Extreme Decluttering Technique: Flooding

I’ve written quite a bit about techniques to declutter, or to stop accumulating so much stuff. Recently though, I was introduced to a new method to get rid of lots of stuff: flooding.

My little town suffered the breach of a dyke about 3 weeks ago, which I wrote about here. Writing at the time was pretty traumatic, and the whole thing still feels surreal.

I want to make it clear that all that was lost, in our case, were material possessions. My children are safe, and so are my wife and I. Thanks to herculean efforts and the help of a few dear friends, our house is almost ready to be moved back in, which is a lot more than many people can say.

There’s a lot of decluttering happening on this street.

This brings me to the decluttering angle of things. I find one of the more difficult aspects of decluttering is letting go of items that remind me of things, that elicit memories or feelings. Because so many of my precious books and belongings were damaged by the flood, and the disgusting sewer waters, I had no choice but to get rid of them. In many cases I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye.

I catch myself a hundred times a day thinking, yeah, I have something like that … oh wait. No I don’t. Not anymore. My wife was asking me how many bookshelves we had – for insurance purposes. My first thought was, that’s easy, let me go check … oh wait.

As horrible and traumatic as this experience has been – let’s call it that – the fallout has something that for me, is somewhat cathartic. I don’t have to go through thousands upon thousands of items, deciding at every step what makes the cut and what doesn’t. God has already made the choice for me, and He chose whatever was on the lower shelves, hung in the water or fell in the water, as well as the actual floor, walls and ceilings of my basement. And the washroom. And the freezer. And my grandmother’s rocking chair. And all the kid’s toys.

God has made the choice, and I had to carry everything out to the curb.

This is – hopefully – a once-in-a-lifetime decluttering experience.

In the picture above you can see a small excavator picking up 40 years of treasured possessions and dumping them unceremoniously in a truck. We initially took so much stuff out that it took that machine 2 hours and three – THREE – full trucks to haul away our stuff. We put more out afterwards, at least another truck full.

The result has been spectacular in terms of decluttering – silver lining here folks. I never thought that I would get the chance to remodel the basement to my taste, but here we are.

The result, after a week of back-breaking work.

Having lost so much possessions already, I find it easier to select what I’ll be keeping from what has survived. I thought that since so much was lost, I would be keen on keeping every shred of what was not, however I find that this is not the case.

It’s like the Band-Aid has been pulled; I am now able to throw away things that I have been keeping for years, on the odd chance that I would need them again, or because someone I cared about loved them. My dear, departed mother loved books by Larry McMurtry; I don’t. I don’t need to keep stuff someone else loved because I loved them. It doesn’t make me love my mother any more or miss her any less because I am holding on to these things – and countless others.

We are now in the process of boxing up what we have left so that we can finally move back into our house. The water is drained, everything in the basement is demolished and taken out, the decontamination is done. All we have left to do is clean up and move back in, and remember the lesson that was taught to us, at great emotional, physical and financial expense: stuff is just stuff.

Flooding in Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-lac, QC

Hey everyone.

The reason that I haven’t been writing so much the last few days is that on Saturday night, 27th of April, my town was flooded. I’m not talking about humidity in the basement kind of flooding, I mean cars pushed away, cops and firefighters going door to door and giving people as little as one minute to leave.

Possessions and pets were abandoned in the melee that ensued. Over 6,000 people, a third of my town, were evacuated and over 2,000 houses flooded. A dike, which some claim was ill-maintained, broke, and all hell broke loose.

At 8 PM, we had just finished watching The Secret Life of Pets (which was hilarious by the way), we put the kids to bed, and … the power cut.

I counted to 10, as I always do, hoping the it would come back on. Instead we were treated to a spectacular chorus of sirens from the fire department and seemingly every cop car in the province. I stepped outside to see what was happening, and a neighbor told me the dike had broken and some streets were being evacuated. It was pitch black and terrifying.

This picture is taken with Google’s awesome Night Sight. I was WAY darker than that.

I went back in the house. My son was already up, panicking slightly. I gave him the task of holding the flashlight while I awkwardly carried valuables (to me) from the basement to the main floor. About 15 minutes later we were ready to go.

We went out with our two cars so as not to leave them to get flooded. We decided on a rendez-vous point, which we reached quickly. It was decided that my wife would go to her parents, while I would go back and try to help as I could. As it turns out the bridge to go to her parent’s house was closed, for, the same reason, so we ended up going to my sister’s.

As I returned I was greeted by the sight of two yellow school buses full of police officers on my street, on their way to evacuate a old people’s home right on the water. The water was already halfway up the street to my house from the lake, and the street parallel to mine was already flooded.

I went back inside the house, but stupidly didn’t use the time I had to move more things upstairs. I wasn’t thinking right. I’m still not.

I left to go join my wife and kids. It was really eerie. The police and military presence was overwhelming, in a good way. At least we felt that we weren’t left to fend for ourselves

As I walked back to my car I was greeted by the sight of a military armored amphibious vehicle, along with more soldiers and police officers.

After driving for what seemed like an eternity we made it to my dad’s apartment, which was unused as he was in Florida. I broke down in tears in the street as I realized I left all our family’s pictures on the floor in the basement.

Now 5 days have passed. We are staying at my dad’s place, which is not ideally located for us, but is warm and dry and safe. My kids have gone back to school and daycare, and I’ve gone to work one day this week so far. I go to our house every day to see if the water has receded but so far, it hasn’t.

Today we tried pumping out the water with two powerful pumps, but the groundwater is still too high, it drops by about 10 inches and then no amount of pumping does anything. A friend helped me clear out some soaked belongings to the yard. 40 years of treasured possessions lie in a broken, soggy heap outside. It’s both tougher and easier than I thought, mentally speaking. One heck of a way to declutter.

This is the same view as the picture above, 5 days later. They are furiously pumping water back into the lake, but it’s going to take some doing. The lake is 1,500 feet away and the area affected, immense.

Thankfully, I was able so save many books, and some photo albums survived. I even think that I’ll be able to rescue most of the photos which are now floating all around the basement.

When we compare ourselves with others who were flooded, we got it easy. It’s not easy, bear in mind, but still. My street is flooded, sure, but my land is dry. All the water came up through the sump pit. My rear neighbor has electricity so I can plug a pump in. When all’s said and done we’ll have had about 25 inches of water in the basement. People I know have their entire basement completely flooded, and other neighbors can kayak through their house. Other house, mainly mobile homes have simply been knocked off their foundation.

Some folks have lost everything, barely go out with their lives. If this had happened in the middle of the night instead of at dinner time, there would have been dozens of casualties.

For my family, the bad news is that even though we’ve been luckier than some (most?), we’re still evacuated, and we can’t go back home for a while, as we can’t pump the water out and we have no power, so no heat, light, refrigerator, nothing.

The kids are safe, my wife is safe, and so am I.

Bump in the road.

Decluttering: Donating Old Clothes to Charity

Yesterday my family and I did something that had been haunting us for a long time. I’ve long been a hoarder – trying to reform myself – and doing this kind of thing is difficult, but still. I donated all of my children’s old clothes to charity. This fits nicely within my goal of decluttering our house.

My children are now 4 and 7, and growing like weeds, and we generate a lot of clothes that are barely used and we will never, ever need again, so instead of trying to sell them, we donated them.

Donating Kid's Clothes to Charity
These boxes would NOT fit in my Subaru.

I usually try to sell everything; when you’re trying to pay down a mortgage, every dollar counts. That being said, and as my wife wisely said, it could take years to get rid of that stuff on Kijiji and eBay, and we would not make much money.

Decluttering and Charity are Good for the Soul

Moreover, a lot of these clothes were donated to us, mainly by my sister, who has kids just a bit older than ours, so giving to charity would be paying it forward and good for the soul.

It’s crazy how just getting rid of 6 boxes of old clothes and 2 massive garbage bags would make a difference, but a part of the basement now seems clear after years of clutter. There is still a long ways to go, but we are going in the right direction!

Of course, getting rid of boxes of stuff that’s already been sorted and for which there is a market, so to speak, is easy. The rest of the decluttering is going to take some doing.

One-Month Clutter Challenge: Update 2

We have now been on our One-Month Clutter Challenge for 8 days, or 26% of the month, and I am happy to report that the only ‘clutter item’ we purchased was a Dragon Pen, meant as a little gift for our son, as he loves to write.

As you can see in the chart below, we have spent so far this month $422.16 on groceries, and $45.04 on restaurants.

Monthly Budget Excel Sheet for One-Month Clutter Challenge
This month’s budget is looking good so far!

The groceries can be divided into a single Costco bill of $290.49 and a visit at another grocery store for $131.67. For the Restaurant category, we have $37 going towards a Spaghetti Fundraiser and $8.04 for some chicken wings for lunch.

If we were to keep that level of spending for the entire month, we’d end up with a total monthly spending amount of $1752, which is pretty much on target with our monthly budget.

I’m actually anticipating that our spending will drop for the rest of the month, as I don’t think I’ll make 3 other shopping trips of this magnitude at Costco. Usually I’m good for about $150. Neither my wife nor I have put gas in the cars yet, so we’ll have to see.

If possible, and I may regret those word later, I would like to keep it under $1300 for this month, so as to catch up from last month’s budget disaster.

As you can see, I’m pretty organized; I didn’t make that Excel sheet just for the article, I’ve been using it for years, and it has really help me manage my money more efficiently.

Do you do a monthly budget, and if you do, how do you manage it in the day-to-day, and if not, well, why not? Please let me know in the comments below!

Clutter Removal: One Good Habit To Form

If you feel like clutter has taken over your life, you are not alone. Myself and millions of other people feel that way at every moment of their lives. It can be because you’re a hoarder, even a small-scale one, or simply because you or people you live with are messy.

And that’s okay. It’s okay to be messy, but not to let the clutter and the mess take over your life!

In my case, I would say that I’m a small-scale hoarder. I used to love having lots of stuff, and it’s certainly not because I was deprived in my youth, quite the opposite. I think it’s in my genes, but that’s a story for another day.

This is NOT the Solution!
This is NOT the Solution!

Having a wife and two little kids at home, it’s sometimes difficult to get ahead of the mess, and this can cause trouble. It can lead to minor family strife and friction, all the way to refusing to have people over because everything is all over the place and you’re embarrassed.

There is no quick fix for this; it requires a complete change of behavior on the part of everyone that occupies the place; of course, you can’t force a four-year old to use the vacuum cleaner, but you can start instilling good habits about picking up after yourself, and lead by example. If your child sees you tidying up, he or she will want to do the same!

The One Good Habit to Form if you want to eventually get rid of clutter, is to always have something in your hands. Look around you, right now: something is out of place. Pick it up and put it away, or throw it out. RIGHT NOW.

The Lively Dollar

Now do this all the time.

As you walk around the house doing chore, or anything else, just pick up one little thing and put it where it belongs. You won’t vanquish your clutter in a day, or in a week, but eventually, if you can stick to this little habit, you will.

Once your home is relatively clutter-free, it will be a lot easier to keep it that way. I know from experience that it is difficult to get your head out of the water when it comes to clutter, but consistency in action, and not adding to the clutter with additional stuff, will go a long way!

Tell me your clutter and decluttering stories in the comments below, I’d love to hear what tips and tricks you use, and put them to the test!

The First Step to Effective Decluttering

As I’ve talked about in a previous post, I’m a recovering hoarder. Okay, perhaps recovering is too strong a word. Let’s say that I’ve finally realized what’s wrong with me, and I’m trying to work through it. Being a hoarder is not easy, and breaking the habit of hoarding is the hardest thing to do, even more difficult than getting rid of what you already have.

To me, the first step to effective decluttering is to staunch the inbound flow of clutter, so that you can start thinking clearly about the stuff you already own and that is creating all that pressure and stress..

First things first: stop accumulating stuff!

Try the one One Month Challenge! Simply don’t buy anything except food for a month. It’s a lot harder than it looks, because there will be times when you think that you absolutely need something, and you MUST buy it! Unless it relates to your health or employability, simply put it off. Tell yourself you’ll buy it next month, when the challenge is over. Think of it as a firearms waiting period, except for stuff; chances are, you’ll realize you didn’t need it in the first place or just forget about it. In any case, it stays in the store and not in your home.

Even reducing the inward flow of things in your living space, rather than stopping it completely, can make a huge difference on your health and well-being. Being conscious of what you’re doing, of every single item that comes in your living space, will provoke thoughts. You’ll start visualizing new items after they’ve been in your house for years, untouched, useless and gathering dust. You’ll think twice and consider each purchase more carefully.

This first step to effective decluttering is simply to stop accumulating; once you’ve mastered this, you can move on to eliminating the overflow that’s already around!

Are you a hoarder, or have hoarding tendencies? What are the techniques you use to keep yourself in check? Share in the comments below!