Why I’m supporting Uncluttered 2018

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Over 16,000 people have taken Joshua Becker’s Uncluttered Course and I’m one of them.

Already well on my way to becoming a fully-fledged minimalist (and having already started my own blog), I had the chance to join the course back in 2016.

Taking the Uncluttered programme incentivised me to go to the next level when it came to removing the excess from my own life.

Getting started

If you’re still looking to get started on your journey to leading a life of more with less, the Uncluttered course could be for you.

Feel like you’re buried under a mountain of things that need to be organised and maintained? Want to downsize, but live with a ‘maximalist’ and/or kids, or just can’t seem to get there on your own?

You may have embraced the idea of minimalism and read a great deal about it, but still felt unable to take the next step. The Uncluttered course may just be what you need.

Practical, useful and inspirational

A 12-week online programme, the course includes videos, articles, weekly challenges and an online Facebook community.

Before you can declutter, you have to believe it’s possible. Created by my friends over at Becoming Minimalist, Uncluttered helps you visualise the home you want, then takes you step by step towards achieving that goal. 

Every Monday, participants receive fresh content straight into their inboxes, providing a fresh impetus week-by-week for the decluttering journey.

Accountability with community

Once you’ve registered for the course, you’ll benefit from being a part of the Uncluttered online community. People sometimes struggle with letting go but the online Facebook community offers a non-judgemental, supportive and friendly environment where you can share both your successes, as well as your challenges.

In particular, if you’ve taken Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies Quiz and you know you’re an Obliger (like me!), taking a course like Uncluttered provides the external accountability you need to achieve your goals.

A worldwide phenomenon

I love the fact that, by taking this course, you’ll also get to interact with people all over the world. The team at Becoming Minimalist have created a map of the world, so you can add yourself and view where other Uncluttered participants are based (locally, nationally and internationally).

A quick look at the map today showed that there are Uncluttered folks in the UK as far north as the Shetland Isles and as far south as Plymouth!

It’s not about tidying up

If the idea of tidying up puts you off, then good. Because this programme isn’t about tidying up; it’s so much more than that.

Owning less is definitely better than organising more. The freedom and lightness you feel when you let go of the excess in your life brings so many rewards. It could even boost your bank balance, as you lose the urge to keep on buying more and more stuff you don’t actually need.

Giving back in ways both small and big

I’ve previously written about ways in which embracing minimalism can help you help others. Remember my post on The love that flourishes when you let go of stuff?

I am especially pleased to support Uncluttered since I know that embracing minimalism has given Joshua Becker a platform to make a huge difference to people’s lives – and not just in the minimalism space.

As founder of The Hope Effect, Becker, along with his team, is working to establish a new model of orphan care, which emphasises family-based solutions for children in care. This means that children will be raised in a family-style unit, which research shows can influence positively a range of developmental milestones.

Want to know what others think?

Here’s what others have said about Uncluttered:

“The term life-changing gets thrown around a lot, but this course really is. I went into it with a lot of shame and anxiety. Joshua gently guided us in a way that made lasting change seem possible. My home is much improved, but my mindset is also clearer.”

—Kathryn W., Los Angeles, CA

“The power of this shared experience is hard to explain to people, it is so overwhelmingly positive. It not only provides the incentive to keep going, but reminds you there are good people out there. You find yourself rooting for complete strangers. Together, there is a momentum that drives you through the course. It was completely unexpected and so overwhelmingly helpful.”

—Tanya S., Webster, NY

“I am a better mother, a better wife, a better housekeeper, a better budgeter, a better teacher, a better neighbor and a better friend. I’m still a work in progress, but it feels good to be where I am at.”

—Pam L.

“My credit card statement came today. $1,000.00 under my typical monthly balance! Thank you Uncluttered community. I’ve been at this for years; however, it’s clear I truly needed this group to get to that next level.”

—Cheyanne M., St. Paul, MN

Check it out

So, head on over to the Uncluttered website itself or discover more via Becoming Minimalist. And let me know if you decide to join!

A quick, final tip for you: If you buy Joshua Becker’s book, The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own, you’ll find a 25% discount for Uncluttered in the back of the book, saving you money off the usual $89 course fee. And it’s cheaper to buy the book and use the discount code than it is to pay full price—the option is yours.

Happy uncluttering!


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My first month with EveryDollar

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I’ve written before that we follow a ‘dual account budgeting‘ approach when it comes to personal finance. This simply means running two current accounts in parallel.

One account is for all regular payments (e.g. our household standing orders and direct debits). The other is for all other “discretionary spending” for other items in the budget that will vary, so which require a higher degree of control.

Simplify your finances

By running two accounts, managing our monthly budget becomes much simpler. The first account is topped up on pay day, then it pretty much runs itself.

This leaves only the second account to manage whose spending categories are reduced to a small sub-set of headings, as follows:

  • Food/groceries
  • Transportation
  • Mobile phones (I’m on a pay-and-go arrangement, not a contract)
  • Lifestyle (costs associated with hobbies, pet care, hairdressing, clothing etc.)

So far, I’ve normally used a spreadsheet to manage our finances. However, as a regular listener to Dave Ramsey’s podcast, I was curious as to whether or not the EveryDollar app would work for us.

What’s different about EveryDollar?

EveryDollar is designed around a zero-based budget. That is, every month you decide (in advance) how you’re going to allocate money to each of your particular spending categories.

The name stems from Dave Ramsey’s approach to budgeting: if you give every dollar a name and tell your cash where to go, you’ll win with money.

In my case, I need an app called ‘EveryPound’ but that doesn’t quite have the same ring to it! So, EveryDollar it is!

Creating your budget

When creating your budget, the idea is that you input your income, then allocate your expenditure by category so that the latter totals the former. It’s a bit like a contemporary take on double-entry book keeping: both income and expenditure have to balance.

This allows you to:

  • Pay down debt
  • Allocate money for savings, including a sinking fund
  • Plan for upcoming monthly spending
  • Stick to your budget

I was already creating a zero-based budget with my own spreadsheet, but the EveryDollar app has a simple and visually-appealing user interface, so I decided to run both systems in parallel throughout March/April to see which one I preferred.

What’s a sinking fund?

One option you can select when setting your budget in the app is to establish a sinking fund. This is essentially a mini savings “pot”  for things you know you’ll be paying for at some point in the year. It’s like a virtual piggy bank.

In our case, that’s £125 per month towards the annual service for our family car (plus anything else car-related)/, as well as a fund for Christmas. I trust that £1500 in total will be more than enough for both vehicle and Santa, but we’ll see!

By establishing a sinking fund, you don’t have to raid your emergency fund if, for example, you suddenly need a complete new set of tyres. You can also budget throughout the year for bills such as a your annual travel insurance policy or car insurance (cheaper than paying monthly).

With EveryDollar, I wasn’t sure if I needed to account for the £125 as a transaction (in which case, would this be “income” or an “expense”?). So, I experimented and found that the app just accounted for the £125 going into the ‘fund’; I didn’t have to record it as a transaction at all.

A slice of the cake

Another feature of EveryDollar is that it shows you what proportion of the whole a particular budget heading represents.

So, if you’re nerdy like me and you want to check what percentage of your total budget you’re devoting to a particular category, you can check. The app tells you what proportion of the ‘cake’ you’ve planned to spend, as well as how much you have remaining. That’s esimportant if you’re paying down debt and are intentionally on a tight budget.

By splitting my expenditure across two accounts, it makes it a little more tricky to work out what I’m spending as a proportion of the whole on each category.

I had a mini moment of panic when I saw the percentage apportioned to food and groceries, but when I did the maths (across the two accounts), I was relieved to see that what I’d allocated was less than 10% of the whole.

If you’re curious what Ramsey recommends, you can find a guide on the EveryDollar website.

Linking up your accounts

One thing I can’t do is link up the EveryDollar app’ to our bank account. To do this, you need to pay for EveryDollarPlus (and I don’t believe this would work across the Pond).

Instead, I track my spending by recording a transaction every time one hits my account. This way, I can keep a close eye on that particular category and check what I’ve got left.

A new month

As the new month rolled around, you’d expect me to have done the budget for April. However, I’m waiting until pay day (the third week of the month) to prepare my budget for April/May.

I know that some EveryDollar users are comfortable running their budget to align with the calendar month, but my ‘fiscal month’ is 24th to 23rd. This means my monthly headings are going to lag behind; until 24 April, we’ll still be in “March”. Maybe that’s a good thing. It still feels like winter!

Setting an intention

Of course, one of the aims of the app is modify users’ spending habits. Right now, the jury’s out. So, I’m going to carry on with my comparison of app versus spreadsheet. Let’s see, as the rest of April unfolds.

Do you have a favourite way of managing your budget? Perhaps you use an app like EveryDollar or have tried my dual account budgeting approach. Let me know by replying to the post, below!


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A change of identity

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I’m migrating my MidlandsMinimalist website over to CatherineElizabethGordon.com

I’ll be making some little changes over the next few days, as I switch from the old to new domain name, but things should otherwise remain as they are.

The key focus of the blog remains: Minimalism and simple living are still at the top of my agenda, as well as topics including:

  • Decluttering
  • The minimalist kitchen
  • Digital detox
  • Wellbeing
  • Budgeting
  • Ethical consumerism
  • Sustainable living
  • And more!

With over 1000 followers the blog, now’s a great time to move forward using my own name instead of my original blog title. So, thank you for following! I really appreciate it.

Come over and say hi on Twitter – I’m @CathElizGordon (but you’ll still see me there if you follow @MidsMinimalist) and on Instagram, I’m @catherineelizabethgordon


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An update on going car free

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I recently wrote about my first few days of being car-free, which coincided with somewhat challenging weather conditions and me starting a new job.

Things have settled down a little, so I thought it would be fun to update you on what going car-free has meant to me.

Patience is a virtue

‘Hurry up and wait’ is the order of the day when ‘public’ is your main mode of transport. Sometimes, at the end of a day, you turn up at the interchange, jump on a bus and are home within half an hour. Other days, you wait (and wait…and wait).

You have to learn to be laid-back about punctuality or be prepared set off very early if you’re keen to arrive at your destination on time.

Sometimes, the bus doesn’t turn up at all. “Yes,” says the cheerily responsive person representing the bus company on Twitter: “I can see the bus isn’t operating but I don’t know why…” Patience is definitely a virtue.

Every cloud….

Every cloud has a silver lining. If you have to wait, then it’s a chance to read (even if you’re standing at a bus stop in the snow).

Reading on the bus is an absolute joy. So far, I’ve read a whole novel, courtesy of Warwickshire Libraries’ cleverly-named “Libby” app and am almost through my second. Mind you, it’s important to be able to see out of the window in order not to become travel sick. You don’t want to arrive at your destination feeling a bit queasy.

Book recommendations

Bus-bound book recommendations, in case you’re interested, are:

Alex Hourston: Love after Love (a writer who is new to me; I loved her terrific book but was sad about the ending!)

Lian Moriarty: Truly, Madly, Guilty (utterly magnificent story-telling and so brilliantly crafted – a must read!)

I’m also reading:

Virginia Baily: Early One Morning (a WI reading group book – our novel for the month of April).

Podcasts?

I thought I might also enjoy podcasts while travelling (and it’s clear that people do), but the traffic noise would mean having to turn up the volume higher than would be safe for my ears (and I value my hearing). So, I leave the podcasts for other moment. But I must tell you that I have laughed out load to Fi Glover and Jane Garvey’s Fortunately podcast, so do check it out (Episode 42 is a good place to start).

A trip down memory lane

Travelling by bus takes me back in time. I remember going by double-decker down to the market to buy eggs for my mum when I couldn’t have been more than about 11 years old. The fare (in those days) was, “Two, please!” That was 2 pence!!!

With or without eggs (possibly a hazard!), riding upstairs on a double-decker is as fun as it always was. There’s that sense of perilously careering towards obstacles as the bus hurtles along, the branches from overhanging trees smacking against the sides of the vehicle, as it continues on its journey.

A birds eye view

Just as you take in more of your surroundings when you cycle, so you get a different perspective on the world when you take the bus (especially on the upper deck). You can peek into building plots and see the development take shape, whilst also enjoying a birds eye view of walled gardens that would otherwise be hidden from view.

Baggage and footwear

A word about baggage. Back-packs work where handbags don’t, especially when you’re walking 0.8 miles each way between home and bus stop, carrying a combination of lunch, laptop or heels). Talking of shoes, I soon invested in a pair of Nike trainers. They’re light and super comfy and also double up as jogging shoes when I need to trot between buildings on the university campus where I work. Walking to and from the bus must be making me fitter!

The downside?

This all sounds highly convivial. But, is there a downside?

It’s true that there have been one or two occasions when our family car hasn’t been available when I needed it. Quite soon after I gave up my car, my daughter and I both had dental appointments in different places, which required some carefully timed logistics to make it all work. In this case, I pre-booked a taxi. Whilst this was a little expensive, another bus-bound friend and colleague reminded me that the times when you’ll actually need to get a taxi under those circumstances are few and far between. She was right. We’ve only had to do this once.

What next?

Now that British Summertime is upon us and we’ve put the clocks forward by an hour, I’ll be able to cycle to work again, especially when the weather is warmer. So, I’ll be able to combine my public transport adventures with a little energetic pedal power.

And do I miss the car? Not a bit.


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How to avoid decluttering going too far

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In my most recent Community newsletter, I described an interesting article in the New Zealand Herald which had recently caught my eye.

In anticipation of The Minimalists‘ ‘Less is Now’ tour dates, journalist Chris Schulz had decided to explore if espousing a minimalist lifestyle might make a difference in his life. Did he need stuff that had been lying around in cupboards untouched for years? Of course not. But Schulz’ article does sound a cautionary tale: it is possible to go too far.

Schulz realises that you might get so carried away with decluttering that you potentially let go of items that might be of value in future years. So, here are a few ideas on how to avoid taking your enthusiasm for decluttering going a step too far.

Take it slowly

You’re less likely to relinquish a valued treasure if you take things slowly. Always start with the non-contentious, non-emotive stuff: the easy to declutter. As you peel away the layers, you’ll become increasingly intentional and deliberate about what you keep and what you get rid of. Take your time to decide on the things that may have sentimental value.

Don’t unclutter other people’s stuff

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Don’t unclutter other people’s stuff. You can model decluttering behaviours and will – undoubtedly – inspire those around you. But don’t make decisions about belongings that aren’t yours. For shared items, you can certainly moot the idea of letting go, but this has to be a joint decision.

Create a treasures box

For years, I dragged around a plastic trunk with my so-called treasures inside. Shaped like a treasure chest and in bright primary colours, this storage container was so heavy that we had to heave it into our loft when we move into our current home. I seldom looked inside it.

As part of my final decluttering, I got to grips with exactly what was in that container. What remains is a very small (shoe-box sized) collection of some lovely sentimental items that I will never part with. Our daughter keeps a similar box; again, this is very small.

Become your own curator

Adopt the mindset of a curator. Your home isn’t a museum, but imagine you have the role of the creative lead on a fabulous project. What selected items would mean the most to you? Which items would form a part of an artistic or historical collection were you to create a display about your own life? What has meaning and adds value in your home? What is frankly just a collection of miscellaneous tat? Keep and enjoy the former; declutter the latter.

Consider your loved ones

We all know that grown-up children don’t want their baby boomer parents’ stuff. But is there a particular item you’d like to keep to pass onto your daughter or granddaughter in future years? On my mother’s side of the family, we love a pretty ring. Keeping a ring (or another small piece of jewellery) may be a lovely thing to do; it might give someone pleasure in the future.

Store and save virtually

An image of something will spark a conversation or trigger a memory that you may enjoy in the future. As I’ve said previously, your treasured possessions aren’t memories. But images of items you once owned may suffice if you want to recall a piece of art you created as a teenager or remember something crafted by a loved one.

Bring some of your personality into the workplace

I’ve recently joined a new department to take up a new post within the organisation where I work. I am privileged to have my own office, so this provides an opportunity to display one or two decorative items that wouldn’t otherwise have a place at home.

My maternal grandmother was a prolific craftswoman. Among her creations are a number of small pictures, intricate and beautifully crafted with embroidery. I have had 3 of these little pictures hung on my office wall; they are a talking point for people who come to see me and they provide a little visual reminder of family, as I work at my desk.

Another friend uses her grandmother’s favourite china cup and saucer as a scented candle, which she keeps on her kitchen table.

Stop when you’re not sure what to unclutter next

Unless you are staging your home for sale (when home life takes on an artificial impression of familial perfection), it’s fine to take some time out or to stop altogether. You might take a pause or cease decluttering completely. Good for you. After all, it’s worth harking back to the reasons we started this in the first place – our ‘why’ or purpose. Living with less allows us to be so much more. So, get out there and enjoy! That’s why we do it in the first place.


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Going car free

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Reading about others’ experiences of going car-free is always inspiring.

Advocates of two wheels

In her book, You Can Buy Happiness (and It’s Cheap): How One Woman Radically Simplified Her Life and How You Can Too, Tammy Strobel writes about the positive benefits of cycling around her local community. 

More recently, in her article for The New York Times, Elaisha Stokes describes touchingly how her cycling adventures in NYC helped her through a sad and extremely challenging period in her life.

Getting around under one’s own steam

We recently took the decision to go down to one car,  with the idea that I’d be able to use my bicycle a little more regularly. Indeed, there have already been days during the winter months when I’ve cycled to work. It’s not far: 4.88 miles there and a long, uphill 4.88 miles home.

My alternative mode of transport would be the bus for days when neither the weather nor my legs would countenance transport on two wheels. There’s a regular service to and from work, so the bus and cycling seem to be a good combination.

When the ‘beast’ roared

For me, 1 March was the first day in a new job. It was also one of my first car-free days. However, on this particular Thursday, the UK was in the midst of the ‘beast from the east’, a dramatic and unusually severe weather event that plunged the nation into sub-zero temperatures. On top of this, ‘Storm Emma’ clashed with the polar vortex to create widespread disruption across much of the country.

The Met Office recorded plummeting temperatures as low as -15C whilst the snow continued to fall, resulting in significant delays on the roads, with some devastating fatalities and severe disruption for many.

My homeward journey

On this particular day (the joint second coldest March day on record), our cockapoo, Ollie, was in doggie day-care. My plan was to return home from work by bus, alighting earlier than usual to collect him from our dog walker’s home (she lives on the east side of town; we’re on the south side). Ollie and I would then walk the rest of the way home together.

The reality was a little different.

Trudging through the storm

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After alighting the bus, as planned, I descended a steep hill before walking up the other side of the valley to fetch Ollie.  This 10-minute walk was along snow-covered pavements, with the biting wind beginning to pick up, making progress was more challenging than normal.

Following a few brief words of grateful thanks, I grabbed Ollie to catch another bus that was due imminently. This one would take a route across town, dropping us nearer to home. This worked well; the bus arrived within minutes and both pooch and I were somewhat protected from the elements. By this time, the snow was really coming down blizzard-style and the traffic had built up.

Eventually, after proceeding through Kenilworth in very slow-moving traffic, we got off at our usual stop on the south side of town.

We then took our 10-minute walk to our house in what I can only describe as Siberian conditions. The whole trek took just under 2 hours… for a 5-mile journey.

What have I done?!!

This experience forced me to remind myself why we’d made the decision to relinquish our second vehicle:

  • No car payment, road tax, fuel costs, insurance or servicing fees
  • Better for the environment
  • An efficient and cost-effective bus service runs between home and work
  • Cycling to work is fun!
  • We really don’t need two cars, having previously resolved that our teen would take the bus to school for the remainder of her secondary schooling

Day 2

The next day (Friday) proved to be a little more straightforward. There was no doggie daycare to factor in, which made my journey simpler. In spite of the overnight covering of new snow, I jumped on the morning bus at 07:55, arriving in my office at 08:18. That’s more like it!

So, I’m going to carry on. We’re doing this for the right reasons. But it didn’t feel so at the time.

Have you taken the decision to ‘trade down’ in transportation? Perhaps you cycle, use an electric vehicle or have a public transport alternative to a car that works for you? I’d love to know how you get around if you, like me, are now car free!


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All those books we held onto…

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I came home yesterday afternoon to find the carpet on our landing stacked with books of all shapes and sizes, plus a range of other miscellaneous items.

All of this stuff had come from the little pine bookcase in our family study; it was clear that there was some purposeful and industrious activity going on in there!

With her dad’s help, our teenager had decided to reorganize the space, the idea being to improve her own personal organization (she is about to enter an intense phase of revision prior to her GCSE exams).

One bookcase, so many items

I have to admit that I was well aware of every single item on those shelves. I had previously done a little bit of delicate ‘pruning’, but was cautious about tackling this particular decluttering project.

My reluctance was mainly because of ‘The Declutter’s Rule: don’t minimize someone else’s stuff. As many of the items were shared or belonged to one of the other family members, I’d let sleeping books lie.

Now, there was a real reason to get one with it. And – when it came down to it – no-one was actually attached to any of this stuff at all.

The bookshelf list

You won’t be surprised when I tell you what miscellany lay before us.

There were: A-Z guides of Warwickshire, Birmingham and London; children’s bibles; language dictionaries; prayer books; poetry; kids’ story books (for all ages); tourist maps and guidebooks; seldom-used fitness publications and a couple of associated recipe books; two photo albums; my old Franklin Covey organiser (now used only as address book); a box of mobile phone-related electronic goods; my summer hat; two teddy bears; one small mug (a gift from long-ago Dutch houseguests); and some revision guides.

All of this fit onto one single bookcase, sitting neatly behind the door of the study, so (until now) it had been unobtrusive and therefore almost invisible. It had, in effect, been hiding in plain sight.

Guess what we really needed? Yep, just the revision guides (and I might use my hat when the sun decides to shine)!

Why did we keep these things for so long?

Books say so much about who we are (or tell a story about who we once were). They remind us of the people who gifted them to us or the period of time when we first read them. The maps and guidebooks take us back to much-loved places and the language dictionaries are symbolic reminders of trips of yesteryear.

What do our books say about us?

Having books around also says something about who we think we are (or who we’d like to be). A mix of fiction and non-fiction, they provide a glimpse into the aspects of life that appeal to us.

Books also add interest to a room, especially when you can display them by colour, type or shape.

As well as hanging onto them for aesthetic reasons, we also keep them in the hope that someone (one day) might read them again.

Maybe I was hanging onto the baby books ‘for the grandchildren’ (whose would-be mother is still at secondary school!!!). Surely, it’s better to release these lovely stories into the world, where they can be enjoyed by others who’ll really appreciate them now?

Keepsakes or clutter?

If I admit it, much of this stuff fell into the category of “keepsake” but it was disguised as something useful, educational or visually appealing.

What spurred me on was a throwaway but telling comment from our daughter: “I can’t work with all this clutter; I feel better without it.”

She needed the shelves for revision folders and guides, so our mini-museum of curiosities was now just getting in the way.

Home museum or library?

A study space in our home, no matter how large or small, can easily become something akin to a personal museum; a collection that provides a glimpse of who we have been, the places we have visited and the objects we accumulated over the years.

Unless we pursue an academic career when a carefully-curated collection of key works in a particular subject discipline might be useful, it seems to me that we can readily let go of these things without a backward glance. After all, any book we want to to read is readily available at our fingertips via digital download (either as a purchase or via the library).

Out they went

So, in just a few minutes, we placed all the books into carrier bags and carried them downstairs where we placed them in the garage, ready for despatch to our local second-hand bookshop.

The result? The room feels lighter, less cluttered and there’s more space for the study’s intended purpose: to study.

Have you ever been spurred on suddenly to declutter a space in your home? What did you do? What was the result? I’d love to know!


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