Everything Must Go Part 5: The nitty gritty


A reader asked to see unvarnished “before” photos of our place, so I took a few pics which will illustrate this post. Above is a zone we’ve not attacked yet–the dreaded hall cupboard. Note the VHS tape on the far right.

Welcome back to the never-ending saga of our de-cluttering initiative, inspired by The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by the tidying consultant Marie Kondo.

Sorting and purging has slowed down here at Root Simple as we bog down in the details. In Tidying Up, Marie Kondo, aka KonMari, has a specific recommended order for sorting your belongings. The first three categories are clothing, books and papers, respectively. At the end of her list she places photographs and mementos, as these are the most difficult to sort due to the emotional baggage attached them. This makes sense. And those first three big categories are easy to tackle, and make a big difference quickly, so they also make sense as a starting place. But where things get difficult is in the middle categories.

I don’t understand KonMari’s logic here. After the first three categories, she calls everything else in the house komono, which translates asย  miscellaneous items. I think of it as a handy word for the contents of a junk drawer. Within the category of komono, she has a recommended order of proceeding, starting with sorting CD/DVDs, followed by beauty products, accessories, valuables, electrical equipment…and so on.

We did sit down together and sort out our CDs– what a trip through the 90’s that was! But we did not make much progress on thinning, because all it did was ignite a desire to digitize all these old albums.


Holding my camera high to capture the top of the armoire, revealing a veritable Tutankhamun’s Tomb of hidden treasures.

From there on, though, our sorting took a turn for the worse. We just couldn’t make ourselves work in those smaller categories, because theย  categories headings and their order didn’t seem to work for our stuff. What we started doing instead was attacking certain areas of the home, e.g. the cabinet under the kitchen sink, the dust bunny refuge under the bed, the mysterious items on top the armoire, the pantry shelves. This approach works, sorta, but not as well, I think, as category driven sorting. There’s more hesitation, more confusion.

Were I to do this again, I think I’d make up my own list of lesser categories, and stick to that. It is more logical to sort by category, because by rooting up all similar items in a household, you can quickly determine how much redundancy you have, what you should keep, where it should go.

We still have a few more spaces to unpack, and it’s too late to return to categorical sorting, so we’re just going to have to finish what we started.

An interesting discover: we’ve gone solo on these smaller sorting missions–these sorting sorties, if you will–and instead of being a more efficient use of time, solo work somehow makes everything less efficient. Alone, we dither. Together, we bicker, but the process moves along quickly.


A peek into the shadows beneath our bed. In the bag, a pair of boots meant to go to the consignment store two years ago. The floor beneath the bed is all clear now.

Be aware, also, that solo sorting can lead to tears and recriminations. For instance, I disposed of a several dusty old 12 oz bottles of homemade mead–a few of which were helpfully labeled, “Bad Mead?”–which have sat on a back shelf unloved and undrunk for many years, for so long the printer ink on the labels was fading. Far longer than any aging period.

Erik caught me draining the bottles and just about had kittens. He’d planned on carbonating these bottles…someday…to see if that would improve the flavor and now I’d gone and ruined all of his work. He gathered up the survivors in his arms and hustled them off to the garage.

You see, Peaceable Sorting Wife had transformed into Ruthless Disposal Fury. It can happen to anybody.

And yes, yes, I should have consulted him before I acted–I was in the wrong. Honestly, I was caught up in the momentum and didn’t want to wait to consult him.ย  In my feverish mind I knew he’d want to keep them, but I also knew also he’d never even notice if they vanished. And I would have gotten away with it, too, if not for those meddling kids and their dog…

In short, sort all but the very most personal items as a household, so everyone has a say in what stays and what goes.


Once we gathered them all in one place, we discovered we had enough jars to can all the artisanal kraut in Brooklyn.

Another thing which happens as the sorting deepens is that you turn up some really puzzling items.

For instance, would anybody like a poster signed by all the stars of the Jim Rose Circus Side Show c.1991? I suppose it should go straight into the paper recycling, but after surviving a quarter of a century in a tube, it claims value it simply does not have. There are many things like this hidden in the depths of our closets, things you do not want, but which seem like they might be valuable, due to age or oddity. These are the most dangerous items of all.

Or perhaps you’d be interested in my not-so-attractive family china? Why couldn’t they have chosen a better pattern? Does this go to the thrift store, or should I try to consign it? But honestly, who would pay good money for such a fuddy-duddy china?

I did find that company which buys old china so they can sell replacement pieces to other people, but they put up so many hurdles just to tell you if they’ll take your set, I can’t even deal with them.


You know, our family never once ate off this stuff. My grandma kept it squirreled away. Who knows when it was last used–but I suspect prior to WW2. My mother was sly like a fox to fob it off on me.

And what about junk silver? That is, silver coins without collector value, bent silver spoons, ugly jewelry. Do we keep it to trade for MREs and water during the zombie apocalypse? Do we take it to one of those seedy CASH FOR GOLD! places and accept whatever bad deal they offer? Do we borrow a kiln and melt it all down into DIY silver bullion? That, at least, would save space in our drawers. What do we do????

The further we get down this road, the more irksome the remaining unsorted areas become. They’re the canker on the rose, the stye in the eye, the pimple on prom night. As tired as I am of sorting, I’m dying to get into those places and root them out.

Anyway, I should not be so negative. This is just a frustrating phase. The initial excitement has worn off and now it’s down to hard work. That said, there is pleasure in seeing free space opening up around the house.

The changes are not super-obvious–it’s not like we started off living in a tottering labyrinth of our own possessions like the Collyer brothers–but the little improvements are really pleasing to the soul.

It’s so nice to open a cabinet or drawer and see empty space. Or find a cat sitting in the vast cleanliness beneath our bed. The tidy dresser drawers remain a daily joy. I finally took care of that shopping bag full of seeds which have been living behind the bedroom door for a year. All of our spare change (a hundred bucks worth!) has been collected and converted to a more usable form. These are all like little pockets of sunshine. It’s going to be good to finish.

Leave a comment


  1. What a great writing! “Sorting sortie”? Genius.

    My goal is to lay my hands on every item in the forgotten corners of my house before gardening season starts. Here in southern PA, that means the deadline is breathing down my neck. So, in the event of the zombie apocalypse and the disappearance of digital everything, will I wish I had my big ol’ box of 90s CDs to play on a solar operated CD player?

    • I don’t have a cd player, much less a solar one! Erik’s computer still has a drive, but apple in their wisdom have declared the drive dead, it seems. My computer doesn’t have one. In short, it’s time to digitize these 90’s cds and find a working player at the thrift store, to convert to solar!

  2. Unfortunately, melting broken sterling pieces will not turn it into pure bullion, but I’d love to see you try building a sime forge and making ingots! (Start with aluminum cans.) you’ll only get 50% of the spot silver price for that stuff anyway. I bet there are hobbyist jewelers/silversmiths reading this who would take it…

    Any coins with silver content (pre-1964) and readable dates are valuable to some obsessive filling a coin book of date variations, and they are probably best sold online (Ebay, Reddit /r/coinsforsale etc) or to a local coin store–call and ask the multiple of face value they buy junk silver coins at. U.S. silver junk coins (pre-1964) are selling at roughly 14X face value this week. (And rising!)

    Preppers would say keep the silver coins for the SHTF scenario, of course.

  3. I am enjoying following your decluttering! My husband and I have been working on our house for some time and I discovered your site through the post on sorting books (via Lifehacker), which I read because we had just gone through a bookshelf and gotten rid of some books, but not enough. Thanks to your post, we were able to part ways with a bunch more. I have since gone through my clothing and my makeup. I find it useful in general to do one room at a time. We’ve done the kitchen, the living and dining rooms, and the laundry room. It really is a process. Sometimes we go over the same space and get rid of more, and I can never quite believe how much stuff is still there. I’m this close to using our wedding china when our current dishes wear out. We’ll see if I ever get there!

  4. Curse those little kids! My husband is certain I throw all his stuff away, mostly because I throw a lot of his stuff away. But not all. You are inspiring me to cull (again). Can you just inspire my husband?

  5. Of course, the easiest way to de-clutter your house is to move. Preferable a long distance and on your own dollar, without a nice company to pick up your moving expenses. When we moved from Eastern Canada to the West Coast, we figured that it cost us around one dollar per pound to ship our stuff. For weeks we went around lifting things, judging their weight and deciding:

    (1) Did we REALLY want this?
    (2) If the answer to (1) was yes, was it cheaper to ship it or to get rid of it and buy another one when we got there.

    The collection of concrete rabbits in the garden fared particularly badly in this process!

    However, you are not really de-cluttering YOUR house. You are de-cluttering someone else’s house, because you’ve just sold it.

    • So true! My family moved around a lot when I was a kid, and as a young adult I was pretty mobile. I never had all that much stuff. My mom still doesn’t have much stuff, because she’s continued moving. Meanwhile, after 15 yrs here, we’re up to our eyeballs in junk. Settling down is like starting a coral reef.

  6. Ah, the miscellaneous stuff. That’s always the hardest. Our house is even harder, because I am a crafter and the husband fiddles with electronics. So pretty much everything might end up being useful, right? Of all the weird things, we actually brought a broken home weather station with us to CO, simply so he could take it apart for a model land sailer he is building.

  7. I am a purger by nature – I feel like I can’t breathe when I have ‘stuff’ around, partly because I am so bad at organization. I am slowly going thru stuff in our house of 20 years, collecting things to be offered for free to the general public when yard sale season rolls around, like the 3 air beds that have slow leaks. I also have the family china, which I am hoping to fob off onto my niece along with my grandmother’s furniture the minute said niece has a dwelling large enough to accommodate these things. The result of my need to purge is that whenever my husband can’t find something, he accuses me of throwing it away. Which I have really never done!!! the one thing I am having trouble with is old cans of paint – not dried out, not a full can. Hoping someone at the free yard sale will be interested.

  8. You could always try to Freecycle things like the silver and china – they’d go to someone who actually wanted them (someone who bothered making the trip to your house). You could put a somewhat arbitrary deadline on Freecycled items, with the understanding that they’ll get sent to a consignment shop or donated to Goodwill-like place.

  9. I’d love the Jim rose poster,that’s my Grandfathers name he is 78 he’d get a real kick out of it.

  10. Okay, anybody else but me love that China pattern? It’s simple compared to what I inherited!
    I too have China, crystal, silver plate and more that I can’t just give to thrift (the memories of eating from them as a child are my downfall). All are virtually impossible to sell; if you’ve been to a few antique stores and seen the glut of those items then you’ll understand.
    I do love these sorting sorties though. Getting ready to sell our home and downsize, I’m about to begin doing the same.

    • We have one special plate that is only pulled out for special occasions – eg someone’s birthday, or when they are otherwise celebrating a special occasion/milestone in their life. We have also used that plate to set a placesetting in honor of a recently deceased relative at the next large family gathering after they pass etc. Maybe you could save just one plate from that set you have and do something similar with it????
      Alternatively, you could just keep two complete placesettings and bring them out for special occasions, OR, just keep one teacup as a warm and fuzzy visual reminder.
      There are also folks that make jewelry from broken china and/or I’ve seen some really awesome cafe tables made from bits of awesome old broken china. Not assuming, of course, that you’d want to *intentionally* break your stuff, but it might help if there is one of the pieces that is already chipped or cracked.
      As far as the flatware is concerned – any chance you could ditch the flatware you are currently using and actually start using the childhood memory stuff instead??? Just some thoughts… ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • i am with you on being in love with the pattern…..i quickly jumped to the comments to do a quick scan because i was POSITIVE it would be overrun with people screaming about how beautiful the china is…..but then i do need to seriously clean out my kitchen cabinets because i apparently have a fascination with dishes….and pyrex……and clay cookware….etcetc…sigh…..yes I’ve got much more decluttering to do. if only it was all as easy as the rolling the clothes part…..i am addicted to that now….i wish i could roll everything and make everything perfect neat little bundles that become drawers full of art.
      and thank you Homegrowns for all the before pics!!!

    • I knew that there would be some people who liked the pattern–we all have different taste, after all, which is what makes the world diverse and wonderful. And the damn things photograph well. ๐Ÿ™‚

      I struggled with the idea of just using the set as our everyday plates, as we don’t have a proper set of plates, really, more like odds and ends. But a) they have gold rims, so can’t go in the dishwasher (shouldn’t go in the dishwasher anyway, I suspect) and b) I just don’t love them. They don’t fill me with joy, and that’s the new rule around here. I’ll try to find them a home.

      If anyone in the LA area wants them, please do come by! There’s a matching gravy boat, I believe, to add to the enticement.

  11. One way to handle the misc stuff is pull it out and pile it up. Clean the cleared area. Think about what you could put there that would make sense to YOUR workflow. You will have stuff left over. You can throw away the obvious junk, give away the stuff you know you will not use, and the rest … perhaps you can hang onto it until you have cleared and cleaned the whole house. At that point you might have several boxes of homeless stuff. Now you can sort the stuff into categories, and, having sorted and stowed everything else, it should be much easier to decide what to do with these leftovers. Some stuff can be put away after all (if it will be used and there is room). Some stuff will now seem like junk. The rest can be given away.

    Do not put it away thinking that you can sell it on eBay or at a consignment shop. Unless you have something worth hundreds of dollars, it is usually not worth the time and trouble to try to sell it. Plus, you will stash it thinking that you will eventually get around to selling it, and you won’t. Let it go. Let it make someone else happy. Freecycle. Goodwill.

    As for the memorabilia … save a piece of something (people make quilts out of old T-shirts) or just take a pic and store the pic on your hard drive. You do not need the thing to have the memory.

    As for your husband’s fantasy that he is going to carbonate that mead some day … that is hoarder thinking. He needs to set himself a deadline (carbonate this by X date) and junk it if he doesn’t do it by the deadline.

    Finally … accept that you are going to make mistakes with the decluttering and get rid of something you wish you had kept. Usually you can spend a little money to replace it. That little bit of money is NOTHING compared to the joy of a clean and uncluttered house.

  12. I took an 18k gold serpentine necklace to a smarmy place and was offered $12. On the way home, I stopped by the best jewelry store in town. They apologized that they could only offer me $21 for the necklace. I tried not to smile too much. All that stuff could be donated to a college art department. Some poor student could make art with those pieces and sell the piece.

    Decluttering together seemed like it might cause bickering…lol.

    One time, I threw out a tie with a huge hole in it, putting in in a paper bag and nasty stuff over it. My ex came in railing at me for throwing out his favorite tie. So, next time he wore it to church, I told the elders and deacons that I threw it in the trash and he rescued it. I told them that he really had other ties,and I did not want them to think I did not know better. From then on, he was sure that I had really been tossing his things, things like his keys that he still had in his pocket.

    Right now, I am sorting INTO categories. I put up a box for anything Christmas. I think of it like putting a hamper to sort clothes into.

  13. My first thought seeing the picture of the top of your armoire was “Ah. You’ve found where you’ve left your glasses.” I don’t know how many times I’ve done that… I was wishing I had an old pair that I know is somewhere in my house, when I wanted to get a pair of reading glasses made, along with my new bifocals. It would have saved me a few bucks. They are still lurking, somewhere.

    Also, like an above commenter, I actually like your china pattern. It’s pretty, and simple, not an all-over muddle like someone barfed flowers at a plate, like childhood family china was. I’m not big into flowers. Gold frou-frou, yes. Flowers, no.

  14. Hi Kelly and Erik – I’ve been reading your decluttering posts with much interest. My partner and I share many of your urban homesteading activities. We live in a small house and keep bees, grow fruit and veg, can and preserve food from the garden, etc etc. I like to knit, sew and spin. We’re both avid readers and have a big selection of books (including yours!). The thing is, all these useful activities seem to involve keeping ‘stuff’ and it’s hard to avoid accumulating it. Our house isn’t too bad in the clutter stakes (it could be a lot better), but the garage is a different story. We occasionally have a bit of a clear-out and give some things away but I find it very hard to part with things that are useful or which have sentimental value. I take my hat off to you both for really going for it in your decluttering activities. Hearing about the benefits of decluttering from an urban homesteading perspective is very different from hearing about it from folks who don’t engage in those sort of activities. I hope you took lots of before and after photos so you can remind yourself of all the good work you did ๐Ÿ™‚
    Oh, and by the way, I don’t think your family crockery is unattractive at all. I’d be using it.

  15. I have enjoyed your de-cluttering journey. We also have been living at our home for 15 years and feel the place getting smaller, so we too started our own version of cleaning and sorting to thin out our space.
    As mentioned above we took room by room. Did some of the work together. When we worked alone we piled what was questionable in the garage for 48 hrs before sorting into different boxes with different destinations (sell, give away to some specific, good will, return, repurpose, not sure) the boxes were small so when they filled up it was time to take action. This made the process less intense and gave me time to act and emotionally process.
    I discovered some thrift stores take costume jewelry, broken or miss matched jewelry and sell them in filled zip lock bags for a flat rate. They usually get purchased quickly by artists, jewelry makers or other.
    We tried carbonating a brew that didn’t taste good. Carbonation did not help at all. I preserve and when I have had ‘failed’ stuff it has been hard to let it go. It is hard for me to waste good and double hard to waste food that I foraged and processed. I have made peace with it and at times made smaller batches to minimize fails when trying a new recipe or working out a new skill. Fails happen, just let it go and forgive yourself for the waste.
    I am sitting on the sell box and I will take your advise and give myself a deadline. Thank you again for sharing your journey.

  16. Our new rule of thumb for keeping things – has to have been used in the past year or it goes – no exceptions. Makes cleaning out much easier.

  17. I love that china! My husband and I got inspired by you guys and we just finished the clothes category. Nine bags just from the two of us, we won’t even get into how many kids outfits I had saved just in case someone had a baby. It was very liberating, though I found it funny that he had 2/3rd’s of the discards.

  18. I personally never bother with trying to sell stuff. If it’s worth a LOT of money, then it’s worth doing, but mostly it’s just such trouble I’d rather not. The silver, however, IS worth a LOT of money. I would recommend finding a reputable antique dealer – someone with a really good reputation for honesty – and asking if they buy silver, or if not who they would recommend. I don’t know LA to have any suggestions, but it is possible to get a good percentage – you should get at LEAST 90% of the market value.

  19. There used to be a segment on the Decorating Cents show called Trash to Treasure. My husband would joke that I should have a show called Treasure to Trash, because some decor item that I had to have one month would be in the Goodwill bag the next month. I’ve gotten much better about not even buying stuff unless I really love it, but part of why I would always get rid of very nice items is because having all that stuff feels like such a burden. You have to move it to clean around, care for it, move it for holidays to make way for other decorative items, etc. Even having a lot of papers feels like a burden to me. I tend to keep the counters pretty clear because if there’s a lot of stuff out, I’m visually overstimulated looking all the different things. It’s fascinating to go to other people’s homes when they have a lot of what I consider clutter, but I can’t live that way so I’m constantly purging. I’m sure I have the neatest “junk” drawer among any of my friends or family because nothing in there is actually junk.

  20. I think that china pattern is lovely. Why don’t you simply eat off of it every day? Enjoy it! It may not be precious, but it is clearly practical. Enjoy!

  21. What a great piece! We all can so identify! I’m hoping you can inspire me to do the same. I’m so over-cluttered I want to just throw everything out! Sadly, I just can’t bring myself to do it. I have started a potential “Ebay pile.” Unfortunately, I fear it will continue to grow and never find its way to Ebay.

    When you figure out what to do with all the ugly junk silver please let us know. By the way, can you use a set of six escargot dishes with matching tongs????

  22. I find it interesting how people of simple means can acquire so many things. The ‘epic wave’ of acquisition for many is when elderly parents die. It can be an emotional roller coaster to decide what to keep and what to get rid of.
    So….my goal, as I age, it to not have so much ‘stuff’ that my one and only daughter (and her husband) are not overwhelmed by sorting through whatever stuff I leave when I die.

  23. I love the pattern on your old china. I bet another family will to. Iwould put it on ebay or Craigslist. Or freecycle with a pic. It was just beautiful.

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