I used to be a messy, disorganised, cluttered person. I didn’t enjoy it, but I didn’t know how to be anything else. I didn’t know why I was how I was. I didn’t know how to change.
I remember vividly one morning looking at the house and how disgusted I was by it. I couldn’t face the dishes in the kitchen from the night before. I couldn’t face the breakfast dishes that had joined them. I couldn’t face the toys the kids had left all over the floor, or the clothes that were waiting to be washed, and taken off the line, and folded out of the basket. I couldn’t face any of it. It was disgusting.
I want to make clear here that I was disgusted by my house for myself, not because of what anyone else would think. I did not like living like this.
The mess made me feel angry and confused and weary. The piles everywhere messed with my brain. I was tired from trying to remember where everything was. I was weary from the never-ending cycle of attempting to clean it up, then feeling so tired that I let it get messy again.
That morning, I couldn’t face any of it. I ran away. I crossed the street and had a coffee with my friend and let our kids play together. I knew I was just procrastinating, but that’s what I decided to do.
And that’s the morning that Moz did something that I had wanted him to do for a while. He brought a mate from work over to have a cuppa. They were doing some electrical wiring in the vicinity so they dropped in to say hello and to have a drink.
I wasn’t there. They didn’t get to see me or have a nice conversation. What they got to see was my super-messy disgusting house. And Moz never tried that again.
I felt terrible. I really did. But I didn’t know how to change.
Then one night I listened to Focus on the Family on Ultra106.5. That night a lady called Sandra Felton introduced her book, ‘The Messies Manual’. She talked about the underlying reasons we live with mess, with a cluttered house, the reasons we procrastinate. She spoke to something deep inside me. I bought her book and I have never looked back. I now have several copies of her book that I lend out to friends who share with me their problems with keeping a tidy house.
I know that Felton is not the only one giving this kind of advice. There are so many books, blogs, podcasts and courses helping those of us who need organisational help. But I want to publicly thank her for what she did in my life. I am so grateful for the clean house and the clear head and, yes, the headspace for my writing that I don’t think I’d have without her advice.
Sandra Felton shares so much wisdom, but today I will just share the major idea that helped me the most: Her decluttering method.
Sandra calls this the Mt Vernon Method. You start somewhere, say inside the front door at the hall table. You have three boxes: a box for the things you will give away, one for things to throw away, and one for things that belong somewhere else. As you look at every surface, and open every draw and every cupboard, you look at each item and put it in one of those three boxes. And you put back in the drawer the things that belong in the drawer and those things only. And no keeping things ‘just in case’. (She does say that you can have an extra box for those things you can’t decide about. When that box is full, you store it for a predetermined amount of time and then look through it and make the decisions then.)
This is a marathon, not a sprint. As you can, you attack the next space in the house. When you have to stop for the day, you stop. But you just keep going, until over time you declutter your whole house.
I had kept far too much stuff in our house. We had moved four times in a year, I hated the packing so I had left a lot of our goods packed up in boxes just in case we needed them again. I was also keeping every little bit of rubbish, sorry, I mean craft supplies that I thought could possibly be useful for children’s activities. Toilet rolls, cereal boxes, scraps of wool and so on. I was keeping a lot of memorabilia too, like all the letters my grade 10 boyfriend had written to me. It was all taking up space in a tiny house, spilling out onto benches and the floor. Taking up cupboard space so that things we actually needed could not have been put away even if we had wanted to.
I was hanging onto stuff to give me security. But stuff can’t do that. All it did was take away my peace. I needed to throw stuff out. I went through and ‘Mt Vernon-ed’ my house and suddenly our hall cupboard could be used for hanging up our coats, all our food could fit into our pantry, and all our clothes could be put away in our chests of drawers.
In my house now, I even have several drawers that are empty. Not all the drawers and shelves have to be full, you know. You don’t have to keep stuff just for the sake of it.
I am now in love with clear surfaces, with clean lines in a house. With ‘a place for everything, and everything in its place’. As I got organised and cleaned up I found that I enjoyed the experience. That I wanted more and more organisation. Not just of my stuff, but also of my time and my thoughts.
There are other methods that might work better for you. Marie Kondo famously tells people to pull everything out (for example, make a pile of every piece of clothing you own) then only hang on to those things that ‘spark joy’. Dana, from A Slob Comes Clean, prefers a bit-by-bit process that starts with getting rid of the ‘trash’; the rubbish that is just sitting there in whichever room you are deciding to clean first. I think that’s a great starting point too.
It doesn’t matter much which method you use. If you find that you can never get on top of the cleaning in your house, maybe consider that you might have just a bit too much stuff, and get rid of some. For me it was the starting point of a new way of life.
Hearing Sandra Felton speak on the radio was the start of the Quiet Life journey and I’m so grateful to her and to God for sending her along at just the right time.
If you would like to hear me say a bit more about this, you can find my podcast at ruthamos.com.au and you can sign up there to receive this blog in newsletter form too, straight to your inbox.
How do you declutter your house? Have you come across any organisational tools that you’ve found particularly helpful? I’d love to hear about them.