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Armed with my handful of black trash bags, I donned my scuba mask (the kind that covers your nose) and heavy-duty gloves, preparing for my trek to the man-child’s room. As I traversed the first mountain of dirty clothes, I regretted my decision not to pack a sandwich. I could be in here for hours! I heard a groan from across the room, then a large lump on the bed whined, “Do we have to do this today?”

“Be brave, Tris” I whispered.

He didn’t get my Divergent joke, or find the mask and gloves the least bit funny.

While almost none of this story is true, (the groaning and trash bags were real) Max was nervous but determined to clear out his stuff. And guess what? We did it!

We spent the morning distracted by friendly visitors, including a very sweet and cuddly 3-month-old named Lillian Grace. When everyone left, I explained my plan to my firstborn and we got to work. Together. That was the key. I could yell and scream at that kid for hours about cleaning up his room, shaming him for letting it get so out of hand, and threatening to take away his birthday, but I decided to try out the adage about catching flies with honey instead of vinegar.

Before we began, I made a list of questions for us to ask as we deliberated over the harder choices of what to part with:

Purging QuestionsWe started at the doorway and chatted while we worked side by side, sorting clothing, shoes, papers, books, trash, and projects.

Oh. My. Word. Max loves projects. He’s a creative spirit and his hands are always moving, shaping, cutting, crafting, carving, and duct-taping. And his room tells the tale. His work table alone qualifies for hoarding status.Well, it did. Now it’s a sleek work space.

All of my children are sentimental, so I wondered if this purging quest would challenge them to tears. I was a bit surprised as I watched Max toss things in the trash I was sure he’d have a reason for keeping. I was prepared to talk him through it, but he was doing fine on his own, so I kept my mouth SHUT! In the case of decluttering, more is better, and there was no way I was slowing that process down.

I didn’t ask him why he kept every scrap of paper his girlfriend has ever given him, or why he needs a dozen green lantern rings, but I was truly puzzled why he had four shoes with no mates. Seriously? Four? How does that even happen?

At the end of the day we had cleared out three large bags of trash, donated over half of his stuff to the thrift store down the street, and discovered he does in fact have carpet in his room.

What did we learn from this hours-long process?

  1. It’s not about organizing your stuff, it’s about getting rid of stuff so you have less to organize.
  2. Stuff quickly becomes junk when left on the floor to get stepped on.
  3. Teenage boys can reach a breaking point with their clutter and beg to just bag everything up and start over.
  4. It’s possible to have too many pillows and blankets, and pens. The boy has almost as many pens as I do!
  5. He slept better in his clean space last night, and I slept better knowing we’re almost half way done! We didn’t work on the house today, but tomorrow is all about Zoe’s room, the bathrooms, and hall closets.

I almost forgot! Not only did a friend stop by with Chai, Benny and Zoe purged the kitchen and dining room for me!

How about you? Are you inspired to purge your own house yet? Are you ready to embrace simple minimalism? What is the strangest thing you’ve decluttered? Does it beat four mismatched shoes?

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It’s happening AGAIN. I’m finding myself fuming and pouting because I am picking up my family’s crap AGAIN. We have too much stuff AGAIN. I spent most of 2011 working through and posting about my decluttering challenge. Click on the links to read how I did it:

It’s only been four years since I learned (and taught) about decluttering and minimalism. It’s only been one year since we decluttered to move to our current home. It’s not like I’ve forgotten how to do it, so maybe I needed new inspiration to do it again. Don’t we all need that now and then?

Enter my friend, Penelope Hoyt.

She’s written several books on the topic as well as homemaking, homeschooling, organizing and prepping. I started with her book, The Simple Minimalist, and I’m still working my way through her stuff. She has lots of great tips including defining minimalism for yourself (Hint: It looks a little different for each person) and pursuing a simple, peaceful lifestyle free from emotional and mentally draining clutter. She encouraged me by reminding me WHY I want to live simply – so I have more time, energy, and resources to live life with the people I love.

Sadly, she lives too far away to grab a cup of Chai and pick her brain, so I spent last week reading several of her books. If you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited, you can read most of them for free, but her prices are amazing even without KU. Here’s a partial list of the books I read:

Minimalism Made Easy: What It Really Takes to Live with Less It was a nice surprise when I discovered I already had this on my Kindle before we even met. 😉

Going Green: 25 Recipes to Save Your House and Your Life

Natural Living

Downsizing Made Easy: How to Simplify Your House for a Quicker Sale

101 Things to Teach Your Kids This Year

Her Minimalist Hacks series was great too. I decided to stop reading for now and start minimizing! When I thanked her for inspiring me, she responded by giving me a few tips. The most important one is this: Buy big black trash bags. You are more likely to get rid of things when you’re not staring at them, possibly having second thoughts.

I read and got inspired again. I formed a plan. I talked to my family and they all jumped on board the crazy purging train I’m conducting. Woot! Woot! This is Nowell Purging Week, and today was Day 1. Benny posted this on Facebook today:

purge

Hey! I needed a staging area.This is what happens when you have kids hauling everything up and down stairs. They dump it wherever. Hmmm…seems to me that’s what got us into this mess. Bringing too much stuff into our home contributed as well, I suppose. It’s okay. We’re punching the reset button.

Here’s my basic plan of attack:

Monday: Pete’s room and our bookshelves. DONE and DONE!

  • 7 boxes of homeschooling curriculum (not mine, I was storing them)
  • 7 boxes of books – mostly mine
  • 3 bags of stuffed animals, clothes, and shoes (plus a few GIANT stuffed animals)
  • 2 bags of misc. toys and stuff
  • 1 big bag of trash

Tuesday: Max’s room. Dear God, please help me control my tongue and attitude, and have someone bring me Chai.

Wednesday: After I get home from work – The bathrooms and hall closets.

Thursday: Zoe’s room and the living room/dining room. She’s been cleaning, so it will be easier than riding herd on helping the boys.

Friday: The kitchen and the laundry room.

Saturday: Finish up our bedroom, which is where I began before officially starting this purge.

Sunday: A much-needed day of rest! 😉

I’ll let you know how the week goes by updating this post with how much stuff we haul away.

I’ll be back with more thoughts on this and how we can avoid a repeat of this process next year, but in the meantime, visit Penelope at her blog, The Nerdy Survivalist, buy her books on Amazon, then go declutter something!

You can do it!

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Have you ever heard of a Virginia Auction? Neither has Google, but our school holds one every year.

Virginia Auction [ver-jin-yuh] [awk-shuhn] noun  1. An event held each year to raise money for the scholarship fund at Family Academy of Christian Education. Families buy tickets to bid on new and gently used donated items. Whoever has their name drawn out of the bag next to the item, takes it home. Tickets are .25 each or 5/$1.00 with a maximum of $50 per family. Items are donated by families and local businesses.

My favorite was a $30 gift card for Texas Roadhouse. Sadly, I didn’t win.

What I did do was donate several items for the auction. I grabbed a box and raided the school stuff first. Electronic educational toys, a desk lamp that no one was using, stickers, children’s books, and a cute backpack all went in the box. Then I scavenged through the kitchen and decided to donate our kettle corn popper.We hardly ever use it and we prefer our air popper, but it made one of the other families very happy.        Let’s see…there were a few items I had bought on clearance for a quarter each, 3 cd players, a Spiderman table-cloth, 3 board games, and some other miscellaneous things. I haven’t heard how much was raised, but I know my family only brought home 4 items, and the item I won, I gave to a friend. Yes, my de-cluttering is still going strong. Now if only I could figure out what Virginia has to do with the auction.

Are you still de-cluttering too?

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As we prepare for the Zombie Apocalypse, it’s important for us to know how long our medicines and vitamins will last and update our stash of expired bottles, so I made that my September de-cluttering challenge. 😉

Seriously, we are as homeopathic as we can be, but a few weeks ago my son had such a terrible headache that we went for the hard stuff. I pulled the ibuprofen & acetaminophen out of the medicine drawer and it was expired. I wasn’t all that surprised because we hardly ever use it, but then I was faced with a dilemma. Let my child be in pain, or give him expired drugs in the hopes of killing the headache.

I hopped online and did a little research (after giving him the Tylenol) and found out that it’s up to me to decide how long to continue using medicines after the printed expiration date on the bottle. Whew. What a relief. Thank you Google for clearing that up for me.

According to this article by the Harvard Medical School, and many other sites I found, drug manufacturers are required by law to stamp a date on their products. This is the date at which the manufacturer can still guarantee the full potency and safety of the drug. HOWEVER, in a study done by the FDA, at the request of the military, 90% of more than 100 drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter, were perfectly good to use even 15 years after the expiration date, so the expiration date doesn’t necessarily indicate a point at which the medication is no longer effective or has become unsafe to use.

“It’s true the effectiveness of a drug may decrease over time, but much of the original potency remains even a decade after the expiration date. Excluding nitroglycerin, insulin, and liquid antibiotics, most medications are as long-lasting as the ones tested by the military. Placing a medication in a cool place, such as a refrigerator, will help a drug remain potent for many years.”

Good to know.

We’re not into taking medication unless it’s REALLY needed, so we don’t keep a full medicine cabinet, but I still decided to take a look at every bottle we do have and toss most of the expired stuff – especially the liquids. Here’s a picture of what I threw away. I added the quarter for size comparison. I’m clever like that.

One more thing. Here’s an article from the FDA which explains the proper disposal of over the counter and prescription drugs:

http://www.fda.gov/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm101653.htm

Moving on…

October’s Writing Challenge:

I emailed Don, my American friend living in France, and asked him to hold me accountable with my writing. Being a blogger himself, I knew he’d understand the need for motivation in the form of a challenge. WordPress issued such a challenge back in January, but suggested it to me again for the month of October. A post-a-day challenge is just what I need to get my butt in gear and quit making excuses for not writing. You can read about it at http://dailypost.wordpress.com/.

Consider this Day 1. 🙂

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I swear I’m not sprinkling miracle grow on my children’s food, but Max has gone through 4 shoe sizes and 2 clothing sizes so far this year! His brother and sister have also hit growth spurts which means it’s time to shop. Being homeschoolers, we don’t usually feel the pressure to arrive at the end of August with new wardrobes. Although they did ask for new pajamas, I’m sure that had nothing to do with our schooling. *wink*

I said usually, so here we are in September and I’m tired of the incessant nagging about the need for new clothes. The kids are bothering me about it too, but before shopping for bigger sizes, we had to get rid of the smaller stuff. In true leadership fashion, I started with my closet and dresser then took turns with each of the kids sorting theirs. Here is my 5 step method:

1.  Make 2 piles on the bed: Donate and Trash. Start with the closet and work from top to bottom and left to right.

Does it fit?

If not, let it go. I don’t play the size game. I don’t need 8 shirts I hope to fit into in the next year. When I lose weight, I’ll reward myself with some new shirts instead of ice cream.

Am I comfortable when I wear it?

If not, I probably haven’t worn it in months and it doesn’t belong next to my beloved favorites.

Does it need repairs?

If yes, I usually let someone else repair and wear it. I can sew buttons and seams and that’s about as far as I’m willing to go.

When did I last wear it?

Unless it’s seasonal, I’m ruthless. If it’s been more than a month or two, I get rid of it. There’s a reason for not wearing the clothes you have, and it doesn’t require a therapist to figure it out. Repeat the previous questions to get to the bottom of the issue and move on.

Is it a good color for me?

This one is tricky and makes me wonder if I might need therapy. I wear A LOT of black. I’m talking a 6 to 1 ratio to any other color in my closet which means teal and brown get a small shout out and there might be a blue thrown in there somewhere. I work with street people and dark colors help me blend in better. I’m also a round, red-headed, blue-green eyed, fair-skinned woman. Teals, browns, and greens look fabulous on me. Black is slimming (nobody really believes that, right?) and trendy. Ha!  Besides, all of those colors match my sleeve tattoo. That’s an important fashion detail for me.;)

2.  Moving on to the dresser, I repeat the same questions as above except for the sock/underwear drawer. Old and single socks go into the cleaning rag-bag and underwear beyond repair end up in the trash. Why are they still in there anyway??

3. Shoes. Our house is not overrun by them, so fast growing feet is a bit of a challenge. Everyone has a pair of athletic type shoes and either Crocs (Benny & the kids) or flip-flops (me), and Zoe and I each have a pair of sandals. In warm weather I wear my five-finger shoes about 6 days a week.

I seriously LOVE these shoes. I even got one of our summer interns hooked on them. Max is begging me for a pair of his own. I told him maybe for his 21st birthday or when his feet have stopped growing, whichever comes first.

4.  Seasonal items like winter coats, snow pants, hats, and gloves, and swimming suits are sorted too so we’re ready for the next season, then the previous season’s clothes go in a tub up in the closet.

5.  Max takes the trash out, Zoe takes the donation bag to the van, and Pete…well…that boy needs to step up and get a job instead of standing there with his cute little grin.

There you go. Another de-cluttering month to brag about to you fine people. One last thing before I move on to September’s challenge (which I completed today). I have 2 very important clothing philosophies:

When donating: Be a helper, not a hoarder. If I’m not using it, I know there are lots of people out there that need it. I start with my friends. I pass clothing on to them instead of storing them, but I don’t pass along crap that needs to be thrown away. That’s just rude.

Check out local charities to find out who needs what and how to schedule a donation pick up by visiting:

http://www.donationtown.org/news/donate-clothes.html

When buying new stuff: Be smart and buy what you love and will wear. I don’t buy items just because they’re on sale and there’s a 30% chance I’ll wear it in the future. I ask myself the same questions I ask when I’m de-cluttering so I won’t have buyer’s remorse the next time.

There was nothing weird to report this time, but I’ll bet some of you have stories.

What’s the strangest or funniest item of clothing you’ve de-cluttered?

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O.K. I’m flaking out on you. Again. I’m barely functioning over here, so deal with it. 😉

We host youth groups all summer, spend a week in Oklahoma at Camp Zenith, entertain/hang out with our interns, do our regular outreach and Saturday night meals. All of that on top of wearing my wife, mom, writer, reader, Words with Friends challenger hats. I spell “busy” with lots of exclamation marks after it. So a monthly challenge was a little beyond my abilities.

Never fear! I did what Flylady calls the “27 Fling Boogie” on a regular basis. I also donated several boxes of clothes, trinkets, dishes, a desk, 3 chairs, a twin size mattress, and some other odds and ends to 3 different fundraising yard sales friends were hosting. Flylady would be proud of me.

My blogging accountability partners will call me a cheater for this post, but I have a question for them (and you)…

What did YOU de-clutter this summer?

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11 pounds. That’s how much paper was in the box labeled, “To Be Shredded.” That didn’t include the 2 kitchen size trash bags (13 gallons each) full of old papers I threw away. Do you know what’s better than Office Depot shredding paper for you at 99 cents per pound? Your city doing it for FREE. Did you know that several cities around the country host free shredding days in April to coincide with Tax Day? Google it and save yourself some money! Lucky me, ours happened during my March/April de-cluttering challenge. Sure, I could buy a shredder, but I’ve gone through 2 of them so far and they always break on me. I also don’t want to store the darn thing. For me, it’s worth it to spend a few bucks 2 times a year to shred the important stuff at the store. The rest can be recycled or tossed.

Benny used to ask me where something was by saying, “which Wal-Mart sack is it in?” He was only half-joking. Paper in all forms is my downfall. I’ve been recovering for quite some time, but went from shoving it in sacks to piling it in stacks. Sadly, I’m still a piler determined to be a filer. 😉 Embracing my “I don’t need to keep everything” attitude for 2011 is helping. There are rules like saving tax returns for 7 years, and receipts and warranty information for the life of your appliances, etc., but do I really need the receipt telling me how much is left on my Starbucks card? Or 5 copies of a magazine article I meant to mail to some friends but never did? I won’t even talk about the big stack of Christmas cards we’ve received over the past 18 years. I had no sane reason for saving that stuff, so before my family could nominate me for that hoarder show on TLC, I challenged myself to cut the paper clutter. This is how I did it:

I borrowed some tips from Peter Walsh and the 15 minute rule from FlyLady and got to work. (BTW, I used her 27-Fling Boogie to de-clutter my knick knacks back in February.) I started with the pile on my desk then moved on to a big box of papers I had set aside for a rainy day. Finally, I dove into my 2 filing cabinets. File by file, I was a purging queen. As new paper entered my home, I sorted and tossed the best I could. I’m proud to tell you that I didn’t stop after finishing the purge. I set up a filing system for bills, receipts, and other papers that I need to keep, got my calendar in order, and found the perfect spot for my trash can and recycling bin. And it only took me 2 months. 😉

I’m now 1/3 of the way through my 2011 challenge and I’ve de-cluttered some weird stuff:

  • The hospital brochures from my first child’s birth…almost 12 years ago.
  • A 3-inch thick file of magazine articles I had saved to read someday; some dating back to 1996-still unread.
  • A few notes from a high school boyfriend. Yes, really. They were buried in a file marked, “personal”. Whatever.
  • A book about breastfeeding. My youngest is 7 years old.
  • An ink cartridge from 2 printers ago.

What are you holding on to that should be recycled, tossed, or passed on to someone else? I challenge you to find something weirder than the things I’ve listed here. 😉 Now who can I re-gift this to? (Peter would be so proud.)

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