Clean my bedroom!
April 14, 2011 1:19 AM   Subscribe

After misplacing something important, I've decided I've had rather enough of my messy-ass bedroom...

Tonight I had a major incident with not being able to find something rather important I had JUST SET DOWN. (Or, at least I think I set it down. It also may have been lost somewhere, or left at work ... but still.) I got seriously pissed off after searching for half an hour and deciding it really -wasn't- in my bedroom and proceeded to systematically destroy a dresser. (In my defense, I want to get rid of it anyway as it wasn't in that great of a shape before I took a boot to it...)

Yes, I have a horrible temper, no, I probably shouldn't have destroyed something, but it made me feel better. Also, I now have a lot less excuse to flake off on cleaning my ancient bedroom (I've had it for over 20 years). Thus do I come to the actual question -- how the hell do I actually do it?

I've kinda got the basic idea down. Sort between keep, store, donate, throw away/recycle. I have a day or three I can devote to this, and plenty of space to stretch out the bags and boxes I'll need. But ... how do I decide what goes where, or where 'the line' is for things? Seriously, I have no idea where to start with this, other than if it's broken then throw it away. I'm a packrat and have just kept a lot of stuff. (I'm not a candidate for a hoarding TV show or anything, it's not THAT bad.)

Suggestions and advice on how to get ... all this ... started would be awesome. Once I get moving on it, I can probably figure out how I want the room to look when I'm done (and at least attempt to keep it in order this time); it's the 'How do I start?!' that's paralyzed me for years.

Bonuses: Allergies to dust, which makes cleaning a pain in the ass -- but having a clean room is easier to keep clean and dust-free. I have a replacement dresser and enough devices to store/throw out what I need to. I loathe having someone even be around when I'm trying to clean, let alone have them 'help'.

Also, I ramble a bit when I'm nervous, which is right now. Sorry. |:

tl;dr -- how do I go from having an 'are you sure you're not still a teenager?' room to a 'have you not tidied up this week?' room?
posted by Heretical to Home & Garden (38 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
 
Go through each drawer, each box or bag that already contains stuff, every cabinet and ask yourself "Have I actually -used- this? Am I going to use this within the next 2 months? Do I actually enjoy owning this, or am I keeping this 'just in case'? Did I even remember that I had this here?"

Be honest with yourself. And be careful of putting things in a box that you think you could give away or sell later. The same day that you put something in the "goodbye" box, take it to Goodwill or throw it away.

Can you wear a mask of some kind to cover your mouth and nose? Also, make sure you wipe down things, like books, knick knacks, lamps, etc before or as you move them, to prevent simply moving the dust from place to place.

Toss out any garbage bags of stuff before you take a lunch break or before you sleep, so that when you get back into it, you've seen even a small amount of progress.
posted by DisreputableDog at 1:43 AM on April 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Where is your empty space to organize things? Even if you have to move everything around in your room, I like to find an empty stretch of wall and separate things out that way. (actually the hallway since my room is too small. This also has the nice effect of emptying out the room making it easier to clean, and a more conscience decision to bring stuff back in) Also, make the piles in keep, throw away, give away that way stuff from "give away" won't migrate back to "keep."

For clothes: does it have a stain you can't get out? Have you worn in the last year? No? Give away.

Once you clear out all that stuff it's easier to put the room back together. I found after doing a purge that I had put away my clothes and "desk stuff" and found that I still had random stuff left over. Then round two of give/throw away began.

A rubbermaid bin might be helpful for some of the more sentimental stuff you might not want to display, but still aren't ready to get rid of (for me that was high school varsity letters, clothes from my host family on study abroad, etc). This stuff lives under my bed next to sweaters/swim stuff, depending on the season.

Plan for it to take 2 days and accept that it will take 3. Especially if you do a good job and go through those drawers that usually get ignored. Maybe consider a face mask for your allergies? Good luck!
posted by raccoon409 at 1:44 AM on April 14, 2011


Break up the mammoth task of cleaning your room into smaller more manageable chunks that you can finish in 15-30 minutes - things like "I will be able to see the top of the dresser at the end of this" or "Look at all the clothes on the left half of the closet."

Pick up all your clothes off the floor first and start a load of laundry - it makes everything look better with less than 5 minutes of effort. Then clean out your storage spaces so that you have someplace to put things. Move donation and trash bags out of your room once they're full, so that you have space.

Give yourself permission to not do it perfectly - you won't get rid of every piece of clothing you haven't worn for 3 years, but if you get rid of half of them, you'll still be in a much better place than you were before. Next time will be much easier.
posted by asphericalcow at 1:45 AM on April 14, 2011


I find it easiest to put everything outside the room, and then bring items back in one by one. For each item, I have to come up with a really good justification for why I am keeping it. The default is to donate, recycle or throw away. If the item is super useful, or really beautiful, or of sentimental value (or preferably more than one of those three things) then I will consider keeping it.

But I am ruthless. I have gotten rid of everything except the contents of two suitcases three or four times in my adult life. Possessions are just clutter.
posted by lollusc at 1:49 AM on April 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


This might be a nosy question, but what sort of stuff do you have? Here's my room:
* I don't have DVDs because most of my movies are on my computer.
* My books are mostly borrowed from the library, and the few (~10) that I have are stored conveniently on a bookshelf thing.
* Random papers go inside the drawer, and then I sit down ~once a week and sort them out.
* Clothes are in the corner, and I do laundry once a week, at minimum.
* Cables are tricky, but I wrap them with the bendy ties you get at the grocery store for your vegetables.
* I have a desk for all my sentimental crap. Currently, it has some stuffed animals and badges from concerts. When this pile gets big, I'll throw some in a box and rotate them periodically.
* The sketchbook and drawing materials get tossed on a corner of a shelf, because I only have time to draw once every two months.
* Everything else (dryer sheets, detergent, suitcases, box of stationery, envelopes) gets used rarely so it's easy to keep organized.

I keep a shelf for stuff that's awaiting judgment. If I'm not sure whether something needs to be trashed, it goes on death row shelf, and anything that's been on death row for awhile unused gets tossed.

If you can't put something away immediately for whatever reason, leave it in the most annoying place possible. For example, unpack your suitcase in the middle of the room rather than a corner, because then you'll be forced to step over it every time you walk across your room.

If you have to sit down and clean, play music in the background so you don't feel like you're wasting time. Pretend you're in one of those eighties movies where the main character is dancing with the mop, or whatever.

This might be a college thing, but invite your friends. We have a running joke that our apartment is cleanest just before a party, because we don't want any of our friends to see it messy.
posted by yaymukund at 2:10 AM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have some stackable wire shelving that I'll set up in the hallway outside the room so I can sort. The large bathroom and nearby bedroom can hold the things that will be tossed or stored. When enough space is cleared, the wire shelving goes into my bedroom where I'd like it to be anyway. (There really, really isn't enough space that I can just rearrange things internally. I passed that stage that about ten years ago.) Basically, I need to spread out a bunch before I can compact it all in.

I have way too much stuff to do the 'take it all out and put it back in'. Really, I probably have two or three rooms worth of crap in here. I'd like to whittle it down to fitting in just one.

As for what's actually in the room, without going into details:

-Clothes, tons more than I'm comfortable with. It'll be sad to part with some of it, but I know this will really help. I have shelving and dressers to store what I keep.
-Books, to the tune of about 800 or so. A scant few I can give away, but for the most part it's how I decorate. They're in piles and stacks and whatnot because I don't have floor space at the moment for the three additional bookshelves I want to set up.
-Various crafting materials. My closet will be an -excellent- place to keep the supplies.
-Toys -- stuffed animals from my childhood, puzzles, wargaming materials. Some of these I know I can safely remove without much emotional attachment.
-TONS OF RANDOM CRAP -- office supplies, candles, religious accouterments, old receipts, a spoon, my walking staff, the 'I'll give this to someone some day' category. I'd say about 90% of this stuff needs to go.

The place is actually a house, not an apartment; my bedroom is on the second floor and is not generally accessible to the public as any guests spend time in the living room, dining room, and kitchen. This is also why the idea of putting things in an 'annoying' place won't work -- I've spent so many years having EVERYTHING be in an annoying spot that I just don't see it anymore, and I'm quite used to just walking around/over something in my bedroom.

I just realized another bonus -- if I get my bedroom cleared out enough, I have the excuse to also get rid of the giant waterbed that I love but takes up way too much space.
posted by Heretical at 2:47 AM on April 14, 2011


Your room is never going to get clean is you approach the stuff as "I'll give this to someone someday." No. You have a deadline and that's the end of the three days. Get rid of it.

If goodwill doesn't want it, or someone isn't willing to come over to get it, it's garbage.
posted by raccoon409 at 2:53 AM on April 14, 2011


Reading your update, what I what do is approach each of those categories one by one. Maybe give yourself a weekend day for each. E.g. on Saturday this week, you go through all your clothes, and do the sell/donate/keep piles thing. On Sunday, you do the same with your books. I still recommend approaching it as though the default is getting rid of the item. Next week, Saturday you deal with your crafting materials. You might actually want to keep most of them, but perhaps they can go in the attic or garage or somewhere out of the way, stored properly.

For the toys, I would suggest decide in advance that you will keep e.g. one stuffed toy, and one other toy. Take photos of the rest, so you have the memories. Then give them away to kids or a charity.

The annoying random crap is what I had in mind when I wrote my earlier answer. Take a whole day just for that. Hopefully you can take all of that out of the room and then bring back the few things you decide to keep. Be ruthless with the rest.
posted by lollusc at 3:01 AM on April 14, 2011


Take pics of your childhood toys and then get rid of them. Frame the photos, keep the memories.
posted by vitabellosi at 3:21 AM on April 14, 2011


I don't know where you're located, but I found my local Freecycle group awesome for stuff like this. This way, there's no "Oh, I'll take this to Goodwill later..." I put everything I didn't want on the curb and it was gone the same day. Three garbage bags of well-used clothing? More than a dozen pairs of men and women's shoes? A huge armoire? GONE. Only one person got lost and asked for directions (giving directions is my personal nightmare), but it turned out she was already in the neighborhood. If you have a similar group, I'd sign up now and throw everything in the soon-to-be donation pile to the curb. I guess Craigslist works too, but everyone I interacted with on that website was completely unreliable or accused me of lying about a bunch of junk being free (seriously wtf).

Good luck! I wish I could physically help; I love huge projects like this!
posted by plaintiff6r at 3:22 AM on April 14, 2011


great advice from everyone and the "take pics as a souvenier". What's helped me in the past (especially during a move) has been to be completely ruthless and brutally honest about "do I want/need this thing?", "have I worn this is the past 6/12 months" if the answer is "no", then "OUT WITH IT" (donate, recycle, throw out).

My SO thinks I go on rampages every once in a while and just go around the apt yelling "BOTA! BOTA! BOTA!" (translation "throw out!" in spanish. I don't know why, but its just easier for me in spanish) and its that ruthless mind-set that lets me get things done. So far, no regrets about anything that's been through this process. I think I should actually do it more often....
posted by alchemist at 3:28 AM on April 14, 2011


You have a bunch of issues.

Purge
* As much as you can.
* Anything you haven't used in a year, sleeping bag, camera, orcs.
* Scan or take photos of sentimental stuff and toss it
* Throwaway useless shit. (seriously, there's the knickknack Aunty Gertrude gave you that you never liked but you couldn't throw it away because it wasn't broken? Throw it. Just because someone gave it to you doesn't mean you have to keep it).
* Books - set them free. Use the library or a kindle.
* Don't keep toys. Your kids won't want to play with them if you have any kids, and you won't miss them. Seriously. I don't have any of my childhood toys and don't mind.
* An instrument you meant to learn to play? Let it go.
* If your stuff isn't in immaculate condition, I'd say throw it. Save the poor people at the charity place the trouble of trying to sort it. Or throw it away on freecycle (though you're contributing to someone else's junk).
* if it's a little thing that doesn't have a place, oh paperclip, oh nice pen, oh strange tool, I'll just put you in the useful drawer until I decide where you go - uh uh. Toss it. If it was important, you'd have a place or find a permanent home for it, and the time it takes to think about and cart it around and move it each time you clean the new spot it's in, is time you could have been doing something else.

Anything you feel compelled you want to keep, put a useby date on it. Your crafting supplies? Set stickers on them with today's date + one year. If you haven't ripped the sticker off in that time, it goes. Your clothes, when you put them back in the closet, put them in with the hanger the wrong way. The first time you use an item, and wash it, put it back the right way round. At the end of 6 months, anything you haven't used will be facing the wrong way. Toss it.

Do not buy new containers until you have purged till it hurts. When you do buy containers, make sure you can not stack them more than 3 deep (too much trouble to get to) and that you can label them to find what's in them. I like clear plastic too, it makes it easy to find things.

You think it will be hard, but really, I can tell you, if the thing's not on use or on display, I only got excited about it when I cleaned out cupboards. I threw away my childhood quilt and my high school uniform both over 25 years old, after taking pictures of them, and haven't thought about them until this thread.

Expect this all to take more than 3 days.

If you want to feel like you're free of clutter, remember that your room is meant to be neither a library or a museum. Toss that shit.

Purge some more.
posted by b33j at 3:41 AM on April 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


Here's an approach that might help:

start off by committing to getting rid of X things a day: say, 10 things a day, giving yourself the task of tacking different categories on each day of the week so that you're forced to deal with the harder categories (books, for example) as well as the easier ones ("random crap"). Do this for a month and then reassess to see what categories of stuff continue to be problematic.

Given that you have dust allergies, I think tackling it in small but committed bits each day might be better for your health than trying to do it all over a few-day timespan.
posted by SomeTrickPony at 4:18 AM on April 14, 2011


Imagine you are moving to a foreign country. You can take three large suitcases with you. One is full of clothes. One is full of documents, books, papers, media devices and media. One is full of souvenirs and toys and other things you are sentimentally attached to. Everything else needs to be thrown out.

Sort into four piles - three of them the size of your imaginary suitcases, and the other as big as it needs to be. Then throw out the big one.

Do NOT introduce the idea of recycling or sending stuff to goodwill into the system. It will distract you from the main goal, which is to get rid of shit. And it will slow down the process, potentially leaving you less committed to getting rid of shit. Just chuck it out.
posted by Ahab at 5:21 AM on April 14, 2011


Get a friend to help. For 2 reasons: 1) they don't have the emotional attachment to your stuff that makes it difficult to decide what to do with it, and 2) Being alone with this kind of task can be overwhelming. If you're the kind of person who put it off for this long, it must have been for a reason (i.e. you didn't want to face it) so, don't face it alone.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:23 AM on April 14, 2011


For clothes, the immediate sort is,

1: Is this item in good enough condition that I will wear it for its intended purpose?
2: Did I wear this last year in the appropriate season?

If both answers aren't YES then you need to either throw it out or donate it.

Anything you are SURE WILL BE USEFUL or that you will care about, again, b33j has a great suggestion - put a date on them, and then also put a date in your calendar - if you've not so much as ticked over a thought about those items or used them, donate or throw out.

Additionally, about every six months or so, we go through the closet and purge stuff we're not going to wear anymore, donate books, etc. Helps keep the clutter down.

Good luck!
posted by Medieval Maven at 5:57 AM on April 14, 2011


You got good practical advice; here is what helped me with my mindset (we had to clear a whole room due to new baby)
1) Visualise what you want your room to look like once it is perfect. Promise yourself that big waterbed and dream of how lovely and accessible and spacy it will all be.
2) whenever you hesitate to throw away an item, think: What do I want more; this thing or the space it occupies. I think a lot of us are at a place in life where space is more expensive and hard to come by than stuff. You are not destroying value by dumping stuff, you are giving yourself valuable, valuable room!

3) keep visualusing your perfect room! How easy it will be to find everrything, how pretty and how much comfy space you will have! Stay strong!
posted by Omnomnom at 6:31 AM on April 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


* If you have a bunch of things that are in the "I'll give it to that friend someday" category, try setting THOSE THINGS aside, and then inviting your friends over on a given weekend. Make it a sort of "Spring Cleaning Open House" thing. Then when your friends come over, give them the things you were going to give them. Don't do it "someday", make a day and make it happen. Whatever is left over at the end of the day(s), give it to Goodwill; if some of your friends didn't make it, too bad for them.

* Seconding having a friend over. It's good for the initial moral support.

* Books: A FABULOUS way to purge books is to list them on Paperback Swap. You post a list of books that you want to get rid of, and other people can log on and look at your list, and if they see something they want they let you know. You mail it to them (you have to eat the cost of mailing it; usually it's only a couple bucks, because you can do it media rate). For every book you do that for, you get a point. And you can then take that point and look at OTHER people's lists, and if you see something you like, you spend that point to ask THEM to send it to YOU.

I used this after a roommate moved out and left behind 15 boxes of books; I listed them all, and now I'm down to only a shelf and a half of her stuff I'm trying to get rid of. I've also found that it's a great way for me to GET books -- I can get something I've always wanted to read, keep it as long as I like, and then when I'm done, unless I really really am utterly in love with it, I just slap it back up there and let someone else use it. (I'm a reformed packrat and bookworm, and this has been FANTASTIC for me.)

* Another trick someone told me -- if you're worried about some random things that you are a little worried about throwing out because you may need them "just in case," get a box to put just those things in, then seal it and put it somewhere slightly inaccessible (in the back of a closet, the attic, etc.). Then wait six months. If you do need something out of it, you can go get it, and put it back in your room. But if, after six months, you never go into the box, get rid of the whole box, without unsealing it. Just take the whole thing and put it out on the curb. Do not look inside.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:35 AM on April 14, 2011


Oh -- tag sales are also great motivators. When you start seeing actual money coming into your hands, it can be a great game-changer ("...hmm, I know I've been reluctant to let those glass candleholders go, but -- on the other hand, I've already got $80 for all this other stuff, I bet I could get five for each of the candleholders and maybe break a hundred").
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:38 AM on April 14, 2011


Once you've ruthlessly pared down to what you absolutely must keep, think about where/how things should be stored in the room to maximize the probability that you'll put things away in their assigned places when you're done with them and your room won't return to chaos. So, a surface near the door to serve as a landing strip for things that always go in or out with you, stackable bins rather than drawers if that makes it easier to get laundry put away, and so on. To make dusting easier, it could be worth getting some tall glass-front cabinets, so you can see where things are inside and the contents shouldn't need to be individually dusted.
posted by lakeroon at 6:42 AM on April 14, 2011


Once I get moving on it, I can probably figure out how I want the room to look when I'm done (and at least attempt to keep it in order this time); it's the 'How do I start?!' that's paralyzed me for years.

First of all, I just want to say that I am a second-generation packrat and a total slob, so I reallyreallyreally understand where you are coming from. But I think you're going at it totally backwards. You need to have a vision for what your room is going to look like once it is all done. Like, before you even start with anything. Like, close your eyes and imagine what pieces of furniture you will have, what things you will have out displayed, where everything goes. This will help you stay focused and resist the temptation to just keep EVERYTHING.

Okay, this is going to sound stupid, but here is what I would do if I were you: Get like 15 of those tall paper lawn refuse bags and shove everything from your bedroom into them. Everything on the floor goes in a bag. Now, take the bags out of the bedroom. Put them in some other room. Set up your extra bookcases, and put the 800 books you own on shelves. Now, start going through the bags of your stuff. Take an item out, and ask yourself if you want to keep it. If you decide you don't want the thing, put it in a small box for Goodwill. When you fill up that small box, drive it to Goodwill and get it out of the house. (I've found that if you amass like 15 boxes of stuff you want to take to Goodwill, it's easy to get "packrat's remorse" and start digging through them, juuuuuust to be sure. Don't do that.

For things that you DO want to keep, ask yourself when you're going to use the thing. If you're saving something for a project or whatever, then save all your "Stuff I'm Saving for a Project" stuff in a single box somewhere. If all this stuff is together, then it makes it easier to find. Group together stuff that makes thematic sense together, and that way after your room is clean, if it starts to get cluttered you know where stuff goes: "Oh, I'll put this in the "Arts and Crafts" box in the closet. And I'll put this in the "Stuff I'm Saving for a Project" box. In the closet". etcetcetc

Allow yourself to display SOME of the interesting stuff you have, but realize that less is more. The goal is not to take everything out of the room, and then put it back in. The point is to take everything out of the room, put some of it back in, and then realize that the room looks really good decluttered and not put ALL of it back in. Don't be afraid to get rid of the majority of your stuff.
posted by 23skidoo at 7:16 AM on April 14, 2011


Once I did a huge clothing purge and wanted to be ruthless. For each item I thought to myself, "is there someone on the street who needs this more than me?"

I tried to put a face on that person, imagine her on the street without a jacket. It became about helping someone else and not about my sentimental attachment to a thing. I gave up some jackets and sweaters I liked, but it was LA - how many jackets did I need? It takes discipline, but every single item that goes back in the room has to pass this one test.

If this helps and things start to get difficult, remind yourself that they're just things and don't have feelings. This is hard for me with stuffed animals and such. So imagine a young child in a shelter who doesn't have anything. That toy could make a world of difference to him and for you is just clutter.

This is all really doable - you just have to DO it - start with a drawer. A small corner. Give yourself time to freak out. Put a bunch of random stuff in a box, take the box out of a room and sort that repeat. But one thing at a time will add up soon enough - and one drawer at a time will be a big accomplishment so take time to congratulate yourself for it. Expect meltdowns and anxiety, there's no avoiding them.

But someone is on the streets freezing or has finally left they're abusive husband - they don't need your favorite sweater, but the one you do sort of like but haven't worn in a year would be treasured by a woman living in her car with her two kids.

(Setting up a sell pile for eBay or craigslist could earn some cash to treat yourself to a new piece of furniture for the new room.)
posted by crankyrogalsky at 7:22 AM on April 14, 2011


There's a lot of great advice here already, but I wanted to chime in as someone who just purged half my closet. Try the clothes on. It's a pain, but it was amazing to see how bad some I had planned to keep fit. Others didn't look at all like they did on the hanger. I found this incredibly helpful, and haven't missed any of the clothes I donated. I took pictures too, and took a before/after of my closet to remind myself what a great job I did.
posted by Zophi at 7:24 AM on April 14, 2011


I find the clothes sorting really hard (I'd do all the other things first!); here are a couple of ideas that helped me:

*Put all the clothes on the bed (so I couldn't sleep unless I actually finished the task) -- or all the clothes from one area of the room, if it's too much to tackle all in one day.

*Pull out the obviously bad stuff that I will never wear again even if it fits and comes back in fashion, or that is falling apart. Throw away.

*Pull out stuff I realistically know I won't wear again but can't bring myself to get rid of because I still love it or it USED to be so perfect or whatever ... put this stuff in boxes. Label neatly. I sorted by colors, mostly, since that's how I find clothes ("where's that red skirt?"), but you could sort by size or season or type of clothing (skirts pants, etc.). Then I let those boxes SIT. This removed the anxiety of having to GET RID OF STUFF right away; I felt comfortable that Beloved Skirt #42 would still be there. Several months later, I went back to these boxes, having had months and months to get used to the idea of getting rid of stuff, and found I hadn't worn or missed any of it, and I wasn't so emotionally attached anymore. I was able to donate most of it, and refused to feel bad about the couple of boxes I put back in storage with stuff I still can't quite get rid of. I'll look at those boxes again in a year and either keep or toss. But I SO love having a closet & dresser with only clothes I actually wear, and clothes I can FIND, that getting rid of the excess is much easier now!

This won't work for everyone -- for some it is just an excuse to pack-rat in a different way -- but I found sorting the clothing so stressful and this helped me remove the emotional component so I could deal with getting rid of clothing.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:45 AM on April 14, 2011


I've got a mega dust allergy and I take a Claratin or other allergy drug of choice half an hour before I start any project like this. I use the half hour to plan.
posted by advicepig at 7:52 AM on April 14, 2011


Please don't just chuck things, unless it's broken or otherwise useless. Get a big box (or several) and label as donations. Put things in the box, AND DON'T look at them again!!

TONS OF RANDOM CRAP -- office supplies, candles, religious accouterments, old receipts, a spoon, my walking staff, the 'I'll give this to someone some day' category. I'd say about 90% of this stuff needs to go.

Organize! Everything needs to go in a labeled box for now. Office supplies go in a box that will soon be in one spot near your computer (or in your office or office corner.) I'm thinking if you have odds and ends of things in your bedroom, that means the rest of your place doesn't have areas that are committed to certain things. ie, an office space, a craft space, etc. Perhaps that's something that can be done much later, and would help keep things accumulating in the bedroom.

Crafts all in a box for now.

Pitch old receipt and papers, but for now don't go through individual papers one by one.

Do the books absolutely last, but then do some sorting of what isn't that interesting to you and what you've outgrown or don't read (college textbooks especially.) If, like me, it physically hurts to get rid of books, can you gift them to someone? Even when trading them or donating them, I consider console myself with the idea that SOMEONE will have the pleasure of reading that I had. I have about 1000 books and am lucky to have space for all of them. If books are your idea of decorating, can you consider taking the two or three bookshelves you need and putting them in the living room? Books and plants are all over my house--it's a part of who I am, and I like people to see that.

Otherwise, creatively shelve as much as possible. After putting them on your shelves vertically, put some horizontally on top. Put paperbacks two deep on wide shelves. Stack some on the dresser, and put tchotchkes on top of them. Put them on your headboard, if room, or put up a shelf above your bed. You could even run shelves 8 inches in height around the top of the room. There's lots of other ideas, if you think about alternate forms of shelving.

Pick one thing, as others have mentioned. Commit to doing it for just 5 days, preferably at the same time each day, even if you can only do 15 minutes after dinner. Write yourself a contract if you have to, and tape it on the bathroom mirror. Do just a dresser or part of the closet, etc. If you get on a roll, you can go up to an hour or two, but not over. Set a timer. You don't want to burn out all in one day and not get back to it. In one week, if you haven't finished, by then you'll be so excited and satisfied, you'll want to get the whole thing done.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:03 AM on April 14, 2011


Oh, one more thing on the clothes -- my husband can't get rid of clothes unless he's worn them out. (He was partly raised by depression-era grandparents.) So my solution to his seriously SEVENTY T-shirts, most acquired free, all in fine condition, none throw-out-able or donate-able without raising the ire of his dead grandmother, was to pack away 60 of them and say he had to wear the remaining 10 only. (That's at least two weeks of T-shirts for him; he wears dress clothes to work and only wears T-shirts evenings or weekends, depending on what he's doing.) Washing and wearing them that often (instead of rotating through SEVENTY shirts) wears individual shirts out a lot faster. When one finally wears out, I go get another one from the box.

If you find yourself at five pairs of jeans you can't part with, put away three and wear two until you wear one out, then pull from your stock.

I also think it's a lot better for his clothes not to be SHOVED in his dresser because there's no space; they're either able to breathe in his dresser, or they're packed away neatly, carefully, and appropriately. I rather think the 70 shirts will actually last LONGER than if he had them all stuffed in the drawers.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:08 AM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh! Brainstorm!

You said you had clothes, and you said you were crafty. If you have an overrun of t-shirts, how about making a quilt out of them? This would arguably take up less space, but you'd still get to keep the sentimental aura around the t-shirts.

I don't really wear t-shirts that much -- only when I'm going to the gym, and I prefer "quirky and funny t-shirt" to "commemorative t-shirt from the reunion/graduation/project I worked on" when I wear something. But I still hate to just get rid of t-shirts, because of the sentiment (and also, who's actually going to want the shirts I have, because hell, THEY'RE not going to know what "11th Hour Productions" was). I especially seem to collect commemorative t-shirts from plays I've worked on. So I'm going to make something out of them -- I think I only have enough for a big throw pillow -- and keep them that way while saving room in my closet.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:30 AM on April 14, 2011


I really, honestly cannot stand having someone else around while I clean. (This touches issues with my psychotic abusive ex and one of my stalkers.)

As for the books, I read them frequently and these range from fiction novels to crafting books to roleplaying books. Some are irreplaceable. They are a huge hobby of mine and not something I'm willing to throw out, donate, sell, or give away. Replacing my collection with an e-reader would be ridiculously expensive, and I actually do read them frequently. (That 'list of stuff in my room' are the things IN my room, not the things I want to get rid of. I need to organize, which will help me use what I have.)

The suggestions on the clothing and how to sort my stuff are really what I"m after. I like the ideas about trying things on before deciding what to do with them.
posted by Heretical at 8:34 AM on April 14, 2011


....Okay -- new plan of attack for the books specifically. You want to keep all the books, but you don't have the floor space for the bookshelves in your bedroom right now. So try this.

1. Take ALL of the books out of your bedroom, and move them to a relatively free area; one where you can leave them for a good while. Say -- a couple weeks. We will call this room "the library room" for the time being.

2. Divide your books up into categories: fiction in one pile, crafting in another pile, roleplaying in another pile, etc. As you find a book you're willing to part with, take that book OUT of the library room and put it BY the front door, to remind yourself that this is a book that's going out. When you've sorted everything, get rid of the books you're getting rid of, right away, in whatever means you choose to. Leave the rest of the books in the library room -- if you want to read something, great, you know where they all are (and can probably find them a bit easier if you have them thus categorized), but just bring it BACK to the library room when you're done.

3. Meanwhile, you are cleaning and sorting your room. Doing this will free up the floor space for bookshelves. Make the books the last part of your clean.

4. Once you've tackled the rest of your room -- before you get the bookshelves for your room and bring everything back in there, see if there are other spaces in your home where you can put either books or bookshelves. Do you have extra space for books in the dining room? The hall? A pantry? The bathroom? An office? Even if you don't have a lot of space -- maybe you have room for a single shelf? Or maybe you have a shelf you can tuck some books on? If you have random shelves here and there in your house that could hold a few books, great. If you have floor space for a little bookcase somewhere else other than your bedroom, consider getting something for that spot.

6. Now
7. Once you have the bookcases set up, and you have your other random little shelves scoped out, now go back into the library room and look at your books, and the way you've categorized them -- and decide whether any of the "new homes for books" make more sense than any other. Maybe you do your craft work on the dining room table right now -- that'd be the perfect spot for the craft books, then, if you have the space for books there. Bring the craft books to that spot. Or maybe you do all your gaming in the dining room -- then that's what would go there. Do you have a single shelf in the bathroom, and do you read guilty-pleasure trashy novels in the bath? Bring a few of those to the bathroom (that actually would look kind of cute). Great books that you want to really show off? The living room. If there are some books that are even "seasonal" -- i.e., the Christmas-themed books you end up never reading in July -- tuck those into a box with the rest of your holiday stuff.

8. Only after you have tucked books in other places that are NOT your bedroom, THEN put the rest of the books in your bedroom.

Basically, if you can shift some of the books to other rooms, you end up needing less space in your bedroom for books -- and you also have the books at your fingertips in the rest of the house where you actually need them for their appointed tasks. You also know better where a book "goes" once you're done reading it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:59 AM on April 14, 2011


Arg. Step six, which mysterioiusly vanished, was supposed to be "Now get your bookshelves."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:00 AM on April 14, 2011


I have a lot of books, too, and I really recommend starting with the books. Shove stuff out of the way until you have enough space for a bookcase and do a quick sort by size on your books. I have a lot of paperbacks so I adjusted several shelves to paperback height and packed books in there. They really take up so much less room when shelved!

It sounds like you do have places to organize things, but maybe not a space for small things or odd bits. I like this craft cart, for example I have one bin full of office supplies, one bin full of hair things, one bin full of USB cables/old thumb drives/etc.
posted by anaelith at 10:37 AM on April 14, 2011


I'm a huge packrat also, and the only way I can clean a big, messy area is to tackle the whole damn thing. None of the "break it up into smaller jobs!" stuff works, because I do the small job and (a) get discouraged because the rest of the room is still a junkpile, and (b) don't get around to doing the next small job until the area cleaned by the first small job has filled up again.

(Moving in with my boyfriend helped, actually, because he gets annoyed by clutter long before I do, announces that he's going to do something about it, starts picking it up, and I join in so as not to feel guilty for letting him do it all by himself.)

Anyway, what I need is:

(a) Throw everything that can be picked up onto the largest item of furniture in the room. Bed if it's my bedroom, couch if it's the living room, etc. This gives me an incentive to get it cleared off, because I want to use that item of furniture at the end of the day. It also makes a large area of floor look nice, which gives me a feeling of accomplishment right at the start of the job.

(b) Entertainment. TV doesn't work very well because I'll need to leave the room to put stuff up, and don't want to miss whatever's playing. Podcasts and audiobooks are excellent, however, as I cannot listen to them without doing something with my hands, and cleaning and decluttering occupies my hands.

(c) Fresh air. If the weather's amenable, I open as many windows as I can, if not, the fans all go on high. For some reason, air sweeping through the room as I clean makes it feel fresh and new (and keeps me from overheating!).

(d) The hardcore motivation. Haven't needed this in a while, as moving in with my boyfriend has made it unnecessary, but having TV shows about hoarders on the DVR. I watch the first 20 minutes of one and I'm itching to get up and clean. One show can last me three or four hours if I sit and watch ten minutes whenever I start hating what I'm doing.

I also recently solved the problem of leaving my clean clothes all over the place without putting them up by giving myself permission to NOT fold and store them neatly. I spent a chunk of my tax refund at the Container Store and got a set of metal drawer units that fit into my closet, assigned each drawer a clothing type, and now putting my clothes up consists of wadding them up and cramming them into the right drawer. I only have two tpyes of sock, one black and one white, and throw them un-matched into a drawer and just pull out two black socks or two white socks when I need socks.

Note: I don't wear clothes that wrinkle, primarily t-shirts, soft knits and jeans. I've got a couple of dresses for special that hang up, but nothing I wear on a daily basis. This means I have turned into my mother.

It now takes me less than five minutes to put my clean clothes away when previously, when I was folding and sorting them and balling my socks up, it took fifteen.

I also gave myself permission to put the clothes I've worn once and will re-wear before I wash back into the drawer with the clean clothes. If they're good enough to wear again, they're not going to contaminate the clean clothes.
posted by telophase at 10:44 AM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I use my iPod nano for heavy duty cleaning/purging sessions. I estimate the amount of time I'm going to spend on the task and create a play list or save a podcast to fill that time limit.

For sorting stuff - I bought several laundry baskets a few years ago (they nest into each other) and I usually set up the following categories:

Keep
Seasonal storage
Donate (line basket with clear or white garbage bag)*
Trash (line basket with black garbage bag)*

*I use two different colored bags because there is nothing more embarrassing than realizing that you've almost thrown out the donate bag and donated the garbage bag.

Have paper, clipboard, pen/pencil handy for writing down the donations (I'm going to try using my iPod touch for this next session). If I've got over $50 worth of donations, I also try to take a picture of the pile to attach to the list along with the donation receipt. (Why yes, I work in accounting - how did you guess?)

When I was a kid, my dad mounted 3 shelves high on the wall 1 foot apart all around my room that for my books/knick knacks. It had the effect of wallpaper border.
The shelves were just 1 by 6 pine boards hung from brackets screwed into the studs and the first shelf lined up with the tops of the doors. You aren't using that space anyway.
posted by jaimystery at 10:56 AM on April 14, 2011


The pomodoro technique paired with e-books or podcasts (like the moth) is my room cleaning to-do. You only have to keep moving in 25 minute chunks, and it gives your mind something else to do.
posted by mercredi at 11:53 AM on April 14, 2011


I very recently did exactly what you are describing to help my sister out, a couple of months ago. We did a HUGE bedroom with 11 years worth of pack ratting, in 2 days. She like you, had a LOT of clothes and books (her 2 major things) but also a LOT of random things. Crazy amounts.

Here's what we did.

1. Decided to tackle clothes LAST, so we shoved all clothing into the wardrobe (messily), suitcases/boxes, and shoved them out of sight into another room.

2. Took ALL her books (she adores them too and has 2 floor to ceiling shelves of them now) - and put them out in the hallway in huge towers. They WILL be dusty, so you need to do this so when you put them back on the shelves you can organise and wipe them down.

3. Now that the 2 biggest causes of space sucking were out of sight, the room ALREADY looked a lot more manageable. Then we used a wide sweeping arm motion and cleared EVERYTHING off her bed. You'll see why in a sec.

4. We got a 100 roll of garbage bags. Systematically we went through the entire room, starting with clutter/items we could see. Pick it up, give 5 seconds to decide, toss or keep. Tossed items went into the garbage bags. Kept items went into the hallway/spare bedroom. Undecided items went onto HER bed.

5. As we filled garbage bags, we brought them downstairs so later, they would be easy to dispose of. Do this AS YOU GO, so there's no temptation to look in them and ponder your need for those items. Watch your heart get lighter and your mind get clearer as the process goes on.

6. Eventually, the room was pretty empty except for items she couldn't decide upon, that were on her bed. We then put on gloves and cleaned/mopped/wiped down every surface in the room (it was FILTHY under all that clutter!)

7. When the room was PRETTY DAMN SPARKLY, we then changed all the furniture the way we wanted it - moved things around, set up new items, took out ones we didn't want anymore.

8. Then we put back the books FIRST - this was easy, because she loved her books and loved organising them and stacking them into the bookshelves. She also found many duplicates and got rid of those.

9. Once the books were in, we decided how she needed to live. Necessities were - dresser (for daily getting ready), office desk for working at, and reading nook with sound system. So we set those areas up, and only allowed her to put in her drawers in those areas, the items she needed for them.

10. Then the hardest part - we started refilling the room with the things she'd decided to keep. Everything had to be put back by function (office supplies only go in the desk drawers, makeup goes in dresser drawer). Anything she didn't have a drawer for, or wasn't sure of, we put in boxes that were labelled by category, then went back to when she found a spot for them.

11. After putting back all the "keep" items, we tackled the "not sure" items on the bed. The rule was, she HAD to find a functional spot for each item (display, storage, or use). By this stage, she was exhausted and LOVING the uncluttered, functional room, she she pretty much agreed, item by item, to chuck most of it (she took pictures of some things, and others she just felt insane for keeping). We filled another few garbage bags and took them downstairs.

12. We gave everything another quick dust (bringing back all the items got kind of dusty again), and made the bed with clean sheets. We took down her curtains and chucked them, with the sheets into the washer.

13. The room was looking pretty swell.

14. Then we took ALL her clothes out of the wardrobe/suitcases/boxes and put them on her bed. Wiped down the inside of the wardrobe and she was horrified by how dusty it had gotten in there. Went through her entire clothing collection. Rules were: anything with holes or ill fitting had to go. She was allowed a box for "sentimental" clothes she may want to pass to her kids some day. We got rid of about half her clothes, the rest went back into the wardrobe in categories.

15. Lastly, we called a Goodwill type company to come pick up all the 40 OR SO garbage bags of stuff sitting downstairs. Yup, 40 garbage bags of clutter. In one bedroom.

16. Opened a bottle of wine. Drank the whole damn thing. Lay on her clean bed, looked around her room, and smiled in satisfaction.


We worked 15 hour days for 2 days together - so I would imagine it'll take you about 4 days in total. DO NOT leave the house, prepare a big jug of water and a tray of sandwiches to see you through the days, and you'll be JUST FINE.

It's going to feel incredible when you're done.

Good luck!
posted by shazzam! at 6:11 PM on April 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Use a dust mask!!! I know someone upthread recommended it, too. My biggest hurdle in cleaning is that I am crazy allergic to dust, have a mild case of allergen-induced asthma, and I have a cat who gets fur and stuff everywhere. Within 30 minutes of starting to clean, I would literally be wheezing so bad that I couldn't clean any more and would then feel awful and wheezy for another 24 hours. I started buying the masks that they use for sanding and stuff in construction (the heavy duty ones)- I can use them more than once, and I have no more breathing problems while cleaning.
posted by kro at 8:13 PM on April 14, 2011


Final update:

The damn thing was downstairs on my dining room table in plain sight. I NEVER put anything there though, so I completely missed it the three times I looked over the table.

Still spent a good part of the day cleaning, and it'll start looking a lot better when I finally move a couple storage bins of (useful, but in the way) things to a better spot to get access to the real pile of crap that's probably 95% 'throw it out'.

The place looks ten times better already. The busted dresser's leaving tomorrow. I'm thinking of throwing a party to celebrate its departure. It was ugly before I trashed it.
posted by Heretical at 10:03 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


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