Tuesday, November 10, 2015

One Hundred Items: The Challenge #NancyMartin

LUCY BURDETTE: We are always happy when a new Nancy Martin book comes out--we love to celebrate and to hear what's new in her life...and you might love her new obsession too! Welcome Nancy!

NANCY MARTIN: Okay, Reds, I know I’m among friends here, so I’m going to tell you about my latest obsession: GROS----that is, Getting Rid of Stuff. 

My husband and I raised our daughters in a big house in suburbia, and when they went off to create their own lives we downsized into a perfect-sized city home with small closets and not much space for all the things that we managed to accumulate in the last 38 years together.  My bazillion books. (We bought this house because it came with a library in the basement.) His sporting equipment. (I’m not just talking golf clubs and tennis rackets.  There’s a motorcycle and all the paraphernalia that must come with it.)  There was all the stuff our girls left behind, not to mention the furniture and housewares I thought they would want some day. (But of course they want their own stuff!) My mother downsized into assisted living and brought me all the things she couldn’t quite bear to part with. (Beautiful antique fireplace tools, for one thing. Except I don’t have a functioning fireplace.) Then there were the years when we were big into community theater, and somehow we managed to collect a bunch of costumes and props and even a set of velvet-cushioned theater seats that came out of a demolished—well, you get the picture.  Our house was bursting at the seams.

Meanwhile my beloved aunt had gone into a long, terrible health decline, and those years of neglect turned her beautiful big house full of antiques, exquisite furniture and many, many collectibles into a daunting project that loomed in my future. I knew I was going to be stuck cleaning up her mess. When she died, I assembled all the cousins and the Got Junk company, and in five hellishly difficult days, we managed to clean out everything. It was a huge project fraught with all kinds of problems, but despite the hard work it became a fun celebration of her life. We survived. And we’re all still speaking.

So on New Year’s Day, I made a resolution I thought I could keep: For the whole year, I’d get rid of 100 items every month so my kids wouldn’t be left with such a chore. 100 didn’t seem like a huge number. It was do-able. In January I started small-- with all those little hairdo jiggies—clips and pins and a headband I was never going to wear again. And old makeup. (How many rancid tubes of mascaras does one woman need?) The bathroom was a great place to start. All those half-used travel sized toiletries that had somehow multiplied in the cupboards were quickly tossed into a trash bag. I counted carefully and got rid of 100 items—easy peasy.
I don’t know about you, but my New Year’s resolutions rarely make it to February. But the next month I hit my closets and easily shed clothes I’d never wear again. Things that were the wrong size or hopelessly outdated.  (It’s hard getting rid of expensive clothing, but really, was I ever going to wear that embroidered vest again?) In March it was my linen closets and my shoe collection. The project gathered momentum. I stopped counting one towel as one thing, but a half a dozen ratty old towels in a single bag made one item. I found old magazines galore, but one bag full of magazines became one item.  I was on a roll. Getting rid of stuff was great! I felt lighter, happier.  I could see the bottoms of my closets again! April and May flew by, and I lugged many bags and boxes to the Goodwill store. At June’s neighborhood garage sale, I got rid of some really big items—an old treadmill, furniture that was taking up space, more housewares. Over the summer, books went to library sales and nursing homes. Children’s books went to the homeless shelter along with art supplies and toys. Magazines went to waiting rooms. Finding good places to recycle still-usable items became an obsession.

I didn’t want my family to feel as resentful as my cousins and I had felt while dealing with my aunt’s mess. So I kept cleaning. There are plenty of books and websites that preach the gospel of de-cluttering. But I made a few rules for myself: Did I love an item? If I didn’t, out it went. (I love my dad’s dressage saddle, so—yes, I am still a little crazy—it stays.) Did I use an item often, or was I saving it for the “someday” when I might possibly need a set of Memorial Day picnic plates? Was I saving something even though it was broken? I admit that sorting through sentimental things got complicated. I couldn’t get rid of important family photos, but do you remember when we took pictures on film and saved dozens of photographs, no matter how dopey friends and family looked? I found I could easily pitch the photo of my college roommate when she’d played too much beer pong. But the flattering pictures I kept.  I lugged one daughter’s high school jewelry box all the way to her house in Texas. If she wanted to hang onto those keepsakes, she could find storage space in her own house.  Same for my other daughter’s rock collection. (!!)

It took until October for my husband to start noticing. And then he pitched in! Last week I took 36 old dress shirts of his to the Goodwill. (Why does a man keep that many shirts he’ll never wear again? Well, I’m asking myself the same question about the 37 winter scarves I also dug out of our front hall closet. 

I feel changed by my One Hundred Items challenge. Better. Lighter. Happier. Less stressed out. Relieved. Not so daunted by the future. Has this project translated into a book? Kind of. MISS RUFFLES INHERITS EVERYTHING is about Sunny McKillip, a young woman who doesn’t have many possessions left in this world. But she moves in with Honeybelle Hensley, a flamboyant Texas rose who has a big house and big hair…….and a beloved, but obnoxious small dog.  When Honeybelle dies and leaves her fortune to Miss Ruffles, it’s Sunny who must step up when the hijinks ensue. (MISS RUFFLES INHERITS EVERYTHING is available now. Go check it out!)

Do you collect too much crap?  Or are you one of those organized people who keeps only what she needs and nothing more?

I’ll be finished with my New Year’s resolution soon, but I’m in the habit now. I’m going to keep divesting. And I’m thinking about a new challenge for next year.  Have you heard about Forty Hangers? The idea is you keep a wardrobe of only forty items in your closet. I’m thinking I might give it a shot. 

Meanwhile, see you in line at the Goodwill!

Nancy Martin is the author of nearly fifty popular fiction novels in four genres—mystery, suspense, romance and historical. Her best-selling, award-winning Blackbird Sisters Mysteries include last year’s A LITTLE NIGHT MURDER. MISS RUFFLES INHERITS EVERYTHING is a standalone mystery from Minotaur. Nancy has served on the national board of Sisters in Crime and is a founding member of Pennwriters.In 2009 she won the Romantic Times award for career achievement in mystery writing. Find her on Facebook


  1. Some things are easy to say "Good-bye" to; others, not so much. Overall, I am not good at this whole de-cluttering thing. I can easily do the clothes, linens, and such; they all go to the church's Lydia's Closet clothing ministry. But the books and the sentimental stuff, not so much.

    "Miss Ruffles Inherits Everything" sounds like lots of fun so it's getting added to my teetering to-be-read pile.

  2. I think you have to be in the right mental place to really get rid Of major stuff. It took me decades to get there. But I love it now! I am on a book tour right now, but heading home today---yay! So I will check in as airport wifi allows. Thanks for having me, Reds! Xxxxxxxx

  3. this is such a good idea Nancy! Having had two deaths in the family this year, we've seen up close and personal how much stuff is left behind. So I swear I'm going to try your resolution--and Miss Ruffles too! She sounds delightful!

  4. Nancy, I've been following this on Facebook. This would be a piece of cake for me, if it weren't for the sweet guy I'm married to who never met a yard sale he didn't need to stop at. Fortunately he has redeeming features.

    And I want that embroidered vest.

    I've heard great things about Ruffles and can't wait to get my hands on it.

  5. Maybe you have to reach a Certain Age (or your parents do) to really get behind GROS? And those yard says start to become red flags!

  6. Well, we live in New York City in a "cozy" apartment, so holding onto stuff is not really an option. No basement, no attic, etc. We do have one closet I'm scared to open (the one my wedding dress is in — I suppose I should tackle that?

    And speaking as one who had to clean out Miss Edna's apartment of 40-plus years -- yes, do it. Get rid of stuff. Make it easy on your family.

  7. Susan, in NYC, could you do the 40 hanger thing? I am still stewing.

  8. We just had a Halloween party, and I decorated the house to the nth degree. Several people asked me if we had a storage unit. No, but we do have an attic, and a basement. Which used to be a lot more full of non-Halloween stuff than they are now, but I have been clearing out for nine years, a little at a time.

    Thirty years in the same place, raising three kids, writing five books (and researching a few more), and having four businesses, all add up to truckloads of stuff. On top of which, I dismantled my in-laws' homd, and helped my mother move from her bulging-with-stuff home to a mother-in-law suite at my brother's. Enough, already.

    Looking forward to getting acquainted with Miss Ruffles!

  9. Nancy, I am envious.

    We had some weatherization work done at our house last week and it required moving stuff around in our basement and clearing out a closet so the crew could get up into our attic. We were mildly appalled to come face to face with all that we have accumulated, and have vowed to start our own cull of belongings. Thanks for the inspiration.

    Miss Ruffles Inherits Everything sounds wonderful!

  10. This post goes against everything I believe in! [wink]

    I admire your resolve, mostly because I have none. My Aunt Jennie died last month. So far, I have agreed to accept a box of linens, some of her scarves, a set of wine goblets, and a turkey platter. She lived in Louisiana, so these things will have to be shipped.

    Is there a Collectors Anonymous? If so, sign me in.

  11. Nancy,
    Loved Miss Ruffles. Surely you can't mean to abandon these delicious characters after only one book!?!


  12. Karen, tmy purge of Halloween decor was EPIC!

  13. Brenda (and Ramona) wouldn't it be cool for us all to congregate in a big parking lot with our truckloads of crap and just re-distribute?

  14. I could get rid of a hundred things a week and still have too much stuff. Why do we keep stuff? And why does it take until we are older to realize it?

    I am getting better, I really only keep new things that I know I am going to use someday, but it's still hard to go back to those old things - clothes, pictures, knick-knacks, etc. - and throw them away. But I'm going to try.

    As for books, that is where the real problem lies for me. I get so many books now for review, that I just can't keep up with it and certainly don't have the space for it. With many of them being advanced copies, it does post a dilemma. But at the same time, I can't stop it, as I never know what is going to be "right" for the blog. I guess as far as addictions go, there are far worse.

    As for Forty Hangers - I love this idea. You would think this would be easier for a man, but not this man. LOL. It has helped that I have a sort of "uniform" for conference appearances, but still I could easily get rid of those items that I am never going to fit in again.

  15. Hi from hank! someone else is posting this since my phone won't let me!
    I am on a big purge binge too. And I love reading this.
    I still keeping my Gramma Rose collection of white gloves and Gramma Minnie's shepherdesses. But jackets with huge shoulder pads and things that are no longer joyful are going going gone.
    The specter of someone else saying "why would she gave THAT" is a great motivator .
    Plus is is completely true that letting something go--which is how I think of it--is power. Sometimes I even thank it.
    More to come -- and yay for Miss Ruffles!!!!

  16. Nancy, I am going through the same thing. We finally got rid of the last boxes of children's trophies, Star Trek costumes wtc and even Janes wedding dress. But I'm married to a man who keeps every letter he wrote to the water district in 1974. Trying to get him to discard stuff is impossible. And the children say "don't you dare die and leave us with all this!"

    That's why I love going to our condo in Arizona. No clutter and furnished as I want it!

  17. You are singing my song, Nancy. I've always been reasonably good about getting rid of stuff, but we've lived in this house now for 13 years--more than twice as long as I've lived anywhere in my life--and stuff was encroaching. I've gotten ruthless in my closet and sealed the deal with my New Year's resolution--not buying anything for myself to wear this whole year (clothes, accessories, make-up). It's been very freeing in many ways. I don't know if I'm brave enough to embark on the 40 hangers challenge yet.

  18. We are facing, with great reluctance, a book purge. We have scads of books that we'll never read. The hardest? My original Nancy Drew collection. I haven't read them in ages, my daughter doesn't care for them, so is it responsible to let them molder in the basement? Probably not.

    It's about time for the 6-month closet purge. Every six months I ask, "Did I wear this?" and if the answer is "no," out it goes to St. Vincent de Paul. So I could to that 40 Hanger thing. I don't think I have 40 hangers in my closet now.

    I am a little scared to go in the attic, but most of that is not my stuff, so...

  19. I grew up with the family philosophy of "If you throw it out today, you'll need it tomorrow." All too often it seems true.

  20. I am in awe. I do this every January (mine is GROI: Get Rid of It!): 100 items FOR THE YEAR. I usually complete the challenge before January is over. Inspired by you, I'm stepping up my game in 2016! (My closets will be thankful.)

  21. Hi, Nancy! So with you! I moved my parents a half dozen times in the last decade of their lives, purging every time. I swore I'd never do that to my daughter. And my parents didn't even live in a cluttered house! (Mine is probably much worse, sigh.) Two years ago a I did a huge book purge (about 400 volumes). There are still a lot of books, but only my two "to-read" cases are double-stacked now:-) This last year a friend (love you, Resa!!!) has helped me de-clutter almost all the closets, the dining room buffet and dresser, my closet, some of the kitchen, and best (or worst) of all, my horrible half of our downstairs office. There are some much-needed pockets left (my makeup drawer! The laundry room! Ugh!) And our attic, but that's another story. The point of all this being that this has made me so HAPPY. I can find things, and I don't feel so burdened by stuff.

    Now I'm going to try the 100 Things a Month, and am going to count my hangers...

    And read Miss Ruffles!!!

  22. This is the best idea since bottled beer. I am starting today. Actually I pretty much started yesterday by cleaning out that "drawer", you know, the one we all have somewhere. But I do have a question. We just came back from a couple of weeks in France, and I avoided buying almost everything, just a few gifts that have already been delivered. The man at customs didn't want to believe me when I said I was bringing back less than $100 of gifts and souvenirs! So my question is this: Do the things I didn't buy count as any of the 100?

    Bonjournee mes amis

  23. Wow! I'm so impressed, Nancy. During this last year, my house has been undergoing lots of renovation, and it's been necessary to go throw and get rid of stuff we've had since the kids were little. They are now 31 and 28. Nothing makes you want to purge like repainting and reflooring and a new bathroom. It makes the clutter especially ugly. I've done well in many ways, but there is still much to do, and I've realized that after the major purging, I need to go back and do a secondary purging of drawers and storage cabinets. I have made a tub for each child that contains papers and mementos from their childhoods and will pass those along to their rightful owners. And then, we have my books. I have weeded out many, many books, but I still have such a long way to go with paring down the number of books that take up major space in almost every room. I do have built-in bookshelves in three rooms, which helps, but those are now due a thorough weeding.

    I do know that I don't want my children to have to go through as much "stuff" as my siblings and I did when our parents died. My sweet mother held onto every piece of schoolwork I ever did. There were three attics and a basement bursting at the seams and closets and drawers and dishes and glassware and antiques. However, as hard as it was to go through everything, there were some lovely discoveries, too. Recently, I was talking to my son's fiance, with whom I'm very close, about my dedication to clearing out items, and she sweetly asked me to leave parts of me that represented who I am, to not purge too sharply. My son and she would actually be ones that would enjoy going through the mess and making those special discoveries, too. Now, my daughter is the Queen of Lean and constantly purges her house. I have a joke with the granddaughters that if you really like something I give you to hide it, so it will survive their mother's clearing outs.

    Nancy, you've inspired me to continue my efforts to clear out more. And, Miss Ruffles sounds delightful.

  24. Sorry to be so long responding. Now in the Charlotte airport. (Do I have time to go grab a bbq sandwich?) I am glad to hear from fellow coverts. Paring Dow, lightening up--it often happens after some family upheaval. But I think we could do it sooner in life and--like Rhys in her 2nd home--will find the less-is-more lifestyle is very freeing!

  25. Ps. Thanks for all the nice comments about Miss Ruffles. Did I mention she has been optioned for TV? Keep your fingers crossed! (Or your paws?)

  26. Miss Ruffles on TV! That would be wonderful. I need to throw out crap so bad it's not funny. What do you do when most of it belongs to your husband? We moved from a house with a basement (big purge there) to a house down south that has an attic you don't really want to use much of due to the heat. So we have a storage unit we pay rent on each month. Aagh. We have camping eauipment we've had since we got married 40+ years ago we don't use anymore. Someone likes his comforts too much to camp but doesn't want to get rid of the stuff. I have incorporated stuff from my parents' downsizing and stuff from my in-laws' changes in situation. I have most of my grown son's crap in the guest room that he occupies some of the time. Tons of books. Little stuff picked up on trips. Stuff, stuff, stuff. Crap, crap, crap. Help.

  27. I hate clutter. If I can't see the floor of my closet - that's my signal to get rid of stuff. If I can't see the bottom of the closet shelf - time to get rid of stuff.

    Books are the toughest to get rid of.

    Dru Ann

  28. You are an inspiration! Note, I did not say role model. Just kidding. Actually, I am a tosser, oftentimes much to my regret. My husband on the other hand isn't happy if he is not collecting. He bragged to me that he once lived in a house where he had to conduct a tunnel to get through the garage where he stored his 'stuff.' I told him arson would be my cure, so he better get over it. Fortunately, I have been able to confine his clutter to one room. I think he's afraid of me.

  29. Optioned for TV? that is very very exciting!! all paws crossed...

  30. We have renamed the second bedroom "Room of Requirement" but I am doing baby steps, giving away items the favorite niece can use and resisting the urge to replace, finishing a few projects before starting new ones . . . it's a start. Storytelling conferences often include a silent auction of items, like fancy vests and extra books, that might be "another person's treasure." That might be a fun addition to book conferences also. ;-)

  31. Oh, KIm, I hear you on the arson threat! Pat, I will confess to you (but don't tell my husband!) that I waited until he was on his annual 2-week motorcycle trip to clear out some of his stuff. And six months later? He hasn't noticed! But he finally got on board and is tossing a few things when I'm putting together my monthly Goodwill donations. He loves the tax breaks!

  32. Mary, if your niece is anything like my daughters (for whom I collected MANY things over the years!) she won't want any of it. It's disheartening, and yet.....I get it. I am still using my grandmother's sheets (!!( which are incredibly soft and wonderful to sleep in, but I admit I wouldn't have taken much else from her household, if I had the choice. So I understand why my girls want their own things.