Declutter or Organize?

You can’t organize clutter.  That’s a phrase for the year.  Before anything else, purging comes first.  And this year has been a year of purging, for sure!  By the end of the year, we’ll have let go some 1,500 items to donations, some 250 given away, and probably close to twice that many trashed.

I won’t be entirely done.  I’m working on this piecemeal, having to deal with major renovations (forced by deficiencies in our old house) as well as working on my business (which this, sadly, isn’t a part of!).

But once you declutter, once you’re down to what you consider to be “essential enough” (maybe you could let a little more go, but you’re approaching the tipping point of inconvenience, cost, unhappiness, etc.), it’s time to organize.

I’ve been working on the playroom, among other places.  The actual decluttering is very little of my work.  I have decluttered things belonging only to my toddler.  The older kids have made all the other clutter decisions for their belongings.  I would like to cut down on their things by about another 25-30%, but I still respect their decisions, even when it involves keeping things that I know they don’t play with.  But this is where we are.  So this is what we have left.

I know I don’t want to be the mother who felt justified in throwing out her child’s most prized possessions.  And more than cutting down on what’s in the house now, I want to teach my kids to value their space and their time at least as much as their stuff.  So it’s important to respect even the decisions I don’t agree with.  Doing anything less would, at most, get me a momentary victory at the cost of their trust and potentially their healthy relationship with objects later in life.  However soothing pictures of minimalist lifestyle houses with only one tiny box of toys might be–or, in extreme cases, only one or two toys total–it makes me seriously wonder how many of those children grow up to actually value minimal lifestyles by mid-adulthood and how many are already quietly developing a deep resentment of the ideology of their parents, despite what they say.

I have two pictures here for you.  One is of the post-declutter playroom.  The second is of the re-organized playroom.  The amount of stuff is each is about the same.  (Actually, there’s a bit more in the second shot because some items from other parts of the playroom joined the things in the cubbies as other things were purged.)

The entire room isn’t done.  (Remodeling, *sighs*.)  When it is, I’ll have complete photos of everything.  Right now, the full-room photos aren’t entirely coherent–and in fact, some of the things on top of the new cubbies aren’t even staying there!

What decluttering did:

  • It made the toys easy for the kids to clean up, so that a long clean up session was 15 minutes and an average one less than 10 at the end of the day.
  • It made more room for the toys the kids valued, so they spent less time pushing things they didn’t care about around to find what they did.
  • It made toys easy to find, updating the labels on the bins and removing those the kids didn’t want any longer.

Organizing the playroom

What re-organizing did:

  • It made the room more peaceful and beautiful.  While the other room was easy for them to clean, the amount of items on display stressed me out.
  • Because I was able to get bins that fit the cubbies perfectly (IKEA Kallax series, in case you’re wondering), I was also able to make much better use of the space.  (The smaller boxes are actually inside those larger boxes.)  We decluttered a few strategic items more, and I convinced my daughter to temporarily put two small boxes of toys she hasn’t touched in months in storage.  But very little was actually removed from the room from one shot to the other.  Still, there is less volume devoted to the toys, and that makes a big difference.

Organized playroom

The room is far from done (and in fact, that blue teddy bear has now been decluttered, too!), but with every step, it gets better for both them and for me.

Ava Lovejoy

Ava Lovejoy is a budding essentialist. After years of trying to keep too many plates in the air at once, she is doing more by choosing less. Central to the struggle is her genetic neuromuscular disease and a rare and severe sleep disorder, which add serious challenges to her life. An entrepreneur, a mother, and a teacher, she balances many roles and demands on her time.