The Mud Room and the Kitchen Cabinet

Okay, I’m still at it. As is my wont, I was super-excited about this Lenten challenge the first day, a little less thrilled the second, and downright bored the third (yawn). But I’ve kept plugging away. So far.

I’ve even toyed with the idea of writing you a personal whimpering message, my Gentle Reader, about my in-over-my-headness this time. Our house is BIG. We have lots of STUFF. Our dishwasher (alas) is BROKEN. The sky outside, you see, is BLUE. And a zillion other excuses have occurred to me. It’s time to plant tomato seeds, you know, here in Nebraska. Or nearly so. And the temperature outside is not below zero, for the first time in months, it seems.

I hear bluebirds! 🙂

I think: perhaps this is not the time for such a bold plan as this. There are times for bold de-cluttering challenges. And then, there are times for other plans. Or no plans at all, tra-laaa. Maybe this is NOT the time, even though I’ve proclaimed to all the world that it is. Perhaps, after all, I rushed into this without considering the cost. 20 minutes a day, after all, does not some days come easily at all. There are so many people in the house to feed and to love, and such large piles of clothing to launder and so many chickens to corral, you know. This is the road that my thinking takes me down. I toy with the idea of . . . giving up.

And then I look at my beautifully clean medicine chest, with the empty shelves. I look around and imagine other clean places and other empty shelves. I sigh. I sigh deeply.

If I can attain some peace and some emptiness and some clean and some order in a few dozen spots in my home, I suspect that it will spill out into my life in other areas, too. I won’t wake up feeling hurried and overwhelmed and a bit distressed before the day even begins, I think, if I just carry this challenge through. All 40 days of Lent. I can do it. I can. Can’t I?

So on we go! Onward! Upward! Anybody with me?

I’m not taking time off from teaching the kids or our usual busy schedule to do this challenge, so I’m just fitting in the 20-minute challenges into the usual warp and woof of each crazy day. BUT I’ve discovered that there are faster ways to do this de-cluttering. I discovered it with cleaning out the junk drawer. There were–at least–a kajillion little items in that drawer. Just looking at it gave me a headache. It could have taken me hours to find a place for each little thing in there.

So I didn’t. I had 20 minutes, and I was determined NOT to go over my self-imposed time limit. So I took a big box, dumped the contents of the drawer in there, and called Amalia and little Mack. My secret weapons in de-cluttering. Well, sort of.

Side note: Do you include your children in your cleaning? You really ought to. It is enormously entertaining, if a little maddening. Amalia is a great help, but little Mack jealously guards the trash can like a starved vulture protecting a rotting wildebeest carcass, just waiting for me to toss something precious to him.

His eyes are narrowed. His chapped knuckles are white, gripping the edge of the trash can. And the thing is–everything is precious to him*! If I toss something in the trash that he wants (“What?? My favorite rubber band?! That junk mail–I wanted to keep that! Couldn’t Grandma fix the hole in that sock–it’s my favorite one!“) he’ll pounce, grab the item, give me a dirty look, and scramble off to hide it someplace more fitting than the middle of his bedroom floor. And then hurry right back to resume his post.

Anyway. Back to the junk drawer. I dumped the drawer into the box and turned to set the timer for 10 minutes. I said “Okay, guys, take anything you want and run and put it away. The rest goes into the trash.” This wasn’t said in a threatening manner. I just stated it, matter-of-factly, and let it hang there. In the air. I smiled. Blithe and bonny, that’s me. Just getting rid of some clutter. Amalia went right to work digging and gathering, and little Mack wasted a minute or two in his expressions of outrage and this-is-no-fair-ness and his wails of dispair before he took his cue from his sister and started pawing through the box.

The thing is, when you allow yourself plenty of time to de-clutter an area, the job will fill the time. If you allow yourself a very limited amount of time, very quickly you will see what is important to keep (spare dishwasher parts, precious–to Mack–Lego pieces that were heretofore believed to be lost, a decent pair of scissors, a roll of tape) and what is not important to keep (a hundred loose fireworks–why are there fireworks everywhere in my house?–broken pencils, used hand warmer pads, game pieces from games that we no longer own, etc.).

Mack and Amalia took off to their rooms to put away their bounty, after the ten minutes was up, and I arranged the junk drawer with the few things I needed in there, and the rest of the stuff went into the trash. Easy-peasy. All in 20 minutes.

Now in a bigger space, like our entryway shelves, I use a bit of a different tack, since I don’t have a box big enough to hold all the stuff in these shelves. And I only want to spend the 20 minutes, of course. There are tomato seeds to plant, after all. 🙂

This is what I’ll do: I’ll grab a big trash bag (opaque, for starred reason* noted above), a laundry basket, and a big donation box. First, I’ll quickly grab all the stuff (automotive supplies, gardening doo-dads, packages of fireworks) that don’t belong here and put them in the laundry basket. The kids and I will dash about and put all that stuff away. Ten minutes are up. I’ll dump the rest on the floor and set the timer for 10 minutes, and let Amalia and little Mack have at it. When the timer goes off, I’ll toss anything that might be usable in the Donation box, and trash the rest. See how easy?

I’ll not waste time agonizing over whether Cousin Bertha could use this hat, or whether the recycling trailer would take that. Or allowing little Mack to get me into a discussion about why this and that should not be tossed. I just want this chore done. I will smile blithely at him, and send him on an errand and into the opaque trash bag it goes, with no regrets.

My time is valuable. So is his. Life is short. We’ve got to get to Latin study today, you see, and Bible study, and nature drawings. And we’re going to go outside and see how many song birds are moving in with the warmer temperatures. Meadowlarks. Bluebirds. Robins. Joy.

Then I move on to the kitchen cabinet and do the same thing with it. 20 minutes. Big change. Here’s a “before” shot:


Yeech! I feel a bit depressed every time I open this cabinet door, and it’s the busiest cabinet in the kitchen, wouldn’t you know it?

And here’s “after”:

Hooray--look at the empty spaces, too! SCORE!

Hooray–look at the empty spaces, too! SCORE!

OKAY. Now here are my (and yours, if you’re joining in!) challenges for the next couple of days: Challenge 1: Clean up a dumping spot. Any dumping spot. We are overachievers in this area. We have many spots from which to choose (embarrassed cough). I’m going to set to work on this one. It’s just around the corner from the kitchen, so lots gets dumped right here. I’m setting the timer for only 20 minutes, though, remember. No more.



When the kids were little, I used to keep a small laundry basket around the corner from the kitchen and I’d grab the little piles and items that they’d leave on the table or the kitchen counter, and toss them in that basket. We called it the Marathon Putaway Basket, and some lucky little person had the chore every day of putting away all the little items in that basket. The honest child would actually move from room to room, putting stuff away where it belonged, but now and then a creative child (I won’t say his name) would just take the basket and dump it someplace, er, more creative: in back of the dryer in the basement. Underneath a desk. In a closet.

I didn’t approve of this, of course, but the interesting thing was: unless there were schoolbooks or library books or unpaid bills in the basket, the things that were dumped/hidden were rarely missed. Too much stuff. I’m leaning, myself, these days toward the dumping strategy.

The second challenge: Clean up a pile of stuff. I hope we’re not the only ones with piles in the house. Things don’t get put away. They get put into a pile for later, and then they just stay there. Here’s our worst pile, and we’re going to tackle it today. In 20 minutes. Of course I had help making the pile, so I’ll recruit some help tackling it, too. 🙂

I kinda need that laundry basket back, too . . .

I kinda need that laundry basket back, too . . .

That’s it for this time–so until next time, Gentle Reader! (I’d better get busy!)

I’m linking up with The Prairie Homestead’s Blog Hop with this post: why don’tcha come on over and join me? Lots of learn over there!

22 thoughts on “The Mud Room and the Kitchen Cabinet

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Your comment made me laugh. Then blush. Then soul-search. Then, finally, I thought “if shame is what it takes to get this place cleaned up, then SO BE IT!” Then I laughed again. Thanks for giving me a reason to laugh today!

      1. rita

        awww. I’m happy to make you laugh. I feel like we’d be good friends. About the decluttering, I’m going to do it too but I’ve blown Lent for sure. I’m under a big deadline and it’s about to be done. I may be rationalizing here, which I’m REALLY good at, but I feel like I’m really going to do this. We’re at the empty nest stage, and have been for a while now. We NEED to scale back on the ‘stuff’. There are no more kids contributing to it, at least not on a daily basis. (Do you realize that when they go, they only take a small portion of their stuff with them? The rest sits there. You’re not allowed to toss it and they won’t take it right now. Maybe next time…) It’s time!

        1. dramamamafive Post author

          Actually I KNOW about the kids’ stuff! I have six kiddos, you know, and two and a half have flown the coop (two married and one in college) and have left plenty behind for me to remember them by! 😉 Lovely kiddos but not one of them any different from their parents, where clutter is concerned. I haven’t written about our attic yet (burying head in hands). That’s where clutter goes to retire, and the kids have retired plenty of clutter up there. I’ve really got to deal with it sooner rather than later! Thanks again for your comments and for reading. I think we can be good friends, even though you do life half a country away from me! (What kind of a deadline are you up against?)

          1. rita

            ha ha, I see you do know about what happens when kids leave. I’d read it on your blog, but forgotten. fun.

            Our attic is all but inaccessible mostly due to a garage that’s full of ‘stuff’. Isn’t that ironic? If it weren’t, that would be another disaster area. Small blessings.

            I landed a sewing contract to create 18 pairs of heritage (1860’s) trousers for Upper Canada Village ( My business ( keeps me busy until January, so I’ve had since then. They’re due tomorrow. It doesn’t sound like that much but the trousers have at least 3 hours of hand sewing on them each (including a hand done buttonhole and top stitching), 2 side pockets and a watch pocket. It’s been a lot of work. The housework has suffered lately as the deadine approached, so there’s catch up work there next week. Other sewing has been put to the side as well. ugh. I’m tired just thinking of it. Just all the hems to do today, thankfully, machine done.

          2. dramamamafive Post author

            Wow, Rita, I am really impressed. I used to sew quite a bit, and the sewing of garments is not easy sewing! It sounds like a lot of work!

          3. rita

            And more than just creating these trousers, but the standards are really high. The buttons have to be exactly in the right place, the pant size has to be perfect, the blind hemming has to be INVISIBLE. They have to look like they were made in the 1860’s – no machine stitching visible from the outside, except for the fly. Not sure about how this escapes. And there’s a button fly too. I’ve enjoyed doing them but there has been a cost. Some of the fabrics have been super heavy and handsewing through all those heavy layers has made my pointing finger sore. I can’t bend it properly right now. I’ve also had to spend MANY hours with 2 pairs of glasses on, because I need to see really well up close to make sure the hand top stitching is straight and even.

            It’s kind of prestigious though and you’re sort of in a club now. I’m a member of the ‘Village people’ now. It’s interesting. I had no idea.

          4. dramamamafive Post author

            Oh my goodness, Rita, you are a hardcore artisan with those pants, I can just tell! I bow to your superior sewing skills, patience, and cannyness, if that is a word, which I suspect it is not. Way to go! I am honestly IMPRESSED here. 🙂

          5. rita

            🙂 I don’t know about artisan. It’s more a perfectionist problem. I worked on those darn invisible hems today. I got the excellent news that though the contract said ‘due on Mar 21’, that no one would actually be there to deal with the trousers until Mar 31. They need to be checked and logged in, I suppose. So I put the hemming off waiting for my index fingers to want to bend easily again. I’ve learned that these things heal better if you don’t push it like was possible in younger days. I bought a blind hem foot to help do a good job but it’s nowhere near accurate enough. The double glasses came back on to work on it slowly and carefully. Almost done. Yay!

  1. Chef William

    oh my oh my what a challenge you gave yourself but I am sure that you can make it. And at the end of the 40 days (day 41) you can take an extra 20 minutes to just walk around and admire what you have got done.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      I can already imagine what it’ll feel like on Day 41–can’t wait! But I’ve got a bit of work to do before then . . . oiy . . .

  2. Sojourner

    De-cluttering is so difficult. There are so many distractions. I have a stack of unread magazines and papers and un-opened mail on my dining room table that has been collecting since September. I guess now is as good a time as any to try to clear some of it away.

  3. Jess

    I’m also doing declutter and spring cleaning. I think your idea with using the kids are real smart! Wish I had know how to use mine when they where younger. Today the yongest is almost 18 and would not be an alternative, she would either throw everything or put the box in a closet:). So I had to do it by my self. Your cabinet looks real nice after the decluttering. I have to do my kitchen cabinets too. Fridge and pantry are the only one finished in the kitchen.
    I will follow your progress:)

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      I always figure that the kids produce a big share of the clutter, so they really need to learn how to deal with it, too! I wish I were a better example, though, honestly. 🙁

  4. CJ

    I am truely in awe of you. Your willingness to allow yourself to be seem as human and your practical ways of dealing with an all to familure demon “clutter”. 20 minutes a day is brilliant! Keep up the good work – you are inspiring the rest of us to do the same thing!! CJ

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Oh please don’t be in awe of me. Be more in awe of the fact that I got myself into this mess in the first place! If I ever get all the clutter sorted out and done away with, then I will take a curtsey and accept just a wee bit of applause.

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