This review of Katy Wells' 14 Day Clutter Crusher Challenge contains affiliate links, but it's because I have walked through the course myself and *spoiler alert* have found it to be invaluable.
A Wednesday morning not too long ago had me staring down my coffee cup, feeling both drained and not enough. Within eyesight there were dishes to be done, laundry to be washed, and a smattering of my children's toys strewn about. I needed to get dinner in the crock pot. Upstairs there was editing and emailing and designing awaiting their turn. All were things I loved to do as a photographer, but they inevitably became a checklist in the face of this mountain of duties before me.
Something had to change.
Housework has never been my favorite activity (is it anyone's?). While I enjoy living in a clean environment, I've never been particularly good at accomplishing the daily mundane tasks that are required as an adult female. I've learned to accept it, but I don't relish it like some women I know. I can't tell you how many times I've been embarrassed by a surprise visit from a friend at my doorstep, and though I love being hospitable, I don't love inviting people into a messy home. Having newborn twins was double the mess AND double the amount of helpers constantly in our home--a very vulnerable place to be.
All of our photos from those early baby days are laden with cluttery backgrounds. I cringe sometimes. Other times I know deep down that I made a point to be a mother present with her children instead of constantly preoccupied with having a perfect home. There is some comfort in that.
It's also why I would NEVER expect a family with a newborn to be living in a perfectly tidy home when I come for their photo session. No way, mama. You've got too much on you.
My husband's plan is and always has been: "Let's get rid of all our stuff." He was happy to have only a few pairs of shoes and wanted me to follow suit when we were newlyweds. "Why do you need more than one pair?" he would ask. Yeah... no. Sneakers with dresses ain't happening on my watch, mister. Neither are flats on a hike.
It didn't take long into our marriage to figure out that my husband and I approached our possessions from radically different points of views.
My husband grew up as an only child who never had a concern for anything he was given, whereas I was raised in a single-income family of six and couldn't be sure that I would have what I needed if I let something go.
It seemed that I had what I would come to learn is a "scarcity mindset" where you hang on to things for longer than you should because deep down you believe that a) there are a limited amount of resources available to you, b) it might be useful to you SOMEDAY (even though you might not have used or even thought of it in years), and c) it is wasteful to get rid of perfectly good things.
Knowing this about myself has caused me to do a lot of work trying to unlearn these thought patterns. I read the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which is a great intro to keeping only things that spark joy in your life. "Imagine being surrounded by only the things I love," I would think. I watched her show with my kids and learned to fold our clothing a certain way, practiced going through my closet every season, and thanking an object for its use before letting it go.
I learned about zone cleaning and letting go of perfection through FlyLady, whose website looks like it's from the 1950s but whose wisdom is enduring.
I tried to systematize things. I made chore charts. SO MANY CHORE CHARTS. For myself, for my kids, for my husband. EVERYONE loved it, OBVIOUSLY. ;-) In a perfect world, everyone would do their part and get on board with the program, but I soon found myself turning into the nagging wife and mom. I hated it.
Even with all of my effort, I still felt like I was the stuff manager at our house--a role I never wanted, didn't ask for, and constantly FAILED at being.
That Wednesday morning as I was trying to keep myself from sinking further into feelings of failure, my mind's eye went to a memory from college years ago.
A few students from the dance team put together a short show for the school. It went as follows: There was one lone dancer in the center of a circle with other figures outside the circle dressed in black and holding large trash bags. The girl in the center danced around her space, enjoying her freedom of movement until the figures in black walked forward and dumped the contents of their trash bags (crumpled up newspaper) into the circle. Over and over again, the girl tried to push the newspaper out of the circle regaining her sense of order, and over and over again the other people dumped out their trash bags into her space until she was literally buried in the trash.
That was the whole show.
It was pretty simplistic, and I remember some other students snickering about it on our way out of the auditorium, but the picture of being buried in trash has stuck with me and come back on several occasions--usually in the context of emotional or spiritual trash being unmanageable.
"Well that's just it," I said aloud to no one in particular, "what do you do when people keep dumping trash on you?"
And there it was plain as day, my lightbulb moment: Get rid of the trash.
Get rid of it. Let it go. Take back your space. Stop letting your stuff dictate life and own you.
Call it a godsend, call it Google being creepy, but a few days after I had shared my epiphany with my husband (who looked like he'd just won the Super Bowl and was trying to stuff the glee inside), I saw an ad for Katy Wells' 14 Day Clutter Crusher Challenge.
If you are unfamiliar with Katy like I was, she is the host of the Maximized Minimalist podcast, and describes herself as "helping women stop living on the modern-day hamster wheel of motherhood, by providing expert advice on achieving a life with MORE, by having LESS."
Uh... heck yes, get me OFF of this fricken' hamster wheel!!!! 14 Day Challenge here we go.
Day One came and I was ready. Had my sweats on, my sleeves rolled up, my donation box ready to go. Ready to get shit done!
And that's when Katy hit me with the first project: Developing your WHY.
All those times that I had plunged forward into sorting, organizing or cleaning, I don't think I had ever paused and thought about WHY I wanted to to do this. I mean, I KNEW why. But I had never taken the time to thoughtfully sit down and write out exactly why I wanted a clutter-free home.
Here's that I wrote:
I want to have a clutter-free home because...
I want to have the freedom to read a magazine if I want to... to actually have free time
I want to stop nagging my kids to clean their rooms every time THEY have free time
I want to enjoy and find rest at home
I want my brain to be able to think and not be so distracted by the clutter of things left undone
As we got further into the challenge I could tell that this was going to be different from other decluttering projects I had done. Most of this had to do with Katy. She breeds success because she incorporates the following things:
- She provides a framework of material for you to work through--a path to follow.
- She breaks things into bite-sized chunks--only 20 minutes a day is absolutely do-able.
- She provides community in the form of a Facebook group and does a great job fostering engagement. I felt like we were a team by the end!
- She shows up on time to her Facebook live groups and commits to keeping the trainings short and sweet.
- She has two new kittens running around. I mean, who doesn't love that?!
But the most compelling part about Katy is that she has walked in our shoes.
She knows what it is like to overcome mental and physical hurdles to living with less while mothering and that makes her the best guide out there in your decluttering journey.
She knows the pain points and the frustrations that you may have. Paper piles and school projects everywhere? She has a teaching and a system for that. Toys taking over the house? She's got ya.
Her non-judgemental approach makes it easy to start wherever you are with as much as you want to handle. She will gently push you in the right direction and be your biggest cheerleader when you succeed.
She's ready and actually TELLS YOU to celebrate every little small win you share.
Day after day I chose a hotspot to tackle and was pleasantly surprised at the progress being made. Starting with the surfaces and counters made a clear and immediate difference to my home's overall feel. My donation box slowly began to fill of things I was ready to let go of.
On about Day 5 I was cleaning out my sock drawer trying to figure out exactly how many tights one woman needs for the winter. I came across a little stash of letters and art that some of my more artistically-minded friends have sent me over the years. I opened each letter and read every word, taking in each art piece lovingly made and was suddenly overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude for these beautiful souls who have seen and affirmed who I was (especially when I have felt otherwise). Such friends are pure gold. Totally cried there, standing over my sock drawer.
It suddenly made the decision about which tights to keep seem so irrelevant. The tights were possessions, the letters were gold. I grabbed a pen and quickly scribbled this down...
It became my mantra throughout the remainder of the challenge. Trouble deciding about that garlic press that someone gave you? "Hold on to what you treasure, let go of all the rest."
On Katy's advice, I boxed up all of the twins' toys and let them choose six toys to keep out. They picked out their favorite ones, hugged their other toys goodbye (up to the attic for now), and since then cleaning up their room hasn't taken more than 5 minutes each night because six toys takes almost no time to put away.
I was afraid they'd give me a lot of pushback about not having access to their toys, but when they saw how orderly their room was they actually THANKED ME knowing full well that I had removed 90% of their toys.
Every month, they will get to rotate their toys for "new ones" from the attic, giving them a chance to really play with all of their toys. It also gives me an opportunity to see which toys don't matter to them and can be considered for donation.
*Sidenote* They did give me a run for their money a few days later when they decided they were going "camping" which means they pulled out MOST of their clothing and jewelry, stuffed it into their backpacks, leaving piles of unfolded clean clothing littered all over the floor. This mama was NOT happy.
Though this challenge taught me lots of great new tips and tricks to improve on the systems that I already had, the thing I noticed the most is that my approach to my home was slowly changing. Instead of looking at an item and asking, "Will this come in handy someday?" I now ask, "Will I feel lighter without it?"
I give myself permission to use the "maybe" box for items that I'm not sure about donating. If I can live without them for a few weeks without thinking about it, they get out of purgatory and are released to thrift store heaven where they may be exactly what someone else was looking for.
I'm learning that this is a marathon, not a sprint. Decluttering is a part of life that I'm committed to and am actively incorporating into my daily routines. There is some heavy lifting at first, but it does get easier and lighter as you go.
Cleaning my kitchen takes all of about 10 minutes now. My bedroom takes less than that.
I'm breathing easier, I'm sleeping deeper, and I *almost* pulled out a magazine the other day. Let's not get too excited.
Get ready to do some hard work and face your inner dialogue, but I genuinely do not think you'll regret it.
It is well worth the investment when you consider how your life could change for the better through her course. Trust me, I've tried a few.
Get out there and go crush some clutter! (And then tell me about it!)