Saturday, December 31, 2011

four tips for moving

We close on our new condo in exactly one month! But that means that we also have to move in one month. This is my ninth move in ten years (some local moves, some between states, and once internationally). I've only learned three things.

Pack one box each day in the month before you move. 

Declutter as you go.

Focus on getting rid of large items. 

Number your boxes and keep a brief list of what's in each box.

I'm still new to the idea of minimalism and I don't have time with my full-time job to fully de-clutter in the next month. This means that a lot of junk is still going to go with us. We have a lot of stuff to pack and move. I'd like to take a friend's sardonic suggestion to just burn it all but I don't think our neighbors would appreciate the bonfire!

That's why it's so important to pack one box a day when you move. Quite simply, it keeps you from going insane.

Moving does have one advantage: it forces you to take a look at everything you own TWICE. You have to pack everything and unpack everything so why not take the chance to rid yourself of anything that's not worth the work of packing?

Numbering boxes and keeping a short list of the contents will make life easier when you get to your destination. But don't waste time making a detailed list. "Kitchen stuff" or "bedsheets and towels" is enough to describe an entire box. You don't need to or have time to list out the 35 kitchen gadgets that went in the box.

Putting a priority on getting rid of the big stuff saves you time, money and space. You may not have time to go through every tiny trinket as you pack but you can take a piece of furniture you don't use to the thrift shop in a hurry. But your large items will be the hardest and most expensive to move. Make your furniture earn its keep!

Today we're getting rid of four large objects. Decluttered items 39, 40, 41, and 42 are an office chair, a DVD player, a CRT television and a TV stand.


The Reckoning!

Cost: All free! I found the chair in our apartment building's "free stuff" area in the basement a couple years back. The TV and stand once belonged to Josh's mom. The DVD player was a second-hand gift from a friend.

Why I decided to get rid of them: We have duplicates of all of these. Plus the TV has a huge green spot, and we want to become a one-TV houeshold (we're keeping the game consoles and DTV tuner though).

Fate: The chair went back into the "free" area in our apartment building. TV went to Best Buy for recycling and the DVD player and TV stand went to our favorite thrift shop.

Money lost on junk: Again, nothing this time. Total this year: $203.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Decluttering tip #7: Stop keeping gifts you don't like just becausethey were gifts

Everyone has gotten gifts they didn't like. Many of us have felt like we have to keep the gift simply because it was a gift, or because we're afraid we'll be "in trouble" if the gift-giver suddenly shows up at our home and inquires about the gift. Before you let yourself be fooled into this line of thinking like I have, ask yourself these questions:

Is the gift-giver likely to show up at your home? (and by this I mean, are they likely to show up frequently and in the near future, not 5 years from now?)

Are they likely to ask about the gift if they stop by? 

In many cases, the realistic answer is "probably not." Don't get caught up on the "probably." Get rid of the gift!

For many of us it's not that easy. We are concerned that Aunt Norma will show up and ask about that ugly, fragile cake plate she gifted you at your wedding or the florescent orange onesie she gave you for your newborn son.

A friend of mine had a great solution to this problem: take a picture of you using the object. Put junior in the hideous onesie, snap a photo and mail it off to Aunt Norma. Then give the onesie to goodwill. Aunt Norma feels loved and you don't have something in your house you hate. And in case she goes asking, you can always say that the object met an unfortunate fate at some point in time.

There are other gifts though that just sit around simply because they were gifts. I got this very pretty perfume bottle from my ex-aunt almost 20 years ago. I've never used it once. But I held on to it because it was a gift and because it was pretty.

How do you know if you should keep a gift? Ask yourself, Do you use it? Do you love it? Would you have bought it for yourself if you had the money to? Is it sturdy enough to be kept easily without special care? If the answers are a resounding no, no, and no, then be rid of it and your guilt.
Today's decluttered object is #38, a fancy perfume bottle. 

~The Reckoning~

Original Cost: Free, a gift.

What convinced me to get rid of it: I only liked it because it was purple (so no, I didn't love it), I would never have bought it for myself, I don't use it, and it's so fragile I'm perpetually afraid of breaking it.

Fate: Left it in the "free for the taking" area in the basement of our apartment building.

Total $ wasted on junk so far this year: $203.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Moving out of a hoarder's home: what does and doesn't work

I'm 28. I still haven't moved out of my parents' house.

In a way it didn't make sense before because I've moved eight times since 2001. And now that we're buying a condo I'm moving again! Yay! Argh.

Since we're staying put for a while it's time to grow up and empty out my old room. But my parents are hoarders, so this is easier said than done.

Exhibit A: their basement (there's a bar under there somewhere)

Exhibit B: Their offices

Alright, the living room isn't so bad:

But my own room needs help.

About half of that is my sister's and my mother's stuff. But that means the other half is mine. I was a hoarder too. Oh I want to cry.

How do you move out of a hoarder's home?

These strategies DON'T work:

Trying to throw things out.Your trash will be edited and you will find it right back where it started. Hoarders can't bear to see anything go to waste, particularly if it has meaning to the person it belonged to, even if it has no meaning to them. When I went home last spring I tried to purge a 55-gallon trash can's worth of primary school projects and souvenirs. I found about half of the items back in my bedroom the next time I returned. 

Removing everything all at once. The sudden substantial loss will be easily noticed by the hoarder. It will also add to their stress and make them more defensive. They'll work harder to keep the stuff around and this will make life harder for you.

Trying to tackle the clutter while the hoarder is around. They will notice what you're doing, and they will panic.

These strategies do work for me:

Pack up anything and everything and take it off the premises. Then dispose of it where the hoarders can't see you and where they won't find the items.

Get your friends and neighbors to help you. Quietly explain the problem to a few neighbors or friends that you trust. Ask them for a little space in their trash cans so you can discard the items you need to be rid of. They will likely be more than happy to help. The holidays are not a good time to try this though, as most of our neighbors weren't around and I didn't want to interrupt those who were.

Just keep swimming, just keep swimming!

What makes this all so frustrating is the amount of energy it takes. There's only so much we can fit into our car.  There are only so many times we drive up to Philly from DC each year. It's exhausting to have to do all of this just to throw things in the trash in another state. But as you'll see in the coming posts, I did get rid of some stuff and it's better than nothing!

Just remember -- you're moving OUT not in with a hoarder. It's hard to get the stuff out and keep your sanity. But leaving will keep you more sane than staying.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Just what I needed, 300 square feet more to fill with junk! (minus one book)

We don't need this book on homebuying anymore because we BOUGHT A CONDO!! Squee!

Item 37, one book on how to buy a home.

Unfortunately we now have 300 more square feet to potentially fill with junk. The 1200 square foot place was 2/3 the cost of the 900 square foot places we looked at. Strange.

The Reckoning!

Cost: free. It was a semi-permanent loan from our realtor last year.

Fate: We gave it back to her!

Amount of money spent on junk so far this year: I'm not even going to talk about the idea that I could be wasting money as I go off to sign papers for a mortgage that will bind me to bank for the next 15 years...


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Musing on going home for the a house of hoarders

i don't know who holds copyright on this. no infringement intended.

My parents are hoarders. My dad's mostly one of those "I can't bear to throw anything away because it it's wasteful" hoarders. His case is so mild that I'm not sure he's a hoarder so much as a compulsive saver. It's only one week of newspapers completely covering his half of the dining room table, not weeks of them, for example.

My mother does have an honest-to-gosh hoarding problem and is the one of the pair that I'm truly worried about. She struggles most with the emotional attachment to completely usesless/worthless objects and feeling too overwhelmed and ashamed to do anything about it (I doubt I'm helping with that one by writing this post. I'm sorry, mom.) She'll buy anything cute even if there isn't space for it. Stuff is love for her.

My parents have a basement that is the size of our entire apartment. It's filled up to my shoulders with boxes, laundry baskets, old furniture, piles of magazines, catalogs, books, videos, childhood games, you name it. It was the coolest room in the house during the many years we didn't have air conditioning. And it was completely unusable.

Their two in-home offices fit similar descriptions. Last time I opened the fridge there wasn't an inch of space. When I finally did locate the six bottles of salad dressing I was looking for, all of them were two years expired. I could go on but I think you get the point.

Understanding How We Cope With Hoarders

Dealing with the hoarders in your life seems to fit the pattern of the Kubler-Ross and Kessler's five stages of grief. I'm realizing that understanding where you are in the process makes a huge difference in how you choose to react when you return home to hoarders.  Where do you fit? Let's see where I am right now: 

  • denial. "No, my parents don't have a problem. It's normal that I was never allowed to have friends over as a kid because the house was a disaster, right?" Ah, the ignorance of my childhood and college years.

  • anger. This happened when I visited over the summer after the salad dressing incident when I didn't feel like I could even eat safely in my parents' house anymore.  I threw a fit and that puts it mildly. My mother was in tears. Not helpful.

  • bargaining. Funny, when I went home in November (first time home since the salad dressing blow-up), I came home and I could see the surfaces on the first floor of the house again. Huh? Apparently my begging and bargaining over the phone between these two visits had temporarily convinced my mother to try to clean up in order to please me (or to shut me up, take your pick). And it worked, until I realized that the junk had mostly moved to other parts of the house.

  • depression. This part I've been navigating with the help of a wonderful psychotherapist. Realizing that my mother is dragging herself into a deeper hole and that I'm not helping has been a struggle, especially since I've been dealing with my own self-destructive coping behavior. But my psychologist insists that I have to choose the next step to be happy when I go home.

  • acceptance. My mother is probably never going to stop being a hoarder. My father is no help. I've never gone home with this attitude before. But if I want to actually have a good time and not be stressed while I'm away from my home, I need to make this happen.

How can I accept that my parents are hoarders? My psychologist suggested mulling over these thoughts:

  • You can't change other people. 

  • Hoarders do not hoard to spite you or make you miserable.

  • Hoarding is a psychological coping mechanism.

  •  You have every right to carve out a physical and psychological space that is safe and comfortable for you.

  • You have done all you can for them already. They have made the choice not to get help and they have chosen to live with the consequences.

  • This is not your fault.

  • You are not your parents.

  • Parents aren't always right. 

  • You need to do what is best for you. Do what you need to do to take care of yourself.

  • Relax. And leave the house! Go have fun on your own.

We'll see what happens. I hope these strategies will make my holiday (and yours) a little easier. If you have a family member who is a hoarder, I'd love to hear your strategies for coping with a trip home for the holidays.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I have too much time on my hands! (items 33 and 34...two watches)

I procrastinated at work today by reading a few of those "you're old because nobody born after 2000 will grow up knowing what these items are" lists (floppy disks, anyone?)

Anybody surprised that watches are on some of these lists? We carry our cell phones everywhere with us. When we get to work we turn them off and turn on our computers...which also have the time at the bottom of the screen, just like TVs tuned to the news stations. Every office I'm in has a clock on the wall.

Better yet, now that I'm decluttering my life I'm discovering I have more free time. I don't need to know what time it is because I'm not rushing everywhere nearly as much as before.

I suppose they're an accessory (how many watches do most women own?) I do like to wear one because I like to think it gives the impression that I pay attention to time.

But do I really need THREE?

(It's actually worse than that. I'd gotten rid of the fourth a few months ago.) What's even sadder is that I bought one of them because I misplaced the first one for a while, then naturally, found it again.

If only I'd been more of a minimalist to start with, maybe I wouldn't have misplaced the one watch. Could've saved myself $55!

If you decide to get rid of your watches, don't just trash them. Try to find a watch repair shop. Family-owned ones like Ecker's in Bethesda are often happy to take the donations to resell or recycle the parts. Yay for supporting local businesses!

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="330" caption="Mr. Ecker's parrot is pretty cute too."]from[/caption]

~The Reckoning~

Original Cost: Purple one I got from the 'free box' at college. Goldtone one was $55!

What convinced me to get rid of them:  My “no duplicates allowed” rule. And both of them gave me rashes, so I guess they were bad for me!

Fate: Donated them to the watch repairman.

Total $ wasted on junk so far this year: $203.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Some days I'd rather throw my laundry in the trash than wash it (items 28-32: laundry-related stuff)

Clothes are often one of the biggest clutter problems women have. But did you ever think about how much stuff you have to take care of those clothes?

Let's see, what's involved in keeping clothes clean?

Hampers. Yesterday morning I found we had six of  these. Six! Gah!

Irons and Ironing Boards. We had two of each of these last month. My sister took one of each before I started this declutter challenge.

Cleaning products. 

  • Bottles of regular detergent: 2.

  • Stain sticks: 1.

  • Tubs of Oxy Clean: 1.

  • Bottles of specialty swimsuit cleaner: 1.

What other cleaning products for clothes do you have? How many of them do we really need?

Some of the hampers were the first to go. We picked kept the ones that fit best in a small space.


The swimsuit cleaner seems likely, but I swim every day in the summer. I'll keep it to use, but won't replace it when it's done.

I've also decided not to keep extras of cleaning items from now on. We live three blocks from a CVS. I don't need to keep a second bottle of detergent in case we run out. So I'm finishing off the detergent today and we'll have just one bottle.

Oh, and I had to throw in some laundry, of course! I officially hate all free promotional products now.

~The Reckoning~

3 hampers, 1 shirt, 1 spare bottle of detergent.

Original Cost: The hampers were Josh's. He did need them for the four years he lived alone, so I won't count the cost. The shirt was a freebie. The detergent was also used so I won't count that either.

What convinced me to get rid of them:  My "no duplicates allowed" rule. And the shirt didn't fit either one of us.

Fate: Hampers:  local thrift shop. Detergent: used it up. Shirt: thrift shop.

Total $ wasted on junk so far this year: $158.


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Old hobbies are like exes. Both belong in the same trash bin. (decluttering tip #6)

from's nothing quite like discovering a new hobby. The rush of a new experience, as powerful and enjoyable as a first date. You feel alive. It's love!

Then comes the commitment. You rush into the craft shop to buy the things that will keep this relationship going strong. You try new things together. It gives you a new sense of accomplishment. Didn't realize you could make this, or do this, did you?

But now you want more. Perhaps you're getting good at this hobby. But maybe you're realizing that it's starting not to have the hold on you that it once did. What once gave you a thrill seems to bore you now. What could fix this? Something new! A new tool, a new material. You'll fall in love all over again, right?

So you try again. You've introduced new and shiny things to the relationship but it's all starting to feel like baggage. The spark's gone. You're not in love anymore. It's over.

Yes, it's over. Admit it. Time for a break-up. Some things just can't be fixed. Move on and put your energy into other things.

Take a look in your cabinets and closets and see how many hobbies you've picked up over the years. My short list includes guitar, cello, indoor gardening, quilting, yoga, cycling, running, cross-stitch, latch-hook, cake baking, and cookingWhat do you know, I'm my very own parks and recreation department. Honestly, some of them I don't even do anymore but I still have the stuff. 

We can lie to ourselves that we will go back to those hobbies, but how realistic is that thought? It's okay to give up a hobby that you're not really enjoying or don't have time for. Would you have stuck around with a boyfriend or girlfriend who you felt just wasted your time? I did that for quite a while. What happened? I was miserable. I missed out on two years' of dating other people and enjoying the friends I had because I was afraid of losing the jerk I had. I learned that I deserved better. And soon after I finally got away from the ex, I had the time, the means, and the emotions for a good relationship. That's when I found my husband.

You deserve better than to be stuck with something you don't like because you think you'll want to go back! You deserve to get to spend more time with the hobbies you really love. You deserve to have the shelf space back to properly stack the things you need for the activities that give you the most pride and pleasure.

I've decided that I really want to work on studying guitar instead of cello, so most of the cello music should go. I want to sew instead of make latch-hook rugs, so I'll donate my latch-hook kit. My husband decided he doesn't want to do yoga anymore so I'll donate our spare yoga mat to the studio upstairs.

Pick your best hobbies and get rid of the rest, and all the junk that goes with them. You deserve nothing less!

(Oh, and you know what the best part of breaking up with an old hobby is? It will leave you alone once it's out of your sight, unlike the last jerk you dated. No sappy letters begging you to come back!)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

If I owned any more microwave ovens my apartment I could start my own nuclear plant (Item 27: One microwave)

What did we do in the days before microwave ovens?

At one time I knew. When I was 11 we had a small kitchen fire. For the nine months it took my parents to design and build the new kitchen we subsisted on an electric wok, a tabletop convection oven, and an outdoor weber kettle grill.

But we got by. It was strange at first. For exaple, the only way to cook pancakes was in the wok. After I while I forgot that flapjacks were supposed to be flat, not bowl-shaped. They still tasted good.

I've unfortunately come a long way away from this spartan kitchen experience. I managed to have two microwaves for a little while, one was a hand-me-down from friends when they moved away since they knew theirs would fit better on our small countertop. Both worked. Instead of immediately taking the huge old one to the thrift shop, I held on to it. Hoping I could sell it for some money. I think the only thing I sold was my patience.

How many things do you hold on to thinkking that you'll sell them? (This microwave isn't the only item that was awaiting a supposedly lucrative fate.) Why do we kid ourselves? I'm realizing that unless one is in dire straights financially, the frustration of having stuff around in hopes of selling it ultimately isnt' worth the money we'd make.

Is it? How long should we hold onto objects we're trying to sell before we get rid of them?

~The Reckoning~

Original Cost: $50. However, I was gifted a replacement. So this amount won't go into the Tally Of Wasted Money.

What convinced me to get rid of them:  I wanted my kitchen table back.

Fate: Gave it to the IT backup staff at work for their staff lounge. Someone told me their microwave died. These are the folks at our organization who staff the server rooms 24/7/365 (including snowstorms!) and I'm pretty sure they don't get paychecks that nearly reflect their devotion to our organization.  These folks deserve to be able to get a hot meal when their "dinner" break comes at 3 am.

Total $ wasted on junk so far this year: $158.


Phew. That's two square feet of space back! Quite a big deal when I only have 950 ft.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Last time I checked I wasn't an octopus (decluttered items #23, 24, 25, 26: four pairs of gloves)

I only have TWO arms. This means two hands. Yet somehow I have seven pairs of gloves to my name.

This is the perfect season to dive into your closet and start to figure out what winter ites you don't need and don't like. With the holidays around the corner, it's easy to find a local charity drop-box to donate warm clothes. Local homeless shelters and the Salvation Army are always in need. What's your favorite charity for winter clothes?

~The Reckoning~

Original Cost: $5. The cheapie set of three on the right I got at CVS in grad school. The big wool ones on the left were a gift.

What convinced me to get rid of them:  The CVS ones barely fit and I expect the wool ones would've been warm but they were too itchy for me.

Fate: Donated to our apartment building's warm clothes drive.

Total $ wasted on junk so far this year: $158.

Decluttering Tip #5: Your keys meant it when they said "do not duplicate."

Did you ever move into an apartment, get handed your keys, and read the "do not duplicate" statement stamped on them with a bit of frustration? (And then like me, did you run out to the hardware store and immediately get them copied?)

They keys were right. I'm realizing that keeping duplicates typically just wastes space and energy.

Last week I found that I owned 13 baking dishes. I can tell you that I also own seven pairs of gloves, over twenty pairs of shoes, over a dozen mugs, at least ten jackets, enough lipstick to wear a different color every day for more than two work get the point. Don't even ask about my handbag collection. Therefore, I must learn:

Don't keep something if you have another item that serves the same purpose. 

Don't take this as a rule, but instead as a guideline. Sometimes having two items isn't necessary but sure is nice. For example, my husband and I keep two vegetable peelers. Why? Because when we're peeling fruit to can, which happens several times each year, we're both peeling at the same time. Peeling 25 pounds of peaches is a lot more pleasant when you're not sharing a peeler.  But do I need four peelers like my mother has? No!

Same goes for shoes. I could live with one pair of black heels, but I have a nasty habit of breaking bones in my feet and my pants have been tailored to different shoe heights. So, I plan to whittle my way down to somewhere between two and five pairs of black dress shoes of different heights and styles. I own ten right now.

Go easy on yourself. Living more simply is not going to happen overnight and it will happen more slowly if you make yourself miserable in the process. Crash dieting only makes most people want to overindulge afterwards, right? So don't throw out all of your shoes at once. Or all of your DVDs. Do it one at a time. You'll get there eventually. Did you even notice the duplicates were gone?

(Occasionally there are some things that it is wise to keep duplicates of. Ironically, keys are one of these things. I do keep a spare house key key in a safe location in case I get locked out.  So far it's only happened twice. However, I'm not sure I need to keep keys to my old apartments anymore. Fortunately, I'm not the only one who has had to conquer that habit.)

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Lite Christmas List

I've been reading a lot of minimalism and decluttering blog posts about "just saying no" to Christmas gifts. Give other people donations of time. Have other people give you donations of experiences. Great idea, right? Not in my family.

Most of us who dare trying to downsize and declutter had lives with too much stuff, or still do.

Where exactly did we pick up this bad habit? You guessed it -- our families. The very people who will ignore you when you say, "oh, I don't need anything!" and may think you're being cheap when you give them an IOU for trip to the local park.

It's time for a compromise. The best way to end up with crap you don't want is to tell people that you don't want anything.The alternative is to find items and experiences that you want and KNOW you will use.

I call it the Lite Christmas List. (This also works for weddings, BTW. We tried it and I think we got half the gifts we would've gotten otherwise.) Here's how you do it:

1. You are going to go to and make a wish list. 

2. You are going to get the Amazon Universal Registry Button and add it to your browser. This button allows you to add items to your amazon wish list or registry from ANY page on the web.

3. Now go hunt the web for experiences, gift cards, and digital items. Here's what I asked for:

  • Concert tickets. I love Lady Antebellum!

  • A gift card to the restaurant that my coworkers and I go to each month.

  • A few e-books.

  • Charitable donations to Polar Bears International.

  • A gift membership to our CSA.

4. Then, you can go back and add stuff. Consumables and needed items only! Here were my choices:

  • Nut-free chocolates. A rare treat with my peanut allergy.

  • Canning jars. We use loads of these in the summer and fall.

  • A new cell phone wallet. My current one has been so loved that it's tearing and no repair I make seems to fix it.

  • A keyboard attachment my doctor wants me to get to help my tendonitis.Ah, the joys of being a web developer.

Check out my Amazon Lite Christmas List. Are you making one? Post it below and pass on the ideas!

For the other folks in your life -- ASK them what kinds of experiences or consumables they want! Asking people what they want really is the best way to avoid giving stuff they won't use (even if you're only giving consumables).

And it is possible to still keep your gifts a surprise! You don't have to be specific. Causally ask someone what their favorite candy is and make a big gift basket of it. Or find out what sports game they'd love to go to but have never been able to. Gift massages, spa trips, romantic dinners and weekend getaways. You can think of plenty more and I'd love to hear your suggestions for a "lite Christmas!"

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Thirteen Corningware baking dishes and a partridge in a pear tree (Item 22: One baking dish)

Once upon a time, I owned a single baking dish. This was it. It got me through grad school and my first year in my own apartment.

Then I discovered eBay.

Ah, the shiny website where I could get an unlimited supply of Corningware baking dishes that reminded my of my mother's. First I bought two tiny single-serving Corningware dishes with the pretty cornflower pattern. Then I found a set four of slightly larger ones. Then I upgraded to the harder stuff, and bought four large dishes.

Then I moved in with my husband, who owned two of his own.

We own THIRTEEN baking dishes. I think I could re-write The Twelve Days of Christmas to feature all of my cookware. Ugh.

~ The Reckoning ~

Original Cost: $20. However, I did initially buy this because I needed it. It was my only baking dish for years. So I will cheat on this item, and not include it in my final tally. However, the 10 other dishes will, if I can convince myself to get rid of them.  

What convinced me to get rid of them: I started with this one because it's one of the largest. And do I need this around to remind me of grad school? No! I have lots of photos that can do that.

Fate: Donated it to our local thrift shop, Wagging Tails Thrift Store, which donates its proceeds to the local Humane Society.

Total $ wasted on junk so far this year: $153.