The end of the school year also marked the end of one of the most miserable jobs I've ever had to do; the last day of school was also the last day of my home daycare, and the first day of summer vacation was my first day of freedom from that life-sucking family. It meant we could finally have our lives back and our home back. Our family was free.
It also meant I could finally tackle that massive organizing and purging project I'd been itching to do ever since those little maniacs started spending nine hours a day systematically destroying everything in our home they could get their little hands on.
It was an enormous project. Half our home had been uprooted by this accidental daycare scenario and the sudden subsequent realization that the kids, completely unparented their entire lives, were more like toddlers than children their age; there was a hurried packing away of things that would ordinarily stay out, a quick installation of out-of-reach shelves for breakables, a tucking away of untouchable treasures and favourite toys in bedrooms (the only off-limits area of the house to the daycare kids.) Everything had to be returned to its home - a perfect opportunity to pick over and purge those things we might not need anymore. And while we were sorting and purging and reorganizing anyway, why not go through everything, not just the toys? All the clothes? All the drawers, all the shelves, all the cupboards and closets and bins?
We've been in this home almost four years now - longer than I've ever stayed put in any place since my childhood home. Four years is long enough to accumulate a lot of unnecessary stuff, even for someone as obsessive about organization and compulsive about decluttering as I. Paperwork piles up, files get filled, odds and ends get tucked away into boxes and cupboards and forgotten, the kids' stuff slowly creeps in the corners of every room almost unseen until it almost takes over. It happens - it happened here - and this summer it was time to purge.
It was a project almost paralysing in its sheer enormity. Where do you start? How do you start? How can you get to everything without literally tearing the house apart?
Be methodical. Start in one area with one goal and move forward from there. Don't start anything without finishing, don't close anything you've opened or put down anything you've picked up without making a decision about it and following through.
Since the end of the school year brought with it the usual piles and piles of paper - tests and quizzes, worksheeets, projects, artwork - I started there. I do an annual cull of the kids' art anyway - I keep everything they make at home or at school in a big Rubbermaid drawer tower in my bedroom closet, one drawer per kid, all year. Then, each summer (the natural year end for anyone with school-age kids) we go through the drawers and purge ruthlessly (well, as ruthlessly as we can). The year's favourites are put on display and the rest of the keepable collection gets boxed and stored.
Then I moved on to the rest of our closet, which also acts as home office and houses our computer and filing cabinets (for a teeny tiny townhouse we have an awful lot of closet space). Three full bins of recycling, a big bag of garbage and a bag full of clothes to donate went out. Next, our dresser and bookshelves, then out into the hall to the linen closet. By the time those spaces were done I had a little pile of items I wanted moved downstairs to the "everything cupboard" (everyone's got one of these, even someone as organizationally OCD as me - an everything cupboard, a junk drawer, a little catch-all bin under the sink - somewhere to keep the miscellaneous everything that makes its way into your house, doesn't have a proper home, and needs to be somewhere you can put hands on it on a fairly regular basis. the school calendar, a phone charger, extra batteries, candles and a lighter, a mini flashlight. That sort of thing.)
The everything cupboard is in the kitchen, so the kitchen cleanout followed. Then the pantry, then the living and dining rooms. Every item in every nook and cranny. Back upstairs to the kids' bedrooms for an enormous clearout - all toys which originally belonged in the basement moved back down there and a massive soul-searching examination of every book, poster and toy to determine whether we'd possibly outgrown them.
And finally, the basement. The playroom purge and the crawlspace storage cleanout.
It was a disaster of epic proportions, since clearing out the rest of the house meant stacks of items had piled up in every corner of the basement waiting to be sorted into their proper places.
The kids were fantastic - though they're normally little hoarders, they actually agreed to donate or toss toys they'd outgrown or that were wearing out. We went through every bin, every drawer and every shelf. We picked through every toy, puzzle, board game and book. We purged an absolute ton of stuff, we pared down and consolidated some of our storage solutions, we re-thought where and how we used things; we moved the craft drawers to the newly cleaned out everything cupboard in the kitchen (since all our crafting seems to take place at the kitchen table lately) and tossed the craft table to the curb; we hung the costumes and props in an underused child-height cupboard under the stairs and threw out the enormous dress-up chest.
Our basement has pretty much doubled in size. Our house feels hundreds of pounds lighter.
If it's been a while since you've done a major decluttering, I challenge you to start one. Be methodical, take it a box, a closet, a room at a time. Be thoughtful, be practical, be decisive. You'd be amazed how easy it is once you get started, and you'd be amazed at the difference an organized home makes to your peace of mind.
There is literally not a single item in this house that I haven't laid hands on and made a decision about. I have never felt such a sense of organizational zen. It's a fantastic feeling!