Sick of Your Stuff ? How to Change Everything

I asked Karen from The Art of Doing Stuff to guest post today about how she completely revamped her home in a matter of weeks.  Karen’s blog is currently one of my top five favorite blogs, her writing style, well, you’ll see.  And..

Look at her abs!  Besides having abs of wonder, she is a Jill of all trades and a television host in Canada.

Hi everyone!  I’m new here, so I should probably introduce myself.  My name’s Karen and I do stuff.  You may remember me as the girl who inspired Nester’s tree stump table!  The basic premise of my site The Art of Doing Stuff is,  “If I can do it, you can too”. It’s not that hard.  Any of it!  Except math.  Math’s usually pretty difficult.

I’d like to thank Nester for inviting me over here today.   The invitation came after I commented on her post about editing her house into a place of calm.  She methodically got rid of her stuff until her house felt, not empty, not soulless, but peaceful.

And she did it in a totally reasonable, accessible way that anyone could accomplish.  Nester said … and I quote “I didn’t start by emptying out a room and selling everything.”.

Conversely …. I did.

Yes.  I really did.   Two years ago I sold every single thing I owned and painted my whole house white. Within 2 weeks.  I’m a bit extreme like that.

And this is how it happened …

When I first moved into my home 12 years ago I didn’t own a thing.  Aside from the contents of my hopeless chest, which contained a small juice glass with the Coke logo on it and a set of salt and pepper shakers (shaped like mason jars),  I had nothin’.

Sad but true.  I could finally afford to buy my own house, I just couldn’t afford to put anything in it.  Luckily the house I bought was a 170 year old brick cottage.  This worked to my advantage because when you put old junk in a new house it looks like old junk.    When you put old junk in an old house, it blends.

Over the years I slowly acquired a whole lot of old junk.  I either bought it at an auction, at an antique store or when I was really lucky, I found it at the side of the road.  In amongst the cigarette butts and dried up worms, I found things like perfectly good soiled chairs.  I stripped, painted and disinfected for about a decade.  The home I ended up with was very cozy and comfortable.  Picture Granny’s house without Tweety Bird.

 

My living room then.

Literally everything in it was old and every piece of furniture had a folded up piece of cardboard under at least 1 leg.  Without the cardboard stuff had a tendency to tip over and hit you in the shin.  I had red velvet curtains and a red velvet couch and my dining room was painted red.

My dining room then.

The decorating wasn’t exactly spastic, but boy oh boy, wherever you looked there was some sort of antique assault followed by a one two punch of colour.   For the first year it was cozy.  For the next decade it was oppressive.

I never created proper storage, which was desperately needed.  In the olden days people only owned one coat and a bar of lye soap so they didn’t need closets.  Being that it was built in the olden days, my house didn’t have much in terms of closet space.

Because of this I never had anywhere to put anything.  Things were shoved under the couch, books were scattered from one end of the house to the other and I could never find my stupid stapler!!

One day I took a look around at my very cozy, grandmotherly house and screamed.  Oh my Lord, who lives here???!!   I got itchy and claustrophobic and I’m pretty sure I even developed a twitch.  You know when something isn’t right in a room and you keep moving things around to make it better?  That wasn’t working anymore.

My foyer then.

I hated, hated, HATED every inch of my house.  I hated it like it had wronged me.  It was personal this rift between me and my house.   I felt sweaty and disorganized and frankly a little bit curious about all those medications everyone on Intervention seemed to love.

And then one day my fella spotted a couch that he liked.  It was a taupe, minimalist, sectional sofa.  I liked the couch too.  The problem was, that couch would look stupid in our house.  Completely ridiculous.  Which depressed me.

We came home couchless from the couch shop, I took one look around at my retirement home house and it happened.  And it was instant.

I full-on snapped.   Within 2 weeks I sold everything I owned and painted my whole house white.

My living room today.  And yes, that’s the couch that started it all!

 

It’s been 2 years since “the incident” (not to be confused with “the great centipede purge” of 2007).  I have filled the house back up with things I love.  Some of them old and some of them new.  There’s even one thing that I found at the side of the road!  I installed floor to ceiling book cases and found a place to store everything.  And let me tell you … white is the botox of paint colours.  We both look younger and fresher for it.

My foyer today.

photo by donna griffith for style at home magazine

My dining room now.

This larger than life portrait is one of the few things I kept.  When my father died 10 years ago, my mother gave me and my sisters $2,000 with the stipulation that it be spend on a piece of art in memory of my dad.   I bought “Margaret”.  I will never get rid of Margaret.  Even if you go through the same thing I did and sell everything you own, save the things you truly love and have meaning for you.  Things like Margaret.

photo by donna griffith for style at home magazine

My twitch is gone and I feel much calmer and much more comfortable.   I was a bit worried that going so extreme with the white was going to make my house cold and sterile.  That when guests walked in they’d break out into a sweat, worried they were in store for some unexpected surgical procedure.  But it isn’t cold at all!  As long as you add in a few fuzzy things (cats count), white can be very cozy.  Think of our friend the polar bear.  What’s cozier than one of those?

And you wouldn’t believe how much easier your life becomes when you just have somewhere specific to put the extra toilet paper.   And the board games!  Go ahead!  Ask me to find my Scrabble board.  I can do it in 30 seconds flat with time left over to grab the Boggle!

Plus, since redoing my house, it’s ended up in the pages of Style at Home magazine.  That would never have happened with Granny’s house.  Ever.

I’m savin’ time, I’m savin’ money’ (I’ve had the same stapler for the past year) and I’m not walking around with a bunch of cartoon squiggly swear words over my head all day.

I figure I’ve gained at least an extra half an hour a day because I’m no longer wandering around trying to find stuff or trying to figure out where to put stuff.  That totals an extra 3 1/2 hours a week, or 7 1/2 days in a year.  An entire week’s worth of time was gained by clearing out the crap I didn’t need and finding a proper place for the stuff I did. Of course, I’m just estimating here, but it seems like a reasonable estimate to me.  I worked it out on paper and it all seems right.

Want me to staple it together and send it to you?   ‘Cause I can!  In an instant.

Visit Karen at The Art of Doing Stuff

 

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Comments

  1. Inspiring. Amazing. Love how she created her very own style!

  2. LOVE THIS! HOW extreme, but how inspiring. (Now envisioning selling everything in my home…it would definitely take longer than two weeks. Yes, too much “stuff.” )

  3. fantastic!!
    i just found myself yelling things like amen sista, & preach on.
    i laughed out loud
    i sighed when i saw the image of her looking at margaret. margaret right?
    the abs? good gracious.

  4. I’m so inspired to clean it all out. Dont’ think I can get rid of as much as she did, but I would love to try. My to-do list for this summer is getting longer and longer…

  5. What a bold move! Love her new decor, especially all the bookcases!!

  6. I sold everything I had 5 years ago and moved to the states. We came here with all we owned in 5 suitcases. All we had was an empty condo, which we filled in one day. I didn’t love the stuff we bought, but after 5 years we now have the perfect furniture and stuff for our space.
    Next year I will do it again. I will sell everything and move back to Norway. We will rent a space, have no furniture and hope and pray that we will get find the right furniture on the first try. I think we now know more about what we like.
    It is very freeing to do this, but I sure hope it is the last time we do this kind of moving again. At least this time we are taking 8 suitcases home.

  7. LOVE this! I want so badly to do the same thing! Just keep my MOST favorite things and PITCH THE REST. Unfortunately, if I did that, I wouldn’t have anything for a very long time. No sofa, no chair, … you get the idea. Unfortunately, I am financially disabled at this point… But MAN, I can NOT WAIT until I can do this very thing! It’s going to be so refreshing and SO FUN!!

    Thank you for the inspiration and I jut LOVE your place!

  8. Wow! I’m definitely inspired. It’s so easy to get stuck –I keep telling my hubby that we need to aspire to a “resort lifestyle” which by own definition means living like on vacation. In other words – reduce our stuff so that we can spend our time relaxing, reading, and enjoying each other like we would on a trip. Now if I only I could take my own words to heart…

  9. I love the part about the Margaret painting. What a neat idea to remember a loved one! And I may have snorted about cats counting as ‘fluffy things’. What a terrific post, thanks!

  10. amazing!!! i’ve been following the art of doing stuff, but i never saw the “before” of your house. makes me feel a little better about some of the granny-like choices i’ve made in the past decade. i went on a neutralizing rampage about a year and a half ago after our 2nd was born and i haven’t looked back! you and nester are the awesomest

  11. I’ve been deleting decorating blogs left and right from my links blog. I had like 75 on there. WTH? I just couldn’t keep up with that. So I set up a little contest in my brain and decided to keep around 30. I kept yours and I’m going to add this blog because it is a GRIN-FEST. Oh, yeah!

    Dixie

  12. Awesome story and great inspiration!

  13. What an amazing difference! That dining table is so beautiful.

  14. Love this! Seriously, I’ve been on the verge of an “incident” myself. I’m tired of the clutter and the inability to find stuff. Thank you for the amazing inspiration! :)

  15. Oh my! Absolutely incredible. Two weeks? Really? Only two weeks? I love everything about it. I am saving this post to turn to in moments of panic. Absolutely incredible.

    Just one thing? I don’t need a stapled piece of paper but do you fancy coming over to London and helping me????!

  16. WOW: This is me RIGHT NOW… getting anxious and yes, even ‘twitchy’ from years of accumulating STUFF… of course stuff I love and stuff I have good intentions to ‘redo’… but right now all I want to do is get rid of everything and paint everything those same ‘spa’ shades! LOVE THEM!

    Thanks for inspiring me, or at the very least, making me feel like I’m not the only ‘crazy’ person out there! LOL!

  17. I am gobsmacked !!! LOVE LOVE LOVE !!!

  18. :) Thanks everyone … I wanted to mention that if you have *any* intention of doing this, it really is possible even on a small budget if your stuff is good enough to sell. Most of my stuff was sold at my antique booth and on Kijiji or Craigslist. For instance, with the money I sold my dining room set for, I made enough money to buy my antique pine harvest table. ~ karen

  19. Holy cow, I can’t believe that’s the same house! What an amazing transformation. Love it!

  20. Paulina J! says:

    I’ve been following Karen for about a year and had no idea that’s what her house used to look like. It was cozy, but the “new” house is AMAZING. Karen is magnificent and is one of the funniest, creative blogs I read!

  21. I love this post! I’m also totally sick of my stuff. Most of it are items my family has given me that I feel obligated to keep. I love her new house! wow!

    • NikkiFB says:

      I read something once that cured me (mostly) of this; I think it was Julie Morgenstern, she (if it WAS her) said, in essence, is your relationship with the person strong enough to continue even if you don’t keep every gift you received from them? I’ve gotten more careful to keep things that I *love* and only the really special things that remind me of someone I *love*, and let go the stuff I was only keeping out of guilt. (Of course, we also don’t live near family–so no one will be visiting me and asking where their stuff is! LOL)

      Loved this post, btw. There is a good side of being a renter/frequent mover: we clear out all the stuff when we move every few years, and what we keep looks fresh in every new house! Not as extreme as a 2-week total makeover, but gradually we are getting better at choosing what is “us” and what to let go.

  22. HOLY HOUSE MAKEOVER BATMAN!!!!! ahhhhhhh love it!!!!!

  23. oh.my.word.

    that is amazing.

    I wonder what it’s done for her? besides provide more time…like is she happier? is that the key to the abs? does she laugh more?

    I can not believe that transformation!

  24. OMG, you can see why I adore this lady! Been a fan for awhile, so so so happy to see her face, her words, and her house over at Nesting Place!
    xo
    Kate

  25. I love this! I have become so overwhelmed by all of my stuff lately and all the things that just don’t have a place. Hearing her story makes me wonder if i really NEED all these things that don’t have a place in my house. I could use an extra day in my week, especially since I seem to spend inordinate amounts of time lately wondering where I put this or that!

  26. white is the botox of paint colors.

    i’m sold.

  27. Okay, but seriously, how’d she get those abs???

  28. Karen, I think we may be kindred spirits! This is an excerpt from my site’s welcome message: “Some things that interest me include: food, photography, music, art, design, gardening, sports. But not math! I still have nightmares about high school Algebra II .”

    NO MATH!!!

  29. Oh my. I love the transformation. There is so much beautiful space! And I so love the story of the Margaret. I don’t think I would get rid of her either.

  30. I wouldn’t have known it was the same house. Hello, Extreme Makeover!

  31. I love this! I want her house and her abs!

  32. I’m so glad you kept Margaret! The house is awesome, but she makes it AMAZING!

  33. Thanks for sharing! I love the way she writes and certainly love the way her house looks! Beautiful!

    Pam

  34. There have been soooo many days where I’ve wanted to do the same thing she did…sell it all and start from scratch. I don’t think I’d go as modern as she did (I love traditional!), but I love her concept.

  35. Wow.

    What an amazing home. I cannot believe the difference between the “then” and “now”… usually things don’t change THAT much! Love it.

    Karen… please help: I am in love with you dining room table. The wood one? I searched your blog for info on it and can’t find a thing.

    • Hi Anna – There’s info on my table *somewhere* on my site, but um…. I’m not sure where. :) I had it custom made from antique barn board. So it’s an antique harvest table that I had made new if that makes any sense. I had it done by http://www.gregorybrand.ca. It was the most expensive thing I bought but it also gets the most use. And I LOVE it. I’ve wanted a harvest table my whole life! Oh! The best part is he designed end pieces that slip in to extend the table. I might have to do a post on those. They’re ingenious. ~ karen

  36. That is NOT the same living room!!! Shut the door.

    I love it.

    Thanks for tossing some inspiration around for us hungry birds.

  37. Loved this! Thanks for introducing Karen to us . . . just off to check out her blog!

  38. Amazingly inspired!! and, by the way, something that is really at the forefront of my thoughts as we get ready to move to a smaller place. I am glad she kept “Margaret” though. :-)

  39. jackie s says:

    where did u find that couch? were looking for one just like that!

    • Jackie – I got the sofa at http://www.EQ3.com Unfortunately, I just checked and they don’t carry it anymore. They don’t even seem to carry a reasonable facsimile. We bought the show model off the floor (great way to get a deal on big pieces of furniture by the way) Sorry! ~ karen

  40. Love to see when someone takes the reins of their life like you did here. It is amazing – you have great taste. The best part of the whole transformation is the fact that you now have more time to enjoy life and not be the caretaker of all the wrong details.

    My best- Diane

  41. OMG– she is a HOOT and sooo right! I can’t wait for my teaching year to be over so i can get my house in order… literally. :) Thanks for sharing!

  42. Everyday, I think the Nester is talking to me! I have started listening and started getting rid of the junk that I’m sick of!
    Debbie

  43. I really enjoyed this post. Uproariously funny too. Regarding making a white house feel warm, fuzzy stuff works. So does all of that beautiful wood Karen has!

  44. a fantastic post!!!!!!!! LOVE YOUR HOME, karen!!!
    – {darlene}
    fieldstonehilldesign.com

  45. Wow wow wow wow wow!

    I also can’t believe it’s the same place! Sometimes I like the old, grandmotherly look but in this case I absolutely LOVE the fresh air she breathed into her home! The funny thing- I use colors to make my newer home look cozier and less like an institution. I had white walls for a very long time and I felt like we were living in a cold hospital room. I guess there are different ways to use white…some look cozier than others (your white looks really inviting!).

  46. Love the new house and Jill. Thanks for sharing.

  47. Heather K. says:

    We recently inherited Grammy’s 100 year old farm house, complete with all the clutter and curio cabinets full of glasswear. When I am home too long, it makes my blood pressure rise and my eyes twitch. I would love to keep a few things and get rid of the rest. Any ideas on how to convince my husband?

    • Hmm. That’s a tough one. Who’s actual Grammy is it? They obviously have the upper hand in this situation. You could accidentally start breaking stuff. The truth is this is now our house and your life. Grammy got to acquire things she loved and you deserve the same chance. I’d find a nice collection of stuff that goes well together, like cups and saucers are things that are all the same colour palate and then keep those. Display them in a cabinet or on a shelf, or fireplace mantle. Somewhere they’re shown off as a collection of Grammy’s things. They’ll have more impact that way and you’ll find you like the things a lot more when there are a few select pieces of them. How’s that? ~ karen

  48. Anonymous says:

    now i hate my couch…lol! seriously, i’ve hated it since the day it was delivered. :p my husband will love me so much when i purge. haha! btw, how did the husband take it? love margaret. love the painting, love the name. my middle daugther is named savannah margaret – margaret after my grandma, she hates it…but i digress. :-)

  49. Oh my goodness, I think you are reading my mind!!!! We have a late 1800’s Victorian, and we’re
    “de-grannifying” currently. I completely know what you mean!!!! We’re painting out the huge, mahogany woodwork (except the beautifully carved mantle) and doing away with all our red walls!!! I’m keeping my obnoxiously bright yellow sofa which is a somewhat-Empire-like antique velvet with carved wood down the arms and across the back – I love this crazy thing!).

    I LOVED reading your story of home transformation! We’re following along, a few steps behind, and it’s fun to see how amazing more contemporary finishes and furnishings look in a beautiful old home.

  50. OMG I saved that feature from Style at Home. I remember seeing Karen on Cityline too.

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