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Manage your Mess Monday: My 2018 Clutter Challenge

Last year I unknowingly embarked on a minimalist journey. Don’t get me wrong. I am not living with three shirts and 1 pair of shoes. I’m not an extreme minimalist but I have considerably pared down my belongings. I started 2018 feeling like I was drowning in stuff, clutter, endless to-dos, and too many piles around the house with no place to go. I knew it was on me to get control of the situation. Years of kid birthday parties, gifts streaming into the house non-stop, purchasing new clothing for myself and the kids, a new package of notecards I didn’t really need, a new appliance, you name it....IT WAS ALL JUST TOO MUCH. I felt like I was spending too much time trying to manage the physical stuff inside my house and I just didn’t want to do it anymore. I wanted to feel free to spend my time doing other things.

In January of 2018, I sat down and really thought about what I wanted my life to look like. Words like CALM and PEACEFUL and FREE kept coming back to me. I picked the word “PAUSE” to be my one little word to guide my year and I literally paused and took stock of everything in my life. I even did some time tracking to see how I was spending my time throughout the year, thanks to this book. I looked at every single thing and took a moment to ask what type of energy it was giving me, why I had it in my life, and how it made me feel. I took time just to notice my feelings. What a luxury, I know.

I quickly decided I needed to do something drastic in my control so I challenged myself to purge 100 brown grocery bags of stuff from my house in 2018. Maybe it doesn’t seem like a hard thing for you, but I am already someone who clears stuff so I truly didn’t know where these 100 bags would come from. And so it started. January and February were easy months. I gave 25 bags of stuff to Goodwill. Only two months in and I was feeling great. I had ten months to finish the remaining 75% of my self-imposed challenge. Easy Peasy. But after you clean out every area in your house, you start to wonder what else you can find. By the end of July, I reached 60 bags and had no idea how I was going to make the last 40 bags in 5 months. I was starting to have to make some hard choices about the things occupying space in our house and I started to tackle really weird things, too. I went through our sport stuff and found an entire bag of old tennis balls. I asked a local shelter if they could use them for their animals. One more bag gone. I took stock of all the random cans of paint we have accumulated in the past 5 years. I found 2 whole bags of sample paint and gallons of paint we didn’t need, I labeled what we needed to keep and found a paint recycle center in my area for the rest. My husband can easily wear a hole in a sneaker in a week or two (gritty platform tennis court paired with a dragging toe). I took a big box of sneakers to a place to recycle them. I sent boxes of Babysitter Club Books to friends who could use them. I gave outgrown children’s clothing to friends, Goodwill and other local donation centers. I sent 9 bags worth of clothing to Thread Up to sell/donate and was happy to have some cash in my pocket. I got rid of all the miscellaneous picture frames I wasn’t using. I was loving all the empty space in my cupboard and closets, full of promise for new adventures to come. But I still had more work to do.

Throughout the year, I had a lot of people ask me how I dealt with the kids stuff or my husband’s stuff. I didn’t. Sure, I cleaned out the craft cabinet and things in common areas but I never forced my kids or my husband to get rid of anything. Because this process was so organic, my husband and kids were able to see how amazing it felt to have clear kitchen counters, clear closets and more. They were able to feel how great it felt to give things away, knowing it would be used by someone else. Mom was in a good mood, too. And what’s that saying?? “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” And for my husband, “Happy Wife, Happy Life.” While I was cooking dinner, they would be working on homework and I I would turn on a podcast about living with less. I would listen to it and they would catch a bit, themselves. I don’t want to say I brainwashed everyone, but by dealing with my own issues with belongings, they were able to make their own decisions about things. We took pictures of items they wanted to remember, we made lots of photo books to keep our memories in tact. Because we had less to manage, it was easier to find the time to do these things. Instead of spending my free time cleaning up, I was able to spend more quality time with the kids.

To keep my own momentum throughout the year, I read every book I could get my hands on about decluttering and living with less physical stuff to make room for what really matters. I started listening to podcasts later in the year as I found some I liked. I read tons of books in 2018, many of them about creating the vision I saw for my life. I had already read Marie Kondo’s book years ago so those aren’t on my list below but the idea of sparking joy does play a part in my process. Here are some of my other favorites:

The More of Less by Joshua Becker

Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has The Time by Brigid Schulte

Cozy Minimalist Home by Myquillyn Smith

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less By Greg McKeown

The 100 Thing Challenge By Dave Bruno,

Chasing Slow by Erin Loechner

The Joy of Less by Francine Jay

Soulful Simplicity by Courtney Carver

The Year of Less by Cait Flanders

The Gratitude Diaries by Janice Kaplan

Live Free Creative Podcast

Living with less stuff doesn’t mean I don’t have things. I am not an extreme minimalist. And even calling myself a minimalist….is kind of a stretch. It doesn’t mean my house doesn’t get messy. I have two dogs and two kids. My house gets plenty messy. I still have lot of things in my house but the items I have left in my house have good energy, make me feel happy, have specific places to live and are easy to put away. My house is SO much easier to keep clean. I am so much happier because my items aren’t owning me any more. I have gotten an insane amount of joy by giving our things away to people who can use them. Instead of keeping old picture frames in my closet, hoarding them for myself to collect dust, I imagine someone with a new apartment, shopping for home decor at Goodwill and finding just what they were looking for with my picture frames. I enjoy thinking about other children reading the books we have given away. My kids were able to enjoy them and now someone else can, too! It makes me so happy to think of these items being used and loved, just as they once were in my house. I can appreciate the joy they gave me at one point but can pass them on to live another life. Living with less means I have more space to enjoy the items I keep. It’s amazing and I want everyone to feel this way.

The best part of all this empty space….it made me see that I do have time to give back. I do have time to start a business. I do want to help other people gain control of their memories and enjoy their pictures so they can move on and feel good about making more memories. This is how Blue Pencil, LLC was born. Get rid of the stuff you don’t want. Cherish your memories and love all the stuff you keep and enjoy the present!

So what’s my personal challenge for 2019? Well, old habits die hard. I’m still tracking the number of bags I have leaving my house (so far I'm at 14 bags and I don't have a goal this year) but my main challenge of 2019 is:


Buy things only when I need them or have thought long and hard about it. Sure, it’s fun to go to the store and shop and come home with things I didn’t even know I needed. But I know from all the stuff I have purged in the past year….I really do not need them those items at all and they don’t make me happier, either AND as far as sale shopping goes…..It’s not a bargain if I don’t need it! Changing my shopping habits is key to making sure our house stays at a manageable level of stuff. It means I have to resist when I get sale coupons in the mail. I have to think about things before I make a purchase. I have to really want something to buy it.

2018 was an amazing year of growth and I have so much promise for this year! And if you find yourself on your own journey to decluttering and organizing, I’m always happy to help. I love all organizing projects and especially love helping people get control of their pictures and memories! Get your memories in order so you can make room for more adventures to come!

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