The Weekly Challenge is a column that tackles self-improvement seven days at a time.
My butcher block is an apt analogy for my life: It sits in the centre of lots of fun stuff, weighed down by a bunch of crap. If the block could talk, I imagine it would say, “I really hate being surrounded by this much chaos.”
In North America, those of us who can afford to have stuff generally have way too much of it, and those who lack the Martha Stewart gene often wind up swimming in it. Part of it is consumerism, part of it is the emotional attachments we form with our belongings, part of it is the “I’ll get to it tomorrow” mentality that allows bookshelves/pantries/entire rooms to serve as unpoliced tchotchke catchalls for years.
Before I began this week’s clutter-busting challenge, my dining room housed two bags of golf clubs (only one person in our house even golfs), some St. Patrick’s Day ornaments, a tape gun, two guitars, a Guitar Hero box and a pair of Birkenstocks that haven’t been worn since the early aughties. The dining room, I should add, is the most organized room in the house by a long shot.
In other rooms there are drawers and areas that I avoid entirely because I can’t face the buildup of stuff. You wouldn’t know it to come over. The place actually cleans up pretty good, but look behind the bar and you’ll find dog food (no dog), a collection of never-used appliances, charcoal (we own a gas barbecue), an old licence plate and a bunch of other possessions that serve no purpose other than to occasionally incite clutter-related panic attacks.
Undress for success
Since decluttering the entire house is a long-term project, I decided to focus challenge week on two areas of distress: my closet and the kitchen.
I began with my closet, which is a somewhat sickening testament to a shopping-as-instant-gratification crutch. I’m not proud to admit that I own about 75 dresses. Buying inexpensive frocks has been an obsession for about a decade.
To guide my purge I settled on the “toss 10 per cent” rule, a strategy espoused by Oprah’s clutter-busting guru Peter Walsh, and it actually proved effective. Previously, when I had considered getting rid of any dress, I could come up with a reason to hold on to it (sentimental attachments abound: oooh, my prom dress; oooh, the dress I bought in Guatemala; oooh, the dress I once wore out on that really fun night).
A self-imposed mission statement made me realize which dresses I wanted to keep, and the ones I didn’t (13 of them) are now taking up space in a Salvation Army drop box.
Calling in a clutter ringer
When the time came to tackle zone two (my kitchen), I decided to call in a professional. Paula Gardner is the founder of A Savvy Solution in Toronto. Her client base includes self-employed writers and corporate CEOs (clutter doesn’t discriminate).
There were some embarrassing moments: At least half the contents of my pantry were expired. At one point a tidal wave of mismatched plastic containers exploded out of a cupboard. Perched on a stepladder, Paula politely suggested that I may want to consider cleaning some of the upper surfaces of my cabinetry.
Her tips were both obvious and enlightening. For example, like things (straws, stir sticks, cocktail umbrellas, candles, party hats) like to live together and not scattered throughout a room. Containers without lids should be thrown away (so long to 50 per cent of the Tupperware mess). And, most importantly, once you clear the crap, you will likely have more storage space than expected.
Certainly this kind of domestic slimming is stuff that I could do by myself, but I’m not sure I would have. The best part about working with a pro is having an unattached third party to ask the probing questions: What purpose does a storage bin full of compact discs serve in your iPod-owning life? (Answer: no purpose).
My decluttering project is still a work in progress. Paula is coming back in two weeks for a follow-up. My first homework assignment was to clear off the butcher block, which I did the other morning. I feel lighter already.
Next challenge: What does your day-to-day wardrobe say about you? Are you the type to bum around in a bathrobe until after lunch? And, more importantly, does what you wear affect how you act? Find out by dressing for success for a week. Did you accomplish more or is it what’s inside that counts? Share your experience at fb.me/globelifestream.