Minimalist in DC

The Quest for Less "Stuff" & More Time

Tag: clean (page 1 of 3)

A Usable Garage (Weekend Project)

There are two places I didn’t get to in my first round of de-owning: the garage and the cars. I specifically saved these two for warmer months and last weekend we were treated to perfect weather.

Project: Clean & organize the garage

Time Needed: An afternoon to a full weekend (depending on the size and junk-density of your garage).

Prep: Clear your driveway so it can be a staging area, grab several garbage bags, and have a push broom ready. Check with your garbage collector on what they’ll collect from the curb.

Like many Americans, our one-car garage (a luxury in our area) is so full of junk that it doesn’t have enough space for a car. We have bikes, a wagon, lawn mowers (yes, multiple lawn mowers), junk from two moves ago, giant old bags of grass seed, all manner of car-washing equipment and some grungy old tables, one of which is attached to the wall somehow. In the nearly three years we’ve lived in our house, I have never, ever cleaned the garage, except for a couple of sweeps with our push broom. There is a garage attic storage area that we’ve never explored. The only thing I knew was up there were two raccoon traps that the old owner used when raccoons wandered into the house via (thankfully removed) cat doors.

I really was motivated by the beautiful day. Here was a perfect activity that would keep me outside for hours and would have long-term benefits for the entire family.

The garage went from this…

garage before de-owning

…to this (these tables are fully detached on their way out)!

garage after de-owning

We ended up with a pile of garbage and a “maybe someone might want this” pile that included an old push mower and the raccoon traps. It’s amazing how much of the items we don’t use in the garage are really just pure junk. The best part is that now the garage is a room that I really want to use. We’ve already set-up shop painting new doors for our bedrooms. There is enough room for a car to fit (when we move the tables and doors) and I know exactly where everything is. I probably breathed in far more dust than I did in five years living in Arizona, but unless I contract hantavirus, it was completely worth it.

Good-Bye Garage Garbage!

Good-Bye Garage Garbage!

In fact, if this weekend will be just as nice as last weekend. I think I’m ready to start Round 2!

Have you cleaned out the garage recently? What did you throw out?

Manage Clutter: Limit Toy Storage Space (Quick Tip)

Now that we’ve gotten toys down to a manageable number, we still struggle with the flow of new toys into the house, especially at birthdays and Christmas. However, there is a neat trick that helps us stop new toys from completely taking over ours lives:

Limit toy storage to a confined space.

This is a fantastic tip from Clutterfree with Kids by Joshua Becker. When that specific, confined toy area fills up, that’s it. No more toys. If a new one arrives, an old, underused one should go.

Good Toy Spaces

Good confined spaces are closets, a toy box, one set of shelves, under a bed, or a couple of tubs. Ideally, this is somewhere that you can close off so you don’t have to look at the toys all the time.

Limit Toy Storage Space

Toy Box Storage

Our Toy Spaces

We’re still trying to find the right amount of toy storage space in our house. We’ve started by confining the toys we have to the corner in the living room, the living room bookshelf, the toy box, the guest bedroom and both girls’ closets. We found the corner is not confined enough because it’s hard to define where a corner begins and ends or when a corner is “filled up”. My goal is to eventually confine the toys even more to simply the toy box, one or two bookshelves and a couple of tubs in the girls’ closets. The tubs are for rotating the toys and the toy box/shelf are for the toys we play with every day.

Limit Toy Storage Space

This tip offers a few other nice side-effects beyond simply having a manageable amount of toys. It:

  1. Keeps the house cleaner.
  2. Allows you to easily experiment with finding the optimal volume of toys. For instance, if you confine the toys to four tubs in a closet, but you find that the kids only play with the toy-equivalent of two tubs you can de-own the extras and reduce your confined space.
  3. Helps you and your kids know when it’s time to do another round of purging. When the confined space feels cluttered or full, it’s time to de-own again.

Clean the File Cabinet: What to Throw Away (Weekend Project)

Last weekend, I cleaned out our four-drawer file cabinet. I do this every year according to advice from David Allen’s book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. It’s no fun to have drawers filled to the brim that won’t fit new files. With no room for more forms, papers pile up elsewhere.

Project: Clean the file cabinet

Time Needed: 2-4 hours (sometimes longer depending on your cabinet)

Prep: Get your shredder ready or find a place to drop off papers that should be shredded. Grab at least two bags: one for papers that must be shredded and one for recyclables. Read below for tips on what to throw out.

This year, I did some research on how long to keep certain household files, so I could maximize the cleaning. Here’s what I discovered.

 File Cabinets: What to Throw Away

There are a few great sites with lists for how long to keep records. Check out, Good Housekeeping, or Consumer Reports if you don’t find what you’re looking for below.

One Year or Less

In general, keep the following items one year or less.

Pay Stubs Throw away after reconciling with your W2
Credit Card Records/Statements Until paid, then shred (major source for stolen identities)
Credit Card Receipts One year
Bank statements One year, keep your annual statement with taxes
Home, Rental, & Car Insurance Policies Keep until you renew
Retirement Plan Statements One year, or keep your annual statement with taxes
Bills One year
Social Security Statements Shred the old one once you get a new one and have double-checked the math

Seven Years

Tax Returns Seven years – more information here


Birth/Death Certificates Forever
Marriage License Forever
Passports Forever
Household Inventory Forever – Many recommend taking a video of your possessions once a year for insurance purposes
Life Insurance Policies Forever
Roth IRA Statements Forever – To prove you’ve paid the taxes


Home Improvement Receipts As long as you own the property
Investment Statements Keep annual statements as long as you own the investment / shred monthly statements
Receipts for large purchases/warranties As long as your own the item
W2 Until you start claiming social security since this is the best estimate of your entitlements
Medical Insurance Papers / Explanation of Benefits If you’re healthy or for routine check-ups, you can discard these after they are paid and a year has gone by. If you have a serious medical condition, keep the papers as long as the condition persists.
Supporting Patent Documents Keep these for the life of the patent, which in most cases is 20 years

By the end of the weekend, I completely emptied 52 files.

clean the file cabinet

I sent a huge stack of papers to the shredder and another one to the recycling bin.

paper clutter

My horribly-crammed top drawer went from this:

clean the file cabinet

to this:

clean the file cabinet

and the whole process probably took 3-4 hours spread over three days. What are your tips for cleaning out the file cabinet?

Decluttering the Scariest Room (Weekend Project)

I did it! After nearly three months of de-owning, I’ve finally finished every space in the house EXCEPT the basement storage room. I saved it for last because it looks like this:

Cleaning the Scariest Room

Storage & Craft Area

Cleaning the Scariest Room

Workshop & Exercise Area

It’s also holding the most memories, useless junk, and dust of any room in the house. My original goal was to get the clean sweep of the house done before the end of the year so I could realize the tax benefits of any donations I make. At this point, I definitely won’t finish, but this weekend, I felt like I needed to put in my best effort anyway.

I got halfway done with the room.

Cleaning the Scariest Room

Here are the steps I took to tackle this crazy mess.

Advice for Decluttering the Scariest Room

  1. Start with one shelf or drawer and move methodically from one end of the room to the other.
  2. Work in 90-minute cycles. I learned this trick by reading Overwhelmed by Brigid Schulte. 90-minute cycles seem to line up with your body’s natural rhythms. If you work for 90 minutes, then take a short break, you’ll be able to work longer and have higher quality output.
  3. Make a list of things to come back to. If you have all the time in the world, don’t skip things. However, I am specifically looking for items to donate before the end of the year. That being said, I skipped my box of childhood photos (which I know I want to digitize later – perhaps I’ll throw a photo scanning party!) and my file cabinet (I can come back to that in a few weeks). I also left my husband’s keepsakes alone. He needs to go through those himself.
  4. Clean as you go. Once you’ve pulled everything off a shelf or out of a tub, take a minute to clean it. It made me feel much better to remove two years of dust.
  5. Label, so you’ll be able to find the stuff you still use (which should be most of what’s left) without making the room explode again.
  6. Involve hot chocolate. Everything is better with hot chocolate.

Next weekend, I’ll try to do the other half and get our final batch of stuff to Goodwill — just in time for a relaxing week with family and the New Year!

Ditch Disposables for Lower Grocery Bills (Quick Tip)

It seemed crazy to me a month ago that I would consider replacing some of my most-used disposable items like diapers and paper towels with reusable ones. That is, until I did the math and realized that if I ditch disposables I could be saving a lot of money.

Ditch Disposables with the Itzy Ritzy Snack Bag

My Itzy Ritzy Reusable Snack Bag

Case Study: Paper Towels

I felt like most of the items we clean up with paper towels (sticky baby hands, food particles, the bathroom, etc) is really stuff that should go straight into the garbage, so it seemed unsanitary that a regular towel could do the same thing.

Many savvy people have written about the benefits of flour sack towels and I’ve always wondered if I could make the switch. The other day, I discovered that the towels Nathan’s grandma had given us for our wedding almost ten years ago are flour sack towels! I got to do a product trial without investing anything in the equipment.

I have to admit, when it comes to jobs I normally do with paper towels, they are amazing. It’s not as gross as I thought because I’ll generally use one towel per job, then rinse it out, hang it up, and wash it. They are so much more durable than paper towels and our baby loves them because they’re softer on her skin when we need to wipe her mouth and hands. If I had invested in a set of flour sack towels, they would have cost me $15 for a pack of 12. You break even after replacing just two six-packs of paper towels. After that, I’d save around $9 every 1-2 months.

Case Study: Diapers

I’ve used cloth diapers before (this is something I posted about them on an old blog), but decided to go back to disposables with our second child once a majority of my diapers started inexplicably leaking. What I just realized is that instead of spending money on diapers for my oldest daughter, who only uses them at night, I could use the 3-4 diapers that don’t leak for her. That is saving me $15-$20 a month. I plan to potty train daughter #2 in a couple months, but if I weren’t, I could reinvest in new diapers. Cloth diapers come in packs of two for $35.99 (and many times you can get them cheaper). It costs us $30 a month for disposable diapers. Having around 12 cloth diapers on hand is good practice so if I invested in 12 diapers up-front, it would only take me seven months to break even and most kids are in diapers at least two years.

Case Study: Snack Bags

I’ve also bought an Itzy-Ritzy 7×7 inch snack bag. It keeps all kinds of snacks in and can be machine washed or hand washed. I use this every day with lunch and simply wash it out by hand and let it dry overnight.  At this rate, I’ll break-even after 50 days and save myself around $3 thereafter on snack bags.  Not huge savings, but the bags are sturdy, cute and I feel like I’m making a big difference for the planet.

More Ideas to Ditch Disposables

Here is a good list of common disposable items and their reusable counterparts. The book The Zero-Waste Lifestyle: Live Well by Throwing Less Away by Amy Korst is also a treasure trove of reuse ideas.

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