How we overcame a clutter problem in five simple steps
When we built our new house, I illogically assumed that everything in it would also be new. In reality, of course, as soon as we had a basement, we began filling it with boxes of old books, excess furniture, and plastic bins of who-knows-what, vowing to go through it all when the rest of the house was done. Well, now it’s finished, kinda, so after the holidays we resolved to get the downstairs to a place where we could see the floor again. Here’s how we did it.
Step 1: Admit that, like Rome, a junk-free life wasn’t built in a day.
My husband, Alex, loves to tackle projects full steam ahead but I’m more of a realist. When Saturday rolls around, I’d like to think we can just organize the basement for six hours straight, but then I remember we have a baby. We can’t do anything for six hours straight anymore. So we took turns organizing in shifts. One night he’d handle putting Austin down while I went through some boxes. The next night we’d switch. This made the process, which took about three weeks, feel more manageable.
Step 2: Focus on high-traffic areas first.
Our washer, dryer, and chest freezer are in our basement. Pre-cleanout, I’d speed through a clutter obstacle course to access these items, then run back upstairs to avoid dwelling on the stress-inducing piles. This crazy habit told us where we needed to begin our project. Once we’d cleared paths around the appliances, things started looking so good we felt motivated to keep going.
Step 3: Establish some ground rules.
I asked myself one question when deciding whether to get rid of something: where was it in our last house? If, like our slow cooker, we’d used it on occasion, it got a chance at a second life. But if it had been in the barn at our last rental — ahem old mattress, dog-chewed armchair, and ratty braided rug — out it went.
Step 4: And try to set your emotions aside.
I have a mid-century desk that I sat at when I wrote my book in our Portland apartment. It’s missing a drawer and I haven’t used it in years, but I have held onto the desk “just in case.” Just in case I need a desk! Just in case we find space for it! Just in case I regret selling it! Nah — in my heart I know these things aren’t likely to happen, so the desk will be at a garage sale this summer. I hope someone who loves it as much as I have will snap it up — any takers?
Step 5: Organize according to season.
After we made a few dump and Goodwill runs, it was time to put what we were keeping into some kind of logical order. Rather than arrange things by type — clothes, tools, equipment, etc. — I decided to organize by season. Christmas decorations, sleds, and winter coats now live in one corner of the basement, while beach gear, patio furniture, and gardening supplies occupy another. I find it’s much easier to group items based on when I need them, as opposed to digging through a bin of bathing suits to find my Smart Wools.
Any organizing tips you rely on? Please share your thoughts below!
Hey — check out Laura and her family on the March cover of Down East! She also has a lovely essay in the issue you’ll definitely want to read: How to Have a Baby on a Maine Island (Even a Landlocked One). Be sure to let Laura know what you think!