It’s time to talk about daily habits. I know. You may be PURPOSELY reading blog posts about decluttering because you don’t WANT to think about daily habits.
Or maybe you’re reading my books first because you plan to get your house decluttered and then start maintaining it.
I mean . . . is there really any point in trying to maintain a home that’s cluttered?
Yes. There is. In fact, I tell people that while decluttering and daily habits are equally important, daily habits are the most important.
That doesn’t make any mathematical sense, but I don’t really care.
You have to start somewhere, and daily habits are the best place to start. While daily habits are more difficult in a cluttered home, decluttering won’t make a lasting impact without daily habits to maintain any progress you make.
And there’s another (HUGE) benefit to starting with daily habits: It is through establishing daily habits that you will begin to understand how MUCH stuff you actually need.
When you’re not keeping things under control, you can’t have any idea of how many of an item you actually need.
I call it the vicious cycle of excess.
I have a favorite wooden spoon. It has a 12-inch handle and two black burn marks . . . and I love it.
But for years, I didn’t know I loved it.
I had too much stuff.
A little over three years ago, I began ruthlessly purging the excess from our home while also developing habits to help me keep the house in order.
Habits like . . . . washing the dishes every night.
I was cooking supper one night and grabbed my long-handled wooden spoon. I thought, “I love this spoon!”
Then it hit me . . . I had been using the same spoon to cook supper almost every night for months. For me, this was big.
I used to let dishes pile up in the sink. I could, because I had so many dishes that I was able to go, ahem . . . several days without washing them.
Even still, I always thought I needed more. You can’t have too many dishes, right?
Excess kills appreciation.
This is obvious when you see it in others. A teenager who has been given everything has no appreciation for a new sportscar, and promptly wrecks it. A couple buys toy after toy (jetskis, motorhomes, swimming pools) but doesn’t have time to use them all.
I’ve finally accepted that it’s the same with wooden spoons . . . and with cups, plates, clothes, toys, etc.
How the vicious cycle works:
If I found wooden spoons at a garage sale for only five cents . . . I grabbed five!
For a quarter!!!
When I owned five wooden spoons, I didn’t have to wash one until I’d used all five. But if I waited five days, my sink was overflowing with dirty dishes. At that point, the thought of washing them all overwhelmed me.
Suddenly, five no longer seemed like enough. So, the next time I saw wooden spoons at a garage sale, I bought five more. Then, I could go 10 days without doing the dishes. But by the time I dirtied all 10, dishes were covering my counters and my family was left searching for paper plates.
At that point, I was paralyzed by the hugeness of the mess, and I began to despise all of the “stuff” . . . and myself.
I used to think that those who prized a certain wooden spoon were more obsessed with stuff than I was.
Turns out, an appreciated item isn’t “stuff.”
It becomes “stuff” when it gets lost in a mass of similar (all unappreciated) items.
Daily maintenance was necessary to bring me to a true understanding of our family’s needs . . . and to help me fall in love with that awesome spoon!
Jimmie Lynne says
So i commented twice about a month ago, first about getting all my dishes clean for the first time in ages… And then about my confusion over where to store cookie cutters…
I haven’t been consistent about doing the dishes every single day, but they are getting done at least every other day, and even my husband has started washing his own pan when he makes something.
I used to have a fear of cooking, how messy will this be? How hard will it be to clean in 2 weeks? How many pans will I need for this? Even now, I’m still mostly eating out of paper bowls, because I don’t fully trust myself yet. I am happy to say that today, I ate out of a real bowl with a real fork and washed them both immediately after I finished eating.
There is one issue I’m having… My mother bought me a box of new copper pans for Christmas. They are gorgeous and so easy to clean, but when I said I was going to donate some of our old pots and pans, my husband freaked out. “Those are brand new pans. They are only a year old. My parents gave us those pans.” And I can’t get him to budge. And our pan cupboard is too full. Yes, they all technically fit in our cupboard, but not easily. And the two largest size pots are ones that I know we never use. It’s just us two. I feel like I either need to break the container concept to move some of the less used pans to another cupboard, which I could feasibly do… I have a vegetable steamer that I have never used, it looks like a crock pot but only steams stuff… Like why?… and this new set of pans came with a steaming basket anyways… Or discard pans behind my husband’s back, which I would rather not do… Or continue to fight with pan-zilla-the-hut every time I want to make Mac and Cheese.
Can you get him to a quarantine bin? Like put the ones you know you won’t use in a box somewhere with a date on it. Then when you don’t think about them for six months or so, maybe he will agree that you don’t need them.
The real issue is one that no one is addressing. You are wanting to keep the pans YOUR parents gave you and get rid of the pans that HIS parents gave you. That is part of what is going on here. He feels disrespected or at the very least that you are disrespecting his parents. Keep both sets of pots and while profusely thanking them, tell BOTH sets of parents that you have plenty and please don’t buy you anymore. Put away the large pots that you will never use but fighting “pan-zilla-the-hut” every time you want to make mac and cheese is one of the sacrifices of marriage. I had to do it for years in order to be respectful of my husbands feelings.
Jimmie Lynne says
Just to be clear, I did not buy that vegetable steamer. His mother gave it to us like 8 years ago, and I just stuck it in the place where we keep kitchen stuff that doesn’t get much use, like the blender and Crock-Pot. But at least the blender and Crock-Pot do occasionally get used…
What about moving the large, seldom-used pots to a harder to reach cupboard like over the fridge or a shelf in the basement? Whe. it hasn’t been used in a year, maybe he will agree to give it to a person in need.
Janine Blackburn says
I thought I would post a thank you. I have been decluttering over the last few months. My husband has been working on our garage.
I had become overwhelmed between work, an art course, an elderly mother and two studios (one my real studio and another my dining room which is my watercolour and drawing area).
The last load of obvious items just headed to the op shop today. I’ve also blessed others with hobby items which have sat in the garage and also paint where I have doubled up and some of the acrylic are not colours I use as I have become more focused.My drawers are not over stuffed and I have thrown out socks without their twin.
I was helped by another system (clue a shiny sink). But for me it was too structured and also did not have a way to deal with the garage and garden which are two biggies. The art studio is an ongoing project in itself.
The magic moment for me was get rid of extra items and the house will organise itself. This has proven to be true in all areas.
My husband has also started following the idea of getting rid of items we will not use-good or not. Our house is just not big enough to cope with extra items between us, our animals and our creativity.
Thanks very much Janine.
Sometimes, things have to simmer on the back burner and be re-visited later. Fight the battles that you can easily win today (maybe he’s not so attached to the stuff in the linen closet that needs to go). Make room for those pans somewhere else in your house, and bring them up again in 6 months, or a year, when they’ve not been used or even missed.
Yup. I was amazed at how much doing the dishes helped. We didn’t have overflowing cabinets, but the kitchen is so much better. And now the 5-minute pick up has really just become a tidy the main floor, which takes about 5-minutes… some days more, some days less. Bathroom clutter has always been pretty easy to check off. The one that was my downfall was sweeping. I’m horrible at sweeping for some reason. So I told my husband I wanted to buy a robot vacuum with our Xmas money. … It’s been a life changer. We got one that mops too. The two tasks that I would always come up with a reason why I shouldn’t do them now get done every day. And as a bonus, our house is tidier because we can’t leave things on the floor or Rosie (the vacuum) will get them. My preschooler picks up every day so she can push the button to start Rosie.
I finally feel I have the visible areas where guests can see under control. Now it’s just bedrooms and anything that counts as storage (closets, bedrooms, etc) that need to be taken care of!
Robin Ward says
When my four kids were young, we had them take turns doing dinner dishes – just the plates and silverware (I did the pots and pans) – and it was a battle of nagging and whining every night. Then I made the decision to have everyone just wash their own plate and silverware. Problem solved! Small, manageable bites wins every time! 🙂
I purchased a set of clear plastic canisters to store all those loose items. I have cookie cutters in one, funnels in another, cooking thermometers in another. The canisters fit well in the cupboard. No more routing through drawers for those items.
@Jimmie Lynn— How about if you move some of the things you don’t use to an unseen place (like the garage)? Then if he asks, you say you just put it there bc it is hardly ever used. If you don’t use it for a long time and he never asks, probably you can get rid of it. Lots of ppl do this for their own selves; they box up stuff and wait awhile to see if they need it enough to pull it out again. And if they don’t, then they purge it.
@Dana— I LOVE that saying: “It becomes stuff when it is lost in a mass of similar (unappreciated) items.” That is a new quotable quote!! 🤗💕
I found the same with underpants. I only need 7 if I do laundry weekly, or 14 if I account for the occasional week when it’s not possible (returning from a trip, being sick on the weekend, etc.)
If I kept all [big number] of them, I wouldn’t do laundry until I ran out, which justified having [big number] of everything else!
I needed this so much today! This is what I am doing. Either/or (Or neither of course!).
When my daily habits are being done consistently, I feel calmer but, if I have a day focussing on my huge amount of clutter, my daily habits suffer and I end up coming to a standstill the next day… Every time! And it takes a huge effort to start again with anything. I keep wondering why I can’t have 2 consecutive days of effort and I think this is why as my daily habits have been missed.
I am using the Tody app for my daily habits (the free part 🙂
Thank you so much for your great insight Dana, love your site…
Florence Mowrey says
The daily habits come first, as you have noticed, Jacques! Once you don’t feel comfortable until they are done, you can concentrate more on the clutter. Our kitchen, dining room, and living room are much better after 18 months of nibbling away at the visible stuff. I found out this year that I do quite well cooking with just a 3 qt and 1.5 qt saucepan plus my regular and medium cast iron skillets. The big soup pots and the less used kitchen appliances are bagged and sit on the shelf next to the stairs in the basement.
Our elderly basement (not nearly as clean as the one in “Home Alone”!) has been on the project list for years; it is not a visible place that invites decluttering since very few people are willing to go down into that spider habitat! Over the weekend, we had three days of subzero weather with gusts of 50 mph just before Christmas and we have 5 barn cats that needed to spend the worst of the weather in that basement. One had a nervous tummy, some of them were not very familiar with the use of a litter box, and some waited til the last minute to head for the single litter box (my fault).
By the way, did I mention that my sister and her husband are visiting New Year’s Day and spending the night??? The weather is back to normal and the cats went out the door on their own when I held the storm door open for a couple of minutes. I did the daily jobs and then went down to the basement and started gathering trash, re-cleaning the scenes of the “accidents,” and moving things to give me a little more room to work. In 20 minutes I had de-trashed and neatened up about a 10 x 12′ section! After we came back, we both went down to work on the real icky stuff–spider webs, damp stuff on the floor, and two poop spots under the stairs. Crawl under the stairs and scoop it up, sprinkle baking soda, come back later and spray vinegar, and take a bag of 40 year old oil cans out to the trash! As we worked to be able to sweep two more sections we let go of enough stuff to fill half a garbage tote!!! That plus sweeping and spraying some enzyme cleaner in the corner of the coal bin (yeah, that kind of basement!!!) took maybe an hour and we will probably put some more junk in the trash after the tote is collected on Friday. That took care of about half the basement in less than 90 minutes–it just took the pressure of the deadline (and the pee odor) to get it done.
You may notice I am not saying anything about the back section of this basement… Tool cabinets, old weight bench, boxes of paperbacks, sports equipment, camp chairs, Grandma’s kitchen things, gardening supplies, repair stuff, and a couple of totes under Great Aunt Mary Martha’s old kitchen table. THAT decluttering will have to be one shelf at a time, one 3×3′ section of floor at a time, and maybe scheduling a slot the day before the trash goes every week for a few months.
Now it’s time to do the dishes and maybe sweep the floor. And a 5 minute pickup! Eighteen months ago I was where you are now, just starting to make the bed every morning, do dishes once a day and sweep the floors. You WILL get to the place you want to be if you keep doing the next thing. Now, people can drop by and I actually INVITE them to come in! I enjoy my clean and oh so much neater home every day. The house can breathe and we can relax!
Thank you, Dana, for writing your way out of your problem and spreading hope for so many of the rest of us unwitting slobs!!
Sarah K says
Got to say, I love ‘the house can breathe and we can relax’ statement.
Jimmie Lynne, I agree with you, it’s not a good idea to get rid of the pots when your husband doesn’t want you to. I would put the pots somewhere else, so that if you do need them, you can get them. There are some occasions when you may need a bigger pot. Like cooking for more than just the two of you……Unlike the steamer that you haven’t used in 8 years. I would sell that online!!
I have been married for 29 years and a couple of years ago, I threw out all my damaged pans and then bought a new saucepan set, keeping 2 frypans that were older but still get lots of use. Everything I have I use, but not all of the time.
Katharine KN says
Jimmi Lynne, for things like this I find the best thing is to put all the stuff you want to get rid of in a box in the garage or somewhere, then say to hubby, “OK, I am NOT throwing this away now. If at any point in the next month/six months/year” you want any of it, go and get it out and I won’t put it back. At the end of that time I will donate/sell/bin it.” This works pretty well for me and my but-we-might-need-it! hubby, because I agree its disrespectful to just chuck things he thinks he wants, but on the other hand AAARGHTHECLUTTER!!! This way he can see for himself that he (almost certainly) will not miss any of it within the time span, its not just you saying it.
Leslie Susan Clingan says
Such wisdom. It does just become stuff when it goes unloved, unused and unnoticed. My kids have forever made fun of me because my 2 fave pancake turners (one slotted, one solid) were melted all along the handles where I leaned them against the skillets. Finally the handles broke off with about an inch left behind. They were still my favorites although rather dangerous because my hand was now forced to be closer to the heat on the stove to use them. This month, after years of using them, I pitched them with a kiss goodbye and replaced them with new ones. Still miss them but they had served me well.
Coffee mama says
I have been lurking for a while and I have your books. Always thought I just can’t do it but I am going to start again for the new year! Thank you Dana!
Jimmie Lynne, my husband bought an overhead projector at a garage sale about 12 years ago. Why!! It takes up lots of room in our storage loft, and he has only used it once. When I focus on decluttering my own stuff (thanks Nony), peace reigns. Also, I hope the space and order I create will inspire him.
I do NOT recommend giving away your husband’s favorite pans. I would just suck it up and sigh patiently. I have that problem with my children. They have several favorite mugs and we are overflowing!
Hubby and I went through our kitchen things together a few months ago. We each chose the things we loved best and considered what the other cooks in the family loved as well, and then we got rid of the rest. My kitchen has been SOOOO much better!
However, it’s a real struggle sharing a kitchen with multiple people. A blessing sometimes, because we have lots of cooks, but….
Could this be appropriately entitled The Difference between Dressing and Stuffing?
Does the item ‘dress’ up your home, making it look pretty, or does it STUFF your home, making it crowded?
That’s a great analogy, dressing vs stuffing