A too-small house?

Today’s guest post is by Amanda Scudder, Organizing Consultant with the company Abundance Organizing. Please give her a nice welcome.

There is a Yiddish folktale about a man whose house is too small and noisy. Seeking a solution, he consults the wise woman of the village. She advises him to bring a chicken into his house. He does, but it makes his house seem even smaller and louder, so he again seeks her council. She tells him to add a goat. Not surprisingly, the goat makes the situation worse, not better. Each time he returns to complain, she tells him to bring another animal into the house. Finally, in exasperation, he returns to the wise woman and tells her that he can’t stand another minute of living in this increasingly cramped, cluttered, and noisy house. She smiles and tells him to go home and let all the animals out. He does so and as he shoos the last goat and chicken out the door he looks around at his now spacious dwelling and savors the calm quiet that surrounds him.

Not unlike this man, many of us find ourselves living in a space that feels cramped and chaotic. Our closets are overflowing, our children’s toys are everywhere, and our basements are jam-packed. So we add more — bigger closets, a larger house with a playroom, a storage unit to hold the overflow. But the more we add, the more chaotic things seem to get. Take a minute to think about the “animals” that have come into your home over the years, be they more stuffed animals than there are days in the year, clothes that no longer fit or flatter, gadgets that sounded good on TV but now sit in a corner collecting dust, equipment from hobbies long forgotten, or more activities and commitments than you can reasonably accomplish. Some of the “animals” might even be day planners or organizing products you’ve brought home hoping they would make your life less busy and cluttered.

I suggest that today is the day to start shooing those animals out. You don’t need to evict all of them at once. Even a few less chickens and goats will make a big difference. Where to start? Pick a number — any number — and find that many items in your home to let go. You make the rules — it could be 23 things from the junk drawer (bread ties count) or 8 unused condiments from your refrigerator or 16 items of clothing or 5 things from under your sink. The trick is just to do it. I’m willing to bet that when you are done, your drawer or refrigerator or cabinet will seem a little bit bigger. You will feel a little bit lighter. Commit to repeating this exercise on a regular basis and you will soon find that your house is calmer and less cluttered. You might even discover that you don’t need a bigger closet, house, or storage unit once the excess has been removed.

When you first start practicing this exercise, you may worry you will regret giving some of your “animals” the boot. If so, here is a strategy to help: Put the items you are evicting into a bag or box marked with the date. Put the bag or box in a closet, basement, garage, under the bed, or any other out of the way place. On your calendar, mark a date one to three months down the road. If, by that date, you haven’t needed anything in the bag or box, commit to letting it go without looking in it. You may even have forgotten what is in there.

14 Comments for “A too-small house?”

  1. posted by Pat on

    Once we let the “elephant” (a VERY large 2 person desk) out of our living room, we suddenly feel better. Not only was that large piece of furniture using 1/2 the space in the room, it was making the room feel depressing. Everyone in the family likes to spend more time in the room, and it seems brighter and happier.

  2. posted by Natalie on

    Great post! It really is all about perspective. I wish I could make my mom see this…

  3. posted by Christy King on

    Interestingly, I notice that as we declutter, we want to declutter more. For instance, awhile back we got rid of a bunch of stuff in our living room and were able to get rid of two small shelves. At the time, it seemed wonderful, but now I notice all the other stuff we still have and don’t need.

  4. posted by Jane on

    A few years ago when I was getting ready to move, I started the habit of 5 items a week – they could be donated, thrown away, sold, whatever. But 5 things had to leave the house. My daughter and I both thought it would end after we moved, but it’s been 3 years and we are still doing it. Not only does it keep the clutter at bay but it makes us more aware of what we are and are not using. And once you get the space, it seems a shame to fill it up with junk again.

  5. posted by Nicole W. on

    I like your connection to keeping clutter at bay! That story is one of my favorites. The version I’m familiar with has a Rabbi, and I have a picture book version I like to share with my elementary school students on appreciating what you have. Even when times are tough, it’s good to remind yourself that it could be worse.

  6. posted by Deb on

    I set out to remove just a few “animals” today. We have a small pile of stuff to bring to the dumpster (will be done this afternoon), plus, while I was working on that my husband repaired a hole in the ceiling where we had some plumbing work done a few years ago. Progress!!

  7. posted by momof3 on

    5 people in our family, 920 sf house, on a slab. “animals” were not allowed to add the already small feeling. two in college now…house seems really empty. Another round of clutter elimination with one home for the summer.
    Yep, all about perspective. Miss my kids away at school, but look forward to the day when it’s grandkids only coming for a visit making the house feel full all over again!!

  8. posted by Jospeh on

    One man’s animal is another woman’s furniture.

  9. posted by mom on

    What a joy

  10. posted by Brandon on

    I enjoyed the comment from momof3

    It is ok for our homes to be full.

    Full of family and friends,
    Full of joy and contentment,
    Full of experiences and tradition….

    Great post.

  11. posted by Sandy on

    I love this post. Today I’m working on those animals in the garage, determined to free one of the shelf units so I can give away the whole thing.

  12. posted by Jennifer Lynne Flint on

    Yes, this is exactly how I manage my cleanouts. Being a highly organized person, I can actually get a bit TOO overzealous in getting rid of things and regret it later, so I do tend to box items up and put them in the attic or storeroom for while, just to make sure I don’t miss them.

    Generally there will be an thing or two I take back, but mostly it turns out all right, and that way I’m sure about it. It greatly reduces the anxiety of letting things go, and I get to try out my newly uncluttered space in the meantime.

    Taking photos of things before you give them away is also a great way to retain the memory without the clutter. :)

  13. posted by Karen on

    I have found that as I declutter my house, I lose weight. 22 pounds of weight and a couple hundred boxes to Goodwill. Weird!

  14. posted by Aaron Clifford on

    If you have big and clean windows, you’ll never fell that you live in a small space. Big, broad windows can improve the fell that your house isn’t that small.

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