Office Tidying Status Update

I’m now about a month into the process of tidying everything. I’ve lost count of the number of car loads and trash bags full of stuff I’ve removed from my life. So far I only have 2 items I regret parting with, and neither of them are expensive or irreplaceable. So I’m doing good there. And as of this afternoon you can see the top of my desk!


Not only that but my closet has WAY MORE space. I expect that over time I’ll move a bunch of the stuff that’s out in the office into the closet.

Before, there was so much stuff on the floor that the door could only open partially. There wasn’t anywhere to store the step ladder so it just sort of hung out. Now everything is off the floor, the fabric has been moved into a new drawer set, and there’s a spot for the ladder just to the left of the drawers. My fabric cutting board, which had previously laid around in my office making it look messy, now hangs on the wall next to the fabric.

There’s still work to do in the closet, I have 3 more categories of craft stuff to go through, but it’s a vast improvement from what it was.

My desk is now clear, there’s no more piles of crap on top of my book shelf, I’ve moved my file cabinet near my desk so maybe I will actually file something someday, and the shelves themselves are slightly better organized. I actually took a lot OUT of the shelves, but then put things back in from other places. In the interest of full disclosure, that blue cart is still there you just can’t see it in the 2nd shot.

The “before” photo is a little misleading, I took it right after I cleaned my office. Which I do maybe twice a year. Here’s a more honest photo of what my office usually looked like:


I’ve managed to create a little island of clean. The rest of the room is still in progress. I can’t stress how exhausting it is to go through all this stuff, the full KonMari treatment is definitely not a weekend project. I reached a point where I need to focus on some other areas/categories, because I’ve got piles of stuff that don’t belong in this room but there isn’t room for them in the places they do belong. We have two big closets downstairs which hold stuff my husband and I will need to tackle together.

Here’s what the rest of the room is looking like these days. Piles of to-be-sorted stuff in an otherwise bare room. That’s because once Baby #2 is born the plan for this room is to move the guest bed in here. Evacuating that half of the room is a long term project of mine.

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New Construction Townhome, Organization

You Have to Clean Before You Can Tidy

My closet is now officially tidied (or KonMari’d, if you want to turn the method into a verb)! It doesn’t look drastically different, especially because the most dramatic change is in the drawers, but it  feels so much better in there. No more piles of t-shirts on the top shelf, no more collections of crap on the floor under the hanging clothes. No more pile of clothing I haven’t put away! Everything is where it belongs! Of course I’ll have to go through it again in 6 months once I’m back to my pre-pregnancy self and can wear normal clothes again, but even what I’ve done so far is a huge improvement.

Next up is the hobby category. I talked about strategies for tidying hobby supplies in my last post, and sat down to tackle a new one today. Except my office is a mess (which is what inspired this whole thing in the first place). I realized that there’s a certain catch-22: you need to have a clear space to work in order to tidy effectively, but the reason I have no clear space is that I need to tidy! I spent about 20 minutes putting things away, throwing out trash, and doing the sort of clean-up I might do before company comes over. I didn’t worry too much about exactly where stuff went, I just tried to lump like items together and get the floor to a place where I could vacuum.

This brought me to tidying step 0: a vaguely clean office.

Clean enough to vacuum but still pretty cluttered
Clean enough to vacuum but still pretty cluttered

Then I tackled my electronics, which didn’t have a ton of stuff in it but was still challenging. I relocated a lot of random cables to the basement (where we have storage bins with various computer parts) and got rid of some very old mostly broken hardware.

Next on the agenda was the linen closet. I hadn’t intended to tidy it, but when I went to put fresh sheets on the guest bed and realized I had no idea where the queen sheets were. There are queens, doubles, twins, and Twin XL in there and I can’t remember which is which.

Sooo anyone know where the queen sheets are?
Sooo anyone know where the queen sheets are?

We store linens in 3 different closets, plus the “in use” linens which occupy the beds/bathrooms. I amassed all the sheets and blankets on the guest bed. Keep in mind this is just the “spares.” The guest bed sheets/comforter were in the wash, and the other 3 beds in the house (ours, our daughter’s, and the crib) all have sheets on them.

No joke, there is an ALF sleeping bag in there.
No joke, there is an ALF sleeping bag in there.

I pulled out anything that I felt was too gross for a guest to sleep on. I pulled out the Snuggie and some polar fleece throws (I hate polar fleece). Since some of these came with my husband when we moved in together I gave him right of first refusal for anything on the chopping block. He agreed with my assessments though.

Next I went through the towels. Not including the full sets hanging in the bathrooms we had 15 bath towels, 16 washcloths, 3 beach towels, 10 hand towels, and 5 bath mats. Once again I culled anything that wasn’t in good enough shape to offer a guest. I set aside a couple towel/washcloth sets to take down the shore along with a surplus duvet.

I didn’t quite hit my goal of fitting all the linens in one closet. We have a bunch of extra waterproof covers for furniture which are bulky but we’ll definitely need them when the baby shows up. I put the crib sheets back in my daughter’s closet, but everything else fit! I rolled the towels for easy grabbing, then folded the washcloths and stuck them on end in a shoe box to keep them from getting mixed up with the hand towels and beach towels.

I put labels in front of each stack of sheets indicating what size they are
I put labels in front of each stack of sheets indicating what size they are

This whole process is so much work but I really think it’s worth it. Just being able to easily grab a set of clean sheets is a huge improvement in my domestic life.


How I Tidy Craft Supplies and Hobby Stuff

One of the most daunting tasks in my quest to KonMari my house is dealing with my incredible collection of hobby stuff / supplies. I have a lot of hobbies, and many of them have a lot of stuff that goes with them. Some of this stuff has taken a lot of time/money to acquire, so I have to be smart with how I purge and sort it if I don’t want to be filled with regret down the line.

This is what my office looks like clean. No one has ever actually seen this.
This is what my office looks like clean, or at least it did as of a couple years ago. No one has ever actually seen this since then.

The first step in the process was evaluating how likely I was to ever take up a given hobby again. Then I had to compare that to how much stuff it required, and how hard that stuff was to obtain in the first place. Here are some examples:

  • Hand knitting. I do this regularly. My yarn stash takes up a ton of space and needs pruning, but otherwise I am perfectly OK with it taking up ~15 cubic feet of shelf space.
  • Machine knitting. I haven’t done this in a while but would love to get back into it when I have more time. It takes up a bunch of space, but the machines are rare. I also have multiple, and I think it’s time to prune the collection down to my one favorite machine (my Superba).
  • Reclaiming yarn from thrift store sweaters. Nice in theory, not really worth the time. Probably not gonna do it again. Should just pitch the half-unraveled sweaters. Easy to get more if I change my mind.
  • Photography. I go through phases of this every few years. Equipment is expensive, takes up little space. Definitely going to hold onto most if not all of it.
  • Embroidery. I do this occasionally, but I have a disproportionate large stash of threads and tools, none of which are rare or expensive. Need to cull it back to something reasonable.
  • Exercise. I do this regularly, but I’ve had my dad’s rowing machine for more than a year and have used it maybe twice. Time to return it and focus on weight training.
  • Jewelrymaking. It was really hard to admit this to myself, but I’m probably never going to seriously go back to jewelrymaking / metalsmithing. It requires space, time, and equipment that I’m not likely to dedicate myself to. I have a decent collection of tools, but they’re not really doing me any good locked away in the back of the closet waiting for “someday.”
  • Camping. I do this once or twice a year and plan to continue doing so in the future. The camping equipment definitely needs pruning though, some of it I’ve had since Girl Scouts and haven’t used since then.
  • Hydroponic gardening. I haven’t done this since my daughter was born but would like to in the future. The equipment is not cheap and took a while to accumulate as it’s mostly only available through mail order. So that stuff is largely staying.
  • Painting. Nope. Not gonna do it again. Goodbye, paints.

So that’s 3 hobbies totally out the door, and two or three more that are getting some serious downsizing. For each hobby category I’ll need to go through everything and determine what to do with it. Although Kondo suggests starting with easier categories and working up to hard ones I started with the hardest just to get it over with. I hauled out all of my metalsmithing tools and laid them out on the floor. Some of them are all around handy tools to keep around. Some of them are just too specialized to be good for much else. When I got to my favorite tools I stopped for a bit. I reconsidered. Surely I might need these again? Weren’t they very expensive? Maybe I should keep them…

I know I’m never going to need them again. I went online to see what they cost new. $50 each. Not inexpensive, but not out of the realm of replacing if somewhere down the line I do suddenly really need to form silver or copper into hemispherical shapes. But when I’m totally honest with myself I know that’s not going to happen. I took a deep breath and put them on the “go” pile.

Figuring out what to do with the stuff I’m unloading is also hard. A lot of it does still have use/value, but it’s not the sort of stuff that does well at a thrift store. It needs context. For the things that are more valuable I’m trying Craigslist. Some of the jewelry equipment I plan to donate to my university’s program. I ended up throwing out a lot of odds and ends that really aren’t likely to be useful to anyone, like Plexiglas forming dies I made in college.

Here's a panorama of my office in a more natural state.
Here’s a panorama of my office in a more natural state. Except I finally threw out the dead cactus in the window.

Having cleared the hurdle of my most loved tools, I’m looking forward to a few easy categories as a pallet cleanse. In general I prefer that to Kondo’s suggested order of increasing emotional difficulty. I like to do something hard and then go do one that’s brain dead and satisfying. Leona’s closet is great for this, she’s constantly wearing out and outgrowing clothing. I can feel quite accomplished just by throwing out all her pants with holes in the knees. Or I’ll go back through one of the giant boxes of baby clothes (many of which were hand-me-downs Leona never even wore) and cull it down to a reasonable size.

The good new is that despite being emotionally exhausting it really doesn’t take that long. I went through my tools in maybe half an hour, while I was taking a break from a frustrating problem at work. So far I’ve taken 5 bags full of stuff to the local thrift store, and I’ll probably have more to go by next week. Over time I get better at being honest with myself about whether or not I’ll actually use something again. Sometimes when I revisit categories I’ve already done I find a few more items to yank. Hopefully by the end of the year I’ll be surrounded by only stuff I need or enjoy, not clutter I resent.

New Construction Townhome, Organization

The Life-Changing Cult of Tidying Up

Are you interested in my quest for a less disastrous house? Check out my whole tidying archive of posts!

If you are a person who reads the internet, you have probably heard of Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Perhaps you have even tried to read it. Most people who succeed in reading it join her KonMari tidying cult, but in all honesty it can be a challenge to get past the first few pages if you are turned off by the huge number of self-help cliches found in the beginning. I’m told that part of this is due to the book’s translation, and perhaps also some bad advice from an editor. Or very good advice, given the book’s position on the bestseller list. Suffice to say I found the beginning of the book a little grating but I’m glad I stuck with it.

The book contents can be divided into 3 categories: super useful advice about decluttering and organizing, somewhat repetitive stories about her childhood / clients, and advice that might be useful to some people but doesn’t seem to apply to any of the American yuppies I know. One example of the third is her assertion that you should carry all your coins as “no one actually cashes in their change jar.” Do they not have Coinstar in Japan? Because cashing out a change jar is an amazing treat whereas digging through my purse for a dime sucks.

Anyway, I’m reading the book and feeling inspired to clean (ok, I read the book because I was inspired to clean and felt overwhelmed by how much stuff I have). The book suggests starting with clothing because it’s the easiest, and I agree. I did my sock drawer first:


As you can see, I got rid of about half my socks. They were not in great shape. Many were threadbare at the heel or stretched out. Others were in OK shape but I had to ask myself “how many pairs of black athletic socks does one person need?” I decided the answer was not “10” and culled all but the heartiest. A couple pairs of socks were like-new but didn’t really go with my wardrobe, or were nearly identical to other socks I never wear. I’m still trying to figure out if I should donate them somewhere or just pitch them. I mean, does anyone actually want used socks? Probably not.

At first I struggled a lot with wastefulness, a feeling that nagged me while reading the book as well. Kondo talks a lot about discarding things, and as someone who is opposed to waste this was hard to accept. I rolled it around in my head for a few days and realized first: ‘discard’ does not mean I have to throw it in the trash, there are still plenty of responsible ways to pass something on for reuse. Second: I was already being wasteful the second I purchased that 6 pack of athletic socks, knowing full well I still had some at home (they were on sale!). Holding onto something indefinitely when you’ve already replaced it isn’t being responsible, it’s hoarding. Then I had a moment of “well I wear these socks when I run out of ones I like, what will I do now when I run out?” Um, wash them? Stop playing King of the Mountain with the hamper?

One of the most often cited ideas from the book is to only keep items which “spark joy.” I can immediately tell which critics haven’t actually read the book, because they make snide remarks about how something mundane-but-necessary fails to spark joy. Except even items we don’t actively like can spark joy. Maternity underwear does not spark joy directly, it’s pretty dowdy, but not having a wedgie 100% of the time is its own indirect joy.

Organized tank tops
Organized tank tops
Undies, sports bras, and pajamas
Sports bras, pajamas, and undies

After socks I moved on to underwear and tank tops. Next is T-shirts. Nice tops, jeans, and dresses will have to wait until I’m done being pregnant and my body returns to normal. It’s hard to consider purging items when you know your body is about to do some major shape shifting. Lucky for me there is really no shortage of other things I can tidy.

A lot of people who haven’t read the book decry the idea of having to get rid of all the “nonessential” stuff in their lives. That’s not what Kondo is suggesting at all. I have a huge yarn collection, and I assure you it brings me joy (though I still plan to go through each skein and get rid of any I know I’ll never use). Ditto for my fabric collection. There’s nothing wrong with having collections of things. The problem is having collections of things that aren’t actually making you happy.

Kondo talks a lot about the emotional reasons we hold onto things. To some people it seems really cold hearted, getting rid of items that may have been a gift. But I think it’s important to acknowledge the emotional toll of stuff we hang onto just because it was a gift. If anything, keeping something we don’t really want just because we feel obligated to strains our relationship with that person. You shouldn’t be an asshole about it, but ultimately there’s a limit to how much stuff we can hang onto. Some of it has to go sometimes. It doesn’t mean we love our friends less, or don’t appreciate their gifts.

For the record, if I have given you a hand knit item, and it it no longer suits you, please do not feel obligated to hang onto it if it no longer brings you joy. The joy for me was in the knitting and the giving, and hopefully for you in knowing I liked you enough to make you something. Whether you choose to use it going forward is really up to you.

Slowly, painfully, I’m learning to let go of stuff I’m keeping because I “might” use it. I have never, ever remembered to take a travel pillow with me to the airport; I definitely don’t need three. I am never actually going to read that book on Renaissance artwork, I don’t actually like Renaissance artwork. I don’t need to own any clothing that is too gross and old to wear outside the house. I need exactly one pair of painting pants and two painting shirts (I know from experience that after two days I will be sick of painting and go do something else). I will never actually turn those old T-shirts into a cool hipster crochet rug.

I am letting go of the ghosts of people I thought I wanted to be (but don’t) in order to make room for the person I actually want to be (someone who can see the top of her desk on more than a semi-annual basis). I’ve joined the cult, and even if this experiment is a total bust and my sock drawer is back to being a warzone in a week at least I managed to get rid of some baggage in the process.