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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.

cjung's picture

Beware the gifts!

Oh, YES! The battle is ongoing, and the strategies are ever-changing.

When our first was born, I saw nothing wrong with the fact that his new little IKEA dresser couldn't hold all the new clothes we received--not even just the 3-6 month old clothes.

Three years later, with a toddler and a baby, our house itself hasn't grown a bit: it's probably still in the 5th percentile for all I know. But here are some strategies that are working:

Beware the gifts. I've learned to write NO GIFTS on any birthday invitation. For the holidays we're trying to implement a few rules: 3 or fewer gifts from the grandparents; nothing that takes up floor space; and nothing that requires a battery. But we still have to make a lot of the crappy gifts (a Sit & Spin??? Really?? A "life-size" robot?) disappear. When they've been safely disappeared for long enough not to be remembered, they go to Goodwill. It violates a cardinal de-clutter rule, but I'd hate to have an inconsolable toddler making me consider buying another Sit & Spin.

I no longer borrow baby/kid clothes because I was overwhelmed by the organizational feat required. I had to label, sort, store, and return vast quantities of clothes, and I just don't have room--mental or physical.

All my son's outgrown clothes went into a small plastic box in the closet and then into a huge plastic box in the garage. When Baby #2 (and final) became a girl, and Nephew #1 became a boy, I sorted through all the clothes, reminisced fondly, saved some for my daughter, saved for posterity only the few that can fit in a small see-through container, and shipped the rest to my brother. My daughter is currently wearing little sweaters that I wore as a baby 40 years ago, so I feel justified in saving a few of the baby clothes for the future.

As for stuffed animals, I am losing the battle. A good friend has an animal-height limit, rather than a quantity limit. I have been trying the "disappearance" method, to no avail--he asks for them within days: WHERE'S SNOW BEAR???

With regard to toddler art--a real danger--every few weeks I ask my son to go through the stack and decide which pieces are ready for recycling. When he asks for paper to cut up, I give him art. Another option is to use the art for wrapping paper. Trust me, the art poses a serious clutter risk.

And my last strategy is that I continue to focus on my own crap, because there's a real danger that I'll focus on the kid stuff while my own crap starts to propagate again... Good luck to us all!




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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