It’s All Too Much – book review and notes

It’s All Too Much by Peter WalshI re-read It’s All Too Much by Peter Walsh and made some notes of things I want to remember. In the grand tradition of The Simple Dollar, I decided to try my first detailed book review.


Summary: The introduction talks about how many people — and specifically a sample case study of “Jared and Lisa” — find their lives and stuff overwhelming. “It’s all too much!”

What was interesting to me: Jared and Lisa’s bookshelves were stuffed with self-help books — diet books, exercise books, self-esteem books, parenting books, finance books. They weren’t convinced that their clutter was an issue, but obviously they weren’t at peace with themselves. Walsh suggests that the home, as the “physical and emotional base for their family,” is one place to start that might impact those other areas. Interesting claim!

Part One: The Clutter Problem

1: This Is Not My Beautiful House

Summary: Take a clutter quiz, then take a quick look at your home. Is each space serving its purpose? Or has the kitchen become the playroom, and the office become storage? Walsh takes a look at the cost of clutter on our emotional stress level as well as on our relationships.

What was interesting to me: We fill our homes with stuff and then start renting self-storage space for years and years. But this “increases your housing costs without increasing your standard of living.”

2: Excuses, Excuses

Summary: The top-ten excuses people give for holding on to their clutter and rebuttals that detail out the cost of that excuse. Some of these were actually quite illuminating. Have you ever told yourself, “I might need it someday”? Clutter keeps us from living our lives today. Are you holding on to something for sentimental value? One woman was afraid that her best memories were behind her — but her clutter-filled house was keeping her from making new memories with her children or friends. “I don’t have time” — but how much time do you waste on a day-to-day basis looking for your keys or an important paper?

What was interesting to me: “Everything in your home is there with your permission.” We keep stuff around because we think it promises us something, or because it brings good memories, or because it serves a purpose. But our “treasures” have turned into something that controls us and stresses us out.

3: Imagine the Life You Want to Live

Summary: This chapter is the foundation for the rest of the book and holds “the key to getting and staying organized.” This is to imagine the life you want to live: how you spend your time, how you interact with your family, what you do in your home. This helps you to then imagine your ideal home and what it looks like — beyond surface decor to how you would want each room to be used. You can then perform a reality check to see where your home fails to meet your expectations. This is a process that should be done individually and as a household.

What was interesting to me: The concept of defining a purpose for each room, feeling free to dream for what you want your ideal space to look like.

Part Two: Putting Clutter in Its Place

After becoming convinced (or at least agreeing) that your clutter is keeping you from the life you want to live and taking the first steps to dream about your ideal space, Part Two helps you to take action!

Step 1. Kick Start — Tackling the Surface Clutter

Summary: There are two types of clutter: “lazy clutter,” which is essentially trash that you haven’t felt like dealing with and allowed to pile up (think unread magazines, old newspapers, junk mail, free promo items you got at a conference), and “stored treasures,” which are things that have sentimental value. To get you warmed up, don’t worry about stored treasures (it can be a little rough!), but blaze through the lazy clutter in your house. Do it “FAST” — Fix a time to remove Anything not used for twelve months, Someone else’s stuff, and Trash. Practical suggestions for how to do this are included in the chapter.

What was interesting to me: Decluttering experts seem to have similar questions that you should ask yourself when you are handling stuff. FlyLady has you ask: “Do I love it? Does it make me smile? Do I have a place for it?” This book has you ask: “Do I use this? How long has it been since I used it? Will I use it again? Is it worth the space it takes up in my house?”

Step 2: Hash It Out!

Summary: This chapter guides you and your household through a detailed analysis of each room. Together, you describe the room’s current function, its ideal function, who currently uses it, who should use it, what it should contain (based on its ideal function), and therefore, what should go. If a room has multiple purposes, you can define specific “zones” for each purpose that are limited in space — for example, scrapbooking stuff should be contained to one table and shelf in the family room. At the end of the chapter, you will have a family “room function chart.”

What was interesting to me: Assuming you really want your stuff to fit in the space you have, you can just do the math. Take much actual square footage of space you have and then calculate what can fit there. For example, you can fit 20 DVD cases into 1 square foot of space. If you have a three-foot shelf that you want to hold DVDs, but you have 100 DVDs, they aren’t going to fit! You’ll have to start weeding down your collection to only 60 DVDs.

Step 3: Conquer Your Home

Summary: Where to begin? If you’re still feeling overwhelmed, start with the “trash bag tango,” which is simply to take two trash bags and take ten minutes a day to fill one up with trash and the other with things to give away. You’ll start to see the results very soon!

The next 90 pages are the nitty gritty real-life bulk of the book, which takes you through each room of your house following the same basic three steps: 1) Refer to the room function chart and make sure everyone in your family agrees. 2) Establish zones for the different purposes for that room. 3) Get rid of everything that doesn’t belong. Each section (room) of this chapter then has lots of VERY practical things to do — tips for becoming more organized, what to throw away, how to throw things away, and how to maintain the space in the future.

What was interesting to me: Some of the great tips I picked up from this chapter…

  • Group clothes by color. This helps you to see if you have lots of blue shirts (for example), which could keep you from buying yet another blue shirt. You can also go through and weed out the multiple blue shirts that you never wear.
  • Only keep clothes that make you feel good when you wear them and fit you now.
  • If you have children who are prolific artists, it may be difficult to throw some of their artwork away. But is stuffing loads and loads of paper in a cardboard box really honoring their accomplishment? Pick out a few to frame and display prominently in the home, and get rid of all the rest in a ceremonial fashion. This helps to teach your child to start discerning that some things can be kept, and others can go.
  • The “ratio rule” can be a fun way to start weeding through collections of items (like books and CDs). Try getting rid of one DVD out of every five. Remember that you have a limited amount of space and adjust your ratio as necessary.
  • If you’re overwhelmed with “sentimental items,” you can work through a way to honor the memory without having to keep the item. For example, cut a piece out of an old wedding dress and frame it next to a photo from the wedding.
  • Keep flat surfaces clear!!
  • Put all kitchen tools into a box. If you actually go to the box to use an item, then put it back where it belongs in the kitchen. At the end of one month, it’s time to take a serious look at the remaining stuff in the box and whether or not you still want it to take up space in your home!
  • Set limits on hobbies. For example, “I can only have three ongoing art projects at a time.” Define a specific space for the hobby and don’t exceed it.

Step 4: Maintenance

Summary: How do you keep your house decluttered? This chapter has a bunch of fun cleaning games and tips for maintaining the clutter-free state of your new home. The five-minute daily purge. The in-out rule (if one thing comes in, one thing goes out).

What I found interesting: You pay for every square foot in your house (whether you own or rent). If a large part of that square footage is just being used as “storage,” you’re losing money in the sense that you aren’t able to truly use that space and live in it! (Classic example: You can’t put your car in the garage because there is too much stuff. Or, the office has become a catch-all room and now you have to do your bills in the kitchen.)

Step 5: Cleanup Checkup

Summary: This short chapter guides your household through a second “family meeting” to talk about where your house is now, and what things may need to be tweaked. Are the zones working for everyone? Do you feel more relaxed and “at home” in your house?

Step 6: New Rituals

Summary: This chapter suggests an annual “schedule” with different monthly focuses to help keep your house maintained. For example, February is “shred mania,” where you tackle going through all your filing cabinets, financial papers, etc.

What I found interesting: The concept here is similar to FlyLady as well, except that FlyLady has weekly focuses for each major part of your house. I found the author’s suggestions more appropriate to families that have a home and children (some of the months focus on yardwork and kid-related stuff), but it’s a good model to start from.


Summary: The author reiterates that “it’s not about the stuff.” The author is interested not just in having a clutter-free house, but in the life-level changes that can come from it — you’re happier, richer, more focused, have better relationships. In fact, you now have the space to focus on decluttering your health, your work, your family. Your happiness doesn’t have to be defined by the stuff you own anymore.

“No one has ever had ‘I wish I had bought more stuff’ inscribed on their tombstone.”

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