Decluttering so we can use only our best

August 5, 2018

Roses from my niece's wedding in July.
I took a break from decluttering in June and July, but now I'm back in gear, with a pile of about 20 more boxes/bags on my front porch waiting for a donation pickup. This is probably the sixth such pickup this year, and one of the smaller ones. How in the world did we accumulate so much stuff?

I made a goal at the beginning of the year to declutter our house as if we were moving by the end of the year. We're not, but I have watched too many people completely overwhelmed and exhausted by the task of downsizing and moving that I thought I'd do a little preemptive strike here.

I have never been able to function with too much stuff around me, too much clutter clouding my vision and complicating my life, and after 37 years of marriage, 20 years in this house, three children, including all the extra books and paperwork from homeschooling them, things had reached a breaking point. We have the physical space. I just don't have the mental space anymore. 

The whole thing is emotional. Are we done with cross country skiing? Does letting go of the skiis mean letting go of the memories?  Can I let go of this handwriting sample from my youngest when he was five years old? Is that letting go of him? Am I getting to the point where four-inch stilettos are a thing of the past? Does that mean I'm getting old?

But the more I let go of, the easier I am breathing. The weight is lifting. It feels freeing. I can't drag around a lifetime's worth of stuff. And I can't drag around all that guilt. Yes, guilt. Because you have to fight the guilt about parting with things you spent good money on, or that somebody gave you. Or that evoke good memories.

(Now I'm not suggesting you cut all ties with your past. I'm certainly keeping some special letters and journals and pictures, some special heirlooms that I love. But the point is, we don't have to keep all of it, or even most of it.)

Anyway, to the title of this post.

One of the benefits of decluttering is that when we clear away the unnecessary, the unessential, the no-longer used or never used, we have space for, and breathing room for, the really beautiful things that are left. (Presumably, you are keeping the most beautiful, most loved items you have.)

For example, let's take dishes. I had 13 !!! sets of dishes at one point (I was saving three of them for my daughter and niece, but still . . . ). I'm now down to six (that doesn't count a couple of dessert sets, haha). I have plans to get rid of two more. One will be my set of Target Christmas dishes. Yes, it makes me feel kind of sad. We've eaten Christmas dinner on these plates for 20 years. But now that I've made up my mind, it feels right.  I have 16 Christmas dinner plates, dessert plates, bowls, and mugs. That takes up a lot of room. Whenever I want to use them, or my other dishes, I have to shift a whole bunch of stacks of plates and bowls to get to anything.

We use our Fitz and Floyd everyday white set every day and nothing else because it's too much work to shift everything around to get at it. I can't use my beautiful china because it's just too much work to  bring it out.

So if we want to live out the philosophy that every day is special and that we should use our special things every day, how do we do that if we can't access them?

These plates were stacked together, six of the large green dinner plates, four plates with fruit (one shown in blue), and six green dessert plates. They were all together in a pile on the top shelf of my china hutch and I never used them because it was too much work to get to them. What's the point?

So I'm giving the six green dessert plates to my niece because they belonged to her great-grandmother and because she said she'd like them, and moving the rest where I can use them. Why shouldn't I eat my lunch on a fancy plate?  If they fade (yes, I will put them in the dishwasher on my china setting) or break, oh well. Hopefully I will get years of pleasure out of using them rather than having them sitting there for 20 or 30 more years and then getting tossed.

Millennials, in case you haven't heard, don't want our stuff. So don't hold onto things thinking your kids will want them. (Having said that, I do double check with my children before parting with anything I think they may want. So far, no takers.)

Actually, this cute little teapot with sugar and creamer is going to a millennial who loves elephants. There's always exceptions to the rule.

I had a dozen Christmas glasses from Arby's taking up space in my cupboard. Gold band around top, pine trees and snow etched in the glass. Sentimental because I remember going to Arby's with my children and getting them, and then using them every year during the holiday season.

But now? They look kind of tacky and dated when I look at them with clear eyes. I don't like them all that much. And I certainly won't lose my special Christmas memories if I get rid of them. And they're certainly not as nice as the heirloom crystal glasses that I have that never see the light of day. They're going where the Arby's glasses sat, and I can easily reach for one when I want a glass of water. Why not? I don't like drinking my daily allotment of water, so why not try and make it special by using a pretty crystal goblet?

The point is, if you have so much stuff accumulated that you can't even get to it, you'll never be able to use and appreciate it. Once a year isn't good enough, in my book. Harden your heart, get rid of the things that you don't really love, and start using the good stuff. Every day is important and special. I have some beautiful china and glassware and I want to be able to use all of it, every day.

This theory applies to clothing and accessories and decor as well. Simple and elegant and beautiful is best.


  1. Wonderful advice ~ thanks for sharing!

  2. I so enjoyed this post, dear Deborah.
    I could relate to you so clearly, as I too, purged many items over the past two years and it felt GREAT!
    What my two daughters didn't take I sent to Thrifty and didn't feel bad at all.
    I was very much like you, in that many of my dishes were hard to get to and it was to much trouble to rearrange just to use them.
    I only wished my husband would get on board with me and do some purging himself, but, maybe in time.
    Good for you!
    Those roses are gorgeous by the way.

    Have a beautiful week ❤

  3. It was indeed hard and overwhelming to sort and declutter prior to downsizing and moving here so well worth the effort now. Like you I had everyday china and saved some for best. These days I use Royal Albert country roses on a daily basis and love it. Difficult decisions do need to be made but it doesn't alter your memories.

  4. You and I are on the same mission!!! I am downsizing in a serious manner (you can read about it on my blog today). I have been frantically sending pics to my kids to see if they want anything. It is kind of sad to let some things go---but also very freeing. I hate to part with 'family' things but if no one wants them I don't have the space to store them anymore.

    Hope you have a great day! xo Diana

  5. Seems like I am always decluttering in my house and in my life these days. It does clear things up, mentally too!
    Hugs, Sylvia

  6. So connect with you and dishes - I only have four sets at the moment and one of those I'd like to sell but find there are few buyers! Have my eye on another set at our thrift store at 75% off - how can I pass them up>

  7. I love dishes, and I've had to restrain myself many times from purchasing more. I replaced some of my Royal Albert china dinner plates with plain white ones and kept the salad and dessert plates to mix and match. The patterned china went to my sister-in-law who collects the same set and often has large gatherings, so she appreciated another 10 plates. I kept two for us to use on special occasions like our wedding anniversary and Valentine's day, and whenever else feels special.

    You have really thought through your decluttering and it makes so much sense.

  8. YES to all the excellent points that you made on decluttering. This is a timely post as I've been intending to purge my closet of clothes and shoes this summer.

    I can be ruthless with my clothes, but I struggle to let go of shoes that I spent $$$ on, but are not orthotic-friendly. Fortunately, I have relatives with the same shoe size which makes parting with them a little easier. I passed on a pair of shoes to an aunt who used them in Europe!

  9. I'm behind you by far, but working at it. I have found our kids a little more interested in some family things, and also a millennial who l o v e s old vintage things. I just gave her one of my oil lamps. It brings joy to find others who would like our things. It sounds like you are making great progress. You aren't the only dish collector!

  10. Life is getting lighter, I can tell. Your words bubble with joy.
    Your post reminds me of something I never thought I would ever do ... I got weighed down with all my books. Yes, my beloved books. About a year ago, I packed them all away in boxes and put them into the far away bedroom closet and closed the door because I felt the weight of them. I admit to going in there about four to six times since to take out something I wanted to read again. But, the truth is, most of them are still packed and I have no desire for them at this point. Former best beloved books included. I have two small shelves left in my study with my top favourite, favourites. I felt such a weight lift, so I know that feeling you describe for yourself. What I'm now finding is that I feel a freedom to read books and find authors that are new to me, and I'm discovering a whole new world out there which my soul is lapping up.

    I wish you continued grace as you carry on.

    PS. I've heard about Millennials not wanting their parents' stuff. I don't have kids and I cannot imagine nephews and nieces wanting my things. Over the years I have downsized, and I'm basically at the place where I'm happy with what I've got.

    Brenda xox

  11. LOVE this post! I totally get everything you are saying. My family and I have been on a major minimizing journey over the past three years, and it is just SO liberating to be rid of so much excess. Life looks so much clearer from where we stand now versus where we were when we first started. I believe God intends our lives to be abundant and simple. May He bless you on your journey!

  12. Dearest Deborah,
    A very good post and I'm very much for the same and for the same reason. KISS = Keep It Sweet and Simple.
    Our garage looks a lot better as I've trashed lots of things that Pieter was holding on to. No need for hoarding everything; not at his age. Letting go and having it neat and orderly for easy cleaning and for easy access of things you do use.
    I've one big box sitting in the living room to sort through. Cards and other mail... don't know if there are treasures in there. But mainly I like to toss things out.
    Like you, I love to give away things and feel good about it!
    It is a pity that the younger generation is not at all interested in things that we valued so much.
    Guess that too has always been that way... And we should not worry too much about it.
    Live lighter and let go.
    Sending you hugs,

  13. Look at you go, girl! It must feel so good to declutter and freshen up :)

    I so enjoyed this post, my friend. Thank you for sharing your decluttering journey with us. Thinking of you! Hugs!

  14. I love this! (and I love those large green plates, so glad you're keeping them) I agree completely with all your thoughts here. It took really moving for me to do this and dishes and books were the hardest things to let go. Dishes easier because my daughters-in-law wanted many of what I was willing to let go. And like you there are still more dishes I need to let go of simply because then it will make for easier access to my favorites.

    My job was easier in that I just left everything I didn't want to take when we moved and then family either took or got rid of everything else. I wholeheartedly endorse your philosophy of putting to everyday use the things you love. We're worth it, aren't we?

    A wise and inspirational post!

  15. Wow you have really inspired me to do some more decluttering...I have pared things down quite a bit but then I have added a few more things!
    I will tackle a few of my junkier drawers and see if i cannot get rid of more...
    Enjoy your week Deborah!

  16. I had a service for 16 of my Christmas dishes because we always had all the family over for Christmas eve. Then, we moved 250 miles away and I no longer needed them. After hanging on to them for a number of years, I finally sold them, and instead bought TWO place setting of a different pattern that my husband and I enjoy using all during the Christmas season. The extra space in the cabinets was wonderful!

  17. This post brings up so many thoughts! Just the title, when I read it, made me think, "Why am I using mismatched plates from the thrift store STILL? Why don't I just get rid of those and use my fine china for the next 30 years? Surely it would last that long?" I mean -- right?

    My daughter would kill for that elephant tea set. Just sayin' :)

    We've downsized a lot, and I don't have big collections in my 1100 squ. foot house. But I've got more than I ought to have. I was struck, in one paragraph, when it seemed you kept asking, "What does it mean ...?" to get rid of this item. When we cut an object from our lives, is there always meaning to that removal? That's worth thinking about. Perhaps we give it meaning that it doesn't have.

    I threw out (as in, into the dumpster!) all my old Madame Alexander dolls from childhood. They had no hair, and one had no arms or legs. But I loved them. I'd been carrying them around for 45+ years. Why? It hurt to leave them in there with the stinky trash.

    Why are we this way?

  18. What wonderful information you've shared, Deborah. I have given two sets of dishes away, and that was freeing! It's all just stuff, and it's better to get rid of it if it's not wanted or loved. Thank you for sharing your journey with us.

  19. I enjoyed this post and may think about doing a similar one for my blog!!! I have never had a TON of clutter but over the past 3-4 years I have decluttered a good bit. When we downsized my mother-in-law a few years back, we realized that she had thrown away very little in her lifetime...seriously. She had every pay check stub she had ever earned; even had junk mail; and the list goes on!!!! It was a long, hard, and daunting task for all of us to go through it all and she was NOT happy with us doing so. I decided then and there I would not do that to my son, our only child! So I've tried to clear out as much as I can. However, I am sentimental so there are some things my son and his wife and my grandchildren will just have to deal with when I'm gone:)

  20. Just went through this last year....after 40 years of marriage and several homes we retired and wanted to move to a 55+ community. Then we found a 55+ that also had continuous care option ( lifecare...meaning we could have a villa, townhome, or apartment and if we ever needed skilled care we would be covered) and since we were never blessed with children when a floorplan in a new building suddenly opened up we JUMPED on it - and sold our home to neighbors within 6 days. Then the downsizing began...three garage sales, nieces and nephews came with trucks to take furniture we would not need, I donated both my and my mother in law's wedding gowns to the local community theatre...and to your experience gave away or donated many sets of dishes. Moved from 2450 sq. feet home with a full, unfinished basement for storage to a 1720 apartment with a 4x8 foot storage cage. And.....WE LOVE IT! So freeing to get rid of things we no longer needed or cherished. Still have to work on my Christmas dishes ( I did have those Arby's glasses...they are gone) but holding off as we hosted a Christmas Eve Ukrainian Supper here with new neighbors. Enjoy your blog...thanks for a great post !

  21. You are absolutely right. I love decluttering and am pretty good at it. But I SHOULD use the lovely dishes and not the ones from goodwill.

  22. When I saw those lovely plates - especially the green transferware - oh my! I love clutter but we can still be friends! Your blog is always a delight!

  23. Oh...those gorgeous still my heart! I have made the decision as well to start using pretty dishes instead of keeping them captive in the cabinet! And what a blessing your niece will be getting as you gift her with those stunning green plates. I have never really been a saver of the kid's papers and such...only a few things they made when they were kids but I can go through every room and every closet and find so much to get rid of. Wish me luck!

  24. This is such good insight. All I can add is my agreement. It is so freeing to get rid of things that have become clutter, and it can be hard to do. My main hindrance is that my husband does NOT have the urge to declutter and never has. I have decided that I will do all that I can without getting into his territory. We have a storage room in the basement that I would love to empty and our garage could be MUCH lighter if I had my way. Like you, we have been married 37 years, lived in this house for 20 years, and have three children. Each of our children have taken some furniture when they moved into their own home, but none have wanted any "stuff." They probably will not have the same decluttering issues that we are facing!

  25. I like how you have emphasised the need for mental space, Deborah. I find that when there is not much physical space, I then have very little mental space in my home. I am talking about me now having a crowded home with ornaments, furniture, plants, rugs, crammed everywhere. Yet I know that for other people, this clutter makes them feel happy. We are all so different......

  26. I can really appreciate your thinking on this subject. I am a declutter constantly kind of girl but there are hidden places in our house that are dangerous! There are several closets that if opened incorrectly could send all sorts of things toppling on you. I also have a sets of dishes that need to find new homes. New color schemes and changing taste make them dishes that just stay in the cabinet.

    What I have the hardest time letting go of, are the things from our son's childhood. Legos, action figures, school papers, notes, etc...I still love to look at them and they take me back to a special place in my mind.

    We will continue decluttering here though...having too much stuff around makes me feel anxious. I prefer light and airy feeling. Anyway, 99% of the time when you pass something on you don't miss it anyway.


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