Spring cleaning can be totally overwhelming – but there’s a systematic way to go about it. The second Chapter of my book fEmpowerment: A Guide to Unleashing Your Inner Bond Girl (and the companion Playbook) has over 70 pages of more detail than I can go into here – but hopefully this article will give you a start!
First of all, you need to make a contract with yourself to go through every single drawer, cabinet, nook and cranny of your house, purse, office, etc. this month or next. (OH NO, says you! OH YES, says me!) It’s important to touch every single thing in your space, and be sure you love all of it. Block off chunks in your calendar for 30 days in a row. You probably won’t need all of them – but you need to block in that immovable time, just in case. I’ve outlined Calendaring in a previous post…and when I say “make a contract” I really mean print something out with a date on it, and sign it. Be accountable. (I’ve written about that here, too!)
As an aside, I’d like to share that I read an article that if you sort while listening to music that you can actually sing to, it will be easier and you’ll be more ruthless. Why? When I was in the Marine Corps, they taught us that in an “emotional” (read: frightening) situation, if you sing words to a tune, it keeps both hemispheres of the brain occupied, so you don’t have “room in your head” to be scared. If you just hum, you still have your left hemisphere coming up with “fearful words” for you – if you just speak, your right hemisphere will conjure up fearful pictures. My guess is that when doing sorting, it’s probably the same. Your emotions don’t kick in so much when you hit an item that you know you need to get rid of, but still feel tied to (example: A stained, ill-fitting blouse that you wore at a special event). So crank up some tunes, and sing, sing, sing!
If you have kids, and/or a partner, have them help out, and make it Fun. The goal here, remember, is to touch everything. Anything that hasn’t been used or loved in the last year goes in a pile on the floor. If you’re working with kids, this is a great way to teach them about Charity – reminding them how Wealthy they are, and how Wealth has nothing to do with what they have in their closets. Materialism in children is taught and encouraged, or at the very least allowed, by parents. It’s better to have one truly loved teddy bear than a bunch of beautiful but dust-gathering dolls, games, and as they grow up, shoes, T-shirts, and the like. (Did they learn that from you…?) If you teach your kids that their Wealth is their awesome selves, then maybe the house will be a little less cluttered, and your bank account a little less strapped. (Consign, consign, consign!) And the way to start is by you taking on this reality first, then expanding it to those you love.
It’s usually easiest to start in the kitchen or bathroom. There is always a bunch of stuff in cabinets that you bought but didn’t eat or use. Do you really want to put that in/on your (or your kids’) body? Get it all out of your cabinets and if an item is not open, it needs to go to a local shelter. Right now, shelters are in such tough straits… I recently took some foodstuffs in that were open, but they still took them gratefully. And when you re-stock, be SURE to either circle the “sell by” date, or put the date you purchased the item on it. (I keep laundry markers in my kitchen/bathroom for just this purpose.)
The same goes for herbs and spices, flour, condiments, vitamins, and cosmetics. Everything loses its vitality over a certain amount of time – and if the flour in your cupboard was from making a batch of brownies before you were married, it’s gotta go! Purchase things as you need them. A great way to do this is to snap a photo on your phone of a recipe’s ingredients list, then purchase just that amount of each ingredient from the bulk bins at your local store. As you likely know, Whole Foods has just about every herb and spice you could want in bulk.
Now, someone is sure to say, “But, we need to have 20 days’ worth of canned goods in case there is an earthquake/flood/what-have-you.” If that’s really why you have a pile of soup gathering dust in the back of your closet, I still ask you – when did you buy it? Do you really want to be eating something out of a can that you bought two years ago (and was probably canned way before that)? Eee-yew. Keeping enough for 20 days means cycling through that food. Remember – when you take all those random items to the shelter or charity, get a receipt – it’s deductible! (and ItsDeductible.com is a fabulous free place to keep track of all these items for next year’s taxes.)
If you are sorting through your cosmetics, be particularly aware that the “open life” is no more than three months. So if you have an unopened wand of mascara in there, it’s likely still good – if you have one you opened and only used once, not so much. Lotions are particularly susceptible to air. Once again, I date these items with a laundry marker to keep myself honest. Marin Abused Women’s Services takes all unused makeup, shampoo, samples and the like with great gratitude. (And while we’re at it, Humane Societies want old newspapers, veterinarians want old towels and sheets . . . there are lots of these tricks in my book J )
If there are items that you just don’t believe you can get rid of but don’t need “right now,” put them in a garbage bag and staple it closed, putting a date a year from today on it. If you haven’t opened it by then …pitch it without opening it! If you reach in and get one thing in that year, fine – but no fair re-dating the whole bag by virtue of using that one thing!
When you put things away, there are lots of tricks – too much to go into here. Like putting all the matching linens in your closet into one of the pillowcases, giving you “pillow packs” with all the matching linens together. Or turning the hangars around in your closet and re-hanging them “the right way” only after you’ve worn the item. This will make Spring Cleaning next year a snap. You won’t be able to lie to yourself about when you bought or whether you’ve used an item. It will all be dated, turned-around, or the like.
Sometimes it’s hard to get our men to do this adventure with us. Men often have “trophies” of “bygone days” in the house. You may, too. Do you have books that you read in college, trophies from sports you don’t play any more, photographs that you don’t really see? In general, this is “indirect bragging.” Do you have books in your bookshelf so that people will look at them and say “ohhh, loooook, she is so smart.” I had a friend who had a number up on her fridge, for a race that she actually did not run! It’s tough, but if you’ve got this as part of your clutter makeup, it’s time to stop living in the past, and start living in the present instead. (And stop the bragging – it’s unbecoming.) While you’ll hopefully have luck enlisting your family in this project, remember – you’re not doing it for them. That will just lead to all sorts of drama!
I’ll just leave you with one example of how to get the right mindset to get this done. Let’s pretend that your honey came up to you and says, “Hey gorgeous woman, light of my life, I want to pack all our stuff up, and move to Buenos Aires for six months. [Or Paris, or Cinqueterre, or New York, or…] We just need to bring our essentials, then pack up what we want to get back into when we come home.” Take a breath, and imagine this. (And while you’re at it, listen to any excuses that your inner Fear-Thrower comes up with and shoot them down: It’s going to be fine with your kids’ soccer coach, your boss, your mom, or whomever else.)
The point of this exercise? Storage is expensive – as is shipping your stuff off to Argentina. So you have to divide up all your things with that in mind. First, pack the stuff you can’t live without for six months. Remember though – you are going to a fully-furnished house. Next, pack up everything you’re going to put into storage because you won’t need it for six months, but you’ll definitely not be able to live without it when you get back. Then, get rid of the rest.
Okie dokie, so now imagine you’re in Argentina doing the tango with your honey, and you find out that the storage unit was hit by an earthquake, and only half of your stuff survived. What are you super hopeful made it?
You see what I’m getting at. If you envision this exercise, and start going through your house this way, you’ll find stuff that wouldn’t have even made it to the storage unit. Clothes that aren’t fashionable/are stained/don’t fit; pictures you never look at; books you’ve read; toys your kids have outgrown. After that comes stuff you want to keep (so it went to the storage unit), but it really isn’t irreplaceable or necessary. Books you loved and want to re-read “some day”; furniture; ribbons from races; old toys; pots and pans. You didn’t want to pitch it, but in the end, it’s OK that it’s gone (though a little painful). Next there is stuff that actually is irreplaceable – the stuff you hope the earthquake left. Scrapbooks; your grandmother’s silver; a particular drawing by your child; a favorite sculpture.
And remember, you have with you what you believed to be Necessary for six months. Perhaps your grandmother’s antique brooch and her recipe for butterbeans; clothes you love; toys your kids love and play with…you get the picture.
You know what I’m going to say now, right? You have to be ruthless about anything that’s not irreplaceable or necessary/loved. I know it’s painful, but everything else is either silent bragging or extra dusting. Granted, things like pots and pans and furniture are necessary – but how necessary? Do you really only use two pots and one pan? Why do you have 20 then?
And if you have things someone else would love – give them away! It’s a huge charge to do this. Either physically give a friend something she’s admired, or do what my husband and I have done – we have a big “gift bookshelf” in our atrium with things we love to see but ultimately want to part with. People are shocked when we make them “take something with them” when they leave. If something means too much to you to go to a nameless recipient at a charity – then give it to a recipient with a name, instead!
Everything in your space should be at its “highest and best use.” For example, if you have an antique violin that no one plays and is in good shape, what about donating it to an orchestra, then going to hear it? If you have something you ”can’t” get rid of because it was given to you, offer it back. The funniest part of this is that often the giver doesn’t want it either – but that allows you to move it along to its “next best use” without feeling guilty! It only gets harder with time – I had birthday cards from my grandfather in a box – just a card with his signature – and it was a lot harder to throw them away because he has passed on than to throw out birthday cards I received from friends this year. You don’t want this to be the situation with the “monstrosity” armoire that you and your husband haven’t “figured out” how to give back to your mother! Just do it. Once she’s gone, it will be next to impossible.
My Dad once said to me that you can’t fill your glass with champagne if there’s beer in there. Spring cleaning is the time to pour the beer out, clean the glass… and allow the “stuck” energy from items that are just taking up space circulate to their next best use, leaving room for new, fabulous energy!