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How I’ve been coping with empty nest: cleaning, organizing, & decluttering

coffee and doughnuts

Coffee and doughnuts

Besides my coffee and doughnuts this morning (doughnuts are more rare now, but coffee is my morning thing), I’ve been trying to cope with our youngest daughter Leah moving out last weekend by a 5-day frenzy of cleaning, organizing, and decluttering.

I guess I’m doing this to grieve empty nest. But there is something savagely satisfying to me about giving or throwing things away. My husband Ray, who is a hoarder (although not as severe as those on the TV show) just doesn’t get this.

He keeps everything; it has gotten worse every year, and it has caused strife for the 26 years of our marriage. It makes me feel claustrophobic and suffocated, and makes me want to run away to the beach.

me on beach in Florida

me on beach in Florida

Not that I need an excuse for going to the beach. It is my place of peace and refilling. 

stack of books

stack of books

Hoarding is not the same as collecting; true hoarding is defined as the persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value. [Source: Hoarding: The Basics, Understanding The Facts: OCD, Anxiety and Depression Association  of American)

Everyone saves things. But the quantity of their collected items sets hoarders apart from other people. Commonly hoarded items are newspapers, magazines, paper and plastic bags, cardboard boxes, photographs, household supplies, food, and clothing. 

Some people even hoard pets, collecting hundreds of them, inside or outside, putting the people and animals at risk due to improper care and unsanitary conditions. Ray has seen people who do this, in his work as a paramedic, with people’s stuff and animal urine and feces making their homes inhabitable. (Ya’d think this would encourage him to get rid of things at our house!)



Some reasons for hoarding are:

  • The hoarder believes an item will be useful or valuable in the future;
  • They feel the item has sentimental value, is unique and irreplaceable, or is too big a bargain to throw away;
  • They think the item will jog their memory, believing that without it they won’t remember an important person or event;
  • They can’t decide where something belongs, so it’s better just to keep it. [Source: Hoarding: The Basics]

Are you a hoarder? Here’s a checklist of some symptoms and behaviors:

  • Inability to throw away your stuff (YEP!);
  • Severe anxiety when attempting to get rid of them (Yes, again!);
  • You have a very hard time categorizing or organizing your belongings;
  • Indecision about what to keep or where to put them (There’s no decision; Ray usually just keeps them!);
  • You feel distressed–overwhelmed or embarrassed by all your things (I would add, or your spouse feels this way!);
  • Suspicion of other people touching your stuff (Ray has asked me this at times);
  • Obsessive thoughts and actions, such as fear of running out of an item or of needing it in the future; you check the trash for accidentally discarded objects (Ray’s fear of me not accidentally doing this, when he leaves town);
  • Functional impairments, such as loss of your living space, social isolation, family or marriage discord, financial difficulties, and/or health hazards. [Source: Hoarding: The Basics]

All this has happened in our marriage. It’s actually kind of scary, because hoarding can be a mental illness. (I’m not saying Ray is mentally ill, although I do believe he needs counseling for it.) By middle age, symptoms can be severe and be harder to treat. If hoarding is a problem for you or a loved one, you should seek help with a mental health expert.

Hoarding may be present on its own or a symptom of another disorder. Those most often associated with hoarding are obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD), OCD, or ADHD, and depression. [Source: Hoarding: The Basics]



(This is very strange and although it occurs less often, hoarding may be associated with an eating disorder, pica (eating non-food materials), Prader-Willi syndrome (a genetic disorder), psychosis, or dementia. Ray doesn’t have any of this. At least, I don’t think he munches on his old work papers!)

man eating paper

man eating paper

But seriously. Hoarding can cause anger, resentment, and depression among family members, and it can affect the social development of children. Unlivable conditions may lead to separation or divorce, eviction, and even loss of child custody. Watch the TV show Hoarders or videos on YouTube. (Yes, I have threatened Ray with leaving him for this at times, because it stresses me out so much! And he has threatened me for other things I do. We even fought at a marriage retreat once!)

Couple arguing

Couple arguing

Hoarding may also lead to serious financial problems. One example is renting (for months or years) a storage unit filled with the hoarded items. Or refusing to have old furniture or equipment fixed or replaced because of suspicion of new, modern models or of distrust of repairmen.

Fear of new technology isn’t limited to hoarders; many people thought trains would melt people’s bodies and were suspicious of the TV, believing it would be harmful to people’s conversations, reading, and the patterns of family living. This is at least partly true about the TV!)

man watching TV

man watching TV

You can’t change others. Obviously even though I’d love to, I can’t go around throwing away Ray’s stuff. I only did this a couple of times in all the years we’ve been together. The first year of our marriage, I threw away a pair of his old, worn-out, holey cowboy boots that I saw at the back of our closet. They were his beloved Tony Lama’s, and he’s never let me forget it!

Since then, I’ve bought him several pairs of new boots, because you just can’t separate Ray, a native Texan, from his cowboy boots. However, I can do whatever I want with my stuff!

de-cluttering my office

de-cluttering my office

So for the last several days since Leah moved out, I’ve been majorly cleaning, organizing, and purging. It feels wonderful! This will set you FREE!


I threw out an entire, HUGE garbage bag of binders, of notes I’d taken on business webinars and teleseminars. I narrowed my binders down to only three. I love buying cute binders and use plastic sleeves to put the notes in, and then insert the sleeves into the binders. 

cute binders

cute binders

I use plastic tubs from Walmart or the Dollar General to store my journals. Since I’m a voracious journaler, I have 3 tubs filled with diaries! And these aren’t even all of them. Years ago, I had Ray burn many of my diaries. I felt I needed a brand new start and burning them was symbolic.

My journals are my one form of hoarding. I talked to Ray today about burning all my journals again. We could make a fun night of it, and have a huge bonfire with grilled hotdogs and s’mores!

I often pour out my heart into my journals, which means they are sometimes full of pain! Journaling is a great catharsis, though. 

In the picture below, on the left is a tub filled with our tax returns. The purple spotted bag on top of it has a supply of my books, to sell when I speak at women’s conferences and events.

The 3 tubs on the right are my journals! The smaller tub is for a friend, who went to Israel, and asked me to keep it here for safekeeping. It’s some of her most treasured items. 

plastic tubs

plastic tubs

Throughout the year, I often save gift bags and tissue from friends who give me gifts, for my family’s birthdays and gifts for Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and other holidays. I throw the boxes away at Christmas, and then start all over in January saving bags.

Our daughter Heather bought Ray a gift once, a pickle Christmas tree ornament and using a bag with pickles on it. We both busted out laughing when he opened it. 

Ray's pickle Christmas ornament deco

Ray’s pickle Christmas ornament deco

Ray loves pickles–pickled anything. Pickle spears, pickled asparagus, pickled okra, etc. I have a few gift bags and tissue in this box in my closet. You can see the pickle gift bag that I’ve used over and over again for Ray’s gifts. 

gift bags

gift bags

I buy pretty folders for our current bills, that I have in a metal file holder on a black card table with other office supplies. (Leah’s birthday gifts are there right now, too. We’re taking her out to eat bang bang shrimp tacos on her birthday).

I keep our most important papers, such as our house mortgage papers, in a waterproof, fireproof safe. 

I’m praying for Ray and I to become debt-free, and have the past due bills in in a plastic file folder in my office closet, with other files. 

I have a shredder that I just used this week to shred a bunch of paper like old bills. People keep way too many papers. Shredders are great for this.

One thing I remember is that I wouldn’t want our kids having to deal with getting rid of a bunch of junk from our estate when Ray and I die. Why not make it easier for your children or relatives?

Red chair and loveseat

Our front entry room

pretty floral folders, my dry erase board calendar, and Leah's birthday gifts

pretty floral folders, my dry erase board calendar, & Leah’s gifts

I keep my to-do lists, speaking engagements, book deadlines, appointments, and other important info in my pretty desk calendar. I bought this one at Walmart. It’s called The Happy Planner. This keep me organized and on track–and yes, happy! I love sticky notes, to-do list pads, and planners!

The Happy Planner

 The Happy Planner

I like to surround myself with things I love in my office–pictures of my family, books, little knick-knacks, stuffed animals of mine (like funny Snoopy) and our kids, gifts Ray and others have given me, pretty art on the walls. It inspires my speaking and my writing. I just took two bags of books to the thrift store. 

desk knicknacks

desk knick-knacks

laptop and Snoopy

laptop and Snoopy



As I was blogging this post, I asked Ray to please go get me a cold drink at Casey’s convenience store. He also bought me this big chocolate bar that reads, “You are amazing!” What a guy! (Despite his hoarding!)

chocolate bar

chocolate bar

At any rate, I’ve been working so hard the last several days to clean, organize, declutter, and purge. I will continue to do this. I don’t think you’re ever really done with this. It’s a life-long process.

I think it’s also important to purge spiritually and emotionally–to let go and let God, to forgive, to repent to Jesus. Clutter makes your soul feel cluttered, too.

Don’t let it overwhelm you. You can start with just one area, like your purse, your car, a closet, or a corner of a room. 

This week practice letting go and letting God. Including your stuff.

It’s so liberating to go through your house, garage, and car and clean and get rid of things (or sell them or give them away to bless someone). I encourage you to do this before 2019 ends, to start off the new year 2020 with more space in your home and heart for the better things God has for you.

You have probably heard of beautiful Japanese author and organizing expert Marie Kondo, whose minimalism-inspired KonMari method is the latest rage to spark joy, bring more prosperity, and reduce stress in your life. She also has a Netflix show, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo.

Marie Kondo

Marie Kondo

While I don’t agree with bowing before your home and things as she does (she has Shinto beliefs), I greatly admire her encouraging people to tidy up their homes and pursuing the life they want.

The KonMari philosophy is that the question of what you want to own is how you want to live. How do you? We can’t take any of this stuff with us when we die or when Jesus returns soon! Let it go. 

Let go of something old that no longer serves you in order to make room for something new.”–Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart

“I realise there’s something incredibly honest about trees in winter, how they’re experts at letting things go.”–Jeffrey McDaniel

fall tree's orange leaves

fall tree’s orange leaves

fall tree's yellow leaves

fall tree’s yellow leaves

red, orange, & yellow leaf

red, orange, & yellow leaf

Blog, Faith, Marriage, Parenting, prayer, Spiritual Gifts, Writing

Thy will be done

woman looking out window

woman looking out window

This morning I was going to the dollar store and heard the beautiful song by Hillary Song, Thy Will, on K-Love radio station. The instruments are just incredible. 

It struck me because right now I’m going through some emotional storms:

  • My deeply troubled marriage;
  • Our uncertain rental house situation (the landlord is selling the house, and we’re not sure where we’re going to live yet);
  • Financial problems that seem to have no end in sight;
  • Our grown kids’ various struggles;
  • Many questions about exactly what God is doing in my life right now. 

I parked our car and just listened to the song, worshipping and praying.

Then when I came out of the store, Third Day’s song I need a miracle was playing.

I prayed,  “Yes, God, right now I need a couple of miracles!”

The Holy Spirit spoke to my heart and whispered, “You are the miracle.”

It took me aback, but this is so true. God has done amazing, miraculous things in my life. 

Jesus is my Lord, Savior, Healer, Deliverer, Strength, Strong Tower, Rock, Best Friend, Husband, Mighty God and King. I give Him all the glory for what He’s done in my life. 

I know God is El Roi, and He sees me. (Genesis 16:13). He has goodness in store for me. (Jeremiah 29:11) It’s hard to count it all joy, and I’m distracted by the noise in my life. But He wants to use me in miraculous ways for HIS glory. I need to just trust Him, because God is faithful

Below are some of the lyrics to Thy Will, that really blessed me.

Yes, Lord, Thy will be done in my life. 


Part of Thy Will Lyrics

…Somehow I ended up here

I don’t wanna’ think

I may never understand

that my broken heart

may be part of Your plan…

I know you’re good But this don’t feel good right now

And I know you think Of things I could never think about

It’s hard to count it all joy

Distracted by the noise

Just trying to make sense Of all your promises

Sometimes I gotta stop

Remember that you’re God And I am not

So Thy will be done Thy will be done Thy will be done

Like a child on my knees all that comes to me is

Thy will be done Thy will be done Thy will

I know you see me

I know you hear me,

Lord Your plans are for me

Goodness you have in store

I know you hear me

I know you see me,

Lord Your plans are for me

Goodness you have in store

So Thy will be done Thy will be done.


Third Day Video: I need a miracle.

Blog, Faith, Marriage, Parenting, prayer, Spiritual Gifts, Travel

Walk free

Have you ever gone somewhere new and found out that the directions you had didn’t work or the highway you were taking was closed due to construction? Or that your smart phone’s GPS didn’t work right?

This happened to my husband Ray and me this year in January when we were going to a marriage retreat in Kansas City, Kansas. I had signed us up for the retreat as a surprise for some much needed R & R for Ray and me at the nice hotel Chateau Avalon, where the retreat was held. They deliver breakfast to your hotel door and each room has a big jacuzzi tub.


I had the correct address, had printed off the directions to the hotel from Mapquest online, and was using my iPhone’s GPS to get us there. Ray was tired from having worked several shifts, so I drove. For some reason the GPS didn’t work and the printed directions didn’t help.

I had to depend on God and Ray to get us safely there. As a paramedic, Ray often drives the ambulance to Kansas City hospitals, so he knew the area better than I did. The Holy Spirit led us the right way, but we’d never been this way before. 

Maybe something like this has happened to you, too. Maybe this year you’re going a way you haven’t gone before. It can be scary and uncertain.

Ray and I are there right now with our housing situation. Our lease at the rental house where we live is up on April 30, 2016. We’re not sure what’s going to happen yet or where we will live. Our faith is being tested. We’re having to trust God.

Karen Wells, Doreen Penner, Beth Jones

Speakers Karen Wells, Doreen Penner, and Beth Jones

If this situation resonates with you, I invite you to join me and my anointed speaker friends Doreen Penner and Karen Wells for our exciting virtual event on Thursday, April 7, 2016,  Walk Free Summit. There are three different speakers’ sessions and it will begin 10 a.m. Central Time.


The event is free, and at the end of each speaker’s session we’re opening the phone lines for you to share your heart: comments, questions, or prayer requests. 

It’s time for you to walk free in Jesus Christ’s authority. 

You can find out more information and sign up right now by clicking here.

Please share with your family, friends, and peers.