Tackling Too Much Stuff: Kicking Off Our 2017 Declutter Project

When I did my February State of the Blog Report, I assumed I would be back to business as usual…2 posts a week, active on other blogs, etc.

I’m still feeling a bit off, and haven’t been nearly as active. I’ve written one post, and felt good to get at least one right now. Money, for the moment, isn’t a personal focus.

Actually, not much is these days. I have a bad case of the blahs.

So I’m attacking my malaise from a new angle…by divesting myself (and my family) of the stuff that’s overwhelming us.

Maybe changing our environment will change my mindset. Maybe I need to clear the clutter in our house to clear the clutter in my mind.

Welcome to the 2017 Declutter Project, wherein we start the process of taking back our house.

The Clutter Problem

I’ve generally been pretty bad about collecting more books than I could easily store. I used to add a new bookcase to my possessions at least once a year. Stacks of books would soon appear on bedside tables, coffee tables, and eventually spare corners.

When I started working for a used bookstore chain, I began doing purges every year or so. At first, I got rid of fiction I’d finished, and maybe some DVDs and CDs that would never get played again. I still would end up with more everything than I could possibly use. The only time I’d make a serious dent in my stuff was when I’d move.

When I met and married Jon, we each had our own household and had to find room for it all. I sold a few things, but a lot of my stuff went into his basement and stayed in boxes for years. When we moved into our current house, we’d just had Little Bit. I didn’t purge much at all. We shoved boxes into our basement, garage, closets, and other spare space.

Now we have a kid with her own stuff. She gets more stuff each year, and rarely wants to get rid of any toy (no matter how long it’s been since she’s played with it.) We’ve inherited items from my mom and been presented with items from other family members.

We’ve run out of corners to stuff our stuff. Time for a great purge.

Previous Attempts

That’s not to say we haven’t done anything over the last few years to have less. We have. I weeded out clothes that don’t fit or that I’ll never wear again during our initial no-spend challenge. We’ve sent plenty of other clothes to Goodwill, and most of our baby gear went to our nephew.

We’ve also cut back on our paper clutter quite a bit by having a better record storage and disposal system.

And, while Little Bit gets a fair amount of new-to-her stuff, Jon and I have slowed down a lot of our acquisitions over the last couple of years. We give each other (mostly) consumable gifts, we rarely pick up new clothes, and we use the library and downloads for most of our entertainment.

Unfortunately, that mostly keeps the status quo. And as Little Bit’s stuff expands, our storage space has shrunk until we have negative storage space. Storage has crept into our living space.

Confronting A Crisis of Stuff

A couple of things have sort of brought on our crisis of stuff. First, Jon’s parents had to clean out their basement. Years ago, Jon stored some items in it, and now he’s had to bring them home.

Secondly, Little Bit started having some sleeping issues. We decided that cleaning her room up and out would probably make for a much better environment for her, and lead to better sleep. Her sleep seems better, and it’s certainly easier to walk in her room.

On top of all our other stuff, though, the basement

That’s a lot of stuff that needs to find a new home. And while some of those homes will be inside our house, some of that stuff needs to be in someone else’s home. And some, frankly, needs to get tossed.

Step One: The Easy Calls

The last couple of weeks, we’ve started handling some of the easy stuff. Jon did the monumental job of cleaning out the garage and the barn, and lots of marginal items headed for the landfill.

Little Bit and I handled her wardrobe. We pulled out everything that didn’t fit. I took a bunch of the nicer stuff to the kid’s consignment store, but evidently, she’s tough on her clothes. They took all of 7 items. I accepted my $7.25 with a shrug and carted the rest off for a sizeable donation.

We also went through her bookcases, and her youngest cousin will be getting a bunch of board books for his first birthday as well as some age-appropriate toys. That left plenty of room for the chapter books she’s picked up over the last year.

As we cleaned out Little Bit’s room, most of her broken and Happy Meal toys went into the trash.

Okay, this was all low-hanging fruit in the clutter game. There’s little emotional investment in broken toys and outgrown clothes. We don’t need a second copy of Red Fish, Blue Fish or Curious George, and Little Bit stopped being obsessed with Thomas the Tank Engine and Dora the Explorer years ago.

I’m pretty sure we have a few more easy calls to make, but to do more than tread water, we’ll have to actually make some decisions about what to keep and why to keep it.


Tackling Too Much Stuff: Kicking Off Our 2017 Declutter Project

Kicking Off Our 2017 Declutter Project

We have a lot of work to do, first in defining our guiding principles. I’d love to pick up the idea of getting rid of anything that doesn’t bring me joy, but I have to live with other folks who aren’t ready for that philosophy (and may never be.)

So I think the operative question might be “Are we likely to use it again?” 

It’s a much laxer standard, but probably easier to get Jon and Little Bit on board. It’s just that the operative phrase needs to be are we likely to use it and not will we ever conceivably use it. 

I’m pretty sure that’s the standard we’ve been using, and it has led us to our current crisis. I might conceivably use the pastel pink and blue plates my stepmother gave me 30 years ago to set up my first apartment, but I haven’t used them in the last 20. Why are they still under my roof?

And then there’s the matter of what we might possibly do with our excess. Some of it will probably be sellable, but the vast majority may have to head to the local charity shop, or…the landfill. The idea of throwing our stuff away is painful but probably necessary. As I discovered in my consignment shop experiment, we can be a little hard on our stuff. Realistically, there just might not be much demand for some of it.

Whys and Wherefores

So that’s where my mind is...kicking off a new project, negotiating our whys and wherefores, and trying to create a few changes by changing our home environment for the better.

How do you negotiate eliminating clutter? What’s your best method for getting rid of the unnecessary? How do you balance the different clutter tolerances within a single household? 

In other words, HELP!

*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich.*


39 thoughts on “Tackling Too Much Stuff: Kicking Off Our 2017 Declutter Project

  1. Usually I have to devote a day to clean up the clutter in my house. I’ve been ignoring my basement clutter for quite some time now – otherwise usually just throw a bunch of stuff in a closet and forget about it!!

    Most of the time though, I’m pretty clean and organized. I don’t like a messy kitchen (my roommates do) and I seem to be cleaning up after them more and more.

    Thanks for sharing.
    Erik @ The Mastermind Within recently posted…The Richest Man in BabylonMy Profile

    • The best way to fight clutter is definitely not go get it, but staying organized helps a lot. We need to do a better job of maintaining our system, such as it is, but having less stuff makes “stuff maintenance” a lot easier.

      Sorry about your roommates, Erik. That can be a pretty tough situation. About the best you can do while you live with them is let them know it bothers you.

  2. I did a massive declutter 10 years ago – it’s an ongoing process, but it feels so much better not to have all the stuff. After we did the massive declutter, I’ve tried to use the “one in, one out” rule and get rid of one thing anytime something new came into the house. This works particularly well with clothes.

    I’ve also used “Does it bring me joy” and this works on some things. Some things I keep don’t bring me joy, but they certainly are useful (food processor!), so they get to stay.

    One tactic that I’ve used lately that really helps is to ask myself, “Would I buy this?” If I saw the item in a store, would I buy it? How much would I be willing to pay for it? These have been really helpful questions! Hopefully that helps, Emily! Good luck with the Declutter project! 🙂
    Amanda @ centsiblyrich recently posted…How I save a ton of money on clothesMy Profile

    • I do one in, one out with clothes since I cleaned out my closet 18 months ago, and it does work really well, Amanda. I just need the other two people in my house.

      I love the “would I buy this, and if yes, how much would I be willing to pay for it?” approach. There are a bunch of things, especially that I’ve gotten from family members, where I’ve hung on to them but I’d have to answer “Absolutely Not.” And I’m pretty sure I can get Little Bit to apply it to her toys. That may help a bunch, thanks!

  3. I wish I had some great advice. I usually wait until I can’t stand the clutter for one more minute and then I start tossing things out or giving them away. At that point I have no emotional connection at all. I just want it out of the house. Granted, we’ve gotten good at not bringing a lot of stuff in the house in the first place. But I think that’s almost impossible with a) a child and b) a basement.

    We also have one of those veteran’s organizations that regularly comes to pick up donations in our neighborhood. They send the pickup date along with a bright pink bag to leave out in front of the house to alert them. You can add other bags and boxes. They take clothing and household goods. When my aunt moved from assisted living to the nursing home we had many items like walkers, grab bars, etc. they gladly took.
    Mrs Groovy recently posted…Are You Overtaxed? The 2016 EditionMy Profile

    • So glad your wrote that Mrs. G. We have a bunch of items like walkers, etc. that came in one of our rental house purchases. Nothing feels right about tossing things like that – or storing them. We get the vet’s organizations coming by too. I’ll put them out next time we get the notice!

      We are in the same boat as you Emily – but we’re just getting started. We have a crawl space under our house, not a basement. But it is pretty full too. The house we plan to downsize into doesn’t have a basement and we need to make the attic a 3rd bedroom. We need to declutter and get rid of about a third of our stuff. My husband has a ton of things – me, not so much. It’s hard to navigate that issue for sure. I wish I had more advice-and hopefully others will.
      Vicki@MakeSmarterDecisions recently posted…Deciding How to Fund the Gap in Early RetirementMy Profile

      • LOL, I’m pretty sure we’re just getting started too, Vicki. And while I’m not sure we need to get rid of a full third, we may be close. And some of the issue has always been the “my stuff vs your stuff vs our stuff” dynamic. I can get rid of my stuff, just fine. Talking to Jon or Little Bit about their stuff or our mutual stuff gets a lot trickier.

    • The Veterans organization is a possibility. They do come by periodically (and they’re probably a great organization for mobility assistance stuff.) And Goodwill takes a lot of stuff, as does the local rescue mission, the women’s shelter, the animal shelter (great for old towels). etc. So finding a home is less of our issue than reaching a consensus on whether it can go.

      I tend to be toss-happy too once I get to a certain stage. When I worked at the bookstore, I started asking myself “How easy would this be to replace?” Most stuff is pretty easy to replace if we figured we really couldn’t live without it. Jon, though, doesn’t quite see these things the same.

  4. We’ve been trying to assign a day each week where we spend a few hours decluttering a particular area. So far in the 2 years we’ve been “trying”, we’ve made a first pass of decluttering a grand total of 2 areas. Not good. Especially since one of them we decluttered primarily because a beeping battery was behind a massive pile of stuff.

    I think “would we likely use this in the future” is a decent standard to start. Of course I hate to get rid of things that are useful. But not everything that is useful belongs in my house.

    The only good tip I can pass along is if you are getting rid of something sentimental, take a photo so you can hold on to the sentiment without holding on to the item.
    Gary @ Super Saving Tips recently posted…Deep in the Heart of TAXESMy Profile

    • LOL, that sounds familiar, Gary. A lot of our decluttering has been because of stuff in the way, too. And thanks for the tip about the picture. Mom left me a ton of pottery that I keep because she loved it. Taking the picture, having the memory, and finding a home where someone would use it is probably more what she would want than having it packed away in the closet.

      Yeah, there’s a big difference between “This could be useful” and “I will probably use this.” For instance, years ago Jon and I got a pool table from a friend. But it’s not assembled. We’re unlikely to ever put it together. I’m not even sure how easily we can lift the slate slabs anymore. Realistically, much as I love the idea of having a pool table, it’s unlikely to do more than collect dust. Space is at a premium and it would take a lot of space. Not to mention, I’m not sure realistically we could put it together functionally.

  5. We don’t even have a basement to store our stuff. Or an attic. Basically, the clutter literally surrounds us, when we’re not careful 😀

    However, I’m also working on decluttering the house as we speak. Just this morning, my significant other donated 2 big bags of clothes we haven’t worn in a while.

    My ‘golden rule’ when decluttering is, if I haven’t used in the past couple of years, I can certainly live without it! I just need to put myself into a “no mercy” mood when getting rid of stuff. Sometimes emotions get in the way and it’s impossible to get rid of anything 😀
    Adriana @MoneyJourney recently posted…4 less obvious credit card mistakes to always avoidMy Profile

    • I like the “If I haven’t used it in a year” rule for a lot of things, especially for clothes. Two years is probably a better guideline for some other things, so maybe we can use it, thanks.

  6. I like to idea of cleaning up / decluttering to hopefully clear the clutter in my mind. Never a better time than the spring.

    Have you considered the five box method to help make decisions:

    The fixes boxes method helps you systematically declutter an area (drawer, shelf, cabinet, closet, box, room). Get five sturdy boxes. Label them:
    1. Put Away—items that are out of place and should be put away
    2. Give Away—items that are in good repair that you no longer want, need, or use. Give to charity, sell, or swap items
    3. Store—items that are going to be used again in a reasonable amount of time, but you don’t use on a regular basis
    4. Toss—items that are broken, old, worn, or in bad repair
    5. Belongs here—will go back into the room, drawer, closet, or cabinet you’re organizing
    Brian recently posted…Significant Others and Financial ConversationsMy Profile

    • I like your system, Brian. I’ve seen it before, but not with the Put Away/Belongs Here variation. We haven’t used it but if we can agree on what the criteria is for keeping something, then the system itself is a good one. And, we also need to agree about what items are in good enough repair to give away. There’s at least some debate in our house on that score. I am far more likely to feel something is too worn than Jon is.

  7. That’s great, Emily! Yes de-cluttering does clear the mind 🙂 As for me, I frequently toss things that I don’t use or give them away if the item is in good condition.

  8. “…the operative phrase needs to be are we likely to use it and not will we ever conceivably use it.” You don’t know it, but you wrote those words for me : ) I plan to devote a good part of my summer to de-cluttering, and I’m in need of a guiding principle. Somehow, it’s so hard for me – even though I would like to have a clutter-free, minimalist-ish set up. Thanks for this, and all the best as you get beyond the low-hanging fruit : )
    Fruclassity (Ruth) recently posted…Starting Your Journey to Debt Freedom Later in LifeMy Profile

    • Glad it could help, Ruth.

      Getting rid of stuff is difficult, and there’s another problem with it that I didn’t mention. Part of me feels like my grandparents would be shaking their head and saying, “that’s a perfectly good thing, you should hang on to that. You might need it someday.” But then I remember their mindsets came from scarcity, not overabundance. I have a first world problem, for sure. That doesn’t mean it’s not a problem.

  9. We’re taking on a similar project in the first half of this year. I set a date to host a yard sale in June (and invited friends/family to participate). This will help hold me to a deadline.y husband and I took all our extra books to my favorite local bookstore (They sell new/used) last fall, and I got a sizable credit that we could use to purchase Christmas gifts. We’ll likely do the same with DVDs. I consign brand name and brand new stuff, but we’ll put the second tier stuff out in the yard sale to try and make some change before sending it to the thrift store. We have several purge areas left to do. Our garage is our storage, so I think that will be hardest for us. I look forward to hearing how it goes!

    • We’ve had a plan for a while to try to sell some of our stuff on Amazon and Ebay, but somehow we never got around to it. I love the self-imposed deadline, though. That’s probably worked out really well (and is a great way to get rid of extra stuff that isn’t worth selling individually.) Good luck, Melanie!

  10. So sorry to read that you’re in a bit of a funk right now, but I think decluttering is a great strategy for getting back to feeling like yourself again.

    If you’re already lacking in the motivation department, you can try focusing on getting rid of five or ten things everyday. Just set a reasonable goal to stay on track. And, I bet that you’ll find a little progress builds momentum, so you will probably keep going after hitting your goal.
    Harmony@CreatingMyKaleidoscope recently posted…A Tiny Glimpse Of Early RetirementMy Profile

    • I hope so, Harmony. I think it will help a lot. And taking a few items a day is certainly better than doing nothing and will add up over time. Most of this week, I’ve actually done that but need to make a more concerted effort to keep it going.

  11. I’m ruthless about decluttering. I used to feel obligated to keep everything. But trying to fit 7 people into our house isn’t reasonable if we’re going to keep everything we’ve ever been given.

    When I start to feel anxious and hear myself yelling more often than usual, that’s my cue that I need a good declutter. A few days ago I purged a ton of stuff from my kitchen. Yesterday, I tackled the boys room and today my daughters room. To me, it feels awesome to get rid of stuff and gain more space!
    Jamie @ Medium Sized Family recently posted…5 Ways We’ve Saved Money This Week 70My Profile

    • Yeah, even after you declutter, you still have to maintain it by going back through. Especially with kids, who seem to collect all kinds of toys, artwork, crafts, etc. You’ve given me a good reminder that it’s a constant process, Jamie.

  12. Such a good project to embark on! I’ve used many of the strategies other commenters have, including the questions of joy, future usage, or if I would buy it again. Another that helps me is to ask – would it benefit another more than me right now? If the answer is yes then I happily give it away. Sometimes that’s a family member or friend but often it’s to a charitable organization.

    Also, we strive to upcycle items. We’ve turned many things into light fixtures – old wooden salad bowls, an old milk strainer, wooden pulleys, and more. Repainted old furniture and given it new life, for our own home or others, or made it into something completely different. You might be able to DIY a few decor items or gifts for others with a bit of creativity and elbow grease.

    Good luck with your project – I look forward to some updates! 🙂

    • That’s a good question, too, Amy. It’s one we’re certainly using with our daughter to try to get her to divest of some of the toys she’s outgrown.

      And the upcycle idea might work for others. Other than knitting, I’m notoriously non-crafty, though we try to keep a good amount of stuff around for our daughter to use on her projects. But I suspect we’ve kept way too much stuff that she might use someday maybe instead of limiting ourselves to the things she’s pretty sure to use.

  13. I definitely put emotions onto objects and then hold onto them for way longer than is necessary. I have a basement full of things I could conceivably use sometime during my life, but realistically those things have sat in boxes for 2-6 years so clearly I don’t need them any longer.

    I started going through my boxes a couple weeks ago and was proud with how much I “let” myself throw out, and equally horrified with how much was actually ending up in the landfill. I made a box for donations, but I was trying to be realistic about what other people would actually use.

    Right now the burden of owning so much is beginning to outweigh the emotions attached to the objects. The question now is “what am I giving up by keeping this tchotchke” and I am finding that to be pretty motivating.

    • Congrats on freeing up some space, Jax. I know that the fear of “good stuff” ending up in the landfill is one thing holding us back from getting rid of as much stuff as we probably need to shed. There’s both the emotional weight and the idea that waste is bad. But some things that we have an emotional tie to clearly have no utility beyond that, like the Christmas Tree skirt that used to belong to my grandmother but that is falling apart.

      At the moment, the idea of freeing up some room, though, outweighs keeping the tchotchkes in my mind. I just need to put that preference into action.

    • An interesting conundrum to have, Troy. I know we try to donate what we can or try to find a home for it, but that can also take more time than just tossing stuff. Plus, as I mentioned to Jax, there’s the idea that some of our “good stuff” is clearly trash.

      But 3 bags per week would make that pretty tough. I get that communities want to discourage waste, but sometimes you have more to toss than others.

  14. Oh gosh, good luck! I don’t keep much with me because I travel so much, but I’m well aware that when my parents move out of their house someday, I’m not going to have a clue what to do with all of my stuff they force me to take at that point.
    Mel @ brokeGIRLrich recently posted…Accountability: March 2017My Profile

    • LOL, I’m fortunate that my parents gave me all of my own stuff several years ago (which I promptly donated/gave away/tossed), but I suspect we still have a fair amount of Jon’s at his parents. And that doesn’t even touch what we’ll have to do in the hopefully distant day when they pass away. My only thought is that if you know you won’t really want the stuff, go ahead and start going through it next time you’re there and see which of your things you know you don’t really want to keep.

      (but that’s easy for me to say, and not what I did.)

  15. Hey, Emily. Thanks for the timely reminder. Spring is upon us and what better time to concentrate the mind on decluttering! I’m a bibliophile like you so our last great decluttering effort was purging a lot of books. Thankfully they were in excellent condition and our local library took every one. I think my next decluttering project will be the garage. And I’m very fearful of that task. Meh.
    Mr. Groovy recently posted…A New, New Low for Stacking BenjaminsMy Profile

    • The library’s a good place to donate books, and that’s probably something to look into for us. But I don’t envy you the garage task at all…I’m glad it’s Jon’s domain because I have no idea what he considers useful and what’s not. One of these days, I’m going to have to learn to use tools other than hammers and screwdrivers, so at least I can identify them.

  16. Have you tried playing the Mins game? Day one you toss/donate one item..day two two items and so forth till day 30.
    It could be fun for your hubby & daughter to play along. Look for the #minsgame hashtag on instagram for inspiration. People post pics of items headed out the door from day 1 to 30. You could even play it 2 months in a row if you have lots of stuff. I tell ya nothing is nicer than coming home to a clean house where everything has its place and you are no longer searching for lost items or tripping over stuff. You can do it!!

  17. Im a bit the other way i like collecting old junk as part of my hobbie website that collects information on old antiques.

    • And a lot of folks have similar feelings about their stuff, Jerry. I know that we have some interesting items around in addition to the outgrown toys and boxes of unused kitchen stuff. But, sometimes you need to downsize just so you can enjoy some of the stuff you end up keeping, and I think that’s where we are.

  18. My wife instituted a one in one out rule. She said any clothes, toys, things that we brought in that we’d have to get rid of one thing. Definitely makes me think about if I really want it 🙂 This has helped eliminate the clutter in the house and gotten me out of some hoarding tendencies 🙂
    Mustard Seed Money recently posted…Is Dollar-Cost Averaging Dead?My Profile

    • I’ve had good luck with clothes, and it’s made it a lot easier to get dressed, keep the closet organized, etc. It is true, it would help a lot if we applied it in more areas than just my clothes.

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