Burning Polly Pocket: My Clutter-Clearing Fantasy

I can tell it’s officially spring because yesterday I was hit with an overwhelming urge to take everything in my house, pile it in the driveway and burn it.

In my pyromaniacal fantasy I haul room-fulls of stuff out into the street and pile it up until all my precious individual things have blurred into an undifferentiated mountain of shit. I’d pack a suitcase like I would if we were going on vacation for two weeks and set it aside and those possessions would become my only possessions.

Nothing else would be spared: clothes, kitchen utensils, catalogs, educations toys, not-so-educational toys, paperwork, dish-ware, table runners, cute baskets full of pencils and extra tape, home improvement essentials and project leftovers, gardening bits and pieces I save, “just in case,” – all would go on the pile. (Books would be spared. Even in my anti-materialism fantasy bender I take the care to set books aside to donate.)

I’d finish off junk mountain with the extra canister of two-stroke gasoline we keep in the shed and strike the Zippo lighters I haven’t used in a decade to really get that mountain blazing. I figure I’d have news helicopters and the police cars at my house within about 10 minutes.

"Girls, does it feel kinda warm in here to you?"

Call it Organization by Cop: jail decor is quite minimalist, I’d imagine.

Of course, arson is not a good way to declutter. I know that, and my fantasy will remain just so. In the meantime, I am confronting, yet again, how much shit I own.

This happens every year. It’s as if the Inspirational Goddess of Spring Cleaning watched Hoarders and freaked out a little just before she came to my house.

Other than garden stuff, a handful of books and those yoga pants I had to buy in my new, officially larger size, I don’t think I’ve purchased anything for home or me in years. The last major clothing purchase I made was a few maternity pants and tanks, and that was about 2 years ago now.

The kids don’t get doted on via shopping either. My son has a thrift store wardrobe and I have purchased exactly one toy for him. It was a dump truck made from eco recycled plastic or something, and I bought it because, even though he was 15 months old and couldn’t have cared less, it was Chirstmas and I was pretty sure not getting my kid at least one toy at Chirstmas would make me a shitty mom.

I shouldn’t have bothered. With no help from me that kid has more toys than he knows what to do with, and he still prefers the tupperware drawer.

(Speaking of tupperware drawers, where the hell are all my lids? I think the containers must get hungry at night and eat their own lids. Tupperware cannibalism is the only explanation for the consistent lid attrition I’ve suffered.)

My daughter is reaching the age where she’s discerning. She recently turned eight and made a list of everything she wanted for her birthday.

This is it:

  • Sleepover with Grace (her best friend)
  • Movie with treats (popcorn) during sleepover
  • Lots of attention
  • No chores
  • Waffles for breakfast
  • New bike (her old one was painfully too small for her, having been purchased when she was 4)
  • New set of pens (her brother has systematically chewed the tips off her old set of markers)
  • Elizabeth Swan figure for Pirates of the Caribbean Lego ship (she was very disappointed that the Black Pearl Lego set did not come with any girl figures)

She got every single thing on that list, and we threw in a few books for good measure. I was such a zombie when she turned seven (her brother had kept me awake for 6 months at that point) I probably would have dropped serious coin to assuage my mama guilt – thrown a big whole-class party or something – but her requests were so reasonable I couldn’t not grant them all.

But if you ignore the birthday, she’s not spoiled for possessions either. Books, maybe, but other stuff happens on holidays and birthdays or she buys it with money she earns.

So I can’t really tell you where all this stuff comes from. I just know my house feels positively stuffed with it right now.

I oscillate between a desire to have a home comprised entirely of clear, clean, clutter-free minimalist surfaces (“Surfaces, darling! Surfaces!”) and celebrating my Grandpa’s Depression-era mentality on frugal living: “You got to have a certain amount of shit hanging around.”

At the moment I’m feeling more surfaces than grandpa’s garage. It’s not that I dislike my stuff. On the contrary, if an item has made it this far in my house, and through this many fits of anti-stuff mania, there is a very good chance I find it either useful or beautiful, or both. For the most part, we have good stuff: well-made furniture, good cookware and knives, useful and transporting books that I cling to like childhood friends.

But even the items that have made the cut in past years are on the chopping block now. Adding another child to our family has brought ten times the stuff maintenance to our home: clean-up, put-away, tidy, wash, manage the possessions ad nauseum. I hate spending my time this way, sorting small things into small containers over and over and over while my toddler son dumps those same containers on the floor, over and over. And over.

And so I cling to this hope, irrational though it may be, that if I can reduce the stuff I will reduce the work.

Every year, I hold out this hope. I haul things to the donation station. I recycle, I toss. And the next year – every year – I wonder yet again where the hell all this shit has come from.

But this year will be different. It has to be different. If not, look for me on the evening news. I’ll be the crazy lady with the sooty clothes and the melted plastic toys stuck to her driveway.


One of my favorite bloggers recently posted about toys and kids and the clutter monster too, and offered a few practical ideas beyond pyromania for handling this aspect of householding. If you feel my pain on this topic, you’ll feel hers too. 


  1. says

    I find myself flipping between the same mindset, especially right now. Part of me wants to ditch everything in sight. This place is full, and I know it, and I think I would like some more room and a lot less stuff to dust. But at the same time, I know that it’s full of cast iron pots and pans, canning jars, seed starting supplies, books, food storage, and all manner of useful things that I think are worthwhile and necessary. And so I’m decluttering, but it’s slow. Just a box or a bag at a time, really, as I filter through the useful stuff and find the bits in between that it would be best to get rid of. It’s slow, and not really so fun, but it seems to be working.

  2. Liisa says

    Great post. I wrote on this same topic (Nothingness) on my blog about a month ago. I’m still working through the $hit in my house.

  3. says

    It’s kind of a cliché but when William Morris said, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” he was RIGHT. I strive to have each thing in my home be beautiful or at least attractive in its usefulness. On the other hand, depending on how my house is behaving I sometimes want to set fire to all my stuff while it’s still in place and take care of two of my issues at once.

    The problem is that I feel deep seated guilt for tossing anything. Items that can be recycled or passed along are not a problem, but the cheap useless crap that we’ve replaced or no longer need? It ends up hanging out, annoying me, because if I just throw it away I feel terrible.!

    Also, I have two ways of accumulating things in my life: I am a crafter and a belly dancer. My office is stuffed with “one day” projects, bits and bobs I’ve picked up just in case, and an expanding costume wardrobe that I never cull because I might be inspired to finally use just the perfect piece I’ve been hoarding for years. I am coming to terms with the fact that what I really like is the potential of projects, gathering up the supplies and dreaming about what I’m going to make and then sitting on that stuff and then adding to it when I come up with another idea and so on. What really happens is I have a deadline (see: dance performance this weekend) and instead of “shopping” my supplies I get inspired to do something completely different, which leads to a week of late night frantic sewing/beading/cursing while I pull something together. No I haven’t learned not to do this to myself and that spending a week sleep deprived and annoyed before a show is not optimal, it’s a pretty typical pattern.

  4. says

    Great post. I have to tell you that your daughter’s wish list for her birthday proves she is not spoiled. I would have gotten her everything on it too. Good job.
    And I feel you with the cleaning. And the lack of clothes. I told my mom the other day that every item I was wearing was once worn by my sister. Including my bra (my undies were my own at least). I am thirty. This is a problem.

  5. Saskia says

    I am soooo with you on this, especially the clothing. In my decluttered fantasy world, I don’t have to think about clothes at all because I wear a uniform and my closet has exactly seven items in it–a rainbow of brightly colored, garage-mechanic-style jumpsuits with my name printed on the pocket, one color for each day. You know, red on Monday, orange on Tuesday…then I’d not only have just 7 pieces of clothing to keep track of & wash, but I’d know exactly what to put on each day! I can dream, right? :)

  6. says

    I am so with you. The stuff. The stuff threatens to kill me. I don’t know where it comes from. But it is there. All over. I can’t stay on top of it. The house is small (you’ve seen it) and other than turn the basement into a dumping ground we are out of space. So, we keep paring down (and paring down, and paring down…). I drop a few bags at Goodwill every.single.week. And other than groceries I don’t buy anything. And yet, somehow the house still explodes. Agh.
    I’ll help you torch, if you help me. =) Actually, maybe have a innocent bystander to the de-cluttering is a good idea. No personal investment! =)

  7. says

    Excellent post. No kids here, but not lacking for clutter. Especially project clutter. Chicken brooder has upset the fine balance of my laundry room, requiring a cart to now live in my temporary plant growing space, that used to be (and still sorta is) my indoor clothes line space.
    Its spring and my shiz is outta wack. Plus everywhere I look I see smears of dust and microscopic mud splatters from months of wet dogs. The whole house needs a dou… a scrubbing. ;) Or a match.

  8. says

    I’ve been working on this for a while. I’m really lucky at the moment to have a spare room to sort all the shite. My biggest problem is that I’m incredibly conscious of where all the stuff is going, so I’m going to have to sort everything into give to friends or family/sell/freecycle/donate. Not an easy task, not at all.

  9. says

    my two girls grew up travelling the world on our 34ft sailboat, so keeping stuff to a minimum was paramount. I found a good way was to split the toys into two, and half would be packed away. when they wanted a change we would exchange the toy boxes, and suddenly they would discover toys they had forgotten about. Of course books stayed out all the time in the bookcase ;)

  10. marci says

    I don’t have the energy to do it…. and I feel the clutter is what’s zapping the energy… and if I had the energy I would do it… but I don’t have the energy because the clutter is zapping it… so it’s a vicious circle… My daughter says I am making strides – a grocery sack or two a month goes out – but as as points out, Mom you are decluttering your house but you are bringing it all in to clutter mine because you think I can use it….. LOL…. I cannot just toss…. Thrift store donation box never seems to get full enough to take it in…

  11. David says

    Been there!
    Our solution,
    Buy a shipping container,
    Empty house into said container.
    Move container to Brothers house
    Sell our house.
    Buy vacant block of land
    Live in a tent for 12 months, grow veg, raise animals
    See what you really need.
    Truly it is not very much at all

  12. Kathy says

    Too funny!I had my son on a 10 toy rotation. Every Saturday he could trade stuff in for something different, so there were never more than 10 toys in his room at once. Also, since i don’t have extra $$, if it doesn’t serve a purpose, it’s out or never even comes in.

  13. Lady Banksia says

    Same verse, different house….

    I may have ‘surfaces’ (for the moment), but don’t you dare open a single cabinet door, closet door, or *gasp* look under the bed(s). No drawers will be pulled, no sheds searched, no garage tours. At least not in this lifetime…

  14. Carley Ash says

    I just discovered your blog this week, and I love it. I can totally relate to this topic. Every year in January, I start sorting through things, putting them in boxes for donation. I keep thinking I’m going to run out of stuff to donate, but it never happens. I’ve convinced family & friends to discontinue the birthday and Christmas gift exchange, and when I got married last year, we requested that people not give us gifts. Yet I still end up with all this stuff.

    • says

      Thanks for reading, Carley! Yes, the stuff: so much energy to get rid of it and keep it out and still it trickles in, huh? Oh my gosh, stuff is weeds! No matter what you do, it creeps back in.

  15. Arrianne says

    “Oh my gosh, stuff is weeds! ”

    This needs to be painted on a wall in my house or tattooed on my forehead.

  16. Deon says

    Any ideas on getting Grandma to not buy everything in sight for her only Grandchild? Oh and then asking where something is that has already gone to Goodwill. We like to put things in boxes, put a to be donated by date and if we haven’t needed to get anything out of the box by then off it goes. We currently are behind on our donating.

  17. says

    This was pure joy to read… especially since I am in exactly the same mood right now, minus the children… but I have my eye on the dog’s toy box and am pretty sure that before the weekend is over he is going to find it is not as stuffed as it used to be. You capture the mood, the state of mind, the frivolity of all our clutter, but with a tone that says, “Hey! It’s human nature. Our stuff is not bad and we are not bad for having it. We’re just a funny creature.” All this to say that every Saturday we publish a short Blog review and it is with great pleasure that we will introduce yours to our readers this weekend. PS: Hold on to those Zippos. They will be collectible items some day!

  18. says

    I am not qualified to speak about de-cluttering. I attempt it periodically with fervor and then abandon it for something more interesting (reading, writing, cooking, painting, singing, staring out the window). I do hope you do not have to resort to your incendiary fantasy — I don’t think you would like the food in jail.

  19. Mary W. says

    About once a year, I pull out my bottom cabinet drawer and lo and behold! All my missing lids are nestled BEHIND it against the wall. Did you already check there?

  20. Sunny Myers says

    I have twice in my life given away almost everything I owned. Furniture, clothes, housewares, books, cds, dvds, tv, ect. Guess what. I have a house full again. Grrrrrrrrr.

  21. ms says

    I’m convinced that any time we open the basement door to deposit something down there for ‘storage’ we might as well be throwing it into an incinerator – such is the value we’re actually placing on whatever we want to get out of our sight.

    The thing that gets me about a lot of the kid stuff is – their Creator sends them into the world naked and, without intending to, within two weeks we’re hauling more gear than Motörhead roadies!

    Here’s to actually decluttering.
    This year, for sure.
    No, really.

  22. June Willett says

    I have fantasies about a therapeutic bolt of lightening that destroys all the stuff so that I have a “do-over” of starting from scratch to only have the things that I need, use or find lovely or stimulating. I have a horror of dying and having other people go through my stuff, saying “wow, she had dozens of devilled egg dishes!

  23. Danielle g says

    For my Christmas gift, my husband tool my two young girls to Calif for two weeks. Every day they were gone I cleaned out and organized a different part of my home. I got down to the nitty gritty…purses, drawers, under sink cabinets, etc. I gave away 12 huge bags of stuff. Best gift i ever received was time to purge. it will give me back hours and hours in the coming year. As utterly unexciting as it may sound, it was the best stayvaction ever!

  24. Cat says

    I realize this comment is two years late, but if you haven’t already checked underneath your oven and refrigerator for those lids, take a look. That’s why I put a lock on my Tupperware drawer even though my triplets loved to play in it. Oh, and they’d started standing in the drawer, but mostly it was because of the lid loss.

  25. says

    Decluttering and rearranging is what I call Tiny House Tetris. It’s a fun game DW and I play on a regular basis.

    I dread the “generosity” of in-laws at Christmas.

    Lately I’ve been looking to save $ on certain things by checking thrift stores, but I find I have to breathe deeply the whole time I’m in there. Soooooo cluttered!

  26. Abby says

    “Arson is not a good way to declutter” – am so very glad I am not the only person who has thought “What if we just strike a match instead?” when confronted with clutter.

    Also, you are on to something about the lids.

    • says

      Thanks! Things are less manic this spring, but I could still get a decent sized burn pile going just from the stuff in my garage.


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