Clearing the clutter to make way for clarity and productivity

I have been painting a lot the last couple of weeks. Not my usual kind of painting: my art, but the domestic kind: woodwork and walls.

B and I had planned to go to France… to relax, walk in the countryside, breath slowly and enjoy some time out. However, a couple of weeks before we were due to go, he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. I almost did. I talked myself out of it; he talked me round.

His offer was to stay home with me instead of going away. To spend the time we were due to be relaxing on holiday working hard. There was method in his apparent madness of course. Having spent a fair amount of time with me of late, he had observed the rather chaotic way in which I switch between work and play; the piles of papers that travel between desk and dining table; the general clutter and the way this level of discord affects me on a daily basis. He wanted to help.

With small boy starting nursery next month, I will be working from home on a regular basis and need a fresh start. I need a good timetable, a clear, well-organised workspace and a new mindset. Slowly, but surely the changes are happening. B’s offer of help was the first step. A step in the right direction.

I would be the first to admit that I have too much clutter. Always have had. I don’t know any different. But I do know that I don’t want to live like this forever. I have many creative friends who are also collectors, and like me, they struggle with “stuff overwhelm” and lack of focus. I had fleetingly thought that perhaps the mess was one of the reasons big son is often distracted, but I brushed the thought aside. The idea that I might be more settled if home was less chaotic had also crossed my mind, but then I got distracted. Having someone I care about refer to me as “hoarder” however, shocked me. Maybe that was what it was meant to do… to frighten me into action… it did!

After I wiped away the tears, let go of the anger, accepted the truth, I felt a strange mix of energy and calm. The calm, I think, was acceptance. Acceptance that if things were going to change, I had to change things. The energy, I believe, was the desire to change things. And so I did… or have certainly started to… and the results have surprised and inspired me.

With boys staying elsewhere for a week, I set about sorting through the contents of their room. In the past, each time I have sorted bags of toys for the charity shop, the boys have inevitably got to the bags before the bags have got to the charity shop and removed the contents before I had chance to remove the bags from the house. Lesson learned: remove the bags before the boys appear.

Having B on hand, working hard close by, painting walls as I glossed skirting or sanding doors as I sorted stuff meant that I was not doing it alone and helped keep my spirits up. Stopped me giving up. It would be fair to say that it was very hard going at times.

Clearing took a while, removing everything, dumping a few things right away, then taking little breaks from sanding and painting to sort through more. This worked for me as when I was bored with one task, rather than slowing to a halt, it was easy to move quickly onto another task – sort more books and toys – then go back to painting with fresh energy. In this way, I cleared boys’ bedroom, bathroom and sitting room. After painting their bedroom, I was determined not to fill this beautiful fresh space with clutter. I put things back on the shelves, most important / most used / favourite toys and books first. I was careful not to put back anything I thought they would not use and made sure to get rid of anything that did not fit. Drawers were filled so that both boys could reach their own clothes, giving them more responsibility to select their clothing in the morning and find their pyjamas at night.

On their return home, the boys were surprised and delighted. I am not holding my breath, but it has been two weeks now and big boy still seems determined to keep the room tidy, putting his clothes away when they used to be flung into a pile (if I was lucky) in the middle of the floor and reminding small boy to tidy up his toys before bedtime.

One of the major changes I have observed has been big boy’s ability to choose his own games and engage in independent activities when he would previously have told me, “I’m bored” or that he had nothing to do. Now, it is much easier to find things he wants to play. With fewer toys in the room, he is able to find more things to do. It was very quiet up there the other day and I found him on the top bunk, deep in concentration, playing a game of chess with his cuddly dog.

Same goes for small boy. There are now a number of puzzles he can get down and start on his own. He is able to reach all of his books, select a story at bedtime and the things he used to pull from shelves and leave in a mess on the floor are now out of reach, hidden in boxes or out the door.

Revitalising the sitting room, for me, was a biggie. I had not sat in their for a long time. I had walked in, sighed and walked out many times, but not sat on the sofa, relaxed. I am not entirely sure why, as the difference in the decor is far from radical. But it is now clean, fresh, mine. Before, it had hand prints and finger marks and a drawing or two on the wall done in felt tip by big boy when he was small boy’s age. All that is gone. My walls are milky white. I still have almost as many books on my shelves, but the little bits and bobs on the shelves in front of them are gone. I am free to remove a book without moving something else first and the cds and dvds that were regularly left out of boxes or hidden under sofas are now tucked away out of reach.

And boy, does it feel good!

There is still a long way to go… dining room (also serving as office) is on the cards for September and this will be a major challenge. It is here that the piles reside. It is here that my filing goes awry. It is here that I spend most of my time… feeling lost.

I am confident now that I can do it. In clearing the boys’ room, the living room and the shed (more on that in a later post) we took four car loads to the dump, made three charity shop trips, filled the recycling to overflow, the bin to the top (2 weeks running) and left numerous articles on the pavement outside with a sign saying “help yourself” and they were gone.

I feel happy to get rid of things now. If it does not have a space, it does not have a place and I can let it go. I am sure I will face some difficult decisions as I sort through the next room, but I can see already that space is much more comforting than clutter. I have let go of my belief that a creative home is a cluttered home, and I can see that I will have the space to be more creative if I have space to think, room to breathe. I am aware also, that if this change in environment has had such a positive effect on the boys, it will also (and already has had) a positive effect on me. I will be more focussed. More productive.

The parts I have finished feel like a new home.

In making these changes to my living space, I am also making changes to my outlook. I feel worthy of this shiny new home. I feel ready for the challenges of working on my own business. I have started making lists of things I need to do and when and how I will do them, not just endless “to do someday when I get round to it” lists. I have a timetable; a plan.

For those of you who know me, this may sound a little unlikely, but I am determined. And part of my new mindset is being comfortable asking for help, so look out, I may be calling on you soon!

In the mean time, feel free to check in on me. Ask me how I’m doing… cheer me up or cheer me on. I promise to do the same in return.

And let me know what changes you are making too… what are you doing to create a more inspiring environment; a happier home?

9 thoughts on “Clearing the clutter to make way for clarity and productivity

  1. Wow, it sounds like you’ve had a very productive break! And your outdoor area on the other post looks fab too :)

    We recently got a load of stuff out of storage that had been there for 2 years, some of my stuff I hadn’t looked at since I boxed it up a further 2 years before that…… At least 50% of that stuff got put on the eBay pile instantly, or thrown away, with probably more to follow when we get round to sorting it out…..

    Well done on the declutter – it sounds like a tough but therapeutic process. Good luck with the next stage!

    • Hi Nina,
      Yes, it was a full-on productive couple of weeks… so much achieved! Sounds like you’ve been working hard on your previously stored stuff. Fab to be making a bit of £ from it too! Thank you for your words of encouragement.
      Love, Julia x

  2. Hi Julia,

    Thank you for this positive and encouraging post.

    Well done!!! I know I would have preferred the lazy holiday in France…It was a brave choice and I’m happy for you – seems it was worth it.

    I think I’ve read too much on decluttering – I read instead of doing it. Or do it for a while and then quickly, naturally get back to my habits. I’m actually quite tired already of the whole trying and failing thing – I feel so defeated in this area. Still, I will keep trying – I have just put away some stuff in the kitchen, took me seconds and I feel a little bit more empowered. I’m also planning a bit of work on my living room this summer. I’ve already spoken to a decorator to fix the walls and I’ll do the painting etc. Need to schedule a time for that, possibly even in August.

    xxx Aneta

    • Dear Aneta,

      Thank you for your kind words and for sharing your own dilemma.

      I have been reading a lot lately on a variety of subjects, determined to change things for myself and my kids. One of the things that is coming through loud and clear to me at the moment is that we can read all we like, but no real and lasting positive change can happen without intent and commitment.

      My suggestion to you would be to give yourself praise for everything you do achieve, no matter how small, and try not to focus on things you consider to be failures. Those of us who accumulate stuff and have a problem with clutter that we want to overcome need to change our habits. I hope I can create lasting change, but only time will tell and I know it will take perseverance.

      I would ask you to look beyond the clutter. Take a good look at the room you wish to work on. Then close your eyes… imagine how it COULD be… how you would like it to be. Then I would suggest you BOOK your decorator. Make a date for him to start work and that is your deadline. You then know that by that date, you need to clear the room, get it ready for decoration. Work at it. Stick to it. Then, when you have your lovely newly decorated room, put back only the things you really want in there. I mean REALLY want. The things that make you smile deep down, none of the other unnecessary “stuff”. I found this approach much easier than simply de-cluttering. I did a lot of that along the way too, but I found it easier to put back the things I wanted and say to myself, “if it doesn’t have space here, it doesn’t have a place here” and get rid of it.

      As I got clearer, I started to think about the things I bring into the house. I don’t just “pop in” to the local charity shop any more when I am passing. I have suggested to my Mum that instead of bringing more toys for the boys when she visits that perhaps she could buy them an ice cream instead… (they would enjoy it just as much).

      I would also say that it is about more than just clutter and in the bigger scheme of things it also has a lot to do with having a vision beyond how you want your room to look, to how you would like your life to be. Creating a vision board might help you.

      I agree that it is important to schedule time. Give yourself the time you need to get it done. The first day of clearing, I felt total overwhelm… I felt over-emotional and was really tearful. Part of that was to do with realising we would not achieve all we wanted to in the time we had. We had hoped to do four rooms in a week… rather too ambitious! In the end I was SO happy with the two rooms we did finish that it did not matter… and I have now scheduled more time to do them in a month or so from now. I have to be patient, but I know it will be done… that is my carrot… my prize!

      If at all possible, call on a friend to help. Don’t try and tackle it alone. Unless they are particularly suited to the role, don’t ask them to de-clutter. Giving your friend a task like helping with the painting could be good. Just having someone there working alongside you whilst you sort through stuff helps… cheering you on when the going gets tough. Offer to help them with something in return. And if you can’t find someone to be there with you, I will happily cheer you on by e-mail if that would help.

      Take before and after photos, so you can see how far you’ve come. I resisted sharing mine here, but if it would help people, I would happily to so. I am embarrassed by the way we were living before, but so proud of what I have achieved.

      I wish you every success Aneta. I have faith in you. I KNOW you can do it! I can guarantee it will not be easy, but I promise it will be worth the upheaval and hard work!

      With love,
      Julia x

    • Sally, it can be a long, slow process, especially with kids around! I wish you every success with your mission… it’s worth all the effort, I promise! With love, Julia x

  3. So, so proud of what you have done! I am sure some of it was hard to put out, but your “new” home sounds worthy of you 😉 Well done to B for talking you into it! Keep it up! Keep decluttering. Keep creating.

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