Monday, August 23, 2010


The shopping diet continues. When I really think about it, the big hardship for me is not buying books. This habit started in childhood- my mother really wanted to encourage reading and would buy me a book anytime I asked. I love to read and I hate when I don't have something to curl up with on a rainy afternoon or at night before I turn off the lights. But I think the true temptation is that they offer so many possibilities: I can read a novel set in the court of Queen Elizabeth I, learn about India, get some techniques from a famous chef, or solve a mystery before the wiley detective. Not really a bad deal for 15 bucks!

My new de-cluttering best friends, Judi and Marj, authors of the book Scaling Down: Living Large in a Smaller Space, introduced the idea of "clutter triage." You walk through the house and pick up as many things as possible that you can easily get rid of. When I triaged my house, I found that I had purchased many many books that I happily read once and then placed on the shelf to gather dust. So far I have taken four reusable grocery bags full to the used book store and the Friends of the Library, and still have plenty left.

Some of these books were like a badge of honor: I was proud of having read As I Lay Dying, so I kept it around. Since high school! I realized that I don't need the physical book hanging around the house to prove that I read it. So out when most of my anthropology textbooks from college (in the interest of full disclosure I should confess that I had never read some of them) and the modern classics I was forced to read in high school more than a decade ago. I also got rid of the books I bought over the years and then never read- they were basically a big source of guilt on my shelf. Admitting that I would probably never read them was like confessing a secret and feeling a sense of relief after.

In this midst of this, my awesome friend Beth shared an amazing discovery. There is a place in town that will lend you books FOR FREE! Even better, you can use your home computer to search their collection, order the books you are interested in, and the staff will gather them together in the branch of your choice! I am of course talking about the local library.

So now, when I browse over to, and get tempted by the many helpful suggestions based on my personal purchase history, I can easily resist the temptation but navigating to the library webpage and requesting that those same books be held for me. And that is how I have managed three weeks without buying a single book but still had something new and exciting to read all along!

By the way, my Under the Stairs closet is now monster-free. This was the closet I was most afraid of, tackled first, and checked off the list!

This is the "before" picture. The closet is narrow with a sloping ceiling and no light, which makes it a magnet for clutter and a catch-all for things I don't have another place for.

I took everything out of the closet and spread it out across the living room floor. Among the more inappropriate items were: an Angelina Ballerina doll with receipt from 12/06 that was purchased for a Toys for Tots drive, around 10 bottles of expired cleaning products, my ex-boyfriend's buffer (we broke up 4 years ago), and (thankfully only) one dead cockroach.

Three large trashbags later, the closet looks like this....

I had been putting this project off for LITERALLY TWO YEARS!!! The whole process ended up taking two hours. So the score stands as, Closets 0, Melissa 1.

I feel like a superhero!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

In The Beginning

House Heaven

I'm not a pack rat. I'm not a saver, a hoarder, or a compulsive shopper. My credit cards are paid off. There are no piles of junk in the house. I can see most of the dining room table at any given time. You won't see my placeon TLC.

For me, the problem is the closets. And the cabinets. And the drawers.

Somehow, every inch of storage space in my 1000 square foot, two bedroom townhouse is filled with my stuff. Occasionally there is an avalanche from my guest room closet. I sometimes catch myself buying something new, like a tape measure or a pair of scissors, because I don't have the energy to hunt for the one I own.

I have been trying to downsize for about six months. On three or four occasions, I removed several pieces of clothing from my closet and took them to my friend's consignment store. But somehow I always found myself at the mall the next day, thinking, now I have some space and I can get something that I will really wear. Taking a huge box of books to the used book store yeilded a similar result- you get a big store credit, and then it's so convenient to browse around the store. You buy books you may or may not want, because, after all, they're basically free.

One day recently, I read an article about a man living in an 86 square foot house. No, that's not a typo. It was like an epiphany. It was like house nirvanna. I thought to myself, "I bet his mom's birthday present is never late due to his inability to find the packing tape."

So I bought another book. Yes, I'm aware of the irony. But this was a really good, worthwhile book, called Scaling Down: Living Large in a Smaller Space, by Judi Culbertson and Marj Decker. This amazing book addresses more than just how to get rid of stuff. It identifies the emotional attachments we develop with our things. Even better, it describes the emotional lightness that can come from an unencumbered life.

With the help of my new friends Judi and Marj, I'm ready to go. I started by writing a mantra to help me get through the process (suggested by the book). It describes my desire to own only the things I really love, and to find a suitable place to put them.

I also put myself on a one month (or maybe longer if needed) shopping diet. Although I say I am not a big shopper, I find myself making tons of small purchases- paperback books, shoes on sale, nail polish- of items I don't really need. These little purchases add to the volume of stuff I own, and subtract from my bank account. The shopping diet should also help my tendency to buy new things to fill the space I just made (my mother says this comes from our Hunter/Gatherer roots).

So now I just need to roll up my sleeves and get started!

If you liked this post, please leave a comment. If you loved it, tell your friends, or post it on Twitter or Facebook.

"Retweets are the sincerest form of flattery." Oscar Wilde