Category Archives: The Uncluttered Life

The Uncluttered Life: Kid’s Toys

Are you tired of spending your free time dusting, picking up toys or generally taking care of your possessions?  Wouldn’t you rather be reading a book, taking a walk with a friend or hanging out with your kids?  Around two ago, my husband and I decided to make a conscious effort to get rid of our ‘junk’.  Basically, we grew tired of not being able to find items when we needed them.

Fast forward six months, and I would say there is definite progress being made.  I am now a regular in the donating line at the thrift stores instead of in the purchasing line.

IMG_6144Donations ready to go!

I can easily find items in the kitchen, our bedroom and in every closet in the house. Progress has been made in every room, but one area that we are still really struggling with is the kid’s room!


So, this photo was taken over a year ago, but if you really look at this picture, you will notice that our kids like to play with the laundry baskets, toy baskets, blankets and pillows.  I tried sorting toys into plastic bins and plastic shoe boxes, but the system is hard for my 5 and 3 year old kids.  I love sorted toys and the kids could care less.  I have also used pretty cloth baskets to corral toys, but they either don’t play with the toys inside or they dump the entire bag out to find what they are looking for.

In my search for a solution, I came across the book, Clutterfree with Kids: Change your thinking. Discover new habits. Free your home, by Joshua Becker.  I was sold from the beginning where he writes, “Living life is more enjoyable than managing and organizing stuff.”  We spend so much time trying to organize our possessions, only to have to do it again in a week or so.  If we owned less stuff, we could spend our time and money on efforts that actually bring us joy.

While the messages and tips in the book were very helpful for all aspects of downsizing, there were some great hints for making it work with kids.  One of my favorites was ‘periodic minimizing,’ where you go in every month or so and remove toys that aren’t being played with.  I’ll admit to ‘sorting’ toys into a toy basket that I then snuck out to dump into a donation bag. This eliminates excess clutter and allows kids easier access to the toys they love.

Another tip I loved was to be intentional in your buying (or not buying) of toys.  Instead of a lot of cheap toys that will likely break in 10 minutes, consider holding out for quality toys that encourage creativity and exploration.

Kids playing

Legos everywhere

We have eliminated a lot of excess toys over the past year, and the kids haven’t missed any of them.  These days, our biggest (littlest?) problem with clutter is Legos!  Both of our kids love Legos, and honestly, I do too.  Aspen is incredibly creative with all of these colorful little pieces, and Landry loves the Lego duplo sets.

Yesterday, the kids and I very purposefully went through all the clothes and toys in their bedroom once again.    They spent the remainder of the day playing in their room with their favorite toys.  I call that a win/win!

Any tips for keeping Legos in check?  I am all ears!


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Ready, Set, Organize!

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but January was all about organizing.  And for those of us who didn’t get it all done in January, February is about organizing, too. 🙂

It seems that with a new year, people get excited about putting their possessions in order, once and for all.  I am right there with you, getting sucked into all the ads for storage containers and articles about shelves and colorful baskets and tidy bins being the solution for corralling our possessions.  But before you go out and buy 50 new containers to stylishly store all your shoes, let’s talk about clutter.

Those of you who know me personally are probably laughing right now.  I know a lot about clutter, because I deal with it every day.  My little family has made huge progress in the clutter department over the last couple of years, but we are still working on the tendencies my husband and I (and our two kids) have to collect various items.  And to not put things back where they belong.  We all like to create, and surroundings sometimes get a bit crazy during the creative process.  


But, the important lesson we have each learned is that it is much more fun to work on a project when we can easily find all of our materials and when our environment is uncluttered.  

Aspen and legos

There are so many reasons why we as humans tend to collect too much stuff.  In fact, I teach a whole class about clutter Monday, through ISU Workforce Training. My biggest personal reason is that I plan to use it or ‘I might need it’ someday.  So while I wait for that ‘someday,’ the stuff is cluttering up my workspace and causing me stress.  Before I purchase any ‘get organized quick’ storage system, I must first declutter.  I know from experience that getting rid of anything that is not bringing joy to my life is incredibly rewarding (this does not include my son at 3 in the morning).

closet organized

While our home is small compared to the average, we really have more than enough room for the four of us.  We hope to downsize even more in the future, so learning how to keep clutter at bay is essential.  My husband and I are really good at repurposing items, but we also tend to buy ahead for future projects.

Goal #1: Stop buying ahead!  If I am not ready to do the project right away, I should leave the materials at the store.  What do I think is going to happen?  That I will finally have the time to do the project and the roads will be closed so I can’t get to the store?

Goal #2: Set a deadline and plan for projects I already have materials for.  If I am still not inspired to do it, get rid of the stuff because it likely won’t ever get done.  Only after all the excess clutter is gone can I even start to think about goal #3.

Goal #3: Organize.  By this time, all that should be left are the things that we really use and actually like.  I don’t want to organize junk, I want to organize things I care about!  And guess what, by this time I will probably have discovered I don’t actually need any more storage containers.  Well, except maybe those cool glass jars with the copper lids I saw over at Ross.  I am sure I could find a good use for them. Someday.

FullSizeRender (12)



Clearing some clutter before the New Year

Today I learned about a Japanese end-of-year tradition called Oosouji.  It literally means “big clean” and is very similar to spring cleaning.  Before starting the new year, Japanese homes, businesses and schools get a deep cleaning to get rid of dirt, clutter and disorganization.  I love the thought of starting the fresh goals and resolutions of the New Year with a clean home!

Instead of being overwhelmed at the thought of deep cleaning my entire home, I decided to start with the holiday stuff.  When I take down the lights and decorations, I make sure everything is still in good working order. If you happen to have some items that need replaced, do it now when everything is on sale!  When you dig things out again next year you will be able to get right to decorating, rather than having to go to the store for an overpriced string of colored lights.  


Storage containers are also on sale right now, but I am refusing to buy any.  All of my current storage problems can be solved by decluttering, rather than buying more containers.  All of our holiday decorations fit into one lime green tote, with room to spare.  I actually threw in the Christmas themed books and cookie cutters too, so when we open the box next year, it will all be in one place!  Now I just need to make a label for it and put it back under the stairs.


After the decorations are stored, it is time to think about where those holiday gifts are going.  If you received appliances or tools, can they replace other things in your kitchen or garage?  When you are making space for that new blender, take a good look at what you are storing in the pantry closet.  Did you use that bread machine this year? The cupcake maker?  Be honest and ruthless.  If your new blender is buried under so much stuff that you can’t easily get to it, you won’t use it either!

The same goes for clothes in your closet.  I can pretty much tell you which clothes I don’t like and rarely wear without even looking in my closet.  Those all went in the donation bag today, to make room for clothes that I am excited to wear.  Last week I went shopping with my mom, sister and sis-in-law and scored some awesome new clothes!  I am trying to get rid of two things for every one thing I bring in, but I have already gotten rid of most of the items I don’t wear.  One for one might have to work for now.

Our kids got some pajamas for Christmas, so out go a pair (or two) of old ones that are too small.  They are also outgrowing some of their toys, so clearing them out will make room for the new ones.  The tricky part for me is getting the old stuff out of the house before the kids ‘remember’ the toys they don’t play with anymore.  If you can possibly get your kids on board with the clearing out/donation process, I am sure it would be much easier.

I love the feeling of a decluttered home, so I am hoping to get to my little office space this week also.  I have a lot of personal and professional goals I hope to accomplish this year, and starting off with a clean slate seems like a great way to welcome the New Year.  Happy 2016!

Book Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

In the ever progressing journey of minimizing our possessions and decluttering our home, I have come across numerous books on the subject.  While most of them are inspiring and motivating, one in particular tops my list so far.  The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo, will galvanize you into action.  There is a reason it has sold over 2 million copies and has been #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list: it really works.






The KonMari Method basically revolves around the simple question, “Does this (item) spark joy?”  Kondo recommends holding each item in your hand, and if it makes you happy–or sparks joy, keep it.  If not, get rid of it.  Just using this simple process has had amazing results in my decluttering campaign.  It feels incredibly freeing to let go of items that aren’t positively influencing my life.  The focus is more about deciding what to keep rather than what we ‘have to’ get rid of.

Along with deciding which items in your home bring you joy, Kondo requests that you follow a certain order when you discard.  She recommends you start with clothing, then move on to books, papers, miscellany and lastly mementos.  Rather than going room by room, she tells you ‘tidy’ by category.  So, for example, you take all of your clothing in the entire house and put it in a big pile.  Not only does this help you deal with it all at once, it also allows you to see the extent of your wardrobe and to easily weed out multiples.

Many people–only half-jokingly–say that if they got rid of every piece of clothing that didn’t bring them joy, they wouldn’t have anything left to wear.  I promise this is very unlikely to happen.  What you will probably notice instead is that you really only wear a small portion of the clothes that you have.  Why not give them some room in the closet and get rid of the guilt that you feel every time you look at that dress that doesn’t fit quite right– but that you paid way too much money for?!

Speaking of guilt (I know you have it, too), Kondo gives you a method for dealing with that.  Say you have that expensive, ill-fitting dress buried deep in your closet.   Instead of hanging on to it ‘just because,’ thank it for the joy it brought you when you bought it and donate it to someone who will love it.  This also works for gifts you are given that just aren’t your style.  Thank the item for the joy it gave you and the giftee, and then pass it on.  My mom and sister actually told me this several years ago when I was downsizing and being sentimental about some things they had given me.  They told me that they knew it had made me happy when I received it, and that is what mattered to them.  The gift was given for the moment, and I didn’t have to save it for posterity.  What a relief!

Aside from a few areas in the book where it is quite obvious that Kondo is a single woman with no husband or children (and their included paraphernalia) to work around, it is a simple method to follow.  I have moved on from clothing to books, and I am happy to report that our home and I are both breathing a little more freely.

The Uncluttered Life: Office Revival

Whether your office consists of an entire room or a little desk tucked in somewhere, chances are it is a major clutter magnet.  Seeing your desk full of clutter can make the often stressful tasks of work and bill paying even more difficult.  Since I work from home and my office space is located in our living room, it was next on our agenda for decluttering and simplifying.  I was eager to get started, because I know I am a hundred times more productive and happy in a clean space.  Here are a few things I did to create some calm in the office:

1. Photograph the Before!  This is so important so you can see your amazing progress.  Every time I get discouraged, I look at the Before photo and see how much progress I have made.  Photos are also a more objective way to view your ‘stuff’ and can help you identify problem areas.

2.  Make a list of areas to work on: Mine are paper piles, shelf clutter, too many unused books, stacks of magazines and an inefficient desktop filing system.

3.  Tackle the most visible problems first.  I took care of the pile of papers and other miscellania to the right of my computer.  This also happened to involve my desktop filing system, which was taking up more valuable space to the left of my computer.  In the interest of simple living, I decided that I only want my computer on the desktop.  As I looked at photos of my desk area, I realized I could be using the side walls of my desk area much more efficiently.  I decided to hang a single file bin and a simple organizing system I found at Staples.  I used Command Strip picture hangers so I wouldn’t have to drill or pound a nail into my shelves.

4. What do we do with the paper!?  The main reason you could even see the top of my desk at all was because we go paperless whenever possible.  I set up automatic bill paying if it is available, and keep track of things on my desk calendar.  When I sorted my paper pile, I put it into categories and made a list.  Then, I made sure I had those files set up correctly in my file cabinet.

5.  Donate books that are outdated, no longer relevant or that you don’t plan to reread.  Be ruthless and realistic.  I also went through my magazines with a much colder eye than I usually do, and was able to part with a large number of them.  The extra room on my bookshelves allows me to see and use my remaining books more easily.

6.  Remember how refreshing it is to work at an uncluttered desk.  Even the process of clearing out has caused me to feel more energized.  Cheers to productivity!


What are some things you do to keep your office space tidy?

The Uncluttered Life: Pantry Overhaul

This pantry project has been a long time coming. It has been a jumbled disaster for several months, but I didn’t bother to reorganize it because I wanted to do a complete overhaul on the pantry closet while I was at it.


The problem with ‘overhauls’ at our house is that the rest of the house then becomes a complete disaster. Also, I usually have a lot of help.  This week, we finally tackled the pantry, and I am excited about the results.

To begin, I brought in a garbage bag and a donation box. I got rid of a toaster oven that burned everything, a Salad Shooter, a manual food processor and the Magic Bullet. I recently bought one nice food processor that does everything except burn toast. It was such a relief to finally send those appliances to the donation box! I tossed opened bags that were stale or that no one was going to eat. I took every item out of the pantry and washed the entire thing. IMG_6572

Then, I found some ceiling paint and a half gallon of paint left over from our bedroom closet makeover and painted walls, floors and ceiling. I decided to stain the shelves instead of painting them. I used a water-based Minwax stain in Pecan. I chose to use water-based stain because I was working in an enclosed space and it is less toxic and smelly.

Dark phone photo, but it feels fresh!

One thing about our pantry is that it is the closet over the stairs to the basement. In the 1950s, they often made these closets with deep steps all the way to the back. I have been researching solutions for making our closet more user-friendly, but haven’t found any help. So, Jer and I decided to put horizontally adjustable shelves across the shelves we put in a few years ago. They can be pushed back if needed, but we pulled them forward so everything is reachable from the first step. I found that things would just get lost and piled in the deep cave, so the shallower adjustable shelves are nicer for us. (We can access the back, so I put a few very infrequently used items back there, like the dehydrator and angel food cake pan).

A pantry works best with multiple shallow shelves. When Jer and I added shelves to our closet, we made the ones on the sides 6 inches deep and the ones on the back 11 inches deep. This keeps items from getting lost in the black hole that often happens when shelves are too deep. If you happen to have deep shelves, consider installing pull-out bins or drawers.


I also wanted to add a little fun to the steps, but I didn’t want to spend a ton of time on it. Jer suggested using half a grapefruit. The ones we had were pretty large, but I spotted some Cuties and decided they would be perfect! I found some orange and yellow craft paint and two paper plates. After practicing on a piece of paper, I started randomly stamping the Cuties on the steps. The final look is not for everyone, but I like the 70s retro look and think it will be fun for awhile. When I get tired of it, it will take 10 minutes to paint it again.


After the pantry is clean (and the paint is dry!) it is time to put things back. I arrange items according to use and size. Most frequently used things go at eye level. For us, that means canned goods and cereals are readily available for easy grabbing. Multiple cans of the same food are stacked together.


I prefer to take things out of larger packages so I know when it needs to be restocked.  At lower levels are individually wrapped snacks and things that are ok for our kids to grab. The highest shelves are reserved for empty glass bottles, extra spices and lesser used appliances.


As far as other organization tools, I use plastic half gallon and gallon containers with labels for things like rice and granola. I also decant extra flour and sugar, etc into labeled containers to keep random bags from leaking everywhere.  I wish they were clear, but they are recycled ( so I like them. Clear containers of any kind are nice because you can see the contents inside and know when it needs replacing. There are many container options for sale, but make sure it fits the food and fits into your space before you buy. I am using baskets to corral picnic supplies, extra Kurig cups and bags of chips. I tried a few different baskets before I remembered this orange one that goes better with the ‘citrus’ theme.

We mounted a broom holder on the inside door of our pantry to keep them from falling out every time we open the door. I also have a grocery bag holder mounted to the inside of the door. Other options for the inside of doors are over the door racks, spice shelves and shoe holders. Painting the inside of the door is an upcoming project.

Now that the pantry is stocked and organized, the food will just cook itself, right?

The Uncluttered Life: Kitchen Continued

I cannot even begin to tell you how awesome it feels to have our kitchen cleaned and organized!  I finished the cupboards and tackled the countertops early this week, and it was a full day job (with two little messers and lots of play breaks).  I feel so much less stressed that I am even more committed to keeping the clutter out.

I put everything that was using the kitchen as ‘limbo-land’ back in it’s proper place, and found places for things that used to reside on the countertop.  I decided the mixer wasn’t used enough to warrant a permanent place on the counter, even though I loved the cheery red color.  Having it in the corner just seemed to attract more items to want to congregate with it!  Into the lower cabinet it went, fitting in nicely with the red crock pot.  The only things on the counter are the Keurig and our kombucha brew. The kombucha is waiting for a hidden spot in the pantry, because really, it’s not the most beautiful thing to look at.

I am embarrassed to show you the ‘Before’ photos of my counters, but in the name of keeping it real and knowing that there are others out there just like me who are ‘creatives’ with a thousand things going at once, here they are:

I forgot to take photos before I put the mixer away…

And now the ‘Afters,’ our Fresh Start.

For those of you who love a true Before and After, here’s a comparison of when we moved in and how it looks now…


Lots of changes, and it feels like us.  Now that we can see the counters again, I have plans to resurface them.  But for right now, I am going to enjoy the simple feeling of clean and organized.

The Uncluttered Life: Kitchen

Last week, my husband and I had a “Light Bulb!” moment (I am saying that in my best Gru impersonation).  We occasionally chat on the computer during the day, and send photos and articles from our research that we think the other might find interesting.  Often we are both sucked into the world of tiny homes and how people get rid of all but their necessities and live very happily in extremely small and awesomely designed spaces.  During one of my searches on ways to get rid of excess ‘stuff,’ I came across the website, and I was sold.  I especially loved the nudge from his neighbor that made him realize that he wanted to be spending time with his family, rather than cleaning a garage full of their possessions.

Lucky for me, Jeremiah was on board, and we committed to working toward a realistic minimalism for our lives.  For us, I know this won’t mean living without books or computers, and we will still enjoy our various creative hobbies.  What it will mean is taking a good hard look at what we really need, use and enjoy in our home and lives, and eliminating the cluttering excess.

I started with the kitchen this week, because this is where it all happens at our house.  I am not completely finished, but this is how I have gone about the process.  I hope to post more progress throughout the week.

1. Take photos of your existing space (even inside the cupboards).  Photos can help you look more objectively at your things and will give you some motivation to declutter.  They also help you take a good look at how things are stored and used.

Spices and Baking Items:Before

Storage Containers and Misc. Cooking Items: Before

2. Make a list of your problem areas.  Mine are: Spices, Storage Containers, Coat Rack, Shoe Basket and Countertops.

3. Take stock of what you really use, and how often you use it.  Do you really need four spatulas, three wisks, and five large water bottles?  Pick out the ones you use all the time, and donate the rest.  Take a deep breath, and let it go.


Yay! The donation pile.  Most of the stuff in the plastic bag came from the storage container cupboard.

4.  Remove all items from the cupboards, wipe them down, and only put back what you use.  I love using baskets or bins for their organizing benefits and because they look nice.  Measure cupboards and items when looking for organizing systems to make sure it will actually help you rather than just clutter up space even more.  It can be difficult to find containers to fit the 10 or 11 inch depth most cupboards allow.

5. Organize according to use.  Don’t use prime shelving or cupboard space for items that are only used once per year.  I use open shelves for everyday dishes, cupboards for baking items and container storage, and my base cabinet for the crock-pot, stock pot and dutch oven.  I also just moved my mixer to the base cabinet, because I don’t use it often enough to warrant taking up prime real estate on the counter.  Less frequently used items like the dehydrator, waffle maker, etc. go in the back part of the pantry.  The pantry closet will be a much later post, as we are designing a complete overhaul for our needs.


Spices and Baking Items: After

Storage Containers and Misc. Cooking Items: After

Base Cabinet: After. The mixer was added and a skillet taken away.

6. Remove things that don’t belong in the kitchen.  Right now, I have a box for the garage, a box for the basement and a box for donating.  I know this will be the step that I have to be the most vigilant about.  You know, so the boxes don’t become a permanent part of the kitchen.

Are you interested in spending more time with your loved ones and less time stressing about clutter? I am incredibly excited to be going through our house one room at a time (the garage is not safe either, don’t worry!) and getting rid of the clutter that is adding unnecessary stress to our lives.  I am also hoping this simplification of our lives has a positive and lasting effect on our kids.  Join us on our adventure as we discover our unique way of living with less stuff!