Not sure if y’all have clocked it, but I have kind of co-opted the cleaning/organization beat here at EHD. Growing up, I was pretty unbothered by mess and grime – much to the chagrin of my mom and, later, my college roommates (sorry again, everyone!!!) – but as an adult, I’ve figured out some systems and discovered a few tried-and-true products that have made cleaning, organizing, and maintaining my home both easy AND fun. But today’s post isn’t about more things to buy – it’s actually about a few of the mental frameworks I’ve recently been employing to make it easier for me to part with the things I already have. See, I’ve always struggled a little bit with clutter (I mean…I’m a girl who loves the flea market, you know?) and it’s finally sunk in that the solution isn’t just adding more bins and baskets – it’s that I need LESS STUFF. Deciding what makes the cut is hard, though (especially when you’re as sentimental as I am!), so let’s dive into a few of the strategies that have actually been helpful for me in the hopes that maybe this can help you declutter, too 🙂
The 20/20 Rule
The idea is simple: If I can replace something for under $20 and in under 20 minutes, I give myself the freedom to let it go. This has been game-changing for me – old nail polish? I can grab another at Walgreens in less than five minutes if I end up needing to. The almost-empty bottle of vitamins that I have been ignoring for months but still keep in the fridge in the event that I will one day wake up with willpower and will be able to commit to my vitamin regimen again? Spoiler: it’s not happening, so just let them go, girl! All those weird promotional drawstring backpacks that have sat dormant at the bottom of my closet for years but have still been schlepped from coast to coast and from apartment to apartment? JUST DONATE THEM, ALREADY.
I’ve really struggled with a sunk cost fallacy here for a while – “I already have this, and I’ve kept it for so long, and I might need it someday, so I should hold on to it just in case!” (Maybe that refrain sounds kind of familiar to you, too.) In reality, though, many of the things I’ve been struggling to organize are still things that I could grab quickly and affordably in a pinch. Like, why purchase another bin to store the aforementioned nail polish when I haven’t painted my own nails in over a year? I’ve been able to give away unused crafting supplies (why did I, a person who has literally never touched a knitting needle in their life, have so much yarn???), school supplies (where are my fellow pen hoarders at? Turns out I don’t need, like, 300 different gel pens!), and I’ve also finally been able to toss the stuff that’s just taking up space and waiting to expire. It’s liberating, y’all!
The Inventory Idea
This is a new thought pattern for me and it’s been TRANSFORMATIONAL. I’d always blamed my cluttered tendencies on my ADHD brain manifesting itself – you know, unintentionally making my surroundings look and feel like the inside of my head – but the reality is much simpler: my human brain is just not equipped to keep tabs on this much inventory. Swapping my previous self-punishing internal monologue of “I have too much stuff” with “I just have more inventory than I can track right now” has COMPLETELY changed the way I look at clutter.
Here’s the thing: I don’t think I’d ever really grokked that every single thing that I bring into my home contributes to my mental load and to my to-do list. Once something comes in that front door, it needs to be tracked and monitored and maintained…and it turns out that a lot of things in my home aren’t worth that kind of effort, you know? Humans simply were not built to keep track of hundreds of thousands of objects in addition to, like, staying alive. That’s not an exaggeration, either – the average American household has over 300,000 items in it. SERIOUSLY. I’ve accepted that I do not have the brain space or bandwidth to care for 300,000 things in addition to, you know, talking to my family and having a job and doing things with friends – something’s gotta give, and it’s gonna have to be the things.
Clutter doesn’t happen because you’re lazy or because of some moral failure – you simply just do not have the brain space to remember and sort all of the objects in your inventory. Think of yourself like a video game character with limited slots to carry items – what really matters to you? What actually deserves to take up your mental bandwidth? (Spoiler: it’s probably not the box of assorted cords for devices and appliances you’ve been collecting for a decade or more. You’re never going to go through that box, pal – just donate or recycle them and let yourself permanently remove “sort through miscellaneous cords” from your to-do list. IT’S GOING TO FEEL AMAZING, I SWEAR.)
The Grey Zone Donation
THE MAYBES. That’s where I get hung up, at least. There are the things that are easy to toss in a donation pile; there are things that are obvious keepers…but what about the items in the middle? Maybe it’s a splurgey wool sweater that you may need one day…but you also live in Los Angeles, where the average daily temperature literally never warrants the hoarding of said overpriced wool sweater. How do you commit to purging and donating when you’re making a decision that isn’t clearly black or white? Enter: THE GREY ZONE.
The solution here is pretty simple, but it does require some willpower. Take all your “well, I do really like this, it’s in good condition, and maybe I’ll use it when [insert infrequent scenario here]” things and throw them in a box/bag/storage container of your choice. Choose a timeframe that makes sense for you – maybe it’s a week, maybe it’s a month – and TAPE IT CLOSED for that amount of time. If you don’t need to force entry into this box, donate it blindly once the clock’s run out.
Do not let yourself get caught in a last-minute check – “let me just make sure there’s nothing really important in here” is the kiss of death that’ll spoil your efforts (take it from experience!) – just let it go and enjoy the newly-created space, free of items that you’re ambivalent about. It’s kinda nice to be surrounded only by the pieces that you really love and use, right?
The 5-Year Question
Try this scenario on for size: think about that shirt in your dresser. It’s seen better days – maybe it’s a little faded, or it has low-key pit-stained (but in a way that only you really notice), or there’s a tiny hole in it, or you accidentally spilled soy sauce on the front leaving it unwearable in public (too specific, maybe?) and now it’s become your last-choice “home clothes” shirt. It’s the one you pull on when you’re out of everything else – if it could talk, it’d be the shirt that said “GIRL, you gotta do laundry RIGHT NOW.”
I’m here with an instant mood-boosting tip: RETIRE THAT SHIRT. Recycle it. Turn it into cleaning rags. Make a t-shirt quilt, if you’re sentimental! Either way, LET IT GO. I’ve found that I have a tendency to wear things into the ground, which is great (or better than the fast fashion alternative, at least, I guess). But at some point, I need to learn how to say goodbye – enter the “5-year question.” When I’m considering parting with pieces on their last legs – or decor that I’ve pulled from the flea market that no longer sparks joy – I just need to ask the following: “In 5 years, am I going to be glad that this is still in my inventory?”
Will I be glad that I’ve kept reluctantly pulling on my hole-y pink home-only shirt for trips to the laundromat, or that I continue to shove a broken flea market toucan statue in the closet in the hope that one day I’ll create a vignette that requires a broken toucan statue? Most of the time, the answer is a resounding NO. 30-year-old Caitlin is doing 35-year-old Caitlin a favor – she’s pitching stuff now so that future Caitlin can fully enjoy the stuff she really loves.
Just 1% Better
If you also went through a competitive sports phase (or, uh, “decades” of competitive sports, if we’re the same type of neurotic), you may be familiar with the “1% better” theory of marginal gains. To sum it up, a former director of British Cycling implemented a program trying to improve a host of tiny areas by 1% (like, sleeping 1% better, eating 1% better, training 1% better, reducing bike dust by 1% – it was a lot and very nuanced, but you get the gist)…and he was right. After implementing the 1% theory, British Cycling went on to win 16 Olympic golds AND seven Tour de Frances in just eight years.
Let that sink in – a meager 1% improvement across the board compounded over time and RADICALLY changed the expected results. Even on my worst day, I can find the energy to try and make my home at least 1% better – it’s a small, achievable goal that will exponentially improve my quality of life in the future. I don’t know if you’ve also suffered from “if I can’t do it perfectly the first time, I don’t want to do it at all” disease, but finally accepting that marginal gains are just as valuable as a weekend-long cleaning spree has been incredibly motivating and empowering. You don’t need to organize everything this weekend – just let yourself be 1% better.
Here’s where I leave you – my most recent clutter clean-out (after all this yapping, I gotta show that I drink my own Kool-Aid, right?). I wish I had taken an actual before photo, but I truly cannot tell you how much peace this now-totally-organized vanity now brings me. What I can tell you, however, is where to find bandaids or soap or zit patches – my bath and self-care-related inventory is now totally under control and IT FEELS AMAZING. If this reformed clutterbug can do it…well, I think you can, too. (Next up on my 1% better list: cleaning the lipstick smudges off my makeup drawer. WHOOPS.)
It took a really long time for this all to click in my own brain – there’s a real difference between recognizing that you have too much stuff and actually building out the framework to handle that problem – so I really hope that these five ideas could help others in the way that they’ve helped me. Feel free to drop any of your organization tips or wisdom in the comments – I’m always ready to learn more. LET’S CHAT, PLEASE??? xx
Opening Image Credits: Art Direction by Emily Henderson | Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp | Styled by Emily Bowser | From: Clever Organization Hacks – A Linen/Guest Closet And The Smartest Vanity Org Products