Making the Most of Your
Chapter 2 "Removing the Clutter"
“The way of the sluggard is as a hedge of thorns,
But the path of the upright is a highway."
This used to be Chapter 7 a few revisions ago, but it was moved to the front of the book. God began prompting me to move it to the second chapter when I saw so many women, who read the workers@home book, who began by removing the clutter from their homes. Though it wasn’t originally written that way, this obviously is God’s way—this is where He wants to begin in your life as well. Take time to read the chapter all the way through, and maybe even a second or a third time, before you take any action. De-cluttering is a principle that you need to learn. It is not merely a task to undertake.
I have been passionate about organization for many, many years. Yet, when I read my first book on de-cluttering my home, it took a few days for it to really sink in. That’s when it all began to make sense. I thought to myself, “For all these years, I have really been organizing and reorganizing clutter!”
Clutter is an Encumbrance
What exactly is clutter? Clutter is any stuff that you hang onto that you honestly no longer use. It might be things that you think you might use in the future. However, stuff that you are really not using, currently, is nothing more than hoarding, which leads to selfishness.
Clutter then, is made up of the things you really need to “let go” of. They are the things that are slowing down your race; they are the encumbrances that make you feel tired and overwhelmed. “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us . . .” (Heb. 12:1).
If you have things that you are not currently using (I’m speaking of the things that are nice and have some sort of worth), then by giving them away (to even someone whom you will never know or meet when, for instance, you give it to a thrift store), you are blessing someone who may never have what they need because you were not able to “let go”—simply because you still want it.
Not only will you be blessing someone else, but you will also reap the benefits of having more drawer space and/or closet space! The greatest reward is how incredibly easy it will be for you and your family to keep your de-cluttered home clean!
My family has literally (after de-cluttering) been left with about half of what we owned, and we didn’t miss one thing! Each time we de-clutter (the last two times because of moving), there was a freedom that set in and settled over our entire family. And if that were not enough, your house stays neat and tidy until you need to de-clutter again.
You may be more than willing to let go, but typically your children are not. Children are selfish by nature. (We will discuss husbands who can’t let go later.) Even though your children may have outgrown the clothes or toys, most children still want to keep them!
Another note that leads to clutter, when passing down unused or outgrown items to younger siblings, it is wise to make sure that whatever it is will be worn, played with, or read by the younger sibling. All your children are different, not all the clothes look equally good, and not all toys are as enjoyable to each child.
Also, in regard to passing down clothes, saving something for a year is fine, but any more than that and the style probably will be outdated, which again leads to clutter.
When my babies were coming “fast and furiously” (not in regard to the speed at which I labored, but how close they were apart in years), I was given boxes and boxes of baby clothes from a lady who had lost her husband. I added what she gave me to what I was already storing. I carefully put the boxes and rubber buckets into storage, but to my horror, when I was pregnant and opened the box, they were mildewed and spoiled beyond salvage.
I was ashamed, because although I had heard the message of “letting go” of what I didn’t need, I hadn’t heeded the principle. All I could think about was how many mothers, maybe even young unwed mothers, could have benefited from what was now destroyed because of my hoarding what I didn’t need. But God is good!! After I repented and shared my sins with many other women, when the subject came up, God blessed me with all brand new clothes for my next baby when I “just happened” to walk into a store when everything was more than 75 percent. off!
Now you (or your husband) may be thinking, “Well, I know what will happen if I get rid of all our clutter—I’ll just run out and buy more stuff to fill up the empty space.” But I haven’t, the ladies that followed this book haven’t, and you won’t either when you experience the freedom from clutter. I also purchase about one-third to one-fourth of what I used to buy. When we de-cluttered, it was difficult watching all your stuff getting thrown away or given away. I thought of how much money we had spent for all that stuff, which taught me to purchase wisely rather than impulsively!
Since the first episode of de-cluttering, when my family and I go shopping, we keep in mind whether or not what we buy will really be used or worn. This also goes for gifts that we buy for one other. Rather than just getting “something,” we make sure that it is what the other person really needs or wants.
A lot of what we threw away or gave away was given to us as gifts, a lot of it was someone else’s stuff that people gave us that we felt too guilty to get rid of, and the rest, or the majority, of it were things that we had purchased that we really didn’t need but wanted at the time.
No matter how you or I get something, it is foolish to keep whatever it is when we really don’t use it. Therefore, it is very good for you and me to get rid of anything we don’t use so that we can bless someone else and so we can free up the space in order to keep our homes tidy (and not simply to fill the space again).
Since my first de-cluttering experience, I began avoiding a lot of stores where I used to just “browse” just to buy “something.” Because of de-cluttering my house, I had finally begun to buy wisely. Now when I pick up most things to look at, I ask myself, “Do I really need this?” and “How soon before this gets into one of the give-away bags?”
Just because something is a “good buy” doesn’t mean that you should buy it. I know it is difficult to pass up a bargain, but if you don’t really need it, you won’t use it. And if you don’t use it, it will clutter your home, which is not worth the “sale” price you pay. Instead, wait and pray for things that you really need.
I pray about every need I have. I cannot tell you how often, the very next day, I will just walk into a store, and there is what I have prayed for at an incredible, unbelievable price. Just last Saturday, as I was searching for a sweater for my daughter to wear for church the next day, I noticed she had only one sweater that fit her. So I prayed, and the next day, on Sunday, I “just happened” to walk right into a store where I was able to get four sweaters for the price of one! Always tell the Lord what you need and He will provide it supernaturally!!
And finally, most women feel that they don’t even have the time to de-clutter. Truthfully, you don’t have the time not to! The time you take to de-clutter will make you feel as if you have lost 50 pounds! Your life feels skinny and free! You’ll feel like a new woman! You’ll be happier, and your family will be happier too with the change!!
Once you are in the right frame of mind (you may need to pray and read this chapter again), you are ready to begin.
The Tools You’ll Use to De-Clutter
To de-clutter your home you will need:
- Five buckets, boxes, or containers (I often use laundry baskets).
- Five pieces of notebook paper (Different colored paper is better).
- A black marker or dark colored crayon.
- 3x5 cards.
- Large black trash bags (four to begin with).
Five signs. These signs will help you sort what you have into five categories:
- Throw away.
- Give away.
- Put away.
- Store away.
- Put back.
Make five signs with your paper and marker using the list above. I bring a trashcan in and label it “Throw away.”. Next to it, I use a laundry basket or box and put an opened black trash bag in it to lend the bag support and label it “Give away.” Next to this, I put another laundry basket or box and label it “Put away.” Next to this, I put a box with a lid and label it “Store away.”. And finally, I put the last laundry basket or box and label it “Put back,” (but I don’t place a black trash bag in it).
Begin by emptying out one closet, or one drawer, or under one bed, or off one of your shelves. Start with something that you know you can finish easily. (If you choose a closet, start with the floor.) Pick up an item and put it into one of the five containers. Your goal is to try to put the most in “Throw away,” then “Give away,” followed by “Put away,” “Store away” or “Put back.”
Decide what that drawer, closet, or shelf is going to store in that space. In other words: What really belongs in that closet, drawer, or on that shelf that you are de-cluttering? So when you come to an item that belongs in that closet, drawer, or on that shelf, place it in “Put back.” This should be simple enough!
Just begin by picking up one item and put it into a container. If you or one of your children comes to something that you are just not sure of, stop and pray, asking the Lord for wisdom and discernment. Listen for that still, small voice, and then respond to His leading—whatever it is. Trust that if you do put it in the wrong container, the Holy Spirit will prompt you to pull it out and place it where it belongs. I promise that He will when He sees that you are doing your best to follow His leading. However, make sure that when you do go back to retrieve something, it is not because you began to “lean onto your own understanding” or began to reason why you might want to keep it instead of giving it or throwing it away.
Once everything in that closet, drawer, or shelf is empty, wipe it out, or sweep it out, and put back only what belongs there: what you have in your “Put back” container!
And, don’t make the mistake of purchasing any more plastic storage containers, hangers or other organizational paraphernalia to help to keep that space organized. Only buy it after you see what you have left. You will be amazed that once you have de-cluttered, you will find that you no longer need more hangers or more organizational containers!
Your goal is to take everything out, vacuum it out, and/or wipe it down. Then put only the items that belong in that space, back in that space.
The final step is to follow through by dealing with the other containers.
First, take the “Throw away” items immediately to the trashcan. Next, put the “Give away” items into your car so you can send it to the local thrift store. The “Put away” container can be carried throughout your house, putting each item away into the right room. Put away those things that you, or someone else, placed there by mistake, or more often than not, by convenience.
Remember: you should pitch (throw away) anything and everything that is broken or stained. Too often, we keep things that need to be repaired but are never repaired. Don’t put too much value on junk, it will weigh you down, so lay aside each encumbrance so that you can run the race of your life!
Now, for those things that need to be “Stored away,” such as seasonal items, a family keepsake or clothing items that will be used once a year. We will now use a 3x5 card for each item that you place into a storage box.
Store it. The “Store away” items will be put into some sort of a container—but as you do this, write down every item on a 3x5 card! It doesn’t matter what is in each box; you don’t need to try to put “like items” together for this foolproof storage method.
Of course, most of us keep our Christmas things together, but sometimes in January, we usually find an item that has missed our Christmas storage. Go ahead and put it into any storage box, because you will mark on the card where that item is located. Next Christmas, your cards will remind you where the missing item(s) can be found. To remind me even further, I put a sticker on a Christmas 3x5 card, to remind myself that there are missing items stored elsewhere. Then you can remove them from one box and put them back in the original box at the end of that Christmas! Simple.
The type of container doesn’t matter as long as it has a cover to keep out the dust. You can use any existing cardboard box or plastic container. If you are going to go out and buy a container, clear containers are the best since you can look into them, making it simpler to spot something stored there. But again, with this method you can use any box you have or find, no matter what the size or shape is.
Storage 3x5 card. Number each 3x5 card in the upper left corner, and number the corresponding box on several sides—i.e., “C-1” would be your first Christmas box, “M-1” for your first maternity clothes box, etc.. For miscellaneous storage, I write “S-1,” and for old home school curriculum that I am not using that year, I label it “HS-1.”
Next, write down where you will store it in the upper right corner—i.e., garage-west side, attic over the living room, or under my bed. This will help you, your husband, or son find the box more easily.
If your box is a leftover VCR box or a stroller box, indicate that on the card under where it is located to make it very easy to find. The most important point with this principle of storing items is to write down EVERY item you place in the box.
If possible, before you put more into your storage areas (especially if you are storing it under a bed or in a closet), it would be wise to open up previously stored boxes (stored before this system), and make a 3x5 card for each box. And while making the 3x5 card, don’t miss the opportunity of throwing or giving away anything that you no longer need.
Warning: Stay away from the Christmas boxes or baby clothes for the moment! Wait until Christmas and “clean sweep” your stuff. I got my Christmas decorations down to half, right after I got motivated writing this updated portion of the book. Praise God! This year, I will go through our Christmas boxes again. For the past two years, no one felt like putting up anything except the tree and a wreath on the door (we kept our Nativity set up since I wanted to remember our Savior’s birth all year long). Therefore, it is time to de-clutter and bless others with our unneeded items.
Finally, if you ever move a box or remove an item, adjust your card. Your cards should be kept up-to-date by pulling out the cards, when you pull out a box. The “storage” cards should be kept in the back of your 3x5 card file with a section divider that you mark STORAGE. I have had this method for YEARS. Just like everything, it is something that you learn and practise until the way you do it becomes a habit. Not only will you have order and peace in your home, with more room in your closets and drawers for things you actually use, you will be teaching your daughters how to be a keeper of her home!
More About the De-cluttering Method
This is the method for de-cluttering anything and everything.
Once you make your sorting sheets, save them until your entire house is de-cluttered and easy to keep clean! I started saving mine in the back of my shopping list and meal planner clipboard so that I could use them again and again.
This method brings so much freedom that when I feel as if I need a pick-me-up, I just go to a cupboard, drawer or closet and start to de-clutter! Honestly, it never fails, once that closet, drawer, or shelf is cleaned out, it will give you such a joyful feeling. Once you get hooked, you will find yourself going to another closet, drawer, or shelf whenever you have any time!
Should you “Give it” away to someone special or to a charity?
If the Lord brings someone to mind when sorting, then put it in a bag labeled with their name on it. If not, then just give it to the poor. God really began to pour out His blessings on our family when I stopped trying to make a “buck” by bringing it to consignment shops or having a yard sale. When I simply blessed the poor with the things I didn’t have use or space for, God blessed me with things I needed and wanted at INCREDIBLE bargains!
Rules. Never go back into a bag. Give away or throw away all your bags as soon as you are done. Put the “Throw away” items out with the trash immediately. Put the “Give away” bag into your car along with a note on the driver’s seat to drive to the nearest drop box or thrift store. Once you, your children, or your husband begins to DIG through what is in there, it will undo all your hard work. This is why I recommend BLACK bags, because the white ones often show a glimpse of something of interest, which inevitably will draw a person in for a second look.
On the subject of husbands and de-cluttering: this can be a touchy subject. Thankfully, the situation that I had with my ex-husband was that I was the one who wanted to “let go” of stuff and my ex-husband needed to keep things. So, I became an instant authority on what not to do! My very first mistake (though there have been many others) is when I attempted to help him clean out his wallet, many, many, many years ago. When we were married less than a year, I thought I should rescue him, since it was so thick that it was almost a square cube! What was the result of my helping him? For almost 15 years (until he began to lose a bit of his memory), if he was ever missing anything, he was sure that it was something that I had thrown away from his wallet! Mistake. Do not sort your husband’s stuff: not his wallet, “junk” drawer, or desk. You can sort it, but never throw anything out without him seeing it first. And if he says “no,” then box it up and store it (just be sure to use the 3x5 card method so you can find anything that belongs to him in an instant).
Professional organizers have a method that they use for things that people have trouble parting with. They put it in a box, and then, if you haven’t needed to use it (most people have no idea what’s even in the boxes), they pitch the entire box. Even if you pulled it out a year later, when you go through it after a year, it would be much easier to get rid of stuff that you haven’t seen or thought of for over a year.
Personally, I don’t use that method because when I tried it, and the year was up, he didn’t want to waste his time to look at his old stuff; your husband might be the same way. So instead, I waited until we moved, when he knew he was going to have to pick each of those boxes up, load them in a truck, and unload them at our new house. He instantly got very motivated to get rid of stuff that he didn’t need, and I didn’t have to say a thing! Isn’t God just so good?
Does that mean that we didn’t have boxes of his stuff at our new house? No, my ex-husband had lots of boxes filled with his stuff that are probably still up in our attic, but I don’t let it bother me. I chose to respect his position as the head of our household when he was here. I chose to teach my children not only to respect their father by my actions and attitude, which in turn, resulted in them respecting me! If I were to undermine his authority, I would also have been undermining my own.
Now, for things that are not directly your husband’s personal items: some men want a handle on all the household issues, while some don’t want to be bothered. But one thing is the same, whichever you have been blessed with—you wish you had the other! My ex-husband was a man who wanted to be in control of anything and everything. I always “hoped” that some day he would leave it up to me. That day came when he left me for his high school sweetheart. Instead of being hurt, ashamed or any other negative feeling that many women feel, I chose to look for each blessing since the Lord promises us that, “all things work out for our good when we love Him and want to know His purpose in it.” To be able to throw out and give away things we don’t need, without the fear of having a husband who will get angry is a blessing. And when I do come across boxes of stuff from my ex-husband, I set it aside for him to cart away during his next visit to see the children. Isn’t the Lord just too awesome for words??
Now, while you and I were being challenged with a husband who wanted to control everything, we have friends who complain and tell us how their husbands are disinterested in anything and everything having to do with the home (and sometimes the children) and respond with “do whatever you want”! Why is that?
It is because God gives all of us exactly what we need!! For me, who was born with an independent spirit, I always wanted to make my own decisions. I always wanted to seek God and move in His direction without obstacles, but the obstacles are what make us strong! When there is an obstacle in my life, I must pray for wisdom, and patience, since I often have to wait, which strengthens me spiritually.
For other women, who are meek and indecisive, or maybe just need assurance, their husbands tell them to do whatever they want, which forces them to seek God for strength, boldness, and assurance.
All of us need God, so He gives us different ways to force us to seek Him continually! Isn’t God good?!
Now that I am in the midst of humbling myself, which is always good to gain spiritually, a few of my problems were that I went to my ex-husband (when we were married) when I should have just gone to God. Some husbands who “appear” controlling are that way simply because we have gone to our husbands when we should have gone to the Lord. When I first learned about submission, I went to my husband for everything! Soon, I was feeling “oppressed” when the Lord opened my eyes to see that it was really my own fault. To add to this, I was raised with a mother who thrived, it seemed, on rebellion and sneakiness with my father.
Often, when things are out of balance in our youth, in the homes we grow up in, we tend to go to the other extreme, which is what I did. Certainly, not following in this pattern of keeping things from my spouse was a very good thing. However, one extreme can be just as bad as the other. How do you know when to ask your husband and when to just proceed with how the Lord is leading you? Pray. Pray and ask God to give you discernment. If He prompts you to ask your husband, then go and ask. If your husband stops your plan, then trust God to open the door if it is what you are really supposed to do; even when it comes to de-cluttering (what to keep and what to throw away).
If you are the timid type, who wants reassurance, and your husband has complained that you are too needy. Then seek God and stop going to your husband. If He tells you to do something, then go ahead with God’s assurance.
For the married woman, her goal is to be able to live this verse in Proverbs 31:11: “The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.”
And how is this accomplished when it is so out of whack right now? With the next verse: “She does him good and not evil all the days of her life” (Prov. 31:12). Doing what is right, concerning your husband, begins with respecting and not challenging his authority, and extends to not speaking about him negatively with friends or family (not revealing his weaknesses in any area of his life). When you begin to be the wife he can “safely trust” in (that’s from the KJV), then eventually he will allow you to make decisions without his permission. For me, the Lord simply removed my husband from my life in order for me to have Him as my authority. All those years of learning submission to my earthly husband has made me a much better wife to my Heavenly Husband!
Funnily, but when I originally revised this chapter, I wanted to do so without sharing my other faults, but the Lord had other plans. Another of my faults, which kept our marriage out of balance for years, was when I went to my husband to tell him my plan in order to get him to give me praise or a verbal pat on the back. I grew up with two parents, who unashamedly, thought I was wonderful and told me so almost daily! This was a good thing, but again if it is out of balance, which I guess it was, then trouble follows. The result was, that instead of getting praise, which is what I would have gotten from my parents, my ex-husband would find some fault or error in it.
This would also happen when I went to “bounce an idea off” my ex-husband. Dear sister, our girlfriends were created for this purpose! They love to hear each and every detail, but when you share your ideas, want to “just talk,” or you need to “bounce the idea” off someone, for most men, it won’t happen. A man would think that you want him to tell you what to do, not just to listen.
It took me a long time to learn this, but one day the Lord graciously removed my closest friends from my life, and then my husband—and I was left with only Him. Wow! What a difference!! Not only does the Lord love to hear every detail, He is honest when it isn’t a good idea at all. And whenever He convicts me or shows me that it is not a good plan, He is so gentle and compassionate.
If you have the same problem of needing approval or acceptance, talk to God and ask Him to help you. There is no greater set-up for deep hurts. The enemy really has a hold on your life. People are the best tool that the devil has to manipulate and to hurt you. Look to God to fill your need of being loved, accepted, and honored. His spirit will fill you. No matter how many people you have praising you, you will feel empty. Just look at the celebrities’ lives to see that praise from others will never fill that void in your life. Only God can fill it, so always run to Him.
Now, back to our chapter . . .
This method of de-cluttering and eliminating stuff (things that you do not need or use regularly) should be done throughout your home as you move through your house one drawer in one room, one at a time. Start in one designated room, and then continue to move through the entire house. Just spend a few minutes to an hour a day and soon you will be left with only what you need and use regularly.
Maintenance. Once you have the entire house: closets, shelves, and drawers cleaned (even your garage)—you can maintain this with the “clean sweep” method daily. The clean sweep is the exciting and life-changing chapter just ahead. But before you run ahead, remember, this book is a book of action. Reading it won’t change your life; you will need to take action. So, take the next few days or weeks to de-clutter your home before reading any more of the book. This method will not only de-clutter your home, it will also de-clutter your mind, your spirit, and your life!
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As an “Older women likewise…teaching what is good, that they may ENCOURAGE the young women…” (Titus 2:3) you will have the opportunity to speak to the younger women who are still single as part of your ministry.