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Secondhand News: Confessions of a self-proclaimed recluttering expert

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Posted on: February 10, 2022

By Lauren Flynn Kelly

One morning during the height of holiday season madness, I had a sudden urge to declutter, since some new Christmas gifts were about to enter the house. Without any coffee or any sort of plan, I began with the living room. But when I extended my arm to put away a board game, I felt a terrible spasm in my right shoulder. I couldn’t breathe without pain for several days. I took that as a sign that I should wait. In the meantime, I did a little reading on the topic — including the bestselling Outer Order, Inner Calm, by Gretchen Rubin, and the January “Zero Waste of Time”column in this paper. I could devote at least 20 minutes a day and a large chunk of quiet weekends in January to cutting the clutter, I could finally achieve inner calm. 

Columnist Lauren Flynn Kelly attempted a month-long clutter purge and discovered the calming effects of recluttering.

Here’s how it went:

Week 1: During my research, I learned that you should group similar things together and take stock of what you have. Then give yourself a rule, like if you have two rubber spatulas, give one away. But I actually need separate whisks for baking and cooking. And separate wooden spoons, bowls and cutting boards. 

So that rule doesn’t apply to my kitchen, and I should start with my makeup. I take out all my eyeshadow palettes and eyeliners and display them in a rainbow ranging from aubergine to avocado. Then I give myself a makeover and spend about 20 minutes taking and editing selfies that I will never post and will most likely delete. My aunt calls, so I talk to her while organizing my lip glosses by color. They look so pretty like this; I should reorganize everything this way! Then my kids see what I’m doing and want makeovers, too.

Week 2: Time to put the Christmas decorations away! Where did all these ornaments come from? I should separate out the ones I won’t want next year. I go up to the attic to bring down the ornament boxes and find a gift bag that is soaking wet. Time for a new roof? Thankfully, no: a DIY snow globe had frozen and exploded its glittery contents all over my grandmother’s vintage penguin ornaments. I towel off each little creature and toss the ones that are too damaged. I then go back to my original plan of separating out the rejected ornaments. But seeing as it’s mid-January at this point, and it’s unlikely that folks are in the market for ornaments, I relegate them back to the attic, and in unmarked bags that will likely be overlooked next year.

Week 3: The attic is really where I should have started my New Year’s decluttering. Maybe I can finally use those carpet tiles — the ones I picked up at Community Forklift and have been sitting in my husband’s car. I start planning a little play space up there for the kids; I’m sure I can create it in a snap, once we clear out those old baby toys, of course. I find two boxes of old papers and letters from college. What fun! I spend the three-day weekend laughing and crying over the contents and fill exactly one-and-a-half trash bags with paper shreds. Can I recycle these? Nope. Hmm … then it hits me: I can take the slipcover off that broken ottoman and make a garbage pouf that I can stuff with the shreds. Genius! I remove the slipcover. I’ll need at least one more bag of shredded paper, so I tuck the project into the basement closet for now. My brother-in-law arrives with a Christmas gift for my daughter — an oversized fluffy beanbag chair called a Big Joe. Perfect for the attic! Except it doesn’t fit through the door. I’ll have to clear space somewhere else. How long is this month? 

Where can you store an oversized beanbag chair?
PHOTO CREDIT: Lauren Flynn Kelly

Week 4: If my home office were cleaner and prettier, I’d be less distracted and more productive. I spend a Sunday afternoon clearing shelves of long-ignored books and DVDs that I’ll donate, plus old remotes and cables to put in the box in the basement that I carefully set aside for old remotes and cables. I find a book called Horror Cinema (Jonathan Penner) — also a gift from the well-meaning brother-in-law — and take a coffee break to do some reading. I make a list of movies to rewatch. Hmm … maybe I’m not ready to give away some of those DVDs. 

I had read somewhere that it’s better to stack just a few books on your bookshelves in a pretty way and then layer on objects that are pleasing to the eye. I choose a ceramic bowl and some vintage cameras — hey, that’s three fewer things in the attic! With fewer distractions, I’m ready to work.

Seeing as I probably shouldn’t bring anything else home from the thrift store for a while, I think I’ll revive my “Thrifting with …” Q&A series. If anyone would like to be my next subject, find me on Instagram (@starlessskyediy) or contact the newspaper.  

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