Decluttering Three Homes, One on a Small Scale Becomes the Hardest Task

I am on a decluttering jag. During the pandemic, I began to start cleaning out closets, drawers, and bookshelves, getting rid of clothing, books and other items in my home I never use or wear. 

Margaret had inspired me after her move from St. Louis to New York City. I knew how hard she had worked and that it made more sense to do it while I could still bend, lift and carry. With few around, it was a perfect time to downsize for a future move whenever that may be. More important, I don’t want to leave the task for my children to do after I’m gone or if I become very sick. 

Once I was far along and almost finished with my major rooms—I decided to leave the attic for later, I was faced with a tougher emotional task--decluttering my mother’s apartment after her death. In looking at many of her furnishings, artworks, and small personal possessions, I took a much harder-nosed approach. Nothing would go into storage for debate later. Everything would be decided lickety-split with me being the main decider whether to keep, sell, donate, or pass along items to family and friends. My daughters had veto power. 

Among the possessions I wanted was a lovely mahogany chest with inlay that I decided to move to my home and place in the dining room. I knew just the corner but that meant I needed to move the larger of my two dollhouses--an eight room New York-style townhouse--to another spot. The second dollhouse is a smaller, three-room Maine log cabin that occupies the corner of another room. Each dollhouse sits atop a custom-made stand with swivel mechanism so I can turn and see the front and back and work on the individual rooms. 

Those who know me understand the importance of these miniature houses. I crafted both years ago for my daughters, now grown and with families of their own. The houses became places for me to imagine living a grand life in New York City—maybe, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg was a neighbor in his townhouse, or relaxing casually by the stone fireplace of the log cabin with a dog sitting at my feet. 

Each is filled with contents I slowly purchased to reflect my family history—a baby grand piano, tall case clock, rugs needlepointed by my mother and me, paintings done by a Chicago artist friend, doctor paraphernalia in memory of my physician father (including an examining table, stethoscope and black physician’s bag), and tons of food items to celebrate holidays with all the trappings. I set the table for Passover, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and special birthdays. There also are small-scale versions of my favorite toaster, a coffee maker (sans the milk frother I use in real life daily), and ingredients for matzoh ball soup and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. 

I asked a workman to move the townhouse to another room. Doing so required taking out all the furnishings, carefully dusting and cleaning the interior and exterior (I used a toothbrush for the baseboards and crown molding) and then slowly putting everything back in its same designated spot. 

But as I started, I decided why not rearrange and declutter, just as I was doing with my real home and my mother’s apartment. Ironically, this task became so much harder. The house has no attic like my real house where I can stash stuff for safekeeping that I’m not yet ready to part with. 

In fact, giving up such possessions requires a longer debate than discarding the stack of beige heavy dishes I’ve rarely used and recently consigned or some artworks that no longer appeal and which I easily gave a heave-ho to. A tiny computer, an even tinier box of matzoh and a miniature pair of flipflops make me hesitate, I think about building another house for the leftovers, or adding an addition. I come to my senses and realize how silly these ideas are when the goal is to get rid of stuff for once and for all. 

As I study the rooms that are now half finished, I think they look so much better, less crowded, just like real rooms where some breathing space lets items shine. I take my time as I debate what’s left. Do I really need that loaf of Wonder white bread when I already have a challah on a charming carving board with knife? Do I really need two menorahs, a sack of potatoes and a basket of green scallions, a plate of Hostess-style cupcakes with white squiggles on the top and sushi when I have never liked the latter and would never serve it to guests or family? Why did I buy it, except the California rolls were so darling? 

In fact, on all the tables there are so many foods to consume—crudités with dip on one and another with miniature latkes with a tiny bowl of applesauce, I realize I have little willpower when food is reduced down in scale. My imaginary family living in the townhouse/dollhouse certainly doesn’t need to share this obsession of eating or thinking about food? Maybe, it’s time for them to get healthier and fit! (Fortunately, the house includes a treadmill, yoga mat, weights and bicycle.) 

I also debate about nonedible items such as how many chairs are needed in the living room when there’s a lovely big couch or how many end tables should be placed there (a coffee table purchased at the Shanghai art museum must stay). After all, who’s coming over? Don’t they know that the risks of Covid-19 are still present, and big gatherings aren’t on the agenda yet? 

As I declutter the townhouse/dollhouse, I ask myself, “Do I put these sweet furnishings and foods aside and periodically take them out, toss them away or donate them to a school or child who hasn’t yet enjoyed such joy?” And then I wonder if there are storage PODS for miniatures to keep this stuff safe, just as there are big PODS for adults to rent in real life. What might such a small space cost? 

For now, as I complete the downsizing of the miniature house, I use a shoebox for storage, marveling at the pleasure this “toy” has brought multiple generations of my family, including my small grandsons. I have no idea where both dollhouses will land if I downsize from my current home, and my daughters don’t have room for them. 

The good news is that I have decluttered three homes, nobody’s moving in the immediate future and the two dollhouses can stay put. 


  • Ruth Friendly

    I too am smiling as I llisten to this blog of yours. You get anA+ on decluttering and I get a D.Every once in awhile I go through a dresser drawer or a piece of a closet but it barely makes a desnt. THe other day I went through a file with some of my children and we marveled at our find — letters from 75 and 80 years ago. Areal find and that was a joy — so decluttering even on a small scale can bring memorable moments.

  • Linda Langsdorf

    I enjoyed learning a completely different side of you. I love your dollhouses. How joyful to share them with your daughters and now grandsons.The more I know if you, the more I appreciate you!

  • Lynn

    This made me smile! Just before the pandemic I did a Closet clean out! Once covid hit and I was confined to home, I realized I had gotten rid of most everything! I had nothing to wear. Fortunately staying close to home requires no clothes – just jeans & sweaters! I’m all set

  • Evelyn

    Your posts are so on point and resonate with me 100%.

  • Jill L Davis

    Loved this column. As someone who is in a constant state of decluttering and married to a man who never saw a piece of paper that he didn’t want to save, I adored the image of decluttering a doll’s house (which, by the way, my husband also wouldn’t be able to do!) Thanks for making me smile!

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