Putting My House in Order

by Julie Hennrikus
Overlooking Boston

de-clutter_mind_map-copy1Today is my last day of a much needed vacation. This spring was a crazy one. Conferences, both for work and for writing. A difficult end of the semester for my students and I, all impacted in different ways by the Boston Marathon bombings. Planning a conference for the end of June. Getting ready for an office move at the end of August. And the rest of life.

So the vacation was a staycation. Writing (lots of writing), visiting my parents, and then back to Boston, and getting ready for re-entry. Feeling refreshed, after three days in my apartment, and I came to a difficult conclusion. Though very clean, the clutter was tipping me over to an audition for an episode of hoarders. So I’ve been tackling the closets, draws, and cabinets. But in the work, the mystery writer thrives.

So here are Julie’s vacation decluttering tips, mystery writing muses:

Makeup needs to be thrown away pretty frequently. I went to Sephora on Sunday. I walked out with a new foundation, eyeliner, and eyeshadow. And some tough love on skin care–I promise I will wear SPF every day. I came home and googled when to throw away makeup, and realized I needed to clean up the makeup kit. When was turquoise eyeshadow in style? Did you know they advocate new mascara every three months? It had been a while since I’d done a big clean. Decluttering tip: look up the frequency, go through your makeup stash, and toss. And when you buy new makeup, mark the date with a sharpie. Mystery writing tip: glosses, creams, liquids? What do we willingly do to look better/younger? My mind whirs with the opportunities for both character development, and for poisoning.

Food in cabinets does not miraculously stay good forever. I went through my cabinets, which I do regularly, but I still found food that expired in 2011. And I was also struck by how many duplicates I have. Put it this way, I shouldn’t have to buy black beans for a good long time. Decluttering tips: Go through the cabinets. Use sharpies to date food that doesn’t have a date stamp. (I have a jar of strawberry lavender jam from a gift basket that is taunting me. I am trying to remember when I got it, before I toss it.) And for those of us in small kitchens, group the food so that it makes sense for your lifestyle. Don’t worry about what your sister will say when she looks for ketchup and finds cans and cans of tomatoes. Mystery writing tip: like it or not, your food choices say A LOT about you. So I am adding a kitchen cabinet to my character sketches. What does your character have on hand? What kind of meal can be pulled off? Is the junk food front and center? Are there baking supplies? Can you make a pie with what you have on hand?

Careful of the chemicals. I have been trying to go through my cleaning supplies, and I am appalled by the duplicates I own. I could wash the windows of the Hancock tower. But I am loathe to try and combine any, because I am not a chemist. So I need to figure this out, and decide if I really need a separate granite cleaner. (I think I do. Stainless steel and granite–good ideas in theory, challenging to keep up in practice.)  Decluttering tip: go green whenever possible, and don’t buy anything until you make sure you really need it. Mystery writing tip: cleaning supplies offer a huge opportunity. As I am lining up my window cleaners, I had a thought. Why do I trust that what the label says is in the bottle is in the bottle. And the mystery writing mind follows that path.

Clutter, when piled up, can fall. I have a wall of books waiting to be donated. Actually it eight boxes, piled up four boxes high. But while going through the shelves, and trying to fill four more boxes before I donate, it occurred to me that this could be a safety hazard, so I need to donate sooner rather later. Decluttering tip: don’t wait. When you bring something in, send something out. Mystery writing tip: I have been thinking about collections, and what they say about a character. And also what the hazards of keeping them could be.

Decluttering is good for you. Decluttering tip: everything needs a place to go, so create that space. And then put things away. Mystery writing tip: there is nothing like a big cleaning to get the creative juices flowing. So cleaning out that cabinet is writing. Really.

Years ago I went on the FlyLady bandwagon, and I am back. Her site is a great tool for getting the chaos of clutter in control. But how about all of you? Any decluttering tips?

10 Thoughts

  1. My de-cluttering tip? As a former Air Force wife we moved every two or three years so it was a great time to clean out! However, probably not practical for most people But I confess I think there are a couple of boxes that haven’t been opened in years. I love how your mind works, Julie and am going to use these tips for my writing!

  2. Ooh, ooh, I used to follow the FlyLady! “Get dressed every morning. Including your shoes.” Well, that one, not so much, since I don’t wear shoes in the house. But “Take a minute to wipe down your sink with a towel. It will shine and you’ll feel that your entire house is clean, even if it isn’t” – that one I like. And it’s true!

    I love how you connected writing and decluttering, Julie. Oh, yeah – that stack of boxes is totally going to fall over somebody and kill them. It’s the writer’s job to figure out if it’s the stacker or the attacker who gets bonked and then buried…

  3. After a very busy four days, I realized that cleaning up just one stack would help me feel SO much better, and by golly, it did! Thanks for linking this to mystery and characterization!

  4. Oh, FlyLady is still around? It’s been years since I’ve followed her. (My Inbox was getting too cluttered with messages! I did like some of her suggestions, though.)

    Next week I’m doing a staycation, and decluttering is on my to-do list. My spice collection needs a major overhaul, and so do the pantry shelves.

    Someone being killed by a towering collection of books: the evidence could so easily be disposed of! Donate, donate, donate! Imagine several libraries suddenly being in possession of murder weapons!

    1. Love the idea of donating the evidence. And thanks for the spice reminder–maybe that is this weekend. Just used flat baking powder for biscuits, so it is time.

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