Kitchen Workhorse

clothes pins

I find an unexplainable amount of joy in tiny things that make my life easier. Humble, little items that are easily overlooked but provide an important service in our lives. Clothes pins (the spring-loaded kind) definitely fall into this category for me. We decant most pantry items into glass jars, but that doesn’t always happen (or it just isn’t practical), in which case we bring out a clothes pin. They keep bags tightly sealed (cereal, coffee, crackers, frozen berries, cotton balls), they are made of wood (instead of plastic), they aren’t garish bright colors, they are available at any grocer or online, and they seem to last forever. Easy to store and easy on the wallet. We also use them to clip notes to things—bags, lunch boxes, stacks of papers, etc. Once we started using them for everything, it made me wonder how we ever lived without them.

In my dream world, I also use them to pin clothes on my clothesline in the backyard, but that’s not happening any time soon.

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!!

The First Step in Getting Organized

We all know this to be true but so often it is overlooked: Yes, people can become unorganized but usually it is merely a symptom of  having too much stuff. If we all only owned one spoon, one pillow and one shirt (my dream!), what would there be to organize? We feel the need to organize because of the chaos that surrounds us. Limit your things and the organization will happen (and remain) much more easily.

Of course this is easier said than done. All kinds of methods are suggested for how to declutter your possessions, but for me, it boils down to one question: Does this bring me joy?

Does it bring you joy 3

Sure, we can rationalize the joy to be found in any item, but if we work hard at being honest with ourselves, this is a wonderful test for whether something should remain in our lives.

Joy can come in many forms: a sauce pan that helps you cook for your family. A step ladder that helps your reach up high. A blouse because you feel beautiful in it. A hand-me-down sofa because that is where your family gathers to read books or cuddle. We all have to make concessions. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful or bring you joy in your eyes. This is about parting with the many things crowding our days and our minds that we don’t need, and finding a more peaceful, joyful life.

Shopping Step 1

Do I really need this? 3

This is a tough question, right? Really, we can justify anything if we try hard enough. The key is to get into the habit of really, truly asking ourselves this question. This is my first step in evaluating anything I bring into our lives (free clutter is just as bad as clutter you paid for!).

My mother was an incredible role model for this growing up. She rarely purchased anything, usually explaining it by saying “It is neat/cute/cool, but I don’t need it.” And just like that, she’d walk away from the purchase. I had a very hard time understanding her mindset. My mother would never describe herself as an intentional minimalist … it just came very naturally to her.

I have been very organized since I was a young child, but it wasn’t until my mid 20’s that I made effort to minimize my life. And boy did that change things. More room to breathe, more space to relax, more time (because there is less to clean) and not to mention more money in my pocketbook. And it is contagious. The more I decluttered, the more I wanted to get rid of.

This concept works best when applied to things before they come into your life. Once something is already in your house, it takes a slightly different method of deciding whether or not to keep it. We’ll get to that soon.