De-Cluttering Time

elizname2smallIt’s all Oprah’s fault.  Or maybe just a bit my fault because I was watching her show when I should’ve been writing.  Anyway, she had this guest who was an expert on de-cluttering.  He was knocking on people’s apartment doors, offering to de-clutter their messiest spot in ten minutes.  Most of the occupants wouldn’t let him in.  Can’t say I blamed them.  Who wants their junk on national TV?  For the few who did open their doors, not only did they get to be on Oprah, but they got mini makeovers of their cupboards, closets, bathrooms, nooks, you name it.  All the guy did was empty the area, toss out everything the people said they didn’t need, and put the rest back in a way that looked nice.  It was amazing.  And it started me thinking…Hey, I could do that.  I SHOULD do that.  I WILL do that. 

Now, I’m not a messy person by nature.  You could walk in my small house about anytime and it wouldn’t look too bad.  I have my personal clutter—shoes, cat toys, houseplants, CD’s etc.  Mostly it’s under control.  But one thing isn’t under control—BOOKS. 

clutter-shelf

Like most writers, I have hundreds of books.  They fill the shelf in my office and the shelves on either side of the fireplace and the entire wall of shelves I had built in my downstairs TV room.  And they just keep multiplying, like the tribbles in that old Star Trek episode.  Encyclopedias, Time-Life sets, a zillion paperback novels, my own books, travel books, kid books, history books, how-to books, books that were my parents’, books that were gifts, the list goes on and on.   With no more shelf space, they sit on my night stand, on my desk, under my desk, in baskets, in boxes, in the bathroom, almost everywhere I look.  

By the time the Oprah show was over I’d made up my mind.  It was de-cluttering time, and I knew exactly what had to go—that four-foot shelf of old National Geographics downstairs.  I mean, really old, like from the 1970’s and 80’s.  Throw them in the recycle bin, and I’d have room for more of the books cluttering up the house.  Squaring my shoulders, I marched downstairs with a box to carry the old magazines outside.  I had the best of intentions.  But I made one fatal mistake.  I started looking at them. 

What a treasure trove.  One 1975 issue had articles about Spain and Alaska.  One from 1975 had a long piece about gold, how it’s mined and processed and twelve pages of masterpieces crafted from the metal.  The others were equally wonderful.  And for a writer who does historicals, their age was actually a plus.  You guessed it, the National Geographics are still there.  And so are the books cluttering up my house. 

How about you?   Are you a clutter-bug or a minimalist?  Is there something that you just can’t throw away? 

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I'm an internationally published romance author, coming up on 40 novels and novellas. Most of my stories have been Westerns for Harlequin Historicals, but I set stories in other times and places as well. I'll also be writing contemporary stories for Harlequin Desire, with the first release in January 2013. You can learn more on my web site.

43 thoughts on “De-Cluttering Time”

  1. I have been working on de-cluttering my house for a while. Like you, books are the hardest thing to get rid of but I have donated a bunch to the library. The rest of the house I have been working on one room at a time and I have been surprised at the amount stuff that I have found that we don’t use anymore.

  2. I share a house with a friend. In that house we have our stuff (she’s a book lover, too–so you can just imagine…) Don’t even get me started on our stashes of quilting fabrics! And we have stuff from cleaning out my mom’s and her husband’s houses. And stuff from her kids and my bro and sis.

    Ahhhhhhhhhh!

    There ain’t a minimalist space in our house. 🙂

    It’s to the point of overwhelming. My first place of action is going to be a kitchen cupboard. It’s on my list for this weekend. Maybe I’ll be inspired!

  3. Good morning, Elizabeth! We could be sisters in our thinking. 🙂

    My project this week was cleaning out the coat closet. And this blue bin I’ve always kept near the back door filled with gloves, scarves and hats.

    In the 20 years that we’ve lived here, I’ve raised four daughters, and I still had every scarf and hat they ever owned. We’re pretty much empty nesters now, and the girls wouldn’t be caught dead in these things. They buy a new coat, they have to have new gloves and scarf to go with it, right? So I gritted my teeth and let the memories go, dumped everything in the washing machine, replaced a few buttons, mended a few little holes, and into the bags they went.

    Just this morning, Doug loaded up two big trash bags and a box of scarves, hats, gloves and coats. When he comes home from work, he’ll drop them off at a homeless shelter where, I hope, they’ll be appreciated–and worn.

    Now, if only I’d done this in the fall, when it wasn’t almost spring . . .

  4. Good luck with the kitchen cupboard, Lizzie. And the quilting fabrics sound too precious to get rid of. My grandmother saved EVERYTHING. I have a quilt she pieced, and every piece of fabric in it is a memory. What a treasure. Hope you make some beautiful quilts.

  5. Good for you, in donating the coats, Pam. Most clothes I can get rid of with no trouble because it gives me an excuse to buy new ones, and the old ones go to needy causes. Three cheers!

    Besides books, the other thing I can’t throw away is cardboard boxes. I always have a box when I need one, but what a mess!
    🙂

  6. Cardboard boxes, Elizabeth? ME, TOO!! LOL. I can’t hardly throw them away. I just never know when I need THAT size to mail one book or a half dozen. My favorites? The ones that come with lids and have finger holes to make them easier to carry.

    So glad I’m not the only one with a cardboard box fetish. Hee!

  7. De-cluttering? I do that once a year – tax time LOL! I clean out my income/expense files. Period.

    As for the bookshelf – it is still overflowing. I keep thinking I’ll start giving away some books on my blog but haven’t implemented the plan. IMW, they just keep piling up.

    As for the pain of getting rid of them, I understand completely – Once Upon A Time….we had a 6×6 bookshelf – loaded – overloaded.

    We got rid of everything including the shelf – hurt like hell (oops – heck) 😉

    Now I’m limited to 1 4×4 shelf – but as I said, it is overflowing and I have books by the bed and books by the computer….we’re hopeless.

    Maybe we should form ANOTHER group, Mary? Book-a-holics Anonoymous or Readers/Writers with Compulsive Book Disorder 😉

    PamT

  8. Elizabeth I share your pain. I got so many books I don’t know what to do. (Just like the old woman who lived in a shoe, thank goodness its books and children). See there is always a way to make yourself feel better.

  9. I’m the worst, Elizabeth.
    And books are my real stumbling block. I know I need to toss a bunch that I haven’t read in a while but I just keep not doing it.

    Tonight. I swear.

  10. I am a clutter-bug myself, and yes a lot of it is books. I have them stored in boxes and everywhere. The book shelf in my house is a catch all. It stays a mess. I also live in a small house so therefor it doesn’t take much for it to get clutter. I keep telling myself I will organize things one day, but it never happens.

  11. Last year I went on a real cleaning binge, we were empty nesters for the first time and I had three empty bedrooms that, somehow were just jammed with stuff…not EMPTY at all.

    I swear I through away…just ruthlessly BURNED the equivalent of a JC Penney’s story.

    When it was all done, the closets were still jammed but the rooms themselves were pretty clean.

    So, that’s still stupid. What is all that stuff?

    I need to go again. The rooms have a creeping messiness these days. Some of the closets have spilled out a bit. But where ever that binge came from last winter, I just cannot find it again. No ambition.

  12. Good Morning all, Can’t say that I am proud of my way of getting free of clutter, but moving three times in the past year has made me a believer in ‘mot needing all this stuff’ anymore. But, as you all know books are the hardest to find homes for. I have an overabundance of boxes of books. When I had my house I didn’t have enough book cases. Until I settle in one spot, I have to remember where my favorite ones are.

  13. Back again after laundry and ant-eradication (won’t go there). It seems we’re all book lovers–that probably has something to do with the reasons for visiting this site.

    Sherry, I loved your comparison with the Old Woman in the Shoe. And getting rid of books can be almost as hard as getting rid of children (plus they don’t grow up and leave on their own).

    And Mary, I know what you mean about stuff. We have so much clutter in our lives, it just takes over. Sometimes I look around and think, “I paid HOW much for all this? And how much of it don’t I need?

  14. Like you, Quilt Lady, I have a smallish house. It doesn’t take much to fill it up, but sometimes I manage. Judging from your cyber name, I’m guessing you have a lot of quilt stuff, much too precious to throw out.

    And you’ve got it right, Mary J. Moving is sometimes the only way to unclutter. Good luck on settling in one spot (if that’s truly what you want. Maybe, like Lee Marvin in Paint your Wagon, you were born under a wanderin’ star.
    🙂

  15. Hi Elizabeth,

    I saw Oprah’s show… she’s had several about decluttering. Some people are shoe horses, some are clothes, they just can’t throw anything away and it piles up.

    I don’t work in clutter. I can’t, so my office is neat, BUT I do have some drawers in the office that are beyond unorganized. My hubby, who is worse than I am, shakes his head and threatens to clean it up for me. My problem, I don’t have the time. Like you, once I go into that stuff, I’ll never come out! I have old fan letters, nope can’t throw those away. I have research material I won’t part with. I have magazines that one day I may use for research. I have online purchase receipts, and ticket info. Everything but the kitchen sink in this one big drawer. But I’m afraid it’s an all day project, so I leave it the way it is. Funny, but the rest of my office is organized. Don’t you think we’re allowed one messy drawer? 🙂

  16. Elizabeth, I watched that same episode. I was stunned at the difference getting rid of some stuff made. But, like you, I can’t bear to part with any of my books and that’s the messy part. How funny that you actually took them out but ended up carting them back! I think what you and I need is a bigger house and one whole room entirely for books. I love reading historicals where the houses have a library as nearly all English houses had a long time ago. Those people knew what to value and made a space for it.

    Loved your blog!

  17. If you’ve got it down to one messy drawer, Charlene, I salute you. My desk drawers are sort of designated–one for files, one for financial stuff, one for computer manuals, etc. But they are ALL messy! You are awesome.
    🙂

  18. Oh, wouldn’t that be heaven, Linda? A beautiful English library with so many shelves that you’d need one of those rolling ladders to get to them all. We can dream, can’t we?
    🙂

  19. Hi everybody! I am married to a slightly OC guy also influenced by years of life in a fire station where you just didn’t stand a chance if you were messy. So we’re very tidy around here except: my writing room. My turf! I am just one of those with horizontal files. Er piles. But it isn’t too bad.

    Oh, and he finally put in a attic ladder for me so at least I can keep our grown kids’ stuff out of sight.

    However, I started going through the attic and closets recently when I had to help go shovel out my mom’s old house when she moved into a retirement home. It was daunting and quite unpleasant to deal with 55 years of NOTHING ever being thrown away. Sheesh. Last closet to do is, what else, the writing room one.

    I love this post! I know I’m not alone 🙂

  20. I am laughing at you reading through those magazines and being unable to part with them, Elizabeth. I so get it! But what I do now is rip out the articles, put them in plastic sleeves in a binder and pitch the magazine.

    Unfortunately my binder collection is growing out of control.

    I am bad bad bad about saving stuff. But one of my yearly goals, for which I am accountable for — because my critique group and I go over our planners to share what we’ve done to reach our goals each week — is to declutter AT LEAST one area per week. If it’s a crazy busy week, then it at least has to be a drawer or a cabinet. Otherwise, a closet or storage boxes.

    It’s February and already I can walk into my storage room and find things because of all the stuff that has gone bye-bye. I sell valuable stuff on Craigs list and give a lot to the Goodwill. We have a historical home (the Fort Crook House) doing a fundraiser rummage sale in April, so I’ve been sending boxes there.

    I don’t keep as many books as I used to. It’s become easier to release those that aren’t keepers, and there are fewer and fewer keepers these days. Why is that? Last night I was desperate for a read to lose myself in and pulled out a book from my keeper shelf rather than a new one.

  21. Clutterbug reporting in & very evident if you were
    to get a look at our house! Daughter #2 has already told me “when you’re gone, I’m throwing it all away!” I cringe to think of all my beloved books being tossed away! I keep telling myself to select the things I most value, photograph albums, awards, autographed books, high school yearbooks, etc, and specify that they are to be left to all of my grandchildren!!

    Pat Cochran

  22. I hear you, Tanya. My mother did crafts, cute things for every imaginable holiday, and there were about 60 years worth. When we cleaned out my parents’ house we gave away crates of the stuff. You’re lucky to have an attic for family things you want to keep.

    And Cheryl, none of the above surprises me. You are the Goddess of Getting Things Done. Sometimes I think you must have a couple of secret clones to do all that you do. You blow me away, lady!!!
    🙂

  23. I am a pack rat. I can’t throw anything away! And especially not books. I probably have those same National Geographics lol. We stopped getting them ourselves thinking that would solve the problem but I have an uncle that gives us his now lol.

  24. Laughing with you, Jeanne. I haven’t taken NG for years, figure I can go to the library for the newer ones. But the old ones are irreplaceable. You can get back issues on cd, but people say the format is hard to read. Glad someone else can’t throw those magazines away.

  25. If I can afford it someday, I’ll get all NG magazines on CDs. CDs would take less space than even those few magazines I have.
    I don’t throw anything away, but because I don’t have too much space I try to sell or trade my stuff, including books. There are some that I keep, obviously, but all the rest I try to get rid off. Right now I’m REALLY trying to find someone who would buy the books I don’t want to keep. If I only could find someone who also likes to read them in English or Swedish.

  26. From what I’ve heard about the cd’s, Minna, the best use of them might be just to locate the article you want. To get a better look you could go to a library and find the actual magazine (some local libraries keep bound volumes of each year’s issues). Selling books you don’t need sounds like a good idea. Good luck in finding a buyer.

  27. I am definitely a pack-rat. I periodically go through things like papers,catalogs,and books, but they pile up so fast I can’t keep up. I never throw away books. I have a lot on my keeper shelf, and ones I don’t want anymore I donate to the library or other charities.

  28. I know what you mean, Cheryl. I pass the trash can on my way from the mailbox to the front door, and most of the junk mail goes in there. But the catalogs and other things still pile up.
    For what it’s worth, there’s a site called http://www.catalogchoice.org where you can go and cancel catalogs you don’t want. It takes a while, but it really does work.

  29. Ok–Here’s my comment to Cheryl C. again. Because I included a URL in my post, the message is “awaiting moderation” whatever that means. Anyway, here’s the censored version.
    🙂
    I know what you mean, Cheryl. I pass the trash can on my way from the mailbox to the front door, and most of the junk mail goes in there. But the catalogs and other things still pile up.
    For what it’s worth, there’s a site called catalogchoice where you can go and cancel catalogs you don’t want. It takes a while, but it really does work.

  30. LOL, Elizabeth–your mistake with those National Geographics was reading them before you tossed them. But I totally agree with you. I BOUGHT some 30-yr-old National Geo’s at a library sale last year because one had the Oregon trail in it and one had some stuff on Alaska. My office is an incredible mess right now. I’ve got three writing projects going at the same time, so there are 3 layers of research books and papers open on my desk at all times. The clutter makes perfect sense to me but it looks awful. The thing is, I need those things out to look at, not folded neatly inside a shelf! I did finally buy two more huge filing cabinets last year, so much of my loose paperwork is sorted.

    It’s hard to organize this stuff!

  31. I am a clutter-bug and most of mine is books. I have books everywhere. I don’t throw any of my books out, even though that was what my father-in-law wanted me to do. I keep all of my books, I only donate duplicates. I go through paperwork every once in awhile, when I have the time. Needless to say, I have piles of stuff sitting every where. I normally take out the articles that I want from magazines, which I file in a file cabinet, and throw out the magazine after that.

  32. LOL Kate. I have the Oregon Trail issue. It’s the best. I may have the Alaska issue, too.

    And when your wonderful books are out there to be read, nobody’s going to care how messy your office was.
    🙂

  33. Becky it seems we book junkies have lots of company, on this site at least. Welcome to the book clutter club.

    Thanks for the info, Cheryl. Didn’t know I was a moderator. Since I rewrote the comment I’ll probably just leave it, but next time I’ll know!

    And I envy your attic, Estella. What a nice thing to have.

  34. Welcome to the club, Abi. Great to hear from you.

    Pam T., your comment showed up in my email but for some reason I can’t find it here on the site. Maybe it’ll show up later. Anyway, I loved your suggestion about forming a Bookaholics Anonymous group. We could all join.
    🙂

  35. Guilty. I have more stuff than anyone could possibly need and can’t seem to part with any of it. I seem to just move piles around no matter how hard I try to sort things, the out pile is tiny. We moved into an old Victorian and began to gut it and renovate. We have been playing musical boxes and furniture for 16 years now. We had enough to furnish the house. Since then we have acquired my aunt’s things (a 3 bedroom house full) and my mother-in-laws things (most of another 3 bedroom house full). Much of it is family antiques. I hope once the house is finished I can really dig in and get rid of some things. And did I mention the books….30 bookcases full and about 40 boxes. I work at a library andthat doesn’t help.

  36. Wow, Patricia, I am just awestruck. I hope that Victorian house is big enough to hold everything. Victorians were known for having lots of “stuff” so maybe everything will work out. Thanks for the smile.
    🙂

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