Decluttering 101

Once upon a time, like on Sept. 26, 2012, I came out as a minimalist. But I had been going down that road for a while, and it all started with decluttering my house.

Or attempting to.

Even while I was focused on getting stuff out, I was still bringing stuff in. I had piles of castoffs in Eric’s office downstairs, and I would look at that every single day and feel like I wasn’t really getting anywhere at all — I’d just moved stuff from one area of the house to another. I’d get depressed and find myself shopping. And then beat myself up.

Here’s what I didn’t know: It takes a long time to accumulate items, so it makes sense that it takes a long time to declutter. And going through that process is what solidifies the lifestyle change, whether the goal is to be a minimalist or just the house in workable order.

I say this because I’ve had four people come to me recently with tales of their decluttering experiences, and all of them start by saying, “It’s not where you’re at, but …” You guys, never measure yourselves by my yardstick. Because I’ve got five and a half years of this under my belt and I’m reaping the rewards at this point. But I was tearing my hair out too. I was reading blogs and thinking there was no way I could ever measure up. I wanted to quit many times. Actually, I did quit. But I always started again.

So in light of all this experience, I’m going to share a few nuggets of wisdom I’ve managed to collect, although I want everyone to keep in mind that this is in no way a map to success for anyone else. That’s the great thing about decluttering and minimalism — you can do what you want. However this looks for you, however you get there is absolutely the right way. Yay!

Decluttering 101

This is going to take a while. Again: It takes time to accumulate, so it’s going to take time to declutter. Just keep at it.

Pace yourself. Don’t try to do it all in one day (because you just can’t). Tackling one drawer or setting the timer for 10 minutes is enough, even a couple of times a week.

Write it down. What are the areas that are causing you the most stress? What do you want your space to ultimately look like? Get a notebook or something and jot it all down. And then when you forget why you’re doing this, reread that thing.

Don’t worry about converting anyone else. If you live with other people, you may find your goals do not mesh. I was lucky — Eric was totally on board from the beginning — but I started with my own stuff and my own areas. It’s okay if it’s only you. Actions, not words, my friends.

No comparisons. It’s your journey. There is no right way to get there.

Forgive yourself. You will have bad days. One lost battle does not mean a lost war.

It’s gonna take time to actually move stuff out. My piles in Eric’s office drove me crazy, but in retrospect, I needed to see how hard it was to get rid of stuff or else I’d never have learned how to say no to items I don’t need. Whether you sell it, donate it, or give it away to friends, it will take just as much time as the actual decluttering.

It’s gonna take time to get to the finish line. Actually, is there a finish line? It took me three passes through my house in as many years to get it where it is right now, and I’m thinking it’s probably time for a fourth.

It’s the journey, not the destination. You have to go through this in order to learn the lessons you need to learn. For me: That I only need kitchen tools for the way I cook, not the way I want to cook; that I don’t need an overflowing closet to be well dressed; that every single thing I bring in will eventually need to go out; that it’s okay to get rid of items people have gifted you or think you should keep; and that uncluttered surfaces are so much better for my mental state. Oh, and that you can’t organize clutter. And that I will never stop learning (looking at you, pantry!).

Appreciate how far you’ve come. When my cabinets et al were finally cleaned out, I would find great joy in opening up doors and admiring my work. I did that! It’s gorgeous! It’s not bragging if it’s true!

And if you want specifics: Then I suggest setting the timer on the days when you have time, opening a closet or a drawer, and making piles: Yes, no and maybe. The no pile goes directly into a box or bag and out of the room when the timer goes off. The yes goes back, as does the maybe — you can deal with those on your second pass. 😉 Start with the easy stuff.

Be realistic, incidentally, with your no pile. Some of that stuff might be worth taking to a secondhand shop, but some of it might be trash. Just accept this and move on: if you don’t throw your junk away, someone else will be burdened with it and have to do it for you. Save everyone the hassle. Forgive yourself the trash — you will do better next time because you will remember this lesson.

It may take months to get through your house with this method, but you won’t burn out.

I’m working on a post for Friday that will be links to my favorite blog posts from the beginning of my minimalist/decluttering journey, just in case you feel the need for additional reading, or enjoy reading my rants. I may be calm about it now, internet friends, but wow, that has not always been the case.


Lofty goals

This year, I’ve been using a planner and a bullet journal that Abby made me for Christmas, and I have to say it’s been nice to have specific places for all my thoughts. I suppose two journals really aren’t minimalist … but then, that doesn’t count the “quote-book” I’ve also started (a small notebook for the quotes or thoughts of others I want to remember) and a partially-used Moleskin from last year that has turned into a place for rough drafts.

If two journals aren’t minimalist, then what are four?


My stack.

I broke down and bought a planner this year because after last year’s constant anxiety attack, I felt like I needed to do something different. It’s got space to plan meals, daily top-five to-dos, and plenty of blank space for my weekly brain dumps — I love to dump my brain. I literally just write down everything that occurs to me at that moment — stuff I need to do, thoughts, feelings, random ideas — and that helps me sort out what I actually need to accomplish, what I need to remember (I AM CALM IN MY HEART), and what I’d like to eventually explore. (Getting everything accomplished, however, can be a problem. I never do. I suppose that’s okay.) This planner also has weekly challenges of a self-help sort that helps me focus on positives rather than the negatives my mind generally gravitates towards.

Abby made herself a bullet journal last semester and had so much fun with that she offered to make me one too. I use it to keep track of more specific daily … things … like how much sleep I’m getting, how much coffee vs. water I drink (uh, way more coffee) and whether I get my daily walk. She also added space for a grocery list (that’s handy) and a “mood tracker” calendar (which made me laugh at first — she’s 18, of course that’d be on her list, but it’s eyeopening to see just how I’m feeling from day to day. I am way happier than I’d have guessed). And I write my specific goals here, too. This month, I want to establish a nighttime routine (as in PUT DOWN THE DAMN iPAD) and get an exercise routine established (I am big on routines, obvs) because one of my 2018 goals is to be in kick ass shape (I’m tall and thin — thanks genetics — but that doesn’t mean I can walk up the stairs without huffing) and I’ve discovered just saying “I want to get in shape in 2018” isn’t actually getting me in shape. (Revolutionary thought!)


Another of Abby’s pages.

Another one of my goals is to invite a girlfriend to coffee and to learn to pace myself. Both of these seem rather impossible, to be honest. Especially the coffee date. Being an introvert with social anxiety makes life kind of … um, quiet. Maybe they’ll just magically occur. (So much for the revolution.)

My last goal is easier: To never be without a book. That I can do. I read four in January. I could have read five, but this last one I’ve picked up is killing me so it’s hard to make myself actually read. (It’s a great book, I just know how it ends and it makes me sad.)

I suppose I should have some minimalist and zero waste goals in there, but I don’t feel like those are things I have to remember. I am a minimalist. I gravitate towards low waste anyway, thanks to the routines I put in place during my Simple Year. So I don’t know. That’s just a nice place to be.

Anyway, I like the ease of physical journals — I’m not a fan of online calendars or planners, which is ironic since I love my Kindle so much. Abby’s bullet journal runs out in September, I think, and I’ve already found a new one for her to fill for me. (Teal! I love that color!) She can give it to me for my birthday this summer. 😉

P.S. Links are just so you can see what I’m talking about. As always, I’d rather you didn’t buy anything.

P.P.S. It’s just occurred to me that you may not be familiar with bullet journaling, so HERE is where you can find out about it from the dude who invented the whole thing. There are lots of gorgeous books and sites out there filled with super creative, lovely ideas, but I think we put too much pressure on ourselves to make our journals works of art when all we really need is for them to be functional. (Unless you have kids who can make them gorgeous for you, then seriously, do that.) So that’s why I send you there.

(The Continuing) Continuing Saga

My pantry is on my mind, so I guess we’re rehashing that today. A couple things happened this weekend that could be classified as “lightbulb moments” (or “Connection!” as Johanna liked to say in kindergarten): Canned items last a long time on the shelf, and I am not cut out for any marathons.

Let me explain that last one: I realized Sunday afternoon that my weeks go a lot like my weekends — I wake up Saturdays and Sundays ready to go, so I jump right in and about four hours later, I’m totally burned out. During the week, I start with an optimistic list of tasks I’d like to accomplish after work (everything from vacuuming to reading), but by Thursday, I’m stressed out and done, so instead I just zone out on my iPad and let everything fall apart.


After my organizational extravaganza. I told you it was pretty.

To go back to my first thought, because linear expression is highly overrated, this weekend I went through my pantry and wrote down EVERY SINGLE ITEM that was in there, as well as all expiration dates. I discovered I have four cans of pumpkin and two cans of evaporated milk, a dozen (rather gorgeous, not bragging if it’s true) jars of my  home-canned tomatoes, and more jam than I care to acknowledge. I’ve also got two tubs of organic shortening — must have been a sale — and four boxes of organic mac and cheese. And a bag of chocolate chips, plus the odds and ends like tomato paste, tuna fish, dried beans (local!), canned refried beans and a Tony’s chocolate bar I’ve been hoarding.

I put everything on my kitchen table, cataloged it, and then put it all back according to type. On the upside, my pantry looks freaking awesome right now. On another upside, Eric calmed me down by saying that THAT is what a pantry is for — to make sure we have items on hand for both emergencies and daily life. I’d been feeling a little ill at the sight of all that food … all that money that I’ve spent with zero thought or plan. Most of it isn’t in any danger of expiring, but some of it will need to be used in the next few months.

I’d planned to catalog the freezer too, but at that point I wasn’t feeling up to it. That’s about the time I realized I suck at pacing myself. I did poke around in there a little, though, and found a few interesting items, like dried plums I can use in my weekly granola bar and a bag of dried chives Eric clipped from the garden last spring.

Based on the contents of my pantry and the fact I had the foresight to pick up a carton of ricotta, I made a huge lasagna (actually, a lasagna AND a back up lasagna), which knocked off some pasta, two jars of my tomatoes, a can of tomato sauce and a can of tomato paste, as well as some venison from the freezer (I very rarely make meat lasagnas, so that’s a little weird, but I was on a mission to Use Stuff Up). I’d made a quiche for Saturday (one homemade frozen pie crust and some frozen leftover chicken down!), so I put the rest of that in one of my new Pyrex containers and into the freezer for when the lasagna runs out … noticing Eric had also put the remainder of my enchilada stack thing from Thursday in there too. So I’ve got dinners nailed for this week is what I’m saying. I’ll save the backup lasagna for Truly Desperate Times, which should hit approximately next Thursday.

This is probably too much to say on the subject, but I can’t let it go. It astounds me that, as a minimalist with all the lessons I’ve learned, I’m still hung up on this.

P.S. I am a cat person, and I will fight anyone who says dogs are better. Um, but have you seen the Thoughts of Dog Twitter feed? You guys, it is absolutely darling and wonderful and amazing. It never fails to make me smile. It almost makes me want to get a dog. To give you an example:

i had a long talk. with my fren. about how to spot. a fake ball throw. the optimal strategy. is to follow the ball. with your eyes. instead of your heart

Anyway, if you need a lift, I highly recommend this one. You’re welcome. The end.

(The continuing saga of) The Great Pantry Clean Out

I’m sorry, guys — I had every intention of posting yesterday to get back into my Tuesday/Friday routine, but I couldn’t get my act together. That’s what Saturday mornings are for, I suppose.


I wouldn’t call myself a food hoarder, but I have a lot of food in my house at any given time. Part of that is because I preserve foods in the summertime to use in the winter. And part of it is because I don’t generally go to the store with a good list, and then see items and think, You know what would be a good idea right now? Stocking up.

So I’ll toss a can or two of this or that into the cart, and inevitably, when I get home, I open the pantry and notice I already have five of the same thing.

Unfortunately, I am an incredibly slow learner on the finer points of life’s big lessons. I’ve been working on food hoarding (let’s just call it overstocking, that sounds way less pathetic) since (oh crap) 2013, when I wrote about it for the first time on Pointless Ramble (post HERE). At one point, I felt like I actually had it under control, but a year or so ago, Eric went to a class on how to prepare for the eventual (as in, when, not if) Cascadia earthquake (you’d think that would be scary, but it’s actually not. Or I guess it’s not, because we’re still here) and was all, I think we need to have an emergency food supply on hand, and I was like, Well, I suppose we should.

The problem isn’t so much stocking up – it’s using the stores so you’re not eating expired whatever during a crisis.

(Slight tangent: I had some great guest writers on The Simple Year, and you can read Diane’s post on emergency preparedness HERE. Hi, Diane!)

Long story even longer (the words are doing what they want this morning, sorry), this week I’ve been trying to regain control of the food front. The week before, I spent $115-plus without any sort of idea what I was doing, so last week, I went in with a very clear list and, $31.49 later, I came out with just the basics (i.e., mostly fresh fruit and veggies, some bulk peanut butter and a bag of chips for Johanna because my child has needs). Before all that, though, I went through my pantry and freezer and made a list of what I already had. Then, without even trying very hard, I made a list of a dozen things I could make for dinner this week.

It’s certainly not glamorous, but I was truly pumped to see if I could do one small grocery trip and then work with what we already had. (Spoiler alert: The answer is yes.) What I made:

Sunday: Pesto pasta (a favorite of Johanna’s), cornbread and salad; baked some Mexican Hot Chocolate cookies — had dough leftover from my mother’s cookie exchange that I’d put in the freezer. Also made hummus.

Monday: Johanna had an away basketball game and Eric went along, so it was just me. I had leftover pasta, hummus and veggies, cornbread and a cookie. I could have had a salad, but I had that for lunch.

Tuesday: Enchiladas with greens, pork and cheese, and rice and beans with cheese. Ironically, I had leftover onion, greens, pork and (homemade) enchilada sauce, as well as four more corn tortillas. (I’d have made all the enchiladas, but I couldn’t fit them in the pan.) Also ironic: I made the beans and rice for Jo, and it turns out it’s actually Abby who loves that particular dish. Jo says it’s too “hot.”

Wednesday: Leftovers again. We didn’t go through food as quickly as I’d hoped.

Thursday: Leftovers AGAIN. Jo was over it so I made her a small pot of pasta. I used all the odds and ends left over from Tuesday to make a enchilada stack, which I baked in a cast iron pan. It’s what enchiladas would be if it was lasagna.

Friday: Got a pizza from the New York-style pizzeria in town. I just couldn’t face another night of this. It’s a zero waste win because there’s no plastic, just a compostable cardboard box. And the pizza is amazing. We can get the rest of the leftovers cleaned out tonight, and then start fresh tomorrow.

Lessons learned: I had a lot of fun with this at the beginning of the week, but the sheen of excitement faded when I realized that we were getting nowhere fast on the clean out front. I was able to get a few jars, etc., out of there, but wow, I hadn’t expected this to be enchilada week.

Regardless of that little hiccup, I plan to continue the Great Pantry Clean Out this coming week as well. I’d like to get my freezer all cleaned out by June so I can defrost the thing (and when I say “I,” I really mean “Eric”). And it’ll clearly take more than one week to get the pantry under control. I went shopping yesterday afternoon after work, and spent $68.41 — I needed stuff like milk and cheese this time, which upped my total, but again, mostly fruits and veggies, dried cranberries, bulk yogurt covered pretzel treat for Jo, and another bag of chips. (That’s one thing that’s changed since my Simple Year ended — I’ve let those back into the house. Johanna is thrilled.)

Food is hard for me to get a handle on because A) We need it to live and 2) I don’t want us caught in a situation where we can’t get to the store. I need to figure out what that fine line is between having enough and hoarding. Perhaps I need to “menu plan” for a week’s disaster and go from there?

Or maybe the real question is simply: Why am I such a slow learner?

Hello, goodbye: The tragic story of jar loss

I use jars on a daily basis. I take them along when I go grocery shopping, and they store our leftovers and hold various washed fruits and vegetables. I also use them as freezer containers. They keep my reusable cotton balls sorted in the bathroom and hold my favorite homemade cleaning scrub in the laundry room. I’ve got them in sizes ranging from a quarter cup to half a gallon, mostly Ball or LeParfait, and a couple that I kept instead of recycling when I liked their shape.

And they are causing me a hell of a lot of stress.

I was getting tare the other day, and the lady behind the counter was all, I bet your cupboards look really cool. And you know what? They do. Glass is so much prettier than plastic or cardboard packaging, and it’s easier to organize. Bonus: I can see contents without having to open lids.

But the downside to all this glass: It breaks.

And I’m not sure what is going on, but my jars are breaking at a startling rate. Well, it could be, actually, that I’m not very careful and use them indiscriminately in the pantry, refrigerator, freezer and to can. Or that I’ve inherited a good deal of them from my grandparents and they’re just old (the jars and my grandparents, ha). Maybe it’s coincidence. Or maybe the universe is testing me to see what I’ll do.

The sucky part is when the jar is full of food and I have to toss all of it out. That happened last weekend at the grocery store — I had just filled a LeParfait jar with peanut butter (admittedly bought that jar five years ago or so at a rummage sale) from the bulk aisle and was trying to seal the lid. It wouldn’t seal, and the last time that happened with one of those jars, it was because the glass rim had splintered. Opened the jar to see that was indeed the case. Swearing under my breath, knowing glass shards were already in my peanut butter, I forced it closed, paid for the ordeal, and then chucked the whole thing in the trash when I got home.

I’m not willing to risk broken glass in anyone’s digestive tract, that’s why.

Anyway, I’ve lately had jars break in the microwave, in the bag on the way home, and because I’ve clinked them against the sink. You can’t recycle broken glass, which adds another layer of insult to injury.

But when you’ve given up plastic storage bags and most of your containers, you have to have something as a replacement.

Disgusted with the losses and wanting to try something new, I just purchased a small set of Pyrex stackable containers (unwrapped, couldn’t believe it) (yeah, with the plastic lids) at The Store That Must Not Be Named.

I got the rectangle ones, three cup, six cup and 11 cup (huh, that’s random) sizes. They’re designed for cooking, freezing and storage, so I figured all my bases are covered. (Full disclosure: I will not be taking these to the store.) I don’t know if this was the right decision, but I learned during my Simple Year that I spend a lot of time trying to pick the best thing from a bunch of terrible options. And that’s pointless.

The end, I guess.


Speaking of terrible options, last year I spend months attempting to come up with a zero waste makeup option and finally settled on Lush “Light Pink” foundation. Glass jar, no animal testing, loved how it felt when it went on. Tried to reorder only to learn it’s been discontinued.

Deep breath. I decided to buy the organic option at the grocery store — also in a glass jar, also no animal testing, didn’t research beyond that — and get on with my life. And lo, the world has not ended.

Catching up

It’s been so long since I’ve blogged that I’ve almost forgotten how. 😉

I did something this week and last that I haven’t done … ever, I think: I took a vacation. And pretty much just stayed home.


Hello again!

It was awesome.

I had five vacation days to burn before my work anniversary (it starts over on Feb. 21, ready or not), and I decided that I wanted to take them while Abby was home. Not that I necessarily thought I would see her, but just because I theoretically could. I wanted to be able to take her to lunch, hang out, and help her get ready to go back to school.

Which I did. I also finished a book, took a nap (why only one? I aimed low), played with kittens, and went to the coast (Eric’s family does a big reunion once a year. There were 29 of us spread out among three houses. That was also awesome, and another post for another time). There was a lot of coffee. I started writing about the lessons I learned from my zero waste Simple Year. I screamed at broken jars (that’s also another post for another time), tried not to pay too much attention to the news, and embraced the quiet. I tried to meditate, but I’m really bad at it. I’ll keep trying.

In the past, I’ve always felt like I needed to save my vacation for a specific purpose, and then the time runs out and I take a day here and there and never really feel rested. After my week off, I came back to work ready to go. That’s a good thing because I’ve been feeling burned out on that front — journalism is draining. So note to self: Take the week! Do nothing! Who cares?!

P.S. Winter break was lovely all around, and it was fantastic having Abby home. I love having all my kids under one roof. And yes, Abby made it safely back to school.


I always pick a word to guide me through the new year, and this year I’ve settled on “peace.” I tried really, really hard to pick another word, but I kept coming back to that one, so I decided I may as well just go with it. Like contentment, I feel like peace is a choice much of the time. I keep coming back to the quote I found for the December Wishes series: “Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It mean to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.” –Unknown

There’s been a couple times this month I’ve literally yelled, I AM CALM IN MY HEART, because while I crave peace, I find it rather illusive. But my hope is that this word will serve as a reminder to myself that peace is possible — that I can rewrite my internal narrative by proactively seeking alternatives to … well, the chaos, I guess, that tends to plague me (although there’s plenty out in the world too). Because I tend to make things harder for myself than they need to be is what I’m saying.

And so far, so good. I mean, we’re only 19 days in or whatever, but you’ve got to start somewhere. For me, that’s been identifying what I hold dear — i.e., books and coffee and my family — and incorporating more of that into my day. I’m also limiting my social media (and greatly cutting down my “friends” list and sites I follow), taking walk breaks, never being without a book, and taking time to introvert.

It all leads to peace. Or at least, that’s my hope.

Anyway, if you have a moment, update me on what you’ve all been up to. I’ve missed you! I’ll be back Tuesday with a real post.

On the 31st day of December …


“… Tonight’s the night the world begins again.” — Goo Goo Dolls, Better Days


The last day of December. The last day of 2017.

I do love a clean slate.

My last wish is hope — because I’m trying to hold onto that. With both hands. Even though I’m not a naturally hopeful person.

I’m hoping 2018 is a great year. That I can take the gifts and the lessons of 2017 and apply them accordingly. That I can continue to grow and learn, and find the good in people and the world.


Thank you, friends, for sharing this month with me. I’ve made a very basic Word doc of all of the wishes at the request of my mother, and if anyone feels the need for a copy, let me know in the comments and I’ll email it to you. My little gift for the end of the year.

I’m going to take a blogging break for the first couple of weeks in January. I want to spend as much time as I can with the fam while we’re still all under the same roof. We’ve got a few things planned, as well as the basic back-to-reality craziness that comes after the holiday season.

I’m almost looking forward to it.

Happy New Year!