Camp and the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

My husband continually teases me because I keep on saying I need to “get organized”.  What this really means is moving my junk…er, belongings…to different piles around the house.  So, as per the recommendation of my friend Becky, a fellow member of The Half-A** Book Club (sorry, kind of NCA), I picked up a copy of Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  I obviously needed more than help…I needed a life change.  Kondo provided just that.  Here are her conclusions that I have internalized:




 I’ve probably taken five car-loads of miscellaneous items to be donated, assessed the need for stuff in my life, and my house looks great.  But of course, my mind instantly started thinking about CAMP.  Why oh why is there so much MESS at camp all of the time?  Do you ever feel yourself constantly cleaning up, or chasing around others to do so?  There were many times in my camp directing career when I felt just that way.  I would even do the same thing to our staff/campers that my mother frequently did to me as a child: “ANYTHING NOT CLEANED UP IN 5 MINUTES IS GOING DIRECTLY TO THE TRASH”!

So, Kondo got me thinking about successful ways that I got our camp to be tidier, and other ideas of how to reduce clutter at camp.


Exhibit A: Boat Donations

Ah, the call that every camp director who works on a lake gets a few times a summer: “Hi, I have a boat I would like to donate to your camp!”.  This can be a great call.  We have gotten some amazing boats at Camp AGQ due the generosity of neighbors on the lake and other friends (including a Lightning that has a Spinnaker and this beautiful Hobie 16!!).  At the same time, we have a “boat graveyard” up the hill at camp of old hulls and boat parts that are no longer seaworthy.  To be frank, some boat donors are simply looking to dump their boats (whether knowingly or not) and get a tax write-off.  Don’t fall for it!

Whenever someone would call me me with a boat donation, I would have our waterfront director, caretaker and sailing or waterskiing instructor go have a look right away (a.k.a. the people who know way more about boats than I do).  If they wanted it, I would trust their judgment.  If they did not, we would simply say “no, thanks!”.  Just because something is free does not mean you need it!  Over the years, I have said “yes” to various donations that have been more of a pain than they were worth: the bathtub-like sailboat we named “Frankenstein” that capsized on the far side of the lake, stranding campers and staff; the extra-large old style TV that we could never get hooked up to a DVD player; a collection of a hundred romance novels (no idea why I said yes to these), etc.  So, truly asses what your camp needs, be honest with kind donors, and move forward!

Awesome Hobie catamaran that was donated to us this summer!  Unscientifically, however, I estimate that there are 2 boats in the boat graveyard for every seaworthy boat.

Exhibit B: Litter

For years, we had Starburst candies in the camp store.  Every time I would walk around camp I would end up with a pocketful of Starburst wrappers that I had picked up off of the ground.  This was driving me crazy!  Why can’t the darn kids pick up their darn Starburst wrappers??  Oh wait, that is an unreasonable expectation.  Most kids probably were picking up their Starburst trash.  However, each Starburst bar has about 25 pieces of trash.  Even a slight gust of wind could create a litter disaster.  Likewise with the cookout silverware.  Each time the campers had BBQ dinner, they would receive a silverware packet in a wrapper with fork, knife, spoon, napkin and, if we were feeling especially fancy, salt and pepper packets that I would later find scattered about camp. What 8-year-old or 16-year-old for that matter requires utensils to eat a hamburger and some sliced watermelon??  The realization: We had too much stuff.  Eliminating Starburst from the store for less-wrapped candy (M&Ms, anyone?) and only offering and optional fork at the salad bar on cookout night immediately got to the root of the problem.  If you have a lot of litter at your camp, go straight to the source!

Exhibit C: The Lost and Found

Lo and behold, the lost and found.  Mushy, mildewed and crusty if it’s anything like how the lost and found was at Camp AGQ a few years ago.  It would pile up and pile up and no one wanted to touch it (let alone see any of it) to check for their own lost belongings.  This was becoming a major problem and probably even a biohazard.

At another camp, I saw this nifty idea of lost and found hooks where items were displayed (not shoved into a bin), allowed to dry, and in a place that campers frequented.  The campers would walk by the lost and found all the time, would see stuff that was theirs, and would take it back!  Thus, the problem of overflowing lost and found was quickly solved.  Oh, and it cost me all of $10 to make.

New and improved lost and found area!


One of the hardest bits of camp clutter is a more personal type of camp clutter: the drawers and closets you have that are bursting at the seams with camp gear.  I would guess that during an average summer as a counselor, I would acquire 10 new bits of camp apparel each summer (a couple of staff shirts/sweatshirts, female side shirt, lifeguard shirt and pretty much everything at the store).  As time went on, I showed more self-restraint, but also seemed to acquire about 10 new articles of clothing annually with YMCA events added into the mix.  The issue here is that so many of these items have sentimental meaning!

So, the first task it to see which items “Spark Joy”.  This was fairly easy to whittle down, but still was not as easy as my regular clothes.  There were definitely things that still spark joy that were the wrong size or just something that I would never wear again.  This is where a great idea comes in: Project Repat. Project Repat is a really cool company based in North Carolina.  They make high-quality t-shirt blankets and other products in all sizes.  It’s good for the environment and the economy, and I love the one that I had made.  All you do is pick your size blanket, and they will tell you how many shirts you need.  You take the shirts/sweatshirts and cut them into 12"x12" squares.  You lay out the squares in the design that you would like, take a picture, then send everything to the company.  They sew everything together, add a recycled fleece backing, and send it back to you.  My blanket sparks a lot of joy in my heart and I have alleviated my drawers of all of my decade-old shirts.  I emailed the company and they sent a code for any of my readers to receive 20% off a purchase: McKinnoncamp.

Infographic courtesy of Project Repat.

Infographic courtesy of Project Repat.

Sweet Shyloh helped me assemble my Project Repat quilt last year

Sweet Shyloh helped me assemble my Project Repat quilt last year


Marie Kondo’s advice about this topic is a little different than mine.  She says to get rid of your belongings by category: clothes first, then books, then papers, miscellaneous items then sentimental items.  This concept is a little more difficult when applied to camp, since sometimes it takes an expert in a particular area (i.e. archery instructor) to properly clean and not throw out anything important when it comes to camp supplies.  However, I think this method of FOCUSING on one category could pay off in a huge way when doing the big cleaning days:

At camps, we frequently assign people to a given area (i.e. Eliza and Ceci are going to clean Cabin 12 and Rheilly and Jean are going to clean Cabin 11, etc.).  Wouldn’t it be much easier to have tasks for some individuals and have them tackle all of camp or a village, etc., as an expert in that area?  For example, when we would open cabins at camp, we would assign the two co-counselors in each cabin to do all of the tasks for that cabin.  Some were easy (sweeping, etc.) but most required supplies (fixing screens, bleaching mattresses, adjusting shutters, etc.).  Most of our time was lost as people ran around looking for our few working staple guns or extra pulleys.  It would have been much more effective to assign teams of two or three to different tasks where they could focus and just move from cabin to cabin (mattress crew, pulley crew, etc.).


Marie Kondo's advice made a huge difference in the way I thought about our home.  Most importantly, it reframed my mindset: Rather than thinking about WHERE to put STUFF, it got me thinking about what stuff I actually need!  Overall, for camp and for life, her message is one of lifestyle change.  Clean smart, not hard, and good luck opening your camps for the summer!