Spring Cleaning (aka Mom vs. Clutter)

March 6th, 2009 by Ali

Spring Cleaning? In my house, it’s more like spring, summer, fall and winter cleaning. Where do we store all the stuff we don’t use very often?  Some favorites are in a “spare” room, a large closet, the garage, or even a storage unit –  in our family, it’s the garage. I am so envious of people who can actually fit their car(s) in their garages — wow, what a concept. Although I try to live by many of the principles of voluntary simplicity, sometimes the road to simpler isn’t always easy or simple. This is the third time in only two years that I’ve attempted to clean & organize our garage. I used to think I was somewhat organized… then I had kids. Enough said.

The ‘Mom vs. Clutter’ match went something like this:

  • In this corner we have the current champion, the infamous Clutter; and in the other corner sits the stressed-out, always-exhausted, overwhelmed challenger, Mom. [spectators cheer loudly]
  • Round 1: Two years ago: We moved into our new home. I only had enough time & energy left to stack the multitude of packing boxes in one (large) area of the garage. Round goes to Clutter.
  • Round 2: One year ago: I bought a bunch of plastic tubs and moved all our stuff from the cardboard packing boxes into the tubs. At least it appeared to be more organized. Round again goes to Clutter.
  • Round 3: Last October: I started in and I’m almost done now, only five months later. This time I was serious about organizing our stuff.
    Some things I pondered as I cleaned:

    • How many stuffed animals do my two girls need? Four tubs full? Definitely not, but how do I give away all those cute little critters that seem to mean so much to my kids?
    • When am I actually going to have time to fix all those broken toys and damaged clothes? Yep, probably never.
    • How much of my children’s artwork & schoolwork should I keep? My girls are only in first grade, and between school, church, Girl Scouts, festivals, etc., I’ve already managed to accumulate at least five tubs full of artwork. Now, I love that my girls are so creative and can seem to make masterpieces out of egg cartons, toilet paper rolls, tissue boxes, etc., but where is it all supposed to go? I’ve been sorting through these tubs at night while the girls are sleeping. I feel like a double agent trying to hide my evil, traitorous deeds as I stuff the majority of their work into large, dark trash bags. Then I make sure I get rid of the “evidence” before the girls can see it. Of course, I do save their most special creations.
    • Round narrowly goes to Mom.

  • Round 4: Present: I sorted through and put away the last of the tubs, which contained the Christmas, Hanukkah & Halloween decorations. Whew! Now, I can actually see and use my exercise equipment again. I’ve decided to use the “extra” space in our garage as a music room with our instruments, karaoke machine, and dance area. It will be a fun place for our family to explore sound & music together. Mom knocks out Clutter! Game over. The new champion is… Mom.

All silliness aside, I almost forgot to mention the best part about cleaning out the garage — donating whatever we no longer have a need for. The girls have been surprisingly good about donating their old things. We talk about it in terms of recycling and giving to others.

I know that most families, at some point, are forced to deal with clutter and organizational issues. Please share your clutter comments with us and other Chinaberry families, whether they are stories of your challenges, successes or tips, or questions to pose to the Chinaberry Community. I know I could sure use some advice. I’m dreading needing to get back in the ring for round five.

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19 Responses to “Spring Cleaning (aka Mom vs. Clutter)”

  1. Enid Awad Says:

    Art Work solution- A TV program suggested that you take photos of your child’s art work and then you can print them up in a book form. Target, shutterfly etc. all make photo books. You can have all your child’s art work at your finger tips without the clutter.

  2. Trish - Minnesota Says:

    I’m glad to hear that so many of us are in the same boat….too bad we are sinking in our clutter! I’ve been decluttering for years and it seems to continue to accumulate. One book that always comes back to me is Clear your Clutter with Fen Shui by Karen Kingston. It’s very motivating to read about how draining clutter is to our energy and how fresh and clear we feel when we don’t have so much stuff around.
    Good Luck…I know I need it.

  3. Greenseeds Says:

    We, too, had been overrun by stuffed animals. And my sons enjoyed them. But in a quest to live more simply and teach them about moderation, we began asking them to pick out their favorites of the larger ones (5). Then we have a wicker basket that we asked the kids to fill with their favorite beanie babies. The rest we donated to a local grief counseling agency that gives children a stuffed animal when they come for services. You might have a non profit agency or hospital that would be happy to receive them. My kids loved being able to help other kids out!

  4. Stacy Says:

    I found that the “Flylady” has excellent advice regarding cleaning and clutter. Of course, it was a Chinaberry recommendation! I love the part about shining your kitchen sink…it really works!

  5. Vicki K. Says:

    I have been a “collector” and a “keeper” from childhood on.
    I now solve the problem of too much stuff by moving every few years. (I don’t move because of the clutter–I just seem to move on.) As someone else mentioned, moving is such a great way of clearing the clutter. I really like the idea of having the thought, “Now, if I was moving, would I really want to pack, unpack, and find storage space for this?”

    Also, at one point, I wrote myself a sticky note that said, “WHY AM I HANGING ON TO THIS?” It helped me think about the stuff in my junk drawers and storage boxes and make it easier to toss.

  6. Jill Says:

    When I was 5 mos pregnant with my third I “organized” the attic. It wasn’t cleaned out, but I knew what was where plus I threw out a bunch of junk. When I was bigger & couldn’t get up the stairs, Hubby “helped” clean the rest of the house by shoving stuff in the attic. Baby just turned two and I still haven’t won back the attic.

    We have loads of stuffed animals, but to my 8 YO son they are real friends, every last one of them. I can’t complain when he actually uses them individually and often, but they do take up lots of space. And I have no idea what we’ll do when he outgrows them.

    When I have the energy, I deal with every piece of paper as it comes into the house. I used to “save” things to show Hubby, but now that he’s a full-time student he doesn’t have time or reading energy. I open, read, pay, file or recycle asap and it really helps. The “broken window” theory of urban blight works in the kitchen, too. One broken window will lead to a slum; one stack of papers to be dealt with will multiply in the night.
    Thanks for the blog.

  7. Louise in WA Says:

    Does anyone have a recommendation of good books on the subject of de-cluttering? I have read a few, but none have been all I’d hoped for. For example, I’m wanting some sound advice about the paper stuff that accumulates in all our homes on a daily basis. You know the type of of clutter: it swallows all your available counter space while waiting to be dealt with or ends up in a pile until filed. I find this stuff suffocating. (And think of the TREES that produced it all!) I’d like definitive answers that tell me what, for records purposes, really needs to be saved & what can GO into the recycle? Suggestions, anyone?

  8. Ann Says:

    Perhaps because we have moved several times and lived in rather small homes clearing our space has become a practice. Every few months, I sort through our children’s clothing and recycle or consign what they have outgrown. The same is true for toys, art supplies and books. We display their artwork for a period of time, save only a few cherished places and take the rest to the recycling center or pass it along to others who will enjoy the items. The sorting process is not limited to the children–the same applies to the adults’ possessions as well! I feel it is a fine lesson for all of us. Ask yourself, if I moved would I really want to pack and unpack this item? It may help your sorting process.

  9. Alyson Says:

    I do have the same clutter problem. It is refreshing to have someone else help, point out the obvious and then help and hold you accountable. I need that kind of push. I have too much stuff but we are very challenged with no attic and our garage is useless as it gets too hot here (nothing can be stored in it mildews, humid, melts, etc).
    I actually am looking forward to selling our home and down-sizing. Thanks for the idea to laminate artwork and use as placemats. Great idea!

    Alyzabeth’s Mommy for almost SIX Months!

  10. Forest Says:

    Amazing! or not depending on how you look at it. I was just pondering going through the entire mansion…OK tiny Cottage. But when you’re cleaning it feels that big…To get rid of or pack away all the stuff accumulated. And BAM! I check my mail and here is a whole blog on it. This must be telling me something…Or maybe its the Tangerine Marmalade I made wanting me to eat it on an English muffin?
    I guess its off to the Store to get some Trash Bags and Plastic bins…Hummm…maybe I will go to the Super Target to get a Orange Mocha Nonfat with whip…this will help me face the task ahead. This would go good with the English muffin…its got the whole citrus thing going! OK, I think I’m hungry.

  11. linda Says:

    What I need to do is clean out the stuff stored in the closets and dressers so we have space to put away what we do use. Having a place for everything helps, if I get more magazines than fit in my reading basket then something’s got to go. I also put storage cube cubbies in the front hall closet with some fabric drawers for hats, etc and open cubes for backpacks, books and papers. I also collect the stuff my teen girls drop around the house and dump it in their rooms and close their doors. Having a specific place to donate items we are done with helps too. It is easier to give to the farmworker ministry than worry about it sitting on shelves at goodwill. Tackle a little bit at a time and maintain what you’ve cleared and eventually it will get done. I can have a clean organized home when the kids are grown and gone!

  12. Linnea Priest Says:

    I try to follow the system recommended by the Flylady (FlyLady.net). This is the biggest help I have found, and she is a great helper for this ADD mom. She is always encouraging her readers to declutter and to bless others with what is not needed. We have helped ourselves to a tidier home and helped others, too.

  13. Carol Romeiser Says:

    Why use colored tubs you can’t see through? Clear ones hold the same amount!

  14. Elizabeth Says:

    SO — I am looking for advice on the question posed regarding the stuffed animals. How many do others keep?

  15. Lisa Balser Says:

    I’m with you on the artwork! It is SO hard to throw away art that your kids worked really hard on! We do a few things:

    I have a “gallery” wall in the playroom with many lucite “box” frames. We add and subtract artwork there for a changing gallery and the kids love it! We also have frames in their bedrooms that they can change the artwork in.

    I hung bulletin boards in the garage for their “seasonal” artwork (like cotton ball polar bears, etc.). They have no problem parting with the old season when new work comes in.

    Another thing we do is scan their art. They like seeing it on the computer, and it makes great screensavers.

    I have a special art file for each child and they put their faves in there. I also save my own favorites there.

    We also send lots of artwork to the grandparents, who LOVE it! One great thing to do is to laminate a “set” of 4 or 6 pieces to be used as colorful placemats — these make great gifts for the grandparents.

  16. Ali at Chinaberry Says:

    Hi Linda in Denver - I really like your suggestion of hanging up your kids’ art in the stairway. I live in a one-story house, but may try this in our hallway instead.

  17. Linda in Denver Says:

    The artwork clutter is a huge issue in our house as well, with two prolific artists and one bookmaker, all of whom generate what feels like a ream of paper products with little fantasy worlds per week. Our solution, and it has worked pretty well for the art, is to display our favorites running down the stairs into our basement. We switch out old work with new when we run out of space (but we have maintained some of the old favorites as somewhat permanent pieces), the art gets to be viewed and admired, and we don’t just have stacks of paper overwhelming our lives (and for some reason the kids accept this process willingly). I do keep my really, really favorites in my own little stash for permanent safekeeping, like the Mother’s Day cards with little hands from preschool and the first “I’m sorry, Mommy” letter, and other personal treasures–those ones are too precious for the stairs. So far, this has been the best idea that we “stole” from a family with older kids than ours yet….maybe it will help other families too! :-)

  18. Ali at Chinaberry Says:

    – Kellyann, thanks for being the first to comment on this post. I had fun writing it. Wow, banners, huh?! I should be glad that my girls’ favorite artistic creations are small cards & letters–Nova learned how to write “I love you, Mommy” before anything else–I will treasure the many ones I kept, especially during her teen years.

    Great idea about taking photos of artwork! I did that last year with our Halloween pumpkins and little gingerbread houses. Food art can only stay around so long. Feel free to send us a pic of one of your daughter’s banners for our blog! I completely forgot about attics and basements–we have neither. Good luck in the attic–don’t get lost up there.

    Nova's Halloween Creations

    Sakura's Halloween Creations

  19. Kellyanne Engel Says:

    I loved this! So nice to know I’m not alone in the constant battle against Clutter! The venue is different (attic!), but the fight is the same.
    I have a suggestion for the multitude of artwork that our children generate. Take a picture, it lasts longer! One of my daughters liked to make banners; three-feet long and covered with detailed drawings. She made banners for every holiday (”Happy Thanksgiving!”), every season (”Hello Spring!”), to greet guests to our home (”Welcome Jones Family!”), and sometimes just because (”We love you, Mommy!”). I tried keeping them at first, rolled up and secured with a rubber band, but I was soon overrun with paper rolls. So I started having my daughter pose with her creation while I snapped a photo. This works with just about any art form so I now have a record of just how creative all of my children are!
    Well, gotta get back to the attic…

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