I’m no Martha Stewart. I’m not an all-American homemaker, I don’t make my bed every day, and, most unfortunately, I haven’t been blessed (yet!) with a cooking show costarring Snoop Dogg. But in 2018, I decided it was time to get my life organized à la Martha Stewart—because I was tired of constantly losing all of my shit, and I was determined to clean up all aspects of my life.
At the start of this year, I had about four free days before my regular work schedule kicked back in. I spent the first day responding to dozens of unanswered emails and messages, doing laundry, and unpacking from a trip home. To help stay on track with my dreaded inbox, I wrote out a quick list on lined paper using tiny squares for bullet points, naming every person I needed to respond to. Instead of tackling the more time-consuming ones, I went with the easiest first and crossed each box out as I finished. And it worked! But where to go from there? I headed to Powell’s the next day for more advice.
When I requested staff recommendations, Marie Kondo’s bestseller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up was unsurprisingly the first book mentioned. A few years ago, I blazed through it and had great success downsizing my closet and other loose ends. Although I love Kondo’s strategies, which include choosing to organize by category rather than rooms, uniquely inspecting all items, and revisiting the value of things, I wasn’t a fan of the “precise folding technique.” Shortly after my KonMari phase, I actually developed the awful habit of doing laundry and never hanging it up because it was going to take too long.
As fate would have it, Margareta Magnusson’s ultra-hyped (and ultra-slim) book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, had hit the shelves the same day. The premise of Magnusson’s book is simple: Before we die, we ought to downsize our things. Why? For our loved ones. Magnusson wrote that she was “somewhere between 80 and 100 years old” at the time of publication and though her target audience is older folks, let’s be real—death strikes at all ages. The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning emphasizes that it’s easier for everyone if you start taking care of your estate now. If sparing your family’s time and effort doesn’t convince you, having control over the destiny of your beloved items just might. Magnusson suggests starting simple and undertaking the eyesores, while avoiding the sentimental (at first). For me, that meant my office. I had established a shoddy bag-within-bags solution that was supposed to be temporary, but after a year and a half, it was still the same unruly assortment of contained piles.
With Magnusson’s guidance and separate bags for recycling, trash, and donations, I emptied out all the bags’ contents and sorted by category. Aspiring organizational zealots can consider the addition of a bag dedicated to “selling,” too, but I didn’t need one. Instead of worrying too much about decluttering, I concentrated on getting the stuff I did have under control. I wanted to organize now and minimize later. My categories (and subsequent cardboard IKEA storage boxes) included medicine, bath and beauty, gift-wrapping supplies, travel, and more—but yours will look different. Except for a few gems like, “Save your favorite dildo—but throw away the other 15,” The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning would benefit from a decluttering of its own as too much of its 128 pages gets bogged down in memory lane.
Beyond these two books, I consulted a somewhat outdated fourth edition of the rudely titled, but widely encompassing, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Organizing Your Life by Georgene Lockwood. It goes beyond home organizing and delves into building routines and taking control of finances, which are next on my list. I also reluctantly snagged a used copy of Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project—not because I’m a sad girl, but because her month-by-month structuring gives me insight into how I might further organize and look at my upcoming year.
I’m taking my organizational mission week by week. After checking off the outstanding 2017 tasks that were bugging me and purging my primary areas of clutter, I’m now focusing on finances and business. I hired a rad accountant, chose to take advantage of the free multiple checking accounts I can have with my credit union, and am making to-do lists out the wazoo full of business goals. After that, it’ll be finding a gym and carving out time in my schedule for workouts and my abuela’s fav—Zumba!
Although it takes more initial effort, organizing is ideal for lazy people. I don’t know about you, but I’m too tired to keep digging through bags to find a box of bandages or mailing envelopes. Instead of continually avoiding wipe-downs of my bathroom because I don’t want to rummage through the closet for cleaning supplies, I’m keeping a paper towel roll and bottle of Windex underneath the sink. These tips might seem obvious—and they are—but half the battle of getting organized is convincing yourself you can do it. (And you can!)
To help get you started, here’s a list of Portland places to donate. Be sure to consult each organization’s website for a thorough list of what can and can’t be accepted.
Places to Donate in PDX
Supports the Vietnam Veterans of America, and they come to you! For clothing, household, toys, books, small furniture, and more.
For building materials, appliances, lighting, fencing, etc.
Supports families in need. Accepts gently used furniture, clean mattresses, and functional kitchen items.
Supports rad community technology programming and the planet. Accepts “nearly everything that plugs in or uses electricity.”
Dress for Success
Helps women access professional attire. Accepts freshly laundered, current (within 5 years) professional and business casual attire like blouses, pantsuits, slacks, and more.
Cat Thrift Store
Supports the Cat Adoption Team! Accepts many items such as household, pet-related, clothing, art supplies, décor, and tools.
For art supplies including collage, magazines, craft materials, and so on. Consult their thorough donation guide and requirements before visiting.
Friends of the Library
Supports libraries. Accepts book donations, but be sure to check branch requirements as some limit donations.
Children’s Book Bank
Supports children’s literacy. Accepts picture books, board books, chapter books, and more with a high need for multicultural books and books in Spanish.
Locations in Northeast, North, Southeast Portland, and Lents, so check in with each individual site.
If you have clean, warm supplies like tents, blankets, towels, and sleeping bags, consider contacting a local shelter like Cityteam or Transition Projects to help our houseless community.