Traveling the Path from Excess to Simplicity: Mission Detach and Declutter

Storage boxes I've been repurposing since V's birth.

I came home from our trip to visit family in Michigan this Christmas feeling overburdened by stuff.  We, the owners of a small sedan, crammed our suitcases, diaper bag, bag of stuffed animals, a bag of books, a toddler snack bag, carry-on bag, three suitcases, a yoga mat, extra packages of diapers, one giant chest containing V’s holiday gifts, two paper bags full of our holiday gifts, a box of glassware, 5 pillows, and winter coats and boots alongside ourselves and our daughter’s car seat.  Literally, we did not have room for one more sippy cup in our car.  I am grateful for our families’ generosity for Christmas, and I am mindful that we have space issues with our small vehicle whenever we travel, but after dumping all the loot in our house, and unpacking it into our home, I felt an urge to purge some stuff that would not be stifled.

Perhaps it was the story about hoarders we listened to on NPR while traveling.  Maybe it’s a ritual of frequent moving turned into habit.  It might be my slightly obsessive nature when it comes to organization (have I mentioned that as a child, I used to unpack and ORGANIZE my room before playing on VACATION?)!  I can guarantee that I’m not nesting, for those inquiring souls thinking the question. Wherever the impulse originated, I became a woman with a mission to eliminate excess from the moment we arrived home.

I started with the bathroom cabinets and countertops the evening we got home.  As I unpacked our toiletry bag, like a woman possessed, I dumped out our medicine and toiletry chest, bagging up old prescriptions for disposal at our local pharmacy, tossing half melted cough drops, and reorganizing the whole lot.  I consolidated renegade band-aids from various storage dumps in our home.  My husband, M, exhausted from our 9 hour trip, looked askance at me, splayed out amongst bottles and boxes on our closet floor, but wisely refrained from persisting that maybe it wasn’t the best time to start a reorganization project.  He’s learned over 13 years of loving me that I’m best left alone when in the zone.

The next day, I moved onto the box of junk on top of the refrigerator that we carted over to this house from our last move, a year ago.  I found a missing hair clip of my daughter’s and restored it to its home in the bathroom.  More band-aids reunited with their band-aid friends.  A mug moved to our yard sale pile.  A bookmark joined our bookmark box.  Safety pins moved to my sewing kit.  Coins clinked into our Superman piggy bank.  Old batteries were recycled.

Our kitchen junk drawer was my next victim.  Packages discarded.  Unused child safety products were moved to the yard sale pile.  Random, unidentifiable, broken pieces of things were trashed (hope we didn’t need them).  More darned safety pins.  Tools and tape rolls were pulled to move to our garage tool box.

I realized as I’m typing that my get rid of frenzy actually began pre-holiday, as I cleaned out my daughter’s closet, pulled baby stuff from her food cabinet, and began a preparatory sweep of her playroom.  My plan was to dump my stuff on my unsuspecting and ever-gracious sister, who has a daughter a year younger than V.  Duplicate and superfluous children’s books were passed on.  Outgrown clothes and shoes, put to use.  Room for new toys and books, minimal but more than when I started.

The stumbling block for me remains V’s playroom, where I know I still have work to do.  I still am trying to find room for the toys my daughter has acquired over the three month spree of birthday and holiday gifts.  At two, she hasn’t really grown out of any of her toys yet.  We really haven’t purchased much for her, a play kitchen, a homemade dollhouse for Christmas and a few manipulative type toys.  But our ever thoughtful mothers have continued to dig through their attics to bequeath upon us remnants from our own childhoods:  Fisher Price airport set, Fisher Price castle set, blocks, baby dolls, dollhouse furniture, Star Wars action figures and ships, my old rolling horse, a table and chair set, and books. Every holiday, V is gifted with thoughtful presents from family and friends.  It is all great stuff that V enjoys, but it just adds up.  Short of building the equivalent of Dudley’s second bedroom (Harry Potter fans) onto our rental, something is going to have to make an exit to the basement, donation or yard sale pile.  This is the task I most dread, feeling that whatever I eliminate will be the wrong thing, the sought out toy.  I’ve already snuck a few items out under the cover of darkness after my daughter’s bedtime, and so far, so good.

The problem with clutter, as discussed by some of the participants in the NPR conversation on hoarding, is that we attach meaning and memories to items.  Some of us aren’t wired to let go, and some things are easier to dispose of than others .  Will my daughter miss half of the stuffed animals in her collection?  No.  She doesn’t even know she owns some of them.  Yet she has a tote overflowing in her room because I remember each person who gave her a cuddly friend when she was first born or how I arranged them in her room when pregnant, eagerly anticipating her arrival.  It is easier to disassociate with prescription bottles and old dishes than blurry pictures of loved ones, stuffed toys, that ugly plastic holiday placemat my grandmother gave to me.  Over time, I’ve been forced by moves to pare down the items that do not meet one of two criteria:  1) It is beautiful, meaningful, and we love it and/or 2) It has a repeated function in our home.  But when it comes to my child’s belongings, I’m encountering a roadblock.

So I’ll tackle the garage tool box, the office supplies cabinet, and my clothes closet before I re-engage with the playroom.  I need to give it a little more thought, and detach from the things that aren’t beautiful and meaningful to my gal, and the things that don’t serve a repeated function for my daughter’s play.  Hopefully, I won’t misstep along the path from excess to simplicity.

Update:  tackled the playroom.  All stuffed animals are still in the family.  One obnoxious noisy toy and some fast food figurines in the yard sale pile.  Handful of baby toys in the basement.  Several broken plastic items, brochures and scraps of paper, hidden in the trash and hurriedly carried to the garage for pick up this week.  A few storage boxes purchased and all toys have a home off of the floor…ah!  I know I could have eliminated more, but for now, it’s progress.

Linking up with Things I Can’t Say for


6 responses to “Traveling the Path from Excess to Simplicity: Mission Detach and Declutter

  • Amy

    Holiday time does the same thing to me. There’s so much excess, and I feel complicit in it, which goes against my environmentalist values. During the holidays I feel the need to convince myself that I’m really not about all the material stuff that clutters our modern lives. And so this year I cleared 4 large bags of old clothes out of my closets after New Years and dropped them is a charity clothes box for others to actually use. I also spent an hour and a half shredding a large garbage bag-worth’s of old checks and financial papers to clear out filing space.

    To minimize the accumulation of stuff over the holidays, my (extended) family instituted the 1 present rule years ago: Each adult household in the family gives one present to one other adult household in the family. (This year I got my recently widowed father a gift box of smoked wild salmon and accompanying goodies for meals. In a few weeks time, there will be no more trace of it.) Of course, kids get presents from everyone, and here’s where I feel that I’m just contributing to clutter. My nieces and nephew have so much stuff covering their rooms, can they possibly need anything more? But it’s Christmas, so…..

  • Pamela

    I hear that! I have a shredding bag, and we dumped a bag of clothes in a donation bin prior to the holidays as well. So much stuff constantly filtering in and out of our lives; not only does it consume space, but time. And the more we have the bigger house we need, and the more money that takes, and more…more…more…ahhhh! We have gradually pared down the gift exchange with the family over the years; mostly because we have been broke for so many of them and we prefer homemade exchanges. But everyone has to agree to adhere to an exchange rule. Haven’t gotten there yet or openly discussed it. My sisters and I now do kids only or something small or homemade (like framed pics or a mug of tea). And as I consider homeschooling with V, I don’t want to get rid of items I might use in her home “preschool.” I sometimes wonder if I was really courageous, if I could just walk away from the majority of what we own. Then I realize we’ve been gradually doing that for years, we’ve just got to be ready for the next step. Such a process! Thanks for sharing!

  • Shell Things (@shellthings)

    Oh, how I need to declutter. I don’t even have an attachment to anything- I just am overwhelmed by the task.

  • Kristin @ What She Said

    I’m also in the process of de-cluttering and started over the holidays with my guest bedroom, which has doubled as a junk room for two years – ever since we moved all the unpacked boxes from our move (five years ago) out of our empty spare room that became Lil’ Bit’s nursery. It was cathartic and hilarious all at once – I found some really interesting stuff. Instant blog fodder. ;)

    I need to tackle all those little areas that you mentioned – the junk drawer(s), the medicine drawer, etc. I’ve got a whole list of home organization projects and I’m just trying to stay focused and tick them off one by one, rather than make it a race to finish and be done with it. Past experience has told that that that’s not gonna happen – I start off strong in the new year and then putter out by February. Trying to keep the attitude of “slow and steady wins the race” this year, and just tackle each area one by one.

    • Pamela

      That’s a good plan! It is easy to get overwhelmed or over exhausted by looking at it all at once! If I could find the table in V’s playroom or our kitchen junk counter, I’d settle for that as sufficient progress because they are such energy drains for me; I do the paper shuffle daily. I had similar feelings as what you describe going through some boxes my mother hauled out to my house this year; and it was instant blog fodder for sure! Eager to hear what you discovered in your sorting:)

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