The Power is in the Editing

Art is the elimination of the unnecessary 4

Like so many people, I love design magazines and blogs. Image after beautiful image appears and inspires us. We read and pin and buy and buy again. But something still falls short. Why is it so difficult to achieve what is seen in magazines? It would be easy to say lack of funds, but I think it is something else (aside from the fact that magazines are completely unrealistic). To me, the most powerful indicator of a beautiful outcome—of any kind—is the editing.

Can you image if an architect combined every design period in one house? Or if a chef added every delicious ingredient to a single dish? Or if a writer had endless plot lines in a book? Disasters. It is their expert knowledge of what to leave out that makes the greatest difference.

In our world, where we can potentially see and buy and experience everything available, it is easy to continue filling our homes and lives with more.

The power is in the editing. Knowing what to keep and what to let go. When to add and when to hold back. This is one crucial difference in a life well lived and one full of physical, mental and emotional clutter.

Not all clutter is created equal

It often surprises clients that I don’t have a slew of non-negotiable decluttering principles. We all lead such different lives, how could I? The important thing is to embrace what best expresses who we are and the right choices for our families, and I have found that varies greatly from person to person.

For someone who loves quilting, of course she’s going to have an area devoted to scraps, threads, patterns and other flotsam and jetsam. The wood turner will likely have 50 different tools that seem exactly the same to the rest of us, but an expert knows they serve very different purposes. A child wild about super heroes will know precisely why he needs each element in his collection (and don’t you dare think of removing that one dude with the broken arm).

Not all clutter is created equal. In fact, if it is something you use and love and cherish and look forward to having in your home, it isn’t clutter at all.

Clutter is the unnecessary. It is the stuff we try to overlook. The things weighing us down. The stuff that creates guilt or aggravation. It might be not even be an object. Our time can be cluttered with unneeded activities. Our bodies can be cluttered with unhealthy choices. Our lives can be cluttered with negative relationships.

We all have such different situations and circumstances. What is simple to you might feel very complicated to me and vice versa. For the most part, I think we can ignore the rules and focus on what is best for our own lives. Forget what everyone else is doing. If it feels right for you, it probably is.

p.s. Anyone who knows me well knows that I actually love rules and totally appreciate a great top ten list. We just have to remember to only incorporate those things which truly mesh with our lives and not feel guilty about the rest. Easier said than done, I know!

A Closet Full of Clothes

Quote - If a woman has a closet full of clothes ...

So often I find women have far, far too many clothes—most of which they don’t even like or wear. We’ve all heard the rule that we wear 20% of our clothes 80% of the time, and I do believe this is true. I certainly used to fall victim to this statistic, as well.

A few years ago, following the birth of my first child, I pulled out my pre-pregnancy wardrobe and realized how much of it I wasn’t excited to see again. Why did I have all of this stuff I wasn’t wearing?? I went on a rampage ruthlessly editing my clothes, got rid of nearly everything, and was left with only the things I really loved. It was shocking to see how little remained. And it was the best feeling.

When working with clients, time and again I find they love their very same clothes so much more after we clean out and organize their closet. Without buying one single thing, they feel better dressed, more confident, more comfortable and more excited to get ready every day. It seems counter-intuitive—that we’d like our clothes better when we have less—but it has happened so often that I truly believe it.

Why might this be? It is because we are no longer weeding through things that are not flattering, need to be altered, are out of fashion, impractical for our lifestyle, or just not our taste. We only see what we love, what makes us look and feel great, and what goes with the rest of our wardrobe.

Doing this will also show you where it might be helpful to purchase a few things. I once helped a woman with 20+ pairs of jeans, and not a single one made her look or feel good.

Give it a try. Remove everything from your closet. Only put back your very favorite things. Bag up the rest and set it aside for a two week experiment. I guarantee you won’t want to go back.

I read the above quote from Bill Blass on one of my favorite gardening blogs here. (Hire Tara if you need a garden designer!) I couldn’t find this quote attributed to Mr. Blass anywhere else, but I think he’d be okay receiving credit.

Decluttering Technique: This or That

There are all kinds of suggestions for how to declutter your belongings, but so often I feel like they fall short of telling you exactly how to decide on an item-by-item basis. I’ve shared my own rule of asking whether it brings you joy, but even that can be tricky for some people to incorporate. So, I thought I’d share with you my second strategy, in case you are looking for other ideas.

This or That

When I encounter a client really struggling to part with anything, I start breaking it down into very small categories. From there, I let each item battle for a spot. For example, if sorting clothes, I’ll gather all of the black blouses (this assumes someone has far too many black blouses, which is often the case).

First I’ll ask the client to pick her least favorite. Then another least favorite. Then another. I keep going until she gets stuck. Then I let the clothes duke it out: holding up two shirts I’ll say “which one—shirt A or shirt B.” If she keeps shirt A, I put it up against a new shirt that we’ll call shirt C. So now it is shirt A vs. shirt C. She might choose shirt C this time, so up next it will be shirt C vs. shirt D. I keep this process going until we reduce that category to a reasonable amount for her lifestyle and closet space. A client has never disliked this technique and it always seems to work!

If you find yourself really struggling to reduce your belongings, break them down into narrow categories and pit each item against one another. May the best man win!!

Blouses from Isabel Marant and Band of Outsiders.


How to Handle a Pack Rat Partner

A friend recently asked how to handle her husband’s pack rat tendencies. This is a wonderful guy, but he has a hard time parting with things, particularly memorabilia and old books. I saw the loot, and I agreed it was quite a lot. Unless you find yourself in a dire situation (see #3 below), I would never recommend cleaning out someone’s things without their knowledge. It is unfair and a recipe for hurt feelings. However, I understand the frustration you feel living with their mess. Here are my suggestions for how to tackle a situation like this:

1. Set a size limit. Allow him to keep only what fits in a certain size or number of containers. This permits a reasonable amount of junk to stay while still drastically reducing the stockpile. Don’t criticize or micromanage what he wants to keep—let him decide. The photo above still has far too many containers for my taste, but at least it is neatly sorted and stored.

2. Garage sale profits are all his. If your partner has things that are of potential value, have a garage sale (or craigslist them) and tell him he can buy whatever indulgent thing he wants with the money (as long as it isn’t more clutter!). A new driver or perhaps a bottle of Pappy might provide just the right encouragement. Set a time limit on this, though—that the sale has to be completed within X weeks (or then you get to choose how to spend the money!)

3. Give negative notice. Sometimes there are desperate situations where one person refuses to cull their belongings—to the detriment of the family. In these extreme cases, I would suggest taking a page from your attorney’s book and give negative notice. This means you say something like “whatever is not cleaned out in X weeks will go to goodwill. If there is anything you want to keep, pull it out and organize it before then.” This will be a tough one to pull off peacefully, and I don’t recommend it lightly, but if someone won’t budge, it might be the only option left.

A final note: Be sure your partner has an area in the home that is all his own and he can keep however he pleases. Everyone needs at least a small place that is hassle free. Above all, choose an ideal time to discuss this and try to be as kind as possible. And … good luck!!