Review x 2: It's All Too Much and Design Mom

Jul 17, 2015

I think my subconscious must be telling me that I need a more organized/less cluttered home because somehow I keep coming home from the library with books like these two.

It's All Too Much: An Easy Plan For Living a Richer Life With Less Stuff by Peter Walsh
I think I found this book after reading an article by Peter Walsh (somewhere, I can't remember where) and wanting to read more by him. Since I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up earlier this year, I can't help but compare Marie Kondo's approach with Peter Walsh's. I found both books very helpful (and both inspired me to get rid of stuff), but where The Life-Changing Magic seemed a little unrealistic, Peter Walsh's approach seemed very methodical and practical (and yet, you don't see it taking the world by storm . . . )

He suggests going room-by-room after completing a general purge that clears away the surface clutter (this makes sense to me, but Marie Kondo insists that you should purge by category instead). He gives suggestions for how to make it happen in each space and encourages the whole family to communicate with each other and be involved in the process.

He has a very peppy, go-get-'em, motivational-speaker type voice, and it grated on me after awhile. I appreciated his enthusiasm for the tasks at hand, but it seemed like he was saying, "So let's get started!" every other page. I guess decluttering requires many starts since it's so easy to get derailed.

I remember in Marie Kondo's book, she mentioned again and again that tidying, if done right, need only be a one-time event (which happens over the course of several months, but which she defines as a one-time event just the same). This just didn't sound realistic to me. And so I felt justified when Peter Walsh said that the defending of your home against the threat of clutter is a daily battle.

Therefore, one of the most helpful parts of the book for me was the chapter about maintenance. He talks about the importance of continuing the cycle of one item in, one item out once you've achieved your ideal balance. I also loved the task list where he gave a different assignment for every month of the year, thereby spreading out the jobs of the home but making sure they all get attention. For example, February is "shred mania" month where you take care of all of the paper you've needed to hold onto over the past year. I love schedules and already have certain tasks delegated to specific months (for example, I always rotate our clothes on the first Saturdays in April and October), and so this was a really helpful schedule for me to see.

Between this book and Marie Kondo's book, I freed myself of three bags of clothes, one box of books, and a pickup truck load of random junk. Not a bad endorsement . . .

Design Mom: How to Live With Kids: A Room-By-Room Guide by Gabrielle Stanley Blair
I will tell you one thing from the start: Gabrielle Blair really delivered on the "how to live with kids" part of the book. Usually I feel like advice on this front is a little idealistic while being completely unrealistic so that I find myself thinking, Does this person even have kids?

But with Gabrielle Blair, I didn't doubt it for a minute (she does, in fact, have six children of her own). Just little passing references made me realize she knew exactly what she was talking about.

This book was a dream to read: Each chapter was divided into short sections with colored photographs on every page. It was like reading an adult picture book, and what could be better than that? The photos looked like they were taken in real family homes instead of designer models. They weren't all pristine and perfect (although I'm guessing even the ones displaying messes were somewhat staged,) and they showed a wide variety of solutions (but, I'm sorry, the one showing the overstuffed bookshelves almost gave me a panic attack--it didn't look like someone who loved books (which is what she claimed) but like someone who placed so little value on them they just stuffed them in any old corner).

As with most books like this, I had a hard time applying her advice to my particular situation. That's not a problem with the book; it's a problem with me. For example, I completely agreed with her about having a large workspace in the office available for every member of the family to use for art projects, homework, etc., but I couldn't figure out what that would look like in our home since, at the moment, we don't really have an office. Could we make one of the rooms into an office? Turn part of the family room into a workspace? Do we even need such a table? (Answer: yes.)

She's very good about insisting that you adapt and think creatively outside the box until you stumble upon the perfect solution for your family. While I appreciated her vote of confidence, my own creative skills are limited, and I really think I would do better if I just hired someone else's creativity.

However, one thing I did begin to do early on while reading this book was keep a running list for anytime some little burst of inspiration did strike. Most of these were small ideas, like, "get a couple of trays to cull items on top of the dryer." Some of them were direct applications of Blair's own suggestions, like, "get a plant for the bathroom" (we have the counter space, so why not?) while others were my own variation, like, "try putting all the spices in a basket so that it's easy to pull out of the cupboard."

This list is probably one of the most helpful things I came away with from this book because it's  something tangible I can refer to often, and it's very applicable because I'm the one who made it! We've already tackled some of the items on the list, which is pretty thrilling: we hung something on the wall of the entryway, and we organized the front hall closet.

The book is organized room-by-room, and Blair is pretty thorough (even making her way into the bathroom and laundry room), but there were two spaces that were unfortunately missed--the master bedroom and the yard (or garage or shed).

The first was intentional on Blair's part: she says right at the beginning of the book that children's possessions don't belong in the parents' bedroom, so you don't need her advice there. But I still would have loved her thoughts on how to make that space into a kid-free sanctuary because it's obvious I don't know how to do it.

And I'm not sure why she didn't tackle the outdoor space. We certainly have a big problem with corralling the bikes and helmets and chalk and bubbles and balls and tools at our house, and many of my friends do too. Maybe she left it out because it's not actually in the house, but it's certainly an extension of the house and one of the first things guests see when they arrive. That's really the only change (i.e., addition) I would make to the book.

I'm curious if you've read either of these two books and how you've applied their advice to your home. Please share!


  1. I adore Peter Walsh! And this is my favorite of his books. For a few years he was on TV, and he was so no-nonsense that he could really break the mesmerism of STUFF. I still have to post my review of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, but in it I compare Kondo to Walsh. Personally, I think his approach would be more helpful to Americans, but I could be wrong.

    1. I agree! I think he really gets into the psychological impact of too much stuff, and he is very forthright in his opinion. I liked him a lot, too. Before I helped my mom declutter, I had her read Marie Kondo's book, but I wish that I had already read this one because I think it would have actually been a better fit for her.


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