While it might seem small, the space around us can have a big impact on our happiness. I have always been a big believer in the concept of minimalism and the idea that we are actually happier when we have less stuff. I had been intrigued by the concept of things like tiny houses since I was a teenager, but I watched Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things while in college, and it really set me down the path of decluttering and getting rid of excess stuff.
And while I still saw the benefit of minimalism and truly saw and believed that it could make me happier, after my parents’ deaths and cleaning out their house, I had managed to accumulate a massive amount of stuff for my husband and I’s small two-bedroom apartment. As anyone who has had to deal with the aftermath of someone’s life knows, there is a lot of stuff, an unfathomable amount to deal with.
Although my sister had taken a big chunk of things and it in her attic for us to deal with later when we felt more ready, Ron and I had still wound up with a lot. I had taken many of the toys my parents had for my nephew to store because my sister and her husband were not sure, at least at first, how to deal with questions about where the toys came from. These toys ended up filling the closets in our spare bedroom and overflowing into the bedroom itself, which my husband used as an office. We had taken big pieces of furniture like the kitchen table that Mama had so lovingly refinished, an armchair that matched one my parents had given us, a large bookshelf we had had since I was a child, and a large stand up mirror my mother had painted cream when she was remodeling their house several years before. I had also taken several small kitchen appliances that were my mother’s for myself, like an ice cream maker and a pressure canner, along with other kitchen items like pasta attachments for my kitchen aid, a cast iron dutch oven, glass canning jars, two small cast iron frying pans, a wooden bread box, two glass cake displays, a casserole dish, a large stock pot, cooling racks for baking, bread loaf pans, cake pans, and an immersion blender. I had also taken about half of her wardrobe because the two of us were close in size and most of her clothes were dress clothes, which I wore to work. It seemed a shame to get rid of so many, although we did donate a lot. We also took a few random things, like the two oval mirrors that had hung in the jack-and-jill bathrooms, the old-style school desk that had been in what was once my playhouse and then turned in my nephews, two trash bags full of knit blankets and old quilts, a small upholstered bench Mama used at her vanity, some books, a Rubbermaid tote full of children’s books for our future child, an old wooden frame window, a curtain Mama had hand sewn for the jack-and-jill bathroom, a TV, and my “blue box” (a rubber maid tote with my name written on it that my mother got for me, identical to the one she got for my siblings, where I could put my journals, letters, cards, school projects, report cards, artwork, and anything else I felt was worth saving), and more garbage bags filled to the brim with fabric and sewing/craft supplies.
For the first three months or so after their deaths, these things hung over my head, cluttering up my already small apartment. I didn’t know what to do with them. I hadn’t know what to do with them to begin with. That was why I brought them to my house. I had known I did not want to get rid of them, but I did not know what else to do with them. And some of the things had brought me comfort at first, like with my mother’s clothes. When I had to return to work after what seemed like an impossibly short amount of time, I was able to wear outfits of my mothers and be comforted by that fact. But after a while, the clutter began to overwhelm me. Even a simple task like picking my outfit out for the workday seemed stressful. There were too many options and even walking into the closet my husband and I share gave me anxiety. Clothes were stuffed in on my side and shirts and dresses seemed to be perpetually falling off the hanger. The metal basket I kept my leggings and shorts in was overflowing and in danger of toppling over on a near constant basis.
The disaster that was my closet before…
And the rest of the house was no different. And while cleaning and decluttering my house did not change the fact of what happened to me, it did not bring my parents back, I knew that it did have the power to make me happier and to make me feel calmer. And so, as small as the step and the choice was, I chose to minimize and declutter my closet Marie Kondo style.
I piled all of the clothes in my closet onto the bed and went through each piece one by one, evaluating it and talking myself through the decision of whether or not I actually liked it, whether it actually fit, whether I had actually worn it since getting it, whether it was practical, whether it was too warm for the weather here in South Georgia. I kept a few things purely for sentimental purposes, like an ugly Christmas sweater she wore every year before ugly Christmas sweaters were cool and a t-shirt that said “Teaching is my Jam,” but everything else I kept only if I really loved it and wore it often. I did not keep things in hopes that I might fit into them soon or because I liked the way I thought they would look on me in my head but that look never seemed to materialize.
Because some of the clothes were Mama’s, and I wasn’t sure if I was emotionally ready to actually get rid of those quite yet, I did make the decision to put them (neatly) in storage in another closet for the time being, but I plan to reevaluate them in the next 3-6 months. I think it is important to give ourselves time and breaks when it comes to difficult situations like this, particularly with grieving. For me, by putting the clothes of Mama’s that I’m not quite sure if I want to get rid of yet in this particular closet keeps them out of sight, and they are put up fairly neatly. That solves the problem I was having. If you can find a way to solve your problem and give yourself space, then by all means do it. There’s no need to rush, especially if you don’t need to. I did decide to do a clothing recycling program for a couple of items because they were stained or ripped beyond repair as well. None of these items were Mama’s, but I think even if they were, the stains/rips would have helped me to give them up in this situation.
Once the extra clothes were cleaned out and I was down to the pieces I really loved, I organized everything that I hang up by item, so for example, coats with coats, dresses with dresses, skirts with skirts, pants with pants, shirts with shirts, etc. I also decided I would adopt the laundry routine of The Minimal Mom (I would also highly recommend this channel if you’re interested in practical minimalism as well). Full disclosure, because of this new laundry system and just some storage issues that had been going on for a while, I did order some gray storage bins off of Amazon. On this blog, I try to make an effort to do things that are very cheap or free, but I did end up spending a little over $100 on this project for the bins, a small shoe rack, and a hard cover tool box. We also used two gray storage bins we already had, as well as two small metal baskets we already had on hand. However, you could totally thrift these items or even use some sturdy boxes for a while with the laundry system until you’re sure it will work for you.
With the bins in place, I moved all the clothes I don’t hang up into the closet and gave them each their own bin. My husband now had the small chest-of-drawers in our bedroom to himself (trust me, he needs it), and one gray bin in the closet. One Saturday afternoon, we reorganized everything into this system, moved our shoes that were on the floor onto the wooden shoe rack, and swapped everything over from this crappy soft cover tool bag we had, where all the nails, push pins, and screws always managed to come out of whatever little organizer we put them in and coalesce on the bottom, into the hard cover tool box which is bigger and has built in cubbies for things like those pesky nails and screws.
And although it is a small thing, just tidying up and organizing my closet (which also doubles as our laundry room), such a small project has made a big impact. Gone are the days where I feel so overwhelmed by the clothes and clutter that even picking out my outfit feels impossible. I don’t dread doing laundry every week. I don’t necessarily look forward to it either, but hey, I’ll take what I can get ☺. More than anything, I feel the sense of accomplishment of a completed project, and that has given me the motivation to reevaluate and minimize other areas of my house, which I’m sure I’ll update you on later. And to me, even small acts like this can mean choosing happiness for yourself.