Forget Spring Cleaning. What most of us need is a massive Pre Christmas Decluttering. There’s nothing like the prospect of adding a bunch more toys, clothes, and books to help you realize your house is already overwhelmed with stuff. And that’s not even addressing the extra clutter of all the holiday decorations we’re setting out. The poor Baby Jesus is getting crammed in next to the pile of books I’m sure I’ll get around to reading at some point, while the Wise Men are stacked on top of the mugs that won’t fit in the cabinet because I haven’t purged the old sippy cups yet.
I’m guessing not.
I’ve written previously about our quest for some level of functional minimalism. This isn’t easy when you have six kids. Six kids means just feeding and clothing our family requires a lot of stuff. But having a large family also means you start to prioritize the things that matter. We don’t have room to let things get too out of control. I’m pretty sure we have about the same number of toys now that we did when we had just one or two kids. The kids are more interested in playing with their siblings and less interested in massive playsets.
I’ve also learned that I think better when I’m not drowning in stuff. Stuff requires care. It needs batteries and dusting and organizing and drawer space. The less stuff I have, the less stuff I have to spend time managing. Especially during this holiday season, I need a simpler pace and I need to prioritize.
As we’ve had to limit the amount of stuff we bring into the house, I’ve learned a few things about decluttering and living with an intentional attitude toward the things we own. If you want to work on pairing down before the Christmas chaos overwhelms you, here are my tips:
Go room by room. It can be overwhelming to try to declutter the whole house at once. Instead, start in one room and focus on what you can do there to make it seem manageable. Pick a different room each day and reward yourself for getting it finished. Be thorough—get under the beds, pull everything out of the closet. Don’t be afraid to make a big mess so you can see exactly what you’re dealing with and have a better idea about what you need to get rid of.
Use the three bag system. If I’m going to park myself in a room for an hour or two (or four) to get it handled, I’m going to have three trash bags with me. One will be for actual trash, one will be for items we need to donate, and one will be for items that need to go in some other area of the house. That way I’m not constantly running around the house to deliver things or making big piles on the floor. When I’m finished in the room, the trash bag goes right to the trash can, the donate bag goes right into our donation box, and then I can deliver (or task the kids with delivering) the out-of-place items to their correct home in some other part of the house.
Give till it hurts. There have been times I gave things away I wasn’t sure I was ready to part with. But I’ve never regretted it. I love imagining that there is someone else that can really use this. It kills me a little to pass on the baby clothes, but what good are they doing me in a basement tub? Could they bless somebody else the way they’ve blessed me? If I’m only giving away things that don’t “hurt,” then I may be missing the point of living charitably. I want to go beyond giving away my broken and useless things and give those things that still have a lot of life and could be a help to somebody else.
Get honest. Sometimes giving things away means being painfully honest with ourselves about what kind of home we have and what our priorities are. How long am I going to keep that box of yarn in the hopes I’ll again take up crocheting? Do I actually need a deviled egg dish for the one time a year I make them? Are those pre pregnancy pants I’m hanging on to really inspirational or just depressing? Just because something was expensive at one point or meaningful originally, that doesn’t mean I have to keep it forever. If we aren’t the kind of family that is actually going to use it, then it doesn’t do us any good to have it.
Have a donate box. I have a box that I’m constantly throwing things in to donate. It sits in my laundry room until it’s full, then I put it in the garage. When we have several of these boxes, we donate them. This system works well for us because it allows us to purge gradually, as we find that we don’t need something. It also gives a little time lapse between when something goes in the box and when it gets donated. If in that time frame we decide we actually DO need it, then we still have a little time to change our mind. This has come in handy a time or two when there was a miscommunication with a child about their willingness to part with something.
While the holiday season can seem like a less than ideal time to deal with your messes (we’ve got enough going on, right?), I’ve found that it’s a great time to get your kids on board. They are anticipating NEW THINGS, so they find it easier to part with old things to make room. If you can find a little time to declutter at least their spaces, you may find yourself with renewed energy for whatever this holiday season has to offer.
What are you favorite decluttering tips? I’m always happy to learn more.