When we first purchased our house about 6 years ago, we thought we would have more space than we actually needed. And, for a while, that was true. However, three years later, we decided to have a second child and our space needs suddenly exceeded what we had available.
Since our mortgage was (and still is) underwater, selling our house and upgrading to something bigger wasn’t an option for us and, because of that and the fact we were both working outside the house until very recently, our home became cluttered with boxes of everything from old toys to old junk mail that was hastily cleaned off of a counter and stashed in a corner until we had time to go through it.
The house never reached the point where it was dangerous for us to live in it. But, the fact we had clutter in every room, including the kitchen, did put a strain on our relationship. Planning birthday parties and other social events meant several hours of making the house look (temporarily) presentable and, whenever we had someone pay us a surprise visit, we were embarrassed. Even something like taking a simple photo of our kids required strategically posing them so the mess wouldn’t show. As a result, we were constantly arguing about the house.
Our marriage is important to us so we decided to do something about it once and for all. And, thanks to three difficult but important steps, we were able to finally get rid of the clutter.
The first thing we did was put the project on our calendar. It’s not that we didn’t want to go through our piles of boxes earlier. We just never seemed to have time. By the time she became a stay-at-home mom, it was too much for her to do on her own. I’m at work 40 hours a week and our weekends almost always seem to be busy. We corrected this by scheduling our cleaning in advance. We picked a weekend a month ahead of time, put it on the calendar so we wouldn’t make other plans and even arranged for someone to watch our kids because, even though they wanted to help, we knew it would be easier without them. By doing this, we no longer had an excuse not to get started and, by Sunday evening, we had the bulk of the work done.
Secondly, before starting, we set some rules about what we were allowed to keep. One of the biggest problems we’ve had in the past was, when we would start cleaning, we would find too many things we wouldn’t be willing to part with. This time around, we were very strict about it. The kids were only allowed to have the toys we knew they played with frequently. My wife and I weren’t allowed to keep any clothes we hadn’t actually worn in the past year and we even restricted our kitchen to one set of matching dinnerware, two of each kind of glass (wine, shot, etc.) and no duplicates when it came to small appliances and bake ware.
As part of this, we also agreed to get rid of a lot of the sentimental items from when our kids were younger. We were able to re-use some of those, like our daughter’s changing table (we are using it as a shelf). But, with the exception of the outfits we brought them home from the hospital in, everything else went. We, instead, donated them to the local domestic violence shelter so we knew they would go to someone who needed them.
The last thing we did was make sure it didn’t happen again. Junk mail is no longer allowed on the kitchen table or in boxes. It goes right in the recycle bin. Every one of us (including the kids) has rooms we are responsible for keeping clean and we have a “zero growth” policy with toys and clothes that requires us to get rid of a toy/clothing item whenever we buy a new one.
These changes weren’t easy. But, our house is no longer an embarrassment to us and, as a result, our marriage is much stronger than it was before.