Minimalist in DC

The Quest for Less "Stuff" & More Time

Tag: declutter (page 1 of 7)

The Toys Have to Go

I’ve struggled with kid stuff for years and have written about it here, here, and here. My kids’ junk may be the main source of clutter-induced stress in my life. Marie Kondo, Joshua Becker, and my mother all agree that you shouldn’t get rid of other people’s stuff (how will they trust you afterwards?), but do kids really count? Mine never want to get rid of anything and I’ve tried all of the psychological tricks. Are my 2 and 5-year-olds really old enough to dictate how cluttered my house is?

I finally decided that the answer to that is a big, fat NO. I agonized over that decision for months before doing anything about it, wondering if I would somehow emotionally injure my children by removing most of their toys. Then, I came across an article that put an abrupt end to my agonizing: Ruth Soukup’s Why I Took My Kids’ Toys Away (& Why They Won’t Get Them Back). Soukup got angry one day and snapped. She cleared out her children’s rooms, all the way down to their comforters; removing everything that wasn’t absolutely essential. What made her do it? Her kids weren’t listening to her pleas to pick up their toys. That sounded all too familiar. That’s when I realized, the toys have to go.


My kids get their toys out by the hundreds and leave them in the living room, their rooms, the kitchen, and even the stairs. They are terrible at cleaning one thing up before getting another thing out. They float from one toy to the other. They don’t appreciate or take care of their toys.

Should we really be teaching our kids to superficially use something, then toss it aside? I now concretely believe that’s what we unintentionally do when we overload our kids with stuff.

After reading Soukup’s article, I wasted no time in clearing the girls’ rooms out.


All of the Toys


I pulled all of the girls’ toys from every corner of the house together and sorted them into three categories:

  • Keepers: These are the classic toys that they come back to again and again. Great books, legos, markers, and our play kitchen toys all fall into this category.
  • Maybe: These are the toys that I wasn’t sure about; toys the kids occasionally played with and really seemed to like. I decided to keep them out of sight for a while and if the girls asked for them, I would bring them back into the rotation. Stuffed animals that are rarely played with and games that occasionally bring us joy, but are barely touched filled this category.
  • No Way: These are the toys that they never play with or that I hate. Loud toys, cheap happy meal toys, toys that are too big and never used. These went directly into a garbage bag.

For those in the Keeper category, I then placed them on the top shelves of their closets and put three items within reach in the toy box, brought down two stuffed animals and filled a small shelf with books. Everything else in this category, I put in a storage bin to rotate in. The new rule is that when one item comes out, another item goes back on the shelf.

What We Kept

The toys we kept were very simple, classic toys that I know my kids love. Art supplies and the easel, legos, blocks, the Lottie dolls, favorite stuffed animals, play kitchen supplies, and a sub-set of puzzles, board games, and books.

My Kids’ Reaction

 I braced myself for a screaming fit and a lot of tough questions, but to my surprise, this was a non-event. I did this while they played outside with their dad. I split the toys up and put them away before they had a chance to ask what I was doing. When they came inside, I told them that I put their favorite toys on their shelf. I told them about the new rule of having one toy out at a time and I told them that if they missed a toy that was not on the shelf that I would rotate it in.

Their response? “OK.”

“To my surprise, this was almost a non-event.”

How It’s Going

It’s amazing how much unfounded anxiety the anticipation of an unknown reaction can cause. This was one of the best things I’ve done since starting my minimalist project. My living room is cleaner. The basement is cleaner. It’s easier to clean almost every space in the house.

In the kids’ rooms I need to do a better job of reinforcing the new rule. Their rooms still get messy and old things are not put away before new ones come out. We just need to work on that. I will say that the time necessary to clean the rooms is much shorter.

This nuclear option seems to have worked for us!

I’m dying to know – how do you keep you kids’ stuff under control?

Spark Joy: KonMari & Organizing My Wardrobe

Marie Kondo has a new book out, Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up, that serves as a deep dive into the KonMari Method and aims to explain all of the questions left by her first book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I’m only a few chapters into it, but I’ve happily discovered that she does explain many of the confusing aspects that I’d wondered about after Life-Changing Magic.


On the Necessary Stuff that Doesn’t Spark Joy

For example, “What do we do with the stuff that doesn’t spark joy, but that we NEED (like a funeral suit or a screwdriver)?” The answer is keep the item, but thank it often for the service it provides. Appreciation helps you get over the fact that you dislike it — at least until you can replace it with something you love.

On Starting Over

I still haven’t finished discarding my sentimental items, but I’m starting to see new things creeping into the other categories (like that new T-shirt I got from work that I’m pretty sure doesn’t spark joy). I was starting to wonder if I had to start over. Kondo answers that question too and the answer is no. Keep going and when you organize you’ll naturally cull the new items that don’t spark joy. (Although, since I know that T-shirt doesn’t spark joy, I should probably walk right into my bedroom and throw it out right now.)

On Organizing Clothes

I liked how most of my shirts were organized in my closet, but I think Kondo is right about folding them. I was so inspired by her illustrations of how to fold clothes that I was dying to try it. So I did!

Spark Joy - KonMari Drawers

KonMari Drawers

Spark Joy

Folding my clothes DOES take longer and I’ve often found myself annoyed when I have a pile of them waiting for me. That feeling disappears when I get the clothes in the drawer. It is easier to pick them out because you can see each and every one. It is also a nice way to know when you’re accumulating too many clothes again. When the drawer feels stuffed, it’s probably time to consider whether everything in there sparks joy.

I thought this method might fall apart in a couple of weeks, but it’s been 1.5 months and I’m still using it. My underwear looks really nice all folded and lined up from light to dark. I actually have matching pairs more often than not because I can see all the options. (My husband likes that. Could that be one extra benefit to the KonMari Method that Kondo doesn’t mention in either book: improved marriages?!)

Have you organized your clothes KonMari style? How’s it going?

KonMari Method: Discard Sentimental Items

For the past few months, I have been working through Marie Kondo’s amazing KonMari Method, the most effective way that I’ve found to get rid of excess stuff. Kondo outlines her method in her best-selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, in which she recommends that you first discard (by category, not by room) anything that doesn’t spark joy in your life, then organize completely. I worked my way through every category (clothes, books, etc) and found a couple new categories before I picked up a single sentimental item. Sentimental items are the last category because they can easily derail an efficient discard session. Most people need the practice that you get from categories such as clothes and books before they can efficiently tackle sentimental items. This includes old letters, awards, pictures, and anything that brings back sweet memories.

How To Discard Sentimental Items

While many resources suggest that you take a picture of sentimental items (the item jogs your memory, but you don’t need the item itself), Kondo recommends thinking hard about whether each item really sparks joy, then simply discarding those that don’t.

Discarding Sentimental Items Is Easier Than You Think

I was pleasantly surprised by how truly easy it was to sort through my sentimental items. I had a box in the basement that was filled with my old sports, DECA, and orchestra ribbons, medals, and trophies. I was so proud of these that I kept a display of them in my room throughout high school and I called it the shrine to myself; proof that I was awesome in my own little way. There were hundreds of awards inside this little box and when I thought about discarding sentimental items, I always wondered how on earth I could part with them.

My Favorite Ribbon

My Favorite Ribbon

This weekend I pulled out that box for the first time in at least 10 years. To my great surprise, I realized that I no longer remembered what I did to earn most of the awards. They were all generic and while most of the ribbons had my age, event, and swimming time on the back, there were hundreds of ribbons and I realized that there was only ONE that I remembered and ONE that I really cared about. I searched and searched until I found it: an 11th place ribbon in the long-course 50 freestyle event at State when I was 12.

That was the first time I’d ever placed in an individual event at State and every time I think of that day – how shockingly fast I’d gone, how proud I was, and the look on my mom’s face that seemed to say, “Wow, maybe this girl will actually be pretty good at this” – I get really happy. I kept that ribbon and got rid of the rest. There were a few other awards that I remember earning and that sparked immense joy. Those are all safe in my basement. The rest of them were ceremoniously placed in the trash bin outside.

discard sentimental items

Tips for Discarding Sentimental Items

  1. Wait until you’ve gone through every other category. Practice makes perfect and you’ll get better and better at figuring out what sparks joy as you go through each discard category.
  2. Work from a central location. Put everything from the sentimental category in one place so you can see how close to the “discarding finish line” you really are. This is the very last category before you get to start organizing, so knowing how much you have left is highly motivational.
  3. From photo albums, choose the best 1-2 pictures from each event that remind you of that day. Throw the rest away. The older the event, the easier this is to do.
  4. Tackle a little bit at a time. Break up your sentimental items into chunks that you can do in one hour or less. Know that this category can be a tough one, so allow yourself plenty of time with lots of breaks to finish it.
  5. Enjoy the process! Even though I got rid of about 80% of my sentimental items, I kept the best ones and rediscovered myself at the same time.

No wonder I love writing this blog every week. When I was in elementary and middle school, I spent loads of time writing stories, poems, and song parodies. Finding those sparked a lot of joy and they are among the few items I kept. They say that you should be doing as an adult what you enjoyed as a child and clearly I need to start writing more often.

How to Digitize, then Purge Handwritten Notes

The latest research shows that taking handwritten notes (versus typing notes on a laptop) helps us learn better and retain knowledge longer. However, what do you do with all those handwritten notes, which pile up over the years?

Marie Kondo, in her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, encourages you to integrate the learnings into your life, then throw the notes away.

Kondo says, “It’s paradoxical, but I believe that precisely because we hang onto such materials, we fail to put what we learn into practice.”

She’s right, however, knowledge in our daily lives comes at you quickly – faster than you can process it – and sometimes it’s nice to have that external memory to refer to.

How to Digitize & Organize Your Notes

Today, it’s easier than ever to digitize your notes. Digitizing allows you to free up space in your home and access the notes from anywhere at anytime.

The easiest way to digitize your notes is with your smartphone. Take a picture of each page and upload them to the app of your choice.

Purge Handwritten Notes

Google Drive “Getting Things Done” Folder

I use Google Drive to organize my notes. I take plenty of notes by hand while I read on the bus. Until now, I kept them all in a folder and only had access to them when I was at home. Now, I have a folder in Google Drive called Book Notes and under that, I have a folder for each book I’ve read that includes my handwritten notes, plus any extra materials that I’ve found to be useful in connection with the book. For instance, I recently found my Getting Things Done notes, plus a copy of the workflow and weekly review instructions; all of them hidden away in a folder I never checked. Now, I can look at these any time on my laptop or phone. I’ve already shared the workflow with one of my co-workers who happened to ask how I keep my inbox at zero all the time.

Everyone has their favorite place to store documents. Lots of people swear by Evernote, which allows you to upload handwritten notes right in the Evernote app and easily organize them with a plethora of other documents.

I also use Trello quite a bit, which allows you to upload photos into cards that can be moved around between lists (To Do, Books to Read, etc). I use Trello for my master to do list.

Purge Handwritten Notes with Trello

Disney To Do List, Neatly Captured in Trello

Purge Handwritten Notes

Once you’ve uploaded the notes, you’ll never need the physical copies again. Recycle them and reclaim some space.

Be Picky

Digitizing can take a long time if you are uploading, for instance, a whole semester’s worth of notes. Look for the main pages that explain the important points from a class or book and just upload those. You’ll never want to sift through a whole notebook’s worth of notes again – who has the time?

Digital clutter is still clutter, so as you’re uploading your notes, be picky about what you keep. If you haven’t used the notes in years and can’t think of a reason to pull them out again, get rid of them. Marie Kondo would be proud.

What are your favorite apps for organizing your digital notes?

What I Learned From One Year of Minimalism

As I mentioned in last week’s post, I didn’t quite make my monetary goal for the year, but I learned an incredible amount that was far more valuable. Here, I’ll share a few things I’ve learned by trying to reduce “stuff” and obligations this year.

#1 – Marie Kondo can help you get organized

If you really want to reduce clutter and get your life organized, the KonMari method, which Marie Kondo outlines in her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, is, by far, the best method to use.

Her method is simple.

  1. Discard “stuff” by considering things by category (clothing, books, papers, etc), NOT by room. Ask yourself if each item sparks joy. If it doesn’t, get rid of it. You’re left with a household of things you truly love. I was surprised by how many things I used to have that I rather disliked.
  2. Organize completely. Don’t buy anything fancy, just organize using the storage room you have and maybe a couple of shoeboxes.

I have yet to make it to the “organize completely” phase, but I have been floored by how well the “discard” phase works. Of all of the methods I tried this year, I found Marie Kondo’s to be the most useful. Her book is a quick read and I highly recommend it.

#2 – Clean 10 minutes a day

Set a timer and see how much you can clean in just 10 minutes. Do it every day. This is the only way I can keep my house reasonably clean and it’s really painless. I can get a lot done in 10 minutes and when that timer goes off, I’m done. No guilt for anything left out, I can get that tomorrow because I know I’ll have another 10-minute opportunity then. Some days I get so much done that I’m motivated to continue – not because I have to – but because I want to. This habit gives me a fresh start to every day and it’s really easy.

#3 – Wait 30 days before you buy something

I’m not talking about cereal or deodorant. Go ahead and buy those when you need them. However, for items that you’ll use over and over again (that will persist long after you purchase them) give yourself a chance to think twice about them. The 30-day rule lets you consider other options or do some research. It also shows you how much you want an item. If you can’t stop thinking about it for 30 days, then it’ll probably be something you enjoy for a long time, so buy it.

#4 – Increase automatic savings when you get a promotion

If you get a 3% raise and you’re already sending 8% of your paycheck to your 401(k), increase the amount you save to 9-11% right away when you get a raise. You’ll still feel like you got a raise (unless you’re very disciplined and save the entire thing – kudos to you), but you’ll also painlessly increase your savings, which could mean an extra six figures or more when you retire.

#5 – Experience gifts are awesome

It turns out that wine, chocolate, trips, and my personal favorite, massages, have become my favorite things to give and receive. Experience gifts are consumable; things that people use up, so they don’t stay around the house. They make the best presents because they build memories instead of a stockpile of “stuff”. The Minimalist Mom has a great list of 90 clutter-free gifts for any occasion.

#6 – Don’t throw away anything that doesn’t belong to you

Even kids notice when something is missing. If anyone catches you in the act of discarding something that’s not yours, the hit to his or her trust is massive. It’s not worth it and eventually #7 happens.

#7 – Your family will start de-owning stuff on their own

I think my husband jumped on board shortly after I’d cleared off my side of the dresser for the first time since we bought it. It looked like the border between Haiti & the Dominican Republic.

Haiti & The Dominican Republic

Our dresser looked like this…only in our case the bare side was the best. Photo Credit: National Geographic

Our closet also became easier to use. Eventually I noticed that he’d gone through his massive T-shirt collection and had thrown a bunch away. He didn’t tell me he did it, but he did. Finally, we sat down and considered the family DVD collection together.

When you first start to de-own, it can be really hard to do it alone, knowing that the dent you’re making is only a fraction of the total family “stuff”. We’ve still got a ways to go, but I’ve noticed my family jumping on board, slowly but surely. Nathan has even mentioned (with a hint of gratitude that he may never admit to) how much cleaner certain rooms are now.

#8 – Time is your most precious resource

Seriously. Assuming you have basic necessities covered, nothing else matters (well, except your health). My new goal is focused on carving out more time for the things that matter (including health) because time debt is no longer something I’m willing to live with.

#9 – Shopping for groceries online is the best lifehack ever

I save 1-1.5 hours each week by shopping for groceries online and then picking them up at the store. I also save loads of money because I can easily see my total and kick things out of my cart. There are just so many very cool ways that shopping for groceries online makes my life easier. The link above to my online grocery-shopping manifesto is worth checking out if you’d like to try it. I lay out all the pros and cons.

#10 – Minimalism ruins the fun of shopping

I can’t just make an impulse purchase anymore. For example, if I’m shopping for clothes, I can’t just buy the first shirt I like. No, now there’s a little voice inside my head asking annoying questions like, “Is this well-made?” “Is this versatile?” “Does it look amazing on me?” It’s a great voice, but sometimes I wish I hadn’t swallowed the red pill and changed my life forever.

#11 – It is impossible to get kids to get rid of stuff

Many will tell you they’ve succeeded in getting their kids to give away their toys. I’ll believe it when I figure out a way that works with my kids.

#12 – One extracurricular activity per week per family member is more than enough

This rule helps us all minimize the craziness that comes with too many obligations. It keeps us (the parents) from turning into a shuttle service and it helps us all prioritize what activities we really want to be involved in. I’ve also found that constricting activities to weekdays is helpful. That leaves our weekends freed up to explore and go on Family Adventure Days. Alison has soccer, Maddie is in gymnastics, and I stay late at work one night a week for yoga. Perhaps this only works because our kids are so young, but the rule works for us right now.

#13 – Minimalism is a journey

At first, I naively thought I could organize my entire life and then sit back and reap the rewards. Then the junk mail showed up and our kids had birthdays and received a bunch of presents. Freeing yourself from your stuff only works as well as your system for ensuring new stuff doesn’t catch you offhand. Figure out how you’ll defend yourself before you get started and you’ll have an easier time sticking to your wonderful new excess-free world.

One Year of Minimalism

I find it funny that my list naturally came out to an “unlucky” 13 items because I feel so lucky to have stumbled upon this project for the last year. It’s changed how I think about the world and how I make decisions daily. I am, without a doubt, living a life closer to my dream life. I am excited to continue it with a new goal and I’m glad that you’ve been reading.

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