Decluttering isn’t about your stuff. If decluttering was just about the objects in your home, you’d probably have no trouble making decisions about what to keep and what to release. But, as you’ve probably noticed, it’s not that simple.
Our stuff is connected to our thoughts and feelings. Should you keep this? What if you get rid of it and you need it again? What if you hurt the feelings of the gift giver? You feel ridiculous for spending money on something you never used. You feel ashamed that you hold onto things that you know aren’t important but that you can’t get rid of. You feel overwhelmed by all your stuff and the decisions you know you need to make about each item in your home.
I’ve selected the following quotes to be a sort of tale of decluttering. First, you start to realize that you have more stuff than you need, and you begin to wonder if you can change this situation that you’ve been living with for years. You consider why you want to declutter – why is now the right time?
You realize that before you can declutter, you need to look within for your motivation and goals so when you start feeling overwhelmed, you’ll know why you are clearing these things from your life. With a vision for the life you want firmly set in your mind, you make decision after decision, questioning how each possession will help you reach your goals.
Sometimes, you wonder if you should hold onto things ‘just in case;’ however, you realize that knowing what you want to do in your life, means that you know what you need. Each decision you make to declutter what you don't need changes you into a person working toward your goals.
You can read through each quote (or watch the slideshow) and then return to the beginning and allow yourself to reread each quote, this time closing your eyes after each one and considering how it applies to your life.
I believe that clearing clutter brings clarity to our goals; but also, we want to begin the decluttering process knowing why this task is important to us. What is your vision for your life and your home? What goals would you pursue if your clutter wasn’t blocking your way?
If you think your goal is to get organized, I want you to imagine what your life would be like when your home is organized. That's where you should focus.
I think this clarity is such an important first step to decluttering, that I’ve created a program, Clear Your Clutter and Create Space for Your Life that helps you identify your goals for your life and your vision for your home as well as create a plan for your decluttering activities, so you stay motivated throughout the process. To learn more about Create Space for Your Life, please click here.
Please share your favorite quotes with friends and family on social media.
By Susan Caplan McCarthy
My parents held onto everything. My mother collected bags of used dryer sheets because my father had heard that they were good for polishing the car. He never used them, but this didn’t stop my mother from adding them to the bags beside the dryer.
My mother purchased shoes she wore, maybe, once. My father purchased three tool boxes and spread one tool box’s worth of stuff among the three.
Toys my brother and I played with were stored for the grandchildren my parents never had. Clothing – brand new, hand-me-downs, frayed items, as well as regular wardrobe pieces – were jumbled together in drawers, cabinets, and closets.
When I had to pack clothing for my father when he was moved into assisted living, I had no clue what to send with him. When he was in the house, he wore threadbare items; when he went out grocery shopping or to a doctor’s appointment, he wore the same polo shirt and work pants. Packing what I found in his closet, I had the suspicion that most of the items were things he’d taken from his father’s apartment.
Although some of the items my parents kept were odd, mom and dad were trapped by common thoughts around stuff that a lot of people believe.
1. I Might Need It Someday
Under what conditions do you think you may need the item? How often do you think that you should hold onto something ‘just in case’ but never really carry the thought through to consider under what conditions you’d use the item again? If you think the kids or grandkids could use stuff for craft projects, then start a bin for that use; once the bin is full, that’s it until it gets used.
If you think you might need items for entertaining guests, consider your current entertaining agenda and what your specific goal is for having guests over to your home in the next year. And, if you think you’ll fit into a clothing item in the future, consider the age of the item and if you’d truly find it a part of a fashionable outfit. Honestly, if I lost all the weight I want to lose, I’m going shopping for a new wardrobe because I’m not going without cookies for a year just, so I can wear a shirt that’s been in the back of my closet for twenty years.
2. I Want to Do that Activity (again)
Aspirational clutter consists of the things we hoped to do (or, perhaps, do again). Maybe you signed up for a class, bought the supplies, went to class, and then figured you’d continue with this new interest or hobby beyond the class. But, you didn’t. Or, perhaps you thought that buying something that you felt would improve your life in some way would be an incentive to use the item. However, neither spending money nor owning something is incentive enough to use it.
3. It Was Free … or a Really Good Deal
When you buy an item on sale you aren’t saving money, you’re spending it. If you wouldn’t pay full price for an item, question whether it’s the item or the deal that you’re really after. Sometimes, buying something at a steep discount and feeling the accompanying thrill is what you wanted. The item is meaningless.
In hindsight, it’s harsh to realize that you spent money on something you aren’t going to use and may not even like. Get rid of the item and remember this as a lesson the next time you find yourself holding something that’s eighty-percent off the regular price.
And freebies, usually decorated with the logo of the company handing out the item, are advertisements. If you use the item, then it helps you. If you aren’t currently using the freebie, then consider it like a television commercial or the advertisement in a magazine, don’t give getting rid of it a second thought.
4. It Was a Gift
When someone hands you a gift and you accept it, the gift has done its job. It expresses that someone thought of you. If you truly enjoy the item, then keep it and use it or display it – not to show the gift giver that you have the item but so that you can enjoy using it or looking at it, making it a part of your life.
5. This Is a Family Heirloom
Yes, your mother, grandfather, or great-uncle once owned the item. You own a lot of things; does that mean they should be held onto for decades just because? What is the story behind the heirloom? Why has your family felt it important to hold onto these items?
I’m not suggesting heirlooms shouldn’t be important to your family. However, if you have boxes and boxes of stuff that belonged to your parents or grandparents, is all of it significant? And, how are you showing that the item is important to you and your family by leaving the stuff in boxes? Cherish the items that represent a memory you have of your relative or that represent a hobby or interest they possessed. An item that means little to you may spark someone else’s memories; pass the item along.
How to Clear this Clutter
The strongest way to clear clutter that, for whatever reason, you feel you should hold onto, is to identify the goals you have for your life and your home. You can’t really answer questions like, “Do I need this?” or “Is this useful?” if you aren’t clear on your goals. “Is this item useful to help me reach the goals I have for my life?” Totally different question.
What if your goal is to be organized? I want you to consider that being organized isn’t really your goal. Instead, decluttering is a way to clear the path, so you have the time and space to work on your goals and do something meaningful to you. But you get caught up in the brambles – thoughts and feelings that have you holding onto things that you know really aren’t serving your life goals.
You can take some time to consider what your life would look like if your home was already decluttered – how would you spend your days? If you’d like some guidance, I’ve created a self-directed program for individuals who get stuck when decluttering, Clear Your Clutter and Create Space for Your Life. While answering journal questions, assessing how your home makes you feel and how you’d like to feel when in your home, and prioritizing activities so you can make time to declutter, you focus on the vision you have for the life you want to live.
And here’s the magic – the skills that help you declutter your home will also be there to help you work toward achieving your life goals – identifying the things and activities that are most important to you. Maybe you’re thinking of starting a business, retiring to have more time for travel or to spend with loved ones, writing a novel or your memoir, volunteering your skills, training for a new job, or some other dream. When you clear the thoughts and feelings clinging to your stuff, you’ll know your real reason for decluttering and you create space for your life.
To learn more about how you can Clear Your Clutter and Create Space for Your Life, click here.
By Susan Caplan McCarthy
Maybe you’ve been ignoring your clutter thinking that someday you’ll have the time to sort through all your stuff but, right now, you have too much to do. But, all that stuff is starting to become a problem. You feel uptight and overwhelmed in your own home. You waste time looking for things that you know you have but can’t find. When you go through your stuff, you not only find what you’re looking for, but you discover that you have three!
Even finding something to wear that fits and that you want to put on seems to drain your energy. Over coffee the other day, (at a coffee shop, certainly not at your house) a friend was telling you about the experiences of emptying her parents’ home and how she wishes her parents had been more selective in the things they kept. You imagine your family trying to make sense of all the things you have in your house.
You determine to get organized and you purchase a book on organizing. In the author’s opening pages, they encourage you to consider why you want to declutter. You don’t even pause to think. Of course, you want to declutter so that you’ll be more organized and feel calmer when you’re at home.
You’re excited with the idea of having an organized home. You block off a weekend to declutter, announcing your plans to several people so you stay accountable. You start your Weekend of Decluttering by emptying your closet and dressers. Quickly, you bag some tee shirts with fraying binding around the neck. What about the tee shirts you’ve bought while on vacation? Hmm, you could wear them to the gym or while gardening.
You fold them and pack them into a drawer. You try on a few blouses that you completely forgot that you owned. Several of them ‘fit’ if you ignore the way the fabric gaps between the buttons. When you’re done with all this decluttering, you’ll start on a diet Monday; so, you may as well keep these blouses for when you lose a few pounds. You slide these tops onto hangers and put them in your closet.
You find more clothes that still have price tags attached. Well, you should wear this stuff; it’s brand new. You return the items to the closet. You fill three bags with the clothing you’re giving up. You remember that you have jackets and coats hanging in the hall closet, but, well, you never know what the weather is going to be, so chances are you’ll wear them some day or another.
It is late afternoon of day one of decluttering. You thought you’d have more done by this time. You go into the kitchen and open each cabinet door. You scan the shelves, pull out a few things here and there and box them for donation. You gather papers (that seem to be everywhere) and pile them around your desk – you’ll do them tomorrow.
You try to clear your kitchen counters, but there really isn’t enough space to put all this stuff into cabinets. It’s getting late and you push yourself to keep moving around your house, tucking some things into boxes that you’ll sort through some other day. You start to bring a stack of magazines to the recycling bin, but you know you haven’t read all of them. You decide that you should sit down and scan the pages and pull out any articles that look interesting; this will be a quiet activity to work on before bed.
You wake the next morning feeling dehydrated and achy. You have a text message from a friend asking if you want to get together for a late breakfast that morning. A little break would be nice. You’ll be home in a couple of hours. You go to your closet to get dressed. You kept more clothing than you thought you did. You pull out a top, still bearing its tag and think that you could wear it, but, no, it’s a bit dressy for breakfast at the local diner so you return it to your closet.
When you return home after breakfast, you walk from room to room with a growing sense of dissatisfaction. You got rid of stuff, but it hasn’t made much of a difference. You see the piles of paper around your desk and you realize that there’s a day’s worth of work right here (if you’re lucky you’ll get it done today).
Maybe if you pick up some storage bins on your way home from work tomorrow, you can organize your stuff, so it will look neater and you’ll know where it is….
Is this your experience with decluttering? The word I hear almost every time someone talks about the stuff in their home is “overwhelming.” Clutter makes you feel overwhelmed. However, if before you started decluttering you took some time to imagine your life after you’ve decluttered and to identify some of the things you’d do with your days if you were already decluttered, you’d know your motivation.
Stop thinking that your reason for decluttering is to get organized. Decluttering helps clear the path to all the things you want to do with your life. Clear Your Clutter and Create Space for Your Life is a self-directed program that helps you focus on what you want from your life and your home and helps you plan your time, so you can work on your decluttering goals and your life goals.
I've been creating this program over the past several months after talking to many DIYers who want to declutter their home but don't want to hire a professional organizer. I realized that many people were jumping into decluttering without considering why they wanted to declutter and what they hoped to accomplish. I wanted to help people see that getting organized is a byproduct of decluttering instead of their goal. There's so much more to life than gathering stuff. Clearing away what you don't need, shows you the possibilities available to your life.
If you’re frustrated with decluttering the same space in your home time and again …
If you’re overwhelmed by deciding where to start decluttering …
If you think you can’t even start decluttering until you can clear a huge chunk of time …
If you’re tired of putting plans and personal goals on hold until you get organized …
If you wish you knew whether you’d need these things again …
If you want to Clear Your Clutter and Create Space for Your Life, learn how, here.
I’ve recently reread Marie Kondo’s books, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy. One of the things she emphasizes throughout her method of eliminating items that neither ‘spark joy’ nor earn a place in our life for their usefulness is to thank possessions for playing a part in our life.
Although some people have a difficult time with Kondo anthropomorphizing inanimate objects; still, you may find it easier to release items after acknowledging their role in your life.
Let’s say that you bought something on sale that you never used. You might be tempted to continue to hold onto the item just in case you’re able to use it someday (even though you know you probably won’t). Kondo recommends that you consider that the item’s function was to give you the thrill of finding a bargain and that having served that function you can release the item.
Yeah, I know, that doesn’t quite cure the sting of spending money on something you never used, but it does give you a different way of looking at the purchase and how it served you.
Perhaps you are frustrated to find hobby and recreational items in your home that you rarely used. Kondo encourages you to thank the items for showing you what you aren’t interested in.
You don’t have to have a full-blown conversation with your possessions; however, if you find that you are holding onto something for a vague reason, consider the purpose you wanted the item to have in your life and if the item has fulfilled its role in that purpose.
When I look at some of the items that are in my current to-be-donated box, I can see how I acknowledged the items for completing their function.
Is there an item that you can release after thanking it for fulfilling its role in your life? Tell us about it in the comment section below.
This fall, I had the opportunity to teach a couple of community education workshops about decluttering one’s home. When people would speak up about their individual situations, the idea that one’s stuff wasn’t just stuff was emphasized over and again.
Some of the trickiest, most emotional stuff to declutter is memorabilia. And, if you are a parent (of young or adult children), you may feel that you are the conservator of your children’s memorabilia – not stuff that your child has decided to hold onto but items that you feel that they’ll want someday (a variation on ‘just in case’ clutter).
I’d hear the workshop participants’ voices tighten as they described the overwhelming amount of stuff that they felt might be important to their child someday (in many cases, the kids, teens and adults, have no interest in the items).
You don’t need to toss all these items, but you want to be more selective about what you keep. A few mementos are special. But, when everything is kept as if it is special, then nothing is special.
Remember, memories aren’t held in items; they belong to an individual. It’s enjoyable to hold a memento and use it to recall a time within one’s life; however, discarding an item doesn’t eliminate the memory of that time. Whether the items are mementos of your life or your children’s lives, you want to curate them so to emphasize each item’s special memories.
How to Curate Mementos
When it comes to decluttering mementos, a more appropriate verb is ‘curate.’ By curating a collection, you are selecting the items that are the best representatives for a group of items or time period.
You will not curate items that belong to someone else in your family. You can only go through items that you are keeping for yourself or for a child (including adult children).
Remember, fewer items feel more special. When you curate items, you create a space around each item, so it can evoke clearer memories uncluttered by less important or less reminiscent items. The memories aren’t in the items, but the people who hold these memories.
Have you curated mementos for yourself or a child? Were you able to select the best or did you feel that you needed to hold onto everything? Leave a comment.
Susan Caplan McCarthy
I'm a professional organizer-coach with 26 years' experience as a teacher. I believe that an organized home isn't your destination but a step on the path toward the life you want to create. I teach decluttering and organizing skills through articles; books; and speaking engagements; as well as virtual coaching sessions.