Dealing With Too Much Stuff

Dear Home Ec 101,
The article I read about a mother with 3 children with a baby on the way felt her house work was not getting done as she would like. You said your life has changed and yet you still do you regular cleaning. What is your regular cleaning routine? I once tried Fly Lady.

My situation is there are three adults here. Our son works full time. He helps in the evenings and on weekends but not consistently. I am a senior adult college student studying music, flute and piano. I took a brief hiatus, but I’ll be starting back in August. My husband is disabled with the right side of his body limp. He requires lots of care and is unsteady on his feet as he sits in a wheel chair all day. He can help himself, but isn’t mobile.

I care for him and the house in the day time and our son does the evening before bed time. There are many chores I want to accomplish in the day, during the week, and before school starts in August.

Our home is full of stuff that needs to go.  It is 25 years of what ever, it’s neatly stored and organized. The house is telling me do not bring anything else home. There isn’t any place to put it.

1. Here is what is bothering me. I have a major Piano (beginner level) exam. I need to practice but it has not fit into what has to be done in the day to keep the house running each day.

2. Window washing have not been done in two years, refrigerator, cleaning the back and on the floor, blowing out the compressor vent for dust bunnies.

3. Reclaiming the living room for Christmas where hubby sleeps and put him in a spare room full of stuff. There are lots of old files, clothing, computer stuff…

4. When you come into the house from the outside the house has an odor! From where? I don’t know. An unclean smell /where do I begin to locate the source? I empty the trash from the kitchen every night. Bleach the garbage tote every week that the city takes to prevent maggots.How to start decluttering. Your house took a long time to get into the overloaded shape it is in and it’s going to take time and energy to undo it. Too much stuff means you have to spend too much time caring for it. Let's simplify.

5. Learning to keep up with shopping, bill paying, dishes, (no dishwasher) laundry, bed making, DUSTING, meal planning, baking, washing floors, hubby’s doctor appointments, cooking, Oh yes, yard work and other tasks to crop up. Learning to declutter the house, closets, lighten the load of  unusable items.

Where do you begin?

I did complete the hallway linen closet last week with four drawers loaded. I rearranged, sorted and got a lot of extra space. YEH!

An agency comes here to help with the hubby for two hours two days a week. What is the schedule she was talking about in your book? Would you be willing to help me as well??

Awaiting your generous reply,
Living in Michigan

Heather says:

The busy seasons happen throughout our lives, it’s not just when the kids are little, although for many people this is the first time we encounter that complete sense of overwhelm. The how did I get into this and how do I undo it. Your situation is unique and yet, it isn’t. You really aren’t alone. You are a caregiver, but also a college student. It’s good to see that you haven’t lost your identity in the care of your family. I’m certainly not an expert, but I see time and again that’s where the danger of depression often lurks.

Your house took a long time to get into the overloaded shape it is in and it’s going to take time and energy to undo it. Too much stuff means you have to spend too much time caring for it. Ignore the sunk costs and work on getting rid of things.

To address your main concerns, let’s call it the…

Let’s Make Life More Livable Project:

1. Move the piano practice to first thing in the morning. I’ve had to move my exercise to first thing in the morning or it simply isn’t going to happen. If I don’t, there’s always a reason to put it off. If you’re practicing on an electronic piano, there is no reason you can’t use headphones to not disturb others. Don’t turn on the tv or the computer until after you’ve gotten your practice done. Maybe use a post-it note reminder to break the habit of tuning out. Fifteen minutes is not going to ruin the rest of the day.

2. From reading your email, window washing is not a real priority at the moment, getting rid of the extra stuff in your household is. Set up a savings jar, throw in your change and small bills when you can, as you work to declutter the rest of the house add to this jar and when the house has been reclaimed from the twenty-five years of stuff accumulation, celebrate by hiring someone to wash the windows and let the light shine in.

Use the Saturday project day to accomplish the other deep cleaning projects.

3. Every time you walk through the room, pick up something that needs to be let go. Put a bin or a bag near the front door and fill it. Get used to loading your trunk with items that need to be donated or taken to the swap shed at the landfill. Every time you find yourself in a box store like Target or Walmart, make sure you have your discipline with you. Do not buy anything you absolutely do not need until the house is clear of all the things.  Find the recycling drop-off points in your community and use them. Books, give to the library or senior centers, check before dropping off items.

4. That odor is most likely part of having too much stuff. Cooking odors get trapped in floating, greasy dust particles that adhere to surfaces. It’s also the smell of people and there is a specific odor associated with illness. Over the years that odor is absorbed by everything in the home, the carpeting, the padding, the walls. Like the windows, this isn’t an immediate project. Open the windows as often as is possible. And as the house is cleared of the stuff that’s in the way, steam clean the carpet and furniture,  and dry clean / launder the window coverings. Get rid of old pillows and make sure blankets / duvet covers get laundered.

Change the air filter frequently and clean the filter in the vent hood. – You may also find this post on Musty Odors in a Home useful

5.  Institute the chore schedule, it addresses these issues.

The weekly chore schedule consists of one big chore and one little chore each day. FLYLady has a great system, too, but be aware -unless things have changed in the last few years, the system comes with a fair amount of email. This works for people who need a lot of reminders and hand-holding. It all depends on your preferences which one will work for you.

If you have a smart phone use it to set reminders and then. . . this is the hard part… get up and do the chore when the phone reminds you.

There is no quick and easy answer to fix twenty-five years. It’s going to take, time, energy, and cooperation. This will be accomplished one day, one drawer, one corner at a time.

home organizing tips

Click the picture for more tips!

Get your son involved with the recycling and donating. There’s no reason he can’t also make the Let’s Make Life More Livable Project a priority, if he’s in the home, he’s part of the team. Maybe give Dividing the Chores Fairly a look.

I wish you the best of luck. Would you mind checking in to let us know how things are going as you work through this project?

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  1. Tinamarie Marin on April 9, 2018 at 4:00 pm

    The 15 minutes at a time really does work! I use it for just about everything I don’t want to do. You’ll be amazed by what you can accomplish if you just focus on the 15 minutes. I am now up to 30 minutes, but if I’m really tired…I go back to the 15 minutes.
    The other thing that works for me is picking up 3 things in a room. If you walk into a room, find 3 things that don’t belong and put them where they do (a pair of shoes counts for 2 things, lol).

  2. Elizabeth on March 27, 2018 at 9:00 pm

    Am a 66 yr old woman, my husband disabled, we just moved in 1 and half ago. Since then I am practlely doing everything from cleaning to helping my husband,doing groceries, running,errands. I get overwhelmed
    Please help,

  3. Me on March 13, 2017 at 2:52 am

    This is useful if you’re a stay at home mom. But I work as a nurse with 2 jobs so I need to find a way to tackle big projects (like spring cleaning). Any advice?

    • Heather Solos on March 25, 2017 at 1:20 pm

      I just read, okay listened, to a book by Gretchen Rubin, called Happier at Home. She began facing difficult, uncomfortable, unpalatable, or even just boring tasks like this with a 15 minute a day approach. I also work two jobs and we have 4 kids.
      I get it.

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