The Great Decluttering of 2013, and the new home economics

photo-94On Sunday, while I was feeling sorry for myself about not running the Philadelphia half-marathon, my husband and mother-in-law took the kids out. They left at around 10 a.m. I started writing this blog post at 5 p.m., at which point they hadn’t come back yet.

Perhaps the most productive thing to do would have been work, but I didn’t feel like working. Bronchitis will do that to you. So I spent the day de-cluttering my house. I went through piles of junk mail that hadn’t been sorted. I selected a few stories and pictures to keep from 2013’s prodigious artistic output, and tossed the rest. I did the kitchen, the office, the living room, my bathroom, etc.

I did a few other things during this time. I ate lunch. I sat outside and surfed the web. I read a few pieces in the New Yorker.

In other words, I didn’t do a full 7 hours of cleaning. But despite the on-and-off nature of this de-cluttering, by the end of 7 hours, my home looked fantastic. I was targeting areas I had let go for a while. I was even replacing pictures I was tired of looking at in the frames on my desk. In other words, after 7 hours, I could have kept going, but a lot of the stuff I was doing didn’t urgently need to be done.

Interesting factoid (I promise this is related!) The average home is about 40 percent larger now than it was in the early 1970s, which is the data I have easily available. Houses were smaller before that. Another factoid: In 1965, the average married mother did about 35 hours of housework per week. If she took 2 days off from her labor, that would be like doing my 7 hours most days of the week. To be sure, there were things like cooking and laundry in there (which I didn’t do on Sunday). We also outsource 8 hours of housework per week. But still, 35 hours is a lot of time for houses that were a lot smaller than today’s homes. Even 7 hours of intense cleaning is a lot of time. No wonder the women’s magazines from the era featured discussions of the daily dusting of blinds, the frequent polishing of silverware, the best way to apply wax to a floor polisher, elaborate Jell-O based recipes, and so forth.

Time has to be filled with something. The situation faced by readers of the 1960s women’s magazines was this: If your kids are older, and you’re not in the workforce, there are a lot of hours available. Some go to volunteering, to hanging out with friends, to reading. But in the 1960s, as now, housework is an easy thing to fill the time with.

The world has changed since then, and almost no one devotes that kind of time to cleaning anymore. But judging from my day, it’s hard to see what’s been lost. I could have gone perhaps another day or two attacking projects, but by the fourth day, I would have been throwing things on the floor myself just to clean them up. Or making Jell-O recipes.

How much time do you and your family members spend cleaning? Have you ever devoted all day to cleaning/de-cluttering? What did you get done?

This book shelf in my office used to have approximately 3 dozen books stacked in front of it as well.



12 Responses to The Great Decluttering of 2013, and the new home economics


  1. Chrissy says:

    My house is overdue for a decluttering. My husband and I live in a small apartment and work long hours. We declutter for an hour or two on Saturdays but the piles and papers reemerge bigger the next week. I am considering implementing an inbox on our shared office desk to reduce the paper clutter.

  2. Chelsea says:

    We do not do much cleaning and de-cluttering. We are pretty neat/clean people to begin with and just don’t let stuff pile up. We have a cleaning service that comes in every other week, and otherwise, we spend maybe 1/2 hour to 1 hour a day doing general upkeep and dealing with laundry. That’s what I really miss about our old tiny apartment. It took about 1 hour a week MAX to have it sparkling clean.

  3. Arden says:

    Hilarious that this is your topic today as I just finished googling “decluttering, where to start, how to, etc”.

    We are in a super small apt. We spend time cleaning and decluttering but it doesn’t last. I think that we are at the absolute limit of what can fit in the apt that once we bring home something, the place just implodes. I know, I know…you’re supposed to get rid of something before bringing something new in but does anyone really do that?

    With some “free time” on my hands, I plan to tackle small areas whilst job searching.

    • Laura says:

      @Arden – that was one of the reasons we eventually decided to move. We had reached the limit of what we could hold in our 2-bedroom apartment (for 4 people) and there wasn’t much we could get rid of anymore…

  4. Ana says:

    I agree, I wouldn’t know what to do with multiple full days of “housework”. My home could, however, use a 4-5 hour decluttering session soon. Its hard to do when kids are around because they sense we are trying to get rid of toys and suddenly hone in and need to play with old teething rattles and whatnot.

    • Laura says:

      @Ana- oh yes, it’s like they’ve got a sixth sense. You can’t get rid of that!

  5. Katherine says:

    I did a time log for a week once this spring and discovered I spent 5 hours cleaning that week. Some weeks I spend much more than that because I am fed up with all the piles and messes I have ignored for too long. But 5 hours a week is enough to keep our home presentable…enough.

  6. Calee says:

    I happened to be sitting next to my mom when I read this. She was 8 years old (with a mom who worked part time) in 1965 and had a few insights:
    1. Laundry took forever. She said they air dried clothes then ironed them.
    2. No dishwasher
    3. No windex. Modern science is awesome when it comes to cleaning supplies.
    4. And the point you’ve made lots of times–standards were much higher.

  7. Karen says:

    My home looks a lot better after even an hour of decluttering, but I don’t think I would get to the point where I’d be making messes just to clean them up for a long, long time, if ever. The main bottleneck for me would be finding ways to dispose of things that I could live with–that is, I don’t like to just cart stuff to the curb and throw it in a landfill. So, it takes me a while to sort through old clothes and decide which can be sold on consignment (not many), which can be given to friends/family, which can be donated to charity (and then write up the tax deduction value for those), which might be made into dust rags. And then to do those things. And papers, I want to file them, or recycle them, or shred them, and be able to intelligently decide which is which. I want to sell old DVDs on eBay, donate books, etc. I am not unhappy with the job I do with these tasks, but it is all rather time-consuming.

  8. teresa says:

    I think its really depends if your family is home all day. I have 6 kids, 4 in school, and a home day care so I spend hours a day cleaning. Too bad my house is never clean! I am glad we have a small house because I already walk miles a day, a bigger one would just be more work. I don’t like stuff though, so I have weekly “pitching parties” to eliminate clutter.

  9. OMDG says:

    I spend less than 1 hour cleaning each week. If I was really honest with myself, I think it’s more like 15 minutes. My husband does a little more than I do, but not much. We have a housecleaning service and I don’t care if my house is clean.

  10. ARC says:

    I took a day off work once to finally go through the piles of crap that accumulated in our office, and though it took me nearly 8 hours, it was very satisfying! In fact, that state of less-clutter did last for years after that, so I think it was well worth it to do a MAJOR session like that occasionally.