May 15, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Decluttering Is Freeing

Shepsi: Not a good decision maker.

I would like to share some questions that came up this year during Pesach cleaning and preparation. I hope my answers can help guide you through this chag and in the future.


Dear iDeclutter,

Our house always has too many toys. I’m a pushover parent who buys more than we have room for, especially the stuffed animals. Where can I off-load our overabundance of stuffed toys?

Sincerely,
Softy for Soft Toys

 

Dear Softy,

I understand you like your children to have a wide choice of toys, however, the quantity has become excessive and you have decided it is time for a toy purge. Allow your children to help make the decisions about which toys to part with and where they should be donated, because it is important they feel they have a voice concerning their playthings. If you communicate your need to tidy up and that needy or sick children will benefit, I think they will be more likely to participate. Granted, the sorting process will be slower when your family helps than when an adult makes all the decisions, however, you are more likely to maintain shalom bayit, peace in your home, if you bring them along.

As you gather the stuffed toys, examine them carefully and separate yourself from any warm memories they hold for you. Toss worn or soiled stuffed toys. According to the March 5, 2024 edition of Real Simple magazine, it is possible to clean the lightly stained ones by following these directions: Begin by spraying stains directly with a spot cleaner. Remove or secure loose parts to protect the toy from damage in the washer. Place the toys in mesh laundry bags, being careful not to overfill the bags.Use a laundry sanitizer available from the laundry detergent aisle of most stores. Machine wash on a delicate cycle. Air dry.

Please note that due to health and hygiene concerns, toys donated to a hospital must be new. Don’t despair. Many of my clients have been surprised to find new toys as they cleaned up.

Other reputable donation centers to consider are Pick Purple, Lupus, Purple Hearts and Goodwill. Be aware that there is a difference between arranging a Green Drop pickup and driving your donations to Green Drop in Metuchen, New Jersey. I have researched this and found that if you arrange for Green Drop to pick up bags from your home, the donations benefit the Military Order of the Purple Heart, a charity for disabled veterans. If you drive your donations to Green Drop in Metuchen, all proceeds benefit The Red Cross, the same Red Cross that has failed Israel for decades.


 

Dear iDeclutter,

When Pesach approaches it always seems that I have way too much chametz in my pantry and freezer. Our minhag is to sell our chametz, but nevertheless, I don’t have room to store all the packages that remain while bringing in all the Pesach food. Is there a way I can reduce the amount of chametz in the house or do you have suggestions on what I can do with the food other than throw it away?

Sincerely,
Too Much of a Good Thing

Dear Too Much,

Every household is different, as we know, and there is no universal answer for storage. Perhaps a few months before Pesach you could begin to buy strictly on an “as needed” basis. In January you could take an inventory of your pantry and freezer. You could formally take note of the foods that you have in overabundance. Something I often notice when setting up a client’s pantry is that they are not aware of all they have, and that similar foods are not positioned together. I observe that boxes of pasta are on multiple shelves and cereal boxes are both in the front of one shelf and lurking in the very back of another. Cookies labeled “OU-D” have found their way into the milchig dish cabinets. No system has been set up, and the family members who are putting away the groceries have different opinions. No wonder they are losing track of what they have and purchasing duplicates! Battle this problem by conveniently taping your shopping list in your pantry, allowing you to instantaneously note what you need and set up reminders. By working on your shopping list throughout the week, you will be prepared and informed for the weekly shop and unlikely to guess what you need.

Besides knowing what you need to buy, you may want to get a handle on the organization of the pantry, refrigerator and freezer. Adopt organizing systems, including placing like items in buckets or within shelf dividers and using a label maker. Systems take time to establish, and the days right before Pesach are not the time to start. After Pesach, grab your calendar and choose a date to systemize your pantry and refrigerator/freezer either with an organizer or on your own.

Keep an eye on the expiration dates of your food, however, also keep in mind this is the manufacturer’s guide, not the law.

Now focus on food donation sites, like the local Jewish Family Services, aka JFS. (They require all donations to be kosher.) Call ahead to find out what days and times they accept food donations and where you should park so you don’t have a long walk carrying bags or boxes of food. I speak from experience. It is also helpful to verify the types of foods they do not accept, such as food in glass jars. Make sure all packages to be donated are sealed, clean, not sticky, and within their expiration dates. Often a local synagogue holds a pop-up food bank. This might mean a trailer is parked in a shul parking lot for a few days. You can also search online for local food banks; be sure to contact them for important drop-off details before you drive there. Typically, these places do not pick up from private homes, as the clothes donation charities do.

If you feel comfortable offering your chametz to your cleaning help or a non-Jewish co-worker, be sure to ask if they will accept open packages of food. For example, that open box of Cap’n Crunch cereal in the back of my pantry. Pardon me. I am getting off the track. Gentle warning: Never give away food you suspect may be stale. “When in doubt, throw it out.”


 

Dear iDeclutter,

I have a conflict. I have so many clothes and such a messy closet that I don’t even know what I have. I must not need more. If I send my money to help Israel, I won’t be adding clutter to my closet. How do you, as an organizer, hold?

Signed,
Conflicting Colors

 

Dear Colors,

This is indeed a question that many women are asking. I can’t help viewing your question from a Torah perspective, especially since I just heard two shiurim addressing your conflict. Rabbanit Yemima Mizrachi said that Chava was sad when she was thrown out of Gan Eden. In an effort to cheer her, Hashem himself fashioned clothes for her. From this we learn new clothes or jewelry for Shabbat and Yom Tov can legitimately make a woman happy. While this is a vote for purchasing clothes, this line of reasoning may not convince you. In addition, I heard a story from Torah Anytime regarding an anonymous and generous donation sent to a charity that aids needy families. The money was accompanied by a note reading, “This is the cost of the dress I did not buy for this Pesach.”

I hear from your question that you are craving organization. Specifically, you are not sure if you want a new outfit for Pesach but you know you want to see your money benefit Israel. Digging deeper, I hear you actually want a closet cleanse to thoroughly clean and organize your entire closet. Here’s the added benefit … Some of the clothes you no longer want can be donated to Israel through Yad Leah.

Shepsi and I wish all our readers and friends at The Jewish Link a chag kasher v’sameach.


Ellen Smith is Central Jersey’s Kosher Organizer and a member of NAPO, the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals. For over 15 years, Ellen has helped people restore order and create calm in their homes and souls. See Ellen’s work on Instagram @ideclutterbyEllen. Contact Ellen for a complimentary phone consultation at
ideclutter407@gmail.

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