Friday, May 11, 2018

The Big Cleanout, part 2 (Declutter Like You Mean It)

I am never going to be a minimalist. I like having a stack of magazines on the coffee table, shelves crammed with books, mementos from trips, photographs of the kids. But there's no denying that we have too much stuff for the house we live in. Hence, the Big Cleanout.

There are lots of great resources for decluttering, so what follows is a list of my favorite tips and ideas. Unfortunately due to fifties-memory-syndrome I don't remember where some of them came from, but none of them are my own ideas.

1. Like most of us, I was raised to not waste things. Some of my stuff is worth passing along, but a lot of it just needs to be thrown out. A huge roadblock for me is not wanting to throw things away. Even stuff I don't want anymore is hard for me to jettison. (Want my lecture notes from grad school, anyone? cancelled checks from 2003?)

Here is the most helpful decluttering tip I've seen: if it's trash, it's trash whether it's in your house or at the dump. Either you're going to throw it out now, or you're going to have to do it later when you have less energy, or someone else is going to have to do it for you when you're no longer capable. Keeping something I don't want or need because I feel bad about throwing it out is not going to solve anything. I just have to get over myself on this one.

2. And by "throw it out," I mean, depending on what it is: recycle it, throw it in the kindling pile, take it to a charity shop, or put it in the trash. Once upon a time, I would have included "sell it on E-Bay" in that list, but now it sounds like too much work. Ditto having a yard sale.

 3. On the other hand, if you really want to keep something, keep it. (I made it through about 20 pages of Marie Kondo before I got too irritated at her preachy tone to continue, but if you're a fan, you can use her question: does it bring you joy? if yes, keep it.)

4. Surfaces are for working, cabinets and closets are for storage. So keep counters and desktops clear, and store things out of sight. I like this in theory, but it's not entirely possible in this house-- we don't have very much storage space. But it's a good principle to keep in mind while organizing things. (This one and the next two are from Gretchen Rubin's Happier podcast episode #160, where she is helping her sister organize and declutter her office.) 

5. Gretchen is a visual person, so she recommends starting with clearing out and decluttering things that can be seen first (like counters and desktops) and dealing with what is out of sight later (like cabinets and cupboards). This immediately explained to me why Dean and I have such a hard time working on decluttering/organizing together, because Dean is exactly like that. Whereas in my opinion, it doesn't make sense to do the "visual" part (organizing the things that can be seen) until you've organized what's inside the cabinets and cupboards so that you have room to put things away. This isn't bad advice, it's just not the way I do things, and it helped me understand the way someone else (Dean!) looks at it.

6. The third helpful thing I learned from Gretchen is how to make decisions about mementos and/or souvenirs. If an item represents something you want to remember-- a trip, an experience, a grandparent, a moment in a child's life-- does it actually capture that moment? Does it do its job as a container for memories? And is it something that you still want to remember? If so, keep it. If not, let it go.

7. And the corollary for me: do I really need eight things in my dining room buffet to remind me of my beloved grandmother? Would one or two be enough? It's really tempting to want to hold on to every little thing that reminds me of someone I love, but it's not necessary. I remember her pretty well even without things to remind me.

8. And another corollary: I've discovered that items that have sentimental value to me don't necessarily mean anything to my children. Hummel figurines remind me of my grandmother, but my daughter didn't really know my grandmother and she declined to take a Hummel figurine to her new apartment. As she should have if she didn't want it. There's no point in saving things to pass on to my children if they're not things my children want.

9. I wish I could remember who said this, but I don't: If you don't later regret at least one or two things you got rid of, you didn't go far enough. That is genius. Most things can be replaced.

10. Another one from a source I can't remember: Always have an empty shelf. At first, that was so foreign to me that I almost couldn't wrap my brain around it. But it gives you room for your library books, or to sweep away some clutter when unexpected company is coming, or if you need someplace to put the extra mega-box of your family's favorite cereal you got at Costco so you wouldn't have to go back so soon. Those are all things that only need a temporary place to land.

11. Don't put off taking stuff to the dump or second-hand shop longer than a couple of days, or it will start to drift out of the neatly organized piles you created. Don't wait till you're done. As soon as you've got a few things, run them by the Salvation Army on your way to the grocery store (or wherever). It only takes a minute, and it both gives you a feeling of accomplishment and also keeps it from creeping back into the house.

12. And finally: the whole thing is a work in progress. You can't live in our world and not acquire new stuff. Or at least, I can't. You receive gifts, you need new hiking boots, you want a copy of that new book by your favorite author. But I hope once I get the big, massive cleanout done, staying on top of it will be a simpler project. We'll see.

That's it for me! Have a great weekend.

<-- Part One of this post


atgee said...

As an estate planner, I applaud this new development. I spend SO much time with both sets of children -- those who complain that their parents left them a mess to deal with and those that can't seem to process the tangible personal property themselves.

Cheery-O said...

#9 is revolutionary and freeing. It allows me to do the de-cluttering "imperfectly" and we have to be able to do anything "imperfectly" if we are going to avoid the paralysis that comes with the anxiety that comes with the need to do things perfectly.

Of course, 1-8 and 9-12 (especially 12) are good to remember, too.