Thursday, July 28, 2016

Taming the Paper Monster

"Just move the papers to eat!"
is a common
phrase in our house.

"How am I going to tame this paper monster living in my home?" is a question I have been pondering for quite a while.  It always surprises me how much paper we accumulate in this house.  It also surprises me how quickly paper accumulates.  I can't seem to shake the giant paper piles that stack up on the dining room table.  My poor refrigerator looks like it could tip over from the weight of all the paper stuck to it!  And that is just the paper that can be seen.  I literally have boxes hidden in closest and in our basement of paper that I feel like I need to save. Things like old check books, billing statements from utility companies, and 20 years worth of tax forms!   Not to mention the rolls of wrapping paper, tissue, and gift bags that I buy on clearance or save to reuse.  Then there is the paper that is associated with the children.  I have boxes of school work, old IEPs, notes and reports from doctors visits, report cards, and tons of other papery things that I have saved from the children's lives. Ugggg, paper!  My eternal nemesis!

I decided the best way to tame (and defeat) the paper monster living in my home was a direct assault.  I pulled out the paper shredder, and some trash bags.  I started with the paper monster living in the bottom of my closet.  There lived three file boxes full of statements for bills long ago paid, carbon copies of checks long cashed, and ancient tax forms the Uncle Sam already accepted.  I started shredding away, and boy was it fun!  Take that PSHN bill from 2003, and that bank statement from 1999!  The time it took to shred all that paper felt worth it in the end when I had two trash bags full of shredded documents.  I did end up keeping some of the medical documents and two years worth of IEPs for Hannah and William just in case.  (The IEPs are just in case I need to fight for services in the future and need them for comparison or fuel for my argument...but that is another post for another time.)  

My poor refrigerator covered in paper.
Clean fridge breathing a sigh of relief.
Next up for was the battle for the refrigerator.   We use our refrigerator for more than just storing food; it is the command center of the house. I keep the master family calendar on it, notices from teachers, kids art work, coupons, and what ever else I am afraid I will forget.  The only problem is that very quickly all that paper becomes layers and layers of "important stuff" and the things I am supposed to remember are soon forgotten.  My first strike against the refrigerator paper monster was to clear it completely.  Everything, including the master calendar, was stripped off the refrigerator.  I categorized that paper, and decided what needed attention now, what could be tossed, and what could be attended to at a later date.  During this process I managed to recycle another good sized pile of paper.  The  only things that went back on the refrigerator were the master calendar, the magnets, and a small blank paper/pen holder that I keep in the kitchen.  Almost all of the notices were for events long gone.  The coupons went into the bills/shopping binder (also another post for another time). As a quick note, I made those cute chalk board magnetic clips; one for each child for school notices.

What I have written here doesn't fully describe the paper monster living in my home. I could write several pages about the topic!  I still have even more paper to vanquish- kids school papers, gift wrapping, and work related paper just to name a few.  I still have quite the battle on my hands but I am not giving up yet.  In my next post I hope to discuss my new strategies for handling paper so that the paper monster will be vanquished for good.  I would be happy to hear any tips you may have to offer me.  How do you keep the paper monster a bay in your home?

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Books Glorious Books!

So it has been a little while since I have made time to update Our Untidy Life.  Since my last post my children have ended their school year.  It has taken me a bit of time to figure out our new summer routine.  I think we are on track and I have figured out a block of time for writing and decluttering!  Which believe it or not is trickier than it sounds!
All my books piled up in the living room.
The next category I worked on was books.  I went on a book hunt through out the house for titles that belong to me.  This is trickier than it sounds.  My husband and I have quite the collection of books.  He made a point to tell me not to discard any of our "shared" books or books that were "his".  I feel his pain!  We both love to read! Our children love to read! Discarding books is truly a challenge for us.  It seems almost blasphemous to discard books.  But to live the tidy life that we truly want and deserve we must discard those things that do not spark joy any longer; even books.

Discarded books ready for their new life.
Just like with the other categories, I piled up all my books in the living room.  I did not realize how many titles I actually owned!  A grand total of 112 books that were truly mine.  Of the 112 books, I discarded 57; just over half.  Some titles I let go of because I did not "need" them any more.  For example my knitting for beginners book.  Since I purchased that one I have done many, many knitting projects and don't consider myself a beginner knitter any longer.  Other books were duplicate copies of old Girl Scout manuals; once people find out you are a GS leader you get all sorts of old manuals-true story!  Still more of  the books were titles that I just never even read in the first place, and had no desire to now.

Since I was on such a roll with my books, I decided to move on to the children's books.  As with clothes for Willy, I have horded children's books from all over and hid them in Willy's closet.  I had hidden away three large boxes of children's books!  Most of the books were from my two older children and from friends that moved.  Some of the books were even from my husband's childhood!  I pulled out all the boxes, and dragged them downstairs.  I cleaned out the children's books from the toy shelf in the great room.  It was interesting to see all the children's books that I had collected.  Just like with my own books, there were duplicate titles-what child really needs three copies of "Snowmen at Christmas"?  There were also books that were so well loved that they were falling apart beyond repair.  After touching each and every children's book I was able to discard 72 titles!

In all I carried four good sized boxes out to my van. I then drove them to our library to donate for their book sale fundraiser.  Decluttering tally thus far, 12 trash bags and four boxes.  Not too shabby!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Reflections on Stage One Declutter: Clothing

Looking back over the past few weeks of my new adventure makes me feel proud.  The dressers and closets are beginning to look better.  I feel less rushed in the morning before school because I can actually find clothes for the kids and myself.  I don't have to spend extra time routing through clothes that don't fit to find the ones that do. I can easily see what the choices are for the morning and help the kids choose something quickly.  The new system for clothes is really working for us!
Hannah's tidy dresser drawers.
I have made progress in the bedrooms but the main living spaces of the house still feel weighed down and cluttered.  Books, papers, arts and crafts items, toys, movies, (and the list goes on) are still everywhere!  The next few days are going to be focused on the next two stages of Marie Kondo's system for tiding: books and papers.  Stay tuned for more decluttering adventures and shocking photos!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Abandoned Random Bedding

With the clothing category crossed off my list I was thinking, "which category should I tackle next?" I decided that sticking with "soft" items in the house was a good idea.  So on to bedding; how many sets of sheets and blankets does one family really need?  We are a family of six but my oldest has moved out and has established his own home.  So we are now down to five people under our roof.  We have a total of five beds in the house - two queen sized and three twin.  So i it really necessary for us to have so much bedding?  Probably not!  

Of course some of this bedding was not chosen by me or my husband.  Sounds strange right?!  But the truth is that we have had some family move in the past few years and give us bedding they could not take with them.  I have a hard time saying no to anything free that still has a useful life (remember the bags of clothes in Willy's closet?).   The result was bedding scattered in closets and in several under bed storage containers.    

I decided to tackle the bedding challenge the same way I did the clothes-pull it all out and dump it on the living room floor.  Anything that didn't fit the beds in our house, was badly stained, or just plain ugly was going to find a home elsewhere.  But I still needed enough bedding so that each family member would have two sets of sheets, a blanket and a comforter.  As a family we also love to snuggle up under afghans and watch movies on cold winter nights so I also need to keep a few throw blankets.

All the bedding in the house dumped on the living room floor!

The bedding purge took about an hour.  It was pretty funny some of the things I unearthed; abandoned random bedding!  I found a king sized fitted sheet, one flannel pillowcase with no sheets to go with it, a very badly stained comforter (I was going to try to get the stains out I swear), and the list goes on.  I was able to discard four more bags!
Four more bags ready to be discarded!
The sheets that I kept, were folded neatly and placed inside their pillow case.  (That is an organization idea I borrowed from Peter Walsh.)  Also, instead of having sheets and blankets scattered around in random closets, I put the sheets in the rooms where the bed is that the sheets go on.  So trucks and Cat in the Hat to Willy's room and unicorns and Tinker Bell to Hannah's room.  Extra throw blankets will be stored on the top shelf in the guest bedroom/office until winter.

Total bag count is up to 12!  I am still feeling pretty positive about my results and hope I can keep up the momentum of the past couple of weeks.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Blue Ribbon Show Clothes

Next on the list was Hannah's clothes.  For some reason with Hannah, I did not stock pile as much future clothing as I did with William.  It might be because I don't often get hand-me-downs for Hannah.  But still I knew that she had drawers stuffed with clothes that needed tidying up.

Following the same routine as with Williams clothes, I dumped all of Hannah's drawers onto the living room floor.  Starting with off season clothes (which for us is now winter) I started sorting out what was too small or too stained to keep.  I was doing great making lots of decisions left and right.  But then I came to her first set of horse back riding show clothes.
One last shot before they move to their new home.

Sized 8, and much too small, I should have tossed them right into the discard bag with a quick thank you-but I couldn't!  Crazy as it seems, I just couldn't discard them to some unknown stranger at the Salvation Army.  Hannah won her first blue ribbon for adaptive horseback riding in these clothes.  They hold a lot of precious memories to me.  Now I don't know if Hannah feels the same way about them; for all I know she could despise them!  But I do know that she always sat a little taller in her chair (and on her horse) when she was wearing them.  So these clothes needed to go to a good home where I knew that some other little girl would get good use from them.  I set the riding clothes aside to continue on with the rest of Hannah's clothes.
Blue ribbon show day for my girl and her helpers!

Later in the day I contacted a family who has a little girl a few years younger than Hannah.  This little girl is also an adaptive rider and just starting out, so I figured they might want the show clothes.  The little girls mother was more than enthusiastic to receive Hannah's show clothes and I felt like I could truly let them go on to their new good home.

The rest of the piles went along easily and in the end I was able to pull out one more trash bag of discarded clothing.  Bringing the total discarded bags to 8!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Making Room for Willy's Real Future

The next area I decided to tackle was my youngest sons clothes.  He is in the first grade and in one of those in between size stages.  In some things he is a 6, others a 6x and still others a 7.  I also had lots of clothes that I was saving for when he gets older in hopes to save some money down the road.  When I say lots of clothes I mean 6 trash bags worth. (Your read that right six bags worth!)  Some of the clothes came from friends, some of the clothes I picked up on clearance a few sizes too big hoping that they would fit in the future.  With my oldest daughters help, I hauled out all the trash bags from the closet in Willy's room and brought them down to the living room.  I also brought down drawers.  We dumped everything all over the living room floor.  After all, I needed to go through each and every piece of clothing.

First, I looked at what was too small.  Anything bellow a size 6 went into a trash bag to be donated.  Easy!  Next was anything that was a size 6 but also too small.  Now we were making progress!  Only 15 minutes into sorting and I had 1 bag filled.

Next was onto the clothes I had been saving.  I thought this was going to be harder.  I wanted to keep clothes that would work for my boy in the future and try to save us some money too.  So my requirements for these clothes was this: they had to be free from stains and holes, not faded, and something he could wear for more than one season.  I picked up the first pair of pants to look them over closely.  I discovered that the knees were badly stained and small holes were beginning to form. Ok to let them go. A word of thanks to these pants and into a trash bag they went.

I did this with each and every piece of clothing on the living room floor.  I noticed that with each piece it became easier to decide which pieces would go and which would stay.  But, boy it took some time!  My oldest daughter (who is seventeen) was rolling her eyes and huffing the whole time, "Do you really need to look at each and every piece?" "yep, I do" was my response.  After about two hours of closely inspecting these clothes, almost all of them were destined to leave our home.  I ended up keeping one small bag worth of clothing that met all of my requirements;  keeping only what would truly serve Willy well in the future.  Five bags were lined up by the front door waiting for their ride elsewhere.

Wow! Another five bags of clothes were on their way out of the house!  Hard to believe but true.  So my total trash bag count to date is 7.  Seven bags of discarded clothing from just two Goodwins!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

My Own Ruls for Tidying Up

So with the success I was feeling after my clothing purge, I decided to continue on with the rest of the house following the advise of Ms. Kondo.  But I needed to add a few rules of my own to keep myself on track.
Timely advise from a fortune cookie!

Rule number 1:  All items that are discarded need to leave the house ASAP.  No scurrying them to the basement (which is already full to the brim).  Trash goes out to the barrels, clothing and good usable household items to the Salvation Army.

Rule number 2: Stick to the category I am currently working on.  No getting distracted by mementos and photos. This one will be the hardest to follow.  I live in a constant state of distraction!  (This is the main reason why I need the extra rules.)

Rule number 3:  Take breaks as needed but don't use that as an avoidance tactic.  I don't want to completely exhaust myself in the beginning of this adventure and burn out.  Which is my pattern.   Plus, I still need to parent my children, work, volunteer, and keep up with the other daily chores.  

My goal is to have the whole house, every closet, every drawer, and the basement totally decluttered and tidy in 6 weeks.  I am hoping that in six weeks time my family and I will be in love with our home again.  

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Clothes First

Diving right into decluttering my clothes was exciting (in a weird way).  I gave myself permission to get rid of anything that truly does not spark joy.  Anything I didn't like, didn't fit, wasn't useful, or ugly was on its way out.  I did not think I owned that many clothes, after all I share a small closet with my husband, and have just one dresser.  But look what happened when I emptied everything out on to our queen sized bed!
My piles of clothes on the bed.  
Those piles of clothes don't include my jackets, hats, scarves, or other seasonal items that are in the coat closet.  My shoes and purses were also still in the closet, but soon joined their friends on the bed.  (I just reread that and it sounds odd!).  I really did not even think I had this much clothing!  Now that all my clothes were out in the open, the job of figuring out which items sparked joy or not was next.

Armed with a trash bag, I got to work.  For most of my things it was easy to decide what to keep and what to discard.  One by one, pieces of my wardrobe made their way into one of two piles-keep or discard.  Discarded items were placed in the trash bag with a whispered word of gratitude.  I thought to myself, "this is pretty easy!"

I was cruising along making decisions left and right with great speed.  Then I came to my wedding dress.  Now I have not even made the time to look at this dress in 17 years.  We have been married almost 20, and once we moved into this home it went to the back of the closet.  When my husband and I got married we had less than no money.  I bought my dress from a store called Fashion Bug (now out of business) in 1996 for $20.00.  The dress was white and lacy and fit over my then 6 month pregnant belly.  At the time the dress brought me great joy and hope for the future.  Now it had just become another piece of unloved clutter in my house.  I really had to stop sorting and give this dress a little bit of my time.  I was feeling sad at the fact that I never bothered to take this dress out to see the light of day let alone ever wear it again.  And my wedding dress looked sad too.  The lace was starting to look droopy and yellow.  The faux gold and mother of pearl buttons looked a bit tarnished.  I touched the dress and decided it was time to let it go.  I took the time to make sure all the buttons were done up, folded it neatly, gave it a kiss and a silent thank you and then deposited it into the discard bag.  Choosing to let that dress go was a hard decision.  It was a decision that I made with an open heart and complete gratitude.
Result of the clothing purge.

By the end of the clothing sort, I had more to donate than I thought I would!  A bag and a half of clothes to donate and some empty hangers were on the bedroom floor.   Now came the job of refolding and hanging my clothes.   Ms. Kondo also has recommendations for this part of tidying up that I did not share in my previous post.  Most clothing wants to be folded rather than hung.  Also, clothing should not be stacked in piles, rather it should be folded to stand up right.  (Wait, what?!)  If clothes are folded to stand on an edge you can more readily see what is in the drawer, not just what is on top of the pile.

This method of folding took me a bit of time to understand, but now I totally get it.  I really can see what is in the drawers better.  I also discovered I have plenty of storage space for all my clothes! (Even my seasonal clothes like bulky sweaters!)   In fact I now have two empty drawers.  I never would have thought my over flowing dresser would have any extra space at all!

Sorting my clothes is a good start but there is tons more to do!

Monday, May 16, 2016

5 Points to Ponder from "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying up"

A few days ago I shared that I was reading "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" by Marie Kondo.  Since then, I have finished the book.  I have to say that there were a lot of points made by Ms. Kondo that truly resonated with me.  (Disclaimer: this short post is in no way a review of her book, just a reflection of my reaction to the book.)  Here are the five points (in no particular order) from "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" that have changed the way I look at our untidy home:

Number 1:  All the items in your home need to spark joy (for you and your family)
When I first began reading Ms. Kondo's book, I was skeptical about the concept of items in my home sparking joy.  After all, how much joy can a toaster or a roll of toilet paper spark?  However, as I continued to read I began to understand what she was talking about.  Walking into a home that is filled with items you don't really care about can cause a lot of negative feelings.  When I walk into my home in its current state I feel anxious, overwhelmed, and a little guilty.  None of those feeling even remotely resembles joy!  Right about now you may be asking, "how do I know which items spark joy, and which items don't?"  To figure out which items spark joy, Ms. Kondo recommends touching each and everything you own as you are doing your cleaning.  You will know right away which items you love and which items you do not based on your emotional reaction to the item.  Only keep the things that make you feel happy, love, and joy.

Number 2: Sort items in your home by category not by room (and in the correct order)
This was a new concept for me.  I always thought that to declutter and clean you always started with one room in the house.  I would work hard to get that one room completely sorted out and then loose momentum for the rest of the house.  Ms. Kondo recommends sorting by category.  This means that you only sort the items in that category and don't look at the whole space.  The wisdom to this method is two fold.  First, is the fact that most of us keep multiple items in the same category all over the house.  For example, we have school supplies and art materials in almost every room of our house.  By pulling all those items together in one spot, we can see the volume school supplies and art materials we actually have- which is a ton!  Secondly, by tidying in this way it is easier to know which items spark joy and which spark discord.

The order in which items is sorted is also important.  The reasoning behind this is, if I were to start trying to purge and sort items that hold emotional significance first, I would be setting myself up for failure. If I tried to sort my kids art work and photos first, every piece would be sparking joy all over the place.  I would end up keeping everything they every made (which I have done and is part of the reason why our home is so untidy)!  So the proper order according to Ms. Kondo is clothing, books, paper (not photos or memorabilia or kids art), komono (miscellaneous stuff), and mementos last. Working in this order will move you through the emotional process of decluttering.  By the time I get to the memorabilia category, I will know without a doubt which of the kids art pieces to keep, and which I can let go of because I will have already honed my skill of know which pieces spark joy.

Sentimental items like this Birthday card from my daughter. are sorted out last.

Number 3: Start discarding your own things first
Even though I know my husband has a huge pile of clothes that need to be discarded, I am not going to touch anything of his.  It is up to him to figure out which of his items spark joy for him.  I am only going to work on my things.  After I have gone through the process of discarding my unwanted items, I will work with the kids to help them decide what items of theirs spark joy for them.  But I am not going to do it for them.  This is going to be hard!  It is all too easy o go into the kids room while they are at school and start hoeing out stuff.  I have done it before and it isn't pretty!  My thought is that if I set the example of keeping my own things tidy, and then work with the kids to go through the same process, it will teach them how to be tidy in the future.

Putting my own things in order first will be a challenge!

Number 4: You don't need to buy any fancy storage organizers you have what you need already
I love this!  Ms. Kondo does not recommend running to the nearest big box store to purchase storage totes or anything else organization related (except maybe trash bags).  Instead, she advocates for using what you already own.  Things that you might consider recycling, like shoe boxes and their lids, make great (free) storage containers.

Number 5:  Gratitude for your home and possessions is important 
Ms. Kondo discusses expressing gratitude for your home and possessions.  She suggests telling your items and home (in your head or out loud) "thank you".  Even items you are discarding deserve words of thanks for the job they have done working for you.  I can hear my husbands voice now, "that sounds a little HIPPY DIPPY".  Maybe it is, but I agree with Ms. Knodo on this point.  I am grateful for my warm home (especially in our harsh New Hampshire winters). I am grateful for my shoes that make my walk to work comfortable.  And I am grateful to the bridesmaids dress at the back of my closet, and I will tell it so when I let it go on to serve someone else.

So the time has come to put the wisdom of "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying up" to the test!  Our untidy home will soon sparkle with joy (or at least I hope it will)!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

A Little Help From a Friend

The idea of cleaning, and purging our house seems like such a huge task!  How in the world am I going to take on this project and also continue all my other necessary daily jobs?  I have truly felt overwhelmed with the idea of it.  Our home is almost 2100 square feet- five bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a unfinished basement chock full of stuff!  Where do I even start?

Hope in book form!
Well luckily I have a neighbor that has been in my shoes before.  She recommended a book for me to read and even lent me her own copy.  It is not a huge text book on cleaning and organization, just a little unassuming book.  Interestingly enough, other people have mentioned this same book to me but I basically blew them off thinking, "I don't have time to read!"    But let me tell you, after my neighbors recommendation - she actually made sure I did not leave her house one day without taking it - I decided well it can't hurt.  So I have taken the plunge and made the time to read this little book.  What book is this, you might be asking yourself?  Well it is, "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" by Marie Kondo.  I hope as the title implies that it really will change my life.  Maybe it will also help the whole family begin to love our house again.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

I think I have used every excuse in the book to explain away our untidy home.  Things like, "the school sends home too many notices",  "we are so busy I don't have time to tidy up", and my all time favorite, "I am a visual organizer so I need to see all my stuff so I know what I have".  That last one absolutely kills my husband!
My visually organized pile on the dining room table.
For my husband these excuses are more than just frustrating.  He has gotten to the point of apathy to the mess.  He walks around piles and ignores most of it.  When I ask, "have you seen"  such and such item he rolls his eyes and walks away.  I can totally understand his frustration with me!  I wonder if all the untidy piles are the root cause of some of our petty arguments?

Hannah and her wheels can not navigate a messy home.

For my children the untidy nature of our home causes frustration too. Sometimes they literally can not get to something they want because of the clutter.  One of my daughters uses a wheelchair to access her world.  It makes her life so much harder when we have stuff on the floor in her way.  As her caregivers, a messy house also makes it more difficult for my husband and I.  

Not only does the untidy house cause problems in our personal life, it also causes problems in our public life.  We have missed school events, been late to appointments, and have misplaced items for work.  Constantly moving things, searching for things, and tripping over things has eaten up so much of our time!  We have become so inefficient because of our untidy house. 

SO enough of the excuses!  I need to find a way through the piles and untidiness!  No more using excuses to try and explain away the mess-it is time for action!  

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

39 and Counting!

I celebrated my 39th Birthday last week.  Not quite the milestone of 40 but I'm almost there.  Of course, the closer I get to 40 the more I put my life under a microscope. I find myself taking stock of my accomplishments, and also thinking about what I have left to do.  I have the most wonderful family; I have been blessed with a supportive husband and four beautiful children.  I also have a part-time job I love, where I can make a difference in the world.  However, there is one area of my life that is, shall we say, untidy - our home.  
Our family away from the untidy house.  

So there it is.  I suppose untidy is just a nice way to say that our house is truly a pig sty.  Maybe you think I am exaggerating but trust me, I'm not. My husband, children and I have accumulated nearly 20 years of stuff.  We have all sorts of belongings from toys, clothes, books, camping equipment to kitchen gadgets, and the list goes on and on.  We have a large home - 2100 square feet, not including a full attic and basement. There are piles of stuff everywhere!  Let me give you two examples. To eat dinner every night, we have to move stuff to find the table. To get to the toys and art materials, we have to move shoes and bags. Our stuff has come to us in all the usual ways: gifts, things we bought that we had to have, hand-me-downs from family members that have moved, things that belong to organizations that we volunteer for and offered to store, and other stuff has just magically found its way here.
Morning view from the dining room table.  Coffee Anyone?

Looking at our home in its current state of disarray is very discouraging!  (sigh)  So much so that I have been searching real estate websites for a better house.  But it dawned on me, we have a nice home, in a great neighborhood and a mortgage we can afford.  Why would we move?  Maybe its not the house that is the problem, but the stuff in the house?  Light bulb moment here! So I have decided that for my 39th Birthday gift to myself and my family will be to truly create a home we love coming home to.  Now I just have to figure out how to do that!