Editor’s Note: This article is part of Taffeta’s 21-day declutter challenge. If you’d like to join, it’s completely free. Join our group here:https://www.facebook.com/groups/755471778477574

Before I moved in with my husband, I always lived up to the standards set by my roommates. They were all reasonably tidy people, and so, like them, I took care in decorating the spaces that were just mine as well as the communal ones, and I kept things pretty tidy. I had lapses, sure, but in general, someone could pop by to say hello and I wouldn’t fly into a panic about how the place looked.

But I had secrets.

I lived in the same apartment in NYC for about ten years. When it was time to move, I started with the closets… the ones I sometimes like to call The Forbidden Closets of Mystery (in any home I’m in) because so many items go in there and never come out.  What I discovered in one was about a decade’s worth of dry cleaning plastic. Yep, for years (back when I used to dry clean my clothes), I would open the closet door, yank the plastic off the shirt, and then just LET GO OF THE PLASTIC. What did I think was going to happen, the magic dry cleaning plastic elves would come in the night and take it away? ‘Cause they never showed up, and I shamefacedly gathered up the piles of plastic myself and wondered what was wrong with me. 

One of my least favorite qualities about myself is that I’m a mess. My workspace is a pile of papers and books, my office at home is filled with everything I didn’t want to leave in the living room, our pantry is usually stuffed with old dry goods we should have pitched ages ago, and our fridge is, frankly, a nightmare.

My husband used to call the drawer in the fridge—officially called the crisper—the “rotter,” because we used to forget about what we put in there until it had turned into something terrifying.  We’re not quite that bad anymore —nothing is in there rotting. But you still can’t see the stuff in the back, the kids spill things and cover it up, and I once threw away a bottle of mustard with an expiration date of five years ago. I mean, who knew mustard could expire?

And no, I can’t blame my kids for the mustard. I can SHARE blame with my husband, but even when I was a teenager, I wasn’t tasked with finding expired food and pitching it.

What I can blame my children AND my husband for is the state of the common spaces in our home. I walk into the kitchen and even if someone did a cursory job of cleaning up, I still see the evidence of whatever they were making. A coffee stain here, a milk spill there, a wrapper still on the counter.

My husband glances at the mail, sees junk with his name on it, and puts it back on the table. Whoever’s just been in the shower takes the towels that were hanging there to dry and tosses them on the counter, then forgets to put them back. Sometimes I just want to unleash my frustration on all of them, but I can’t, because I’m hardly setting a shining example.

Okay, I clean up my spills. And I’m pretty good in the kitchen and living room, even the bathroom.  But my own space, meaning my office and the bedroom I share with my husband, are full of untidy piles of who-knows-what. I have about 5000 pairs of sneakers and they’re all in a big pile near our front door. I have hundreds of CDs that never get played because I subscribe to a music streaming service.  My daughter, the sloppiest of them all, knows when I’ve been snacking after everyone goes to bed because I get so tired that I often leave the bag on the coffee table. Oops.

Is it hopeless? I say no! Here are the steps I want us to take to change things up:

Identify Garbage Sooner

I think this is the key. Junk mail, wrappers from anything, bills that were paid, old homework, a pen that’s run out of ink… none of these need a resting place before they hit the garbage can. There is no required waiting period to confirm they are garbage. THEY ARE GARBAGE and need to be treated as such immediately.

Do a Check Before Leaving the Room

My husband used to leave coffee cups everywhere until I suggested that he take five minutes, once a day, to survey his workspace and LOOK for the coffee cups that have blended into the scenery for him. So we can do the same, right? Before leaving a room, do a check to see what new items you’ve brought into it, and take them with you.

Ask the Age-old Question: Would I Eat This?

It can be a sad-looking carrot in the fridge, a bag with half a cracker and a lot of crumbs, a weird flavor of tea that’s been in the cupboard for a year, whatever. If you wouldn’t eat it because of the state it’s in, chances are nobody else will either. No need to hold out hope; just accept the waste, throw it away, and move on.

Accept Some Clothes Will Never Be Worn Again

Okay, we’ve started on this one. The kids keep growing for the right reasons, the husband and I are growing for the wrong reasons, but a lot of the clothes we have lying around have lived good lives and are ready to move on, and there’s no shortage of places that want them. Every weekend, we each fill at least one bag with old clothes and then—and this is essential—take them somewhere and donate them immediately.

Accept That We are Not Martha Stewart, Marie Kondo, or the Fab Five

We are who we are. We are never going to have a fabulous, show-ready home. We have to accept that we are slobs, even Mom & Dad, and make that extra effort to deal with the stuff BEFORE it turns into an unruly pile of papers or a drawer stuffed full of things we can’t identify. Just feeling crappy about it accomplishes nothing, and it’s not that difficult to try to pay attention. In fact, forget the trying. Do or not do! There is no try.

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About Laurie Ulster

A transplanted Canadian living in New York, Laurie Ulster is a freelance writer and a TV producer who somehow survived her very confusing adolescence as the lone female Star Trek fan in middle school. She writes about pop culture, lifestyle topics, feminism, food, and other topics for print, digital, podcasts, and TV.

View all posts by Laurie Ulster

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