This Little Miggy Stayed Home: Cleaning Out Clutter + Why I No Longer Feel so Good about Goodwill

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Cleaning Out Clutter + Why I No Longer Feel so Good about Goodwill

First a post about keepsakes and memory organization and now this? I know, I know I'm not exactly an organization expert but with a move to our new house eminently approaching 'tis the season of my life. And if it's the season of your life as well, perhaps this post will be helpful. Also, these are actual photos of my actual basement.

Probably the best thing to come about our home being so long past schedule (originally it was supposed to be done in late 2017) is that I've had a lot of time to clean out, purge, sell and pare down and as of Monday--Labor Day in fact-- I am feeling light. as. air. I finally don't feel terrified to move. Because is there anything that makes you want to kick yourself more than reaching into the pantry and finding Cream of Wheat that expired in 2004, a full year BEFORE YOU EVEN MET YOUR HUSBAND and yet somehow you've been carting this box around the entirety of your marriage, 3 moves and 3 states later? The answer is no. No, there is not.

Listen, I am not a grand organizer, as much as I wish to be, and part of that is the realization that I cannot edit myself, or my life, in one fell swoop. Whether I'm editing my closet or a blog post, it takes 2-5 swoops at minimum before I can finally call it good.

Therefore,  decluttering, purging and paring down has been a process many months in the making, with even more to go. And because I knew that we had many more proverbial boxes of 2004 Cream of Wheat boxes in our home I was so very afraid of this move. I needed to go through the stuff, but never wanted to go through the stuff. And at the same time the idea of moving a bunch of expired cereal (aka crap we no longer, needed, used, fit, wanted) from one house to the other was crippling.

Perhaps if I detail how this process went for us it might go easier for you. It wasn't intentionally planned per se, I just did one thing at a time, but looking back it was a slow progression of manageable, bite sized organizing tasks. Almost every task had things we threw away, donated or sold, but I don't necessarily go through and say that every time.

Also, I have some things I want to say about this "de-cluttering" rage anyway. Why are we obsessed with DE-cluttering, when it seems to me that the real problem is, you know, cluttering? So stay tuned to the end.

Because closets are the crap keepers of each and every room it's best to start there, one closet at a time.  First my own, then the girls, then the front hall and linen closets. Yes my husband cleans out his own closet and yes I have to pester him a bit to do it. Then it seems like I did it again but with much less removal since most of the crap was cleaned out the first time. I can't remember if I tackled this over the course of a weekend or several days scattered through out a month, but it happened.

Gathering and selling:
Next was planning and executing a garage sale for ALL the stuff in the unfinished basement that we've casually thrown into the abyss these past 4 years with the idiom "out of sight, out of mind" being the reigning rule of law down there. But over time, we gathered enough stuff in one spot to declare that we had enough for a garage sale. Then I went through the house and gathered more from each room that could also go in the sale. Including toys. You must go through the toys! (This could be done separately or for a yard sale, but this is another project on its own.)

But for some reason pulling the trigger on the actual garage sale was difficult. (Do I need some sort of permit? What if it rains? Will anyone come?) I finally just picked a date, put fliers on our neighbors doors and invited them to participate as well if they wanted (and they wanted!) and then one Saturday we had an actual garage sale in our yard. Which is now commonly known as a yard sale.

The best part came at the very end when we still had a lot of stuff that hadn't sold and we just started to tell people to take what they wanted. (We were donating the proceeds anyway.) One woman ran a free summer camp for kids (that my kids had actually attended once) and we piled her car to the brim with books, rugs, pillows, kids chair and tables, and whatever we could fit for the program and she was so grateful. As were we. As good as it feels to "get rid of stuff" I've come to feel even better when I know our old stuff is actually going to be used by someone, as opposed to going straight into a landfill or dump.

Organize the Drawers:
Yep. Bathroom drawers, kitchen drawers, dressers, all of them. This is a relatively easy task that gives you a lot of bang for your buck, especially when you do them a little at a time. Going through a junk drawer always feels like a big accomplishment, but goes rather quickly. And since most of us put off drawer organization until the day we move and just end up just dumping the contents into one box (Especially if you hire movers--they do this without flinching) at least you won't have random gum wrappers, broken erasers, McDonald's toy parts and old receipts in there as well.

Listing Items for Sale or for Free:
Not everything is right for a garage sell since garage sells are for rock bottom prices. We had some nice and unique pieces that just aren't right for our new home and so I list and sell them separately. Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace and other popular apps like Letgo, Offerup make it SO easy to sell stuff online now. Simply snap a few pictures on your phone, then open the app or go to your computer and list your item in about 2 minutes. The past week I've sold 2 large items at my asking price that I've wanted to get rid of forever. Be sure to list your stuff on more than one place. I was a Craigstlist purist forever, but finally tried FB Marketplace and sure enough, that where the stuff sold.

Also, if you have some big items that won't necessarily sell well, but you'd hate to just throw out try listing them for on Craigslist for free or We have been surprised how fast some people respond to these ads and haul stuff away within the hour.

The Big Cleanout:
At this point in the game we had already done lots of cleaning out and purging, but there was still a lot of stuff in the basement, mostly storage. Yes the things we had intentionally stored to begin with. Things like holiday decorations, craft supplies, high school and college memory boxes, vintage clothes, etc. So yes, these were items already set aside for storage, many of them sentimental, and it was time to go through these boxes and once again edit. I was surprised how easy it was to get rid of things I've been hauling around for decades. Of course I didn't throw it all out, but time gives you the perspective to see what you really want to save and what you can actually let go of.

The Re-Sweep: 
Now that we have done several major cleanouts, now is the time we're going to go back and do it all again, this time adding a few more specific spaces and tasks (like my studio and my fabric stash) and it feels so much more manageable. In fact, at this point if we had to move tomorrow I'd be OK to move with the stuff we still have and organize it on the other side. But there are still things to sell, items to donate, binders to organize, and memories to store away and keep special (like my wedding dress! I just took it in to be cleaned, oh 13 years after the fact.)

Looking to the future:
While it feels great to unload, clean and organize, I have begun to notice in the past few years that those Goodwill trips that feel so good when you're loading your car with all your crap, feel less and less good when you're unloading it at Goodwill. With the advent of fast fashion, and technology that turns over quicker than the staff at your local McDonalds, it feels less and less like I'm passing things down to other people and more and more like I'm passing the buck. That shirt I bought at Target on a whim and have only worn twice and now I just casually throw it in the Goodwill bin? Am I really doing anyone a favor when I do that? Yes clothing donated to Goodwill may get resold, but it also might be thrown away. 

What I'm saying is that when I think about organization and keeping my home free of junk in the future, it's not so much about starting a practice of routine Goodwill hauls and home de-cluttering sessions, but rather I want to be more mindful about what we bring into our home in the first place. How many pairs of shoes do we really need? How many pairs of jeans do I need? Also, we should probably define the word need.

Of course I will still continue to donate to Goodwill (as the article points out, it's much better than throwing clothing in the trash) but I want to be more mindfull overall of the purchasing of stuff. Things. Are they enhancing our life? Are they adding to the beauty and the story of our home and family? Do we own them or are they owning us?

While the majority of our furniture and home goods are second hand, I can't promise that I won't be buying new furniture or goods for the house, but I will do so mindfully. Here are somethings I can do to be a better consumer:

Buy Secondhand--I might feel a bit guilty about buying a shirt from Target I don't actually need, but I never, never feel that way when I buy something second hand. Especially when it's supporting a small business.
Want Better, Not More--This isn't to say that I will only buy expensive things from now on, but things that are well made and ideally, ethically made. Wow. That is a little hard to type out loud because honestly, I've never really dove into the world of ethically made clothing and goods, and I'm certainly not making a big grand statement here--in other words, please put your pitchforks down when you see me wearing something from a big box store--but this is something I'm definitely interested in.
Buy it Right the First Time--Have you ever wanted something that you really needed, but it was also a little bit pricey so instead of buying the thing you actually want you buy a less expensive version hoping that it will do? AND THEN, when you find out that in fact it will not do, you go ahead and buy the more expensive thing after all? And now you have spent more money trying to save money in the first place? I try to avoid that little loophole by either buying way, way, way less expensive version (maybe even second hand) until I can afford the real thing or I just pony up and buying the thing I wanted in the first place that actual works/looks better.
Walk away--I have a rule when I'm shopping. If I'm not sure about something I walk away from it. If I'm thinking about it still 2 or 3 days later, then I go back and get it. If not, I don't really want it. It may sound simplistic, but I can honestly say that when I use this method most of the time I don't go back. I've also used this with my children many times successfully and I'm happy to say they usually forget about that random thing they wanted as well.
Recycle, Reuse, Repurpose--My sewing skills have come in handy over the years as old shirts have turned into dresses and old sweaters into doll hair. Of course there is a fine line between keeping things to repurpose and being a hoarder, but I think it's worth it to find a balance. Join you can't find a use for something surely someone else can!

What about you readers? Anyone else feeling this shift from mindless consumer to mindful consumer? Was there something you read or heard about that changed your perspective on these things? And is there something specifically that you've done and that you can share that has made a difference in how you live? I recently read this wonderful post by Erin Lochner of Design for Mankind in which she talks about ethical fashion and it has really stuck with me! Especially her ideas about "shopping for sport." Such a great way to put it. Lastly, I've been thinking about this idea of hers in particular, "Ethical fashion has taught me to look at what I have, to use what I own, to want what I’ve already got. Resourcefulness, you might call it. Gratitude, you might also."


  1. You know that trick when you're with kids and they want something so you take a picture of it to save for their birthday or Christmas list? And 99% of the time they forget about it? I absolutely use that trick on myself. I take pictures of things that I want (with the price so I can remember it later) and then I feel so much better about walking away from it. And usually the urge to get it passes!!

  2. Oh man, STUFF. I have become a champ at sorting/donating/selling, in part because of how I was raised, and in part because of the fact that my husband's parents are hoarders. Having that in our lives really changes the way in we look at what we own, how we keep and use it, and how we pass things along. It honestly took years to get my husband used to giving things away, especially if it was a gift, so teaching my daughter how to pass along her things was extra important to us. Involving her in the process has taken time, but she has learned the joy of passing things along to someone else, such as giving her old scooter to the little boy down the street. We joined a local Buy Nothing group on Facebook, and it has transformed the way we give. I still drop off big bags of things to the thrift store and do a great deal of consignment or kijiji sales (another great way to get kids involved: have them sell their stuff), but I love knowing that things we no longer need or use are finding new homes within my local community. People can, and do give in abundance.

    My other thing on stuff is not to take it if there's no space for it. We rotate toys, so the ones that aren't out at the moment life in a buffet cabinet. If there's no space...well, there's no space, which means something will have to go before something new comes in. This has also caused us to focus on quality over quantity, and it brings me great joy to know that toys purchased years ago are still getting played with by my almost seven year old. The book "Simplicity Parenting" touches on this in great detail. It's worth a read for anyone rethinking their approach to toys and play.

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