Spring Cleaning & the Hair-pulling Magic of Trying to Tidy Up

Spring Cleaning: Those two little buzz words have started circulating again. And, to be honest, they always conjure up a bit of dread on my part. Although spring cleaning has traditionally been associated with being able to open windows and deep clean at the first signs of warm weather, it has, more recently, become associated with decluttering and organizing… which is where my personal anxiety comes in.

For the most part I successfully rotate my deep cleaning projects throughout the year, so a deep clean once a year has never really been on my radar. I’m certainly not saying I’m perfect but I do try to deep clean each room regularly. These deep cleaning projects always seem to stall when I have to address clutter, though.

Now don’t get me wrong, my expectations center on having a lived-in home. I’m not averse to a little bit of mess. Between Tiny and the Beast, mess is part of our lives. I’m aware that I’m not particularly good at putting away my clothes if I’ve tried on more than one outfit.

But dishes in the sink, piles of paper covering all the flat surfaces and those pesky boxes we’ve yet to unpack all contribute significantly to how I feel about my home, my life, and myself. It’s overwhelming to look at because it makes me feel like the work is never done. I find myself exhausted before I even get started and defeated before I get to the bottom of a single pile of stuff and unable to completely relax in my own home. And I’m not alone in this.

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There are significant studies that demonstrate that clutter can trigger substantial levels of stress, tension, anxiety, and even depression. This clutter invades the open spaces where we should be able to relax and overwhelms us with the constant impression that the work is never done. Furthermore, there is evidence that sleeping in a messy bedroom can impact the quality of your sleep and a cluttered kitchen or workspace can impact your food and snack choices. Clutter interferes with our ability to process all the information around us, causing imbalanced and overloaded emotional wellbeing. (It’s also interesting to note that women are far more likely to identify this as a source of stress due to the social tradition that places family tasks on women.)

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My endeavors to declutter always seem to fail. Much of the decluttering advice centers on ‘getting the family involved’ or ‘enlisting an assistant to help’ in the process, which feels to me like waiting for a mystical committee that will never materialize. I’ve already got a lot on my plate; organizing a declutter committee actually creates more emotional stress than is necessary. As I mentioned above, much of my deep-cleaning is done steadily throughout the year… But decluttering is a different story. So I’ve had to come up with a plan of my own, which involves a lot of planning and forward-thinking. And, since the clutter trolls (aka my family) move into each and every space as soon as I finish one part of my project, I’ve had to adapt my expectations and planning to be

There are lots of great plans out there for decluttering your home is, say, 40 days, I know that these are not realistic for me. So I do the best I can. I’ve learned a few lessons about decluttering in the last few years, too.

  • I follow a plan as best as I can. I like plans like the 8-week plan by Keeper of the Home and the 30-day plan by Love + Marriage and a Baby Carriage. But I accept that certain areas will take longer than others and don’t beat myself up when that happens. It may take longer because, well, life happens. If Tiny is home sick on a day I plan to carve out some decluttering time, I will choose to be an intentional parent rather than declutter. If I run into a problem with a certain area, rather than get frustrated I choose to solve the problem meaningfully without  taking shortcuts (which can be hard to do). And if I have to stall my plan to deal with the never-ending stack of paper on the kitchen counter… well, that’s what I do. Because tackling the paper is still decluttering.
  • I accept that there are things that I will not ever be able to truly declutter. I focus on those areas over which I have control. Hubbin’s closet is one of those areas. Although I do pull everything out once every two years to make sure the only things in his closet are actually his, for the most part I do my best to accept that his closet is an absolute disaster. It’s truly like those cartoon closets that nobody should open without risking a life-threatening avalanche of stuff. As long as I can close the closet door I can do my best to pretend it’s not there. (I’ll confess, too, that sometimes I simply box up a few of his things, date the box, and wait to see if he notices.)
  • I rotate Tiny’s toys. Since she is an only child and the only grandchild on my side, Tiny is a little spoiled in the toy department. I’ve noticed that the visual clutter in her toy space actually hinders her free and creative play. So I’ve created a rotation system, which stores easily under her bed in Rubbermaid-type bins. Rotating her toys on a quarterly basis makes them feel new to her and eliminates the overwhelming clutter that toys can cause. I also accept that toys will simply happen in my home for the next few years. Getting overly worked up by them with only cause me headache.
  • I throw out or donate regularly. My favorite charity for donation is AmVets. Pickup is so easy to schedule and they accept more types of donations than most other charities. Some people do yard sales but, as I’ve learned through experience, they aren’t really my thing. Donation is faster and easier for me.

Whatever your spring cleaning or decluttering style, I hope that you are tackling it in a way that doesn’t cause you too much anxiety. And if you’re having a hard time getting started because, like me, you are overwhelmed by the enormity of the task, here are some resources to get you started.

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First, here are a couple deep-cleaning tips and lists to get you started. I like Molly Maid’s printable list as well as the tips found on The Spruce.

I like these columns on habits by Nesting Place and by SimpleMost because it gives me something to plan for. I also like reading the experiences of others as they simplified and decluttered; this post on living minimally had an impact on me. There are some other great reads about tidy in the resources of myprevious posts on planning and mental load.

If you’re looking for help in creating a plan (aside from the two I mentioned above) here are a few good reads.

And, finally, Snail Pace Transformations has some tips on picking a plan to declutter, along with some tips on getting started even when you are overwhelmed by the process.

And last, but certainly not least, here are some articles about the emotional and psychological impact of clutter:

 

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