Thursday, September 30, 2010

My Favorite Things

I have been talking a lot lately about the stuff I don't love. As an alternative, today's post is about the stuff I do love and am glad to own. The original purpose of this decluttering project was to have in my house only the things I really love, and to have a place for them. So, as a reminder of my mission, here are some of my favorite possessions:

Beaded flip flops

Any true Florida girl knows the importance of  "dressy flip flops" as a wardrobe staple.  I like to think these epitomize my sense of style: casual and comfortable, but with a little chic in the mix. I wore these all summer and now I'm sad that it's the time of year to put them in the back of the closet.

Raleigh Cruiser bike

I bought this bike just over a year ago, and it was my first bicycle since childhood. It is my primary transportation to and from work.  I used to drive to the gym, pedal a stationary bike for 20-30 miles and then drive home. Now I bike around town (more so now that its getting cooler) and I love being able to combine exercise and transportation. Also I feel a small sense of superiority when I bike to work. Filling the gas tank once a month (or less) ain't too bad either!


When I first bought my condo, I purchased the blue glasses from Pier One. I felt like I was playing house, serving my friends wine and cocktails in real stemware instead of plastic cups with bank logos on them. A few years later, my mother bought me the (clear) Mikasa glasses as a Christmas gift. I really believe that any beverage tastes a little better in a beautiful glass.
I was reminded when I took this picture that I love to entertain, and have not been doing it enough recently. If you wineglasses are dusty, you are overdue for a party!

So there you have it, a few of my favorite things. I think that the possessions I love most are the ones that define me and what I love to do. Now it's your turn- what are some of your favorite things, and what makes them so special?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

What to Do With It

Whoa! After my last post, I took a few days to regroup, and am feeling a little better about the world in general. I still struggle with the issues I talked about, but for now I am putting a pin in them. Also, I might have a little something up my sleeve, so stay tuned...

For now, I want to talk about what to do with your clutter now that you are ready to let it go.

 Give it away

If you have something that you know someone else can use, ask if they want it. This works best  for things you hardly used or didn't use, like art supplies or kitchen tools. Its also great for kids clothes and toys. Tread lightly here- don't be insulted if they don't want it, and don't pawn your clutter off on someone else who doesn't need it!

Alternatively, you can donate the items somewhere that they will really make a difference. I have been volunteering at Helping Hands, a free clinic in Gainesville. Thursdays are for women only- the ladies get a meal and showers, and are allowed to pick items from the clothes closet. These are women who actually have almost nothing to wear (unlike most of us, who stand in front of a packed full closet every morning when we say that), and each article of clothing is really treasured. I feel much less guilty about getting rid of something I bought and hardly wore when I know someone else will truly enjoy it.

Similarly, many non-profit and charity organizations have thrift stores to raise funds. In Gainesville, the Humane Society, St. Patrick's School, and Haven Hospice (among others) all have thrift stores. Selling your clutter helps them raise money to support the wonderful things they do.

Sell It

Sometimes you can get actual money for your unwanted stuff!

The most hassle-free way is to take the items to a Consignment Shop or a Pawn Shop. I may be biased, but I think my friend Beth's consignment store, The Fashion Exchange (here's the website, is the best one in Gainesville. You make an appointment, bring in your stuff (clothes and small housewares), and when it sells you get 40% of the purchase price as either cash or store credit. I stop by pretty often, and there is some other Clutterella who is my exact size and has been getting rid of a lot of Ann Taylor clothing recently. I can use my store credit from unwanted clothes to gets that stuff for FREE! Yay! For pawn shops, I recommend TB Goods in Gainesville and Alachua (, which is part owned by my buddy Chris. Send him your unwanted jewelry and electronics, he'll hook you up.

A garage sale is another option. Unfortunately, this Clutterella lives in a townhouse with no garage (or driveway) so its not a very good choice for me. Judi and Marj have some advice in Scaling Down if you want to explore that route. I also think the show Clean Sweep on TLC has some pretty great garage sale tips. So I am referring you to the experts!

I have not explored selling things on Ebay or any of the other websites out there, but I am seriously thinking about it.  This guy Baker has tried it, and he has a lot to tell you about it in his blog Man Vs. Debt (  He and his wife sold most of their possessions, paid of their debts, and are now traveling the world. Just last week he released Sell Your Crap, which is a guide to making money while getting rid of your stuff. I have not tried it, but Leo Babauta endorses it, so that makes it cool in my book. I'll let you know if I try it out.

Toss it

I know we all hate this option, but sometimes its a necessary evil. Some of  our stuff can't be sold or donated (ratty t-shirts, broken furniture, expired cleaning products). Recycle it if you can. If you can't, let it go. It's not doing any good junking up your living space. If you feel guilty about the big trash pile, vow to think twice before purchasing anything from now on. Move on!

This is by no means a comprehensive guide. I would love to hear from you about what you have done with your unwanted stuff!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Emptying the Ocean with a Teaspoon

My last few posts have been very advice-y, but this time I am asking for some advice from you. I have been making headway with decluttering, I feel like I am simplifying, I understand the importance of prioritizing, but I am still a little overhwelmed by one aspect of my life: the desire to give more.

I have always said that my main goal in life is to try to make the world a better place. When I graduated college, I became a social worker with this goal in mind. Unfortunately, I lasted about six months and then quit. I felt like I was just shuffling people around without really helping them, and had started lying awake all night worrying about the children I was supposed to be in charge of.

For the next five years, I worked for a large insurance company. This was a great job, with fantastic co-workers and an acceptable salary, but I longed for the feeling that I was making a difference in someone's life. In 2007, I decided that my calling was to be a nurse. I started taking pre-requisite classes, applied for a BSN program, got accepted, and became a registered nurse in 2009.

Now I love what I do. I  have daily opportunities to ease pain, improve quality of life, and help someone get through a terrible day. I feel like I am doing what I am meant to do. I feel really lucky.

In my free time, I am also trying to do more to make a difference in the world. The book Do One Nice Thing by Debbie Tenzer helped a little- the idea is to start by doing one thing to help someone else each week. I signed up for an automatic monthly donation to the Humane Society. I started volunteering once a week at a free clinic. I visit the sites Free Kibble and Free Kibblekat (that donate kibble to an animal shelter for each visitor who answers a trivia question) most days. I bike to work instead of driving. I recycle. I have a rescue dog.

The problem is that I can't decide how much is enough. I have free time to volunteer more. I could consume less. I could have sent $138 to the Pakistan relief efforts instead of spending it on a pair of Kate Spade sunglasses. I could adopt more shelter animals. I am overwhelmed by how many people in the world are suffering while I relax, well fed, in an air-conditioned house. I feel like I am using a teaspoon to empty the ocean- I understand that I am making an impact, but it's very hard to see the results.

Does anyone else feel this way? Has anyone overcome these feelings? Is the answer to become Mother Teresa, working tirelessly to help others and owning only a chair and a blue sweater? Or do we say that just doing something is enough?

Any insight is very much appreciated!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

One Little Thing

A small confession: I am losing decluttering momentum! Like many projects I start, this one was most exciting when I first began. Now I am getting a little tired of it, and also fairly embarrassed about how much stuff I have given away, and how much I still have.

Thank goodness I started this blog, because I feel like I am accountable to the three or four people who are reading it (thanks guys!), and I have to keep going.

Here is my solution: just do one thing at a time. Decluttering the whole kitchen is completely overwhelming, but one cabinet or drawer is no big deal.

Yesterday, I started under the sink:

This area is another catch all for things that don't belong anywhere else. The drain pipes from the sink and the garbage disposal make this a weird space for storing anything tall or putting anything in the back of the cabinet.

It only took 20 minutes (during which time I was also talking to my aunt on the phone) to get rid of the expired cleaning products, consolidate duplicates into one bottle, and arrange items so they were all visible.

In fact, this project was so quick and easy that I started on the cabinet above the stove as well:

The problem here is that the cabinet is high and deep, so lots of expired baking products, cough drops, and dust-coated Tums were lurking in the very back.

I took everything out, wiped out the spilled honey and vanilla extract, and arranged things so that they are only one row deep (anything behind gets lost forever).

A big improvement, plus no more expired baking products.

The idea of doing one little thing actually came from a book that I read last year, called Do One Nice Thing by Debbie Tenzer.  The book is about how you can feel better about yourself and the world by taking a little time every week to do something nice for someone else. It can be as small as letting someone pull in front of you in traffic, or a big as donating money or time to a cause you like. This is not a book about decluttering, but it introduces the concept of taking control with one small act at a time. If you want a little taste, you can check out Debbie's website at
With this concept in mind, I have also started making my bed every morning. It only takes 60 seconds, but it makes the whole room look better. It also seems to help the room stay neat. Apparently I am less inclined to drop clothes on the floor or earrings on the dresser if the room looks tidy to begin with.
And just like that, this evening's "one little thing,"- this post- is done!

Friday, September 10, 2010

De-Monster your Inbox

A great quick way to eliminate some mental clutter from your life is to clear out and organize your e-mail inbox. Do it at work and it will feel so good you'll want to do it at home too!

Everyone has e-mails that need to be saved, especially for work, but your inbox is not a good place to store them. Set aside a half an hour or so, create some folders, and sort the e-mails into the folders. Don't get too hung up on how to categorize them, most e-mail programs have search functions to help you locate e-mails later. Once you have your inbox cleaned out and your folders set up, take the time to keep it that way: after you read a new message, decide to either delete it or move it to a folder. Only e-mails containing things that need to be done in the very near future should live in your inbox. Every few months, take the time to look back through the folders and delete notes that you no longer need.

If your home e-mail gets full of spam, courtesy offers, and sale notifications, take a few minutes to deal with these. For example, I ONCE bought a crystal bowl from a website as a gift, and received weekly "special offers" from that site for months until I finally took the time to unsubscribe. If you are thinking, "wait, I might miss a really great deal," then keep only the offers from retailers that you are really likely to use. Then, when an offer comes through, place those notes into a separate folder. After a few months, you can look back and see what you have been actually using and eliminate the rest. Be careful- these notes are very effective ways of enticing you to part with your hard-earned dollars and re-clutter your life!

Also do a good deed for the universe and mark anything suspicious as spam using your e-mail provider's button. This can prevent you and other people from getting further e-mail from that sender. Pat yourself on the back for doing something nice.

Before I was a nurse, I worked in an office where I received 40-50 e-mails each day. Every morning I would take a few minutes to look through, delete what I didn't need, file what I did need, and then get started on the requests and action items that needed my attention. Something about whittling down that seemingly huge pile of stuff made me feel like I was more in control of my workload.

When I got a blackberry a few months ago, I noticed that it was time to weed through my personal inbox again and do some serious unsubscribing. I finally did that last week- it really made an immediate difference in the volume of e-mail I was receiving. I am trying to get back into the habit of clearing out my inbox once a day (much easier with the blackberry because I can do it while waiting at the dentist or whatever).  It makes the actual, important e-mails stand out more and keeps me from feeling overwhelmed by volume.

Meanwhile, back at the bat cave, I decided that it was time to conquer the monsters under my bed.

If you take a look at my bedroom, you might think it is pretty much clutter free (although usually my bed is unmade- remember I put the domestic goddess thing on hold for a while). But under the bed, there was a pile of various bits and pieces covered by a layer of dust and cat hair. The cat hair is especially problematic as I no longer have a cat...
It really only took about 20 minutes to sort through the stuff and find more appropriate places for most of it. I left a container of wrapping paper and a back massager under there, but the cat hair is gone and I can now vacuum under the bed without sucking up a stray pencil or snapshot.
What I am finding out is that the decluttering is pretty easy and unintimidating when I break it down into small tasks.  It also feels great to lay in my bed and not worry that something scary is going to come out from underneath and suck me into an alternate universe!

***I just found out that Leo Babauta wrote an entry called "Email Sanity" on Zen Habits that has some similar ideas for the inbox, and a few more. Here is a link if you are insterested:

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Throw Away the Guilt

I long to be a domestic goddess. I want to bake my bread from scrach, grow my own vegetables, use a sewing machine, and keep my house company ready at all times.

I wish I read more T.S. Elliot. I should exercise more. I need to make a spreadsheet to track my finances. My ER patient yesterday had I diagnosis I have never heard of, I should do some research on that condition.

I have never seen a full episode of Lost, and I want to watch it, but I'm afraid that if I start, I won't leave my house for six months until I have watched every minute of every season on DVD.

Apparenly, the state of my brain matches the state of my closets. And because I could never possibly get all of those things done, the biggest Monster in my head is GUILT.

I'm reading another really great book called The Power of Less by Leo Babauta. I have only just started reading, but he begins with a really powerful concept: we need to do less to accomplish more. It's better to choose a few long term goals and focus on doing things that will bring us toward them than to try to juggle everything that comes our way.

Somewhere in the first 22 pages of this book, Leo made a point that really got me thinking: Sometimes, "Less" means letting others do tasks for you to free up your time to focus on the big picture. He may have been talking about delegating or something, but for me it means this: I can just send my huge ironing pile to the dry cleaner instead leaving it to cause guilt and prevent me from wearing 10% of my wardrobe. I can take my car to be detailed instead of feeling bad that it hasn't been vacuumed or waxed in %&$# months (I can't even admit it here).  I can buy fresh bread from the bakery, have my pants hemmed by a seamstress, and get my vegetables from the grocery store. Because doing these things does not bring me closer to my long-term goals, and only I can get those done.

Along the same line, some of the physical clutter in my house needs to be "delegated" away. I have already taken a step in that direction by getting rid of the books I know I will never read. Tonight  I tossed the embroidery project that I started when I learned that my friend was pregnant (the kid is 3 1/2 now). I have a big pile of untouched scrapbooking supplies that will be posted on Ebay this week (unless someone here wants it- you can have it for free if you post in the comments!). Clothes that fit me in skinnier days are gone already. I will also be getting rid of my unused springform pan. Who needs homemade cheesecake hanging around the house anyway?

When I took those unread books to the used book store, I felt a great sense of relief. Giving myself permission to put the buff, green-thumbed, literary domestic goddess thing on the back burner feels the same way but more.  Last week I wrote down my three big goals for this year: travel more, get the house completely in order, and start my Masters next August. Starting this week I will make my to do list, then do only  that which brings me closer to those three goals. I'll have to finish reading to find out how things like laundry and cleaning the bathroom get done-paying someone else to do everything will really deplete my travel budget!

If you want to read more from Leo, you can check out his blog,

Meanwhile, don't drop by my house unannounced, because it might be pretty messy! Domestic goddess is next year's goal...

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Buy Less Spend More

I read two very different (library) books this week that essentially had the same message: consume less, but spend more on what you buy.

The first book was How to Have Style by Isaac Mizrahi. I picked it up because I was getting ready to aggressively sort through my wardrobe and I wanted a little guidance on what to keep. The book was great and I highly recommend it, even if you are not decluttering. The message that stuck with me the most was that we should train ourselves to purchase fewer clothes but to choose better quality items to buy. While working through my closet, I reflected on my own shopping habits. I balk at spending $100 for one article of clothing, but I don't hesitate to spend $30-40 each on a handful of items. As a result, I have plenty of clothes that I like, but very few that I love. Ultimately, I spend more on the handfull of okay things than I would have spent on the one wonderful piece. I am probably not alone in this habit, because I know plenty of ladies who have a huge number of clothes, but never seem to have the perfect thing to wear.
My shopping diet is ending, so I have a new strategy: when I shop, I will limit myself to two purchases, and no more than one pair of shoes, item of clothing, or accessory at a time. I can always go back later, but the two item limit will help me focus on finding the one item I love most and leaving the "likes" for another Clutterella.
The second book, French Women Don't Get Fat, by Mirelle Guiliano, was a sort of "eat well for life" diet book. I love these kinds of books because the emphasis is on making small changes you can maintain forever, instead of herding you onto some crazy wagon you are sure to fall off of. The author is a French woman who now lives in New York, and has experienced the eating habits of both cultures. The idea is to eat only the freshest, highest quality food, in moderate quantities. Imagine the pleasure that comes from a really special meal contrasted with the guilt that comes from something greasy that you scarf down while driving! Similarly, not even the most delicious food tastes good when you are too stuffed to really enjoy it. Mme Guiliano also encourages us to eat plenty of seasonal vegetables, make homemade soup a frequent evening meal, and enjoy a glass of wine to enhance the experience. Et voila, the French secret to staying slim is only common sense, ne c'est pas? (And there you have it, all of the French I know in one sentence!).
My first step toward this type of diet was to change my chocolate habits. I bought a bar of high end, high coaco dark chocolate. I found that an ounce, at about 100 calories, is much more satisfying than a fudge popsicle (also around 100 calories). Even better, the dark chocolate has benefits for both the cardiovascular and nervous systems and lacks the high fructose corn syrup and xantham gum found in the popsicle.

I have had a busy couple of weeks- an unexpected major home repair, a sick pet than had to be put down, and a lovely weekend cruise to the Bahamas (where Mme. Guiliano's advice came very much in handy). My decluttering momentum was starting to wane, so I decided to do a quick project: the linen closet.
You will notice that this closet is pretty tiny and not that full, so it was a perfect place for a quick fix.

A bunch of disperate, non-linen items were crowded together with a pile of dust-collecting floastam at the bottom. The basket holds extra light bulbs, the lamp has been there for at least 4 years, and there is a bottle of liquid plumber just waiting to spill and ruin the floor. Lots of pet hair completes the look.

I took everything out of the closet to start. The liquid plummer was moved into the bathroom where it can sit on a tile floor next to the tub, the lamp went to the Hospice Attic thrift store, and the towels were organized into bath, beach, hand and washcloth and separated accordingly. The middle shelf holds light bulbs, paper products, and a basket of extra shampoo and toilerties (only things I really use). The bottom of the closet holds a bulk package of TP and two baskets I hope to find a use for within 3 months- otherwise they will join the lamp at Hospice Attic.
I also found that the Universe rewards Those Who Donate- while taking items to Hospice Attic, I saw a really beautiful, simple leather handbag on a rack. When I went to look closer, I found out it was Prada and priced at $18.99. Now I have my first Prada purse and I didn't have to live on Ramen for two weeks to get it (Mme Guiliano would not approve of that anyway). More on thrift store shopping soon!

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