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The war on clutter

The war on clutter

August 13, 2006

It was years ago,when I was trying to organize my old house, that someone had suggested flylady. I did it for awhile. I thought the organization tips were good, but the cleaning schedule didn’t really work for me. Like any schedule it is only as good as you are about sticking to it, and I am not so good with schedules of any kind.

I hate being told what to do by anyone, even a schedule I have made myself. My husband says it is because I act like I am still a teenager. And to that I say, “Whatever

But one of the things that I really liked was, what the flylady called, the 27 thing fling. Which basically means get a garbage bag and find 27 things to throw away and then throw them away. I did this daily the until I didn’t have one more cluttery piece of garbage in my home. It was really nice.

But I fell off the flinging wagon. And then three years ago we moved to a house that is easily five times as large which means that there are five times squared as many places for clutter to accumulate. And accumulate it has. I have found myself saying recently that just because we have a place for something doesn’t mean we need to keep it.

I think what appealed to me about this what that it was easy to accomplish and had a finite end, unlike cleaning out the hall closet which, if you are anything like me, goes like this:

1) In a moment of mania and uncharacteristic energy decide to undertake this task that must be accomplished RIGHT NOW.

2) One hour later regret the decision while you are surrounded by piles of stuff that have no home and you don’t know what you should do with.

3)Sit amid the stuff for another hour while you sigh loudly, play with the ends of your hair, and feel overwhelmed.

4) Decide that the only way to finish this is to go have a few stiff drinks and “think” about your game plan. Maybe watch a few shows on HGTV for inspiration.

5) Three days later, stuff it all back into the closet a little more messy than it was before and convince yourself that it was time well spent, because now you at least know what is in there.


Yesterday I was looking around the house and decided that I really need to undertake this thing flinging again. But I decided to alter it a bit.

Since my house is so large and in such a cluttery state due to seven children who think it is their job to collect every stray rock, stick, gum wrapper, bottle cap, and broken piece of plastic they encounter on a daily basis and store it in their bedroom like some sort of large recycling center that I will do the 54 thing fling every day.

EVERY DAY until all the crap that is cluttering up my cabinets, drawers, floors, baskets, bins, attic (ACK!), and children’s bedrooms is gone, safely conatined in garbage bags at our town dump. When that happens I will be living in the serene minimalist environment known as a mental institution. that I desire.

I picked up a garbage bag and began. One I reached 54 I tied up the bag and tossed it into the outside garbage can, lest some of the items try to escape and reproduce somewhere in a dark corner.

So what did I get rid of? Mostly Barbie clothes, old pieces of mail, and items from my junk drawer that I could no longer even identify. Though I am sure if I had held each of the dust covered little things up my children could tell me what they were. And also how they could not possibly live without the item.

After I finished I went to the refrigerator and grabbed a Mike’s hard cranberry lemonade. I sat down to revel in my now 54 thing free-er environment. Out of the corner of my eye I saw my 10 year old son stealthily reach into the garbage bag.

“Hey, what are you doing?” I yelled.

He held up the bottle cap I had just tossed. “For my collection, Mom.” he answered.

Then he stuck it in his pocket and walked away.

Though I may be challenged at every turn, I will prevail. My efforts will not be thwarted.

Tomorrow I throw away 55 things. Ha.

Updated to add:
I added a link over there on the left sidebar to chronicle the things I find in this hovel house that I throw away.

Posted by Chris @ 6:57 am  

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  1. Elizabeth says:

    I found this interesting because just this morning I looked around my living room and declared that TODAY would be the day I would sign up for Flylady!

    My problem isn’t with things that need throwing away, it’s with things that have a use, but aren’t where they belong. And, I am a TERRIBLE piler. I pile up magazines, mail, books, you name it. Good luck with the flinging!

  2. Heather says:

    I have been a FlyLady member for-Ikid you not-6 years (back when I only had one tornado in the house)! You would think after all that time my house would be neat and tidy. Did I mention I now have 3 kids?

    She gets overwhelming at times so I just go on “vacation mail” and ignore for a bit as the dust and clutter piles up around me. Never once in those 6 years have I officially unsubscribed. It seems to make me feel better knowing someone is waiting in the wings to tell me how to fix it all.

    I think it’s just about time to reactivate the mail and see if the ones I don’t delete can help me out of this pit.

  3. owlhaven says:

    I have been doing the 27 thing fling sporadically for several years. I even send my kids into their own rooms to find 27 of their own things to toss. But the 54 thing fling, now, that’s a good idea, esp when you have as many kids as we do. I think I may have to try that. I might actually have a prayer of making some inroads at that rate.

    Mary, mom to many

  4. Novaks8 says:


    If I have learned ONE thing in my years as a mom, it is to always use a bag that they can’t see through (preferably black plastic) or, if you must use a Target bag, stuff it under something in the garbage can.

    They WILL want to keep everything you toss.

  5. Chookooloonks says:


    Chris, for this tip alone, you just became my very best friend. My house is so cluttered right now, I just want to MOVE. Everyone better watch out — if they sit still too long, they’re getting flung, baby.

    Thanks so much. Seriously. THANK YOU.

  6. Jamie says:

    Good for you…I hate clutter. And it is so hard to declutter when kids want to save everything! It makes me crazy. When my 4-year-old visits her g-parents I do a purge of all the McDonald’s Happy Meals toys, etc. I also like that you rewarded yourself with a Mike’s Hard Cranberry….I love the entire Mike’s lineup! ;)

  7. Jennifer says:

    I tried flylady and cancelled after less than a day. I couldn’t take all the emails. And cleaning the sink so much. And all that dusting. ACK. Flylady was killing me.

    The throwing out the 27 things is good though. Very good. I will definitely have to try that. Tomorrow I’ll throw out 27 items of clothing I havne’t worn in over two years. Make that 270 items of clothing.

  8. Aubri says:

    Amen. Amen. Amen. I tried that whole flylady thing too, as did my mother, and my best friend. None of us do it anymore. I personally was overwhelmed by the sea of e-mails, I just couldn’t take it! I guess it works for some people… just not us! I do like the 54-thing-fling idea… I’m going to uh “borrow” it! Thanks Chris, as usual, you’re brilliant!

  9. menoblog says:

    I’ve never heard of flylady, but i love the idea. I’m a thrower-awayer by nature, but it would be nice to have some encouragement.

    But how do i get my husband to do it as more than 3/4ths of the crap in our house is his?

  10. Dallas says:

    You’ve pushed me over the anonymous reader edge to de-lurk and holler “I KNOW” about the dumpster divers living under my roof. Currently targeted in my house is a pheasant feather (from an authentic pheasant…eeeew) that I’ve tried to throw away at least three times. Without remembering to immediately take the garbage out to the dumpster. Maybe on “anti-procrastination” day…

    Love your writing. Regards.

  11. Julie says:

    I love the idea of getting rid of junk in my house or my husband’s personal pit, the garage. But, assuming some of this stuff isn’t actual non-functioning, non-recycleable garbage, I feel the need to de-lurk and suggest something like freecycle.org. You can ignore me, but my tree-hugging soul felt compelled to mention it. Of course, that’s exactly why I’m NOT getting rid of all my junk. I feel compelled to freecycle, recycle, or reuse until my little green soul is quiet and so it just sits, waiting for someone else to come along and declare that they absolutely can not live without the June 1997 issue of Cosmo or a mushroom brush shaped like a pizza. Good luck.

  12. chris says:

    I feel quite certain that no one wants matchbox cars with broken wheels, or playing cards where half of them are missing and stored in a ripped container.

    But, while I have given things to freecyclers, used appliances, furniture, sports equipment, etc there is a freedom in letting actual garbage go. I am far more likely to give my still useable junk to Goodwill so I don’t have to try and co-ordinate pick up times with freecycling people who don’t show up half the time.

    I highly doubt ANYONE wants a back issue of Cosmo, toss it in your recycling bin and be done with it.

  13. Amah says:

    You didn’t say whether the 54 is per day or per week but whether you freecycle, recycle, or donate - remember that NO ONE least of all Goodwill or Sallies wants items that are in such bad shape that they can’t resell. Our newspaper just ran an article about using those places as a “dumpster” and the amount of money it costs for them to dispose of items that are broken, torn, moldy, bent, old, threadbare etc.

    Other than that - it’s a great idea - think I can hypnotise my husband into doing that with his “work” stuff. hehehe

  14. T in HD says:

    What is it with kids that they must keep *every* candy wrapper, bit of string, rock, stick, leaf, piece of cellophane, scrap of paper, broken bits of crap….GARBAGE!! Argh. Honestly, we don’t need toys around here. The kids are perfectly happy to collect and play with rubbish. Throw in coloured pencils and drawing paper and they’re never bored. Why am I trying to find places for all of these toys? When school starts, I’m hitting that playroom with a vengance. They’ll never notice what they don’t see me toss. And the little one can’t talk yet. Bwahaha.

    I tried FlyLady a couple of times but I’m an organizational freak myself and couldn’t do things her way. I have do it my way. Did I mention I’m a control freak, too? ;-P Yeah, I’m fun to live with.

  15. bek says:

    I have never heard of Flylady….but I am going to look it up.

    I love the idea of 54 things. I do the same thing you do…start a project, can’t finish it and then shove it all back in the closet. My husband is of the “take 10 minutes and do what you can” school of thought. I think this way is a good inbetween place…..

    The clutter is winning in my house….

  16. Daisy says:

    This is one reason I love composting — it gives me more room in the garbage can for junk! Composting has cut down significantly on our kitchen garbage, and the result (and its effect on the garden) is very satisfying. So..is 27 a magic number? Can I do a 20 or 30 thing fling and have the same result?

  17. kit says:

    I love the idea of the 27 fling…it means you can stop after 27 and do something else, rather than run yourself to shreds trying to finish the playroom in one day. Hiding what I bin from the kids is the hardest bit though. How do you get them to give up the ton of paper that is only half drawn on, but those squiggles are important to them? We have about a forest s worth of important drawings and years more of their childhood to go.

  18. peepnroosmom says:

    I love the idea of flinging things. Sadly I have lots of clutter. I also have an 11 yr old who saves every bit of trash he gets his hands on.

  19. Karen says:

    Ah, you seem to be in the same state of mind I am. My current clutter war is the basement, but I am eyeing the rest of my house already too. It’s amazing how many incomplete and broken things accumulate in our house. All of which are totally indispensable for the kids of course. At least, if they see them.

    They seem to forget about them if I just toss. Just have to make sure in a different room from the kids.

    The dump attendants must hate me, I just filled bag #105 in the basement.


  20. Suburban Turmoil says:

    Great idea. I need to do this on a more regular basis. I live with a bunch of packrats and it is so frustrating…

  21. Julie says:

    Ok, I was inspired and got my butt in gear. I grabbed a target bag and wondered through my downstairs. Most of it got hauled over to the recycling bin: Good bye stacks of old magazines. Goodbye receipts I kept “just in case” for things I have already used way too often too return. Hello countertop space! Hello bookshelf! Tomorrow: the bathroom closet.

    And our freecyclers tend to stand us up, too. I have had a perfectly good air conditioner sitting in my garage waiting to be given away and people just don’t show up. It’s unbelieveable.

  22. Steph. says:

    Why are little boys such collectors? My son is seven and exactly the same way. Even worse, he leaves them in his shorts pockets and I don’t catch them before we wash. I’ve pulled out some really clean pieces of gravel in the bottom of my washer. I could throw away 54 things just from one of his desk drawers. HA!

    I tried Flylady too and the constant email reminders drove me nuts. But, I plan to go back to that site once school starts so I can start making a dent in things. I like the fling thing too–I may have to start that a few days early. Fight the good fight in those clutter wars! HA!

  23. lorianne says:

    I have a “5-things put away” cleaning routine that I use when the house starts to get out of control. Basically, each time I enter a room I have to put 5 things away…it can be a piece of paper in the garbage, hang up a jacket, glass in the dishwaher, etc. You would be amazed how many times you enter a room and go shoot! now I have to put 5 things away. Doesn’t take a lot of time, doesn’t interrupt what you are doing, but really makes a difference in a couple of days. Sometimes I get the kids involved by saying…Put 5 things away and then we will read a book! Works for me. 27 is waay beyong my attention span!!

  24. Daisy says:

    I found a solution to the half-squiggled and old art works dilemma. I sent them to Grandpa who lived in another state. He decorated his house with his grandkids art, he was happy, I was happy, and kids knew everything went to a good home. :)

  25. Shelly says:

    I tried flylady for a while too, and just couldn’t deal with all the email and the schedule. But I loved the Super Fling Boogie…thanks for the reminder!

  26. Jess says:

    Hey, were you writing about me in the beginning of this post? I didn’t leave the contents of the closet out for three days, maybe more like a week and a half, and then stuffed it all back inside. I do the same with the kids’ closets–taking everything out and then putting most of it back. As soon as these kids go back to school (3 of them, at least) I’m all over the closet thing. But I can at least chuck 27 things. And where did she come up with the number 27? Is there a Karmic magic in the number 27? Inquiring minds want to know.

  27. Wooden Porch says:

    Oh goodness, I’m so much like you when it comes to cleaning out closets. I have to set my “flylady timer” (ok, walmart version) for five minutes and then walk away or else I spend days on a project like that!

    I’m a flylady member and when I subscribed I choose the option to receive only one email a day from her. She lumps all the emails into one, otherwise it’s overwhelming!!

    Here’s the link if anyone’s interested in flylady: http://www.flylady.net

  28. Kim says:

    Oh Chris you have re-inspired me to de-shitify my house in the same manner. I used to do flylady and it was helpful to a point. I am much like you and hate to be told what to do. To me it’s akin to having teeth pulled without the benefit of valium, novacaine, and laughing gas. Tomorrow I start flinging things too.

  29. InterstellarLass says:

    Sadly, it feels like the War on Clutter is no easier to win than the War on Drugs. I’ve got most of my flinging confined to my office. Now I just avoid going in there.

  30. Chris says:

    It about kills me to throw anything away. I have serious issues in that area. Ask my husband. I did declutter all of my kid’s clothes. Now there is a huge mountain in my bedroom to go into boxes. At least I took a step in the right direction.

    As far as the flylady clean thing. She is a little too scary for me. Who wants to do all that crap? That’s why I hired a cleaning lady a few months ago. Every two weeks she comes and makes my house look like a million bucks. Take that flylady!

  31. Susan says:

    I have SIX YEARS worth of baby and little boy clothes piled on my guest bed. They have been there since June. There are no babies or little boys (of those sizes) in this house, nor will there be any time soon. Now I’m all inspired to sort the clothes and GIVE THEM AWAY.

    Although honestly it was the Mike’s Lemonade that really got me going.

  32. The Lazy Organizer says:

    Go organizers!!!

  33. meredith says:

    I am home alone today, and very inspired to go and do this in both of my girls rooms.

  34. Christina says:

    I just did some serious flinging in my house last week, I was able to freecycle some of it, but out of 6 people supposed to come pick up good kids clothes and other wonderful items only 4 showed up, not a very good percentage I think. Oh well, did keep quite a lot of it out of the garbage, but now the rest goes out. I can’t do the item count thing, I just pick up a garbage bag and go thru the house filling it up, when it’s full I’m done for the day.

  35. madre-terra says:

    You are a Goddess!!! For me, it’s not the kids (and I have only two). It’s the husband. I don’t think that he would sit still for 10 things being thrown away. He’s a re-use and recycling freak.
    My children think that dumpster diving is a national pastime. So, I would modify your technique and have to have mutiple bags for sorting.
    1. paper, glass, plastice recyclables
    2. stuff to donate to shelters
    3. stuff that I think is total junk but husband assures me is a treasure to someone somewhere…maybe we have to have a yard sale because whatever goes into this bag has value.
    4. stuff that we can put out on the sidewalk with a “free stuff” sign on it because surely someone wants this stuff.
    5. stuff to sell on ebay because surely there is someone out there that collects this stuff.
    6. stuff that we need to keep because it’s good stuff and someday we are going to know someone who needs that.
    What I really want is a dumpster. Think I can hide it in the driveway and throw away everything before he notices?
    Good luck today on your next 54 things……

  36. I Dressed Myself says:

    Back in the days when I was younger and still lived with my parents, it was my mom who would rescue things out of my bag of things to get rid of.
    Mom- You’re throwing out this jacket?
    Me- I haven’t worn it in 2 years and it’s not even water proof anymore.
    Mom- It’s still a perfectly good jacket. If you don’t want it I’ll take it myself.

    Then she would wear it one day to prove that it was still a perfectly good jacket. And then it would disappear into the abyss that is her closet.

    She has gotten a lot better about the house in general, but her clothing collection is out of control.

  37. ben says:

    Speaking of things that shouldn’t be donated, I know somebody that went to THREE goodwill centers before she found one that was unattended so she could leave her old washing machine.

    Ya know, after two folks say “no thanks” it really is time to look for the town dump.

  38. Kristen says:

    When I was home with a baby and a toddler, I subscribed to Flylady as well, and I did find the flings VERY useful. Like you, my clutter has totally built up again - and I’m finding that “bigger kid” clutter is a much bigger pain - all those tiny parts to toys strewn about, game pieces, runaway blocks and legos…aarrgghh!!

    Thanks for the fling reminder - it’s fairly easy to do and gives you a sense of tangible accomplishment when you’re done.

  39. But Momma says:

    I’m also the woman standing in the middle of the closet clutter wondering what in the heck I’ve just done. I try to wait till my Mom comes, then I get a big case of “I’ll show her. I CAN throw away junk.”

    Love the 54 Thing Fling! Gonna try it on the first day of school. :)

  40. jody2ms says:

    Awesome idea. I started on my own room. Yikes, do I have some junk!!!

  41. Civil War Officers Hat Grey says:

    Civil War Officers Hat Grey…

    Most were captured from the Nationalists during the Chines…