50, 365, whatever, just clear the clutter out

by | Mar 25, 2009 | housekeeping, Julie | 23 comments

Several people have asked me what I think of Gail Blanke’s new Throw Out 50 Things book. I actually read an article by Blanke in “Real Simple” about the benefits of getting rid of 50 things sometime in 2007, in the middle of my grand 365 Things Decluttering, so I wasn’t really surprised when her new book came out. Part of me does feel like, “But mine is 315 better!” but mostly I think that anything that helps me move the junk out is great.

I read an article by Blanke in “Body + Soul” on Sunday, and then went for a long run, and the article plus the run had me so inspired that I kept right on running upstairs (ok, I did stop to shower and change) with garbage bags in hand. All I could think about during my run were things in my closet and dresser that I wasn’t wearing. In about an hour, from an area about 4 square feet, I unloaded at least 60 things. Though, honestly, a lot of that was jewelry I was no longer wearing (lots of hippie stuff from high school — remember those anklets with bells on them, Sarah?). If I count all the jewelry as one “thing” then I probably got rid of 25 things. A bunch was also outgrown Zuzu clothes, but they’d been sitting in a pile in her closet, so I freed up a lot of space just by transferring that pile into the Goodwill bag.

The funny thing about “50 things” is that I can almost guarantee that 50 morphs into 100 into 200 before you even know it. As soon as you start decluttering, you feel buoyant and floating and as you watch the albatross fly away you start looking around your house for what else you can get rid of. The thing about clutter is that it weighs you down, physically and mentally. You know there are things you want to be doing with your life, and I’m willing to bet that dusting tchotchkes is not one of your life ambitions. Once you clear out the stuff, you suddenly have time to write that book, plant that garden, paint the dining room orange, or suddenly find out that you’re pregnant with a baby girl. Ok, that last one might only have happened to me, but I really do think that my massive decluttering was saying to the universe, “Ok, I made this space, what should I fill it with?” (answer: Zuzu).

If you’re anything like me, you can start almost anywhere in your house and find an area to clear. Stand somewhere in your house and look around. Do you see something you’ve been meaning to put in a different spot, or get rid of entirely? Do it! Do you see more? Get a bag, grab it all, move it out! (My next area to tackle is under the bathroom sink.)

Need more inspiration? Get Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui by Karen Kingston, a book which totally changed the way I look at Stuff. You can read an article in The Sentry and another in The Portland Press Herald about my own project. It’s impossible to be totally clutter free when you have kids; they bring in a crazy amount of stuff every day (the acorns, sticks, and rocks alone just about do me in). But you can seriously and constantly and regularly edit and get rid of all that crap that’s hiding in the closet of your house and therefore weighing on the closet of your mind (ok, I promise I’m going to stop being so new agey right this minute).


  1. Patrick

    I know you’re right…But my stuff…my stuff…

  2. Julie

    I know. I still hold on to such random stuff. But when I look around I also see a lot of crap that we don’t need to store, like bad-smelling body wash under the sink, or that odd poufy top that I wore last summer right after I had Zuzu. But I still have that big huge box of all my journals, and all my albums (even though we don’t have a record player set up right now). Do I need to keep all my “work” clothes? I’m thinking I do, so I have something to wear when I eventually get a job. But right now they take up a lot of space in my closet.

  3. Kate

    What’s amazing to me is the amount of “stuff” that you pack away for safe keeping (whatever that means) and then completely forget about. That “stuff” in my mind is just ripe for getting rid of and I’ve been a big fan of unloading stuff over the last few years. I periodically get a bee in my bonnet about decluttering and go to town. I can honestly say that there hasn’t been one item that I’ve regretted letting go of. Once it’s gone, it’s out of my mind and off my shoulders. I feel like I’m due for some more unloading – thanks for the project idea!

  4. Patrick

    I think what I need to do is have a notebook with me when i try and do this, and then write down the inane justifications I attempt to come up with for holding on to things.I might someday need my expired swim club card….What if I travel back in time, and simply must get a message to myself, but I’m at the swim club ? how will I get in ?

  5. Julie

    Kate, what I’ve learned is that if I’m putting stuff away because I don’t really know what to do with it, then I should probably get rid of it. Two major things I have in storage right now are art supplies (on hold for imaginary future day when I get some art studio space somewhere in the house) and photos (what do I do with them? I’d love to organize them into albums or scan them all or something, so they can actually be looked at, but who has time?).

    Patrick, sometimes it’s really helpful to have someone very blunt go through stuff with you. This especially works for clothes, but it’s also good for someone to say, “You doofus! Why the hell are you keeping an expired swim club card?”

  6. Christina

    So here’s my issue- and I’m curious if you’ve ever seen this addressed in a clutter book. I am good at cleaning out and deciding to get rid of things. But then I get all perfectionistic about how I am going to get rid of them. For example I have a huge pile of Nora’s clothes that I intend to take to a local consignment store. Some of them are very nice so I feel that I should try to get some money back for them rather than just take them to Goodwill. Or I have a pile of books- and I think “well friend A would love that one book- I should send it to her” And then of course I don’t get around to this. Eventually they do all usually make it to Goodwill. But in the meantime they’ve sat around as an even more egregious sort of clutter because they’re in a big pile on a chair in my bedroom or something. I need to just get over this and make sure I get rid of it the same day that I declutter- I’m just curious if any of the books you’ve read have addressed this.
    Oh I have to add something in regards to Kate’s comment about never regretting getting rid of anything. I once had a huge suitcase of clothes and shoes stolen from Erik’s car. I had no intention of getting rid of anything in that bag- I would have said that it was all stuff I loved. I was so upset when it happened. Well there are literally three items from that HUGE bag that I have ever missed- a beautiful Norwegian sweater (the bag was stolen in Phoenix which doesn’t even give me the comfort of thinking a homeless person might be using it), a pair of Naot sandals and a skirt. I couldn’t even remember the majority of what else was in there. It was a good lesson!

  7. emily

    Here’s the thing that makes this absolutely emotional, absolutely non-logical, entangled in the very worst bruisy parts of a psyche. Weight issues. I have serious problems with “this will be nice when it fits again”. I am facing it, throwing two pairs of pants and two skirts and a dress in the bag. but I am going to tell you: there are another 3 dresses, maybe 4, in there that I didn’t put in. because I loved them. and I paid big bucks for them. 2 are fancy. why keep them? talk me into throwing them, Jules.

  8. Sarah

    You do NOT still have those bell anklet things! I am coming up right now to run an intervention!

  9. Julie

    Christina, I think the problem is that you think you’re Done when you make the piles. But you’re not done until the stuff is gone. One thing I do is move them into the car, and then when I’m driving past Goodwill or the consignment shop I’m ready. I’m kind of bad about getting things together to give to people too (I still have those CDs to send to you, Em!), but after a week or two I get annoyed by having that thing on my list and just move it out. But I would say to definitely have it ready to go. If you have a book to give to someone, put it in a plastic bag and hang it somewhere (do you have coathooks by your door?) and then if you know you’re going to see that person you can just grab it on your way out. Sutswana and I do a regular magazine exchange, and I always have a plastic bag hanging that I just add more to.

  10. Julie

    Emily, I have issues with that as well. There are a LOT of clothes that hang there tauntingly, wondering when I’ll get back in proper shape (I do have to say that Jillian Michaels is helping a lot). One thing that helps me is trying the things on, because I can see if:
    a) my body shape has changed significantly enough that that thing won’t fit me properly again, ever.
    b) the article of clothing is actually more out of date than I remember. Sometimes things still look all happy and au courant on the hanger, but then when I put them on I remember that the neckline or sleeves were kind of 1999.

    One thing I do believe, firmly, is that if you move that stuff out of your closet, you are making ways (more than just the obvious, physical, way) for new things to come in. So move it out, make the space, and more flattering clothes will find their way into your life.

    And, more largely, if these clothes are in any way making you feel BAD, then good grief throw them in the bag right now. You deserve to have a closet full of clothes that make you feel happy and sassy, not lumpy and nostalgic. I think there can be a place for keeping a particularly fabulous item, perhaps as incentive, but really only one, and only because you love it and yearn to wear it, and when you look at it it still makes you happy. And having paid a lot for something is not at all a reason to keep it. I got rid of a bunch of jewelry that I bought at a time in my life when I had NO money and should not have been wantonly spending on earrings, and I realized on Sunday that looking at them made me feel kind of guilty. I am so glad to get that energy out of the house.

  11. Julie

    Sarah, I didn’t even know I still had the bell anklet thing! I had no trouble throwing that in the Goodwill bag.

  12. emily

    ok, I’ve done it. I have to admit, it does feel good. I won’t ever fit into those dresses, even if I get skinnier, because my boobs are just, well, post-nursing, different and bigger. I’m on the fence with 4 pairs of pants. but the breathing room in the closet, the sense that I like everything in it, and it likes me! well, THAT’s GREAT.

  13. Julie

    Hurray! I am feeling the huge sigh of relief all the way up here. This whole discussion has me wondering if I should pull out my work clothes and put them somewhere else entirely. Or should I start dressing up more for every day life? (Nah…)

  14. Kate

    Purge, purge, purge! I took a look at my work clothes some time ago and realized that by the time I return (if ever) my clothes would be so embarrassing and outdated that it wasn’t worth holding onto them. Skirts will most likely be the wrong cut and/or length, jackets will be cut differently, etc. etc. Things like twinsets and sweaters are worth holding onto but some stuff just can’t be rehabilitated. At least that’s the philosophy that I’m going with. Oh, and I just thought of some dresses I’d been holding onto and I think I’ll Goodwill them knowing that I most likely will never wear them again.

  15. Julie

    You know, I might be totally deluded, but I do think that most of my work stuff is classic and will hold up. It’s a lot of twinsets and a few very basic suits (which I feel like I need to keep so I have something to wear to an interview, someday). It might be worth trying some of this stuff on, though.

    I do have a bunch of fancy dresses that take up a lot of space, but I’m hesitant to get rid of them because they are also fairly basic (sheath dresses? is that what they’re called?) and someone might get married or have a Christmas party or something at some point, right? How many fancy dresses should one have, at this point in our lives?

  16. Patrick

    I can only speak for me, but i still have quite a few fancy dresses. 🙂

  17. emily

    two, according to lucky. 1 for warm and 1 for cold weather. but I love to shop for fancy – getting invited to a wedding the ultimate excuse for shopping: you HAVE to get something. which might explain my lack of basic T’s. because while I do indeed HAVE to get them, I don’t have to get them by, say, June 18th’s wedding day.

  18. Julie

    Patrick, now I’m picturing you in a little black dress getting all psyched up for a big event by listening to “Box of Rain.”

    I have way more than two. I think I have five. All of which are neither cold nor warm weather (sleeveless but call for stockings? what’s that? autumnal?).

    Funny, Emily, see if I were invited to a wedding and I didn’t have something to wear, I think I’d be all bothered. But I have no problem going into Old Navy for no particular reason, because I’m sure I’ll need “something.”

  19. emily

    I HAD 6 yesterday. but now I have two. but if anyone gets married this summer I’ll have 3, because, well, come on. but it will FIT. and it will not make me feel bad. I’m throwing more out tonight!

  20. Julie

    Yay Emily! I will sheepishly admit that I have lost my momentum. Maybe I will reread the Gail Blanke article that got me so fired up. I just gave Dave a haircut and the cabinet where the haircutting stuff resides is a mess of random plastic pitchers and water bottles. No good!

  21. Anne

    I took the day off and I’m making a big bag for Goodwill and a bag for my sister, who wears fancier clothes to work than I do and is my old, pre-pregnancy size.

    I also have that same wistful “it’ll fit me again one day” problem. But Julie has great advice … I’ve tried on a few things and it’s clear that my hips will never, ever allow me to wear some of this stuff again, ever.

    Julie, try on those twinsets. I’ve had to get rid of most of mine because (a) they feel out of date and (b) my post-baby hips now make the twinsets look completely frumpy. You might find that they’re candidates for the “OUT” pile.

    Another great inspiration for clearing out your closet is reading Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style. No, seriously. Tim Gunn rules. I did a major closet purge after reading that book. He also has helpful hints about what you *should* have in your closet. The short version is: only stuff that you love, that looks awesome on you. He helps you get to that point.

  22. Julie

    Ok, I’ve just interlibrary loaned Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style. It sounds like the kind of advice I need. I’ve thought about taking absolutely everything out of my closet and trying it on, but I’d need a full day to myself, I think, so this activity won’t occur until 2020.

  23. Christina

    You all have inspired me to clean out my jewelery box. It all goes into a box for dress up for Nora (see- it’s the getting it out of the house that is my problem!) but at least it’s off my dresser.
    I am going to check out Tim Gunn’s book too! You might also like looking at “The One Hundred” by Nina Garcia. It lists the 100 fashion items that “every woman should own”. Some of these are of course ridiculous (like a Hermes bag) but it did get me thinking about what clothes and accessories are classic versus trendy and what is worth it to invest in- or look for at Goodwill.


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