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Clutter War II: Attack of the Giant Baby

As of next Sunday, our lovely daughter will have been with our houshold for six months (Happy Half-Birthday, Eleanor). It's a good arrangement, and we're all pretty happy about the whole thing so far. But, to look around our house, you'd think we were raising a small army of babies, each of whom has their own Amazon Prime account and an addiction to things that are shaped like giraffes.

Oh my, the stuff. The baby stuff. Everywhere. Means of conveyance, swingy seat, Bumbo, squeaky toys, fuzzy toys, toys for biting and bending, jammies, jackets, socks that do and don't look like shoes, amusing hats, blankets, books, rattles, pacifiers, cleaning supplies, extra diapers -- plus of course, there's the raw tonnage of stuff belonging to the caretaking adults that has been displaced or disused as a result of the occupying baby's needs. It is a scene, man, I can assure you. And there's not an iota of blame to place on the actual baby; it's all us (and mostly me). [By the bye, for an illuminating look at the perils of the creeping ParentCrap industry, have a look at Parenting, Inc. It's chilling. And, for me, personally damning.]

At any rate, as we approach that august 183-day mark in our little girl's life, you might be able to guess where my head is right now. Yep. It's on clutter, and on what I need to do to get my face back into Peter Walsh's excellent de-cluttering book as a means for regaining domestic sanity and striding toward the possibility of a life without tripping, piling, or losing what's left of my sleep-deprived mind.

But let's start with first principles:

It's All Too Much
by Peter Walsh

Well, obviously for me, it starts with re-reading It's All Too Much (isbn.nu | library search). As I've said before, this is a fantastic book that distinguishes itself by helping you understand why you have clutter, rather than just trying to help you find new places to store and "organize" it. Author Peter Walsh encourages you to imagine the life you really want, and then ruthlessly purge the items that are keeping that vision from becoming a reality. Pure gold.

Now, if you don't have the time or inclination to look at the book with me right now, or if you're one of those smarty boffins who points out that this would represent yet another piece of clutter -- or even just to bring existing Peter fans back up to speed -- here's some posts from my previous excursion into the world of It's All Too Much. It was a bracing sprint that helped me rid myself of crap that had been doing nothing for my life for years:

  • My War on Clutter - "Although no official record of the conversation exists, I would not be surprised to learn that I tried to talk the staff who delivered me into letting me keep my first diaper; just because — y’know — you never know when it might come in handy."
  • My War on Clutter: Never "organize" what you can discard - "The truth is that this is like covering your tumor with a bandage, and without thoughtful paring-down, all those crates and boxes and storage spaces do nothing to improve the basic problem."
  • My War on Clutter: The Tools to Purge BIG - "I cannot overstate the importance of making a zone like this early in your project. You must know without hesitation that whatever you run across — no matter how big or bulky — will find a temporary home in your dump zone before quickly being whisked out of your house forever."
  • My War on Clutter: Inspiration for Independence Day - "If my own clutter war is piquing your interest in improving your surroundings, tomorrow could be the occasion for you to put a few minutes toward making a dent in your own pile."
  • Vox Pop: Converting clutter from trash to treasure - Readers share their excellent suggestions on responsible, useful ways to repurpose trash into someone else's treasure.
  • More from Peter Walsh on clutter, quality of life - "Capacity is only worth building when it’ll be used in the service of stuff you really want."

Thing is, I now return to this book and this mission with a renewed level of resolve because I have to face the previously unthinkable; we must convert Dad's entropic home office into a nursery suitable for a shiny little baby who doesn't appear to enjoy sleeping on USB cables and books about developing in ShockWave (yes, thanks, there's still lots of "low-hanging fruit" remaining).

So this new adventure begins. I hope to share some of this parent-focused de-cluttering with you over the next couple weeks, so pop back by if that appeals. For what it's worth, I hope it will also have tidbits that appeal to the child-free or child-neutral amongst you.

As I returned to It's All Too Much in the last week, I was struck by a line that sounded like something straight out of my Time & Attention talk. In introducing a chapter on the excuses most people give for suffering clutter, Peter Walsh says:

Everything in your home is there with your permission.

And it's true. Or putting just a slightly sharper point on it, it might be said that "Everything in your home remains there with your permission." That clutter becomes a tiresome houseguest that you just don't have the heart to throw out. And he keeps inviting his messy friends who also have decided to camp out on every available surface.

So, if you're the sort of put-together life hacker who would never accept a lame project or a pointless task, what sense is there in not applying the same rigor to your surroundings? Exactly.

Anyhow, here I go. Wish us luck. And, as ever, I hope you'll share your thoughts on how you beat the crap back after your little one arrived and took over. I'd love for Eleanor's second six months to take place in a comfortable, clutter-free house that baby, parents, and giraffes alike can enjoy.

williamk's picture

giving away is what you do AFTER you de-clutter

Since we had twins we were happy to take in used stuff and we continue to keep the cycle going with various friends and family. Bags and boxes are always on the way in or out filled with outgrown or yet to be used stuff.

But, giving it away is only an option after you decide things need to go. My wife and I had a pretty cluttered house to begin with but adding two kids was opening a 7-11 in our house. There are always weird smells, lots of food that we'll never eat, and a couple of people hanging around who we really cant understand but we are forced to interact with to get things done.

What has worked for us is a couple of things. First off, our bedroom, now that the kids are two, is a baby free zone. Not that they dont go in to the room but we have no "baby stuff" hanging around. Our bathroom does, that's where the kids get bathed, but in our bedroom proper we try and keep it adult as possible so there is some escape. Since our house is two stories and the bottom floor is basically a big open space, we just gave that over to the kids. By deciding, or at least pretending we had a choice, that the bottom floor was the kid zone it really doesnt bother us when its messier than we'd like or that there are toys all over the place.

Keep a box for giveaways handy. My wife keeps one upstairs in each of the closets, one for boy clothes, one for girls. Makes giving them away much easier since we've pre-sorted them. Also I keep a box in the garage which is convenient to take toys out and "file" for giveaways. Making it as painless as possible to get stuff out is key for us.

Rotate toys. Take some of the crap out of circulation for a while, tuck it in a closet or whatever, and bring it back a few weeks later and repeat the cycle. Its amazing how much more use you get out of stuff when it's "new". Remember, babies are dumb. Use that to your advantage while you can.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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