I am a neat person. I am organized. I am meticulous with my things.
These personality traits are no match for the sheer quantity of stuff lurking just out of sight in my house. Or at least, I thought it was a house.
Six years ago, I bought our dream house. We loved it so much that we were both convinced it would be our forever home.
A huge yard that is perfect for gardening.
A nice street full of friendly faces who are always outside.
A beautiful neighborhood dotted with small lakes and miles of hiking trails.
Plus, it had tons of great space.
The realtor said it. My parents said it. My husband said it. I even said it. Until I actually moved in.
Since I lived at home previously, I didn’t need a moving truck. I wasn’t taking any furniture. We didn’t actually have any furniture. The husband of my cousin actually left our wedding rehearsal to let the delivery people in so we could have a mattress to sleep on. Our house was empty. Except for my stuff.
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As I went to place my clothes in the closet, my toiletries in the cabinets, my shoes anywhere I could fit them, I was at a loss. Not a momentary “oh, what did I walk into this room for?” feeling. I was awash with regret. Nothing would close. Nothing would fit. Towels spilled out of the linen closet which was also doubling as a medicine cabinet and a catchall for every Bath & Body Works product I had been gifted but never finished in the past decade. My house was a disorganized mess and we hardly even had the chance to live in it.
Suddenly, I couldn’t shake the fear that this dream house, this forever home was a fluke. How could I undo this? There was no receipt. There was no return policy. There was no money back guarantee.
After a teary phone call in which my mom gently reminded me that people have lived in much smaller spaces and survived, the faintest flicker of realization dawned in the back of my mind.
My house wasn’t the problem.
My clothes weren’t the problem.
My linen closet wasn’t the problem.
My shoes weren’t the problem.
I was the problem.
As I looked through my most prized possessions, I realized something. I didn’t actually prize most of what I packed. In fact, I couldn’t tell you the last time I wore most of the shoes. Or clothes. Or scarves. Or jewelry.
If I’m being entirely honest, I never wore a lot of it because tags still hung on many items. Lotions I never used. Fragrances I seldom wore. Not because I didn’t appreciate the sentiment behind the gifts but because I had held onto the items so long, wearing them was like dialing a time machine back to 2006 (Japanese Cherry Blossom, anyone?).
That is when I realized my dream house, my forever home was actually being used as a storage unit.
I don’t have all the answers now, and I certainly didn’t after that moment. Not as much as changed in the last five years as I would like. I still have too much. I am constantly trying to shrink excess in a methodical process that is maddeningly slow. But progress has been made. I once owned over 200 pairs of shoes. Now I have less than 30. I used to have more than 50 designer handbags. Now, I have cut down to less than 20. I do not have a single Bath & Body Works product in my house.
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I just have to keep going. It’s hard. It’s frustrating. It’s maddening. But as I strip away layer after layer of the things that I don’t need, I have more space to live.
And my house feels more like a home.
So Tell Me…How do you make sure that your home is a home, not a storage unit?
Oh boy. Our new house is almost 1000 square feet smaller than our old one, and in the last two weeks, I’ve had more than a few “What have I done?” moments. But we’ve slowly sold furniture we don’t need on FB Marketplace, and figured out each room’s purpose, and I’m thinking that long term, less space is going to be awesome, as I projected it would several months ago. But it’s sooo hard.
I would love to hear more about FB marketplace. Do you find it fairly frustration free? I love thinking long term as far as purpose goes!
Britt @ Tiny Ambitions
Omg. Japanese Cherry Blossom – what a blast from the past! Even with the small amount of stuff we do own and the size of our relatively small house, I still feel like our house is a little bit of a storage unit. I think for me, it’s more of a mental facade than an actual creation though. I’m more at the point of getting rid of stuff for the sake of getting rid of it rather than because it’s actually something I won’t use.
It sounds like you’ve come a long way in six years, that’s amazing!
My house is definitely more house than storage unit, but I have a bunch of clothes I’ll never wear (or likely fit into) ever again. It also serves as the family’s “Florida vacation house” so I have things in my home that I never use, but my parents or grandmother might(?) I definitely didn’t bring these things into my house so I don’t feel like it’s my place to get rid of the items.
I’ve been feeling like a home purge was looming on the horizon for me and I think you just talked me even closer to the edge. We’re not bad, but definitely could be better. One thing that we do is leave a big box in our living room, in plain sight, and when I come across something that we no longer need, into the box it goes. That way when the box gets full, we donate it, rather than just let it pile up in the back of a closet somewhere. Plus, when friends come over, sometimes they’ll pick something out of the box and take it. It’s a win-win!
Unfortunately my late 48 year old daughter-in-law passed away suddenly. She left 71 designer handbags, 100 pairs of shoes, tons of clothes, many with tags. We helped our grieving son dispose of them . Consignment shops, thrift stores, on line and finally a huge garage sale. She was a collector of sorts and accumulating was important to her. Hopefully this sad, true story may help others to realize, you can’t take it with you.
Oh, wow. I am so sorry for your loss! I bet that was terribly difficult for your family. I am honored that you would share her story here. Thank you for that.
Angela @ Tread Lightly Retire Early
The number one thing we did was to buy a smaller house (and keep a roommate so one of our bedrooms is totally off limits to our stuff). It STILL feels like we have an overwhelming amount of stuff sometimes, but a smaller home with not very many closets has been really helpful in keeping the stuff level at least reasonably in check.
We recently moved into a similarly sized house. We were looking for more outside space, not inside space. As we did not have to sell our old house to buy the new one, we only moved the things we wanted into the new house. Needless to say, the old house still has a bunch of crap in it. All of that will be either given or thrown away. There’s no middle ground here. We are getting a dumpster delivered to the old house and just throwing stuff away.
Will we be able to keep from filling the new house with stuff we don’t need? Only time will tell. But we recognize the need to do better.
One last observation: you are way too hard on yourself. Look at the progress you’ve made in areas you think you need to work on. Stay on that path and everything you want to happen, will happen. This life is a marathon, not a sprint. Keep moving at a pace that allows progress, but also has room for joy and celebration. From my cheap seat as a reader, you are doing really, really well. Keep it up.
Your shoes and handbag count resonated with me as I used to have a similar “problem”. One thing that helped was to put all of the handbags out on the guest bed and group by similar style or function. How many black leather work appropriate bags do I need or use? Then I selected my least favorite work purse and transferred all of my stuff to it to carry NOW. That usually made me realize I didn’t need that particular bag and there was a reason it wasn’t a favorite. Same thing with evening bags…I am not a socialite requiring multiple fancy bags…one dark one and one silvery one will fulfill all of my social needs for years. Casual bags underwent a similar scrutiny and on and on.
I am happy to say that I now own only about five handbags and yet my best friend owns ONE and she thinks I am crazy for having five! I have more shoes than that but the number is still drastically reduced. I did a similar winnowing of shoes by identifying how many of a type I wanted to keep; how many flats, low heels, winter weather boots, sandals, athletic shoes, etc and then I reduced my collection to only one or two pairs of each type. I’ve become less forgiving of uncomfortable shoes and clothes too. If I put something on take it off again without wearing it…I look hard at the reason. If it isn’t suitable now what will make it so in the future? That is usually enough to put things in the donate stack even if it was newly purchased like a pair of jeans I bought recently and have only worn a few times. Each time I wear them I feel like I keep tugging at them to adjust the fit and they just aren’t a good style for my body, no matter how cute they are.
Be ruthless! I own fewer clothes, shoes and handbags than I ever have and all of my clothing fits into one small closet with room to spare. It is a good feeling!
This is something that I’ve been wrestling with myself recently. My husband and I are moved in, and the space is all used, but the in-laws still have boxes of our stuff at their house. Mostly books, but still. The stuff we own doesn’t even fit into the space we currently live in, and it’s so frustrating. Yesterday, my husband and I did a deep clean of all of our stuff, and started yet another goodwill pile, probably the 5th one we’ve had since we moved in together a few months ago, and I still don’t feel like it’s enough, or that we’ve been able to downsize our living well. Keep plugging along. I’m not sure I have a good solution yet, either. But I know that getting rid of excess clutter brings about a world of peace.
Gary @ Super Saving Tips
Yikes, I believe my house might be half home, half storage unit! As soon as I saw the title of your post, I knew I was going to recognize myself in your words. I have done some decluttering from time to time, but I’ve also bought duplicate items of something I know I own but just can’t find in the Tetris-style packing of my closets. While I have my share of old clothes and baseball memorabilia, my wife has her share of old clothes, old files, old books, and more. We definitely need to put a priority on decluttering. I know we’d enjoy our home so much more if we did.
I’ve gone through the declittering process for the last three years and feel like I hit a comfortable place in this past year. It’s one thing to hit that point and a whole nother thing to maintain that for years.
Some ways I plan on keeping it that way:
keep a donate/sell box in plain sight
Refuse anything free unless it’s actually something I need. Emphasis on need.
I stopped exchanging physical presents with everyone and now only gift experiences or cold hard cash.
I don’t buy anything unless I make a conscious decision that it is actually something I need. Again, emphasis on NEED.
I find it’s easy for me to keep clutter out but very difficult to prevent others from introducing clutter into our house (I’m looking at you mother in law).
Anna | Yes, Little Hummingbird?
I’ve been slowly moving away from this same place in my own life recently; woke up one day and realized… I hate most the stuff in my house- and use barley a quarter of it. So I’ve been taking things out and putting them in different rooms, and seeing what I actually end up using over the month; if I go into the next room to get it, then I need it and it stays. If it’s still sitting in the room by the end of the month, I obviously don’t need it. There’s a few exceptions (like my pie pans for holidays, and what have you) but for the most part it’s helped me cut down on a large amount of what can only constitute as “clutter”.
Courtney @ YourAverageDough
May I just say the number one thing that stood out to me here was the fact that you were able to cut down from 200 shoes to 30!? Bravooooo!!!
I, myself, have a problem with wanting lots and lots of shoes (although I have to admit it has not come close to 200) and bags and clothes. I try to go through my closets seasonally and purge anything that I have not worn in the season it’s meant for or that I do not find myself reaching for.
I’ve also become a much more conscious shopper than I’ve ever been before. I try to be less about just what’s trendy and more focused on what I can truly see myself wearing often.
I went through a major de-cluttering when we bought a small one bedroom condo. I moved from a rented two-bedroom California Bungalow Storage Unit 🙂 and had every cabinet and stuffed closet full of stuff I was “collecting”. After years of collecting crap, (one of my vacations was dubbed CrapQuest 97)’ I felt like my home was like Mary Poppins purse.
The process of tossing stuff out was more emotional than I had thought it would be, however, the outcome was that now I live in a real home with just the right amount of stuff.
I vow to keep my new home clutter free.
CrapQuest 97. I LOVE IT! It is an emotional process. Even the things that I don’t find myself feeling attached to can hit me right in the feels. It’s overwhelming, I think, but it is so freeing once you start.
Smile If You Dare
My house is never magazine cover ready. I would hate it. “A clean desk is a sign of a sick mind” is a motto I live by.
But the garage is the real storage unit. I finally decided to tackle it. There’s too muck junk for it to all fit in the garbage container at one time, so each week I parcel out a little and fill the garbage container. I hope to clear it out within a year.
I struggle with that expansion into the space I have. I know I should get rid of the stuff, but I struggle with actually doing it. I recognize it, but it’s still hard. I look to my kids and realize that this is not the legacy I want to leave to them (the physical mess and the mental clutter this will cause) as a motivation to purge and stop bringing things in.
I agree on all counts. That perspective has been really helpful to me, too. Do I really want my son to have to wrangle all of this?
Cooper The Millennial
Penny, my wife like you is a very organized person. She enjoys taking the afternoon to declutter a room or rearrange things to fit her organizational style.
Recently, she just finished reading the book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo who revolutionized a method of organizing your home. This is basically about throwing things away in a very systematic way.
Needless to say the past two weeks we have been cleaning house of stuff that we truly do not need and then putting that same focus into an analysis of what we buy. If you want to buy something new, then something old has to go.
Anyway, I thought you might enjoy this book based on the substance of another wonderful article.
My house was more storage than a house. However, I have spent the last year and a half doing a massive decluttering of all of our stuff. It was hard at first because there was just so much stuff to sort through. Boxes and boxes of crap that my parents had saved from my childhood and school years, that honestly went straight to the dump. But once I got going, I was amazed at just how much stuff we had in our house that we didn’t need. I still have a ways to go, but the house looks great and I no longer feel like we need a bigger house because the one we have is big enough for what the stuff we need.
I sometimes feel this way too, but then I remember that I’m living in a room in a house rather than a house properly. The crowded feels real because it is real. I still need to let go of clothes and books that no longer work in my life, but it will probably always feel like a big task. No matter how small it is.