the smell of my desperation has become a stench

The life-changing magic of shut the hell up

Last October I began in earnest what would become a three-month project of clearing out/rearranging/organizing… wait. Did I say three month? HA! HAHA. No. Nope. It is still going on, that project. Still reaching up from out of nowhere with a fleshy tendril to whack me in the face with a giant bin full of Leta’s 2nd-grade artwork. That is totally meaningful and teeming with memories! What? Of course, I’m going to keep all of it. Right until I throw it all away.

(Mom, where is all of my 2nd-grade artwork that you saved for me? OH, RIGHT. You fed a family of dumpsters for a week with it.)

I had a room in my basement stacked from floor to ceiling, wall to wall with shit (there is no other word that adequately expresses what it was) I’d collected over the last 10 years of running my own business. Just… all that stuff you collect: folders of paperwork and files and old hard drives and newspapers and shipping envelopes and that box filled with copies of The Notebook on DVD (at least 20 of them [what if one went missing, and then another, and then ONLY 18 LEFT?! NO. I will not live like that.]). I donated as much of it as I could and then drove three SUV-sized cars filled with everything else out to the Salt Lake County Landfill where I sorted everything into their recycling dumpsters. That’s right. I recycled it. To offset the fact that publishers have routinely been sending me books packaged in enough cardboard to kill whatever trees are left in Peru.

This leaves me with one more room, the place where I put everything that needed a more thorough examination than this:

Me: *takes not even a cursory glance at the contents of a folder of paper* *actually doesn’t even open the folder* *okay, fine, barely picks it up to toss it in a bag* “Trash.”

This room is full of Very Important Documents (legal and otherwise), bank stuff, camera stuff, special items readers have sent me over the years, and bin after bin after bin of the girls’ schoolwork—

Wait. Let me stop you right now. You do not need to send me a copy of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Nope! Nu-uh! I’ve read enough of it to know what I need to know. Which is that I do not want to continue reading it.

No offense to the author or to those whom it has helped. I’m just not a fan of someone saying to me, “If you don’t do it my way then you will fail.” No one has ever relapsed into disorganization after hiring her or using her method? Show me the science, GINA. Except you can’t because anyone who has relapsed into disorganization is hiding it right before you come over to inspect their clutter/most vulnerable part of their personalities.

I could write a series of posts about how much I don’t agree with the the privilege and snootiness of this book and its complete lack of awareness of that privilege and snootiness. SO DO NOT GET ME STARTED.

There I said it.

P.S. Did she really suggest in that chapter over there that *children* will absorb the “magic” of tidying up through osmosis? Oh, honey. Your book fell in to the hands of the wrong mommy blogger.

At some point I will get to those bins of artwork (according to my work schedule, sometime in 2018), clutch a portrait Leta painted in 4th grade and ask myself in earnest, “Does this bring me joy?” And then I’ll feed a dumpster for a week.

The workspace I have set up in the house sits in a basement room with two large glass doors but gets very little light, if any at all. I started this project so that I could get to a place here in January where the room would be filled with light (I’ve installed approximately 200 lamps around the room), have shelving filled with some of my favorite books and have artwork hanging on the walls. I’ve documented some of the progress in Instagram:

A photo posted by Heather B. Armstrong (@dooce) on

A photo posted by Heather B. Armstrong (@dooce) on

I’d love at some point to have a full gallery of the whole room as it has turned into by far my most favorite home office yet. I love working down here, even on days when it’s hovering around 21 degrees outside and I can’t keep the house warm. Those are the days when I work with my entire body wrapped in an electric blanket, my whole torso hunched over my keyboard toward the monitor in case I can absorb heat from it, too. I’m sure I look like some turtle a kid has found in his backyard, and out of curiosity wants to see what it would look like if he sat it upright.

The shelving unit in the giant photo up top sits in a very dark hallway, its only light source coming from around the corner. So yes, those are fake plants from IKEA. Judge all you want, they will never die. Unlike everything else that is important in our lives.


Everything here is something I’ve collected over the last 18 years I’ve worked online, including the vintage globes, the Japanese chef’s knife, the antique clock, the framed cross-stitched cover of my book (thank you, Julie Jackson), and the nameplate from my first web design job in Los Angeles in 1999 featuring my maiden name which some of you may associate with me more than the name I currently go by. But then, I guess it could say “Raving Lunatic” or “Self-Absorbed Moron” or “Bottom Feeder” and you would know exactly who it was referring to.

  • AuntHo

    2016/01/13 at 8:12 am

    Thanks Bottom Feeder. Your posts give me life.

  • Lauren3

    2016/01/13 at 8:25 am

    Same here, AuntHo. Thanks, Raving Lunatic.

  • Cee

    2016/01/13 at 8:32 am

    I can’t believe you keep a drawing of bugs on your wall. I mean, I can, but I can’t.

  • Richard Morey

    2016/01/13 at 8:32 am

    “children will absorb the “magic” of tidying up through osmosis”? hahahahahaha

    My father was very neat and organized and I… am not..

  • Joe Ganley

    2016/01/13 at 8:34 am

    Heh – the bug drawing was the thing that jumped out at me as “ooh, I like that.”

  • Maggy

    2016/01/13 at 8:49 am

    I adore your writing & miss seeing your post as often as they used to.

  • Jessica

    2016/01/13 at 8:55 am

    A friend recommended that book to me. What a crock. I have never felt so shamed by a book before. I could practically hear her wagging her finger at me for keeping that old concert T-shirt that doesn’t fit.
    And if you have family I find it doubly impractical.

  • NancyR

    2016/01/13 at 9:10 am

    I take photos of the kids’ artwork before I recycle it…so my computer is cluttered with digital photos instead.

  • Kim

    2016/01/13 at 9:25 am

    Thank you as always for the refreshing honesty. We have a room that is the guest room/storage room and it’s really more of the latter. Luckily our guests don’t mind falling asleep underneath a towering bookshelf filled with shit. This spring is purge time though, and I may need to bring in reinforcements (my mom) to help us throw away and sort/package all the papers from school days. Our own. We are adults. And I have binders of essays I wrote in high school. I’m doomed when I have kids.

  • Kim

    2016/01/13 at 9:25 am

    This is my fear. It is already my reality for vacation and general life photos. What will happen to us and our digital hoarding lives?

  • Kristy Bell

    2016/01/13 at 9:36 am

    Gorgeous and inspiring. Thanks for sharing. I didn’t hate the book, but I feel so much better (thank you) about my complete failure to implement her program. Who has that much time to dedicate to extended, uninterrupted “tidying”? Work, family, animals, feeding oneself?? It’s a nice fantasy, but got me no where. But, the world hasn’t come to an end, so I will continue to chip away.

  • Lily Hydrangea

    2016/01/13 at 9:38 am

    Our son was born tidy & organized. Sadly, he absorbed the magic of slovenly ways through the osmosis of living with his artist parents.

  • Shelbey

    2016/01/13 at 9:42 am

    I just get really excited when you have a new post now.

  • Shelly Knight

    2016/01/13 at 9:50 am

    Thank you for also validating what Heather’s saying-I felt the same way, but at the time could not put my finger on it!

  • AmyRyb

    2016/01/13 at 10:51 am

    I also take pics of my kids’ artwork. When the pile gets annoying I take five minutes and do it. I have easy-change frames in the toy corner that I change out seasonally, mostly with the abstract stuff but with some seasonally appropriate stuff, too–a couple snowflake pics right now. I keep anything that will work there and store them in the frames. I keep a few select pieces that are particularly awesome or relevant to that kid’s interests, and ditch the rest without guilt. I usually put about five items in one shot so even the photo storage isn’t bad.

  • Laird Nelson

    2016/01/13 at 11:03 am

    “Oh, honey. Your book fell in to the hands of the wrong mommy blogger.” Only thing missing is a good “bless your heart”. God, I love this blog.

  • halfassedkitchen

    2016/01/13 at 11:11 am

    Yeah, I’m not even going to read that book. The ‘only keep it if it brings you joy’ premise is kind of dumb. Old tax documents don’t bring me joy. Nor do tubes of lip balm (okay, maybe the fresh sugar stuff brings me a little joy), batteries, or small, plastic pencil sharpeners. But they serve a purpose. Thanks for your funny post and minty fresh photos!

  • laura h

    2016/01/13 at 12:14 pm

    All I need to know in this moment is where that shelving unit is from (in the first photo).

  • gunter

    2016/01/13 at 12:33 pm


  • Katybeth

    2016/01/13 at 12:57 pm

    Clutter it great example of like attracts like. A friend bought one black and white cow and soon she had 10 because friends thought she collected cows (maybe I had something to do with this. maybe not). I did like The Art of Tidying Up. And it does seem easier to toss something after thanking it. I have no idea why but it is true for me. And my own kid did grow up to be tidy because that is how it went at our house. Of-course some kid stages were better than others. What I don’t understand is the “privilege and snootiness” comment. And what exactly is wrong with being white and privileged? As long as you realize that what you have is a gift not given to everyone and do your best to use your privilege to help others? I applaud all your efforts for those with less or no voice and I have supported many of them but snobbery goes both ways. Happy New Year!

  • sue elliott

    2016/01/13 at 2:15 pm

    Have planned a purge of the grandies bedroom next week. Am sure it will be the highlight of his summer hols. He and his mum, my lovely girl, are hoarders in complete contrast to my ‘chuck it out and worry about it later’ motto. It will be a battle, but not as big a battle as it is presently finding his bed.

  • Kim Garbison

    2016/01/13 at 2:50 pm

    Whew! Now I know I don’t need that book!

  • Heather Armstrong

    2016/01/13 at 4:55 pm

    IKEA. It must be relatively new because I can’t find it on the site, but it was cheap.

  • Maggie Pinque

    2016/01/13 at 7:17 pm

    Oh how I loathed that book. Returned it to the library almost as soon as I brought it home.
    We had a pipe freeze and break last week ~ it’s amazing how quick stuff I “needed” ended up at the curb.
    Thanks for a new post – love it. xo

  • REK981

    2016/01/14 at 9:13 am

    I didn’t finish that book. I got the gist and applied it broadly to my life but who the hell throws away a screwdriver but keeps a ruler? Anyone that tells me I will fail at life if I don’t follow their way…they can fuck off. Your office has come together nicely. I have a house with poor natural light and I now have 4 lamps in my small living room. I need light. Also, fake plants are the BEST!

  • Carla DeLauder

    2016/01/14 at 11:37 am

    If you’re organized enough to buy a book on how to organize (and, worse, you have the time to read it), you don’t need the book.

    Go to Starbucks instead and get a venti Americano, then swing by the mall and grab some free boxes from the dumpsters, go home, put on some baggy sweats and a relic of a t-shirt, play an Old Crow Medicine Show CD and get to work.

    If you can’t figure it out from there, you need a shrink. But definitely not a book.

  • Carolyn

    2016/01/14 at 12:31 pm

    This makes me sad. It’s an interesting book with a lot of kindness in it, and the notion of letting items go with gratitude is meaningful. It is indeed a book for people “lucky” enough to have more than they need. It’s also a book to help us (me) understand that living with the literal weight of needless objects is an exercise in suffocation, not freedom. When you make space in your home, you are in fact freeing space in your own mind and heart.

    Children do absorb adult behavior, and I think Heather knows that very well. It is, in fact, almost all that they do. It’s all they can do. It’s how they form themselves for the most part. By trying on adult roles and deciding which ones fit. So if you spend time in your life considering objects and whether they are necessary/good/useful/joyful, your children are much more likely to naturally adopt the same considerations. Or, to adopt the practice of filling rooms with s**t they don’t need.

  • Carolyn

    2016/01/14 at 12:32 pm

    If the concert tee brings you joy, the author would want you to keep it.

  • Carolyn

    2016/01/14 at 12:36 pm

    My understanding was that the author meant for people to dedicate about six months to the process, more or less depending on the amount of stuff you own. That is how the life change comes in. “Chipping away” takes the entire rest of one’s life. You will never be done.

  • Carolyn

    2016/01/14 at 12:38 pm

    Your guests probably do mind.

  • Dina Stroud

    2016/01/15 at 9:57 am

    All I can think of is how much I miss Chuck.

  • Celtickat53

    2016/01/15 at 1:02 pm

    I used to regularly go thru things and toss out that which I had not used in at least a year – standard mantra, right? If you haven’t used it in a year . . . Right. I donated a lot of books, thinking to share them with others. Now I see those same books for sale at Amazon for incredible amounts. A book I paid $10 for is now worth $46.44???? So much for “clearing the clutter.”

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

read more