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Decluttering…Modified Minimalism for Real Life

And So It Begins…

Let’s expose the elephant in the room right away. We are in the midst of the Coronavirus Pandemic. Some states in the US and many countries around the world are in forced quarantine. Our state is following self-quarantine guidelines, but all schools are closed until April 15 (as of the writing of this post).

That being said, decluttering is a very timely topic in our house. My children and I are spending 24/7 with each other, homeschooling, riding bikes and getting outside as much as we can…and engaging in LOTS of arts and crafts. Please see my previous post, Homeschooling for the Non-Homeschool Mom.

(UPDATE: You can find additional resources here: Homeschooling, Parenting, & Self-Care Resources (Part 2).

The longer we stay at home, the more stuff gets pulled out, piled up, and NOT put away. Something has to be done.

Can you answer ‘Yes’ to any of the following questions?

  • Do you panic when unexpected visitors knock on your door?
  • Do you block the doorway and blame it on the cat’s attempt to escape to prevent people from seeing the piles of crap lurking behind you?
  • Do you constantly apologize about your messy home?
  • When a friend wants to stop by, do you race around like a maniac, throwing things into boxes, laundry baskets, and closets?
  • Do you fudge the truth and say, “We’re re-organizing right now” …even to your pest control guy that comes every three months? Guilty. He is so kind. He smiles every time I make that excuse. It’s embarrassing.
  • Do you blame the rest of your family for leaving their junk all over the house?
  • Do you want less stuff but feel helpless and overwhelmed, not knowing where to start?
  • Do you imagine how much more productive you could be if you didn’t have to clean up after everyone else in the house?
  • Do you dream of a clean, organized, sparsely decorated home that exudes calm and inspires creativity…then open your eyes to the train wreck in your living room?

Let’s talk about authenticity. I’ve been ranting about decluttering before the word “declutter” came into vogue. I don’t mean I’ve been preaching the virtues of a minimalist lifestyle. Far from it. I love things. Things have memories. I’m very attached to things.

Especially now that I have kids. I get nauseous when my husband suggests we “trash” a piece of cardboard, piled with glitter and stones that my kids found in the yard, glued into the shape of a heart. If they write their names on their creations, it’s even worse.

The reality is, I have been fighting a losing battle with the clutter in my home for eleven years. I know it’s been eleven years because that is the age of my oldest child.

Eleven years of “I’ll get to it when the baby is sleeping.”
Eleven years of “I’ll clean my overstuffed, clown closet this weekend.”
Eleven years of “As God as my witness, I’ll never be messy again!”

I only wish I had as much resolve as Scarlett O’Hara.

Guess what folks? Eleven years have come and gone. Not only is that baby now a pre-teen, but we’ve moved three times into progressively bigger homes. We were blessed with another mess-maker five years ago, and adopted two furball-generating, lizard-killing kittens two years ago. I will never adjust to finding freshly disembodied, still flailing lizard tails in my living room. Gross.

Bigger is NOT Better

I thought a bigger house would help me feel less buried under the mountain of toys, clothes, shoes, artwork, crafting supplies, kid gear, school supplies, and random flotsam and jetsam dragged in from the yard.

  • My kids build complex forts out of giant playground equipment cardboard boxes – complete with windows, skylights, crystal doorknobs, wallpaper and carpet.
  • They create elaborate spiderwebs with a spool of sparkly plastic lacing that I have to crawl under to get from the living room to the kitchen.
  • They blow up all the balloons in the house and tape them to the walls and ceiling to “make a party,” on any given Wednesday.

Full disclosure: I’m the one standing on the dining room table saying, “Please hand me the tape” and “Don’t tell Daddy.” I’m the one who sent Daddy back to the preschool to drag that giant cardboard box home for our daughter…I knew she would love it.

Bigger is not better. That backfired on me. I thought I needed more space to breathe and feel less cluttered, not only in my external environment but also in my mind, and in my soul. It’s true, there is something to be said about tall ceilings with natural light pouring into a clean, open space; but I suffer from what my husband calls, “Pile Syndrome.”

Pile Syndrome

Pile syndrome is simple. You pile things up, so they don’t look so messy, promising yourself you’ll get to it later. Then you bring home more stuff, “Because it was on sale, and I know the kids will use it, honey!” You continue to pile more and more, with every trip to the store.

Here’s the key to self-mastery when it comes to decluttering:

The more space you have, the more piles you create, the more stuff accumulates.

Once you acknowledge the problem, the path to freedom becomes crystal clear.

It’s a vicious cycle. Sure, organized stacks can make a space look a bit tidier…until the cat runs across the ping-pong table scattering art supplies and random school papers that haven’t been put away for three months.

Why have a ping-pong table if you can’t play ping-pong?

Here’s what my little tinkers did: They raced to the garage, squealing and giggling, and grabbed a large box from our never-ending Amazon supply. The oldest used the kitchen stepstool, reserved for her little brother, to snatch the “adult-supervision only” jar of colored Sharpies from the highest cupboard. She is a stealthy one.

They sprawled across the hardwood floor and created a DIY ping-pong table with paddles (because no one can find the paddles) and played on the floor…amidst the debris of fallen papers and art supplies.

All this happened while I was battling five loads of laundry, completely unaware. The creation and set-up of the ping-pong game took longer than the time they spent actually playing the game.

And you know what? I’m OKAY with that.


Because the process of creation is more important for our kid’s brain development than the result.

And cardboard boxes rock!

Having accepted that, I’ve tried to stop apologizing to people every time they come over to my zoo. I mean, my house.

I still apologize. Maybe not every single time, but a lot. I apologize a lot. My mom kept a very organized and clean house with five children under the age of seven. My household skills pale in comparison. But I realized something…we didn’t have near as much stuff back then. I had two Barbie dolls. Two!

My daughter recently donated over a dozen to her little brother’s friend and still kept some for herself. I had a hard time with that. I was emotionally attached to all those dolls, more than she was. They remind me of the mini version of my daughter. I get caught up in those reveries and waste a lot of time there.

I remember the day when she was 2 ½ years old. It was just the two of us, no little brother yet. We were strolling along, in front of our house in Southern California. Daddy was working from our home office at the back of the house. It was sunny and in the low 70s. There was a slight breeze. The weather was perfect…as Southern California weather always is. She wore blue jeans with embroidered patches of flowers and ladybugs, a white eyelet short-sleeved shirt with a scalloped-edge Peter Pan collar, a red sweater, and a vibrant pink sun hat with white polka dots. She was picking wildflowers and smelling the red bougainvillea that grew over our wrought iron fence. I was so in love with her. Crazy love. It is a memory that I will always revisit. It lives deep within me.

See what I did there?

I get lost in those moments until the feelings of extraordinary love mix with the pain of loss, like I’ll never get that time back. I get stuck there. The mind is a curious thing. I’m sure I’m not the only mom out there doing this. Raise your hand if you do this too.

Guess what? My daughter is still right here in front of me. I can still brush her hair, play ball with her, jump on the trampoline, squeeze her, listen to her stories, and love her.

It has become very clear…

The more I hang on to the past, the less I’m living in the present.

The more I obsess over the mess in my house and hold on to things, fretting over them, the less time I spend nurturing my kids. The less time I spend learning who they are…their likes and dislikes, their fears, their goals, their dreams.

Miss Priddy

I AM letting go a little bit each day. My inner perfectionist, Miss Priddy, is standing down more and more. Is it possible to be a perfectionist and creative at the same time? My astrological sign is Gemini…astrologers claim I have polar opposite qualities. I’m a free spirit and a control freak. Geez, I’m a walking oxymoron. Messes with my head sometimes.

Being a creative person doesn’t have to mean disorganized and unproductive.

This is the ideal I am striving toward. But the ideal has changed. Miss Priddy will have to take a back seat. I finally gave up trying to have an “adult” home. Our large front room has morphed from a sitting area/dining room, to toy room/dining room, to full-on, unapologetic arts & crafts and music room. Music, thanks to my husband and his latest obsessions with guitars. More on that later.

I had an A-ha moment. I know how to fix this!

Get Rid of the STUFF!

  • Less stuff means less cleanup. So logical. So simple, right?
  • Less stuff means our house can be creative yet relaxed and stress-free.

In order to work on this post today, I gave my kids a simple craft project…paper finger puppets. But that wasn’t enough. They wanted to take it a step further. This is great! I encourage this! My daughter interrupted me and asked me for drapery hooks and fabric. I jumped up, went down the hall and found some old shower hooks in the bathroom. She said those wouldn’t work, so I asked what they were doing.

She reluctantly told me they wanted to make a puppet theatre to surprise me. Awesome! We figured out a solution, they dragged boxes in from the garage and started to make a plan.

Do you see the problem here? I had stopped working to find the materials they needed before I ever asked what they were making. I got caught up in their project and abandoned mine. I finally got rolling again, only to break again a few minutes later because someone had a craving for ice cream.

I’m fine with all this creativity, however, we could all be more effective with a few rules in place…

  1. Munchkins have to entertain themselves while I’m working.
  2. They need to be able to easily find the tools they need without my help.
  3. They put everything back when they’re done.

The Solution:

  • There needs to be a place for everything so they know where to look, they know where to put it back, and they can easily move on to another project if I’m still working.
  • That means I cannot get sucked into their creativity.
  • I need to let go of controlling the outcome of their work.
  • I have let them solve their own problems. 
  • With an organized space, they can do all of this!  

Set Your Goals

Start brainstorming. Now. Think about what affects you the most in your home. Where would you like to see the biggest change?

Write down your overarching, decluttering goals for the rest of 2020. Think big, not specific. I’ll talk about niching down in the next post. Think about what is REALISTIC for you and WRITE IT DOWN. You will be held accountable. There will be a test.


I strongly suggest you UNDERESTIMATE what you think you’re capable of.

If you’re like me, you are an overachiever and always overestimate what you can do in one day. PULL BACK. There will be lots of unexpected events in the next year.

Think about it. How many of us anticipated the Coronavirus school closings and lockdowns?

There is no failure here!

Overachievers feel like a failure when they don’t meet unrealistic, self-imposed expectations. We’re talking about decluttering. You can’t fail! Take your time if you need to. Make your goals achievable. If you meet or even surpass your goals, you will feel on top of the world!

My Big Decluttering Goals for the End of This Year, 2020

  1. Declutter the art room
  2. Declutter the laundry room
  3. Declutter the cabinets under the bathroom and kitchen sinks
  4. Declutter my daughters’ room and move her desk upstairs (before the new school year)
  5. Declutter my home office space
  6. Declutter my closet
  7. Learn piano online with my kids. (Because…why not?)

Done. It is written.

What’s left?

  • Kitchen
  • Kitchen pantry (which I dread)
  • Living room (so many bins with toys)
  • My son’s room
  • Kids’ books (this is a hard one for me…I love books and hang onto them for too long)
  • My books (ditto)
  • Garage
  • Outdoor furniture / toys on back patio (we desperately need a storage solution)

This is doable…for me. Setting realistic expectations will help you celebrate the little wins along the way. You may be able to do more or less than me. It’s your timeline. Look at your schedule, consider if you work a separate job outside of mommyhood, at home or outside of the home, how many kids you have, pets, etc. Look at other obligations, i.e., if you are a caregiver to others in your family, if you participate in clubs or groups, volunteer, etc.

Your list will most likely look different from mine. I don’t have a mudroom. I wish I did. I moved a few items out of my initial ‘goals’ list to make it more achievable for me. I’m taking the unpredictability of school closings into consideration. It’s hard to work right now. But that’s okay.

My connection with my kids is what is important.

That’s why I got up at 4:30 am to write this to you.

I strongly believe in the benefits of minimalism, but I have to be realistic. What works for most of the declutter gurus does not work for me. I’d like to do it like them, but I’m wired differently.

I’m talking about the real nitty-gritty of decluttering. My brain fires on hyperdrive most of the day. It’s quite exhausting. So, I’m going to follow a different, less pressured approach. I’m calling it…

Modified Minimalism

Not my house…yet!

Please join me on this journey. I’ll hold your hand if you’ll hold mine. 🌷

The Geek's Wife



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