I haven’t updated my blog in a few weeks. I have been so busy with this 30-Day Declutter Challenge, which is now a 40-Plus-Day Challenge. I’m happy to say it’s going really well, though I haven’t finished. This challenge has taken me a lot further than I ever could have imagined, and it has been a process—different from any other time I got the “bug” to get rid of things. The time I spent learning about the benefits of living with less has been life-changing, and it couldn’t have come at a more chaotic time in my life.
I’m not an inspirational, lessons-I’ve-learned-in-life type of blogger. I create furniture projects, decorate with thrift store finds, and teach people how to do projects themselves without spending a ton of money. It’s exciting for me, and I hope it’s valuable to others. But today…today, I’m going to dig a little deeper and tell you how this decluttering journey is changing my life.
The plan to declutter began months ago, and I decided to take it to the blog and have others join me as way to stay motivated and be accountable in some way. The last few years have been very difficult in our home, as our son, who has multiple disabilities (a stroke being his primary diagnosis), has struggled in so many ways. To respect his privacy, I won’t go into the details of what he has been through. But I would like to share a little about how this decluttering challenge has helped me in this struggle and freed me from holding on to things that no longer serve a purpose.
If you’re the parent of a child with special needs, then you know how heartbreaking it is when you first learn of their diagnosis. Our son was diagnosed not long after birth, and since then it has been a constant journey of trial and error: finding the doctors and programs that work best for our son’s needs, scheduling appointments to see specialist after specialist, fighting hard for school services, while also trying to do our best to raise our daughter (who is younger), and trying to manage everyday life somewhere in between. I have found myself putting things off for more pressing issues in the moment, but so many things have never been finished. Then, during the last few years, our son’s health situation has become more serious, and it seemed we were in survival mode.
For the most part, our house is clean. Many things are hidden, except in a few areas of our home. However, things were piling up—“later things,” as I have started calling them. And I began to notice that they were having a greater effect on me than I had realized. I noticed that all the things I had been holding on to and planning “to do something with someday” were just in the way. They were making my anxiety worse and becoming very annoying—sometimes depressing—to look at and deal with. I just couldn’t keep up with it anymore, and if a time came that I had to deal with it, I was too overwhelmed.
Something finally hit me, and I realized I needed to make changes. Not just small changes—major changes—but a little at a time. That’s why a 30-day challenge was a good idea. I could set goals and try to stick with them. I became disgusted, angry, and irritated that I had gotten so behind. Thankfully, I have a very supportive husband and friends and family, who reminded me that I’ve had a lot going on these last few years and that I shouldn’t be hard on myself. And, fortunately, they were all very reassuring as I went through this decluttering process. My husband—my super-sweet husband—has just been awesome. He has been through a lot as well and helped me so much during this time. He is also very encouraging and positive, and that was very motivating.
If I had to explain the decluttering process, I would say that it was an opportunity to take my life back. I let so many things get behind, it was actually getting in the way of what I needed to be doing each day. It was hard to focus and get caught up. Some days, it was hard enough just to get through the things that had to get done, and that’s why so many other things were put on the back burner. Getting “caught up” was never going to happen with the way things were going around here. It was more than just opening closets and drawers and getting rid of things I hadn’t worn in over a year because I read that advice in a magazine. I took the time to learn, to seek, to prepare, and to pray. All those things came before I even opened a dresser drawer or a closet door, and that was the best way to set goals and stick to them.
After the initial feeling of being fed up with the clutter hit me, I had the opportunity to review the book Organizing for Your Lifestyle by Jane Stoller. This book opened my eyes. I especially paid attention to the health benefits of decluttering and how letting go of things we don’t really need can reduce anxiety. If you are the parent of a child with a lot of medical needs, you already know the stress and anxiety you feel while worrying about your child. There are plenty of things to stress about for any parent or just in our everyday lives. Why add to it? That’s what I had done by putting things off and shoving them into a closet or drawer somewhere in the house. I had a ridiculous amount of cosmetics that were outdated (and I don’t even wear a lot of makeup). Now that I threw so many of them out, I’m saving a lot of time in the morning when I’m getting ready. I don’t have to spend as much time searching for things to wear, an ink pen to write with, kitchen utensils to use in food prep, and cleaners to grab quickly under our kitchen sink. It’s amazing how much time I’ve given myself by eliminating all the digging around and searching. And the paperwork? If anyone in your family has a lot of medical needs then you probably have piles of paperwork like we do. It’s much easier to find the bills and important papers now that we’ve decluttered and had our stacks of papers shredded.
I’ve certainly freed up my time searching for these things, but the reduction of stress is most welcome. I’m not in frantic searches around the house nearly as much as I was, and I am finding more time to focus on things that need my attention and energy. However, I took this decluttering a little further than what I had originally planned. I also deleted my Facebook account and threw out junk that I thought I could salvage and repurpose. I could get into the benefits of removing Facebook from my life in another blog post, and I’m certain it will continue to be a positive experience. It’s nice to remove the constant news feed of negativity and political garbage. But the junk in the shop was most surprising. I realized that some things are just junk and that it would take a lot more time to repurpose them. They had been sitting there waiting for me to get to them, but that hadn’t happened after all this time. It was just silly to keep holding on to those things. One piece in particular was an old mirror I wanted to refinish, but I could see that it was in awful shape and the corners were loose. It went to the dump, as it should have a long time ago.
Another issue this challenge revealed was that I had lost myself in my grief. My grandmother passed away unexpectedly five years ago, and she was one of my best friends. She and I were very close all my life—she only lived a few blocks away. Losing her changed me in so many ways, and when my grandparents’ house was sold not long after she passed, I didn’t want to let go of their things. If you follow my blog then you know how special family pieces are to me, and they always will be. I still love them and use them to decorate my home. But when I took all of my grandmother’s sewing equipment and supplies, it was because I didn’t want to let that part of her go. During this decluttering challenge, I realized that I was never going to use hundreds (I’m not exaggerating) of spools of thread, a bazillion (okay, I’m exaggerating) buttons, and umpteen (is that a word?) pairs of scissors. Heck, I’ve tried to learn how to sew and just can’t get the hang of it. I’m not even good at it and that is most likely because I’m not really interested. There, I said it. I’m not interested in learning how to sew. I will not get rid of her sewing machine, though…and her gorgeous sewing machine table, which I have decided would be a wonderful record cabinet for our family room makeover. It’s a lovely mid-century piece, and this would be a great way to incorporate it into the room design to be used every day! I just don’t need some of the other stuff, such as the thread and scissors, because having things piled up and overwhelming me isn’t really holding on to my grandmother. Again, it’s getting lost in my grief, and I know she would rather I pick myself up and live my life to its fullest potential, like she influenced me to do. Getting rid of the things that overwhelm me would be a part of that.
Really, I lost myself in my grief a long time ago with the crushing diagnosis our son received. It’s time to pick myself up in that respect too. It’s time to eliminate all the things that are not helpful, that are causing more stress than I already have. Each day that I continue to eliminate these unnecessary things from my life and my living space, I feel a little more of the burden lift from me, one thing at a time. It’s a freedom I can’t fully explain. The feeling of being tied down with piles of stuff comes on slowly and gradually until you one day realize how much it starts to weigh you down. For me, it started with learning and self-care. Taking the time to read and get advice from the experts, whether it was in books or documentaries, made all the difference. This made me realize that I need to start taking care of myself so that I can take better care of my family. Now I know that I can’t pour from an empty cup. Doing things later, putting them aside, or hiding them away—just to dig through and search frantically later—was not promoting self-care. My cup runneth over from the weight of all this clutter, then it cracked under the pressure and runneth out.
The good news is that I am so close to that clean slate, and I plan on keeping it that way. It’s refreshing to open the old junk drawer without being embarrassed, AND I no longer have to call it a junk drawer! We are calling it a “miscellaneous drawer” now. It’s so wonderful to easily find an ink pen when I’m on the phone and have to take down a message. I found an old leather golf ball box in Gramma’s sewing cabinet that I am now using for birthday candles and lighters. It’s going to be such a relief during the next birthday gathering when I no longer have to dig around frantically for candles!
I will say that if you decide to do your own decluttering challenge (and do a challenge—set some goals for yourself!) you might get stressed right in the middle of it like I did. See, when you dig everything out from its hiding place, you’ll be forced to look at it. You’ll take a look at the things you kept and wonder why in the world you held on to them for so long. You’ll also find things you forgot you had that you could have been using all along! But my advice to you is to make a plan and read about the benefits of decluttering and how it can change your life. Watch the documentary Minimalism (on Netflix) and read books like Organizing for Your Lifestyle and The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Marie Kondo). Read them with an open mind! Don’t toss the whole thing aside just because the minimalist lifestyle seems too extreme for you. Learn about the things that you can apply in your life and what will be most beneficial for you. The results will only be positive…just do it. Make a plan. Get real with yourself. Ask yourself if you really need it as you go through each item AND throw things away that are no good. Stop holding on to things that don’t work anymore or that are torn apart. And I encourage you to DONATE your gently used items to a local non-profit for others to benefit. I know some of you may need money for your items and want to sell them if you can, which is fine! For me, it was just easier not to add more to my plate by trying to organize a yard sale or sell on Craigslist. I just wanted to make it easier to get it out, and I kept my itemized receipts for tax deductions.
The decluttering challenge isn’t quite finished for us yet, but I am feeling so good about what I’ve accomplished. It’s keeping me motivated to keep going! I want to thank my fellow Virginia Bloggers, Daga of Dagmara Postelle, Kim of So Full Zest, and Shanna of Me and Minnie for joining me for this #VaBloggersPeacefulHome challenge on Instagram! Thanks also to my friend and author Elle Powers for joining us in the challenge by showing us your desk organization and sharing how clearing the clutter provided a more creative space for you to write! And to Jane Stoller for the book that lit the fire in me. It was so helpful and provided a path for me to get started on this journey. I can’t wait to share it with others.
And last but not least, to my readers who have shared their advice and encouraging words along the way. I appreciate your kindness. And I appreciate that you read this post, in which I shared some of the emotions I’ve experienced these past years and how this challenge brought a lot of them to the surface…along with all the unnecessary stuff I’ve been holding onto all this time.