How to lose hundreds of pounds while still eating your favorite foods

30 10 2007

Last Wednesday I went to Tyler for a couple of appointments that ended around noon, and afterward I drove to my friend Jill’s house to mooch some lunch. As we built our salads, she asked about George’s progress on his PhD, which led to her asking what comes next after graduation, which led to my mentioning there’s always the possibility he would take a teaching position that would require our moving. Then I told her I can’t imagine trying to pack our house.

We’ve lived here for fifteen years. And for fifteen years I’ve been saying, “I may need this someday,” while stashing various items in drawers, on shelves, in closets, under beds. Sure, I’ve gone through my clothes and given some to Goodwill a few times, and George has cleaned out the attic once or twice. But still. We’ve more than maxed out the junk-o-meter, and lately I’ve been thinking–even if we don’t move–I really need to systematically purge this house of dead weight.

Jill is one of my most organized friends. Not only does she store all her possessions and paperwork in tidy containers or labeled files, she makes a habit of regularly going through drawers and cabinets, pulling out items she doesn’t use, and sorting them for proper disposal. She also has a great sense of what will sell, what is worth donating, and what should be tossed in the trash. She likes doing it, and she admitted as much again last Wednesday when I moaned about my mess. So I said, “Jill, if you’ll come to my house and help me declutter, you can have anything you want that I’m not going to keep. You can sell it on eBay or in a garage sale or keep it for yourself.”

“Okay,” she said, consulting her calendar. “How about next Monday?”

Yesterday morning around 10:00 Jill arrived on my doorstep. In anticipation of her coming I’d already spent 6-8 hours Friday and Saturday going through my closet, drawers, and bathroom cabinets. (To be honest, I was too embarrassed to let her see my really personal clutter.) She inspected my work and nodded her approval, offering only a couple of gentle suggestions regarding the bedroom “decor.” Not a lot I can do about that right now, though. When Luke was home for the summer, George moved his fancy microscope, research supplies, and a vast array of vials containing preserved earthworms from Luke’s room into ours. Let’s just say, I’m not expecting a call from House Beautiful requesting photos for their master bedroom edition.

Jill and I decided to start with the den/Jacob’s room. You know, it’s really amazing how much stuff you can cram into a closet and a few cabinets. When you haul it out into the middle of the floor it looks like a mountain. We don’t have a linen closet in this house, so the den closet shelf is one of two places where I’ve stashed sheets and towels. For years. Many years. There were ancient bathmats and toilet seat covers–stiff and rusty. A set of yellow twin sheets I bought for my college dorm room, still in the package. (I graduated from college in 1980.) Jill stared at me in disbelief. “I won’t tell anyone,” she said. The shelf was packed, wall to wall and three feet high. After going through the mound, I kept only one blanket and one bedspread and tossed the rest. (In my feeble defense, the newer linens are on a closet shelf in Luke’s room. Wall to wall and three feet high. But mostly usable.)

We worked all day tackling the den and kitchen. By late evening we’d heaped ten or so large black trash bags and several boxes by the curb for the garbage collectors. Jill collapsed the back two seats of her Ford Expedition, and we filled the entire back with items we delivered to Goodwill. AND Jill took home three or four large kitchen trash bags of clothing, a bread machine, and a shoe rack.

And that was just two rooms (plus my clothes). But it was probably the two worst ones. If you don’t count the attic. And Jacob’s old room upstairs.

So, yeah. Now I’m committed. (Jill probably thinks I should be committed–to a rehab facility for recovering pack rats.) I’m determined to attack every room, and I’m hereby making myself accountable to you. One day each week will be designated as declutter day. If I don’t report back, ask me. Please. I’m way too good at excuses when I only have to answer to myself.

In closing, let me just say that I highly recommend purging. I feel so much lighter already! In fact, I should probably celebrate. Think I’ll go declutter the pantry a tad, if you know what I mean. Jill got some good stuff, but I still have the chocolate.



11 responses

31 10 2007

So you’re one of those, eh? My husband is, too.
Problem is, when you actually do need it, you no longer know that you have it and where it would be.
I’ve been trying to declutter, but first I have to get him to declutch the hands.
And I won’t even comment on the preserved worms in vials.
Heather G.

31 10 2007

First of all, I would like to register my disappointment. I have recently de-cluttered my own house, prior to moving, and experienced none of the weight loss promised in your subject line! I am so upset by these false claims that I intend to drown them in the Halloween candy that was intended for trick-or-treaters tonight.

(Secretly, I am hoping for our usual turnout of zero trick-or-treaters so that these Kit-Kat bars can be “reassigned”.

Nope, I still have no idea why I am not losing weight…)

31 10 2007


Oh, I started doing the same thing at the beginning of the summer, but alas, I’ve gotten waylaid. You’re inspiring me to think about starting back up. Problem is, one of the rooms I cleaned out has collapsed again into despair. Does Jill hire out?

31 10 2007

Better Worms and Gardens

I am sad to hear your disdain over your wormy bedroom decor. Better Worms and Gardens, the magazine I represent, would love to do a shoot of your room. We’re especially interested in your vials of decaying worms. Nothing says home more.

Hey, Jeanne, actually it’s me, Mary. Thanks for Grace’s number!

Have a good day of decluttering,

31 10 2007

Ah, so true about not knowing what you have or where it is. I was genuinely amazed by some of the items we unearthed.

George is probably more of a pack rat than I am, but he supported this decision because I promised not to touch his personal possessions or any books. And I purposefully had Jill come on a week day when no one would be home. I don’t know how far we would have gotten if George had hovered nearby second-guessing our decisions.

As for the ew vials, I’m used to them. Some men waste every evening and weekend watching ESPN. Some camp out in hunting blinds, shooting innocent Bambis, then hanging their heads all around the house. My guy collects worms, and I’m cool with that. I figure it could be much worse.

All the best reforming your clutter bug! 🙂

31 10 2007

I hear you on the Halloween candy. Our usual turnout is the same as yours. This year, though, a little girl lives across the street, so we’ll probably get one visitor. George bought caramels and chocolate turtles “for the kids.” I’m sure he’ll be heartbroken if 99% of the stash remains in the cupboard.

I hope all your Kit-Kat bars find a loving home.

31 10 2007

Re: Decluttering

I told Jill she could make a fortune helping people organize their lives. I’ll let you know if she decides to hang out her shingle.

31 10 2007

Re: Better Worms and Gardens

Dear editor:

Alas, but our worms are not decaying. On the contrary, I imagine they will still be glowing with chemical brilliance long after our own bones have disintegrated to dust. Some far-future generation will find them in an archaeological dig and ponder what bizarre fixation would drive a culture to embalm their worms like the pharaohs of old.

At that point, my ghost will say, “You want bizarre fixations? Meet George.”

Just kidding, of course. I love my worm man. If you talk to Grace, tell her I love her madly.

xo, J.

31 10 2007

Another view

I’ve learned a lot from reading books on organizing and decluttering… but the one thing that helped me most was reading Suze Orman. She’s a financial guru but she has keen insights about what it means when we pack-rat things. I felt totally convicted when she pointed out that it indicates our basic fear (translated: lack of faith) of the future. We put things away, thinking someday we may need it and not have the resources to get a new one. We want to be frugal and be good stewards of our money and our “stuff” but deep down we are really afraid, we are really guarding against that eventual day when we will surely be destitute. Anyway, just thought I’d give you another perspective because it has completely changed my attitude about “saving stuff” and it makes decluttering much less of an emotional task.

Sounds like you are doing a HUGE job — congratulations!


31 10 2007

Re: Another view

Thank you, Rachelle.

I think you and Suze are right. Sometimes I save stuff for sentimental reasons–it was a gift or someone made it for me or whatever–but I’m sure George and I far too often fall into the category you describe. Honestly, though, after rediscovering some of our “treasures” (like the stiff bathmats–gaaahh), destitution would be preferable. 😉

6 11 2007

“Lose Two Hundred Pounds This Weekend!”

That’s my fave de-cluttering book title, by Don Aslett. I actually puchased the book ONLY for the title. And I didn’t get rid of it in any of the subsequent rounds of de-cluttering!! I am thrilled, proud, and challenged by your great progress, Jeanne. We have made another round since Kevin moved out Sept 1, and I’m ready to dig even deeper. We’ve been here 13 years, which isn’t forever, but definitely long enough for those old bath mats to turn crispy on us. Eeeeewwwww. Congrats on an impressive job!
Katy McKenna

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