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Unmess to destress

This stresses me out!

This stresses me out!

What’s the opposite of a hoarder? I guess a minimalist? A minimalist is what I aspire to be in every aspect of my life.

For me, clutter of any sort adds stress to my life. The low level kind that weighs on you in the background. It’s not only irritating, but distracting. I find myself torn between dealing with the mess and getting my work done.

I’m constantly trying to clean out my closets, discard anything I haven’t used in over a year, and keep shelves, counters, and other flat surfaces from being overrun with junk. Of course, I get lazy, busy, and distracted, so my kitchen table currently sports a burned out light bulb that needs to be properly disposed of, various pieces of mail, and assorted cups and glasses.

Oh, and I’m not the only one who lives here, so I can’t just toss everything en masse, though I’m sometimes tempted.

Even my own writing desk is a bit of a mess right now, which surprises me because my desk at my day job was always spotless. (Evernote will help here as I use it to store images of articles and handouts that I don’t want to lose, and the little notes I’ve jotted down in the notebook next to my bed.)

But still, I’ve been on a quest to declutter, unmess, and destress my life. While a clean house is nice, a neat house is what really makes me happy. Not austere. I still want warmth, coziness, and comfort, but not disorder.

I’m sure this says something about my personality, and many of you will not be surprised. 😉

Kids’ closets and two-car garages aside, there are other forms of clutter that can be even harder to deal with. For example, electronic clutter. I had at least ten emails a day that I habitually deleted without reading. Sometimes 20-30. Then there were others that I read, but later wished I hadn’t let myself get sucked into.

So last week I went on an email cleaning binge, working back through my Trash folder and unsubscribing from every newsletter, marketing campaign, activity notification (Twitter and Facebook, anyone?), and blog subscription that I don’t want to spend my time on.

I can’t tell you the sense of control and relief that comes from purging like that. A clean Inbox is like a breath of fresh air. I can prioritize my emails without wading through a bunch of “other stuff”. And it frees up my brain to work on more important things, like writing and editing!

I even encourage you to unsubscribe from my blog or newsletter if it doesn’t add value to your week. Seriously. I won’t be (too) upset.

So, my next household project: the guest room closet, a.k.a. The Black Hole of But-We-Might-Need-This-Someday Items. Once I enter, I may never emerge. Wish me luck!

Have you attempted to declutter your life in any way? What was the result?

Image credit: By Luca Masters from Chocowinity, NC, USSA (Mess) CC-BY-2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

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  1. DiscoveredJoys


    I’m not of a hoarder, and while I admire the idea of minimalism I find it too limiting. I’m a ‘spaceist’ – I like plenty of room to move. As a consequence small piles of ‘stuff’ build up, which are then moved to the spare bedroom, or the recycling bin. When the spare bedroom is getting cramped, ‘stuff’ gets moved to the garage. When the garage is getting cramped we hire a skip and get the ‘stuff’ removed.

    This 3 step process means that there is enough time to appreciate that the ‘stuff’ in the garage is unnecessary and so throwing it away is emotionally undemanding.

    Hope that contributes – it’s a lot easier once the kids have grown up and left home.

    • Reply

      DiscoveredJoys: I like your “spacist” idea. I don’t aspire to only own 100 personal items or anything specific like that–yet–but I’m always trying to cut back. I find at some point I feel owned by my stuff rather than the other way around. Anyway, I like your 3-step process. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  2. Reply

    Oh Gwen, you are speaking to the choir here.

    My husband is happy living in complete chaos, he just doesn’t care. I love everything in its place; except, if I get deep into a WIP or project, then chaos looms…

    Regardless, 99% of the time, our home is out of our control. Now, it’s mainly due to the 4 siberian huskies we adopted. To them and their tumbleweed-sized hair balls, an organized house needs a good workout, maybe a few pillows shredded, or hey look at this frigging fun 5 pound bag of flour! Or, let’s see how fast we can strip the sofa to its wooden frame (43 minutes)

    Let’s kill a squirrel and play with it in the house, arterial spay, yeah! Mommy is writing a murder, so we’re just helping out and yes that is a strand of some random animal guts stuck on the wall…. NEVER wonder why most people say “oh, I once had a siberian husky…” then they mumble a few incoherent curses and wander away. We have a list of shame with $$ amounts but I stopped four years ago when the 6 month old puppy lacerated my husband’s kidney with blunt force trauma by jumping on the bed!

    Currently, I am working on a zen mediation state: “Ommmm, I will not kill dogs, Ommmm I can write regardless of what those oddly shaped pieces of foam (the mattress) someone is piling near my desk…

    oh, god, I need a valium just writing this!

    • Reply

      Ah, Cristine, I feel your pain, though thankfully not with quite as much damage as you. Yikes!

      My 14 yo is walking chaos. There’s a reason I use Taz for his online handle. 😉 Good luck with your quest to keep the mess–and the insanity–at bay!

  3. Carmel


    I thought I was writing that post myself, it was so me. (My grown daughter still tells the story about one of her dolls I gave away, and she didn’t know until she saw it at the church’s mission store.)

    When people tell me my house is always clean, I say, “I’m a straightener, not a cleaner.” But having that need to be neat can be stressful too. It’s hard to ignore messes and get down to writing.

  4. Reply

    We just moved, which forces de-cluttering. Worse, we moved in with my f-i-l to help take care of him, so we had to seriously pare down. I’m not talking just de-cluttering; I’m talking a serious purge where you find yourself asking, “Do I really seriously need this?” of every single little thing in your life. There are already things I let go which I find I seriously regret, but I had to make the choice.

    Advantage? A clean slate and a fairly blank canvas, so I can rebuild our home in a way that’ll be more conducive to my writing — after I stop stressing over the number of boxes to unpack and the bookcases I need to put together. I love my new writing space; I just haven’t gotten a chance to spend much time in it.

    In the meantime, anyone have any suggestions on how to keep a small cat from marking one particular spot on the carpet?

    • Reply

      Caro: I purge a lot every time we move, both before and after. Sometimes I regret tossing something because the next house might need it, but mostly I’m glad to have less stuff. Can’t help with the cat, but good luck!

  5. Reply

    When I got “the call” or rather the email that my book would be published, and my task list started piling up, I knew I needed to be better organized. The first thing I tackled was my inbox. I implemented the same system I use at work along with unsubscribing from newsletters no longer useful or applicable.

    Next on my list is my paper/electronic files for my writing. Thankfully my personal ones are already organized. I’m currently delving into Evernote and the book I purchased to understand how to use it properly as I’m currently hobbling along.

    I’m looking forward to your class on Scrivener as I’m scrolling through the pages and the program trying to figure out how it works so I can use it to write my series.

  6. Reply

    Hi Gwen. You channeled me! Everything you wrote. I even did the same thing to email last week…
    And the picture? It could be the room I’m sitting in right now.

  7. Reply

    Oh yes! The urge to throw it all away. The mere thought of it sets me free.

    The 1982 economic bust ended more than a few parties and at least one bumper sticker. It read, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” The 82 pull back and the .com melt down that followed were laughable compared to the 2008 crash.

    We have become a garage sale nation. “We need to move. I want to down size,” are constant refrains. Read from any part of the country. What will you find when you do? Your blog post here – less stuff = more sanity – echoed again and again. Minimalist is the new mantra. It has spilled over even into to blog design. My guess, people really wish they were clearing out their debt.

    If you really want to spread a dark veil over the de-clutter conversation ask “How many months have you paid rent on that 10X10 at Pack -it-Tight Storage?

    • Reply

      Curtis: I remember that bumper sticker. I agree, many of us want to declutter, or say we do, but then there are shows like Hoarder… I was just telling my husband the other day that if we bought business, it should be a mini storage. 😉 I have vowed never to need one, and I’m insanely proud that I can get both cars in our two-car garage. If we get too much stuff to do that, I know it’s time for drastic measures.

      • Reply

        I just remembered the follow up bumper sticker to “… Most Toys.” Post 1982 Oil bust. Seen in Dallas, TX. “God, Let me have it back. I promise I won’t P*** it Off this time.”

        The desire for the “simple” is like everything else, cyclical. In the 70’s it was-get-rid-of it-all and head back-to-nature.The middle class bought tents and bug spray and made Coleman and KOA rich. The up-scale bought campers and made Winnebago rich. Round and round we go. Then came, I gave up the corporate shuffle for a meaningful life and became an Episcopalian Priest.

        Mean while back at the ranch earnings for retail companies show steady growth. Try to find a parking place at the leading Mall in your town Saturday at 1:30pm. Hoarder lives along side the minimalist. Would that be a romance of unrequited, or maybe disturbed love or what?

        Basically, at our house we need about three trips to Goodwill and life would be back to normal. But, what would we do with all that empty, clutter free space? I’ve heard that nature doesn’t like voids. 🙂

        You know. Maybe I should cobble all of this together and stick it on my blog. Thank you. 🙂

  8. Reply

    Yeah, what you said … I love getting the chance to clean up stuff and throw it out. Clutter, like in your picture at the top of the post, drives me nuts, and it’s worse when it’s spread out all over the house. Unfortunately, our one remaining “kid” (he’s 20) who’s at home leaves piles of stuff around the house. While it will be sad to see him leave at some point, I can say that the house will stay much cleaner when he heads out on his own 🙂

    Now having read your post and all these responses, I feel like I should attack my office closet (still a mess from when we moved in August), finally clean off the top of my desk, and go throw out half the stuff in our garage.

    BTW – based on your wonderful advice, I’ve already unsubscribed to a number of newsletters and junk mail I don’t want to get anymore. I have not, however, unsubscribed to your blog 🙂

  9. Reply

    I strive to be a minimalist, or at least tidy. Like you and many of the neat souls who left a comment to this post, I get the urge to purge–generally each season for the major areas (attic, spare room, kitchen drawers, and garage) and more often for the closets and general areas. As I get more involved in my writing, however, I find that that time I used to spend cleaning and organizing is spent dreaming and creating. The clutter doesn’t bother me as long as it’s in neat, categorized piles on a shelf where I can’t see it from my laptop. 🙂

    PS — Just looking at that photo at the top of your post made me break out in hives. LOL

    • Reply

      Jolyse: I too have been struggling with the urge to write vs the urge to neaten. Trying to keep a balance in both areas. I definitely went on a clean-out binge recently, but it’s because I’ve been ignoring the clutter for too long. And yeah, I almost didn’t use that photo (not my house!!) because it makes my shoulder rise about three inches. 😉

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