Conquering the Clutter: Our Apartment Overhaul

Maybe it’s New Year’s resolutions, maybe it’s a new epidemic, maybe it’s pure luck, but I’m well aware of how many blogs very recently have posted about deep cleaning, organizing and decluttering. Well, add me to the list because I am all about it right now. This is not at all Pinterest perfect, but it’s real, and it worked for me. (Please forgive me for the awful photography. I will never claim to be good at taking good photos in good lighting, nor am I any good with editing them.)

My husband groaned when I told him we had an agenda full of cleaning, organizing and decluttering for the weekend. But as soon as we started, we got in a groove and both loved the results. Cleaning can be very therapeutic for me. It makes me feel good. I love the feeling of knowing that I worked to make something look better than it was before. Plus being in a nice, clean environment just makes you feel good, ya know?

What really gets us is clutter here and there. It’s easy to start thinking we need so much stuff, but really, we don’t. I cringe and feel anxious when I see piles of clutter in my house. I try to pick up a few things every day, but it’s SO HARD to keep up! It feels like as soon as you clean one area, you turn around and there’s another problem area. But that wasn’t going to stop us from tackling it all anyway, with the promise to try and keep the areas clean. I thought, if we can devote one entire weekend to nothing but cleaning, surely, we can get it all, right? Well, mostly anyway.



Finding the Inspiration and Tips & Tricks

I was most inspired by my friend Lindsay’s blog post about living a more minimalist lifestyle. Ever since she wrote it months ago, it’s been in the back of my mind, and I put an item purge on my mental to-do list. I started becoming more aware of all the stuff I had and started feeling guilty and upset with myself that I’ve become such a hoarder and a messy jessy. Lindsay’s argument made so much sense to me. The less stuff you own, the less stuff you have to clean or keep organized, and even more compelling, the more time you have to spend on things that truly matter.

Since then, some more blogs have caught my attention on this same subject, and it seemed like the stars were aligning to give me the kick in the pants I needed to once and for all, conquer my clutter. Wifessionals gave me more inspiration by realizing the less stuff I have, the less stuff we have to pack up and move with us when we get a house. Then, Kate’s post at The Florkens gave me the idea to actually try on the old stuff I have. So glad I did, because a lot of the clothing I had that wasn’t in current frequent rotation was so easy to give up. I definitely encourage trying all items on, because just from glancing at stuff on a hanger doesn’t do the trick. By taking them out and putting on, you see the things that have stains or got stretched out, realize the pants that you can’t even zip anymore, and question your fashion choices from years ago. Then, my Cara Box partner Kathryn posted this, also about clearing the clutter. Lastly, I found this awesome guest post about how to hausfrau here. Yes, it was definitely my turn to clean all the things.

One quote I came across in searching for ideas and inspiration online said: “Cut down your closet by 25% by asking yourself, ‘If I were shopping right this second, would I buy this?’ If the answer’s no, out it goes.” That helped me a lot when it came to every area of the house … and not just the closet.

Another trick I figured out that has worked really well for me in the past is that for any item I’m hesitant if I’m ready to part with, I put it in a bag and hide it away for awhile. Then in a few months, I’ll open up the bag. Most of the time, I don’t even remember what’s in it, and that’s the sign I won’t ever miss it and it’s time to say goodbye. If I’m still in doubt though, store it for another few months and do it again. If after the second round, I didn’t miss it but am still hesitant, I suck it up and donate or toss it anyway. If I don’t draw the line somewhere, I’d keep things around forever that I never use or wear, “just in case.”

I have a habit of keeping around things I bought for a special occasion just in case the same occasion comes around again. Think themed parties. Ugly Christmas sweaters, ’80s parties, etc. 75% of the time, I never use it again. So just toss it now. If another ’80s party happens, it will probably be years down the road and my current items may not even fit then, so I’ll buy something on sale in the future to use, or just improvise and go with colorful accessories, high ponies and full-on makeup so I don’t have to spend again. In the meantime, there’s no use in it keeping around.

We’ve cleaned up our spare bedroom about four times in the past year. But it seems like as soon as we get it looking nice, all of a sudden it looks like an episode from Hoarders. What was key for us this time was not just rearranging the items, but getting rid of what was there in the first place. I had several stacks of old magazines, about three comforters and even more blankets piled in the corner, tons of empty cardboard boxes that I keep “in case we need them for moving,” several kitchen appliances that are too large to fit in the kitchen cabinets, a big ol’ stack of leftover wedding things, and who knows what else landed in there over the past few months.

Getting Started

Before we actually started the big clean, I went to the dollar store and purchased tons of different sized bins – some very small to use to store my chapsticks in the nightstand, and some larger to store the pet toys, collection of TV remotes, etc. I purchased far more than what I had actual plans for because I knew I’d end up finding a purpose for them all eventually, and can you ever really have too many bins to put stuff in? Any container you can use to store items that otherwise would be scattered somewhere is worth it.

cubeicalI also caved and finally bought a Cubeical organizer at Target because I was so sick of odds and ends on the floor in the living room. Getting them up into little storage spaces makes a world of difference. Word of advice though: Check the storage bin sizes before you buy. I accidentally came home with the teeny weeny bins when I meant to get the large bins that would actually fill each cube. Oh well, live and learn.

Getting Down to It

I decided to start a little while ago actually, and tackled some of the small areas after work on a few nights while the husband was at band practice. That’s when I was able to go through my bookcase to gather up old books I had already read and don’t plan to read again, and some I never read and know I never would, to do a swap with friends and donate what was left. I also went through the kitchen cabinets and tossed expired spices and rearranged all our food so we didn’t have to take 10 items out just to find the baking soda. We also had a knack of collecting lots of loose packets of ranch mix, sauce and dip mixes, etc., that were scattered all over the cabinet, so I repurposed a nice box of hot cocoa packets to put all the packets in. Also, I highly recommend those spinny things to keep cans and spices in.

cabinets before and after

I emptied the random drawer with medicine and band-aids, etc., and moved the contents into the bathroom closet for an actual organized space for our medicine and first aid supplies. While I was in there, it seemed as good a time as any to tidy up that closet too.

bathroom closet before and after

I organized my nightstand drawer from a cluttered mess into something actually functional again. And don’t ask me why I keep the tape in my nightstand – I really don’t know why.

nightstand before and after

I rearranged the fridge door and moved the card photos elsewhere to reduce visual clutter there, and threw out any old magnets that we got for free with logos of businesses we don’t even care about.

fridge before and after

I took the stash of pet toys that was cluttered in the corner and put them in a basket. At least the ones the animals don’t use on a daily basis. There’s still a few little kitty balls scattered around and the one bone that Brick actually chews on, and that’s enough.

pet toys

Once the smaller tasks were done, we waited till we had a weekend with zero other plans to really tackle the big spots. So pretty much my entire Saturday was spent in my closet and dressers (yes, plural because I’m a hoarder). I channeled the Florkens and tried on everything. I got pretty depressed for awhile because about HALF of the pants, shorts and skirts I used to fit in a year ago or so I could no longer zip, or if I could, it was skin tight and barely fit over my thighs. I even had to walk out in the living room to show my husband my muffin top and love handles in several garments. Then I sucked it up and continued on because what use is there in being sad about gaining some more junk in the trunk. It happens. I cleared out about five bags just of clothes to either throw away or donate.

Then I had to go through all the crap that was piled on the closet floor and on the shelf. Boy was that a mess. I hadn’t gone through that since we moved in. Yikes. I had about five purses I no longer use or even like, so many free totes I got here and there that I literally never once used, a pile of stuffed animals, ski boots that I no longer use because I don’t ski anymore, tons of belts that are very much out of style, and lots of other odds and ends. It was bad. But, I powered through and said goodbye to so much stuff.

I think the key to cleaning out a closet is to definitely take all the items out first, go through them on the bed or floor, weed out stuff you don’t want anymore, then dust/vacuum/sweep the now empty closet, then put the to-keep items back inside in an organized fashion, using those totes and baskets to hold the things like belts, scarves, etc. Also a shoe organizer is an absolute must. I know old cardboard boxes aren’t super eye appealing, but I was out of big totes, and they still worked as containers for my large items like stuffed animals (only kept my faves!) and purses. Works for me.

bedroom closet before and after

clean bedroom closet other door

Sadly, cleaning up my closet and dresser sucked up all of Saturday. Granted we did take one small break to go out to eat at a new restaurant in town. I was in no mood to cook after all that cleaning.

Sunday was the day we rallied together to hit the rest of the apartment hard. And we did! Cal handled the spare bedroom slash mancave all by himself, so I unfortunately don’t have photos of that, as I was not allowed to disturb his work … and also I was preoccupied elsewhere. That place was by far the worst, and it took him over half of the day. But finally, we can see the carpet again, the futon is a functional guest bed again, and my pile o’ wedding stuff got weeded out into one small tub and is tucked away in the closet.

I attacked the entry closet, which had become the place where we threw all our board games (and we had A LOT), coats and hoodies, cat carrier, old sewing machine, big cooler and the shoes we wear most often. I weeded out about half of the hoodies that I don’t wear anymore to free up more space and about 10 board games and puzzles we don’t play anymore. We were using the space in there really poorly, so I got a basket to put our gloves and mittens so they weren’t floppping around the shelf, and stacked the cooler and cat carrier on top of eachother on the shelf, freeing up lots of room there too. I organized our shoes to make much more sense and cleared out all the dust bunnies (there were a ton. Ick!). Sadly, I was too in the zone to remember to take photos of this space, so use your imagination.

We ended up having too much space in that closet, so we repurposed some old shelves we had laying around and put them in there to store our kitchen items that otherwise were stacked on top of the cabinets. It was such an eyesore, and I hated the kitchen because of it. Seeing pots and pans, blenders and griddles just strewn across the top up there was awful. Finally we had the perfect spot to put them that was out of sight. And now our cabinets are tidier, which makes me so happy. We left a few mugs up there as decoration, and just the couple pots and one griddle we use on a regular basis for easier access. There’s now so much space up there that Little Girl is having a heydey running around, whereas before she stumbled around and straddled the stuff. Ugh, right?!

I didn’t take a before picture, but imagine every inch of these cabinets covered in stuff. Just add a blender, popcorn popper, deep fryer, crockpot, baking dishes, and about 5 more pots and pans and you’ve got it.

clean kitchen cabinets

I feel like we did more, and we probably did a few other small things, but those big areas take a lot of time, especially when you have to combine purging, cleaning and organizing all in one. And multiple trips outside to the dumpster, finding time to eat lunch, feed the animals, take the dog out to potty, go potty yourself. Wow does it all add up, and all of a sudden you can’t believe all you did was get through one closet and it’s been four hours.

In the end when all was done, we both looked at the giant pile of items to be thrown away or donated, and said ‘Wow, we had this much stuff?!” While I’m ashamed we had collected so much stuff we didn’t use, I feel good that someone else will get the chance to use it now, and it’s fewer things taking up space in our place.

donation pile

Once the heavy lifting was done and everything was back in its place, I went did some general cleaning to put the cherry on top. I went around with my Swiffer duster and dusted any areas that weren’t involved in the clean up (small shelves holding picture frames on the wall and such), swept and Swiffered the floors, vaccumed and wiped down all counters. Last, I followed the recommendation of a pin I saw about the 15 surfaces you should be cleaning that you’re not, and went around and sanitized our light switches, door and drawer handles, sink handles, TV remotes, alarm clocks (yes we’re old school and have actual alarm clocks instead of using our phones) and any other surface that we frequently touch.

Cleaning Virtual Clutter

Sidenote: Sometimes a technology cleanup is in order too. I already decluttered my Pinterest, and cleaned up my email, which was ridiculous at over 1,000 unread emails. It’s now a nice 0. In my effort to keep it that way, I unsubscribed from many email subscriptions from stores or restuarants that I don’t really care about, because all it does is add virtual clutter.

dvrOur DVR has been near capacity for months. Like, hovering around 10-30% free. When it got down to 7%, we knew we had a problem. So we deleted a few movies and groups of shows that had been on there a long time since we knew we weren’t actually going to watch them, and during any free time worked hard at getting through what was left. After a couple weekends of hardcore DVR catch-up, we actually got it 100% cleared out. I had to take a photo because it’s never been like that since the day we got it in 2006.

Anyway, back to the weekend cleanup. By the end of the day on Sunday, I was absolutely beat. I flopped on the couch and didn’t move until bedtime. Cal had to make dinner that night because there was no way I was moving. Thankfully he was nice about it, even though he worked as hard as I did. What a guy. Side note: He’s also a great cook. Having a juicy pork roast and cheesy potatoes to top off our weekend was amazing. I know — a guy who cooks AND cleans with little to no grumbling?! AND still let me pick out the TV show to watch while we ate?! He’s all mine, ladies:)

Again, none of these photos are Pintastic and perfect, but to me, our problem areas are far better than they were, and I feel that it was all worth it. It feels so good to finally have a home again that I am actually proud of. I don’t know why it took me so long to do all of it. I think I should make this an annual event to stay on top of everything.

What are some of your tips for decluttering, reorganizing, purging or cleaning?


12 thoughts on “Conquering the Clutter: Our Apartment Overhaul

  1. You got a LOT done!!! I’m awful at organizing our apartment. I do it once every few months but that’s about as long as it lasts… a few months. My technology on the other hand? Organized to the OCD level.

  2. Oh, wow, you got rid of lots of stuff! Congrats, that’s hard to do. I love the pic of Brick’s little paws next to the dog toy basket. One problem I have is that I tend to hide all the “junk” in drawers or in closets. I hate seeing the clutter, but I also hate dealing with it so I just hide it. It’s definitely time to go through my closet again.

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  5. This helps me a lot! And phew I’m tired just from reading this – that’a lot of work, but I’m already imagining the rewarding feeling of stepping into an organized and clutter free closet, hall closet, pantry, and guest bedroom.

    • Oh my gosh, it is SO rewarding! Sometimes I still smile when I open my closet because seeing it neat and tidy is just so amazing. I hope your closet clean up is going well!

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