Thursday, December 30, 2010

Sharing the Wealth

In the last post, I mentioned that I have office supplies if any local friends are interested. I forgot to mention that my plug for Mary Engelbreit fans has proven successful, as a friend contacted me to say that she knows somebody who LOVES all things Mary. B came over on Monday morning and filled her backpack with various Mary Engelbreit paraphernalia. I'm happy to provide gifts for her to share with someone else--and even happier that those items are longer in my home!

Still seeking a little girl named Caroline who would like a personalized jewelry box. It was great in 1988, but I'm not 10 anymore.

Also, if you didn't think the picture in the last post contained a lot of binders, keep in mind that they are stacked spine out/spine in so that they continue imagine TWICE what you see in the picture. :)

Monday, December 27, 2010

Eliminating Paper...Finding Money...

As I have written in the past, I have issues with paper. Over the last several days, I've tackled a small mountain of paper (and emerged triumphant...even finding some $ in the process).

Last spring, I started working through a file cabinet that I had not touched in years. It had lots of newspaper clippings and other memorabilia from the past, as well as mounds and mounds of credit card bills, old apartment leases, explanation of benefits forms from the early 2000s, etc. (Actually, that's what was left AFTER I gave up in the spring.) On Sunday, I got my shredder going in high gear while N and I watched movies. Shredding is a great activity during commercials, even if TiVo can help us avoid them. My shredder worked very hard and only overheated about six times, which gave me plenty of opportunity to clean out other areas of my home. I went through the cabinet of materials for my home-based business and got rid of about 40 lbs. of expired catalogs and promotional materials. No joke--the stuff filled a paper grocery bag to the very top!

And so I shredded and shredded and shredded, eventually ending up with six grocery-sized bags of shreddings. I offered these to a friend who is packing for a move this week, but she declined, so off to the recycling bin they went.

I do have a small pile of paperwork rescued from the file cabinet for which I will need to find a home. I surmise that most of this will end up in a binder, as I am very good with keeping documents there.

Speaking of binders, I used my Facebook account to process some of my thoughts regarding materials that I have saved throughout the years.

Sunday, 4:00:
Boxing Day? I call this SHREDDING DAY! Just got rid of apartment leases from college, old credit card bills, and a lot of other stuff, too. (Kept all the Daily Iowan clippings of my letters to the editor.)

Sunday, 5:00:

... wants to know if you are like me--after college and/or grad school, you kept all of your notes and papers in neatly organized binders. Now, the real question: have you EVER referenced any of that material, and at what point did you get rid of it?

Sunday, 6:00:
... just recycled three years of [hard copies of youth group weekly bulletins]! What a great kick-off to my Binder Reclamation Project!

Monday, 2:00 p.m.:
HOLY MOLY! Just opened my 14th binder (out of nearly 40 from all my years of higher education) and found -- EVERYTHING FROM [MY HIGH SCHOOL] ADVANCED COMP CLASS! I'm going to skim quickly and recycle *everything* immediately.

The response was overwhelming. Many people had kept their old notes, readings, and papers, but very few had used them. Since I finished college ten years ago (and grad school five years ago), I decided it was time to DUMP IT ALL. As each binder was emptied, and my recycling pile got bigger and bigger, I realized the depth of unexpected excess in my life.

All in all, I condensed nearly a dozen college binders down to TWO--keeping papers and exams, but nothing else. It's nice to skim through those papers and see that I used to know some semi-scholarly things. :)

As a result of working in various religious institutions for the last 14 years, I have also accumulated a lot of photocopies of various religious texts, leading me to create a new pile--geniza. (Items with God's name on it cannot be thrown away or even recycled. They must be buried in a cemetery. Many Jewish institutions have receptacles where geniza can be taken; then the institution arranges for burial when the receptacle is full.) I have a pretty big stack in my geniza pile.

Working through graduate school binders was more difficult, as I did find a few courses with materials worth keeping, but most went into the piles. As I emptied binders, paper folders, plastic folders, I made two realizations:

1. I cannot go through everything at once. I came across several binders of resources on Israel education and leading trips for teens. Those will wait until another clearing-out process. Sometimes, we have other fish to fry in the decrapifying mess.

2. My living room looks like an office supply store. I have binders, notebooks, pens, paper folders, plastic folders, accordion files, tabbed dividers, manila folders, and hanging files. THIS IS FOUND MONEY! Sure, I need to find a reasonable place to keep what is worth keeping (and most of the binders will be donated to my employer's office supply room on Monday), but I DON'T need to run to the store the next time I need one of these things.

Open notice to local friends: if you want any of this stuff, you are welcome to it. I like saving your money, too.

So, friends, I really should mention the elephant in the room. I'm getting married in five months, and I'll be moving (just in the neighborhood, not too far) for the first time in almost six years. The prospect of packing everything is a little overwhelming, but my current process of working through the excess and keeping only the things that are beautiful or useful keeps me going strong.

Random Notes:
If you have trouble throwing things away, it's nice to have a friend over to coach you through the process. I guarantee she thinks something is less sentimental than you do.

Sometimes I find actual money while cleaning. Coins behind cushions, dollar bills inside books (rarely, but it has happened), stuff like that. I have a rule that all cash found while cleaning must go into a tzedakah box. I figure that if it was lost somewhere, I probably don't need it anyway. If I eventually find a $20, I'll let you know if I change my mind about this rule.

Yesterday, I went through the box of stuff I brought home after I cleaned out my desk when my job was cut in the spring of 2009. It's amazing how quickly I could get rid of 90% of the stuff that I simply couldn't part with 18 months ago. Very cleansing.

Sometimes, we find things that we don't use now and will never use. Sometimes, we find things that we don't use now but will definitely use in the next apartment. It's okay to keep things in the second category--since the next apartment is a very real part of the future, not some far-off fantasy. If I don't use them, the parting will be pretty easy.

Monday, December 13, 2010

And So We Begin Again...

I believe I mentioned earlier that decluttering is not a one-day or a one-week project; rather, it's a continuous process. Since my successes this spring, I have continued to move clothing to the donation bag on a regular basis--"Hey, this doesn't fit. Why throw it back in the closet? How about the donation bag?"--and keeping my shredder in the kitchen has helped minimize paper overload. (As you may recall, paper is my personal sickness. I hate it, and I'm overrun by it.)

Still, it's time for another overhaul. My previous decluttering project was focused on visible spaces in my apartment; this time, the goal is to work my way through cabinets and closets for the stuff that's been hiding there for who-knows-how-long. The coming week will be much lighter for me at work--down from 40 hours in four days to 30--and then I'll have the last week of the year off completely, so my goal is to get through as much as possible during that time.

The project started last night with my kitchen. I had the terrific support of my friend, E, who reorganized three cabinets and provided a great deal of "Get rid of it" support while I went through piles of mail and put away numerous other items that were hanging out on my counter. At the end of the evening, we had two large bags of recycling, three bags (grocery-sized) of garbage, and a super-clean kitchen!

It's time to find a new stuff box. Get ready for lots of great stuff from my home to yours...

Here's a sneak preview of what's up for grabs:
  • Mary Engelbreit canisters (for flour, sugar, etc.)
  • Mary Engelbreit covered butter dish
  • Mary Engelbreit covered cheese plate
  • Mary Engelbreit candy/nut bowls
  • cookbook holder with lucite splashguard
  • two Mary Engelbreit plates suitable for hanging
  • plate hangers
  • ice cream sundae spoons
If I could figure out how to get pictures off my camera and onto my netbook, I'd even add pictures of these items. Maybe next time.

Thanks for your support in my decluttering project, and let me know if you want ANY of the items in my stuff box.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Upon Reflection...

It's been a month since I last wrote, and my home has remained pretty well decrapified. (Too bad my sister shared this word with me after I started the project; otherwise, this blog would have been named Decrapify.)

I've gotten rid of more and more--finally getting the bags of clothing out the door, and last week, I discovered more pieces that need to go. Funny how you can wear and wear something, but after you really think about everything you own, you try on something again and realize it just doesn't fit. Time for it to GO!

Early on in this project, my goal was the visible, as I preferred to see actual results before I started poring through items behind closed doors, but the time has arrived to deal with the hidden clutter.

Last weekend, I went through my old, heavy, ridiculous file cabinet. To be honest, I thought it was ridiculous BEFORE I saw what was inside. I worked all the way through the top drawer while N and I watched Betty White on Saturday Night Live. My trash pile grew, my shred pile grew, and I came across some interesting gems... papers from college, tax returns filed in multiple folders, bank statements, credit card bills for cards I no longer hold, receipts for random items, etc. Shred-shreddy-shred-shred-shred. I overheated the shredder twice on this file cabinet alone, and I still have a pile of stuff to put through the machine. While this file cabinet will not last beyond this apartment, a friend gave me the idea of repurposing it as a nightstand on one side of my bed so that I can move the bookshelf currently there to a different spot in the apartment. I'm not quite ready to make that move, but it's an exciting idea.

After the file cabinet, the next step is my kitchen. I just know that there are so many items that I haven't touched in years. They are hiding innocently behind closed cabinet doors, but their time has passed, and I'm looking forward to passing the items on to new owners!!!!!

It's a big weekend; my parents are in town, and I am anxious to see how they like my work. My sister, brother-in-law, and niece spent this evening with me, and they commented on how much more open my apartment looks now. From moving the bookcases five months ago to just GETTING RID of stuff, it's been an incredible improvement.

Special Gems:
  • old dairy dishes have gone to my cousin. New dairy dishes purchased on clearance (but they don't look like clearance) have replaced them.
  • Still searching for the last piece of an expandable phone set, but it's going to N & R for their new home as soon as I find it. (I also found the receipt...this was not an inexpensive item, so I'm glad it's going to be used!)
  • The wireless router. As I suspected a few months ago, it really doesn't work. Tonight, my brother-in-law (tech wizard of my life) tried to set it up with my netbook, and he discovered that a) it didn't work, and b) when you put the cord in the back, little sparks come out. He says that any electronic item that causes sparks needs to be thrown out. Wireless router, meet garbage chute. :)
My home still isn't perfect, and that's both difficult and important for me to accept. Maintenance is the key, along with humor and realism. My new friend, J, gave me a few focusing questions to ask why I come across something in my home:

1. Have I used this in the last six months? If Yes, keep it.

If No, --> 2. Why?

3. Will I use it in the next six months? If Yes, keep it. If No, dump it.

I like this new idea--and so many others that people have shared.

Thanks for being part of my journey. Have a wonderful, meaningful, clutter-free day.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Pockets of Paperwork

Note: You may learn more about my home or about me than you wanted to know. For me, being open about my experience keeps me accountable. Thanks for reading, but if you choose not to continue, I understand.


For the last few weeks, this blog took a back burner while Pesach took over my life. I started this decluttering project more than a month ago with the intent to do work slowly at first and then take advantage of my spring break to truly tackle my apartment. I've been working hard, and I've learned a lot in the process. Let me share some of the tasks I've completed, and then I'll share what I've learned:

  • pockets of paperwork. They appear EVERYWHERE! I should know; I put them there. Paper is truly my downfall, and I've been working to trash, shred, or act on everything. I do feel that having a shredder sitting in my kitchen over the past few weeks has really kept current mail from piling up.
  • junk drawer in kitchen (opens and closes smoothly now, with much less stuff inside)
  • cosmetic drawer outside bathroom (same as above, and I'm just loving that I already had a plastic organizer inside each drawer!)
  • find somebody to take my stationary bike. Thanks to my college friend, J, who will pick up the bike in the next couple weeks.
  • go through EVERY CLOTHING DRAWER. Result: six large bags of clothing to donate.
  • organize under bathroom sinks (again, lots of stuff, newly organized. wow, even found more light bulbs...)
  • get rid of video rack and folding bookshelf. Dropping these off for M tomorrow, along with a few treasures from my stuff box.
  • declutter bookshelves. This one was difficult in concept. I love the look of a full bookcase (and I have a few of them), but I had extra books that didn't all fit, and I don't like the look of a second row. On several of the shelves, I created more space by removing about 8 vertically-arranged books and making a stack instead. Because I varied where I put the stacks, it actually provides a nice decorative effect, too.
  • junk on floor by TV. All removed and moved to the right places, except... I have these license plates from when I lived in Massachusetts. Um, what do I do with them?
  • Drawer in TV stand. This is where my tools, cords, and manuals live. Now they live nicely. (And if I know how the device works, I probably don't need the manual anymore. Or the remote control for the DVD player that broke two years ago. I just love throwing things away!)
  • Rebuild laundry sorter. I keep forgetting that I have to do this every time I do laundry, but it sure does make sorting a lot easier. One piece of the PVC piping is breaking. Where can I get more PVC?
  • Find place for picture frames that I'm not using right now. Once I got rid of 2/3 of my t-shirts, I suddenly had a drawer for picture frames and all the loose pictures I've found around my apartment.
  • Pack up Pesach. This was pretty easy, although my new acquisitions for this year necessitated the use of a storage tub in addition to my usual boxes. Fortunately, I had a few empty storage tubs in my bedroom closet, so no need to buy a new one. My boxes and tub are all happily stowed in the front closet. The only issue is that I now have a bit less space for coats; good thing I have a huge closet in my bedroom!
  • Okay, here's the best thing I did this week: I made a list of all the paper and plastic products that I put back into my Pesach boxes, so I WILL NOT HAVE TO BUY THESE ITEMS AGAIN NEXT YEAR.!!!
  • Outer bathroom counter. Home to my humidifier, tchotchkes, and not much else (now).
This is what I've learned:

You know the free address labels all those non-profits send, hoping for a donation? Even if you are really good about keeping them in one place, you will never use all of them. If I lived at this address for the next 20 years, I probably would not use up what I have right now--so I got rid of all the ugly ones and kept only the pretty ones. Do you have good uses for extra address labels?

As I was going through items in my bedroom tonight, I decided that I really wanted to vacuum. Then I realized that it was 11:20 p.m. I think my neighbors will appreciate that I am waiting until morning. :)

Remember early on, when I mentioned those pockets of space where you put things away for a short time but you never go back to them? Apparently, creating these pockets is a sickness for me. This is my long-term task: changing my behavior so that they are not created in the first place.

I was worried about throwing things away. I know somebody who is a hoarder, and it's always been a concern for me because I like keeping things. It turns out that I'm skilled at throwing things away, and I'm focusing on ways to appropriately contain the items that I choose to keep. (See note above on picture frames.) I know that I am not a hoarder, but I also know (now) that the decluttering process is continuous. Finding a home for everything in my home is difficult, but it's necessary! If an item doesn't have its own place, then it probably does not need to be here.

As I write this, I'm looking at my nearly empty living room. (Conveniently, my vantage point blocks my view (on the left) of the six bags of clothing to be donated and (on the right)the final pile of paper to be sorted and filed. What I can see looks really nice...and kind of empty. I wasn't sure what to do with that until I remembered something Peter Walsh said once on Oprah: "Flat surfaces are not for storage." He meant that although you might choose to display a knickknack, vase, etc., countertops and coffee tables are not meant for all of your random papers. I like that.

I have a nice-sized apartment for little old me. It's probably around 650 square feet (only three real rooms, but each is spacious). You would not believe how much stuff can be crammed into this space. Some of it is beautiful, some of it is useful, and some of it has gone through my shredder or down my garbage chute.

I'm not done with the major parts of this process yet, but I've met about 80% of my objectives for this point in time. I call that a win. I will continue to pop in from time to I continue the quest for my home to rise up to meet me.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


A few items...

1. So excited to give R my $10 Starbucks card! It's just a tiny item, but I didn't want it, and she could use it.

2. While I was putting items away during my 15-minute challenge last night, I knocked over the basket of pens and sundry small office items--it fell behind my desk and made a mess. In the moment, I left it in place (or all over the place, as it were), but today, I will have to crawl underneath and pick everything up.

3. I'm trying to decide where to donate all of the clothing and other items I've found. Yesterday, I read in the shul bulletin about a local girls' high school that will come to pick up items for their rummage sale. I think this is a great plan--both for the recipients and because they will come to me. My other really good option is to put the bags of clothing in my car and put them in the drop-box the next time I'm in the Jewel parking lot.

4. I saw the Chicago river--it's GREEN this week--and dropped R off at her conference. Now, with the afternoon ahead of me, I have LOADS of laundry to wash, dry, fold, and put away. I guess I should get off the computer. :)

I'm an Archaeologist

I feel guilty for not posting in over a week. If you think that means I have been ignoring my cluttering goal...well, you're mostly right. I had a rough week--lots of work, little sleep, but on Thursday night, I reminded myself that a friend would be coming to town the next day, so I'd better pick a new area and get to work.

I had these two boxes over by my living room window--right in front of the empty DVD rack and folding bookshelf that I am giving to a friend--so I went through them on Friday. (Pause to post on friend's wall regarding said DVD rack and bookshelf.) I got rid of plenty of stuff, and my shredder is still getting plenty of activity, but now I have a new problem. When I rearranged my living room a couple months ago, I had to take down several picture frames that were sitting in front of books on my bookcases. I figure that bookcases contain the (lovely, beautiful) clutter of books, but putting picture frames in front of them just makes everything look messy--so I have this box of pictures in frames. I'd love to display some of the pics--and recycle pictures to put new ones into a few of the other frames--but I have no space for them right now, so what do I do? Does it make sense to keep this box of picture frames? I know that I DON'T want to put these frames into the stuff box. I already have paid for them (or received them as gifts), and I know that I want to keep them. This is when an extra room or extra storage space would be really helpful. I assume that at some point, God willing, I will live in a home with more than my current 800ish square feet, and I will have the space and appropriate shelving to show off more pictures. So is it bad that I'm keeping these in a box for now?

Sorry for the rambling. There really is more to my story, including an explanation of today's title. My friend came to town Friday afternoon, and we've really had a great time together. It's always fun when R comes for Shabbat; she works in a synagogue and normally has to go to work on Saturday mornings, so it was nice for us both to sleep in and then for her to go to shul where she didn't have to be "on" all the time. Yesterday afternoon, in the waning hours of the day, R sat with me and we chatted while I nestled deep in my closet to try to sort through all the junk within.

Quick fast-forward to the end--you would not BELIEVE the massive amount of stuff that came out of my closet. It was insane.

For those who do not know, one of the best features of my apartment is its huge walk-in closet. In the beginning, it was really organized, but over time, that has changed. I started by making a laundry pile--turns out I have a lot of clothing, even if I can't ever find something to wear--and a donation pile. What else? The always-present garbage bag (filled two Target bags) and my favorite friends, the SHRED pile and the STUFF BOX pile. Actually, the stuff box did not gain a lot in this venture, but it's filled with plenty, anyway. I also found books, of course. This round included A Raisin in the Sun and Four Meals--both terrific reads. N appreciates that I find books everywhere in my apartment; it's part of my book-loving personality and one of the reasons we are so compatible.

At some point, I got deep enough to find another two pockets of the infamous stuff we throw in a corner and never, ever see again. Quite frankly, I'm a little shocked that I have found so many of these pockets in my apartment, and I'd be embarrassed to share this, but a) it's part of my accountability in this decluttering quest, and b) you might do the same thing, too. At this point, I found mail, the true bane of my existence. I quickly separated anything with identifying information (shred pile) and dumped the rest. And then wedding and shower invitations...I have a box of these under my bed, as I assume they will be good reference tools eventually. I am not bothered by keeping them because I have them contained and not making a mess--and now, fortunately, I have a new set to add to the box. I found CDs for restoring Windows Vista (insert expletives) and promptly dumped them. A few CDs later, my archaeological skills finally came into play when I realized that these were actually for my hated desktop...and that if I had found these, then the Office 2007 CD could not be too far away. I WAS RIGHT! I REJOICED WHEN I FOUND IT!!!!!! Now I can load Office onto my netbook without paying for a new version!!!!! (I guess there are benefits to cleaning.)

I got through that huge pile, and at this point, my legs were cramping. It was definitely time for the next activity of the evening. It was hard to stop working through the closet once I had started--there are still several problem zones--but I do have a huge area of empty floor in my closet now! I even recovered my PVC piping structure for a laundry bag with three sections. I'll try to rebuild it, and if it doesn't work--buh-bye and down the trash chute for you!

However clean the inside of my closet appeared, the space right outside my closet looked like a war zone. It was time for a 15-minute challenge. I raced around the apartment, moving the shred pile into the kitchen by the shredder, transporting all of the laundry to the living room, where I will sort and wash it today, putting all of the items to be donated together in a pile, throwing garbage down the chute, moving books, stuff box pile, and more to their appropriate locations, such as the nail clippers, gauze scissors, and ace bandage that I also found. The day also netted around fifteen cents for my tzedakah box. (Did I mention my rule that money found while cleaning goes to tzedakah?)

This has been my longest post ever, so congratulations if you are still reading! My closet looks GORGEOUS, even if I know it's not done yet. I got rid of TONS of clothing that I never wear, and I think my take-away for the day is that the emptier my apartment gets, the fuller my life feels. Decluttering has a long-term relaxation effect... and eventually, you will probably find the items you truly need.