Friday, March 30, 2012

To Get Rid of Stuff

So here I am, trying to type out part 2 of my posts on excess stuff. However, my "shift" key is broken again (happens from time to time), so bare with me if not all my sentences start out capitalized, or this post gets cut horrendously short in a fit of frustration (do I actually have fits of frustration? Noooo, not lil' old me! Never.).

Back to our actual topic at hand! I've already touched very briefly on the subject of stuff. I'd like to go into it more deeply, but really I think anyone who has too much stuff is already keenly aware of the problems and stresses it creates without somebody harping on how it raises your blood pressure just to think about dealing with a messy house, encourages your likelihood to be perpetually late to appointments (how can you get anywhere on time when you can't find things like shoes or keys?), is an embarrassment when guests stop by unexpectedly, and more! And let's face it, the less excess "stuff" you have, the easier it is to avoid those stressful messes. But you already have too much stuff. Your garage is crammed, your attic is packed, and don't let your next guest open up the hall closet! And that's to say nothing of the stacks of paper that cover every flat surface in your office, or the piles of old mail you've already looked at but just haven't thrown out. You have a problem you need to deal with, but you're not one of those naturally organized types, so where do you start? With these 3 simple steps!

1. Pick one room -- don't try to deal with the entire house at once. You will become overwhelmed and you will fail. Instead make up a list of the rooms you need to deal with (and if that's all of them, then so be it!) and choose only one at a time to attack. Do not move on to the next room until the first is complete.
2. Go in with a plan -- if you're attacking a room full of miscellaneous papers, grab a couple bins, baskets, or whatever else you have around to help you sort through things. One bin of things you must keep, another for things you can throw out. The things you must keep should then be filed away into their proper place, or otherwise dealt with right away. Do not make a "deal with later" pile. It will not happen and the accumulation will begin all over again. If you're attacking the garage full of odds and ends, clear some space somewhere and start four separate piles 1) Keep, 2) Throw out, 3) Sell, 4) Giveaway/donate.
3. Be rutheless! -- If you finish sorting and there's almost nothing in piles 2, 3, or 4, go through pile 1 again and ask yourself with every item, "Do I need this? What for? When was the last time I used it? Is it worth the space it takes up?" Also don't forget the phrase, "When in doubt throw it out!" If you find an item you haven't used in a 12 month period, odds are good that you don't actually need it. 12 months allows you to keep items you use only during the holidays, or during certain seasons.

When you're through deciphering what is to be kept, thrown out, sold, or given away, don't stop there. Actually take the next step of tossing it, selling it, or whatever else. If there is more to sell/give away than you can easily deal with in a reasonable period, make up a list and commit to dealing with 1 item each day until you've made it through everything. Depending on what the items are, consider CraigsList, eBay, FreeCycle, or if you have the time, a good old fashioned garage sale. Personally, my husband and I have never had much compared to many American's, but when we were preparing to move once, I got extra ruthless and we made around $700 over the course of two days and we've never missed any of the things we sold those two days.

A few more tips to help you get through all the stuff if purging, cleaning, and organizing is not your forte:

  • The trash can is your friend. Spend time with him regularly.
  • If it belongs to someone who doesn't live in your home, ask them to come take it away, or bring it back to them yourself. No excuses. Just do it. 
  • Edit, edit, edit!!! Collections and knick knacks are cluttery. Cluttery does not feel relaxing and pleasant, nor is it easy to keep clean. If you have a collection you simply cannot part with, find a way to contain it all in one general area, instead of spreading it all over the house. Things you feel any less than madly in love with, get rid of them. If you're afraid you'll regret the choice, take the items and put them all into a box somewhere where you won't see them regularly. Several months down the line, if you haven't regularly thought of and longed for them, donate them, garage sale them, or if it's things that were only meaningful to you, throw them out. Do not forget, however, that you have tucked them away. Consider marking a date 2-3 months in the future on your calendar and dealing with them on that date, no matter what. 
  • You are not morally obligated to keep everything that anyone ever gives you or that you inherit. It's shocking I know, but quite true. Friends and family really do not want to burden their loved ones with things they either don't need, want, or like. Trust me when I say it is okay to throw out the old clock from Uncle John, or that ceramic owl that belonged to Grandma's brother's best-friend. If it is not improving your life by being regularly used, or aesthetically pleasing, forget it.
  • Get rid of extras. You do not need to keep old hairdryers, weed-eaters, or anything else if the one you have is functioning. Don't play the "what if?" game. Things break. That's life. You can't keep enough of everything to run two entire households, just in case the ones you currently use break. Toss, sell, or giveaway all of your extras. If your husband has 4 black ties (and doesn't work for MIB hunting aliens), get rid of all but one. If you have 5 pairs of neutral colored Keds, keep only the 1 or 2 pairs that you wear with regularity and do away with the others. 
  • Repair anything that's broken that you've been putting off.
  • When you're done with all the purging, don't forget to give everything a thorough cleaning! Nothing feels better than having those floors you can finally see again sparkling. 
And last of all one final point I have to bring up that should help you in your new found effort to live free of clutter is to make sure that the things that you do have are multi-purpose whenever possible! Don't buy the plainest, simplest coffee table out there; go for one that doubles as storage space, whether you can open up the top and tuck a blanket inside, lift a lid to store your (hopefully downsized) DVD collection, or one that has a shelf underneath where you can stow books, magazines, and TV remotes.   

Lest anyone think me cold and heartless, yes, you can keep a box or two full of purely sentimental items. Just be very careful not to let these one or two become more and more until your entire garage is full of sentimental stuff again!


  1. Yay for clutter hate! I am definitely doing the minimalism journey at this point. I've been going through a lot of the sentimental things and old home decor stuff.Also dvd's we will never watch, books that I've owned forever, thought were crappy, but never got rid of and other random stuff like old kitchen appliances. Feels so good. I've kept our living areas clutter free for quite some time but now the garage and attic are getting really good.

    1. It's just so much easier, isn't it?! I actually need to go through our DVDs. We have a fairly small collection, but we rarely watch any of them, so why not use that space for something we actually need/want? I like the old adage, "A place for everything, and everything in its place". If it doesn't have a place, it ought to go!

  2. Good tips, Meg! I regularly clean out closets and shelves, but it is always good to read something like this and think, "Hmmm, could I do more?"

    1. Glad I could serve as the reminder this time. Good luck finding something to purge. ;)

  3. Awesome article! I love simplicity. One thing you can do to figure out what you wear/don't wear is to start out putting all of your clothes on hangers and putting the hangers on the pole backwards, and when you wear it, wash it, and hang it back up, put place it on the pole in the normal direction. It helps to see what you haven't worn!


    1. That is a good tip on the clothing, Jen! What an easy way to figure out what you really do and don't wear. I have certain articles of clothing that I keep because I "really like" them, but never actually wear them because they don't look especially nice on my body type or something. What's the point?! And as easy as it is to get pretty much anything for cheap these days with thrift stores, CraigsList, and FreeCycle, there really is just no reason at all to keep clutter "just in case"!

  4. What a motivational post! I have cleaned out my office (it's really the "stuff"room) over the past couple months, even digging into the "Cait's stuff to save" boxes. You would think moms would keep all the important papers, but apparently they also love to keep newsletters from each semester in elementary school... I managed to rid my life of a few pounds of 20-year-old junk. What a freeing feeling! It's also comforting to read many blogs like yours talking about how easy it is to achieve less clutter and how we don't have to get rid of ALL our stuff, just the stuff we don't need. Thanks again for your post.

  5. Thank you for reading, and commenting! It's always nice to hear from my readers. :)

  6. You truly are an inspiration and this time I really am going to tackle my house. I liked the make a list and start in one room comment.For people like me who would rather read about organization than be organized that is a pivotal suggestion.Thanks!