by Susan McCarthy
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Everyday practice: When you open a drawer or cabinet to get something, ask yourself if there is something else here that you could declutter.
If I mention decluttering in conversation, the person I’m talking to will immediately jump to justifying why they keep the roasting pan they use twice a year, the dress they hold onto for the rare dressy event in their life, or the “pile” of art and craft supplies they use all the time.
No one ever seems to say, “Yeah, I have no clue why I’m holding onto five years of magazine back issues.”
Instead, they go straight to the stuff they use or like.
Decluttering is not about getting rid of things that you use or like. I know, a lot of people will say that if you haven’t used something for six months, out it goes, but, hey, if you know that in six months you’ll break out the Christmas cookie cutters or the bathing suit, then the six-month guideline just doesn’t apply.
What Do You Want to Keep?
Knowing what you want to keep is handy information to have before thinking about decluttering. Instead of questioning what you are taking away, you focus on what you’ll keep. If you know you wear casual/business casual clothing all the time, then it is easier to see which garments don’t fit that description … and probably are things you won’t wear.
Before you delve into a category of stuff (books, DVDs, jewelry) or a room, take a moment to consider:
I know, decluttering is all about getting rid of stuff, but if you focus on what you want to keep – what is important to you – you may find it easier to make decisions about what has to go. And, remember, finding the decluttering methods that work best for you mean that you'll continue with this challenging project. I offer over 20 methods for clearing the clutter in the eBook, Conquer the Mess Your Way: Making Decluttering Work for You.
What Stuff Fills the Spaces in Your Home?
When you walk into a room, your first reaction may be that you own all this stuff because you use it or will use it. You might not see it as excess. However, once you ask – What do I use? What do I like? – you will notice items that fill the spaces between the items you know are important to you.
What are these items? Many of these types of things fall into the category of extra stuff. Extra stuff is all that, well, stuff, that we convince ourselves could be useful, although we don’t question that usefulness. When you do, you may find it easier to release these items you don’t (or can’t) use and don’t like.
Decluttering boosters are groups of items that oftentimes you can declutter quickly, without much fuss or thought. You can clear a lot of items from a space in a short period and get a motivating burst of success that can keep you moving forward.
1. Duplicate Items. We intentionally or unintentionally acquire duplicates of things we already have … an extra spatula and screwdriver and stapler and bedsheets. If we get rid of the duplicate items, we are convinced we are courting disaster that will leave us without a screwdriver, stapler, or spatula. However, with fewer items to clutter an area, the chances of losing the screwdriver is small and if the spatula needs replacing, it is a minor expense.
2. Excessive Quantities. Twenty mugs where we only use four; eight sets of towels where two will do; sixteen black cardigans because every time we see one in a store it seems like a useful purchase while we forget that we have others hanging in our closet.
3. Favors and Freebies. Party favors and assorted freebies from stores, conferences, and events that are really advertisements from sponsoring companies can fill drawers and get tucked onto shelves without much thought. Why do we hold onto these items?
A Brigham Young University study found that people who felt an attachment to an item valued it at a higher price. How difficult is it to develop an attachment to a seemingly meaningless item? A researcher touched a mug and a study participant’s hand at the same time. Yeah, basically, that’s it. So, you hold onto the water bottle you received from the gym because you have an attachment to it.
4. Broken, Stained, Worn Out Items. We want to be frugal and environmentally-conscious, so we think we should get a bit more use from an item before releasing it. We can downgrade the stained tee-shirt to a cleaning rag. We can learn basic wiring and fix that lamp. In reality, this stuff builds up in the corner of the garage, mocking us with our good (albeit unrealistic) intentions.
5. Outdated Entertainment. Once upon a time, you bought CDs and DVDs; but, now you download and stream your entertainment. Do you watch the DVDs and listen to the CDs that you own? If you do, great. If you don’t, are you holding onto these items because you spent money on them years ago? Is the principle worth the space devoted to these items?
The same goes for books – both those that you’ve read as well as those you’ve intended to read. Are you holding onto so many items that you can’t see which you value the most?
6. Former Hobbies and Aspirations. Maybe you used to ski, or you wanted to learn to quilt. You own the gear and equipment that went with these former hobbies and activities you aspired to participate in. But, now, these items weigh on you because they are reminders of what you don’t do.
Honestly answer, Do I want to keep these items? If so, why? What do you get from holding onto these items you don’t use?
What Can You Release?
Not every excess in your home falls into these categories, but categorizing items isn’t the point. Thinking of the items in your home as stuff that fill the spaces between the things you know are important to you, can help break the bonds of attachment you feel toward your excess and move it out of your space. You can
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Susan, chief (and only) organized squirrel at A Less Cluttered Life, loves learning and sharing information about organizing, productivity, and habits. She also likes reading young adult novels, crocheting, and spending time with her cat and husband in their riverside home in Massachusetts.