four fall decluttering projects.

October 7, 2019

I’m not sure what kind of fall projects you might have waiting to get checked off your list, but new seasons for me mean taking a bit of time to take stock, sort through, organize, and refresh my home. For me, living simply and sustainably requires some regular maintenance. In the course of daily life, things get messy, items find their way into our home that don’t need to be here, systems of organization get slowly unraveled, and things slowly start to run less smoothly. When this happens, I know it’s time for a once-over. With every new season—and sometimes more frequently than that—I try to tackle a few spaces or projects that need work.

In the spirit of encouragement and transparency, I thought I’d share the kinds of projects I’ve tackled lately. Below are four problems that needed attention and the four solutions that I found. Some are very specific (tomatoes/flatware), and others are more universal (closet clean-outs/spice cabinet wrangling).

What you read below probably won’t be groundbreaking, but I hope it helps shed some light on the kind of ordinary maintenance required even in a home where less is revered as more and space is limited. Importantly, tackling these tasks didn’t require herculean efforts, or investing money in anything new. I just needed to harness a bit of time and a bit of creativity. In no particular order, four fall decluttering projects:

fall decluttering projects | reading my tea leaves

Problem: What to do with a pile of tomatoes starting to go soft on the counter?

Solution: Eat them, of course. But how? The weather has turned and so have my tastes. I’ll declare my love of tomato sandwiches again next summer, but for now, I’m preferring my tomatoes cooked: stirred into warming soups and stews and baked into casseroles. So, with my tomatoes’ peak ripeness rapidly crossing over into over-ripe territory, I decided to make a simple pizza sauce (loosely following this recipe). I simmered the tomatoes on the stove until the sauce was thick and sweet, and then I spooned pizza-night-sized portions into jam jars and froze them for a season’s-worth of at-home pizza parties.

Benefit: No food waste; more pizza.

fall decluttering projects | reading my tea leaves

Problem: Cooler weather; growing kids.

Solution: The great try-on. This is not my favorite parenting task. Our kids always lose interest rapidly and I may or may not find myself tugging a too tight sweater off my child’s kid head while quietly cursing. Still, I’ve found that a quick, once-a-season sort-through of my kids’ clothes makes getting dressed smoother and simpler. Kids grow quickly and at varying paces and they wear their clothes hard. Taking the time to sort through their bins to get reminded of what we have means we can make thoughtful choices about what’s too far gone, what can be repaired, what can be passed down, and what’s still perfectly alright.

Benefit: Understanding what we have, what we might need, and what we can pass along to someone else.

fall decluttering projects | reading my tea leaves

Problem: Extraneous flatware.

Solution: Letting it go. Before kids and before a dishwasher, James and I adding flatware that required hand-washing to our wedding registry didn’t sound unreasonable. Seven years later though, we only ever reach for our four sets of stainless steel flatware and never for the stuff that requires more fuss. This week, I finally got over my wedding-registry guilt and listed our teak and stainless sets on eBay.

Benefit: Getting closer to my hope that there’s nothing in our house being kept for a negative reason (shame, guilt, obligation, etc.!).

fall decluttering projects | reading my tea leaves

Problem: Unruly kitchen cabinets.

Solution: Spending twenty minutes cleaning them out. The spice/tea/baking supplies cabinet in our kitchen is very slim and not very easy to access. I’ve looked into for various solutions for making it easier, but what I’ve found works better than anything is a good 20-minute clean-out, a few times a year. I spend the time making sure things are properly labeled, taking out any containers needing to be refilled, consolidating what can be consolidated, and finally deciding, after the third clean-out of the year, to ditch the juniper berries that I know for certain are six years old and never to be touched.

Benefit: Knowing what we have. Using things before they go bad. Ensuring there are chips enough for cookies.

What about you? What projects have you tackled lately? What’s on your list of things to do?

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  • Reply kim m October 7, 2019 at 2:09 pm

    My husband and I are also in this fall “mode”. I think the pending arrival of our second child is also a motivating factor. I noticed that when we had our first child, we tended to “cope” with the uncertainty and stress with relentless tidying, fixing and household projects (even though what we probably needed was some rest!). I tackled two cupboards yesterday afternoon and found myself needlessly peeking inside them throughout the evening–my heart fluttering with pride at their neat, spare, clean state! Next up is sorting through four years of baby/toddler clothing and toys and deciding what to hold into. Eek/joy!

    • Reply Kimberley October 10, 2019 at 9:05 am

      The old clean cupboard check. ahh…something I know and love!

  • Reply Colleen October 7, 2019 at 3:38 pm

    I would love to find a solution for zero waste spices! But I have yet to find all that we use in any bulk section.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE October 7, 2019 at 3:52 pm

      It can be tricky! I’m sure you’ve searched, but I have good luck in natural food stores and coops and especially in the middle eastern spice shops we have in our neighborhood. Maybe there are some to scout near you?

      • Reply Laura October 10, 2019 at 5:47 pm

        In Canada we have a bulk store called Bulk Barn and you can bring in your own containers to fill. They weigh the containers before you fill them and then you add your spices, grains, nuts, etc. For my spices I use sealer jam jars and store them in drawers with the spice name written on top. As they empty, I pull them out and set on the counter, so I always know what jar needs filling.

    • Reply Sarah October 10, 2019 at 5:21 pm

      Colleen, you’re not by chance in Canada? Bulk Barn has an amazing selection and you can bring your own containers- the staff will weigh them for you before you shop! It’s amazing!

  • Reply Sarah October 7, 2019 at 3:39 pm

    Moving into a new house in a couple weeks, and pre-home-buying, I started a thorough Marie-Kondo style clean out. In September I finally finished up with the sentimental items. It took me way waaaaay longer than I expected, but I’m thrilled to have my photos neatly in albums, because I love looking through them. It also inspired some joyful snail-mailing.

    Really, really looking forward to putting everything away in our new home. Perhaps to an unreasonable degree.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE October 7, 2019 at 3:50 pm

      Totally reasonable!

    • Reply Emma October 8, 2019 at 10:09 pm

      I’m also about to unpack all my sorted-through things into a new home and I’m also unreasonably excited about it! Perhaps now that there’s two of us, we can claim it is well within reason. Ha!

  • Reply Mackenzie October 7, 2019 at 3:43 pm

    I just went through the dresser drawers of my 21 month-old. Clothes that no longer fit have been removed and it is now tidy and I can see what she will need for winter 🙂

  • Reply Anna October 7, 2019 at 3:52 pm

    I wish I could get my kids to try on their clothes before they need to wear fall clothes… maybe someday. I do remove too small or rarely worn items regularly, though.

    Tomato sauce tip: fresh tomatoes or whole canned tomatoes make amazing sauce. You can just remove the skins (plunk them in boiling water and then ice water) puree with some salt, garlic and herbs, and freeze until ready to use. You can also freeze ripe whole tomatoes and when you take them out of the freezer run them under warm water and the skins slip right off. Hope you have a lovely fall.

  • Reply Sid October 7, 2019 at 4:00 pm

    Oooh, I love a good fall tidy/sort. Thanks for the pizza sauce idea! I’ve been slow roasting tomatoes with balsamic vinegar and freezing them for future cold weather soup but I think I’ve got plenty of that now. I also really appreciate your goal of having “nothing in our house being kept for a negative reason”. In a not-so-articulate way I’ve been really trying to do more of this too. I hate the stressful heavy feeling I get from having stuff around just because I feel bad about getting rid of it.

  • Reply Hannah Cain October 7, 2019 at 4:12 pm

    The great try-on! I do this every season with my five boys as well. It helps so much to know what’s needed and not. I just did mine for the colder weather at the end of September. It’s nice to know that another family with kids does this as well. :]

  • Reply Trish O October 7, 2019 at 5:18 pm

    Beautiful flatware. I love it. We don’t have a dishwasher (never have in the 22 years we have been married and living in our old house) but now my kids are teens and experts at washing dishes. Oh, and the kid clothes swap is hard but beautiful. Had my boys do it this weekend. They are not really outgrowing clothes anymore, but they do wear them hard and things need to be repaired and replaced.

  • Reply Nicole October 7, 2019 at 8:49 pm

    For the next time you have some extra juniper berries laying around—an incredibly simple recipe for the refreshing drink known as “Smreka” (recipes abound online; mine is pulled from the book Ferment for Good). Mix 1 cup berries with 4 cups water in a jar (I used a mason jar). Keep it on the counter and shake it up a little each day for at least two weeks, until most of the berries have fallen from the top to the bottom and the liquid is a pretty golden color. Enjoy over ice (with lemon and/or honey if desired).

  • Reply Amanda October 8, 2019 at 8:38 am

    Recently discovered the use of wax pencils (china markers) for labeling in the kitchen, easily found at any good art supply store. Works great on metal, plastic and glass. It can be rubbed off when no longer needed. That way you can save the pretty washi tape for other things if that’s something you’d want to do.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE October 8, 2019 at 9:44 am

      awesome! will check them out!

    • Reply Laurie Ljubojevic October 25, 2019 at 10:36 pm

      I’d love to know the brand name of the wax pencils that you use.

      • Reply Alix November 5, 2019 at 11:09 am

        Sharpie still makes grease pencils! You can often buy them individually at art supply stores like Blick or at neighborhood hardware shops.

  • Reply Dana Kim October 8, 2019 at 10:08 am

    Just starting a cleaning/de-cluttering regimen again with 2 kids under 3 (5 months postpartum). I might not be able to tackle the full list of tasks for the day but my mantra right now is every little bit counts.

    • Reply Kelly Libby October 9, 2019 at 11:44 am

      way to go, momma. i have no children and even small tasks feel overwhelming. be extra patient with yourself.

  • Reply Sarah October 8, 2019 at 11:43 am

    The routine decluttering of living in a small home can feel exhausting. When my family of three lived in s tiny condo, I would joke that it was time to yet again play Tetris with our stuff! But it built a habit of reorganizing and purging that I’m forever thankful for. Now I mostly just decluttering as I tidy up. And when I can’t find something, I know I own too much stuff and it’s time to scale back and lay off the shopping.

  • Reply steph October 8, 2019 at 11:51 am

    love this. i think examining why we keep things is sooo important – guilt is the worst! after a long and wonderful summer i am finally home for good and endlessly sorting through everything that has been stored at my in laws – its been really fun and these guidelines are keeping me going:

  • Reply Joy Eden October 8, 2019 at 2:12 pm

    My pantry is a bear and I’ve tackled it just this week! I’ve removed every item and each will be replaced mindfully and accessibly. In the process I’ve found 6 containers of spaghetti noodles (when I thought I hadn’t even one) and an excessive number of ways to make hot drinks (tea, cocoa, coffee, etc.) these will be culled down to the drinks we drink and love.

  • Reply Kari October 8, 2019 at 2:13 pm

    Advice on ditching the horrible Great Try On. Take an item of clothing that you know fits well. Lay it on the bed. One at a time, place all the other like items on top of that item. You can quickly see which things are too long/short, wide/narrow, etc. Do it with all the tops, then all the pants, pjs, underwear, etc. I hope that garbled explanation makes sense.

    • Reply Alexandra October 9, 2019 at 6:45 pm

      This is what I do, haha! Getting dressed just in the day’s clothing usually involves lots of screaming, running, sobbing, and fighting, from my two-year old. He’s just insane. My five-year old, meanwhile, will fall in love all over again with every single item of clothing, and swear he needs to wear it RIGHT NOW, and beg, and whine. I just can’t. When I just measure the clothing visually I can do it in the quiet after bedtime and can almost call it “me time” 😉

  • Reply Chelsea October 8, 2019 at 2:34 pm

    Erin, I’ve been wondering, how much do you save of each child’s outgrown clothing for the next? And how do you/would you store it? I’d like to have three kiddos (one’s here, one’s on the way) and I find myself holding onto to 80% of my son’s wardrobe for a potential second son (or daughter who could wear some of the items). We keep his wardrobe lean but the storage bins are starting to grow … and while reusing feels really good, the “hoarding” doesn’t. Would love anyone’s thoughts on this! xo

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE October 8, 2019 at 2:48 pm

      Hi Chelsea: We keep one zipped storage bag of clothes for the future. Into it I put anything that’s still in great condition and I know can be used again, along with a few sentimental items (I just looked through the bag last weekend and found that I sentimentally saved a few newborn onesies cozy items for good keeping, which will come in handy for this coming baby!). A bunch of other items I’ve passed along to my sister who has a little one a year younger than Silas. If anything is still in good shape after she has it, she’ll pass it back to me, but passing those things along has definitely lightened our storage load for the moment. In general, I’d say that we’ve been able to keep our stockpile pretty lean in part because my kids’ wardrobes are lean themselves. With some notable exceptions, they’ve also tended to wear what they do have until they’re really truly worn. I patched a bunch of Faye’s old leggings for Silas last winter, but I know that they probably won’t survive another patching, so I’ll likely cut them up for rags or otherwise dispose of them. As kids grow in number and age our strategy will likely change, but that’s where we are for now!

      • Reply Kate October 10, 2019 at 8:45 pm

        I cut the leggings into short once the knees wear out beyond repair. The cotton edge curls up so I don’t even need to sew them. It’s perfect for under dresses or skirts.

        • Reply ERIN BOYLE October 10, 2019 at 8:58 pm

          Sounds great! We can deal with the ripped knees and patches, but we find it’s generally time for new when the whole garment is threadbare!

      • Reply Chelsea October 11, 2019 at 7:56 pm

        Thanks! That’s really helpful. I’ve just found it so tricky when doting aunts and grandmas are constantly buying things … so sweet of them but — the stuff!!

  • Reply mado October 8, 2019 at 3:47 pm

    I’ve been in this mode too! Here at the equator the end of summer is also the beginning of the growing season so I’ve been tackling both garden improvements and household organizing. Inside i finally labeled the pantry shelves so it’s easy to keep like items together, and I ordered a bookshelf for my kid’s room so that book and toy storage can be more organized. I’m waiting till work slows down to tackle a big project of built in bookshelves in the living room.

  • Reply Kelly Libby October 8, 2019 at 9:44 pm

    i’m undertaking a massive project however, i’m trying my best to break it down into smaller pieces. i have gathered and inherited the entire “collection” of my family photos, albums and piles of old fashioned film envelopes. i am sorting and sorting and sorting. then, tossing the blurries while keeping the “good ones” for a photo project. this project includes sorting, scanning, archiving and storytelling into photo books. it’s a bit overwhelming but the end result will be rewarding for not only myself but for generations to follow. I also enjoy the feeling of having less physical AND emotional “stuff” in my home and on my mind. here’s to projects. 🙂

  • Reply Nina October 9, 2019 at 5:57 am

    Tip for the great try-on: size up clothes against a well-fitting item. Then try ‘maybe this still fit’ on the kid. Sorts out the obviously too small/short/tight without having to wrangle kids in and out. Ask the kid to squat in outerwear (esp overalls and pants) to check space for movement.

  • Reply Nancy October 10, 2019 at 1:31 am

    I did the try-on before school started and it was the best thing I ever did. I need to do it more often! I do weed out clothes almost every time I do laundry– with three kids 11, 9 and 6, someone is always growing out of something or destroying a piece of clothing.

    My next task is tackling the spices. I hit up Ikea recently and bought a bunch of little jars, so I can decant the spices I have. We also have a weird cabinet situation going in our kitchen, and I have not yet quite figured out how to use our cabinet space efficiently.

  • Reply Elizabeth Pelcyger October 10, 2019 at 11:00 pm

    I gather larger clothes from sales and hand me downs in a basket my kids don’t see. Then I persuade them to try on and discard their current season’s clothes or they won’t get the “new” stuff. And sometimes I’ll give them a treat with one new/larger item if they bring me something too small. Same thing with toys.

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