Category Archives: downsizing and de-cluttering

Downsizing: lightening the load

ombre heartAfter years of joyous shopping and mindless accumulation, I gradually came to realize I had too much Stuff. Moving was a nightmare and space an un-winnable challenge. I organized and re-organized without realizing the problem was not organizational. Spaces became larger (and more expensive) just to accommodate the amount of stuff I was accumulating. I looked back longingly to the days when everything fit into a single backpack. I no longer owned my things, my things owned me. I had reached critical mass.

Recognition of the problem and the decision to downsize were the first steps in a very long journey. Here is what I’m learning along the way:

Tastes change and evolve. Minimizing becomes addictive just because it feels and looks so good. It’s no longer about quantity; it’s about authenticity, simplicity and quality of living. Minimalism and wabi-sabi become the new mantra.  

Downsizing for staging is different than downsizing because you have too much stuff. Downsizing for staging is a transitory state for the purpose of emphasizing the house; possessions go into storage and come back out when needed. Downsizing because you have too much stuff is permanently letting go, of freeing yourself of the burden of too many useless possessions.

As good as it feels, downsizing is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done…am doing…will ever do.

Downsizing is an on-going process kind of like a boxing match. Some rounds I win…some rounds I draw…some rounds I get KO’d.

Downsizing happens in layers and downsizing never seems to end; sort of like the Hydra, when you cut-off one head, two more spring into place.

Downsizing is a bit like a fungus; it starts in a problem area: a bookcase, a collection, a drawer, and spreads rapidly to all areas, of not just the home, but the office, the car, the yard…your life…

Downsizing can be a spiritual journey, a letting go of what you don’t need and a better appreciation of what is important and authentic. Downsizing is liberating; a lightening of the load as you let go of unneeded and heavy baggage.

Downsizing is another way to prioritize, focus, define, and refine who you are, what you love, and what’s most important to you.

After letting go of things that are not needed and not used, it’s difficult to even remember what was let go of.

The house is now easier to clean, stays clean longer, and looks clean even when it isn’t.

 Downsizing ultimately becomes a state of mind.


Downsizing: hardcopy junkies solution # 2

The second option for hardcopy junkies is similar to binders:notebooks 032 hard-cover spiral notebooks, which are a bit more expensive and harder to find but are great for stray items that don’t warrant an entire binder. I have four notebooks and they have become some of my favorite possessions.

The notbooks are crammed with things that intrigue and fascinate, entertain and inform: everything from National Geographic images 

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a place to display those wonderful National Geographic images we all love

to humorous cartoons and anecdotes to favorite poems, quotes, and lyrics. While I’ve managed to group some similar items together most of the information is more or less jumbled together. notebooks 036There are no indexes or table of contents but it’s partly what gives the books their charm: the incongruous juxtaposition of the Forbidden City beside quantum physics, followed by Tsar Nicholas II, partnered by Mozart, overseen by Napoleon, chased by dinosaurs, lions, and snow leopards, bookended by Mt. Everest, interspersed with poetry, riddled with humor, sprinkled with images…

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In some ways the spiral notebooks have become something of a time capsule, a collection of material that now spans 4 decades. Among the diverse information are reminders of a world that once was:

film reviews of movies that premiered nearly 40 years ago and have since become classics, notebooks 046

reviews of classic books when they were first published, forty years of movies, T.V., Broadway, art, music, composers, and bands, dancers, artists, and writers, styles and fashions, and clips honoring the passing of some legendary folk: 

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Mary Pickford   Anne Bancroft    William Powell   Gloria Swanson    Jack Haley Mae West   Merle Oberon   Ayn Rand   Mary Coyle Chase    Henry Miller   Vera Ellen  John Bonham    William Holden  Natalie Wood   Alfred Hitchcock    William Wyler   George Jessel    Bill Haley   Matthew (Stymie) Beard   Edith Head   John Belushi    Stanley Holloway  Michael Wilding  Jack Albertson  Darryl Zanuck  Joy Adamson  Joan Blondell     Lowell Thomas    John Lennon    Jesse Owens     Peter Sellers  Steve McQueen   Jean-Paul Sartre   Jimmy Durante   Grace Kelly   Ingrid Bergman

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I can’t open a notebook to retrieve information without getting caught up by the contents within; the notebooks have turned out to be a sure cure against boredom. If there’s ever a fire the first things to be rescued will be the cat, the family photos, and my spiral notebooks.

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Binders and notebooks may not be the solution for all info junkies but they work well for me. They are a very personalized collection of what I find most interesting, intriguing, and aesthetically pleasing, what touches my heart and what tickles my funny bone. They are space-savers that take up space but not nearly as much space as stacks of magazines, shelves of books, and multiple file cabinets. 

Downsizing: solutions for hard-core, hardcopy information junkies

I’m an information junkie and collect information like bees collect pollen. Like any collection, mine started small with a single file folder and then began to grow…to numerous file folders…to a box to store them in…to many boxes…and finally morphed into 3 file cabinets. Eight file drawers stuffed with clippings, instructions, photocopies, and images, from magazines, newspapers, books, and the internet: gardening (though I didn’t have a yard), recipes (though I don’t like to cook), history, crafts, biographies, more history, design, funny stories, poetry, décor, DIY projects…I was such a busy little bee! The problem was I kept filling up the hive.

When I started downsizing I rid myself of the cumbersome file cabinets and purged the info collection to a more manageable size but I was still faced with what to do with the remaining hardcopy. File folders are not the best choice for me, information seems to get buried or I forget what I have or where I’ve filed it or it’s difficult to retrieve. If I weren’t so technologically challenged I’d scan and save to disc but it just doesn’t work for me. However I have found two alternatives that do work.

The first option is fairly obvious: inexpensive loose-leaf binders. notebooks 006I have different binders for different interests: décor, crafts, needlecrafts, holidays, Christmas, DYI’s, and even one (a thin one) for recipes which is kept with my few cookbooks.

The hardcopy information is organized in a tidy and uniform format, is accessible, nicely displayed, and easily removed notebooks 008when outdated. One advantage of the binders is the ability to organize information into sections.

I purchase binders with a pocket on the inside covers to hold patterns or anything I don’t want to tape or glue.

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My holiday binder includes crafts, stories, poems, recipes, traditions, cross-stitch patterns, decorations, décor, and table settings specific to each holiday (except Christmas, Christmas of course warrants two  binders.)  

notebooks 011For a loose-leaf binder all that is required are the binder, and common materials you most likely have anyway…copy (typing) paper, a glue stick, scissors, cellophane tape, and a paper punch. If you want to get a little fancier use vinyl page protectors. Sheet protectors are especially good for protecting recipes when you remove a recipe from the binder to actually use in the kitchen. 

notebooks 015 Glue sticks have the advantage of not wrinkling the paper and usually an item can be easily removed from the page if you want to rearrange or discard an item.


notebooks 020For two-sided items use a strip of tape the length of the item. Tape half of the strip (lengthwise) to the item and the other half to the page, allowing the item to be turned over and both sides to be visible.

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Tomorrow: a second option for hard-copy junkies.

newest category: downsizing and de-cluttering

When I started to write about down-sizing and de-cluttering, and especially about down-sizing my books, I quickly realized I was creating a document that was book-length and not blog-length. Because downsizing and de-cluttering are such an integral component of home staging and creating home, I decided perhaps they needed their own category. Downsizing is complex, frustrating, and time consuming. It isn’t easy. Hopefully there will be something here that will be helpful. Up next…Confessions of a book-hoarder. click here

So, after a month and eight posts just about downsizing book collections with more still to come, it was time to put them into a separate category. Hopefully all the book lovers will understand how lengthy and complex this seemingly simple task is. 

Defining “Clutter”

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I have friends that have so much Stuff in their homes that when I visit, I feel like I can’t breathe. I need air, give me air. Walking into their house, I feel like I’ve just walked onto the pages of a Where’s Waldo book. I’m not normally claustrophobic…except in their houses…and it has nothing to do with room size. Stuff me in a tiny closet and shut the door…no problem…put me in an overly-furnished room and I start to tremble. There’s so much stuff I don’t actually see individual items; everything blurs into a massive kaleidoscope of indistinguishable Stuff!

By my definition, their homes are cluttered. By my definition, almost anything can become clutter if there’s too much of it: plants, books, art, or furniture. By my definition, stuffing a home is like wearing every necklace you own…at the same time. And yet my friends are not only comfortable but proud of their homes…and their Stuff.

De-cluttering….it’s a critical component of home staging and home design; we are constantly reading or hearing about the need to de-clutter our homes…but what does that really mean. What exactly is clutter? And how do we DE-clutter when we’re not even sure what clutter is?

It’s not exactly helpful when design sites or magazines feature articles on the need to de-clutter and the next article features a room crammed with furniture, accessories, and art. Huh?

And what about the debris that collects when we are relaxed, tired, sick, or busy? Newspapers, half-filled coffee cups, empty pop cans, stray papers, and stacks of mail…surely that can’t be the clutter designers, decorators, and stagers are talking about?

Stagers often define clutter as any item smaller than a basketball…beach ball…football. Easy, but most of us don’t live in staged homes so how does that translate into normal living?

Miriam-Webster gives a more formal definition:

Clutter (noun) a large amount of things that are not arranged in a neat or orderly way: a crowded or disordered collection of things

Clutter-(verb) to fill or cover with scattered or disordered things that impede movement or reduce effectiveness

Hmm! Does that mean that we can pack a warehouse worth of stuff into a 10 x 10 room, as long as everything is neat and orderly and we can move around? Does it count if the columns of stuff are eight feet high?

The word “clutter” also seems to imply something of little value and not much worth. Please! We’re talking about our Stuff here. And how do we define value…by price, size, or quantity? 

Perhaps clutter comes in layers; the first layer being the debris of daily living. Or perhaps it is measureable in units… degrees of clutter…mildly cluttered, moderately cluttered, or totally cluttered. Maybe we could devise a scale, kind of like the Richter scale, that defines the magnitude of clutter and has an attached alarm or siren: “Warning! Warning! You have reached maximum clutter. Please move to higher ground…”

Only this is not a science, this is perception.

What I have finally come to realize, is that there may not be a universal definition of “clutter”, a single meaning that we can all agree on. Just as we all have individual tastes and style preferences, our definition of “clutter” is highly personal, we each define it differently. What is one man’s “clutter” is another man’s treasure.

I’ve also come to realize that “de-cluttering” is a different process based on whether we are staging or creating home, because the goals are different. The goal of staging is visual clarity; the goal of creating home is self-expression.

When stagers recommend that a client “de-clutter” what they’re really saying is limit the number of accessories on the coffee table, minimize the number of prints on the wall, or downsize the amount of furniture in the living room. The terms, downsize, simplify, streamline, or minimize, are more effective, precise, and easier to understand than the ambiguous “de-clutter”. And there is no suggestion of lack of value or worth.

So, I vote we ban the over-used terms clutter and de-clutter and find more precise terminology with less ambiguous definitions and without negative connotations.  What about congestion and de-congestion…uh, no! Or Stuff and de-Stuff…hmm…maybe not.

The Clutter Quiz

26 indications that you might have

                   too much stuff 

You know you have too much stuff when:

1) you can’t see what kind of material the kitchen countertop is made of 

2) the top of your table (dresser, nightstand) never needs dusting

3) you can’t see the color of the walls because of the amount of art work hanging on  them

4) you have to climb over some…thing to get some…where

5) burglars have to come back for a second trip

6) your shins are chronically black and blue and you’ve broken your big toe twice

7) you lost the cat…for three days…and he’s a housecat

8) your 9-year old refuses to take off her bicycle helmet, your 14-year old wears his shin guards in the house, and your husband comes to the dinner table every night wearing a hard hat  

9) the amount of stuff you find under the couch cushions fills a five-gallon trash bag

10) you suffered a concussion after opening an upper cupboard door

11) the avalanche that occurs when you open a closet door, lasts longer than 30 seconds

12) the stack of newspapers or magazines in the corner is taller than you are

13) you have enough ornaments to decorate the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center

14) you have enough chains, necklaces, and bracelets, that if placed end to end, would circle the earth…3 times

15) you have enough craft supplies to open a Hobby Lobby, enough material to open a  fabric store, enough tools to open a hardware store

16) you have enough dishes to feed the army’s 3rd infantry division

17) you have enough bubble bath to float a battleship

18) you have enough books that the library calls you and wants to borrow a book

19) you have so many house plants that you thought you glimpsed Cheetah thru the foliage yesterday

20) an acquaintance walks into your living room, picks up a vase and turns it over looking for the price tag

21) you have enough nail polish to paint the Brooklyn Bridge

22) you have enough clothes to dress the populace of a third world country

23) your friends prefer to sit outside on the patio, porch, or deck despite the rain….sleet…snow

24) everyone walks like a Geisha when navigating to the living room couch

25) Aunt Ellen got lost on her way to the bathroom and wasn’t found for 12 hours 

26) the dog packed up his food dish and moved next door  

If you have experienced  even one of the indications you may want to consider downsizing and de-cluttering.