We're in the midst of a major purge (again) in our efforts (again) to have Less Stuff and less chaos and More Space and more comfort (both physical and emotional) and an efficient living area. Our two-bedroom condo is sufficient for a family of four plus home business (I keep telling myself), but every room is on the smallish side, and I've been feeling very squished and irritable about the situation.
The reason for posting this is that I've been inspired by the Green Moms Carnival, which I totally missed, but which this post will tie into neatly since this month's theme was green de-cluttering.
On the Montessori side, I've also been inspired by Montessori blogs, such as Living Montessori Now, and posts on other natural parenting blogs that have talked about their Montessori set-ups in terms of "preparing the environment." I seriously can't find the posts I'm thinking about, but for instance, if you scroll down on this post (about a similar topic) at My World Edenwild, you'll see that the bottom shelf of her bookcase is spare with a few simple toys.
On the minimalist side, I've been inspired by my new online connection with The Minimalist Mom after she guest posted on my blog, and by Momma Jorje talking about her journey of downsizing so her family can eventually fit into an RV.
Plus, there might be more than a touch of nesting fever under way, both in me (the actual pregnant person) and in Sam (sympathy nesting), because we have realized: Holy crap, we have only a few months left! And all is in disarray! And how can we have a home birth here! And where can I put away any baby clothes! And how will four people fit in this house! (I do tend to think in exclamations when pregnant, dontcha know.)
To that end, I will share the humble beginnings of our progress toward a Better Place. (I'm into caps today, too. Very eighteenth century.) If all goes well, I might even share some After pics at some point…
We took apart our living room and are determined to sort through the pieces before putting it back together.
First of all, we had an idea that our dining table never gets any use, because it's in the dining nook (how silly) and tends to get blocked off by the big boxes of DVDs that come in every day and get plopped down in the way of it. I'm not even sure how to solve the big-boxes-coming-in-every-day dilemma. It's the way of things in a home business that sells DVDs. We originally planned that these boxes would go straight upstairs into our spare bedroom but (a) this never, ever, ever happened and (b) it is a spare room no longer but is destined, in fact, to be the kids' room.
Anyway, the semi-solution we've come up with is to transition the dining nook (seems overpraising it to dub it a dining room) into a joint play area / conservatory (my keyboard, guitar, & other instruments, including several specifically bought for Mikko) / business-boxes depository. The table will move into our living room instead, where we'll keep it partially folded (it's an Ikea number) so that just the three (to four) of us can sit around it usually, and the folded side is against one wall.
I resisted this change, because it seems … weird. Why have a dining table in the living room? But I've come around due to the fact that we otherwise will never use it, and I really would like to. When guests come, we can pull it further into the living room and open it up to full size. We currently can't have guests over, because all is full of crap, so this will be a treat if we can really get everything down to manageable levels.
Books are an area of question for us right now. We have several boxes in our storage area, after having purged boxes and boxes more in our last few moves. We're down to the ones we really like — and yet it's still too many for us to display at once. Now that we've "settled" into a place we've bought and don't intend to move again anytime soon, we're wondering if we should really have any books that spend all their time in boxes. Seems kind of silly, doesn't it? And we can truly get pretty much every book we need at the library, so how necessary are most of them? There's something of identity wrapped up in books, though, isn't there? A sort of display of "This is who I am" through "This is what I read."
That glider in the picture is sans cushion because someone decided to decorate it with a black ballpoint pen. I lurve that glider for nursing, so I was trying to decide (the ballpoint didn't come out, copious applications of rubbing alcohol notwithstanding) whether to reupholster the cushions myself, pay someone to, buy replacement cushions, or leave it looking mucky until we no longer have hooligans underfoot. Any opinions?
Here I went through the effort of paring down the astonishing amount of art supplies Mikko has amassed. What we've discovered is that having more of something (more markers, more stickers) doesn't mean that more of them necessarily get used — it just means they get harder to store. It's like how I have about 40 lip glosses and use my favorite three. (Speaking of which, decluttering toiletries is on my list….)
Besides art supplies, we've been purging toys, which we have been storing in the white bins in the first picture. It's been a little challenging, but here are some of our criteria:
- Has Mikko used it and enjoyed it in the past several months? This was the best guideline. We didn't involve Mikko in the sorting this time around, so we'll have to adapt these techniques as he gets older and cares more about his belongings. To be fair to him this time around, we put some things we were uncertain about away for awhile to see if he'd ask for them. (He didn't.)
- If Mikko's outgrown a toy, is the new baby likely to play with it? These very few toys go into storage. We found that babies play with keys and cell phones and only occasionally with legitimate toys, so we don't really need much.
- Do we hate it? Such as, things that are very loud or take up far too much room for their worth. A good test for decluttering anything is to ask the question, "Does this make me smile?" If it doesn't, why am I hanging on to it?
- If we're on the fence about something, an additional mercenary question is to ask ourselves, can we get money for it?
Here are the green ways we're disposing of our kills:
- On that last note, of making money, we take high-quality items to our local children's consignment shop. We get 40% of earnings if we take it in cash, or 50% if we use it as store credit (easy to do!). We've set aside certain larger things and non-children's things to post on craigslist. We also have some highly targeted profit items slated for eBay. I've personally found that holding yard sales (even joint ones) are rarely worth the bother, but you might be in a better neighborhood for them. It might also be a thought for kids to get involved with selling their own unwanted items. We've actually thought Mikko might enjoy having his own consignment account, so he can use his earnings to buy replacement toys as he wishes.
- For lower cost items (probably 60-70% of the toys, for instance), we just go with a thrift store (The Salvation Army, in our case, for the very good reason that it's closest). For very specific but low-cost items, I'm going with Freecycle. For example, I decided to give away my supply of disposable menstrual items now I've switched to cloth (well, I'm pregnant at the moment, but you know), but I can't see bundling up an open (but still good) box of pads and tampons for the thrift shop, so I figure someone on Freecycle will take the collection off my hands. It's wasteful to use disposables, but it would be even more wasteful for me to dispose of the disposables I'm no longer using!
- Items that are broken or otherwise ruined go into the trash or recycle bin. That should be obvious, but it's astonishing how much we save in the hopes that items will spontaneously regenerate or find their missing pieces.
The problem we have with all these methods is making the time for them! It would be much easier to just dump it all in the trash, but obviously that would be Very Bad. But I would actually pay money to have someone pick up all this stuff at once and do all the organizing / posting / picture taking / transporting / receipt making necessary. When it's up to us to do it, it sits around … and around.
The one tip I can give you today if you're making thrift shop donations and itemize your deductions is to input your donations ahead of time into ItsDeductible Online (I have no relationship with them) and then pick up the generic receipt at drop-off to pair with your online accounting. It's still an annoying chore, but it's free, and you can transfer your amounts to TurboTax.com when you do your taxes.
Here's my looking-to-the-future picture, my inspiration and hope of what things will be once we finish all the hard work. This is my Montessori-based bookshelf o' toys. It's not pure Montessori or anything. For one thing, I need to do more research. For another thing, our toys maybe aren't as pretty and high-class as would be truly photogenic. (Oh, well, they're Mikko's faves, and I'm honoring that at least.)
But my idea is that we'll have a limited amount of toys overall and then, we'll rotate out just a selection of toys at a time, easily accessed and well displayed. That will hopefully entice Mikko (and the new little one) into exploring what's out and playing more thoroughly with what's available, rather than being bewildered by all the options and therefore doing nothing or dumping out all the bins onto the ground to search for something good. This will presumably be much easier to keep clean, as well, so that we can manage regular picking-up times. (Our bins were so overflowing after Christmas that I literally could not put all the toys away at night, and I found this very discouraging.)
This has already worked well as a start. Mikko had been looking for that Melissa & Doug stacking train puzzle (on the second shelf toward the camera), so he was happy to see it, all the pieces intact for once! He's gotten it out every day since.
We have to figure out what goes in the other cubbies. We expect children's books (again, we'll likely rotate so that only a select few are out at a time), some of my sheet music for the keyboard, and maybe a few other things. Ideally, though, we'd like to downsize the shelf itself (yes, it's the Ikea one that every single person in the world owns, by my last count), so we don't want to rely on having that much space but instead keep it sparse.
We also would like to find a low table for playing on, since Mikko despises sitting on the floor (and, to be honest, so do Sam and I!), but he loves two little child-sized chairs we picked up for cheap (a straight one and a rocking chair that makes him look like a tiny grandpa). So we'd like a small table that will let him pull up his chairs and play and do crafts and set up blocks and so forth. It might be a train table or play table, or it might be just a coffee table. I think we'll head to thrift shops and see what we can find that's decent (better for the environment to reuse rather than buy new). We've looked on Craigslist as well, but haven't found what we're looking for in terms of size yet (too big for our wee space).
All right, that's some of my Before, the start of our newest nesting adventure. And I haven't shown you upstairs yet!