2011’s experiment: My Clutter Free Year.

Earlier this week, I spent an entire day decluttering.

I emptied every cabinet. Dumped every drawer. Dug through everything I own and found some things I don’t (Should my old friend Matt Szabo stumble upon this post, I hope he’ll accept my sincere apologies for never returning the copy of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich that I borrowed from him in 2005.).

The tedious task was a repeat. I have been there and done it, over and over again because something somewhere inside me still says what I always said as a kid.

“I hate cleaning my room.”

I always did it anyway, of course, but in a matter of days, the fruit of my labor would wither beneath the new clutter I’d create. Keeping my room clean is a feat I’ve fought and failed to master since childhood.

Exhibit A: The time my parents discovered little Arleen asleep on a pile of toys while she “cleaned her room.”

Bless my heart. I tried.

But I was the kid who wouldn’t rid her room of clutter. Instead, I’d stack it neatly and call it clean. A kid like that grows into a teen whose parents walk into her room and wonder aloud whether her closet projectile vomited. That teen grows into an adult whose desk at work is the worst one in the office.

Exhibits B and C: In June of 2010, I went to work on a Saturday to turn this…

into this:

BAM. And you’ll be proud to know my desk has consistently remained almost as clutter free since.

But until earlier this week, when I decluttered my space at home, my desk at work was as good as it got. I fought to keep clutter under control everywhere else. And I know exactly why.

When I come home at the end of the day, I throw all I bring in onto my bed. By the time I go back to my room, it’s late and I’m ready to sleep. So I throw everything on my bed onto the floor.

Every. Day.

By the end of a week, while I struggle to remember what color my carpet is, I realize what’s ahead: another Friday night spent cleaning my mess or another day off spent working. At least, unlike in my childhood, I value simplicity. I practice it an as many areas of life as I can. When I straighten up my stuff, I want to do it. And when I did it big earlier this week, I decided on this year’s experiment:

2011 will be my clutter free year.

The plan? No clutter spends the night. At the end of every day, I’ll browse my bedroom, closet and bathroom. If anything’s anywhere it shouldn’t be, I’ll put it back in its place. I won’t go to bed until it’s done. And barring any new decor or other such changes, my space will look like it looks today every day between now and Dec. 31, 2011.

So like this:

And this:
And this:


When compared to my sugar free year, a clutter free year sounds simple. But I’m 25 years old and I’ve never had a clutter free room for longer than two weeks. Nobody who has known me for awhile will believe it if I pull it off for a year. And though I’m embarassed by it, sharing it is all I can do to express the magnitude of my goal (I forgot to take before pictures.).

You should also know, however, that I’m a believer in the unbelievable. And I believe there is a lot of good to learn from this sort of exercise: To delay gratification. To prioritize. To manage my time. To be patient. Pulling it off means severing all ties to spending tons of time hanging up laundry that’s been clean for weeks. It means I won’t have to spend the first few hours of a study day cleaning so I can focus. It means I won’t trip over shoes when I wake up in the morning.

Will it be hard? Heck yes. But I’m for it. Let’s do this!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Tiffany Kyper sold you out! Oh Arleen, I miss you (and my book, although much less than I miss you). How bout we meet up soon, kiddo? Do you still have my number?

  • also, bean finger.

  • Oh, Matt! I, too, miss you. Re:
    getting together, I’m so for it! I don’t still have your number, but since I do still have your book, I’ll bring it when we make plans. Send me a note at arleen dot spenceley at gmail dot com. And LOL @ bean finger! Wow. Thank you for that. Comment of the year!

  • Hey, Arleen! I LOVE your blog, and I love your clutter-free goal this year — it’s one of my goals, too! We can do it, woman!!

    I’m so glad that you found my blog and that now I can follow yours. You are an amazing writer, and I look forward to reading about your adventures in your clutter-free year! 🙂

  • Jenn! Thank you so much! I am so honored!

    I, too, am loving YOUR blog and I can’t wait to one day try your chili recipe. 🙂 I’ll post a clutter free year update soon — I will tell you that my room still looks exactly like it did in the photos I took about a week before New Year’s Day. Loving it!