Spring/Fall Cleaning Series, Part 2

On Wednesday, I finished Elaine St. James’s third book about simplifying, Living the Simple Life. Around the time I picked this book up from the library, I also scheduled my first—and, I hope, annual—Fall Cleaning Day: Monday, October 10. My office was closed for Columbus Day, and Channing was out of the house at work all day, so it seemed like a great time to finally tackle the paper, office supply, workout gear, and crafting station insanity that was our office (note the past tense!).

And, then, inspired by some tips from Living the Simple Life, I started my fall cleaning a day early.

Fall Cleaning Day Eve, October 9

The first clutter nooks I tackled were my closet and dresser. I had actually cleaned out both of these clothing and accessory receptacles in January, in an initial, short-lived burst of purging mania. (And I mean mania. When I declutter, I am quick and brutal, but only occasionally methodical. Generally, I toss items into the donate pile with wild abandon, and I never look back. I highly recommend this approach.) Since it had been only nine months since my last purging spree, I assumed these would be easy jobs—and I was right. I cleared the closet of spring and summer wear I hadn’t touched that season and pulled a twin-size duvet off the top shelf for Freecycling (neither Channing nor I had any idea why we had this duvet in the first place). Channing gave a dress I had worn only once to his colleague; I’m donating the rest of the stuff. Tip 1: If you haven’t used it in a year, toss it.

Cleaning out the dresser was a slightly more delicate task. Channing and I share a relatively small, hand-me-down dresser with eight wide drawers—four for him, four for me. Keeping my drawers less than overstuffed is an extremely difficult task for me, so I knew I needed to make some hard and fast decisions. Taking some advice from Ms. St. James’s book, I thought about what I really needed in terms the two categories of clothes I store in the dresser, i.e., running/biking clothes and lounge wear. I decided to get rid of all but two or three of each clothing item (three running tees, two long sleeve tees, two pairs of running tights, etc.), and then I tossed some extra worn-out t-shirts in the discard pile for good measure. Oh, I also finally parted with a couple slips and some jewelry that I’ve worn maybe once in the last eight years. Tip 2: Be honest about how many items you actually need.

My next project was our linen closet, which was bursting with towels we never use. The biggest clutter culprit was our ridiculously extensive collection of dish towels. Channing and I each entered our relationship with a decent supply of dish towels, and since 2008, when we moved in together, we’ve received at least one set of kitchen towels as a gift every Christmas. These towels were taking up an entire shelf of the linen closet and were threatening to encroach on a second shelf. Number of towels we actually use? Maybe a quarter of our supply. On this go-round I cut the collection in half. I will revisit the issue in the spring. Tip 3: Don’t worry about purging every single unessential thing on the first try. You can go back for a second round.

The linen closet also houses bath towels, hand towels, washcloths, beach towels, sheets, and assorted blankets. I kept all of the sheets because we have only one extra set. I also kept most of the blankets—all but one or two of them are Channing’s, and he wasn’t present to approve discards. Per a suggestion in Living the Simple Life, I kept four bath towel sets—one each for me and Channing plus two extras for guests or for us when we can’t do the laundry right away. And I donated or Freecycled all but two of the beach towels. Tip 4, from Living the Simple Life: Keep enough for everyone in the household plus two. This isn’t just a towel rule; it can be applied to any shared household item, for example, dishes and flatware.

Last, I tackled our understair storage. Or rather, I tackled the excess of reusable shopping bags we store under the stairs. I figure I rarely use more than five shopping bags in one outing, so I Freecycled all but seven of the bags (you know, just in case). This effectively cut our supply in half. Oh, then on a whim I grabbed the old newspaper and back issues of Outside magazine from under the coffee table. The newspaper went in the recycle bin, and the magazines went to my friend Sarah. Tip 5: Give your old stuff new life by giving it to a friend or neighbor.

All of this decluttering took about an hour.

Fall Cleaning Day, October 10

The big day arrived, and I started early, with what I knew would be the most difficult and time-consuming job of the day: the office storage closet. First, I pulled my magazine file off the shelf. This file holds copies of magazines my writing has been published in. Taking some advice from Channing, who has eliminated nearly all of his paper records in favor of digital record storage, I decided to scan my clippings from each issue and recycle the actual magazines.  Bye-bye, magazine file.  Tip 5: Making digital copies of paper files reduces physical clutter.

Next I started going through our junk drawer and office supplies. I donated our rubber-band ball to Channing’s office, I gave some craft paper to Sarah to use in her classroom, and I Freecycled some (empty) notebooks. I chucked a couple pens that were past their prime and generally reorganized our supply of printer paper, card stock, and envelopes. I discovered a new yellow ink cartridge and loaded it in the printer, so we can now print stuff again, and I gathered all of my empty old ink cartridges so that I can mail them to the recycler. Tip 6: You probably don’t need all the pens, rubber bands, and paperclips scattered around your house. Collect them and donate them to the supply closet at your work.

I found a huge box of cassette tapes that I had forgotten about in the closet. I’ve set it aside for PC Recycler’s next recycling event. I also found that exercise equipment I mentioned a couple weeks ago—and promptly Freecycled it. Tip 7: Looking for a place to recycle something unusual? Try Earth911.com.

I needed a break from the closet so I moved on to our bookshelves—not just those in the office, but those in our living room and kitchen too. (While I was in the kitchen, I pulled out my bamboo steam basket and posted it on Freecycle—wild abandon, I tell you.) I cleared three shopping bags worth of books off our various shelves, including a collection of Shakespeare paperbacks from my school days (I have a Shakespeare app on my iPad) and my three hardcover Harry Potters (5, 6, and 7).*  The three Harrys will go to the elementary school where Mom works. Sarah went through the other books and pulled out some for herself, plus The Outsiders for her middle school students. I donated the remainder to the library on Thursday. Tip 8: Parting with books is surprisingly easy. Ask yourself, when am I ever going to read this again? And then send those you opt to purge to a good home—this will make you feel better.

The living room bookshelves also hold Channing’s vinyl—which I didn’t touch—and our DVDs. I’m planning to take DVDs of Gilmore Girls, season 2, and the Dick Cavett Show to the Record and Tape Exchange in hopes of making a good trade. Channing is going to offer his Rolling Stones DVD to my dad. Tip 9: If there is an independent record store near you that makes trades, take advantage!

Finally, I tackled my paper files, which I had stored in a green crate the size of one standard file drawer. Most of the stuff in my files was so old I could just shred and recycle it. (I took out the paper recycling three times on Fall Cleaning Day.) Other items needed to be scanned for digital archiving. I did end up keeping a handful of paper records, like printouts of my tax forms from the last three years, but I am able to store what’s left in the magazine file, which is about a quarter of the size of the green crate. I not only had financial records, old leases, and car insurance invoices; I also found high school and college papers and a notebook from the Romanticism class I took in 1999—twelve years ago! I tossed it all. Good riddance. Tip 10: Whether you keep your personal files on paper or digitally, I’d recommend a clean sweep now to ensure everything’s up to date and to remove obsolete records; then do quick, regular maintenance sweeps every three to six months to keep the time you spend on your files to a minimum.

The work isn’t done—we still have all of Channing’s office crap to go through—but I’ve felt a lot lighter this week. Every small step toward eliminating clutter counts.

*Full disclosure: I will probably buy the complete set of Harry Potter ebooks when they are released next year. Is anyone else excited about Pottermore?


Most of you—especially those of you with kids, I’d imagine—are familiar with the household calendar concept. The premise is this: one calendar, posted in a heavily trafficked area of the house, that lists all activities for every member of the household. Maybe it’s color coded. Maybe it includes chores. However it’s customized, the household calendar is powerful organizational tool. And yet, Channing and I didn’t have one until Tuesday.

Here’s the rub: The new hubs and I have felt especially popular since the wedding. We’ve been invited to what seems like a gazillion dinners, sporting events, concerts, and birthday parties over the past seven weeks. We went to the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello last Saturday and plan to hit the Frederick Oktoberfest next Saturday (I’m hoping Channing will don some authentic lederhosen so we can get in for free). We’ve got a Riesling tasting to attend and tickets to football and baseball games. We’re running a ten miler on Sunday. To be honest, I haven’t felt all that busy—our activities have been fun, spontaneous, and, to some extent, relaxing—but we’ve overbooked enough times lately that, when Channing suggested we keep a joint calendar, I was thrilled.

But where would we get a calendar? Our home printer was out of ink, and since we’re no longer on those pesky bulk mailing lists, we didn’t have any 2011 wall calendars lying around the house. And we certainly weren’t going to buy a new one. Plus, I wanted something we could view both at home and at work—so that ruled out the iCal on our home computer. At first I thought I would create something in Numbers and share it with Channing via my Dropbox. But then I remembered that Google has a free calendar product that Channing and I could each access from our separate Gmail accounts. Yep, the Google calendar seemed like a good idea—mostly because I wouldn’t have to spend too much time on setup.

So, like I said, I created our aptly named “Calendar of Fun” on Tuesday, and I have to say, it’s pretty fantastic. The calendar is private, so only the two of us can view it. I set it up so that we can both add and modify events, just as we could on a paper calendar. As an added bonus, there is a bit of extra room for a description of each event, so we can use the calendar to share websites for festival schedules or restaurant menus with each other. Although I haven’t explored the option yet, I think our Google calendar will sync with the iCal, both on our desktop and on my iPad. Isn’t technology amazing? (I’m guessing at least a handful of readers are using Google calendars or maybe some other fancy digital calendars I’m not aware of. Feel free to share any calendar-related tips in the comments.)

Remember back in March when I wrote that post about reevaluating my use of time? Well, this calendar is another tool I can use to ensure I’m making wise decisions about “extracurricular” activities. For example, Channing has requested that we limit our joint weekend activities to no more than two. There are some nuances to this number. Generally we’ll count only activities that take us outside the house, but in some cases—e.g., parties or dinners that require both planning and hosting responsibilities—in-house activities will count too. Channing wants to ensure he has plenty of time to relax, and I have to say, I appreciate this. He keeps my hyperplanning tendencies in check. Only recently have I discovered what some college friends meant when they declined dinner plans with the excuse, “We haven’t spent enough time in our room today.” Spending time at home on the weekends has become an absolute necessity. It keeps me centered and provides peace of mind so that my workweeks are not just bearable but enjoyable.

Limiting our planned activities also occasions the opportunity for spur-of-the-moment fun. I cancelled all of my plans the weekend after our wedding because I needed to take some time off-schedule. That weekend I relearned how enjoyable it is to have the freedom to accept a dinner invitation received only three or four hours in advance. I finished my first long run in three weeks, and I think I even cooked brunch (a rarity after a three-hour run on a Sunday morning).

To conclude, I’d like to add one item to everyone’s weekend calendar: September 24, National Punctuation Day! For a few simplicity-minded, punctuation-related celebration ideas, visit the official NPD website. (I’m hoping to celebrate my favorite grammar-related holiday with Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison at the National Book Festival.)