Thursday, January 8, 2015

The matter of clutter

So I know I touched on dealing with clutter earlier this week but it’s on my brain for many reasons today. I always talk about ways to deal with the clutter…but I rarely talk about why it happens in the first place.

I posted this article on Facebook yesterday and really enjoyed reading your responses. I find this kind of stuff fascinating – psych was my minor in college because I’m always overly curious as to why we do what we do. The article focuses on a study that correlates clutter and depression in women and I found it really interesting.

I’m never a black and white person so I wouldn’t ever go so far as to say this is always the case, but after reading it it was kind of a “duh” moment for me. It is SO me. The article also mentions that men are not nearly as affected by the things around our house as women are, which again…for the most part I believe.

It got me thinking…if we allow clutter in our homes, why? If we don’t (and I find those that don’t are dedicated to avoiding it every day), what was it that made it unbearable for them?

I’m mixing in some organized spaces throughout to give us some motivation. ;)

As I was reading the comments on Facebook I was struck with a few things about myself. First of all, as with so many things, I think the reason we do what we do is borne out of how we grew up. There is still a deep, internal struggle I go through when I declutter because of that.

replacing wire shelves in pantry

(Replacing wire shelves in pantry)

It feels wasteful for me to get rid of things I bought…no matter when I bought them and how often I use them. We you don’t have a lot growing up it sticks with you. I’m a bagger, as I’ve mentioned before, and I will have things in bags for months and never need one thing in there. And I’ll still go through each and every item – when if I’m honest with myself I don’t need any of it after all that time.

I also don’t have many things from my childhood – the only items salvaged are photos and a few other items. So I tend to hold on to many things for ALL of us so that we’ll “keep” the memories.

organized linen closet

(Organized linen closet)

I had to laugh because I was watching The Goldbergs last night, which is my favorite show and last night’s was stellar because it was about New Kids on the Block, but I digress. The rest of the story line was about how the mom had kept literally every single art project and drawing from her children over the years and couldn’t part with them. It was to the extreme but I identified with her.

The best part though was when she showed her husband a drawing of her son did with his hand – and how there was no possible way she could ever get rid of it. And the dad said something like, “well he still has a hand!” It’s a goofy sitcom but his response stuck with me.

I struggle with the difference between memories and needing to keep things in order to remember. I think as moms we all want to keep every memory of those little hands…all 50 drawings of them. ;)

DIY laundry chute

(DIY laundry chute)

But I write a lot down and we have a crap load of pictures so do I need every single drawing? Probably not. Is it OK to keep some? Yes.

My other reason that I’m not always on top of clutter around our house is that I’m the only one here fighting the good fight. My husband is completely, totally oblivious to it. Completely. And honestly, I am to a point. That’s where the article comes in – I always feel better with less clutter around our house. Always. But I can deal with it to a degree. I have a fairly high threshold. ;)

I get to that threshold though and seriously feel like I’m going to lose it if it’s not gone right that second. I have cried because of clutter. I sat in our newly organized master closet yesterday with my husband’s clothes piled on the floor and was so overwhelmed I had to walk out.

diy pull out drawer

(DIY rolling drawer)

He didn’t do it to be disrespectful – he was going through clothes to wash. But I could feel my blood pressure rising while sitting in that room.

We’re both creative types and for us clutter isn’t always a big deal – but even when I’m not overwhelmed by it I’m annoyed by it. My husband is never annoyed by it. But if I’m being honest here…he’s not the one cluttering up our house. It’s me. And if he attempted to organize the clutter I’d probably stress even more…so there. you. go.

I don’t make resolutions but I always focus on cleaning out our house this time of year and I DO love the feeling. It is freeing and light and truly amazing. I have a lot more to go through yet and I’m actually looking forward to it. It is hard for me to let go of things but I can count on one hand all of the things I regretted donating. And that wasn’t for emotional reasons, it was purely a “oh I could have used that thing for this” reason.

organized coat closest

(Organized coat closet)

I have made a vow to myself to stay on top of the clutter more this year than I ever have before. I focus on projects around the house so much I don’t focus on the little things like the kitchen island piling up with crap. But I’m realizing those “little things” become big things and weigh me down emotionally.

I would never go so far as to say clutter makes me depressed, but I can certainly see how it could cause that. And clutter is a crazy thing – the more it builds up the less we want to deal with it. It can paralyze us.

DIY utensil organization

(Simple utensil organization)

Do you identify with any of this as well? Of course the opposite is true for so many – they grew up in a home with a lot of clutter so they absolutely cannot handle it and stay on top of it. OR they grew up in a home that was free of a lot of stuff and they continue the same in their house. I admire that – I want to do the same.

I do want to find a good balance. I don’t think it’s wrong to want to keep the kid’s drawings and the birthday cards with sweet messages from ten years ago. I just think I need to be a little more selective. And this post may sound like I’m Beverly Goldberg and I’m not. ;) For the most part our house is organized and functions well.

Does the clutter in the house affect your mood? Do you stay on top of it daily or can you let it sit like me? And was your childhood home the same?

41 comments:

  1. This definately hit home with me! I couldn't have said it better. I get overwhelmed by clutter and feel amazing after I organize or reorganize things.
    Our goal this year is to start a blog about our family. I hope to publish at the end of the year and give it to my kids who are 12 and 15. Rather than saving each piece of artwork, I'm going to take a photo of it and post it in the book. Then I won't have to keep each piece but they will still have those momentos. 2015 is going to be more about family and less about stuff! We aren't buying things unless we really need them. I'm done collecting!

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  2. Interesting study. However, I think for many people depression leads to clutter; not the other way around as this study assumed.

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  3. I'm also interested in the psych aspects of clutter. Having thought about this more, I think there's a couple or three things going on. One is the way you were raised. I'm like you, didn't have much as a child, but also influenced by a parent who lived through the Great Depressions, and so I have a voice in my head that tells me not to throw something away because it's still useful. I think women have an inclination to tend to "the nest" and we want to know we're on top of things. I also think we aren't recognizing that life isn't itself organized, and as much as we try to stay organized, we cannot predict the emergency run for illness, the last minute run to the store for kids homework needs, a death in the family that takes us away emotionally and on trips to join loved ones, and these things interfere with our daily routines, so naturally, things are going to pile up. I think we need to settle down :-), and remember that our homes were meant to live in and that life itself isn't organized. Sounds good to me!

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  4. I was thinking similar organization thoughts just yesterday about photos. I tend to take tons of photos and either leave them in my phone/camera or print them and put them in a drawer. Why do I need all those photos?? It has become especially bad over the past few years with the ability to take random photos at whim with my phone. Will my children really appreciate my handing down 40-50 photos of every event in their lives (birthdays, religious events, etc) plus hundreds of random photos? My goal for this year is fewer photos!

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  5. I find I can't be restful in a house filled with clutter. My mind and eyes are full of what is still to be done. It's definitely worth the peace of mind to me to be fairly ruthless in the battle against clutter. I cannot think of a single thing I've gotten rid of and regretted later.

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  6. I saw that Goldbergs episode last night too - love the show since I grew up in the 80s. I know I used to be guilty of hoarding all my daughter's things - she's my only one and I love her and want to hang on to everything because I'm the youngest of four, and nothing was ever saved of mine - no babybook, no favorite outfits, but my older siblings ALL had stuff saved for them. I know whittled the things to only a few baby outfits and as for her artwork, I've put items I like in the bin and am going to take pictures of them and do an art book. As I get older, I've tried to go with the less is more and only buy things I either need or truly love.

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  7. I get anxious when there is too much clutter for so many reasons. I am a visual person, so a bunch of little things strewn around drives me nuts. I also have adult ADD and clutter = wasted time, wasted time = frustration and anxiety. If it is not in it's place I usually get distracted by at least one or more things looking for it. Even without clutter I can get distracted. It took me a half hour to make a sandwich once because something else caught my attention in the middle of it. Everything doesn't have to be perfect, just in it's place; sometimes that just means a specific pile or area.

    Haley

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  8. En arribar a aquest dia, no puc deixar de pensar en la infantesa, aquells moments plens de màgia, que tots hem viscut en la nostra infància

    Feliç Dia de Reis ♕ ♕ ♕

    ✿•*¨`*•. (¯`v´¯) (¯`v´¯) .•*¨`*•✿
    . . . ✿•*¨`*•.¸(¯`v´¯)¸.•´*¨`*•✿ . . .
    ……...…♥ •.¸.•´♥……………
    Elracodeldetall.blogspot.com (^‿^)✿ petons

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  9. This hits home with me! I was once very organized....I didn't have much and everything had a place. Things were fine. Now every cubby and container has a bunch of "stuff" in it....I've gained a ton of weight also...so I am being weighed down.....I'm trying to get out of this slump....it's hard, but I'll get there!

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    1. Wishing you good luck and peace!

      Bridget in Minnesota

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  10. Great post Sarah! I'm like you, I have a threshold for clutter, and once I reach it - watch. out. That's the way I've always been, really. My biggest challenge is dealing with piles of paper! I swear, I can't get out from under it. I've been cleaning and reorganizing my kitchen this week, and I've been putting off the paper clutter until the end because I just hate dealing with it! But I feel so much better when the clutter level is low - it's such a light and happy feeling!

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  11. Growing up in a somewhat (who am I kidding) dysfunctional family, I found that having things neat and organized around my personal space was comforting. It was one thing "I" could control amidst all the chaos!! I feel depression leads to clutter in some instances, my mom for instance. However, I too believe it has to do with how you grew up. While my MIL is not a messy person (her house is clean, not really cluttered) but she SAVES everything. She is a product of the depression (97 years young). I can be a little of both. While our home is 95% of the time neat and organized (we are empty nesters so no kid clutter...you should have seen their rooms and bath a few weeks ago), I do tend to have areas where things can pile up (each girl has 3 bins of papers from school that I have said I will weed through for years, photos, t-shirts, etc).

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  12. I LOVE this topic and have read extensively on it along with going through different aspects of it personally. My own mother was bordering on being a hoarder and she suffered from periods of depression. Reading the article yesterday was interesting, and I understand their stance on men being oblivious to clutter. However, it's been my own experience that even if my husband is oblivious on the surface when I tidy things up he seems to follow so that tells me that it does affect him even if it might seem like it doesn't. I am currently reading the book "the life-changing magic of tidying up" (and there are no caps in the title) by Marie Kondo. It's a Japanese method of decluttering that helps to keep it that way. I just started it so haven't gotten too far into the book yet. What I do know that is that miraculous things happen when we make space for better things to come into our lives literally and figuratively. It's a way to prepare for what we want instead of where we are :)

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  13. My mom and I talk about this all the time. She loves clutter and her house drives me batty with all the stuff. My husband feels the same way as I do so we're always throwing things out. I just can't have my mom over on trash day or she hauls it back up the house yelling, "I can't believe you're going to throw this away!" Once a neighbor was walking by and told my mom I definitely have the best trash on the street. I still hear I told you so and that was about five years ago!

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  14. My mom went through a lot - she grew up in Eastern Europe and lost a lot during the depression and the war. So, she saved stuff. When she came to live with me it was easier to let her save her stuff vs making her follow my rules. However, now that she is gone,I struggle to declutter, but I like the open feeling when I do.

    So my goal for the year is to really clean things up and lighten my load. I have a friend who has two daughters, one in college and one approaching that decision. So, I am looking at things with them in mind. After all, I always described my first apartment as "early relative". I'm working on my kitchen this week.

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  15. I feel the weight of clutter and after awhile I really feel like "losing weight" - that's how I always feel when I get rid of stuff we really aren't using. I feel lighter, brighter, like the house just stepped on a scale and lost 50 lbs! :) Of course, the feeling of purging and lightening up is awesome, the next step is preventing purchases and acquiring of things that we really don't need in the first place. I struggle with that a bit more.

    As to the keeping of memorabilia, especially kids stuff, I remember this quote I heard a long time ago that always sticks with me. 'If you keep everything, nothing is special' (or something like that). What gives an item special status is the relative rarity. If I kept every drawing my son ever did, how does any one piece stand out as extra special, extra memorable or important? It doesn't. By only keeping things that are of special significance or keeping just a few of the many of a certain item, it automatically makes it extremely special. You look it at and can appreciate it more knowing that you don't have a bazillion handprint pictures, but you have THIS one and THAT one and they are more valuable. Anyway, I don't know if that makes any sense, but it helps me not hang on to more than I really need.

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    1. I used to keep every single thing for each of our six children. One day, I thought...what would I display at a high school graduation party? That made keeping and saving decisions far easier.

      The ironic part? My husband came up with the idea to offer our children the choice of a standard graduation party or a trip in the US with one of us. The first two chose the trip without even considering a grad party!

      Bridget in Minnesota

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  16. First, I loved that episode of The Goldberg's as well...so funny and so appropriate for me. I am a parent of 3 (21, 12 and 10) and for my oldest, I remember keeping EVERYTHING! Before he evven made it to high school, I had bins and bins of keepsakes. Once he graduated, I had to ask myself "who am I saving this for?". It certainly wasn't for him. Was he really going to want something he made in first grade? Maybe...but did he want 42 things made in first grade? No. I have since gone through and gotten rid of a ton of things. It feels much better to have a handful of those really special keepsakes to document each school year. As far as other clutter goes, I am constantly getting rid of and organizing. So much to the point where my husband says, if I keep purging, we will have nothing left! :) Any amount of clutter annoys me. A piece of paper on the kitchen counter is a "mess" to me. People come to my home and have to ask if we really live here. We do live in our house, but I am a firm believer in a place for everything and everything in its place. I love my home and I love a neat and organized home even more. But, to keep it real and to be completely honest, my cabinet where I keep my photos (go figure...some of the most important keepsakes) is my "Monica Closet". Every winter I say I will get it under control. Maybe 2015 is the year it really happens... Love your blog and love your remodel. Your planked fireplace wall inspired mine.

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  17. Oh my this is me exactly! I will let the house get super cluttered, and then it will drive me crazy and I feel like I have to take care of it all at once. My husband never understands how a messy house could make me feel so uncomfortable. He is like your husband and couldn't care less about any of that. Thanks so much for sharing.. makes me feel better knowing I'm not a lone ;)

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  18. We (temporarily) downsized to 320-square feet while we are preparing to build. And this is something that really resonates with me (I actually posted about STUFF this week and there are some very similar ideas.) What I have realized is that the amount of stuff I had in our old (normal-sized) house was actually causing me a lot of stressed. Now that we don't have space for the stuff, I feel happier. I don't have to clean all the time. I'm not tripping over stuff all the time. I'm not worried about where to put the stuff or how to display the stuff. It sounds so silly to say it, but I was chained to my stuff in a way. Now, I truly have more time and feel happier.

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  19. I've often wondered which came first, the clutter or the depression? Is the clutter a sign of depression unrelated to the clutter? Or is the depression a direct result of the clutter?
    I would love to know the difference. I have suffered from clinical depression most of my life and will not allow clutter to remain for long.
    I just finished clearing out my "storage" room, I feel no difference in my level of depression. I'm quite functional and live a productive life, however, the depression is always an underlying issue.
    I wish de-cluttering worked for me on a higher level. I do feel somewhat better with a clean and tidy home and is probably why I keep on top of things.
    I really appreciate you posting this on your blog. Thank you.

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  20. I'm dealing with this issue right now. I can feel when my house just gets too full of stuff, it does make me feel down, and it makes me totally unmotivated, when I really need the motivation to clean it up! I get the paralyzed feeling, especially since my house is really clean; I'm just great at "organizing" all the stuff so it's packed away neatly. Committing to taking it all out creates a huge mess, making me even more reluctant to deal with it. I've stopped buying things, but have had a few older relatives pass away, and I love "treasures", especially free ones, so I took way more than I reasonably need. So that is where I am at now. I can donate junky stuff to goodwill with no problem, it's the "nice" things that are harder for me to just get rid of.

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  21. Loved this post, totally resonated with me,especially the link with depression or feeling down and stressed. I feel that I am somehow a bad/lazy person when I don't get to clean/sort out what needs to be cleaned or sorted. I won't change I don't think but I feel as though I now have an insight as to why I am this way and more importantly why I get down. Thank you so much.

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  22. I have done a 180 in the last 10ishyears. I grew up with a mother who never throws anything out. If someone gives you something, it is "special" and you should never get rid of it. I used to have a lot of collections and never want to throw anything away myself. I don't know what changed, but I can't stand clutter any longer. It does affect my moods, and my already existing anxiety. Getting rid of stuff is so freeing. I really think when you place such high expectations on stuff you are setting yourself up for disappointment. From a historical perspective, a lot of our parents are baby boomers,. They either grew up, or had parents that grew up during the Depression. It really impacts their perspective on things. I think later generations are taking that a different direction. It does cause some interesting conversations with my Mom that's for sure.

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  23. I so relate to what you're saying! I struggle with clutter too. I am a "drop it and forget it" person. Not on purpose, it's just my nature. My husband is much better about picking up after himself. I know, we are the opposite of most couples! But he is a neat freak a little bit so my absentmindedness bugs him. And frankly if the clutter builds up too much, it really gets to me too! I do find myself getting irritated and then I will just explode and walk around and put it all in a laundry basket and then sort it later. That helps. I also struggle with keepsakes. If it's not out to be used or enjoyed, how much and why do we keep it all? That is a constant internal battle for me.

    I've started following the Becoming Minimalist blog and it's definitely given me some good food for thought about the things we own, buy, and keep and why we do these things. :)

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  24. 110% agree with you. The problem with me is that I not only have a house that I need to figure out how to not clutter up, I am a traveling preschool special ed teacher with an office and 31 bags. I have kiddos with a variety of needs that I have to pack my bag with toys, restock at my office for others, etc. I never get time to declutter and organize those supplies and everytime I go to my office I am so overwhelmed.

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  25. It's the time of year when we are all anxious for a clean start. Having cleared out two homes (my Mother & MIL's) I can tell you be ruthless with your "stuff" because it becomes really difficult for others to go through. Someone once said "assuming your loved ones & pets are out of the burning house, what would you honestly run back for". Very likely absolutely nothing. I now have grandchildren making me pictures & projects & I keep some things but not everything. I have two small rubbermaid containers filled with my sons' school projects but that's it. Take it from someone older; the "stuff" will rob you of precious time you could be spending with loved ones.

    Barb

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    1. What you said about the burning house scenario just resonates with me. I had to evacuate during the Colorado wildfire that ran on national news a year ago. As I gathered up toiletries, clothing, jewelry, family photos, and such, I went down to our basement (clutter central) and pulled out what was left of the family photos in storage. On my way back to the stairs I looked around me, smiled and said to myself, "So what?" and left the house.

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  26. Exactly me, currently too busy and my house is totally out of control now.

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  27. I have been tackling the keepsakes with my cellphone lately. As I find a treasure that I am ready to part with, I take a photo and text it to my adult kids. Most if the time there is a taker. Yesterday, my daughter in law took my punch bowl. I haven't used it in years and she is giving a baby shower in a couple of weeks--so nice to pass down to the next generation:) I had a big bag of their stuffed animals, since no takers, I took a picture for myself and gave away (Did save one as I got the comment, "I can't believe you saved my nestle quick bunny!") Anyway, little-by-little, going through basement boxes and every time I get rid of one, I feel lighter than air--thanks for your post--there is a psychology of clutter--so far, it's making me happy to get rid of stuff and unhappy to look at boxes of stored stuff.

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  28. I hate clutter but luckily enough, I love getting rid of things. Not throwing stuff away but giving it away...to prolong the usefulness of it. Me and Freecycle.org are like this...if you could see me now my fingers would be crossed.

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  29. A cluttered house is indicative of a cluttered mind.

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  30. I couldn't possibly relate any more than I do to exactly what you described! Especially the part about as clutter builds up, you want to tackle it even less. Why do our minds work like that?! It just gets so overwhelming that I just ignore it. I hate clutter so bad but it's my worst habit. When I am clutter free though, I just feel SO happy. My main goal this year is also to cut the clutter!

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  31. I cannot live with clutter and if I did it would definitely depress me. In fact I am the anti hoarder. I live by the rule if one thing comes in another must go out. It is super easy for me to get rid of things and yes I am sentimental. I am very selective as to what I save for those reasons though.

    I wish I could bottle up the great feeling of being clean and organized and share it with everyone. You can do it Sarah! It's amazing to be organized and clutter-free, come on girl! Go for it!

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  32. This was such a good article. I'm one of those "if something new comes in - something old must go." It really works. I live a studio apartment so I have to be mindful of this. My thought process has always been when you donate to a thrift store the following occurs: (1) someone less fortunate than you can pick up a good bargain; (2) the people working in the thrift store have jobs; (3) the monies from the sales go to charitable organizations; (4) finally, your items have gone back out into the world and been reused or repurposed. Let's face it, most of the stuff when own can be bought again if need be.

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    1. I agree with this 100%. I have no family to pass my things onto. Giving things to the thrift store which helps unfortunate people in my area is a wonderful feeling. I hate for anything to go to waste when it is still usable. My house is less cluttered & I feel good helping others in the process.

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  33. Great post!! Our kids are married, and are 41 and 36. All of the things I have saved, when I ask them to take them, they, and their spouses look at us like we are crazy. I'm sure if you have 15 year old or even 25 year olds, they may THINK they will someday want their stuff, but by the time they are in their 30's and 40's they are trying to de-clutter as well. So, my advice is to keep the memories and lose the stuff...... OR get them to take it when they are about 23 years old. I have kept some of the little books they wrote in grade school, and a few of the clay and macaroni things they crafted, but everything else is gone. If/ when they have to go through all of OUR things, there will just be a dumpster in the driveway and they will just shake their heads. I feel I am making it easier for them by donating/ purging now. It really is such a feeling of being so much lighter when we get rid of stuff...and no one can take the memories away no matter what!

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  34. Good for you for sharing this internal struggle. Espeically the part about your husband being oblivious to it. I find that to be true for a lot of husbands...Unless you have a SERIOUS type A husband most times men, are not aware of messes. But I will say my husband grew up in the same house on the same street till he turned 18 and moved away. I did not. I moved sometimes every single year. I changed schools 7 times between kindergarten and 12th...not to mention leaving for college. SO I was always pitching stuff for no other reason that it made it much easier to get up and go. So I am not a clutter-er. I fold, put away, and rat out stuff just to organize it and put it back but with much less. I keep a few things of my kids, but now that I have nothing from my childhood I pick it very wisely. Because it is about quality of items over quantity. I mean, what are my kids gonna do with 40 tracings of their own hand...so the one that is pressed in clay and has a ribbon on it I keep. so they can hang it on their tree...Or I can just keep it.

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  35. You are refreshingly normal, and that is why I love your blog. I have the same clutter issues as you. I clean my kitchen every night and free up the kitchen counters, sink, and table, but by then I am pooped and can't stay on top of anything else. Once a week, on Saturdays, I spend a couple hours decluttering surfaces everywhere. Drives me mad every week but I can't seem to stay on top of it. I love how you said you are the only one "fighting the good fight" as I feel that same way in my home, but I am largely the one creating the problem as well. I have hoarder tendencies, too. You are among friends. Keep your chin up and keep up the good work.

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  36. I too can deal with clutter for awhile. It bugs me, but I don't deal with it till I'm overwhelmed or anxious. It would be simpler to walk down the stairs and put it away. It would be easier to throw it in the garbage right away. I have done a few things to help deal with the clutter and every January i'm also ready to pounce and deal with it. I'm glad to know that I'm not alone in the battle.

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  37. Hahahaha - I sent this blog to my kids ..... so they can more understand why I sometimes completely freak out about the house ... and other times I do not!

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