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Culling Your Chaos

If there’s one thing I know, it’s how to de-clutter, organize and clean.

It’s not work to me, it’s a lifestyle. You, too, could train yourself to do it by having five kids and living in a tiny house that you are not allowed to leave. You either will drown in Happy Meal toys or you will take a shovel and send everything not nailed down flying out the door.

If you can’t see the forest for the trees, it’s time to buy a chainsaw.

Empty space is gorgeous.

It’s not empty at all.

It’s a literal and deliberate expansion of your horizons.

Procrastination is a popular and exhilarating way to do anything, which is why your resolutions list had on it, somewhere near to the bottom, “get organized”.

You couldn’t possibly.

It was on last year’s list too, right? How’d that work out for you? Do you know what the missing link is? That’s right. The trash man. Remember my little happy song to him last month? Not a coincidence.

I want you to stop putting stuff into boxes with cute little labels and sticking them away somewhere.

It’s time for some radical house therapy.

Every day for the next four weeks, take one drawer, one shelf, or one corner, and get rid of every single thing you don’t need, use or love to pieces. And I do mean passionately.

Set a timer for 15 minutes. Set a trashcan on your left. Set an empty trash bag for donations on your right. Take a deep breath, roll up your sleeves and push the start button.

Remove everything from the space. Momentarily enjoy the view. If you put nothing back at all, would this space feel nice? Think about it.

Now take each item and ask it the three questions.

You really only need and use one set of bowls. So keep the set that makes you happy and donate all the others.

Half of your tupperware is missing lids. They’ve been around the block a few times. Keep what you can actually use and toss everything else.

The sweater you kept because your mom gave it to you but it never fit quite right and you shoved in the back of your closet? You don’t love it and you won’t use it. Donate. Along with all the clothes that don’t fit you right now, even if you love them.

Because you can’t use them. So you don’t need them.

Only tackle a small enough space that when your timer goes off you can wrap it up and walk away. Everything landed back in the space or in the trash or the bag.

Take the trash out immediately to your large outside receptacle. Seal up the donations bag, put it in your car and drop it off the next time you pass a charity drop. Under no circumstances should you open either bag again, or leave it in the house.

And unless you are a very releasing family, never have a garage sale. Nothing plays with your head worse than a stranger offering a quarter for what you know you just paid $50 for.

Everything makes you feel a certain way. These feelings are what’s at the heart of your home. If that groovy purple velvet jacket fits you and you wear it and you love it, guess what? Every time you see it hanging in the closet, you will feel happy.

If your mother gave it to you and it fits but it’s not your style and you are uncomfortable every time you put it on, then it needs to go. You feel guilty every time you see it. You are donating a piece of laundry, not your mother or her love.

And now you are free of that negative feeling, too.

By the end of the month you should see a significant shift in the feel of your home and your head. You will be surrounded only by things that you handle regularly and bring you great joy.

You know that you are only committing to 15 or 20 minutes a day, tops.

Less things to clean and easier to find what you do have means you will redeem those minutes in hours of free time!

You might even be able to park in your garage again.


Yes, this is adorable.  But there will be chaos at playtime and tears at “clean your room” time.

How many toys do you need? One. At a time. Try it.

Published inLiving Larger


  1. John MacDougall

    Yeah, no, nice try, but ain’t gonna happen. Organizing advice from “throwers” about how “keepers” can change their lives fails to recognize that such changes in our lives are more than just a small change of habit. This would require an actual change in personality. It sounds great, and so simple, but it is waaaaay harder than that. This is like a thin person telling an overweight person how easy it is to lose weight and keep it off, in spite of the fact that hardly anyone does that. The hoarding gene is too powerful. Your system works great for people who are already inclined that way. Obsessive de-clutterers will love it, but they don’t need it. The people who need the advice are almost physically incapable of using it. But thanks for trying.

    • Jolie

      You are absolutely right! As I said, it’s a lifestyle born of deciding to swim instead of sink. There really was no middle ground. And it is only as easy as deciding to change one box (or bite for the overweight) at a time for the rest of your life. Everyone is making a choice every day about everything. Auto-pilot is easy, too. And also a choice. But if you were offered a million dollars to empty your house and start over (or you were going to die in a year if you didn’t lose weight) could you find a way to do it?

      • John MacDougall

        No, I don’t think it is at all a “lifestyle choice.” it’s not what we choose. It’s who we are. I doubt that decluttering it was just a “decision” on your part. I’m guessing it was more a compulsion. And no, hoarders (the extreme end of the “keeper” spectrum), sacrifice not only money but marriages, family, friends, and society to their compulsion. People who know their weight is killing them still can’t lose it, or they go on “BIggest Loser,,” lose it, and then gain it all back. To everyone else who doesn’t share the problem, it seems ridiculous, but it is just not that easy to change. You could literally offer a keeper a million dollars to empty their house, and they would simply not be able to do it. Or, they might be able to do it in a one-time, all-out uncharacteristic spasm, but they would then just go back to their old ways afterwards and the clutter would return. Cluttering and hoarding are incredibly difficult problems to solve. It is not a just lack of an organizational skill or teaching them how to deal with stuff. It is much, much deeper than that. It is very difficult for psychologists to treat, and success is unusual. Likewise though, extremely decluttery people also act out of compulsive behavior. It is just generally much less problematic, so there is no need to “treat” that behavior, but it is no less compulsive.

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