Yesterday I introduced you all to Christine K., of 100 things 100 days, a woman waging relentless assault on clutter. Today, she and I get into it: what started her on the decluttering path? How did the clutter get there in the first place? What was that moment that got her to take control of her household?
What I’m really interested in is what separates Christine from the clutter-nutters who haven’t been able to take that first step (me); and how these people (me) can get there. There she is above, rollerblading through her garage, picking up nuts… She makes it look so natural!!! Ugh…
Elana Safronsky: Why do you like stuff? What makes you do it?
Christine K.: I actually have more trouble disposing of things than I do acquiring them. I get overwhelmed trying to decide where I can recycle, dispose of, or donate items. I feel incredible guilt over wasting things. To make it easier for myself, I’ve compiled a list of recycling resources in my area and every second day or so make the rounds to the various depots.
ES: On a scale of messy to full blown pathological problem where you can’t even see the floor/walls, where would you say you are?
CK: Definitely messy. My friends are all surprised that there are 10,000 things in my house to get rid of. But because we have a large house, the problem isn’t as obvious to others.
ES: Have you always nursed the impulse to hold on to stuff? Tell us about your earliest memory of packrat behaviour…
CK: I brought home tiny rubber puzzle pieces from kindergarten (which I suppose also counts as stealing!). I kept them hid in a drawer and, even though my five year old brain knew it was wrong, my compulsion to keep them overruled my conscience.
ES: Did you fight with your parents growing up about clutter in your room?
CK: Not any more than other kids. At times, I was very organized.
ES: Did your clutter get worse when you moved out on your own?
CK: It remained about the same.
ES: How did your clutter fare when you moved in with your current partner?
CK: My clutter expanded exponentially when I moved in with my current partner whom I affectionately refer to as "Squirrel". We moved into a home that his parents owned before us and we inherited a whole generation of clutter. Plus, Squirrel is also the kind of guy who thinks that power bars and alan keys should be stored together – in the ottoman.
ES: Did having kids make it worse or better?
CK: Having kids made it much worse. I estimate that half the 10,000 things I get rid of will be kids toys. When we moved into our new house four years ago, one of the movers commented that at least a third of the boxes were toys. Sleep deprivation, postpartum depression and two little mess-makers definitely exacerbated the problem. I can relate to a lot of the people on the show who suffer an illness or a trauma then find themselves awash in a sea of clutter. It sneaks up on you.
ES: Was there a seminal moment or a clear turning point that made you embark on your de-cluttering mission?
CK: There was definitely a seminal moment that made me embark on my decluttering mission. A few months before day 1, I took a mountain biking vacation with my family. With four people, toys, electronics, food, bikes and gear, we never once got cluttered. It was such a relief. I realized that it wasn’t the type of items we owned or the lack of organizing. It was the quantity of things we had that was just too much to handle. More importantly, I finally realized how little we actually need. It was like a mini version of Jill’s "shock therapy."
ES: Are your really throwing out 100 things every time you set out on a de-clutter day?
CK: I am really getting rid of (recycling, donating or throwing out) 100 things every day I declutter. The rule is that if I have to think about it, it counts as one thing. So a box of breath mints would count as one thing, but 100 tiny toy parts that I have to sort from the keepers would be 100 things. It is way more difficult that I thought it would be but seeing immediate results has really kept me motivated. People have told me that getting rid of one thing or ten things a day works for them. I guess it just depends how cluttered you are to start with and how much patience you have.
ES: Now that you’ve been doing this for a while, how have you changed as a person?
I think the biggest change is that I have more follow through. And I’ve become more assertive because I’ve proved to myself that I can make big changes.
ES: How has your life changed since your project?
CK: I shop less. It sounds simple but the pull of the mall has lost it’s power over me. I spend the extra 5-10 hours a week doing things that are more in line with my priorities – like decluttering with my kids!
ES: What are you doing with the free space? Do you find you have too much space now?
CK: We have nerf gun fights in the basement almost every day. The kids don’t miss tripping over sports equipment and games. Plus, it’s much safer. With two boys age 4 & 9, there is never too much space.
ES: What do you do with the stuff you ‘throw out’ — do you throw it out? Or find other uses?
CK: Throwing stuff out is a last resort for me. I’ve learned there is a place to donate or recycle just about everything. The two most difficult things I’ve found homes for are used school supplies and used cosmetics and toiletries. The first went to a local school and the second to a women’s shelter. I am still looking for somewhere to donate rag quality fabric and clothing. Only about 10-15% of my clutter ends up in the garbage. I weigh that against the bad karma of passing things on to charity that they have to waste resources on disposing.
ES: Do you buy less stuff now?
CK: I have a new rule that I only buy things that I’d be happy to maintain indefinitely.
ES: Top 5 most memorable things you got rid off / hardest to part with?
CK: I threw out a tent of my sister’s that was damaged by mould. It was a huge dilemma for me because it’s such a large item to send to the landfill. I tried to wash and donate it but it fell apart. I also had to bin a baseball glove that belonged to my father in law. It was full of mould but I was trying to resuscitate it in a bath of vinegar and borax when I realized that I was probably the only person on the planet who would spend a whole afternoon doing this. I threw it in the garbage and went to play with my kids. I’ve since decided that mould is an acceptable reason for tossing things in the garbage.
Getting rid of my perfume collection was difficult because I spent a lot of money on it. And, I’m still holding onto the quilt and canopy I had as a little girl and a purse that I never use but I’m attached to because of a compliment. Help Jill!
ES: Was there anything found during the purging of stuff that grossed you out? Something you found that mortified you for having something in such a state?
CK: I discovered mould on the walls in the basement storage room. I was devastated. Our home was new when we moved in. We may have a moisture problem that’s contributing to the problem but I would have noticed it much sooner if we had less stuff. It was a pretty big deal to me that I exposed my kids to this.
ES: Anything you regret getting rid of?
ES: What do you think of the people on Consumed? Do you relate to the families?
CK: I see parts of myself in every family on Consumed, especially the parents trying to raise children and declutter. Our clutter is perhaps less extreme but it was causing us the same guilt, stress, loss of time and family harmony. I celebrate with them when they reclaim their space and sanity.
ES: Do you think Jill is too hard on some of the people?
CK: I think Jill is tough on them with a purpose. There are some things that I hang on to or acquire that defy reason so I use my blog as a cyber-Jill to keep me honest. Jill has a great sense of humour. Sometimes you need someone else to point out to you that your reasons for keeping things are a little out of touch with reality. Jill manages to do this and still keep everyone smiling.
ES: If Jill were to come to your house, what do you think her reaction would be to your self-enforced de-clutter bootcamp?
CK: I would hope that Jill would be a fan of my decluttering bootcamp. But if she came to the house I’d be afraid she’d make me drop and give her twenty – twenty more things!
ES: Most profound revelation you’ve had as a result of this project?
CK: The most profound revelation I’ve had as a result of this project is how our stuff was robbing us of our freedom. I have an active family and we spend a lot of weekends away but we were stuffing our home full of things that needed maintaining. Not one of us would trade our family adventures to keep any of the things we thought we wanted.
So what do you guys say? Could you do this???
Check out Christine’s blog for more gory details of the cutter purge!