Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Purge

No, not the kind looming ominously in our imminent future. Like, purging stuff. My stuff. I know it's been a while since I have posted anything about our lives, but this whole having three jobs and there not being a single day when Joey and I are both off and we can spend time as a family thing is pretty harsh. But with Joey's semester ending and me being off or four weeks straight, we've begun our regular purging process and I thought I may share some of my "method" as it were. It feels slightly hypocritical considering the whole Marie Kondo thing ('commodified mindfulness' was a description I found particularly apt), but I'm not charging money for this or anything so here goes.

These are just some basic tips that I have developed over the years after a lot of trial and error. I have a feeling a lot of what "works" is dependent on individual personalities, which I'll try to explain more as I go along. It's also important to note that a certain amount of privilege goes into some of these tips. A lot of what I do would be considerably less feasible if I was renting my home or furniture, if I had a more limited income, or a number of other factors.

Tip #1: Move a lot.
      Ok, so this one is mostly joking. But seriously, it did work for me for a while. Until we bought our current house, I was moving at least once a year, and actually moved over 10 times in 8 years. Each time I would move, I would decide which stuff just wasn't worth moving and make a trip to a thrift store or two. So this in and of itself kept clutter down for me for a while. Now, obviously this was more of a side effect than a strategy and I don't really recommend uprooting your family every 12 months, but I'm just throwing it out there because I think it shaped my perspective on what kinds of stuff is 'worth' keeping.

Tip #2: Less space; less stuff.
      It may seem kind of obvious, but the less space you have to store shit, the less shit you tend to accumulate. I get that people have different needs for space depending on family size and what not, but trying to minimize the amount of space you need goes a long way to help minimize the amount of stuff you have. Our house doesn't have any usable attic space. We have a one car garage that is Joey's home gym and my tool storage, a linen closet, a coat closet, and a closet in each of the three bedrooms. There's not a lot of space to store extra stuff. So we don't keep anything we don't use regularly. Seasonal items are pared down to what can fit in two Rubbermaid totes. Things like craft supplies, media, and computer stuff all share a space in our third bedroom. All of our clothes are out year round, so there's not much room for excess in our closets or dressers.  We have really enjoyed the ways that our small home has forced us to get creative and to prioritize.

Tip #3: Multifunctionality is a must.
       I may have just made up that word, and there may be an existing word that is escaping me right now, but we're just going to go with it. Because of #2, this one is more of a necessity than a tip, but it still works even if you have excess space. Why have two different items if there is one item that does both things? We got an Instapot and LOVE it because it has several functions that many people have completely separate appliances for (steamer, rice cooker, crock pot, etc.). Things like this are really awesome for paring down the clutter. Our "office" is our office, media room, craft room, and a good bit of our storage. Making this space function for multiple purposes keeps each of those activities in check. Instead of buying  thin table for our hallway nook, we got a credenza that works as even more storage. Perrin's bed has drawers underneath. Our kitchen island also serves as our table. These kind of things help us reduce the amount of things (especially furniture) we need.

Tip #4: Do It in Increments.
     For the longest time I would try and clean up and organize and purge my entire house all at once. And I would get super overwhelmed and cranky and then procrastinate about doing it the next time because it was so miserable. Do one room at a time. Or one closet. Or one bookshelf. Do something you can do in one sitting so that you don't have to leave a huge anxiety inducing mess lying around for an extended period of time. It may seem like you end up moving the same pile of stuff from one spot to the next, but eventually you will have been through the whole house. Bonus tip: whatever is in that migrating pile is usually a prime candidate for getting rid of.

Tip #5: Do It Often.
     This was another big game changer for me. I would usually only try to go through stuff once a year or so. That made the project feel a lot bigger and it also meant that whatever mood I was in that day dictated how productive the purge would be. Now I try and go through things every 3-6 months. That's not to say the whole house, but a little bit every couple months. A lot of times I find that something I kept the last go around hasn't been touched since, so it ends up making it out the door in the next round. It also becomes more of a lifestyle than a project. I find I'm constantly brainstorming ways to make things more functional and streamline.

Tip #6: Know Thyself
     Like I said in the beginning, a lot of this has to do with your personality and goals. Are you a sentimental person or do you move on from things easily? Are you pretty laid back or do you tend to get stressed out by your environment? Are you motivated by a particular aesthetic result or are you trying to downsize out of environmental consciousness? Considering things like these will dictate how you go about decluttering and what you focus on. Personally, I'm not too sentimental and I hate cleaning. A lot of my energy is getting rid of things and making sure things are put away (or can be put away easily) to reduce the time and energy we spend cleaning our house. I also like reducing our material possessions from a more philosophical standpoint and reducing our waste output and environmental footprint.

Tip #7: Don't Get Rid of What Doesn't Belong to You
      As frustrating as it may be to have different opinions about clutter and house keeping, you don't get to make decisions about other people's things, at least not without permission. I'd be pretty pissed if I came home and Joey had decided which of my belongings were excessive. So I don't do it to him. And I don't do it to Perrin. Everyone gets to decide about their own belongings. I knew that this was my stance from an ethical standpoint, but when Perrin was an infant I worried about how practical that outlook would be. However, it's actually been quite easy. Since Perrin was old enough to point to things, I've involved him in going through his toys. Every few months, we go through stuff and he picks out what to purge and what to keep. Sometimes he picks a lot of things, sometimes it's only one or two items. But we do it often, so I'm not relying on this one go around to solve all of our organizational issues. I explain to Perrin that because he gets new things for his birthday and holidays, we have to make room for them by donating some of our old things. He also understands that other kids are getting a turn with his toys, and I think that's more helpful than his stuff just being "gone". I like that he is learning to not become too attached to material objects and that the coming and going of possessions is being normalized for him. I hope it makes it easier on him as an adult.

Tip #8: Be Conscious About Where Your Stuff Goes
     While getting it out of your house is usually the immediate goal, it's worth considering what to do with your stuff after that point. Items in good condition can be sold or donated to charities, but what about the rest? You can try repurposing items, recycling some of them, listing them on pages like Freecycle, or donating to art or crafting co-ops. Try and think of the trash can as a last resort. Joey's t-shirts that are too gross and sweaty to donate get cut up and become cleaning rags. Random scraps and crafting left overs get donated to a local Upcycle store. Most of our clothing and homegoods goes to a local charity thrift store. Furniture gets sold on garage sale pages. If we have things we can't sell but think someone else may be able to use, we either list it on Freecycle or put it on the curb with sign designating it as free and describing it's condition. Someone almost always picks it up.

Bonus Tip:
     This one isn't mine (it may even be Marie whats-her-name, I can't remember where I read about it), but I like it. Go and turn all your hangers in your closet backwards, then as you wear clothes and hang them back up just put the hangers in normal, after the season or the year or whatever, you can tell what you haven't touched and know what to get rid of. I found this helpful since I have a bad memory for things like clothing. Another thing I like to do is use websites like ThredUp for party dresses and other items I know I'll only where once or twice. I spend less on them and can always try to sell them back later on.

So there you have it. That's our basic method for keeping our house in decent shape so that we don't end up on an episode of Hoarders. It's a task that is never "finished" for us, it's more of something we do regularly through out the year as part of our basic housekeeping. Framing it this way has made it much less stressful for me and helped keep my goals in mind, rather than trying to achieve a particular one time result. Hope something in here is helpful!

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