Cleaning Out: What Was I Thinking?

I don’t know about you, but every once in a while I get in the mood to clean out…REALLY clean out. The kind of clean-out that starts at one end and keeps going till there are bags of trash and stuff to get rid of, piled up high. What made me think of this was seeing a story on Yahoo about how people are donating those bags of junk and broken toys to the tornado victims in the Southeast—creating even more of a mess! I know all about those bags….

This past Sunday, I spent all day in the basement with my three daughters, cleaning out. It had gotten to the point where there was no room to play, do crafts of any sort, or even sit. As we sifted through lifetimes of toys and 45 years of Barbie clothing styles (yes, I still have most of mine, mixed in with all of theirs), I couldn’t help but wonder why I had allowed so much stuff to get into our house. Too many holidays and birthdays, too many gifts we felt too guilty to get rid of, too many projects half-started and never finished…much too much plastic; and what’s left is a mess of epic proportions, and no room left to play or create!

And so we sorted, and surreptitiously removed tiny bits of things that the youngest still thinks are essential, and things that the middle one might one day eventually use in a craft project. And all the while, it made me rethink how we live. How much time do we spend shopping for new things when we don’t even use what we have? How much energy do we spend wishing for more when we already have what we need? All those little impulse buys and “just one thing!” add up to a pile that rivals the island of plastic floating in the middle of the ocean. I’m guilty of all of this. But I’m determined to change. Because frankly, cleaning out is depressing. I’d rather be doing fun stuff!

And so I’m vowing to myself (and as a result, to the rest of my family) not to bring more crap into our house. No plastic. No cheap little mementos. No impulse buys that will add to the pile that prevents us from truly living. For lord’s sake, no more stuffed animals! I don’t care how cute they are! From now on, we will focus on experiences, not souvenirs. We will spend our time creating rather than shopping. We will donate time and money, not junk.

Wish me luck! And please, don’t send gifts.


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13 Responses to Cleaning Out: What Was I Thinking?

  1. Gardener on Sherlock Street May 23, 2011 at 9:18 am #

    “…focus on experiences, not souvenirs.” Wel said.
    I take photos from our trips. Yes, that means photo albums but no trinkets to dust. Perhaps a Christmas tree ornament, but that’s it! Otherwise, we’re focusing on purchasing well made functional items we use that are pretty in some way (plastic isn’t pretty). Quality instead of quantity.

  2. Maya May 23, 2011 at 10:59 am #


  3. Lacy May 23, 2011 at 11:24 am #

    Maria, you hit the nail on the head for all of us! When I started over after a nasty divorce, I threw out or gave away almost everything and replaced it with lovely relics from the past, giving them continued life. The everyday dishes are Haviland Limoges circa 1930, the furniture, rugs and art are all from the 1920s and 30s…even my sweetheart is from the 1950s!

  4. Laura P May 23, 2011 at 3:10 pm #

    I try to keep this in mind, too. We end up w/ too many things in the house and then believe they are the right things and then get more things. The cycle is endless. Summer is coming and it’s time to clean out and not bring back in.
    A great post!!

  5. maggi s May 23, 2011 at 3:21 pm #

    i retired and downsized from 1500 sq ft to 330 sq ft. talk about cleaning out! lot of lovely antiques and i kept only the ones with meaning. after 5 years in this cozy and happy little home i have learned the hard way. when something comes in something must go out. great post.

  6. Sharon Zondag May 23, 2011 at 9:12 pm #

    Maria~ I couldn’t agree more. I tried last year to see how long i could go without buying any new clothing, discovering the luxury of “shopping” in my own closet! rediscovering lost treasures and combining things in ways that felt “new”. I found I had more time and less packaging to deal with ( the downside of shopping!) and seemed to enjoy my days more without a seemingly endless list of things to buy. I wish I could say I lasted longer…only six months …your blog is a wake up call…to try again on a larger scale! thanks Maria.

  7. Sharon May 23, 2011 at 9:49 pm #

    You have all of my well wishes! I am at that same space in life. Although older. This is what keeps resonating over and over when I think that I need something. Everything that we buy needs tending. In some way it must be tended. Dusted, washed, sorted, recycled, given away, parted from, falsely attached to. Is this really how I want to spend my life. I am so on board with this!!! I know that you can!

  8. mrshiggion May 23, 2011 at 10:03 pm #

    I have literally been trying to do this for a month. I got to a point where I didn’t recognize my house for all the “stuff” that meant nothing to me. It’s a process. Most often reminding myself that the twinge of “oh this is so.cute” means little more than a twinge.
    So completely worth it to fill my home with memories, not crowded with stuff.

  9. Sonny Honsickle May 23, 2011 at 10:33 pm #

    Your story reminds me of a fisherman I once came across docked on Mic Mac Cove in Massachusetts. Darnedest thing. He was bailing water with a bucket from one end, while running a garden hose to fill up the boat from the other end. I pulled alongside his boat and asked him what he was doing. He said “Just trying to keep the economy going!” Glad you are putting an end to that kind of thinking– the more select we are about what we buy– and take care of– the more time we have for each other, our most precious resource. Thank you, Maria. We can all benefit from your breakthrough moment.

  10. karen in winchester May 24, 2011 at 10:55 am #

    I’m about to move to a smaller house, so, I have been sorting through stuff for the last 2 months. After living here for 18 years you can imaging the amount of “things” that have been allowed into our home. Sure there is a lot of stuff that went to charity and some went to the recycling plant, some other stuff even had no use at all and was just thrown away. There was another pile of unwanted items too, these included like yours, unwanted gifts etc..I have been taking them to the car boot sales, or garage sales I think you call them. I have made so much money from stuff that has been hanging around for ages that, quite frankly is junk. People will buy anything if it’s cheap enough, what are we like! Since the record clear up began, I also decided no more buying. For the first time in ages I see a rise in my bank statements. It’s almost as if, I had so much money per month to spend so I had to spend it on something/anything, well not anymore. Well done for all your tidying and keep up the good work, only buy if you need it.

  11. jgram May 26, 2011 at 9:24 am #

    have you ever felt “guilty” at not using a “25% ( or higher) off everything you buy today”..or “Hurry in while supplies last” ..haha, what are we thinking…unless it is actually something we need ( doubful!) ..stay home and make cookies for church or knit for homeless, anything except mindless shopping! Remember, clean as though you are moving and have to pay to pack and transport everything..that’s an eye-opener!

  12. Cara May 26, 2011 at 7:31 pm #

    I read the book Not Buying It by Judith Levine and it made me take a very hard look at what I buy and why I buy it. I have three kids too and the accumulated junk is nuts. Slowly, slowly I am teaching them (and me) to think before we buy. We are all learning that it’s better to make it ourselves (as in Halloween costumes and hats for hat day) or to buy only high quality things. This past year we made fabric bags to wrap presents in for Christmas and birthdays so that we wouldn’t be buying and throwing away all that paper. They know that books are pretty much the only thing mom will usually say yes to when they ask. We also shop frequently at the Goodwill, not just to save money but to re-use instead of bringing another object in to the world.

  13. Teiya June 22, 2011 at 9:36 am #

    This is exaclty what I was looking for. Thanks for writing!

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