First, Label Three Piles           

Spring, too long a rumor, has finally established itself in the Yampa Valley. Snow decorates only the highest peaks; birds reproduce willy-nilly; bare toes sally forth in sandals; and cleaning experts ruin our fun by telling us its time to de-clutter our homes.

The other day a professional organizer on TV offered the following helpful tips: We should get rid of junk mail the day it arrives, store extra toilet paper where it’s handy and throw away pens that no longer work. She also said clearing the clutter from our dinner tables would benefit us socially.

I suppose without her expert help we’d paste junk mail in scrapbooks, put toilet paper under the coffee table and use defunct pens to stir our coffee. And I don’t know about your entertaining habits, but I almost never seat dinner guests among piles of unfolded laundry and unpaid bills.

While I dread housecleaning — moving dirt and dust about on a weekly basis — I enjoy sorting and organizing. I feel virtuous as I recycle books, alphabetize spices and discard the plastic pitcher the hospital sent home as a souvenir of Joel’s shoulder surgery.

Most experts advocate sorting clutter into three piles: recycle, discard and keep. I recommend an additional group: give to loved ones. This category enlivens my family reunions; folks scatter, running like the ten-year-olds they once were, when I approach with my treasures: “Look, Barbara, my high school pompoms! Remember how I wouldn’t let you play with them? Well now you can.”

Professional organizers also tell us to make decisions without hesitation and to never second-guess ourselves. I disagree. I enjoy debating with myself while I sort: “This charred hot pad was my first 4-H project; I can’t abandon it. Maybe I could work it into a quilt.” “You never know; we might decide to eat fondue again. The pot stays.”

I also recommend a practice I adopted to prevent my clothes from bulging out of my closet like bread dough left to rise too long: when I buy a new article of clothing, I get rid of an old one. At first, I cheated: “Let’s see, I bought new jeans. Hmm. Well, I haven’t worn this mate-less sock in ages. Out it goes.”

So now I make myself choose something similar. Recently when I brought home a new fleece hoodie, I recycled the down jacket I made from an REI kit in 1977, burned a hole in ten years later while camping and haven’t worn since.

Another strategy I propose: don’t involve the man in your life. One look at his collection of ball caps should tell you why not. Too often, as soon as I discard something and it’s irretrievably gone, Joel needs it. When we combined our households in 1996, I threw away the multitude of coffee-stained styrofoam cups he had dragged home from every meeting he attended since 1990. Twenty-two years later, he still asks for them.

Sometimes I get discouraged. Recently, I worked hard to clean and organize my kitchen cupboards. A month later, I’d crammed everything into the handiest spaces again. Perhaps a niece of mine has the best method for de-cluttering: pursue a lucrative career and hire an expert to sort and organize for you. An added bonus: you’ll be certain your toilet paper is in a handy place.

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54 thoughts on “First, Label Three Piles           

  1. Oh my God, I think we must be related. Somewhere way back in our family trees, we must share a common ancestor. Definitely on the female side. My “pile” accompanies neon visits to Massachusetts for my sisters and nieces to claim. And they DO. In fact, we sometimes have a contest–usually a quiz of my devising– and whoever gets the most points gets to pick first.
    I too follow the “I ordered a new shirt, one old one must go” rule. That’s exactly what I was doing this morning, before I read your post!

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    • That’s too funny, Shelley; I agree a gene from a common ancestor must lurk in us. I hadn’t thought of making my give-aways a contest with the winner going first. It sounds like great fun, though in my case, with the sorts of things I offer, it might work better if the losers each HAD to take something.

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  2. Living in a condo doesn’t allow for much collecting of unnecessary “stuff”, though our storage room is full, I mean really, really full. Someday I’ll have to tackle that.

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    • Thank you for stopping by my blog and taking the time to comment, Candice. I’ll visit your blog soon. I’ve often thought moving into a condo, which would require me to get rid of a lot of my precious stuff would be very liberating; but I’d probably have to forego a storage shed!

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  3. Your timing is great. I spent yesterday “Spring cleaning” boxes that were in the attic. At first I took snapshots and sent them to the kids asking, “Do you want this?” “How about that?” Finally, they relented and said….”Just give us everything from our childhood and we’ll sort it out ourselves.” (Bonus points!) 🌟✨💫

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  4. Great post! Gives me even more ideas. I do it backward. I decide what I am going to keep based on three things: 1) is it an heirloom? 2) will I use it now or in the near future; 3) does having it around make me happy, even thought I don’t use it much? If all three answer are “no,” I recycle it to good will or gift it to family. I like the simple life, but it sure does take constant work to declutter and keep simple.

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    • I agree it takes work to keep things simple; but I love how I feel after I make the effort and say good-by to stuff I once thought essential or precious. I like your three questions, particularly the third. There are things I keep for no other reason than it makes me happy to know I have them.

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  5. It’s agreed, our kids don’t want our stuff. Sometimes an object acquires a certain value, just for the mere virtue of being old. Just as an example, we have a great, lumbering glass pitcher, which is so thick and heavy it can hardly be lifted. But every so often, during one of our ‘purges’, we take it out of the cupboard where it resides (taking up an inordinate amount of space) and say, “Maybe it’s time we let this go”. But no, back on the shelf it goes…seems it’s just “too old” to give away!

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    • Oh, Diane, I play that same game with some Roseville pottery that my mother, when she was young, gave to her mother, my grandmother, who treasured it until her death. When grandma died, my mother gave it to me. It’s not a color I’d choose and serves no practical purpose, but it’s old, my mother liked it and chose it for her mother and my grandmother liked it and kept it. How could I not keep it?

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  6. Oh the joy of spring cleaning. Where does all the stuff come from? Books are the hardest. How can you part with all the crumbling stories of your childhood? Ad do your grandchildren really want to read the tales of Little Prudy? I DID clear out most of my clothes a year ago, but somehow they have been replaced and some are ready to leave already. There is no end to it.

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    • It is unending, but think where we’d be if we didn’t periodically tackle our stuff and make some decisions. One thing that motivates me to declutter is not wanting my heirs to have to go through stuff that is meaningless and unusable to them. The books are hard. I hang on to my collection of Louisa May Alcott books and the Mother West Wind stories my grandmother gave me thinking someday a grandchild will be interested, but I know I’m dreaming.

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  7. I have a small house with limited storage. That’s a great way to fight clutter. Summer before last I worked hard to get rid of stuff I shouldn’t even have moved here. Crazy. I found it really easy to throw stuff away — a lot easier than I imagined. I have no kids to leave things to, and that was part of my strategy. Someone will have to clean out this stuff and maybe they won’t even ever have known me, so one of my questions was, “Would I want a stranger to find this?” I found some wonderful small ephemeral treasures, to. ❤

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  8. Janet, you amaze me. How do you manage to write something so adorable and funny, and yet so right? Thanks for another happy moment. I am a natural declutterer by the way, but I also enjoy dithering. Maybe that’s because I know that now and then an irresistible urge sweeps over me and look! another bag is stuffed for the Salvation Army.

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  9. Oh I love this! We have started “de-cluttering” our home as I hope to retire in a couple of years. We have already decided that we will be moving south as neither of us like the winter. We go through the same process every time…we start with the closet. I go through his clothes and attempt to get rid of the 1970’s suits….only to find them back in the closet again once I have left the room for another bag. Hmmm. When I am at work (he is retired), he goes through my craft stash…a big NoNo! I of course can’t part with the things he thinks are not useful. Yes, they are back again in my tubs of “Don’t pitch” items. I have slimmed down my closet…when I put something new in, I take something old out…but only because I am out of hangers. LOL! As for that junk mail, well, once a week I go through the junk mail, usually on Sundays….my sister’s family comes to dinner most Sundays. So much for de-cluttering! I think we all have our own systems…ones that work for only us. 🙂

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    • I enjoyed this amusing comment, Nancee, especially the way you and your husband undermine one another’s downsizing efforts. I also use the hanger strategy. I used to just buy more, but now when I’m down to one hanger, I go on a clean-the-closet binge. I agree that a we all have our own systems, but since reading my readers’ responses, I have a few more strategies to add to my repertoire.

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  10. I wish I could get into a habit of cleaning, everytime I decide to clean my house. I tell myself that I’m done for the foreseeable future. Needless to say, the mess comes right back.

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    • You’re a stronger person that I, lbeth. I don’t think I’m yet ready to get rid of two items for every new one. Of course my need is no longer as great, because I don’t buy nearly as many clothes as I did when working.

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  11. Oh this made me laugh. I too made one of those down parka kits in 1975. Mine turned out so poorly I junked it within a couple of years. And my husband is a contractor/ hoarder who might need something some day so he keeps it all. Is it fair that I downsize my stuff while he keeps all his. No. It isn’t. Sigh… have you ever thrown out any baseball caps?

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  12. And you made me laugh! I’ve never tossed a baseball cap. They seem so important to Joel. I do resort to nudges: Don’t you think that cap’s seen better days? You’re running out of room; where will you hang that hat if you buy it? He doesn’t seem to notice.

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  13. Paperwork is my worst. Writing group material that I may need on that fabled One Day, should I ever start another Writers’ Group. Not to overlook ‘official’ paperwork – we’re supposed to keep it for 7 years, so my efficient daughter informs me. I’ve got boxes of the stuff.

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    • My husband takes care of all our official paperwork; I appreciate him doing so and ignore his boxes of stuff. But, like you, I still have materials from workshops I did years ago in case I ever do one again. Each time I examine it and decide not to toss it, my cynical side says, “Right, some day you’ll do another workshop like someday you’ll participate in another 5K race.

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  14. So very much to love about this, your way with words, especially. Toes sallying forth! The Styrofoam cup collection–goodness! Your posts are always a treat. And for reals about the expert advice re: junk mail, t.p., and pens. Like, duh! Your response to that was priceless.

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  15. I am fixating on is your REI down jacket; I can’t decide which I am more impressed by: the fact that you assembled it yourself, or that you kept it for so long despite the hole!

    Seriously though, I live with 3 Pack Rats. When the girls were younger, I could at least surreptitiously through out things. But no longer. And as with yours, the Man cannot throw out stuff. My solution: become more zen with mess.

    I love the idea of your 4th Pile: I think when I am next overcome with energy to tidy up my craft corner, I will execute see what I can bestow on a loved one (who does not live with me!).

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    • It was so much work to make it — picture me mishandling tubes of flighty down feathers — that i couldn’t bear to toss it out. I’ve also had to become more zen with Joel’s little piles of important stuff that accumulate in the oddest places. As for the 4th pile, I have one ready to take to the next family reunion!

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  16. Oh Auntie the wise- I love to live spare, so a case of toilet paper given as a birthday gift is my coffee table. I nick T.P. from Starbucks. (they leave it out). Godfrey’s old plaid trunk is T.V. stand, picnic cooler chest of drawers. I dislike clutter. My old neighbor came near to divorce when she had her husbands transmission collection hauled away .. the row was terrible…Ma was a pack-rat, the 1930’s survivor type. Chat soon, must tidy up!

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    • I like the idea of you bustling about tidying up, though I like better the idea of you writing the next installment of Godfrey’s story or sitting in an easy chair with your feet up on your coffee table of toilet paper, planning the next installment. i think a transmission collection is grounds for a barn-burning row and both might make a good story for your blog.

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      • The #50 bus stop never disapoints, and yesterday morning, there sat a large, red covered book. I did not want to investigate, but of course I did- it was someones life work- “Closets and How To Organize Them”. This is a true #50 bus story.

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  17. Joel sounds just like my husband. In addition to the baseball caps, he has shirts he hasn’t worn for years cluttering our walk-in closet on his side. In fact, he stores his out-of-season shirts on my side.

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  18. Love it! Decluttering brings with it such a wonderful feeling because it happens so infrequently in our house! Certainly something to strive to do especially as we get older. Chris and I are both hoarders, though I do try not to hang onto everything. Agree about keeping the toilet paper handy! ❤ Thank you Janet!

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    • i agree that decluttering rarely increases the glow of accomplishment when it happens. If done weekly, it begins to seem commonplace rather than a special act requiring courage and skill.

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