Unclutterer article in latest issue of Real Simple magazine

Please check out the March 2009 issue of Real Simple magazine, which features an article I wrote titled “10 ways to let go of your stuff.” In the article, I talk about my transformation from a clutterer into an unclutterer (pgs. 119-120).

As of right now, the article isn’t yet on line. If this changes, I will return to this page and update the article. Until it goes online, or until you check it out on the news stand, enjoy this excerpt from the article:

5. Do look a gift horse in the mouth. My decorating tastes may change over time, but I am fairly certain I will never enjoy a home filled with a series of rhinestone-accented paintings of scary clowns. Yet I had hoarded these and other unattractive presents because I thought that was the decent thing to do. I also wasn’t sure what I would say if someone noticed his gift missing and asked why. Well, you know what? No one has. Not even the bestower of the scary clowns.

The magazine is scheduled to hit news stands today. If you have a subscription to the magazine, you probably received it in the mail at some point over the course of the past two weeks.

25 Comments for “Unclutterer article in latest issue of Real Simple magazine”

  1. posted by Vi on

    As a side note about gifts, while you can’t always control what gifts you get, you can control what you give. I recommend giving experience gifts rather than material gifts. Experience gifts involve doing this – a dinner out, tickets to see a movie, show, or sporting event, horseback riding, etc. Look, there’s nothing to clutter up a home!

  2. posted by Lauren on

    That article is why I’m a new reader of yours! Hello!

    I’m on my way to a cleaner, uncluttered life. I’ve been recycling or just tossing out a lot of things that I’ve been keeping ‘just incase’. I also sent some old toys I didn’t need in my adult life to my 4 year old brother. It was a good way to get rid of them and made his day!

  3. posted by Beverly D on

    I do subscribe so got my issue the other day. Love the article! Although you have already said it on this blog over and over, so there wasn’t anything new for me, I always enjoy your writing style. Laying it out in such an *organized* and *uncluttered* fashion was very cool.

  4. posted by Kate on

    I picked up a copy of the magazine on Saturday and was excited to see your article. Great tips as usual!

  5. posted by Michelle on

    This quote I read recently really made me think about the gifts we collect, both from others and from ourselves…

    “Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense from things she found in gift shops.”

    Kurt Vonnegut (1922 – 2007), Slaughterhouse Five

    I took a good look around my home and considered this as I counted the things I have “out” and why they are there. For me, the change needs to move more towards function.

  6. posted by Heidi - Botanical PaperWorks on

    Congrats on the article. I think I’m going to go clean out that drawer of Things I Don’t Know What To Do With. We have a provincial holiday here, so what a great opportunity to simplify.

  7. posted by Susan on

    My eyesight isn’t the best and I thought you typed “SCARY DOWNS” – not SCARY CLOWNS. I was going to ask you about it, but then I read the article one more time. . . downs, clowns . . . probably the font.

  8. posted by Sarah on

    Regarding bestowment of unwanted or ugly gifts: I always make sure the giver sees it in use (sometimes I take a picture of it and send it) along with a thank you note, then I give it away. I have never heard any complaints–and in my family, if there were complaints, believe me, I would have had an earful!

  9. posted by Another Deb on

    My sister and I have been re-exchanging some of the gifts we gave each other in the distant past as well as home decor items. She now has the Tuscan look, I now have more rustic Southwestern. Her iron yard art fits my yard now, my vintage brocades for her house now. Last week I grabbed a piece of art before she put it in the yard sale, She reminded me that I had given it to her back in the 80’s.

  10. posted by Gena on

    I’m already as subscriber, so when I read your article, I felt a sense of being in on a secret, since I already know how awesome you and your tips are!

  11. posted by Pammyfay on

    Oh please tell me you really didn’t have a rhinestone-studded clown painting and that you changed the description of the gift to protect the feelings of the gift-giver! I just can’t imagine the joy you had to muster when receiving it!

  12. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Pammyfay — Ha! The gift described was an actual gift. I’ll have to ask the gift-giver if he even remembers giving it to me. My guess is that I bet he doesn’t!!

  13. posted by Erin Doland on

    Thank you to everyone for your kind words!! I really appreciate your kindness and am glad you enjoyed the article.

  14. posted by knitwych on

    I can’t wait to read this article. The ‘looking a gift horse in the mouth’ thing really hits home with me. My family used to love to play the ‘Oh, I don’t want this; I’ll give it to Knitwych’ game, and I ended up with a ton of stuff that I was essentially guilted into taking. My dad, who was a top offender in the gift game, paid a moving company to move me once, and once he saw the bill, he never, ever again played the gift game. 🙂

    P.S. I got rid of all but the useful stuff. It was a very liberating experience!

  15. posted by Lori Paximadis on

    It was a good article, Erin. Congrats!

  16. posted by pistachio on

    Your note about gift horses is just too timely for me. Except that I’m not sure I can use the advice.

    I just had a housewarming party yesterday. My house is styled in minimalist Japanese zen, with neutral colors and bare walls. My mother brought with her a gift that she seemed to be very proud of, since she chose it herself. I dreaded opening it, knowing my Mom’s ‘maximalist’ style (yes, she has a clutter problem).

    I said, “Can I open it later”? And she said, “No, open it now, so you can display it already! Your house is so empty”! So I unwrapped it gingerly, and inside the box, was a godawful ceramic plate, in all the wrong colors — not even handpainted, but with a famous painting printed on it — and naturally, it came with a display stand. I thanked her nicely and said “I’m not sure where I can put this. I’ll look for a place later.” But my mom, a very pushy woman, said, “Nonsense! You can put it right… (walking around the living room) …here!” And she promptly plopped it on top of the piano.

    So for the duration of the party, the printed plate stayed there, atop the piano. Some guests actually noticed it being out of place with the rest of my decor. Later, when my dad looked around my dining room, he said “You know what this place needs? A carving of the Last Supper! I happen to have an extra one! I’ll bring it over next time!” And while I grimaced quietly, my mom and dad discussed which wall they could hang the wooden carving on.

    After the party, I put the plate away back in its box. I still honestly don’t know what to do with it, since my parents live in the same city and will be visiting frequently. I can either display the plate and the inevitable wood carving whenever they visit, or just take your word that they won’t ask!

  17. posted by Cheri on

    Your article was brilliant and succinct. Loved the humor and the personal examples. I’m really looking forward to your book. The first step in dealing with too much stuff is understanding how you ended up knee deep in clutter.

    For many years I obsessively organized mine–adding plastic bins & scented drawer paper to the problem. I had a photo shoot ready linen closet, but I never used any of it. One heart attack and downsizing from house to apartment later I short circuit my organizing compulsion(which also has a piling component because there is always homeless stuff I have yet to find the perfect spot for) by having so much less to keep perfectly straight. Belonged to a beloved relative, not realistic about how I actually lived my life, my mother gifted it to me… Yep, your article was great!

    Pistachio– Your parents equate giving you things as expressions of their love. You love them. The stuff– not so much. Have an adult to adult (not parent/child) conversation with them about your decorating style for your home, your ‘less stuff is better’ comfort level… If they don’t ‘hear’ you then this is a control issue and you need to decide if you want to be the mistress of your own Zen home or the curator of a parental gift museum.

  18. posted by Dee on

    That is so awesome! I love that magazine and I’ll make sure to look for the article.

  19. posted by catmom on

    I have never read Real Simple (tsk, tsk, shame on me!), but a co-worker of mine subscribes to it and loves it. Look forward to buying my first issue and reading your article. You have a great website so I know your article will be likewise.

  20. posted by joss on

    The Top 6 Articles of Clutter (http://www.realsimple.com/real.....61,00.html?)

    and Big Solutions for A Small Living Room

    have to be my two favorite Real Simple articles so far. I’m sure I’ll like this article just as much and can’t wait to pick up the issue! Plus that cover just looks so cheerful! Love your work!

    Also inspiring is this article from Whole Living: (http://www.wholeliving.com/art.....c=header_9)

  21. posted by Melissa of {craftgasm} on

    I loved the article, and was excited to see a fellow District-dweller in there. I’m getting ready to combine households with my boyfriend in April-May, and need to use the article to clear things out before packing things up. I don’t want to have to pay to move crap that I’m not going to have room for or use once it gets to the new place.

  22. posted by catmom on

    I’m back again! Finally I bought Real Simple and read your article, it’s great! I was like you, kept a lot of odd momentos as a kid and into my 20s. When I got rid of them I wondered why I hung onto them in the first place, big question “why?” Now I’m better at letting go of things and know that I can’t keep everything I bring into my house.

    On article number 10, the “one day” deal: I had not one but two bridesmaids dresses which I kept longer than the length of the marriages. After several years, I gave them to charity, hopefully someone out there with a creative mind repurposed the dresses or some school drama club that needed costumes bought them.

  23. posted by msue on

    Just now, as I sat facing the computer, I noticed the framed ‘art’ work hanging on the wall over my desk. Most of it has been there since I hung it, OMG, nearly 27 years ago, so long that I don’t even notice it anymore.

    For whatever reason, your blurb about rhinestoned clown pictures helped me notice those old wall hangings.

    It resulted in a big AHA! moment as I said aloud, “Hey! That’s clutter…and that other picture is clutter too!” I’m going to take the pics down and find a better repurposed mission for the – probably donated or trashed.

    Thanks for helping me open my eyes a little bit.


  24. posted by Eleanor on

    I came to this post via the A Year Ago post. The whole article is now on the Real Simple website:


  25. posted by A year ago on Unclutterer on

    […] Unclutterer article in latest issue of Real Simple magazineIn the article “10 ways to let go of your stuff,” I spend 1,000 words talking about my transformation from a clutterer into an unclutterer on pgs. 119-120. […]

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