A few months ago, I started cleaning out unusual things. One bright Saturday morning, I woke to spent the day obsessively cleaning. Not frantically, and not hyperactively. But I did move steadily from one thing to the next, surprising myself with how much I could clean and how much these small, little things were calling me to be organized.

Do the big cleaning moves first

Last Spring, I had a copy of Marie Kondo’s bestselling The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and we tackled several key projects over a couple of weekends. First were the clothes and closets, since those were easiest for me. We probably removed about half of our clothes and useless items that we weren’t actually using.

Next were the books (before | after), a tangible project that involved getting rid of about a third of our books. The result was surprising: everything on our bookshelves was something we loved, not something we thought we should be reading. Having a bookshelf of cherished collections instead of a bookshelf of admonitions about who you ought to be is surprisingly lightening. Your heart feels excited and eager, not weighty and oppressed. If each book were personified and the author came to life, shouting at you to read and reading quotes from the books to you, what would your space feel like? I want to be surrounded in warm quotes and delicious stories, in a way that feels like a pile of quilts, a cozy winter fire, and hot chocolate chip cookies.

Cleaning is best begun with big items first, big moves that feel concrete and tangible. We tackled the books over a weekend and felt a huge lift by the end. Some of the principles of Marie Kondo’s theory are:

  1. Discard first. First, throw things away. Get rid of things that don’t call to you. You can’t get clean and organized when you have too much stuff, and it’s stuff you don’t even want.
  2. Tidy by category. Pick a category to work on (clothes, books, papers, tools, kitchen) and work only on that. If you try to tackle everything, it’s overwhelming.
  3. Organize with care. When we store and organize things, it should be with pride. We should celebrate what we have and store it carefully.

Then we paused. We didn’t move directly to the next project. We enjoyed the summer, we got pregnant, we focused on our jobs and the work we were building.

When you’re not ready to start something new yet, sometimes you need to sort out the old. Sometimes it takes some reorganization and un-cluttering to freshen up your mind again.

More recently I’ve been cleaning, sorting, and organizing in small projects. It occurs to me that some people call this “nesting,” — but my desire to unpack, let go, and refresh has hit me in a way I haven’t seen before. Usually my cleaning begins with the big things: books, clothes, tidying up the surfaces.

Delicate, intricate, and unusual things to clean: small projects for an open mind

What’s different right now is the delicacy and intricacy of these cleaning projects — and how much they are re-organizing my mind as a result. Nothing seems to change on the outside (the house looks the same), but the refresh button in my brain lights up. I thought I’d share a few of these strange projects for your curiosity and inspiration.

The key here, however, is that this wasn’t rushed. Each of these projects took from an hour to a few hours, and I’ve been doing them as a way to start the day, or a weekend project. I take ten days off, then I dig into the next closet. They’re short and non-intensive. If the project starts to feel too large or burdensome, I’ve taken on too much.

Here are a few things to inspire you on your cleaning quest:

Radio stations

I spent an early morning hour walking through all of my Pandora stations and deleting everything I didn’t use. I had at least 60 or 70 stations and didn’t use most of them. The game involved playing a station, seeing if I liked the first song that came up, and deleting it if not. (In the case of a “meh,” I skipped ahead to the second song to verify.) Did I love the station? Did the name make sense? Delete, rename.


Over time, my socks pile up and crappy songs mingle with my favorite socks. I dumped the entire drawer onto a bed and ruthlessly got rid of everything that wasn’t a joyous favorite. Yes, joyous favorite! Did I LOVE putting them on? Alright, gone.

My sock drawer sings to me in the morning.


Ditto: clean out all your crappy underwear. Chuck them. Get rid of things with holes, loose threads, or more. Chuck ’em. Buy new ones. Tingle. :)

All the crappy fridge bottles you never use

Open up your fridge. Look in the door. That weird maple-lemon marinade sauce you never use? The old soy sauce that’s crunchy on the edges? Chuck them all. Wipe it down. (Just the door! Not the entire fridge.)

Put all the loose books around your house back in their homes

Over a month or two the books wander off the shelves and take place on my nightshelf, my desk, my counter, the fireplace mantle, and other little bits and places. One morning I woke up and walked around the house and picked up all the books and placed them by the bookshelf. Back they go. Books have a home now.

Any old drafts in WordPress you’re not actively working on

Your makeup or medicine cabinet

The silverware drawer

We have lots of loose odds and ends. Go through and get rid of all those forks and spoons that don’t feel right. Unless you have a matching set already and you love it (we don’t), paring down can feel uplifting.


You know when you can’t find the lid to the tupperware? Chuck the unmatched pieces. Get rid of a stack of 16 little containers if you know you’ll only every use 1 or 2 at max.


I had so much fun laying out all of my jewlery across the bar counter and getting rid of half of it. I barely wear much at all, and all I need is a good pearly necklace and a few earring options. I made a pile to donate.

Your day bag or backpack

When was the last time you emptied your pack thoroughly? Marie Kondo says that your bag likes to be emptied every single day, because it gives it a chance to rest and breathe. I do it about once a week and I’m always surprised to find what stowaways are hiding out in there — bonus kleenex packs, nut bars, and other nick-nacks. Give it a good clean-out and feel lighter (literally) tomorrow.

Your card collections or pen collections

Ever stash away too many pens? Have a collection of notecards that you’re constantly rifling through to find a good one? Go through them now and pick out only the ones you love. Donate or recycle the ones that make you feel “meh.”

Reinvent your wardrobe (a la capsule wardrobe)

I moved everything that no longer fits into two big bins under our bed. I can’t wear most of my clothes right now as it is, and tugging down a shirt that’s too-short in the winter makes me feel miserable and cold. Instead, I moved everything out of the closet and my dresser and put only the things that I will wear currently (cold-weather pregnancy wear) into my closet. It’s about 16 hangers: 4 dresses, 4 blouses, 4 long-sleeve shirts, and 4 warm wrap sweaters. I only have one coat that fits right now, and it’s actually very freeing. To see these few hangers slim in my closet and know that I don’t have many decisions about what to wear — and that what I pick will feel great — makes me feel relieved, not worn out, when the day begins.

It’s all about how you feel

Holding onto a bunch of stuff that makes you feel lackluster, weighed down, or indifferent is heavy. When you let go, you lighten up. Tackling small projects can achieve the same effect as tackling big projects. Each time, I’ve found more space cognitively, and I notice that my energy no longer leaks out towards these unfinished and burdensome collections of things.

May this give you inspiration for the new year.

How about you? How does cleaning make you feel? What projects are you working on this year?