your grandmother … it’s so hard for people when they can’t lift and carry like they used to. I hope you two treated yourselves at the end of the summer!!

    • Wow Melissa what a great thing to do for your grandmother. I am sure she appreciated it. I think it is harder to let go of things as you get older so I am glad she had your help to make decisions. Thanks for commenting and sharing your story.

  8. Happy Dancing here. Mom suggested we get rid of 35 books that she has been hanging onto. WooHoo!!

    • Wow! That’s great. You’re mom sure has come a long way in being able to let things go.

    • That is great Deb! I mentioned a little while ago that I have been able to get rid of some books lately too. A good friend and I share a common interest and she is just the person to enjoy the books that I have on the subject.

      • It’s great, Jen, that you have someone to pass them on to. I don’t think anyone I know will want these as they are older but they will go well at Goodwill.

    • 35 books is a great thing! I am happy for you both!

  9. I was glued to this as I read!!!!!!! Please give us more installments!

    This is similar to the ceiling storage I am sorting thru at the moment, its almost like an archaeological dig going back thru layers of family history.

    I can totally understand your feeling of frustration that a visual manifestation of progress doesn’t match the effort put in. Be totally impressed at how much you were able to fit into that wardrobe in the first place and proud of the pick up load of stuff that went to goodwill. Its like that saying about “how do you eat an elephant? one mouthful at a time”

    Even good stuff that is stored away becomes bad stuff eventually. This is a realisation I have had recently myself while working on our ceiling storage. When I was talking to a friend about how much stuff used to be stored in the ceiling storage and garage floor, she asked if I used to be a hoarder (well, probably a little bit) but when I talked about what was actually up there and what got moved on, she realised it had started out ‘current’ but fallen into ‘bygone era’ – and this happens quite quickly with a family, kids move thru phases so fast.

    Pat yourself on the back! Excellent progress because you made a start! Please tell us you got before photos and that you’ll update us.

    • “Its like that saying about “how do you eat an elephant? one mouthful at a time””
      I just heard that for the first time the other day and it has really helped me out. Sometimes things can get overwhelming. Thanks for all your support. I am glad you enjoyed my article. I don’t have any photos, but I wish I had thought to take them!

  10. Loved this post. There were a few things that I took away from it. I really thought it was so important that even though the job was not completed fully, Linda did what she could with the time she had. I would love to know if more progress was made and I hope she took pictures. Most importantly, I think, is once the decision is made to get rid of stuff, is to get it out of the house. Gathering it is only half the battle but getting it to it’s final destination is key. It leaves no time to second guess if it is taken away at once. Taking it to the donation center or other location, puts the feeling of accomplishmment at a different level and you don’t have it staring back at you. There are a lot of places that will come and get your things, you just have to ask if that service is offered

    • Thanks for your comment. No, I have not made any more progress. There have been many family illnesses lately that have taken up all of my time. I hope to return to it soon. Thanks again!

  11. Linda, this is such a good boost for my lagging efforts; thanks for sharing with us 🙂

  12. Linda – what a great post- I was with you every step, vicariously decluttering through you. And I felt accomplished–so pat yourself on the back! You will see your vision if you just keep after it!! Thanks for sharing your experience!

  13. I’m sorry you felt discouraged. I think you did GREAT! Maybe next time you take on a big job, instead of thinking “I will finish this whole room in a weekend,” it would be helpful to phrase it, “I will work steadily on this throughout the weekend.” Then, as long as you work steadily on it, you have achieved your goal. One of my mother’s favorite phrase is “Everything takes 3 times longer than you except.” Decluttering is certainly no exception!

  14. I believe this is why I have an easier time keeping the open areas decluttered or jumping on them when they get cluttered. Cleaning out closets has less immediate visual impact, but it is still HUGE! What a good reminder. Our hall closet is cleared out and very tidy now. It does make me happy and is so much easier to find the things we need and use. It will especially be appreciated in winter.

  15. Ideealistin :

    Hi Linda, I think a trick with overfull storage is to bring the boxes to another room one by one. 5 boxes down from 50 for example may not Look stunning in the storage – but the same boxes stacked in a pretty and clean Living Room suddenly are a lot. Counting, weighing, photographing: all that is good, too, Even if the Feeling of accomplishment often only comes in retrospective.

  16. This post came at exactly the right time for me. We downsized to smaller home a few weeks ago. Before we moved I had a big garage sale and sold many, many things. I thought the move would rather simple because we had purged so much. Well, long story short it is an overwhelming, exhausting process and we didn’t purge not even close to enough. We are unable to fully move into the new house because of floor renovations, that is one issue. But the other major issue is that our garage is basically packed with boxes and boxes of “stuff”and furniture and other things left to be sold on Craig’s list. Our 2nd bedroom and loft are packed with boxes and decor, artwork and files. I have to decide what we are keeping when I complete decorating. I have taken dozens of trips to Goodwill and still there is more. I feel like I work for a whole week-end and haven’t made a dent. This is such a good reminder to look at what we have completed. The new master closet and kitchen pantry systems we put in are beautiful and finished! The kitchen is done. I have over 40 empty bins (I am selling these) and we have broken down dozens of empty boxes for re-cycling. How can there be so much left!!! One reason: I had many rooms decorated to the max and had bins of labeled and stored stuff. Another reason: we no longer have to do any house, yard and pool maintenance and spouse has to go through and let go of more of the items needed for those jobs. I have a daily mantra now.:”it will take as long as it takes. It will take as long at it takes.” Thanks for providing a place to post and let go of some of the burden and get support form others who “get it.” I may post before and after photos, but that will be later…..

    • Scrapabbey, I think you should be proud of all that you have done. Moving is hard no matter what, especially if you are downsizing. Your idea of going through things as you decorate and getting rid of what you don’t lose is good. hang in there. It will happen.

    • I love your mantra!! I have gone through periods of feeling overwhelmed, and I think reminding myself that “it takes as long as it takes” will help out!!

    • I am overwhelmed just reading your comment! So glad you can keep calm and get it done one day at a time!

  17. What a wonderfully, well written story. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.

    I particularly connected with he following:

    “Even good stuff that is stored away becomes bad stuff eventually. There is no sense in keeping things you are not going to use. It only makes it that much harder on you later.”

    There is no use holding onto it, and it is so much better for it to be in the possession of someone who will.

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  1. […] has found opportunity in the face of renovations. She also tells us, in this comment, about the progress she is making with her decluttering, how she can identify that and how she has […]