Cleaning Out

I found out this week that my house is filled with junk. Oh, it doesn’t look too bad–I’ve lived here about 6 years, and things have found niches and hidey-holes so it can at least appear a sane person lives here. Behind cupboard doors, it’s another story. I’m doing a major cleaning-out, and it’s not going too badly if you discount all the angst about giving away some books, and the tragic afternoon I found my prom dress and made the mistake of trying it on. (It has shrunk! That’s my excuse, anyway…)

I need Diane’s favorite show Clean Sweep to come and help me out.

So, it seems appropriate that tomorrow marks the anniversary of one of the biggest ‘clean sweeps’ in history, the Great Fire of London. It began around midnight on September 2, 1666 in the Pudding Lane bakeshop of Thomas Farynor (baker to King Charles II). The baker and his family escaped, but one panicked maid was not so lucky.

In the 16th century most London houses were made of wood and pitch, packed close together, and after a dry, hot summer it took no time at all for the fire to spread. It leaped to the hay piles in the yard of the Star Inn at Fish Street Hill and spread to the Inn itself. A strong wind was also blowing that night and spread the sparks to St. Margaret’s Church and Thames Street, with riverside warehouses and wharves just filled with food for the flames (hemp, oil, hay, timber, coal, and liquor). By the next morning the fire had spread halfway across London Bridge, and the only thing that stopped it from moving into jam-packed Southwark was the gap caused by a fire in 1633 and never rebuilt.

The standard firefighting procedure of the day was create “fire breaks” by destroying structures in its path. The Lord Mayor, though, was too worried about the cost of rebuilding the demolished houses, and by the time a royal command came down it was too late. The fire blazed on for another 3 days before halting near Temple Church. Then it sprang to life again, continuing toward Westminster itself. The Duke of York had the presence of mind to order the Paper House destroyed, and the fire finally died out.

Shockingly, the loss of life was fairly minimal (some sources say about 16, though recent studies have said the lower classes were not counted so it could be much higher), but the loss of property was immense. 430 acres, about 80% of the city, was destroyed, including some 13,000 houses, 89 churches (including St. Paul’s Cathedral), and 52 Guild Halls. One positive effect was the halting of the plague, which had ravaged London the year before, due to the destruction of the rat population.

Charles II quickly appointed 6 Commissioners to redesign the city, with plans providing for wider streets and buildings of brick. By 1671, 9000 houses and businesses were completed and Sir Christopher Wren set out to oversee construction of 50 churches (including the rebuilt St. Paul’s, with the dome we know today). Wren also designed a monument to the Fire, said to stand at the site of the bakery where it started.

I have a few sources of info about the Great Fire on my shelf, including:
Neil Hanson, The Dreadful Judgement: The True Story of the Great Fire of London
TF Reddaway, The Rebuilding of London After the Great Fire
Adrian Tinniswood, By Permission of Heaven: The Story of the Great Fire of London

So, does anyone have any advice for me about the most-organized way to clean out a house? Any criteria for keeping/getting rid of a book? Any interesting facts about the Fire???

About Amanda McCabe/Laurel McKee

Writer (as Amanda McCabe, Laurel McKee, Amanda Carmack), history geek, yoga enthusiast, pet owner!
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Happy to Be in Oregon
13 years ago

A great description of the events of the Great Fire came from Samuel Pepys, who wrote about it in his famous diary. He kept a daily journal during the 1660’s, recording a series of historical events.

Maggie Robinson w/a Margaret Rowe

I spent a little time in my cellar this summer. Not a pretty place. I have decided to let my kids go through the boxes to discover the mildewy pictures of their mom as second runner-up to the May Queen.They will be ruthless throwing stuff away. I just can’t.

I always feel better when I can donate books to a good cause (Katrina victims, etc.). Maya Rodale sponsors a romance book donation site. A friend and I do a book swap, but what I don’t send to her I now donate to my library.

And I would not fit into my prom dress either. 🙂

Jane Austen
13 years ago

I have the hardest time getting rid of books. There are some that I didn’t like that I’m willing to get rid of, but others I think “what if I want to read this again?” So if I think that I actually try to read part of the book again and if it captures my attention then I keep it. If not I get rid of it.

Amanda McCabe
13 years ago

“Happy to Be,” I have an old edition of Pepy’s diary around here somewhere! (one of the reasons I need to do a clean-out–I can’t find things when I need them!) The parts I’ve read are really fascinating pictures of the exciting times he lived in!

Maggie, my local library system has a huge Friends of the Library book sale in February every year, I will probably see if they can come pick them up (it’s shaping up to be several bags and a couple boxes full). Of course, it’s partially their fault I’m overrun, since I always buy a huge pile from them every year!

And lol on the prom dress! I suppose most people can’t fit into them after a few years, but it’s really a pretty dress and I’d like to wear it at a conference. If only the blasted thing would zip all the way up the back! 🙂

Anna Campbell
13 years ago

Hey, wanted to swing by and say HAPPY FOURTH BIRTHDAY, RISKIES!!!! And here’s to many more!

Barbara Monajem
13 years ago

Ha! I don’t have a prom dress. Never did, because 1) I didn’t want to go to the prom because there was a draw to pick your date! Ick! and 2) we had moved from one city to another only a few months before, and I was still officially going out with someone from my old school (and was supposed to go with him to his prom, but did something I wasn’t supposed to–I forget what, but it involved flagrant disobedience–and my parents wouldn’t let me. Which wasn’t anywhere near as heartbreaking as one might think. I was already ready to move on, and I suppose he probably was too… Ah, young not-really-love). Anyway, lucky me, I don’t have a dress to try on and definitely not fit!

13 years ago

One room at a time, and hire movers to do the kitchen.

Also, this is my chance to use my adopted word, scathefire as respects the Great Fire, because if anything was a scathefire, is was the Great Fire.

And how interesting that we can talk about the Great Fire and understand we mean something that happened centuries ago. That’s a heck of a fire and some interesting cultural history.

13 years ago

Books: if they are romances, you may want to consider donating them to Share the Love

Otherwise, I’ve taken the view that if clothing doesn’t fit (a little tight is okay, as long as it can be zipped up/buttoned up), yet is still in wearable shape, it goes to a charity.

Good luck with the sp… erm… autumn cleaning!

13 years ago

Do one space at a time. I managed to get the kitchen and living room done this way… other areas still need attention. One was so bad, I just boxed everything up — into 12 boxes, still have four to go and that was 2 years ago I started on that.

Also, there’s a method where you set up three boxes: keep, toss, “can’t decide”. You put the last box in a garage somewhere and then look at it 6months to a year.

13 years ago

I have no adivice about how to clean up in an organized manner. I do atempt from time to time to go through my books and see what I want to keep and get rid of. This is very hard for me. In fact I have recently repurchased books I had gotten rid of because I realized I could not live without them. I have just gone through several boxes of books today and found some treasures I thought were long gone and was about to buy a new copy of one of them from Abe books. I will be going down to my new fav used books store to turn them in for credit. You can also give them to goodwill. They sell books in some of their stores. I have spent many hours looking through their shelves of books to add to my collection of books. It is a collection my mother does not understand. Now that my son and I are living with her I will once again have to try and explain it to her. That is something I have neve been able to do sincve I do not fully understand my inability to get rid of my books myself.

Jane Austen
13 years ago


My parents don’t understand either. Although right now they are storing probably 2700 of my 3000 volumes. Very nice of them…especially since I have book cases in almost every room of the house. My parents don’t get it either and they don’t get the “reread” aspect of book either. I always tell my parents at least I have a good addiction. I spend my money on books instead of heroine. Really that is better.

I have 8 boxes of research on a Ph. D. that I haven’t even started yet. Oh well…the articles are fun to read.

Amanda McCabe
13 years ago

Heather, you have completely discouraged me on getting rid of any books! What if I need them later? :)) So far I have only made “give away” piles of paperbacks and a few research-type books on subjects I will probably never really need. I am keeping all books on 18th century/Regency, the Renaissance, Shakespeare, French history, writer bios, etc.

And I have learned my lesson on going room by room! I keep getting distracted by other closets and shelves and losing time. 🙂

Amanda McCabe
13 years ago

Scathefire–I have never heard that word, but I like it!

Diane Gaston
13 years ago

I think I meant “Clean House” as my favorite show. “Clean Sweep” was an earlier version with a slightly different spin and I only find it on cable rarely. (There’s another British version- two ladies who basically clean up squalor, complete with showing the owners all the germs cultured from their kitchens and bathrooms, insect larvae, and good stuff like that).

Both Clean Sweep and Clean House make the point that memories do not live in things, they live in our minds and hearts. So the prom dress can really go.

They also advocate keeping clothes no more than one size up and one size down (or preferably only the clothes that really fit you). No saving clothes just in case you lose that weight.

You probably would not be surprised that Clean House fairly often comes across a lady who saves all her romance novels. Sometimes they give her 20 seconds to choose her keepers and the rest go.

When I was working as a Mental health social worker for the elderly, I once visited a hoarder who had a room waist deep in romance novels…(Is this the future for all of us?????)

I’ve been fairly ruthless about giving away any books that I’ve kept because “I might read them someday.” Lots of the books we get free from conferences land in this category. If I haven’t read them in a month or two, chances are I will never read them.

I would say, if I could easily replace a book IF I wanted to read it again, it might go in the giveaway pile. Or if it was one I could get at the library. If it feels irreplaceable, then I might keep it.

With magazines, if I haven’t gone back to look at the article again, it gets tossed.

But Amanda can attest to the fact that I still have lots and lots of books!

Jane Austen
13 years ago


I’m loving To Catch a Rogue….it’s got antiquities theft one of my favorite things!!! Thank you so much!!!

Amanda McCabe
13 years ago

I’m so glad you’re enjoying it! I also totally love any book featuring antiquities and artistic skullduggery. :))

13 years ago

Now once I get the new shelf up I may get rid of some more books or at least make an attempt to. I am getting rid of some very irrelevant text books from college. Even though it has not been that long since I graduated, the world is a much different place. I am keeping most of the history books, just getting rid of some of the political science books and a math text book that I have no idea why I still own. I never even went to that class I only showed up to take the tests. I hope to get rid of enough so I can have the space for the books I need for some research I am doing.

Patricia Barraclough
Patricia Barraclough
13 years ago

Good luck with sorting through things. I have my household full, plus two other households we packed up and moved here when relatives went into a nursing home or died. IWe brought all that stuff into a house we were renovating, so all our stuff was boxed and piled. It has really gotten bad. When I do have time to sort, it is just too overwhelming to start. If I got ride of some books, that would help a great deal, but I want to read them. I have over 20 full bookcases and probably 40 boxes of books that are still packed away. A big problem. I’ll have a 4 day weekend over Labor Day. I hope to make at least a little headway. It is something I have to do. My daughter tried to help once and I got angry at what she was doing with my stuff. I have to be the one to decide to part with it. The sorting rule is pretty simple. Make your piles: To Keep, To Throw Out, To Give Away. I need to add a To Think About and I know I shouldn’t.
Good Luck.