People can be very nervous at the thought of purging. I am not advocating carelessly tossing out valuables, whether valuable monetarily or sentimentally. But there must be a limit. Gather all the sentimental mementos you have. If they are useful, use them. If there are merely for display, then consolidate to one shelf/table/whatever and display them (which means dusting them one a decade… whether they need it or not.) If they are neither functional or to be displayed, but you still would be saddened to not have them, store them out of the way in a labeled container. But set a limit on how many plastic tubs or boxes of family heirlooms you will have. It might help to really evaluate each item and decide to keep only the most precious and only those they bring back good memories. And remember that the item itself is not a memory… you will always have that even if the item is given away. Well… until dementia hits anyway. Bottom line about memorabilia: people are more important than things. Don’t lose sight of the fact that it is just a thing.
A common road block to removing clutter is the thought that it would be wasteful to toss it because you might need or want it someday. Here is my counter to that: Clutter steals from us. It steals our time as we search for things lost in the pile. It steals our money as we go to purchase something we know we do have- somewhere- but could not find. Clutter steals our relaxing environment. It creates a chaotic feeling. To me anyway.
Clutter affects some of us more than others but I feel stressful just having it staring at me. Like its screaming “You can’t sit down and relax right now, Kayte! You have to put me away! Find a place for me!! I will not be ignored! Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!” If your clutter doesn’t taunt you like mine taunts me, then I’m happy for you. My clutter has a nasty disposition so it must die! Okay that was a little over the top, eh? Even if you find it easier to ignore clutter, there will no doubt come a day when you are looking for something you want and can’t find in the heaps. Or maybe you actually want to use that shelf or table or closet for it's intended purpose but can’t because of the dreadful Clutter Monster. Raise your hand if you’ve been guilty of throwing random stuff behind a closed door because company was coming over! (Kayte’s hand is raised.)Is the solution a bigger house? No. Clutter Monsters love bigger houses because they then have room to multiple and have big batch of baby Clutter Monster-etts. It must be reduced, if not totally annihilated. (I get violent words flowing when I write about clutter, don’t I?!)
We have all probably heard of sorting the clutter into basic groups such as:
1. Trash – it is broken, outdated, obsolete, stained
2. Keep – you use it, you love it, Great Grannie made you swear to keep it forever
3. Sell – it has value or could be useful to someone else, you have another of the same thing
4. Give Away – may not have much $$ value but still could be useful
5. Relocate - what exactly was my cheese grader doing in the bathroom?
It’s a simple system but sometimes it’s hard to make tough choices about to which category items belong. Here is a hodge podge of ideas to help make those choices easier:
- Hang all your clothing hangers backwards so that the open hook is facing you. When you wear each article, return it with the hanger in the correct, normal way. After 6 months (or a year if you have distinct seasons like here in NY), whatever hangers are still hanging backwards, get rid of those items.
- I have decided to stop saving clothes for future children that are in bad condition, or that I just plain don’t like. I end up never putting them on my girls and I’ve wasted time and space saving them after they outgrow it. Of course, different budgets require different levels of scrutiny. And if you’re like my mom, every stained piece of clothing is just an opportunity to whip out the fabric paint!
- If you really cannot decide if something is a keeper, put in a box, label and date. After 6 months, if you’ve not missed that item or forgot about it, get rid of it.
- It may make parting with items easier if a little profit can be made, by selling at a consignment shop or on eBay. I have found consigning better when selling clothing but you have to accept that the shop takes a percentage out. The plus side is that even while it is selling, it is out of your house and there is no loss if it does not sell where as eBay has a listing fee. Antique dealers would be happy to take some older treasures off your hands as well. A garage sale is always a good way to say farewell to junk. Just be sure to designate an area for your collecting items and set a definite time line for the sale so that you aren’t collecting for year after year. Commit to donating whatever does not sell to a thrift store.
- Another way to make the separation easier is to give it to someone you think might need it. It feels good to give something that was just sitting around on your shelf to someone who actually has use for it. Even just donating to a thrift store is satisfying as I think of the many times I found treasures there. Maybe my junk will be someone else’s treasure and make their day. It’s not just “getting rid of stuff”; it’s allowing someone else to enjoy it.
- If something is covered in dust, it probably doesn’t get used much. Bid it adieu.
- Limit how many of one item you will save. I’m referring to things like plastic grocery bags and other things that we save because they are free and handy to have. Once I have a bag full, I recycle the rest. (Wal-Mart has bins up front to drop them off in.) Apply the same principle to things like baby food jars, fast food condiment packets, twisty ties for baggies, etc. Keep a few and chuck the rest.
- Go through your pens collection (or first collect the thousands of pens we accumulate). I notice that I tend to reach for the same few pens that write nicely and are comfortable to hold. Get rid of the ones you don’t like or are low on ink. How many pens do we really need, after all?
Make purging a regular habit. When something new is brought in, search for something to get rid of. This rule does not apply to new babies. ;)
A few other ideas on how to limit to amount of STUFF we have to keep track of, clean, organize, put away:
- Determine to buy smart. Choose products that serve several purposes. I have stopped buying wrapping paper for separate occasions but instead buy paper that is pretty but can used to anything: birthday, baby shower, wedding shower, act. I actually found that I liked the simpler look to the gift, and the bow was more prominent against the solid paper. Kitchen gadgets and appliances are another area to seek multifunction.
- Don’t even check the mail or take the laundry out of the dryer until you are ready to deal with it.
-Ask that people not purchase toys for your kids if you feel they have enough. I really believe most American kids have WAY too much. It seems with my girls, the more they have, the less they play with and appreciate their toys. It almost overwhelms them. We have started rotating toys (and storing ones that they outgrow).
- Never tell anyone what you collect. Okay I’m joking. But really… collections scare me. I once made the mistake of mentioning to my family that I thought Sponge Bob Square Pants (this was back when he was “new”) was amusing. Can you guess what ALL of my Christmas presents were centered on? Yup. Good ol’ Sponge Bob. There I was: a college sophomore with more Sponge Bob memorabilia than I knew what to do with. So now I tell people that I like butterflies but don’t want any. ;)
Purging is my favorite part of organizing. I can just about hear the moans at that statement. For so many, this is the hardest part. However, as time passes and the number on my driver’s license tells me that I’m getting older, and with the addition of children, living with the just the bare basics is not as easy as it once was. In order to not be downright wasteful, I do have to keep and store things. Lots of things. I will be addressing the topic of what to do with all the stuff we still have after purging soon. However, that step will be so much easier if we bite the bullet and purge first.
Find the rest of this organizational series:
Organization: Philosophy & Purpose
And my "How To Posts" disclaimer