April 11, 2011

The Most Difficult Thing I Got Rid Of

I read Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things this past week, and if there's a better book to set off a little spring-cleaning binge, I don't know what it is.



Have you seen this "clutter scale" test by one of the authors?


(I got it from here, where you can see it larger and also see other sample rooms.)

Our house is a 2, without stacks of newspapers, and the downstairs family room is a 3 because we've been using it as "I'll just put this here temporarily" storage since it was built.

What I love about this chart is that I can SEE why a 2-3 feels hopeless and out of control (that is, I don't feel silly for feeling that way)---while still receiving comfort that I'm low on the scale. My goal is to be somewhere between a 1 (which looks BEYOND tidy to me---like when I was a child and if I left a book on a chair when I went to the bathroom, my mother would close it and put it away on a shelf while I was gone) and a 2.

This weekend I tried to use some of the ideas I got from the book and from a couple of other articles I've seen on the topic of decluttering and from my own thoughts---ideas like, "Could I replace this easily if I regretted getting rid of it?" "Have I used it in X years and/or do I have reason to believe I will use it?" "Do I still feel distress AFTER getting rid of it, or only when thinking about getting rid of it?" "Does it bless or oppress?" "Do I consider it my job to be the caretaker of this item forever?" "Is saving it in my basement less of a waste than getting rid of it?" etc.

I got rid of three clocks I've been storing because clocks are useful even though I don't like them and have replaced them with others. I got rid of a 3-foot stack of carefully-acquired Ladybug magazines that my firstborn loved with obsessive passion when he was 2 and none of the other kids have given the time of day. And two twin-size duvet sets I thought I'd use for Rob and William's bunks 8 years ago but then didn't. A bedskirt I got for Elizabeth 3 years ago but it didn't work with her bed frame. A 2-foot stack of partially-used children's workbooks. A package of size 2T-3T pull-ups bought on an awesome clearance and then never used.

All this is leading up to something I got rid of that I'd say might have been My Most Difficult Thing to Get Rid Of. It's something I've been gradually accumulating for a decade, and have thought MANY TIMES that I should get rid of---but then couldn't. I've felt simultaneously "The Owner of Riches" and "The Crazy Person Who Needs Help" over them.

It's twin-sized flat sheets. I make the kids' beds with only the fitted sheet and a blanket. But I keep the flat sheets, because what else could I do with them? THROW AWAY a perfectly good flat sheet, still new and folded, half the material/value of the package of sheets I just paid for? If I tried to donate it, who'd need JUST A FLAT SHEET? And what if when the kids were older I started using the flat sheets again? What if when the kids were grown I used the twin sheets on guest beds? Besides, they're so handy as drop cloths and haircutting drapes! And so many of them are so PRETTY! And they're FABRIC, and fabric is USEFUL! Fabric is a SUPPLY! If I knew how to sew I could use them to make quilts! or clothes for the children, Sound-of-Music style! Or I could make curtains that perfectly matched the bedding! And it would be perfect if I ever did that idea of wrapping gifts in pieces of fabric instead of wrapping paper! And what if there were an apocalypse? FABRIC IS USEFUL AND VALUABLE AND THESE ARE PERFECT HEMMED PIECES OF IT.

So I saved them, and continued to save them. We have five twin beds in our house, and we've had trouble with night-training more than one of the kids so I like a large supply, and also we use cotton-weave in summer and flannel in winter, and also I am always finding cute ones at 75% off, which is my way of leading up to the information that I had over 30 twin-sized flat sheets in a closet---and that's not counting the three I stored elsewhere as drop cloths and haircutting drapes. They took up 1.5 shelves in a good and useful closet. When I loaded them into bags for a Freecycler to pick up, they filled two large black garbage bags TIGHTLY.

I did save two of my favorites. They were the ones that, when I tried to put them in the bag with the others, I thought to myself, "No, never mind, this is a bad idea. I'll just put them all back on the shelf."

51 comments:

Lisa said...

I buy pretty fabrics. One yard at a time. Even if I have no immediate use for it. Just because they are pretty. They sit on a shelf in my hall closet, because I have no place to put them on display, and in order to get to them I have to remove the vacuum and the mop and the three brooms. I have not yet reached hoarding proportions, but I might. Also, I collect dining chairs. I have 17 at the moment.

Good for you for letting go :-)

Becky said...

Flat sheets are GREAT for teachers because they make excellent bulletin board "paper" that can be used until the end of time. They make nice little homey tablecloths in the classroom, too, and I don't mind in the slightest if my students spill or color on them. I never know what to do with the leftover FITTED sheets!

Kate said...

Ahhh I am kind of in love with the clutter scale pictures. Although it feels like there should be a stage between 1 and 2.

Lippy said...

I really think there should be something between 1 and 2. 1 seems a little obsessy neat freakish to me. When you mentioned the sheets all I could think of was Quilt Fabric! I have a hard time getting rid of clothes that might fit me again, but if they ever do they will be way out of style.

parkingathome said...

From what I can see, it all starts with stacks of newspapers. Shall they all begrudge digital media NOW?

Julie Marsh said...

I like your point about seeing the comparison between the 2-3 stages and the higher stages. I feel as if there ought to be a few more intermediate stages between 1 and 2, but perhaps that's indicative of my compulsive tidiness.

Beth said...

i totally agree with some of the other commenters that there should be a stage between 1 and two. one looks like we've just cleaned/made bed/vacuumed for company, but 2 seems like a pretty big step away from 1.

Holly said...

I was totally agreeing with this whole post until I got to the flat sheets! I recently decided I'd like to start making "build your own fort kits" to my son's little friends for birthdays and such (after seeing some cool examples online) and I need ONLY flat sheets. I actually bought a cheap set at Target recently, and cut the elastic off the fitted sheet to make it a flat sheet (which didn't work all that well). Sigh.

JCF said...

Yes, there definitely needs to be a stage between 1 and 2. 1 looks like our house when we've just cleaned, but it never stays that way. However, we always clean up before it quite reaches 2.

Someone will be thrilled to find your flat sheets! Your donation is someone else's gain, for sure. You can feel good about contributing something useful to another person with that one, for sure.

I desperately want to read that book now. My sister's mother-in-law is a hoarder (like probably beyond 9 even), and I find it so fascinating/depressing.

Rayne of Terror said...

You might ask an art teacher if she needs flat sheets. All my flat sheets go to my mom for her classroom use. She teaches grades 6/7/8.

Swistle said...

1. OKAY EVERYONE, stop telling me reasons to KEEP THE SHEETS! Counter-productive! Counter-productive! Keep in mind that I had them for a decade and DID NOT use them for any of these admittedly useful purposes! And I am now giving them away to someone who DOES have a project to use them for.

2. I think the reason there seems to be a big gap between #1 and #2 on the chart is that it's a chart for diagnosing Clutter Illness---not for scoring levels within Normal Tidiness Range.

Stimey said...

We don't use flat sheets on any of the beds in my house and the ONLY use I've ever found for them is putting one under the Christmas tree for two weeks out of the year. Get rid of the sheets.

I kind of badly want to read this book now.

Kelsey said...

Seeing those photos made me breathe deeply and be thankful that we haven't reached horrific proportions of stuff over here just yet.

A couple of times a year I get all itchy to clean out, clean out, clean OUT! Last week I found a box from elementary school that had among its treasures three bookmarks (the cardboard kind with tassels) that I had saved and all I could think was that I had to get rid of them QUICKLY before Harper saw them and they ended up in the house for another fifteen years. But some of the grade school stuff I kept - maybe next time I'll be ready to get rid of more of it.

Good job getting rid of the flat sheets!

d e v a n said...

Woohoo! 1.5 shelves of closet space!

Nik-Nak said...

So NOT reading that book (even though I badly want to). I am forver throwing random things away bc it looks messy and takes up precious space and then my husband comes along a few weeks later and says, "Hey! What happened to ____?"
Uh, whoops. Reckon I threw that away.
So if I read that book id probably feel like my house way to messy and obsess over it until I threw away EVERYTHING! Not good.

LiciaLee said...

I never use flat sheets.. LOL. A site I'm LOVING right now is orgjunkie.com. Its kinda awesome. :D

Bitts said...

I'm with Nik-Nak. I have the opposite problem, so the "Hoarders" issue makes me almost physically ill. I, too, throw away things I shouldn't, and rarely keep anything, well, ever. I limit the memorobilia for my kids to 1 shoebox a year. That said, I totally could use almost all the things you got rid of, Swistle! PLUS I make quilts, so I would have SNAPPED UP those sheets!!

Bitts said...

Also -- wait -- those of you who are not using flat sheets ... does that mean you're washing comforters every week, or do you just take them out of the duvet covers and wash those?

lifeofadoctorswife said...

The clutter scale makes me feel a ton better about my own clutter. Which is safely two-ish. (And yet, like you said, still enough clutter to drive me bonkers.)

Sounds like you made some huge progress. It always feels so lightening to get rid of stuff, and I ask myself why I was holding onto it so tightly in the first place! But, of course, I then find myself holding tightly to a new crop of stuff.

Angie said...

This is not a judgement, but I love the top sheet. I cannot imagine not wanting to use them, though I know that is a European thing. I was immediately thinking of all the quilt backs those could be! Not that YOU should keep them for that, give them away!

Anonymous said...

I've often thought that I have hoarder tendencies. I sometimes have trouble getting rid of stuff that is purely junk. Like, I'll leave a few bottles of empty shampoo in the shower for weeks. Some of that is due to laziness.

I'm probably a 2, who would border on a three if I gave into my tendencies.

Alicia said...

I am staunch in my hatred of flat sheets, but my husband is a liker of them (I have no idea why because we both know they just end up wadded up by the feet on Day 2). I would get rid of every last one of them without a thought, but he would have a coniption.

Elsha said...

I read Stuff not long ago and found it fascinating. I don't really have any serious hoarding tendencies, but I know people who do (my grandma, big time) so it was enlightening to read about the psychology behind the behavior.

Also, I finally got rid of the last of my (worthless) textbooks and I've been out of college for 6 years now, so I know what you mean about the sheets! Everyone has that thing.

Farrell said...

props - it's hard and never fun. My prob is, I HAVE stuff to give away to goodwill or whatever. The thing is to get it organized, and then actually GET it to Goodwill...by the time I take care of the other chores, I'm over it...if someone could just come in and do it FOR me, I'd be golden:)

Mary said...

It never crossed my mind that some people use only a fitted sheet and blanket. Is that legal?

Melissa Haworth said...

I come from a family of hoarders for sure. My aunts (and grandma before her death) hover between 7 and 9 in many rooms of their homes. My mom escapes by being married to my dad who is a neatnik but she tends toward keeping a LOT. I definitely have hoarding tendencies and my craft room gets into 3-4 territory with some regularity and then I "check" myself by Goodwilling many bags of things. My husband's family on the other hand is in the "throw things away they still need" end of the spectrum. Not sure I can read the book (might be a bit close to home ;) but just the scale inspires me to declutter more. Especially since i spent the entire day getting most of our house from a 2 to a 1 for company. The 1 won't last :)

velocibadgergirl said...

I'm truly stunned that my house rates between a 1 and a 2, judging by the photos in that scale. From how I've been feeling about it this year -- and all the complaining my clutter-hating husband does -- I was certain we'd be higher on the scale. I think I might email that link to him the next time he tells me there's too much clutter ;)

I think getting rid of two gigantic bags of anything is a HUGE victory, so fist bumps to you!

momagain said...

do you have an IKEA nearby. Because you buy all the sheets seperately there. So, you can buy just the fitted sheet. Yay!

We have a Queen bed, but I buy King Size top sheets and duvets so there is plenty of sheet to cover us both no matter how much one of us tries to hog.

Swistle said...

Angie- We use the top sheet on our OWN bed. On the kids' beds, it's to reduce the fuss of changing sheets on five beds---especially with two top bunks (haaaaaaate changing top bunks).

Swistle said...

momagain- Target sells them that way, too---but more expensive that way, especially because I find the sheet sets on 75% off. It is really TOO BAD, because that would be the PERFECT solution.

Slim said...

On Sunday I nearly threw out an old sheet but put it in the closet instead. Yesterday my youngest wanted it to build a fort. So maybe I am starting to get good about what to keep and what to toss? Maybe?
Yes, one can make duvet covers, and duvets are a pretty handy way of bedmaking, but they're not as quick and easy as tossing a fleece blanket on the bed.

Shelly said...

I'm a 2, although less stuff on the bed and neater piles on the floor/ tables. I used to be a 3, but have cleaned up quite a bit lately. I definitely learned this behavior from my parents. My mom is a 4 and my dad is, well, kind of a 9, frankly, except with more things put into boxes and storage containers and less stuff all over. But he saves A LOT and "collects" a lot.

M.Amanda said...

Proud to say that although I loathe housework, my house is mostly 2, which does seem pretty normal if you have kids. My office, however, is closer to a 3, which is bad. Very bad and unprofessional. I have to work on that.

It never occurred to me to just not use the flat sheet. My daughter's flat sheet is halfway off the bed every single morning. Maybe she just doesn't need it.

What I have tons of are pillow cases. I prefer plain white over the ones that match the sheets, so I usually put the fitted and flat sheets on the bed and leave the pillowcases in a drawer with the same reasoning. It's a SET. We can't break up a SET. And they are totally useful as sacks and stuff.

Except that I get great tote bags practically free and sometimes actually free, and some stores have nice, sturdy shopping bags that hold heavier stuff but I wouldn't cry over if I lost, and also gift bags from birthdays and Christmases past and those are sitting in a closet needing to be used before I dirty up a perfectly good pillowcase....

Maggie said...

So I read this yesterday while at work and evaluated most of my spaces as between 1 and 2. Then I went home and really looked at my spaces for the first time in a long time and realized I was delusional, most of my house is between 2 and 3. I just fail to notice it most of the time. It was all I could do not to go on a serious tidying/disposal streak at 10:00 last night. I can't stand clutter and when I lived alone (oh 14 years ago) had hardly any, now with a husband, two kids, two cats, and a dog my house seems to be in what I'll call a gentle state of chaos nearly constantly. Think I'll just go back to ignoring it as it doesn't appear the situation is about to change for good any time soon...

Jenny said...

I would say that most of my rooms are a solid 2 (except when my son has gotten up before the rest of the family and spent the time taking out every blessed one of his toys), but do my pictures have to be crooked on the walls to complete this picture? That seems odd.

shannon said...

Thank you for posting the clutter scale! I'm going through "arm chair nesting" right now. As in, I look around and think "Wow my house is such a mess and I feel like I can't get it together because I'm so pregnant." When in reality, according to people who understand and study this stuff, I'm probably at a 2-2.5 tops. So thank you, dear Swistle, for giving me some perspective!

Misty said...

Think of how crazy happy you are going to make someone who quilts or sews! All that lovely free fabric. What a wonderful gift for someone. Good for you!

shannon, again said...

2.5 includes the "very bottom basement" where all the toys are. That's a pit. I felt I should amend my response so no one is picturing a hugely pregnant woman and her children wading through a tide of fast food wrappers or whatever is littering the floor of Stage 2. Main floors? A 1.5

clueless but hopeful mama said...

Hahaha! I'm with Maggie. I read the book a while ago (we have pretty serious hoarders on BOTH sides of our family so .... it's of interest to me, shall we say.) and I totally thought I was at a 1.5. Then I really looked around, and yep, we're definitely in the 2-3 range.

I think the biggest issue is how long you keep stuff. Our house is between a 2-3 but it's all in motion- toys and papers and crayons and newspapers- much of it is moving from one place to another ALL THE TIME. Which is maddening but at least the piles in the corner don't stay there for very long!

Anyway, good for you for getting rid of so much! Go Swistle!

zoot said...

I could talk for AGES about this stuff but I don't on my blog for fear of upsetting my mother-in-law.

She saved EVERYTHING for her kids so that when they got older they could decide what to do with it. But now, they are older, and they feel guilty for getting rid of it, and they have this sentimental attachment to it. So they kids and their spouses (ME!) have this pile of TOYS/CLOTHES/CRAP to deal with forever. And it gives us great grief.

ON the other end of the spectrum is me. When Dad died I Had two boxes of stuff from his house. And only part of one box was stuff from my childhood. While I wish I had a few more things? I still think I have it easier as an adult without all of that "baggage" to deal with.

MORAL OF THE STORY? We are totally a 1. Although since we bought this house this summer we haven't perfected our organizing yet, not sure where things go, so some areas look cluttered and some are empty. But once it's all in the right are? ONE.

lar said...

Well, now I feel stupid. My 9-year-old hates using the top sheet and always pushes it to the end of the bed when she goes to sleep. It literally never occured to me to just not put the top sheet on the bed at all. This is why I love the internet--it saves me time *and* laundry!

Livinia Redlips said...

Good for you!

Know what? I kept the flat sheets too...and TOSSED THEM ALL recently.

Do any kids use flat sheets? Mine just smash them down to the end of the bed and eventually onto the floor.

Jenny Grace said...

I NEVER use flat sheets on beds, but I started using them for sewing projects recently.

On and I keep one for each bed in the house for REALLY hot summer nights, because I need a cover to sleep but a blanket is too warm

Katie said...

I had a long comment and it erased! I think! Anyway, I think we need to do our own clutter scale zeroing in on levels 1-3. My house is normally a 1.5. I really want it to be a 1.25.

Katie said...

Also, I nominate Swistle to make a new zoomed in clutter scale for us focusing on people without a problem other than kids/laziness/business/life. Just in depth between 1 and 2.5 really. Anyone with me?

Leeann said...

I'm glad you posted about this on your blog. I've reserved the book from the library. I think we are a two on the scale (less in some rooms, probably a 2.5 in others) but my mom is a hoarder (6-7 on scale) and so it would be useful to read in that sense.

The thing that helps me the most in getting rid of things is having companies like National Children's Center or Veterans or Purple Heart come out. They call me about once a month each, on average, to see if I have anything they can pick up. So I try to keep a bag or two around and toss things in it. Every time they call I donate what I have accumulated. It helps me and helps them too.

misguided mommy said...

i think i rate my house a 1.5 on a normal day and a 1 on a good day. there really should be something between 1 & 2 thats just ridiculous.

Superjules said...

My policy for sheets: Open package, put fitted sheet on bed and pillowcases on pillows. Take flat sheet to Goodwill.

For a little while I was feeling kind of remorseful that I hadn't kept my flat sheets for sewing projects but then- part of the FUN of sewing is hunting for and buying pretty bits of fabric.

Bratling said...

I'm a sewer. Big time. I will, however, admit to the need to get organized. My sewing closet is a mid-sized walk-in that's piled chest high with boxes and bags of fabric and notions. I jokingly call it the black hole, because once something goes in, it's uncertain if it'll ever come out.

I'm also big on patterns. I have two large cardboard boxes full that I want to keep, and four others that I'm planning on selling off... someday. When I get around to it.

And Swistle? All those flat sheets? I could make clothes for your kids out of 'em. :D

Carolyn said...

My parents and siblings all make their beds with just the fitted sheet and blankets (I didn't realize so many people did that! I thought they were just weird!) and the last time my mom was in town I went with her to try to find a store that sold JUST the fitted sheet because she didn't NEED another flat sheet! No dice. Someone needs to take this problem to the sheet companies ;)

Cate said...

If you're looking to donate sheets, check with the animal shelter. Mine is always looking for sheets/blankets/towels/etc. to use as bedding. Also our vet has mentioned they can use them for patients.