I had a housework-related epiphany of sorts a few weeks ago, and realised two things:
1.) My well-documented tendency to clutter isn't about hording but about time management. A gut-wrenching first-person story about hoarding written by my friend and former colleague Mike Rosenwald for the Washington Post Magazine, made this clear to me: It's not that I can't bear to part with things, or feel a need to own multiples of things, but that I feel like I don't have time to sort through it all and so I save it until such time that I do. And, let's face it: All working moms know that huge chunk of free time isn't coming soon, no matter what the researchers say. So I might as well get to it.
2.) The biggest thing preventing me from clearing out the clutter was the fact that our storage areas are already full of stuff I probably don't need to keep anymore. And I need to empty them out before my husband has a cleaning tantrum and does it for me.
So I ventured down to the basement to see what I had. And then ran back upstairs immediately, overwhelmed. And then took a deep breath and started trying to figure out what to do with all that... stuff.
It's easy to vow to reduce, reuse, and recycle, and then trash day comes and you find yourself standing there with plastic tubs in each hand, wondering which numbers go to the plant and which go to the dump. And what about all that half-used paint in the basement? The computer monitor that's older than your kids? The not-at-all-HDTV you just replaced? The old cell phones? The piles of CDs you never listen to? The old concert T-shirts? The baby blankets your teenagers aren't going to take with them to college? The tricycles, toys, and sports equipment your kids have outgrown but were barely used? Not to mention all that other stuff?
Reduce is easy: You simply buy less. Chuck out the junk mail as it arrives, don't let things accumulate. I do this religiously, which is why the living areas of our house are nowhere near as bad as our storage areas.
Reuse is also easy: I try to be frugal and green and throw things away when they're worn out, make do with older things, and buy things that do double duty as often as possible.
And recycle? It can be done. TerraCycle will take things you can't put in the recycling bin -- pens, pencils, candy wrappers, potato chip bags, and much, much more -- and turn it into things people actually use. Those shiny juice pouches can be used to make fencing. Candy wrappers can be made into trendy accessories (really!). They pay you a small fee (about 2 cents per item) and they handle shipping, so all you have to do is send the stuff in and take less trash to the curb each week.
Other things that would normally go to the land fill can be recycled as well.
Old electronics: Best Buy stores recycle electronics, and are willing to take all kinds of stuff, even the outdated equipment in my basement that's older than my kids. They pick up for a fee, or you can haul it to a store yourself and they'll take it off your hands, usually for free, sometimes for a fee, and if your items are in good shape and not obsolete, maybe in exchange for a gift card. Costco offers a similar program, but doesn't accept things like TVs and monitors (details are here). Be warned: You're not going to make a ton of money by selling your old electronics, but you will get them out of your house, which is the point, right?
Books: I have a lot of books. My favorite ones are on shelves in the family room, living room, and various bedrooms; the rest are down in the basement. I'm going to list some on Half.com, which is owned by eBay and works in a similar way, but is focused only on books, DVDs, music, and video games and has a different (easier-to-understand) fee structure. I'll also check with the folks at Cash4books.net and see if they're interested in buying any of them. And the rest will go to my local library. And, to be honest, probably to several other libraries in nearby towns, too.
Everything else: Clothes that are decent will go to one of the zillion charities that can put them to good use -- Goodwill, Planet Aid, The Society of St. Vincent de Paul, The Salvation Army. Housewear that we don't use, small appliances, and furniture will go to a local charity that's willing to haul them away from the end of my driveway -- Big Brothers Big Sisters and The Epilepsy Foundation are two that swing through my town often. I'll take an idea from "Toy Story 3" and give the toys my kids have outgrown to a local daycare. Anything else that's so worn that even I wouldn't buy it back at a yard sale goes in the trash.
I started implementing my plan yesterday after warning my husband that the living room was going to be my staging area until the charity pick up on Tuesday and, as such, would look even worse than usual. There are 12 bins and bags of stuff sitting in it now, and a glance into the basement shows that there's plenty more I can add to the pile.
But it's a start.
Do you tend to clutter? How do you keep it -- or clean-up -- from overhwelming you?