by Susan McCarthy
Everyday practice: Question how - and if - you use your possessions,
You’re sorting through a cabinet or drawer and it seems that, for almost every item you touch, you are telling yourself that the item is useful. In the end, you rearrange most of the stuff, maybe toss a couple of things, and you’re done.
A couple of weeks later, you’re frustrated that you’ve spent so much time getting organized and it doesn’t really show. Part of the problem is that you think you use more items than you do. By owning the item and giving it space in your home, it carries an aura of importance. But how important is that stuff to you really?
Have a Packing Party
When Ryan Nicodemus (of The Minimalists) decided to minimalize his belongings, he packed everything in boxes, as if he was going to move. If he needed something, he went to the labeled box and took out the item that he needed – and only that item. Toothbrush, pants, sheets, skillet, you get the idea. Twenty-one days later, he realized that eighty percent of his stuff was still in boxes.
Now, I’m not suggesting you pack every item in your entire home; however, you can work this idea on a smaller scale.
For example, box up the contents of a junk drawer or your kitchen utensils or your workout gear or the craft supplies for one medium. Use a box on the smaller side, even if you have to use two or three boxes. If you throw too much stuff in a large box, you’ll get frustrated that you can’t find anything. Frustration is not the goal of this activity.
You want to identify what you use most often. Label the outside of the box (if you have more than one) with the general group of items in the box.
Keep the box handy; you aren’t trying to discourage use of the items. When you need something, remove that item. If you are taking out a spatula, don’t think, oh, I’ll need that spoon rest tonight, so I’ll just grab it now. Nope. Wait until you need the item.
Yes, this may cause some tasks to take another minute; but only for a few days, maybe a week. Once you take something from the box, you’ve identified that you use it and you can keep it where you’d normally find it.
Maybe, at some point, you’ll be too lazy or too busy to go through the box and you’ll come up with an alternate solution. This is a sign that the item you thought you needed wasn’t as necessary as you thought.
At the end of the month, you’ll have shown yourself what you use and what you don’t. If you haven’t used it, it’s cluttering the space for the items you do use. Your space will be filled with the items you use.
But, But, But ... Exceptions
Holiday/Special Occasion Items – Let’s say you are sorting through a kitchen cabinet and you pull out the Christmas cookie cutters. You use them once a year, no question. Don’t include them in your packing party. Instead, store them in a less accessible place if they were in prime kitchen real estate.
If you’re afraid that you’ll forget where you moved them, figure out when in December you’ll bake cookies (you don’t have to be exact, just beginning, middle, or end of the month). A week or two before you’d bake, make a note or set up a reminder on your phone with the location of those cookie cutters. So, if you bake mid-December, write a note for December first that says, “cookie cutters in box with Christmas decorations.”
If you have something that you only use for summer cookouts and it is now January, move the items to an appropriate place and make a reminder note. The only time to have a packing party with special occasion/holiday items is during their season – do you really wear all of your winter-themed sweaters?
Clothing – Instead of boxing up items in your closet, use the Reverse Hanger Technique. Switch the hangers around so they are backwards on the clothing rod. After you wear something, when you return the item to the closet, turn the hanger so the hook is facing into the closet. In a month, or a season, you’ve learned what you truly wear.
Just in Case Items – Maybe you’re looking at an item and thinking that it would be perfect for a costume or a school project. If you get rid of that empty shoe box or leisure suit from the 70s, you just know you’re going to need it.
If you can think of a potential use for an item, start a box or bin with items that share this goal. Label the box and store it in a logical space. If Halloween came and went and you didn’t think to pull out your box of costume stuff, is it really a useful collection to keep?
Now, if you have no issues with decluttering your stuff, you might not need to go the route of a packing party. However, if you really can’t decide if you need or use a group of items, trying this technique can help you clarify your decluttering goals.
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Susan, chief (and only) organized squirrel at A Less Cluttered Life, pursues learning, practicing, and sharing information about the everyday habits that can lead to living a better life.