For years, I had a “put together” living room. It was the room I kept immaculate no matter what, in case someone popped over. Because my hand-me-down couch was 70’s-era brown and orange floral, I spent several minutes each day tucking in and straightening a velour couch cover. I had the matching pillows, a beautiful entertainment center, and the shiny wood piano my husband played. There wasn’t a stray book, paper, or dish to be found.
But the other rooms were a different story. My desk looked like an avalanche of papers and books. My kitchen drawers were crammed with various cooking tools, some of which I hadn’t used since I bought them. My closet was a mishmash of wardrobes consisting of several sizes. Homeschool books and other materials covered every flat surface.
I spent too much time looking for things and trying to organize way too much stuff. I was the master of the dash and stash. Everyone thought I was a well-organized and capable housekeeper, but my messy Marvin tendencies were a problem.
Here’s the irony — because I wasted so much time trying to look like I had it all together, I never actually had it all together. My thinking was as cluttered as the hidden parts of my home.
As long as my thinking was cluttered, my home would be too.
I’ve learned that there are three ways our cluttered thinking prevents us from getting clutter out of our homes:
Comparing Ourselves to Others
Our journey isn’t going to look like another person’s. We all have different reasons we’re overwhelmed with clutter, so our solutions can’t all be exactly the same.
We’ve all seen photos of perfectly decorated rooms on Facebook or Pinterest without a single speck of dust, let alone clutter. But what we can’t see outside the angle of the camera lens is the piles of stuff the photographer doesn’t want you to see.
Rather than giving up and deciding that you’ll just hide it, consider your reasons for wanting to declutter.
Often our motives for doing something indicate whether we’ll be successful. Our big wins come with the right motivations.
Do you want to impress others and look good? Or do you want to declutter so that you can be free to do what you’re created to do?
All or Nothing Mentality
Sometimes we look at our twenty years’ worth of clutter and decide that it isn’t going away anytime soon, so we might as well not even try.
At first, 15 minutes a day doesn’t seem like it would be effective, but after several days in a row, I saw victory in one section of my house. Then I wanted to take back another section, so I kept going.
After awhile, I noticed that I spent less time looking for missing books and cooking utensils. I also spent less time “tidying up” when we expected company. The realization that I will never be “done” decluttering gives me the peace and sanity I need to continue with a faithful decluttering routine that frees me up to do better things.
Rather than feeling lousy about how much decluttering we have left to do, we become more productive when we achieve small gains that add up to big victories over time.
One and Done (Wishful) Thinking
If we look at decluttering projects as a big monster project to tackle, we’ll become discouraged when we realize that the same space just gets cluttery all over again. That’s because we haven’t resolved the real issue: decluttering is like brushing your teeth—it’s much more effective if you stay on top of it and do it regularly, rather than expecting your twice-per-year dental visits to maintain dental health.
Kerri Pomarolli, comedienne and author, writes, “Aren’t most of us constantly feeling as though we are in a race but we have no idea where the finish line is?”
That’s how I’ve come to think about clutter. No finish line. But we can have success with an established regular routine.
There are school papers and toys and permission slips and awards and backpacks and treasures and art projects and…the list goes on and on.
Having to manage their stuff while they’re living under your roof is to be expected, but what about when they’re NOT living under your roof anymore? You now have an empty nest and a full house. What do you do with your adult child’s stuff that they haven’t taken with them?
We have five young adult children. Three are married, but they all live out on their own. At one point our nest was empty, but our attic was not! It was full of our adult kids’ memorabilia, awards, sports equipment, and even some furniture.
As you walk towards the clutter-free life, what do you do about the stuff that belongs to your adult kids? Here are nine strategies we’ve found helpful:
Identify their status: are they in transition or settled in?
When you have an adult child that’s in transition, you might choose to give a little grace until they are in a more settled place. Our second oldest daughter’s husband was in the Army for four years. She moved home twice during each of his year-long deployments, so we gave some grace on keeping some of their items in our home until he left the Army and settled down. One of our sons is currently living abroad. He has two small pieces of furniture he couldn’t take with him but he didn’t want to get rid of that he asked us to keep in the attic. We were okay saying yes to that.
Give a warning.
You’ve likely been thinking about this for a while, but your kids probably have not—out of sight, out of mind—right? Every child is different, but especially if you have a “saver,” it’s important to give them a heads up that you’re going to need them to deal with their stuff in the near future.
Set a realistic deadline.
Let them know that you’re renovating the bedroom/cleaning out the attic or garage/having a yard sale on a certain date. Ask them to come get what they want to keep or sell themselves by that date. Let them know that anything that’s theirs in your house after that date will be sold, donated, or disposed of on that date. (And you’ll be keeping the proceeds from any sales!) Then do exactly what you communicated you would do.
Be prepared for your own emotional responses.
It may be hard for you, but you have to keep your eye on the target—to live light, free, and not weighed down with stuff. Getting rid of things doesn’t get rid of the memories. You always have those with you, and you don’t need their things to remember.
Adjust your expectations.
The items you thought were important to save may not be important at all to your child. That has to be okay. You have to allow your child to have differing priorities than you do. They have to have the freedom to assign a different meaning to stuff than you do. Resist the urge to try to convince your child of why something should be important to them. He or she is different than you and that has to be okay.
Understand today’s young adults.
In general, millennials (born 1981 to 1996) and GenZ (born 1997 to today) are disposable generations. They are a generation or two away from a direct influence of the Great Depression where you learned to save everything and use it in some way. Many of today’s young adults are minimalists and not very attached to their stuff. One of our daughters and her husband have sold everything and traveled full time not once, but twice! They are not attached to things at all. While I treasure some of my great-grandmother’s antiques in my own home, I may be the last generation in our family to do so, and that’s got to be okay. We have to resist the urge to pressure our kids to value something because we value it.
Use your phone.
As you are decluttering, take photos of questionable items and text them to your kids for quick decisions. Accept their answers. Remember, however, there may be special items (NOT EVERYTHING!) none of the kids want (such as their Dad’s train set) that you might choose to keep because your adult kids may not be at the age or stage of life where they might use or appreciate them. You could wait on those few things until they are further down the road of life with children of their own.
Have a plan for sentimental baby items.
Maybe you brought each of your children home in the same outfit and you’re not sure what to do with something like that. Could you frame it and put it in a wall photo collage with each child’s baby pictures? Things in boxes aren’t enjoyed. Is there a way you can enjoy the things that mean the most to you?
Think about future generations.
We’ve gotten rid of many toys over the years, but I kept my kids’ Rescue Heroes, Little People, and Legos as well as some books and other small toys they all enjoyed. Now our grandchildren are enjoying those classic toys when they visit, and they are vastly different than the toys they have at home.
One of the best parts of the empty nest is being able to reclaim the use of your house in a way that fits your passions and interests. With a little bit of communication and effort, you can make sure you’re not tripping over the past on your way to the future you’re creating.
Jill Savage is the author of fourteen books including her newest book Empty Nest Full Life: God’s Best For Your Next. You can find out more information about Jill and her resources for empty nest or close-to-empty-nest moms at www.EmptyNestBook.com.
Kathi interviews mother of four Ashley Auerbach, our new favorite adventurer on the podcast this week. Ashley and her husband made the decision to move out of a house and into an RV and travel. Talk about the adventure of a lifetime! Ashley discusses how God led them to live small while giving them the most unexpected time of their life.
In this episode you will hear:
Inspiration to live small in God’s big plan for you
How following His lead can be the most intense and amazing journey you’ll ever want to have
Ideas on how to create a curated life within your 3000 or 300 square feet.
This fun video shows the small living lifestyle and we thought you guys would be interested in seeing it. Enjoy!
How to Avoid Distractions and Live Out Your God-Given Purpose
When it comes down to it, clutter is a distraction.
As I walk around my house, trying to get ready to host a group of five of my favorite women for three days, I can feel annoyance with myself starting to rise.
Here are some thoughts that come to mind:
“Why do I have all these half-done projects lying around?”
“Why didn’t I finish unloading the dishwasher? Now I have to unload it before I load it.” (Because the dryer buzzer had gone off.)
“Why did I leave the pile of bills on the table instead of paying them?” (I wasn’t sure where the money was going to come from for an unexpected auto repair.)
“I wish I could finish half of what I start. Why is my normally mostly-put-together home suddenly way more out of control than normal?”
And then I think about my past week:
One of our grown children is in a career crisis.
Our contractor is two months behind on completing our renovation.
I’m stuck on a part of the book I’m writing and can’t seem to focus.
My husband is going through some significant health issues.
Clutter was only a symptom of a distracted mind.
When my heart is heavy, sad, or frustrated, my go-to move is to either let distractions take over my life, or to create distraction so I don’t have to pay attention to painful things.
In their new book, Shiny Things, Amanda Bacon and Anne-Renee Gumley talk about the areas of distraction—not when it comes to our homes, but to our families.
Moms have particular challenges regarding distractions when raising their children. When my kids were small, I remember being pulled in so many different directions. I didn’t always know what my priorities should be.
So as a mom, how do you focus on the important things?
Stop being a slave to your schedule.
Just because someone asks you do to something, doesn’t mean it has earned the right to be on your calendar. Learn to value your time like never before. When I was single, my only obligation was to myself. But when I became a mom, for some reason, I thought I should be able to do everything I had done before and still be able to raise tiny humans.
Understand your limitations.
I know when I’m over-tired, I self-distract with food and stupid TV. There is nothing wrong with watching the “Holiday Armadillo” episode of Friends (again), but when I know I’m using it as distraction because I’ve stayed up too late (again), it’s time to realize I can’t run with the same energy that I could if I didn’t have kids.
Find meaning in what matters.
When I’m neck deep in distraction, oftentimes it’s because I’m looking for “hits”—something that gets me approval from outside sources. When that happens, I realize I’m at a stage in marriage or parenting that’s hard, where the rewards are few. I feel not only unappreciated, but downright unlovable.
In those situations, it’s important to remind myself:
This is a season.
I’m doing hard work that does not have immediate rewards.
God sees my efforts, even when no one else does.
We’re all prone to chase shiny things, whatever that looks like in each stage of life.
Recognizing the reasons we are drawn to distractions helps us to focus on the purpose God created us for, especially as parents. Then we can give the best of ourselves to what matters most — loving God and our families.
The generous people over at Harvest House want to give our readers Amanda Bacon and Anne-Renee Gumley’s book, Shiny Things. Five people will win a copy and 1 grand prize winner will receive:
A copy ofShiny Things
Rustic Felt Letter Board 10×10
A Notebook Journal
18 Colored Felt Pens
Enter to win by commenting below. Are distractions keeping you from your highest priority? What shiny things are distracting you right now?
On today’s episode, Kathi welcomes friend and author KariAnne Wood to talk about her devotional; You’ve Got This! (Because God’s Got You). Kathi and KariAnne chat about how to find joy and stay encouraged even in the middle of tough places.
On today’s encouraging show you’ll learn:
What to do on the days when you just don’t feel like “you’ve got this”
Why sometimes we need to just press pause
How to give away “extra joy” and why it’s a blessing for all when we do
Enter to Win!
Enter to win a copy of KariAnne’s book!
Two lucky winners will win a copy of You’ve Got This (Because God’s Got You)
Enter by answering in the comments:
“Brag on yourself. Comment about a place where you KNOW you’ve got this.”
To help out the show: • Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. • Subscribe on iTunes or subscribe now.
Meet Our Guest
KariAnne Wood, writes the decorating and lifestyle blog Thistlewood Farms from her project-filled historic home in Dallas, Texas. She recently followed God’s call and jumped back “home” with her family from the middle of the country to the busy Dallas Metroplex where she lives with her husband and four children. Learn more
Spring isn’t the only time to tackle cleaning. As we face down holiday prep for the busy season ahead, tackling some of the things we do in our annual Spring Fling in the Clutter Free Academy Facebook group are a great idea. In this video from spring, Kathi’s talks about her famous 3 Questions that you need to ask to decide if something has earned the right to live in your space. There are a variety of reasons we hold onto things and with her usual grace-filled manner, Kathi talks about making the hard calls to live free. Let’s clear out some clutter and make way for the family fun and festive season we are about to enter. Watch now: