Tackling Clutter Problem Areas: Our Whimsical Message Center

Tackling Clutter Problem Areas Graphic

We all have at least one area in our home that is an ongoing problem area. Some parts of our homes, once organized, require only minimal and routine maintenance. But others seem to grow clutter like kudzu. For my husband and me, that area is our mail, receipts, and action items. “Action items” are any papers that require an action to be taken—a doctor’s bill, for example, or a form to be filled out.

The problem grew worse, however, once we moved to the townhouse. I don’t really know why, but suddenly receipts were popping up like weeds in our living room, mail was scattered all over the entertainment center, and one of the pair of storage ottomans in our living room had gone from a place to rest your feet to a pile of “to-do’s.”

A living room is meant to be a room for relaxation. It’s the place where hubby and I sit and chat over coffee or tea, where we lounge and watch our favorite TV shows, where I curl up with a cup of tea and a good book, where I frequently have writing sessions.

In terms of feng shui, our living room encompasses our helpful people/travel area and our creativity area. For me, clutter is like a bucket of cold water dumped on the fire of creativity—and that is not the kind of energy I want in a space.

The most obvious solution was to create an organizational system in our home office, but it’s upstairs on the far end of the house—admittedly, it’s not a large house, but if you’re carrying in mail at the same time as groceries and dog food at the end of the work day, you don’t necessarily take the time to carry receipts and mail upstairs.

Enter our messaging center. It was a simple fix, really. A cheapo, wall-mounted file organizer from Target combined with some fun art—a Harry Potter themed “No post on Sundays” image that I made in Word and printed on some cardstock, and a little bit of magical flair add some visual interest to the space. Envelopes sort receipts into “shred,” “keep for 30 days,” and “file” categories (file would be for large items with warranties—a TV, for example). There’s also an envelope for coupons, and two sections, one for action items, another for incoming mail.

It doesn’t eliminate the need for maintenance, but it does eliminate the stress seeing mail, papers, and receipts strewn about the living room caused me. And really, such items didn’t belong in the living room anyway. Now I can sort through items once a week, and they’re all there waiting for me in one place.

I challenge you to find such an area in your home and brainstorm ways to corral the clutter. Of course, you will need a maintenance routine to keep things from piling up, but understanding which areas are problematic for you can go a long way to helping keep those areas manageable. Papers always have been a problem area for my husband and me, but some hard work at clearing paper clutter, followed by carefully designed storage is helping keep those areas much more manageable.

As for the creative aspect of my life, it seems to be thriving these days. I’m about 15K into the first draft of my novel Wild Tarot, the first in the Wild Fae Trilogy. I’ve been reading up a storm as well, including books on fairy witchcraft, deep point of view, and some lovely magical fiction reads, including Ellen Dugan’s Gypsy Chronicles and Kiss of the Silver Wolf by Sharon Buchbinder.

We’ve been tending hearth and home as well. I did a massive space clearing with some sage and rose incense on last week, after we thoroughly cleaned the house, and I ordered some sweetgrass so we can invite some good, magical spirits and energies into the house. We’re chipping away at clutter and planning out some major home renovation projects as well. The energy in the townhouse feels lovely and peaceful, and settled, which it didn’t for a while. It is becoming the tidy, cozy, whimsical home, a place for creativity and magic and love, that I always knew it could be.

And, of course, stories are unfolding. I hope someday soon to introduce you to Morgana, Rowena, and Sylvie, the three sisters in the Wild Fae trilogy.

Until then, may magic and light be with you!

Please share your comments below! What areas are problematic for you? Have you created a system for addressing these areas?

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Lessons in Minimalism

Snow Heart
by Dmitry Maslov | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Saturday was a day filled with snow and biting cold wind, and so after a few excursions into the snowy hills with puppy Leo and an adventure out to do some shopping (okay, mostly to get away from the house, because I work from home and sometimes I need a change of scenery), hubby and I curled up and watched Minimalism: A Documentary about the Important Things. I loved it.

I am not and probably will never be a minimalist. Maybe if I’d discovered the philosophy when I was twenty, but not currently. But I think we can still learn from the philosophy. Thanks to reading Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I’ve already let go of a lot of excess stuff, and am continuing to. For most of us, decluttering is an ongoing process, and that’s what makes it such a challenge.

But what minimalism teaches us, and what the documentary stresses, is emphasizing relationships and purpose over stuff. Our stuff can take over our lives, and to be honest, sometimes that’s what it feels like for me. I feel like I spend so much time dusting and organizing and rearranging. How much easier would it be to live in a small home and own a minimal amount of items? How much more time could I devote to what really calls to me, to magic and the Goddess and writing and creativity, if I owned less?

And so that knowledge drives me forward. Watching documentaries, reading books and articles and blog posts about simplifying, minimizing, decluttering, help me on my journey. And that’s what it is. A journey to less stuff–and more living.

That being said, here’s a brief check-in on my goals for this round, which are fairly streamlined, in keeping with the minimalist theme for today:

  • Write 300-500 words daily. Week One is a success! I wrote 3,349 words this week. My highest word count was 696; my lowest was 337. Not a bad start.
  • Stay close to sources of inspiration by meditating, doing yoga, journaling, spending time in nature, and exploring other creative outlets. (See specific, measurable goals below.) Walks in the snow, bought some healing crystals for kitty Roo, who has a heart arrhythmia that’s triggering seizures, and some lapis lazuli for hubby’s headaches.
  • Journal at least three times a week. 2/3. Friday’s journaling was cut short by a very poorly behaved puppy.
  • Explore another creative outlet at least twice a week. 2/2. Tried a new recipe—broccoli cheddar quiche. Baked chocolate chip cookies. Hoping to paint the trim in my office today and then next week get the library set up so I have a sanctuary for reading, writing, and journaling in the evenings.

What about you? Are you interested in minimalism? Are you a minimalist, or do you incorporate any of its teachings or philosophies into your life? How was the first week of 2017 for you writing-wise?

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Why I’m Simplifying

As many of you know, I’ve been on a mission to declutter my home. I moved (twice, technically) earlier this year. Once we put all everything in storage and lived with my in-laws for several weeks until our townhouse was ready. And then we pulled all of those boxes out of our storage units and packed it all into our new home.

I realize if I move again, I don’t want to be carting around that much stuff. So that’s one reason I’m simplifying. But I’m also doing it for peace of mind. I need space so there’s room for energy to flow in my home. I need less to take care of so I can devote time to what really matters.

In my ideal world, I’d do yoga or tai chi or meditate daily. I’d sit out in a nearby park with my journal and free-write. My home would be a serene and calm space for making art and connecting to my spirituality. And decluttering is part of that.

ROW80 check-in:

Writing: Wrote 4,507 words. Finished my short story “Into the Faerie Forest” and started a draft of a novella, Goblins and Grimoires. I also did some plotting for the latter, which is an expanded version of a short story I wrote last year.

Reading: Finished If I’m So Smart, Why Can’t I Get Rid of this Clutter? by Sallie Felton. It wasn’t my favorite. I think it’s that I’m already a fairly organized person—I just want to own less stuff. If you’re really disorganized, this book will be helpful. Started reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying up by Marie Kondo. It’s exactly what I’ve been looking for—a system for getting rid of a bunch of stuff and living with less. Highly recommend. Also started The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. It is amazing. Another book I would recommend.

Decluttering: So, I abandoned my goal to get rid of five things a day for 100 days. The reason? It was too slow. Instead, this weekend, inspired by The Life Changing Magic of Tidying up, I went through all of my books, clothes, etc., and did a major decluttering. I would estimate I got rid of four or five boxes of books, a large bag full of clothes and blankets, and a large box of miscellaneous stuff. I also want to go through my dishes and get rid of some. That will probably take up two small boxes. I’ll still have to go through the stuff that’s in the attic, but I’m now happy with the number of books and clothing items I own. A big step forward on that front.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Click here to cheer on fellow participants.

Have you ever tried to simplify your life? Why? How would you feel if you owned less stuff? What would your ideal day look like?

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Living with Intention

I just finished reading a book titled Choosing Simplicity by Linda Breen Pierce. It’s a collection of case studies of people who’ve drastically simplified their lives. Some still work nine-to-fives but live in smaller homes; others have scaled back their expenses so much that they’re able to focus on volunteer work or pursuing a passion.

But one thing all of these stories have in common is that each individual, couple, or family who shared their story was living a life of intention. They knew what they valued in life and pared away the excess until they could focus on what really mattered to them.

The idea of simple living has always appealed to me, but my lifestyle is hardly minimalist. In some ways I’ve simplified my life. My husband and I share a paid-off car, though we both take the bus to work, for example. But our recent move showed me just how much stuff we own—and all of that stuff is weighing on me.

Earlier this year, before the big move, I started getting rid of 10 things every day. These could be as small as a sheet of paper or a pair of socks. And I got rid of a lot of stuff, mostly papers I didn’t need anymore. I went from having two file crates full of papers to one file crate only halfway full. I got rid of other things, too, but letting go of those papers was especially freeing.

So I’ve decided to embark on another quest for minimalism—or at least as close as I can get. I’m going to get rid of five things every day for 100 days. At the end, my home will be 500 things lighter than it was when I started. Yesterday I got rid of five books—a couple of anthologies that were similar enough to others I already owned that I won’t miss them, and some books from my college days that I realized I was keeping because they reminded me of a very happy time in my life, a time full of knowledge and beginnings.

I recognize that I carry those things with me. Every book I’ve read, every class I’ve taken, every place I’ve been…All of that is inside of me, and I don’t need to keep every object associated with those times to remember them fondly. And then there are the objects given to me by people I love. Those will be harder to part with. On my entertainment center, for example, are several plastic cartoon characters that arrived one day in a box from my brother. It was a moment of spontaneous gift-giving, and looking at them makes me smile. Do I part with them? Or, since they take up so little space, do I hang onto them? I haven’t decided yet.

I’m changing my life in other ways as well. I’m trying to do some form of yoga, t’ai chi, or meditation every day, even if only for a few minutes. I’m working on spending less money, whether at Target or the grocery store.

Simple living is about intention. It’s about living with purpose as much as it is about living with less. And that’s the journey I’m on.

And now for a very brief ROW80 check-in:

Writing: Nothing impressive so far this week. I’ve written 595 words so far this week in A Prince in Patience Point. I’m a little stuck at the moment—probably a few thousand words away from the ending, but not sure how to get there. I might try reading through what I’ve already written and seeing if that helps me figure out how to end the story.

Reading: Read Choosing Simplicity: Real People Finding Peace and Fulfillment in a Complex World by Linda Breen Pierce and Downsizing Your Life for Freedom, Flexibility and Financial Peace by Claire Middleton. Choosing Simplicity was extremely inspiring. Reading stories of how people have changed their lives for the better is always appealing. Downsizing Your Life for Freedom, Flexibility and Financial Peace didn’t do much for me. I think the target demographic was baby boomers and empty-nesters who’ve raised their children and are now looking to downsize. It was mostly about why you should downsize, not how to. I’m still searching for a good book to help me with the process of decluttering and simplifying. Any recommendations would be much appreciated.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Click here to cheer on fellow participants.

What about you? Does the concept of simple living appeal to you? How would you simplify your life? How do you manage all of the stuff you own?

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Looking Forward to Spring Cleaning…seriously.

Though February is speeding its way toward March, we just had our first significant snowfall this weekend in Southwest Virginia. And even though we’re currently living in a winter wonderland, I can’t help but have my sights set on one of the more interesting spring traditions in which so many of us participate: spring cleaning.

Though it lacks the nostalgic joy of dyeing eggs and the earthy satisfaction of sowing the first seeds of the season, in my household, we take spring cleaning seriously.

Well, I do. My husband mostly grunts and nods. Who would get excited about cleaning the ceiling fan with a pillowcase, pulling all of the shoes out of the closet, or lugging a box of old junk to Goodwill? Besides me. Anyone?

New Year ’s Day arrives after the flurry of the holidays, when the tree is still up, the gifts are still shiny and new, and the year is a clean slate. We arrive full of hope for the upcoming year, a fistful of goals in our hand and an ambitious resolution in our pocket. The first months of the year drag on, for many of us, full of gray days spent complaining about the weather and searching for our missing glove. Resolutions fall into a period of waxing and waning of purpose.

For me, the year really gets going in the spring. It’s the start of a year in a different sort of way, a beginning more in tune with the cycles of nature, of rebirth and growth and fertility. Spring cleaning can be a time to cleanse our surroundings, physically and spiritually. We can dust all of those places we always forget about, sort out that pile of papers accumulating on the corner of the desk, or sweep the remnants of the last fall leaves off the front porch.

In the delirium of cabin fever, thoughts of my spring cleaning frenzy are already swirling in my head.

Intellectual clutter…

Spring cleaning can be a time to finish or discard old projects. That scrapbook we started and then forgot? Should we finish it? Or is it possible that we went to the craft store, bought all the supplies, and came home full of enthusiasm, only to realize that we hate scrapbooking more than we hate scrubbing the toilet? The picture frame we fell in love with, but forgot to put a picture in and stick it on the mantel? In the spring, nature is in a frenzy of growth and chatter. The robin is building her nest in the holly tree. Why not clean our nests and start afresh?

And the emotional clutter…

Who isn’t notorious for filling their home with sentimental clutter? For years, I kept my high school graduation gown. Our school colors were green and gold, and, no surprise, the gentleman got to look dashing in hunter green while the ladies wore brighter-than-the-sun yellow, a color that looks flattering on no one. I hated that graduation gown, and yet for some reason, I held onto it. Finally, I had to acknowledge: I will never wear this again. I have photos of my graduation and lots of memories of high school. I don’t need that gown hanging in my closet, blazing out at me like a polyester hazmat suit.

Spring is a good time to go through the drawers, closets, bookshelves, and miscellaneous bins and get rid of the clutter that no longer serves us. Since I live in an apartment, I can’t keep every single gift everyone has ever given me. If it isn’t useful and we don’t love it, why keep it?

I have a hatbox in my closet full of mementos I don’t plan on parting with. The oddest of them is a Pokémon “finger skateboard” my youngest brother gave me. I was a teenager, and he was in fifth grade. We had nothing in common and didn’t get along well in that period of our lives, but one day, I happened to mention that I thought Pikachu was funny. My brother went to the mall with his friends and brought this mini-skateboard back for me. It makes me smile. So I keep it. 🙂 But we don’t have to keep everything.

And, ugh, physical clutter…

I can hear my husband sighing, but I like to go from room to room and make a list of everything that needs to be done. Yes, there’s occasionally always a clipboard. Some rooms are easier than others. Our bedroom, for example, is usually the easiest room in the house. The living room is harder. The baskets next to the door fill up with random items, heavy foot traffic means the carpets need to be scrubbed, and my stack of catalogs needs to be recycled. Going through all of the papers in our offices is so scary that we tend to leave that task for last. I’m still looking for a better way to deal with paper clutter. I’ll let you know when one arrives. 😛

Maybe we don’t finish everything on the list, but I get a sense of satisfaction in checking items off—even the small ones, like “clean off bottom shelf of coffee table” or “discard old textbooks.”

When we need a hard hat to enter our closets, it’s spring-cleaning time.

“Out with the old, in with the new,” seems to apply better to January than to March, but as the season of rebirth heads our way, we can make room for growth in our old lives. Finishing an old short story or admitting we no longer care for it allows room for a new project. Cleaning out a door crammed with clothes that don’t fit makes it easier to find the ones that do. Clearing the physical clutter brings fresh air into the house as much as opening the window to the warm spring breeze.

I know maybe I go a little overboard, but how do you approach spring cleaning? What method works best? At the end of the process, do you feel rejuvenated and less stressed, or exhausted and more stressed?