Monday, March 15, 2010

Spring Cleaning and a Free Book

Spring is a sign of renewal so it's not surprising that we cling to the concept of spring cleaning, even though the messy coal-burning stoves that prompted the ritual are long gone from our homes. If you live in a climate where you have winter, those first days of warm sunshine still make you want to celebrate the season in a clean home. Those of us here in sunny SoCal don't experience a dramatic change of weather at this time of year, but I must have some kind of spring fever anyway because cleaning up is exactly what I want to do. My problem is what I call "The Final Layer of Clutter" and it's in my way; at least, it's in the way in my head.

I've spent the last several years sorting, tossing, donating and generally unburdening myself of a lot of possessions. And burdensome is exactly how they felt, even though some of those possessions were beautiful antiques I had inherited and had enjoyed living with, familiar things I grew up with that brought me fond memories, and lovely newer things I had acquired with great enthusiasm at the time of purchase. I don't know what flipped the switch in my head, but suddenly I wanted to feel liberated in a way that I couldn't if I was responsible for all that stuff.

The notion of responsibility for our possessions isn't hard to understand; we worked hard, and our families worked hard in the past, in order to have all the comforts and luxuries we enjoy. It doesn't take much introspection to generate feelings of gratitude for having these things and the sense of obligation to care for the stuff properly kicks in quickly, too. If we inherited things, whether valuable or not, that puts an extra layer of responsibility on us. But the notion of being the caretaker of the family history in the form of ownership of stuff can be perceived as a welcome privilege or an oppressive weight, or anything in between.

Because I don't have children who would inherit the family furniture, dishes, etc. (and, believe me, not every child is thrilled to inherit every item we each deem important), I had to make a decision about what to do with most of my sentimental stuff. Yes, I did keep some things that are particularly significant to me and that still bring me joy; for the rest, I opted for what I called my "pre-estate sale." This allowed me to be the one to make choices about where I wanted things to go. That did not necessarily make it easy to let go of these items because, even though I was well aware of how much I wanted to feel that sense of freedom, I didn't simply turn into an unsentimental person. Even now, I can still get a little twinge at times when I think of all that I parted with, but, fortunately, a moment of reflection puts me back in touch with the certain knowledge that I did the right thing.

However, The Final Layer of Clutter is not only a small amount of remaining sentimental stuff. In fact, much of it doesn't have any sentiment attached to it at all. But it does have that sense of obligation hanging over it: I know I should do something with it. Often the sense of obligation is totally misplaced, so I need to make sure I really do need to do something with these things and, if I do, I need to act on it. Do I need or truly want to organize and scan my family photographs? Yes. Do I need or truly want to keep a stash of old costume jewelry? No.

I think I had battle fatigue after letting go of so much truly important stuff and then making sure I reached my goal in last year's 365 Item Toss Challenge (I exceeded it!). And now I face The Final Layer. My solution? I'm preparing to celebrate one of my favorite holidays again: Discardia. I first heard of Discardia from blogger Jeri Dansky on her popular blog, Jeri's Organizing and Decluttering News and I've posted about it in the past (here and here). The short explanation of the holiday, according to its founder, Dina Sanders, is that Discardia is about "letting go of stuff and ideas that you don't need." It's celebrated between the Solstices & Equinoxes and their following new moons. The next Discardia begins on Saturday, March 20th, and ends on April 14th. Even though Discardia is strictly a no-pressure holiday, I'm going to use it to motivate me to do my best to deal with The Final Layer of Clutter during that time. I'm also going to make a major effort to unload some of the useless mental baggage that I cart around.

To help motivate you, I'm going to give away a copy of my book, Sorting It Out: One Disorganized Woman Solves the Problem of Too Much Stuff. All you have to do is leave a comment telling me what kind of spring cleaning and uncluttering you plan to do. Are you at the beginning of your uncluttering efforts or have you made lots of progress? Do you have sentimental stuff that's holding you back or are you simply swamped by everything? Do you already have your house in order and live the life of a thoughtful consumer? Whoever you are, please join the discussion. I'll use a random number generator to choose the winner (assuming more than one faithful reader responds!) and I'll announce the name in the comments of this post next Saturday, the 20th, day one of the spring Discardia celebration.

Let's see if we can make spring cleaning fun! Okay, that's probably too much to ask. Let's just make this a fun contest!

© 2010 Cynthia Friedlob
Photo by littlekata at stock.xchng


Sue Sorensen said...

Hi Cynthia, great post. I'm inspired to declutter, even though I just recently already downsized from a 3400 SF house to a 700 SF house. My initial idea of making the living room into a multipurpose office/sewing room hasn't worked out for me. When I get done working at my computer, I want to get out of that room to do something fun. So I'm going to move the sewing machine, fabric, etc. to my small guest bedroom. This will give me an open space in the office. And guess what? I'm not going to put anything new there, except some lovely house plants that I'm bringing from the old house this week. I'm also getting rid of the last of my stuff at the big house this week--probably 200 things will be going out the door to charity and an antique auction house.

Barbara Fuller said...

I am a strong believer in the psychological and emotional drain of possessions. I also believe in the destructive force of mental baggage. I do my "spring" cleaning in January. After the excesses of the holidays, I am ready to discard or donate items that no longer serve me, organize and reorganize, and clean everything. The mental baggage is harder for me. There are things I know I need to do, know how to do them, but am still unwilling to let go. Change is a process and I am working on it. There is a quote I love that relates to this subject, “Anything you cannot relinquish when it has outlived its usefulness, possesses you; and in this materialistic age, many of us are possessed by our possessions.” Mildred Lisette Norman

Cynthia Friedlob said...

Sue -- Very impressive! Good idea to move your sewing into another room so you have a change of location when you switch from work to fun. Great plan to add only house plants to the open space. It's so important for us to realize that not every square inch has to be filled to the brim with stuff.

Barbara -- Good system to let things go after the holidays. Makes a nice annual ritual to usher in the new year.

I've been surprised by how much the unloading of possessions helps the unloading of mental baggage, but it surely doesn't complete the process. I've been more surprised by how much I cling to certain thought patterns that are negative and useless, even though I'm intellectually aware that I should let them go. I once read an article that explained that repetitive thoughts dig "channels" into the brain by the firing of synapses over and over in a consistent pattern. Talk about digging yourself into a rut! That's why habitual behaviors and thought patterns can be so hard to shake: we're fighting physiological structuring. And yet, we can change, so it's worthwhile for us to keep working at it.

Thanks for the excellent quote!

C. Anita Nuñez said...

Hi Cynthia, Inspiring post! I plan to take part in a major yard sale in April, and I am prepping for this by tackling one "junk box" a week. I created my JB's after my recent move. I refused to bring my clutter into my new place and was feeling very overwhelmed. So, I gave myself permission to keep EVERYTHING, but in small boxes. I have sorting spaces in the living room and cards marked "Keep/sort" "donate" and "sell." (I also arm myself with a really big trash bag and a box for recycling.) "Keep" items tend to be stuff that needs to be taken to various places in the home. "Sell" items are quickly packed in a well marked box often with a price listing such as, "paperbacks 50 cents." My "donate" items tend to mostly be outgrown clothes, (and I don't just mean my son's unfortunately,) that I give to friends.
I would love to say that this has kept clutter from entering my new place but I still struggle. In fact, looking at my desk makes me wonder if I should be creating a new junk box!

Cynthia Friedlob said...

Anita -- What an organized way to keep your clutter under control after your move. Great system to unload it, too. I'm impressed that you've already marked your stuff to sell with price tags!

Moving can be pretty traumatic and sometimes you don't have the time or energy to do all the sorting and tossing before it's time to go. That's happened to me, too, and it's why I advocate living as lightly as you can so that future moves will be easier to handle. You can also trick yourself into lightening the load by simply imagining that you're going to have to move, or that you want to move somewhere lovely but won't be able to take more than the bare minimum of stuff with you. It's easy to imagine that it will be worth it; you'll want to furnish that tiny apartment in Paris with flea market finds!

Jo said...

Like Barbara I also "spring clean" in January. I start with the idea of ridding my house of all the boxes, packaging and wrapping and seem to just pick up speed from there. I end up doing a major declutter (including new gifts that just don't work for me) and then clean everything once the spaces are clear. I love the feeling of "downshifting" from the frenetic pace of the holiday season to the more Zen like calm of January. The cleaning I do then is an attempt to have my home reflect a more spacious mental state.

Cynthia Friedlob said...

Ah, the "spacious mental state." That's certainly a lovely frame of mind that we'd all like to achieve. Sounds like your plan is working for you, Jo. Well done!

Gillian said...

I recently went from a 40 sq ft storage locker to...none at all. And yes, I still have clutter, but the more I discard, the easier it gets...and I say this as someone who initially fought hard to keep everything! I love the idea of Discardia - there's a Twitter feed at @discardia.

Cynthia Friedlob said...

Nice job, Gillian! You've unloaded clutter and saved yourself the cost of renting storage space. And if the Twitter feed for Discardia helps keep you motivated, that's great. Keep up the good work!

Anna Bremmer said...

On reading the post about Discardia, I knew, that it was the new Holiday for me. I'm considering making an altar to the goddess Discardia: It will consist of a place in my house that has nothing on it. Think of it, an entire blank shelf, or table, or PART of a table, even.

I've decided to make an offering this spring Discardia of my Grandmother's dishes. My Grandmother passed away over 10 years ago. My mother brought me a box of her dishes 6 months ago when I was complaining that all my small bowls had been broken. I unwrapped my Grandmother's carefully collected china, and placed it in my cupboard. When I went to spoon up some cheesy mac for my toddler I made a discovery; I am pathologically unable to use my Grandmother's dishes.

My Grandmother was a perfectionist. She washed her dishes twice, once in hot and once in cold. I'm pretty sure she never washed the dishes that are now packed safely away in my closet, though, because I'm pretty sure they were never used.

My house is nothing like my Grandmother's. Dishes here get broken, left in the back yard, used for various pets. And while I know that my Grandmother's dishes aren't doing anyone any good sitting in my closet, I'm somehow unable to be the person who allowed them to get their first scratch.

So out they go, to someone who doesn't know my Grandmother, or care what happens to her dishes. Along with some old clothes that people gave my children that I happen to hate, and a printer that some very nice friends gave us but that I don't want.

Praise Discardia, the Goddess of Less Stuff In My House!

Cynthia Friedlob said...

Love your idea of an empty space "altar," Anna! I'm a big fan of empty spaces and hope to create more of them myself.

I had to smile at your story about your grandmother's dishes. Although my grandmother was not a perfectionist, I felt the same reluctance you did about being the one to scratch or break her beautiful possessions. She had amazing cranberry and clear glass water glasses (weighed a ton) that she used whenever we came to dinner and for holidays. When I was finally parting with many of her things, I took them to a consignment shop I liked. While I was unwrapping them on the counter for the owner to see, an older lady spotted them and fell in love immediately. They reminded her of glasses her family used to have. We had a pleasant conversation in which I explained their history and, sure enough, she bought them! I love happy endings.

Cynthia Friedlob said...

Hello, readers! My thanks to Sue, Barbara, Anita, Jo, Gillian and Anna for making comments to enter the free book contest. You all had interesting observations and insights to share.

To select the winner, each commentor was asssigned a number from one to six based on the order in which you commented. I used the number sequence generator at to come up with the winning number. (Here's the link showing the results:

And the winner is . . . (trumpet fanfare). . . Number Three! Anita, please get in touch with me to provide your mailing address so that I can mail your book to you.

Thanks again to all of you who participated in the contest and good luck working on your uncluttering projects!

Cynthia Friedlob said...

My sincere apologies to anyone who goes to the link I provided to see the winning sequence that had the number three at the top of the list. Apparently it generates a new number every time someone clicks on it. How frustrating! I was trying for transparency in my contest and it backfired. Guess you'll just have to trust me!

At least this gives me an opportunity to wish everyone a lovely spring and a very happy Discardia!

Lizzle said...

I am trying to throw away every item of clothing that I do not love. No more "this is okay" or "nothing really wrong with" items.

Cynthia Friedlob said...

Lizzle, I applaud your efforts! So many of us often make compromises in our wardrobes. Recently I've been reassessing my closet (again!)to let go of clothes that don't work for me, too.

You might be interested in an Amazon Short downloadable article I wrote called "How to Get Dressed Without Driving Yourself Crazy." It's available from Amazon for just forty-nine cents here:

The Amazon Shorts program is ending June 1st and after that the article will be made available to download for the Kindle. As soon as I can, I'll arrange for it to be available elsewhere, too.

Thanks for your comment and good luck!