Weekend project

I want you to imagine your dining room table right now. Is it covered in paperwork? Piled high with homework? Stacked with mail or dirty dishes?

If you can’t see the top of your dining room table, what do you need to do to be able to see it?

Whatever it is, do it now. Clean the clutter off of your table and make it a place where you can sit down and eat your meal tonight (and tomorrow and the next …).

If your table is clear, are there other horizontal surfaces in your home cluttered to the point that they aren’t serving their functions? If this is the case, clean the clutter off of those surfaces instead for your weekend task.

When clearing the clutter, don’t just move stacks around, actually take the time to do the job right. Do the work, then enjoy the benefits of your effort!

Pictured is my dining room. The table is by sculptor Michael Sirvet.

34 Comments for “Weekend project”

  1. posted by gigglechick on

    well, it took about half the day, but i got HALF of my kitchen table cleared off. (see pics on my blog. it’s frightening.) i only have about a thousand square feet of more clutter!!!

    i have ALWAYS loved that “we all scream for pork loin” ever since that campaign came out — how excellent is that poster!!?

  2. posted by Chief Family Officer on

    Thanks for the reminder! One of my goals for the day is to tidy up the house and now I will definitely do more than just move stuff around.

  3. posted by Erin Doland on

    @gigglechick — The poster was my crazy wedding gift to my husband. It was printed to hang in the New York subway system, but it turned out to be an extra. I called the advertising agency to see if I could buy one and they kindly gave it to me, free of charge, when they learned that it was for a wedding gift. We love pop art and it works so well in the space (it’s 6’x4′). Our vegetarian friends are confused by it … but it makes us laugh. I’m glad you like it, too!!

  4. posted by helix on

    Clearing the dining room table is nice, but if it got covered with stuff, it will be covered with stuff yet again unless you address HOW the stuff got there in the first place.

    My wife and I were only able to get on top of our clutter when we agreed to a system of sorting and processing mail as soon as we get it. This reduces stress immensely. Our first step was to move a wastebasket and shredder in reach of where we process mail– this gets rid of junk before it gets a chance to take up valuable space.

  5. posted by Jana on

    If I understood correctly that that picture is of your dining space, then I must say that your place looks really interesting design-wise (in addition to being inspiringly clutter-free) and I would love to see many more pictures of it as inspiration. It looks like it would definitely deserve to be seen on apartmenttherapy.com, which is a site I love.

  6. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Jana — Aw, shucks! Thank you.

  7. posted by adorita on

    Cool poster!
    I have a very similar dinning space at my apartment, except that the orange shelf is replaced with a wall of boxes! (Like 30 boxes)
    People who visit me have no idea the clutter mess I’m in, simply because the junk are all in decorated boxes neatly stacked.
    I’ll clear 10 boxes this weekend!

  8. posted by BusyME on

    You know, the dining room table is a REALLY bad spot. Hard to keep clean. It’s where the kids dump their book bags, clothes are folded there, etc. It’s bad, and I WILL clean it off today.

  9. posted by Melissa on

    The joke around our house is “if my head were flat, there would be stuff on it”!

  10. posted by twosandalz on

    I have cleaned up the lamp table in my living room! Ever since I put my Christmas tree away (it sat on the table), it has accumulated all manner of stuff. Screwdrivers, drapery rod parts, cards, books, pens… stuff that has homes of its own. No longer! Hooray!

  11. posted by Craig on

    Our kitchen and dining room tables function as closets because they have to.

    Our small townhouse has no basement, no garage, no attic, and not enough closets.

    We are uncluttering as much as possible. I am personally throwing out or donating everything I can bear to live without.

    Sigh. We keep things as neat as we can, but there are definite limits.

  12. posted by Betsbillabong on

    I LOVE the idea of having a weekend project. Is this new? I don’t remember seeing it before. Anyhow, your space is fantastic, and having a weekend project each weekend is a great idea… I hope it continues!

  13. posted by Josephine on

    I’m proud to have cleared a good number of items from my kitchen table. My sewing machine lives on one corner of it because I don’t have a “craft room” (sigh!) and do my sewing there. As a result, I do see a good 90% of the table top!

  14. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Betsbillabong — We’ve had a weekend project or two over the last year. It’s not a common feature, but if people like them maybe we’ll do some more of them. Thank you for the positive feedback!

  15. posted by Anastasia on

    I think the weekend project idea is a great one, I would be really inspired to see what I could do along those lines each weekend. Please consider posting more pictures of your space. I think it would be great to see.

  16. posted by Marlon on

    Erin, where’d you get that orange bookshelf? I’ve been wanting something like that and I love the color though I don’t think the rest of my family would appreciate it.

    @Melissa, ditto here. Any flat surface is sure to have objects. The hardest part is keeping it clear after a cleaning. Usually last 2 days max.

  17. posted by Heather on

    OK, I am another fan of that poster! I read the comments specifically so that I could say WHERE CAN I GET THAT POSTER????? I am famously … or infamously … a fan of all things pork. A group of us once gave a like-minded co-worker a gift of a subscription to the Bacon of the Month Club.

    That said, I love your space, as well. And I am also undone by the WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE DINING TABLE question. It is a complete magnet for whatever junk that floats by it. (I swear there is an as-yet-undiscovered law of magnetics to explain the “flat surface + junk = my head exploding” conundrum.) I clear off our dining table constantly. It is never-ending, and quite frustrating.

  18. posted by bakelite doorbell on

    When stuff is cleared off the table, where does that stuff go? This is the problem. Objects shuffled from one flat surface to another, to a shelf maybe or on the floor, packed away in a box? The question I face – is having a clear table more valuable than losing floor space?

  19. posted by Bronwyn on

    I agree with helix. Unfortunately for me I haven’t been able to address the dining table clutter thing adequately. I tried the basket technique, a basket for every member of th household to move their stuff from the table, cool idea but they won’t empty their baskets or relocate. If I’m really honest I’m not much better. I have great difficulty throwing out stuff, especially paper. I keep trying though and I’m getting a little better.

  20. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Marlon — The bookcase is from Design Within Reach. It’s called Cubitec Shelving. It wasn’t cheap, but it can transform to any space, so it has been versatile over the years. Plus, we bought it in stages, so its layout changed as we acquired more. At one point, it was a stair-step looking arrangement. I think it’s available in clear/white, orange, and red. I highly recommend it.

  21. posted by PJK on

    My kitchen table (no dining room) is already clear. Something that works for me is I keep a nice tablecloth on the table, along with a triangular glass bowl centerpiece that we got from our wedding and didn’t know what to do with (looked more like art deco than a serving dish).

    Anyway, it takes a couple extra seconds to move the table cloth before eating so we don’t have to wash it often, but having a pretty table makes it a clutter repeller. It just doesn’t look right to have clutter on it, so even my oblivious husband isn’t prone to put things on it. If a piece of clutter is placed on it, it doesn’t stay there for long at all, because it just looks so bothersome and out of place ๐Ÿ˜‰ It really is a clutter repeller ๐Ÿ˜‰

  22. posted by Mary on

    Ours is clean … it’s usually clean.

    But we still pile up on the couch to eat ..
    do you have a post for that?


  23. posted by Michele on

    The little dinette table my daughter and I use is too small for just about anything but eating. ๐Ÿ™‚ Maybe that’s a strategy in itself.

    I’m with PJK, above: once I get into the habit of keeping any table or flat surface cleared off, it feels weird and wrong for clutter to start accumulating there again.

  24. posted by Cherry on

    Yes, I do in fact have a dining room table that I haven’t eaten off of in five years because it’s cluttered full of newspapers and magazines. Thanks for the reminder!

    On an unrelated note, I just wanted to let you know that in this week’s issue of People magazine there is a story about Delta Burkeโ€™s problems with depression and hoarding. I thought this was quite brave of her. I donโ€™t think Iโ€™ve ever heard of a Hollywood star admit in public that she or he has a house cluttered full of stuff and junk. Bravo to Ms Burke. I hope her coming out as a hoarder will shed some new light on this embarrassing problem.

  25. posted by Christine on

    No matter what I do, I can’t seem to keep the Dining table clutter free…and I live alone!!! there’s always a pile of something on a corner, at the very least. Part of the problem is that I don’t eat there unless I have guests. I’ve actually considered taking it down, but realized that getting rid of surfaces isn’t necessarily the answer!

  26. posted by Eleanor on

    I’d love weekend projects, too. I am undertaking a decluttering project every weekend at the moment anyway, so a little (more) inspiration would be great.

  27. posted by Elena on

    OMG! I totally did this task over the weekend and then the next day the housekeeper came and she was able to actually clean the table! So very exciting. Now to maintain her sparkling results. Hmm.

  28. posted by Shay on

    We recently moved into a new house (our first!), and I, inspired by this blog and other like it, tried to have side tables, dining room tables, etc completely empty. And you know what? It didn’t work for me. I guess I’m just not that minimalist. But it pleased me more to put my pretty centerpiece on the dining room table (and the napkins, and the salt and pepper shakers!) than it pleased me to see an empty space.

    I will say, though, that clearing the side tables was a huge success. Removing the cloth, lamp, and decor really helped me actually SEE these beautiful wood pieces that had been hidden before. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Happy mediums.

  29. posted by Anne on

    I’m right there with Craig. We live in a third floor apt. without attic, garage, or basement. There are two closets, one in each bedroom. We have bogarted the hallway outside our apt. that leads to the roof deck for storage of our snow shovel, daughter’s sled, and recycling bins. (The hallway is not blocked; there is plenty of room to go through.) We are decluttering, slowly but surely, and plan to acquire more storage pieces for the stuff we need to keep.

  30. posted by Monica Ricci on

    Erin, in reading some back posts here, I ran across this one, which inspired me to blog about it myself. I wanted to send you a trackback, but can’t see a way to. So you’ll have to come to my blog to see how you’ve inspired my post. ๐Ÿ™‚

  31. posted by Stephanie on

    I’m so happy to have found your blog! I LOVE your dining room art…..it’s FABULOUS! I just happened to have cleared my dining room table this morning so, for once, I feel ahead of the game! ๐Ÿ™‚

  32. posted by tony on

    It’s simple at our house. I clear all flat surfaces and my wife piles them up. She’s a piler and can’t seem to throw anything away. We have a 5 year old and that’s been a real challenge teaching him to be neat when he sees his Mom buying stuff and pile things everywhere. The other issue I have is there are picture frames on every flat surfaces and pictures our refrigerator. They pop up like weeds. Drives me crazy. With so may pictures after a while your eye become numb and you don’t see the images. It’s one of our sore point towards a divorce. Who said opposite attracts? I think the more in common you have with your partner the better you will get along.

  33. posted by Nicky Perryman on

    I don’t have a dining room or a dining room table. We just use a small coffee table in the lounge to eat off. I like this arrangement because it means that I don’t have an extra room that is just used for dining and empty the rest of the time and I don’t have an extra table that would end up being full of clutter otherwise. Having a multiple use table means that you HAVE TO keep it clean and clear for it’s current purpose. We always clear our table before dinner and then straight after so we can use it for doing hobbies like patchwork, playing games or doing the crossword or whatever. I think this system works really well.

  34. posted by Keeper Of Stuff on

    I must confess I have only read one comment here, and it was from Tony. I know what he meant about the walls filling with photos. We have 2 adult children and soon to be three grandchildren, and every gifting occasion, we received more nice frames with the newest photos.

    It is true that the more stuff you hang on your walls, the less you notice what is there. We used to have what was referred to as “A Rogues’ Gallery” in our hall – Many, many framed photos of our family over the years. When guests would visit, it was a popular attraction, but those frames were always needing to be dusted and straightened. The ceiling light and the sunlight faded the photos over the years.

    I took down all those frames and bought a couple of very large, high quality binders and non-glare vinyl protective sleeves for the photos. Now, that whole wall of photos is protected and easily accessible when I want to show off the family.

    Another benefit is if you should ever need to quickly gather valuables in time of emergency, those binders are easily portable.

    It is unbelievable how much better our hall walls look.

    By the way, the same sort of solution exists for CD’s and DVD’s. I bought media binders and inserts, and I am able to store 120 discs in a single binder. I do not intend to get rid of my personal film collection, and I am working my way through converting VHS tapes to DVD. The DVD’s are much, much lighter than the tapes and so much more easily stored.

    As for the wife, Tony…please understand that what she has is real, as surely as diabetes or depression. A therapist friend told me, “Getting rid of things is the single most difficult thing a person with anxiety can do, because each item requires a separate decision.”

    Instead of becoming angry, try to interest her in a few organizational sites, such as this one, and some good books on the subject. If you have the space, maintain a room just for yourself, that she does not utilize.

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