Declutter Your House by the Square Foot

I’d been on a mission to declutter the house, to get rid of everything we didn’t use that wasn’t nailed down. It was a daunting task, but I’d turned it into a manageable task by tackling it one item at a time, particularly items to sell through Craigslist, Etsy, eBay, and Facebook groups.

The project just wasn’t moving fast enough, however, because in addition to the sheriff’s inspection that triggered the project in the first place, I had another, even more powerful trigger — the thought of giving it all up to move into an RV and travel the country.

My husband and I discussed the possibility, even to the extent of going through dozens of RVs at an RV sales lot to get an idea if we thought we could be happy in one. Neither of us had ever even vacationed in a camper so we were as green as it gets.

We did have friends with summer campers which stayed parked in one location for their summer vacations, and I knew a couple who lived in an RV, forever on the road like gypsies, traveling the entire United States, seeing all those places that most people never get to see.

My friend blogged about his travels, published an RV newsletter, and even gave seminars on the topic. And he didn’t just live in an RV, he taught others the ins and outs of RV living as well: the good, the bad, the ugly, and the magical.

My husband and I knew that we’d never travel the majestic regions of the country in our normal travel mode, which is how the topic came into being. We both work from home, so it’s possible for us to take it on the road and expand our horizons, and because we were already accustomed to not living near our families, distance wasn’t a roadblock.

We discussed it at length, we were both all in, but then we chickened out and the topic stalled. Even though the odds turned against us for taking the plunge, there was still a possibility of simply downsizing our home. I believed with every fiber in my being that we needed to downsize, that our home was just too overblown to maintain in retirement.

With that in mind, I continued the process of decluttering the house, but it just wasn’t going fast enough to be ready for the Big Move which I knew would come and kick us into a sudden flurry of activity.

It was my Little Voice that triggered the next phase. You know, the Little Voice of intuition that speaks to you if you learn how to listen. It warns you of bad decisions, and excites you to follow good decisions.

Learning to differentiate the Little Voice from your own blundering thoughts is a topic unto itself, a lesson which I’d learned the hard way by ignoring a Big Warning that would have prevented the serious car accident of 1985 in which I was injured. So I knew how to recognize the Little Voice of intuition, or Guardian Angel, or whatever its true nature may be.

So there I was, sitting at my desk one evening, when the Little Voice popped in with a suggestion: eliminate the boxes of papers and go paperless.

My closet was full of gussets of old files for houses that I no longer owned, houses which I hadn’t owned in over 20 years. Several more boxes were filled with old manuscripts of books and articles I’d written, some published, some not, and some being copies printed out for editing, or to mail to publishers.

And then there were old tax files, so old that they were far outside the IRS guidelines of keeping tax returns and their accompanying tax backup files. Other miscellaneous papers filled boxes as well, including two boxes of scrap paper. All in all, there must have been 10 boxes full of nothing but papers, each box representing a carton of paper except for the two smaller boxes of scrap paper.

The scrap paper was ordinary copy paper that was blank on one side, and printed out with something on the other. I never bought lined pads as long as scrap paper existed, but these two boxes, they’d been in the closet for over 10 years and I’d never touched them. I generated enough one-sided scrap paper to always have some in the drawer, so right off the bat, two boxes could be eliminated immediately.

Suddenly another thought popped into my head: each one of these boxes represents One Square Foot of paper, so I’m throwing out two square feet of volume, just like that, easy peasy.

That’s when the notion of thinking in terms of square feet came into it. In addition to picking an item here and there to sell or give away, I realized that it revved motivation into high gear to eliminate a square foot of stuff, whatever the stuff may be, and for me the target became those boxes full of paper.

Items like the scrap paper could just be thrown away, although I did go through it to make sure that none needed to be shredded. You do want to be careful not to discard something with proprietary information like your social security number. Such items can be shredded or burned, especially if you burn lawn trash every year.

Tax returns can be scanned and destroyed, just like they do in accounting firms. As time passes and file rooms fill up, accountants scan and shred the older tax returns of their big money clients. The little people whose tax returns are ordinary, if old enough, accountants might simply shred without scanning. I’d worked for an accounting firm so I knew the inner workings. I knew how to scan a tax return and all of the backup information that accompanied it.

You might not want to store the scanned documents on a regular computer for security reasons, but instead use a thumb drive or portable hard drive encrypted with a password for data protection. That way you can unplug the drive and keep it off of your network, and away from your internet connection. Or at the least, away from other people who use your computer.

Just think: ten cartons of paper transformed into a tiny thumb drive, with all of those cartons gone. It’s a heady thought, and an achievable goal.

Decluttering by the foot wasn’t just limited to stacks of papers. Clothing became another big target. Over the course of a few months, I sent giant trash bags full of clothes back out into the world. Most of it I gave away, but some of the fancier items were sold. We tend to keep favorite clothes, and all of the “little clothes” that we grew out of years ago but figured we’d fit back into some day. Sooner or later you have to give up the dream, especially when those clothes no longer suit you in a fashion sense, like a retiree wearing a flouncy girly skirt better suited to a young woman.

Magazines are another bulk item to target by the square foot, as are books that you will never read. For me, even old software eliminated bulk. I tended to keep software pristine in its original box, long after I’d given up all of the operating systems that it worked on. This software predated the trend of PDF files instead of printed manuals, and jewel cases without boxes.

For Macintosh owners, classic software in mint condition is pure gold. I discovered a world of folks with archaic machines who jumped at the offerings I listed on eBay. In some cases the software was 15 years old, so long out of date that the software companies had even gone defunct.

When each piece of software is stored in a one or two-inch thick box with a printed how-to manual, you can get to the one foot mark pretty quickly.

And so it went — decluttering the house One Square Foot of miscellany at a time. You may not get the instant gratification of clearing out an entire room in one weekend, but if you’ve put off the project for years because of time constraints, or due to the sheer fact that it’s an overwhelming project to tackle all at once, then thinking of it in terms of One Square Foot at a time might just be your ticket to Golden Success.

With every square foot you can celebrate an achievement, and it doesn’t take long for One Square Foot to become ten square feet until entire closets are rejuvenated, along with storage rooms, basements, attics, offices, dens, kids’ rooms, and all of the hidden recesses of your home.

So go forth … choose just One Square Foot of unused stuff, and make it disappear! The results are pure magic!

* * * * *

Rehabilitating a Shelter Dog

When we adopted Dakota in the summer of 2007, she was a semi-adult shelter dog who was the Queen of Bad Behavior and the Master of Dirty Tricks. I turned her first year with us into a book — Bad Dog to Best Friend. The book takes you from Dakota’s awful beginnings to her amazing transformation into a beloved member of our household. In December 2016, she turned 10 years old, and she is so well-behaved that we’ve taken her all around the country on road trips.

  • Bad Dog to Best Friend


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    One Response to Declutter Your House by the Square Foot

    1. Lucie says:

      Thank you for the article. You’ve done a great job and I think it’s brave. Now you can be proud of the work done. This article can help people who constantly put off getting rid of the garbage accumulated over the years.

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