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Today's Family Magazine

Cutting through the clutter

Jan 22, 2019 01:52PM
By Stacy Turner

For most families, the beginning of a new year offers a welcome break from the holidays and daily routines.  The kids are off school, the relatives are headed back home, and the days are mostly unscheduled until the kids head back to school.  To my husband, the new year provides the perfect excuse to purge the house of excess stuff.

This has become a tradition begun some time ago, when my husband decided he’d be helpful and reorganize the kitchen –– the room he pretty much only enters to grab a bowl of cereal or make a sandwich.  I wasn’t home to intervene when he did this, so he pulled out whatever he thought was extra or unnecessary and created a discard pile to be discovered later.  So for the week that followed, while I made dinner, packed lunches, or cooked basically anything, it was a bit like a scavenger hunt, trying to find the usual items required to get the job done.  After I offered to be just as helpful with his collection of tools and equipment in the garage and basement (colorful vocabulary may have been involved), we agreed he wouldn’t declutter or reorganize the house without proper supervision.

This year, he made it a priority for us to declutter the pantry, laundry room, and basement storage shelves, since we hadn’t conducted a major sort in those areas for some time. While he seemed invigorated by the task, I was dreading it.  They say that opposites attract, and this is certainly true for my husband and me.  As vigilant of a purger as he is, I’m the polar opposite –– a clutterbug of epic proportions.  Acknowledging my lack of enthusiasm for such an exercise, we took it one shelf at a time.  For me, it’s hard seeing past the collection of boxes, bottles, bowls and books that have surrounded us for so long, separating the stuff from the memories attached, and deciding which items we need to let go of. Also, seeing a previously full cabinet now gaped open and empty, having had its contents seemingly puked all over the counter below, fills me with anxiety.  It had fit inside, all neatly contained behind a closed door.  Who exactly was it hurting -- and why make such a big mess right now? 

But as we found things I had forgotten we owned, I realized my husband had a valid point.  These items were created to be used, not stored away forever.  Sorting through baking supplies used to make specially requested cakes for my kids, I remembered a friend’s daughter and her plans to open her own bakery.  Soon, I had a large box filled with items she was thrilled to receive.  We also filled bags with clothing that no longer fit us, but would be much appreciated by friends and their little ones.  We assembled a stack of books to deliver to eager readers visiting the free little library, and arts and craft supplies for a friend’s kindergarten class.  We collected a big box of games and puzzles for another friend’s daycare kids, and three boxes of miscellaneous items to donate to Goodwill.  As I continued sorting, I even discovered a collection of bottles and jars I could fill with homemade treats to share with friends.

I was reminded that sometimes I treat my own gifts and abilities in that same dismissive manner.  I’ve convinced myself there isn’t enough time to complete that project, or that particular skill doesn’t serve a purpose in my life right now.  So I box it up and stick it on a shelf and tell myself that I’ll come back to it someday, when I have more time.  I realized that unless I make a conscious effort, that elusive ‘someday’ will never arrive.  So I’ve decided to make room in my days to use those gifts and practice those skills.  The end results may not be Pinterest-worthy, but they’ll certainly be worthy of my time and effort.

Maybe like me, you too can benefit from a clutter purge.  Paring down to make space for the things we actually use gives us the time and space to get to pull out those things we set aside and turn someday into today.  Today is a new day, and I encourage you to do the same.