I love to declutter and I live with a self-proclaimed “collector” (read hoarder). My husband enjoys squirreling away random items for potential use in the future. The time and place for the assumed “use” of said item will be determined in some mysterious way that only my husband can discern. We actually have a box in our basement entitled “Box o’ Wires” which is full of old adapters for long gone electronics; miles of coaxial cable; and some potentially useful Ethernet cable. While I might not fully understand my husband’s personal relationship with his reams of University course notes; Maxim collection from 2003; or every single book he’s bought since he’s been born – a lot of people do.
Declutter Guide: Go gently into that good night, pile of junk
So, today, I offer a guide on how-to gently introduce yourself, or your loved one, to a world without Item X (‘X’ obviously being whatever possession that is collecting dust in the back of your closet).
Asking my husband to part with things is a multi-stage process that must be executed with both a keen sense of timing and a verbal finesse that I don’t often possess. I’m generally a minimalist – with a few exceptions like my technology – so I don’t always understand the connection that collectors have with their stuff. One thing I’ve learned, though, is if you want to get rid of stuff that you have an emotional attachment too; you have to be kind to yourself or to the person you’re asking to declutter. It’s not as simple as putting a bunch of stuff in a box and carting it down to the thrift store. That could actually really upsetting for you and put you off parting with your prized collection of X.
Declutter Guide: When your junk refuses to go gently….
Sometimes you have to soften the blow a little bit and take things one step at a time. Even if you aren’t someone who has an emotional connection to your clothes closet, for example, sometimes it can be confusing to decide what to keep and what to bin. Here are some steps that I’ve learned over the years and tend to use with myself and others I’m asking to part with their material loves and joys.
– Tackle one area at a time: A good declutter can be an overwhelming task so be patient and do things in small steps – it could be something as simple as a shelf in your bookcase. By organizing the task in manageable pieces, you’re able to enjoy small successes and keep yourself motivated. Seeing that small space looking neat and tidy can inspire you to keep at it when you’re discouraged.
– Have a planned start and end time: If you plan ahead and find a relatively peaceful corner of your schedule to declutter, you’re more likely to stick with it. Know yourself and go with a time limit that is reasonable for you. Some people like to devote a whole morning to whirlwind through a closet and others like to take 30 minutes to clean out a single drawer. Both options will get the job done, they’re just different strategies.
– Organize into different categories: Have declutter categories (and boxes) for “Stay”, “Maybe”, and “Gone”. This will help you break up the task in your mind and keep things straight once you really get going. Try to go with quick “gut” decisions about each item that you’re deciding on, these decisions are usually the best ones for these kinds of tasks. If you’re really agonizing about something, see below.
– If it’s really a maybe, it’s a maybe: One rule of thumb I like to do is put it in a “maybe” box that I keep at the back of my closet or in our storage room. I generally will keep it for a certain amount of time and see if I think about the item or use the item. For instance, we had a toaster oven that did nothing but lurk in the back of our kitchen cupboard for months. I made a deal with my husband that we would move the toaster oven out of our kitchen and down into the basement. If, over the course of the next six months, we didn’t use the toaster oven – we would then get rid of it. As it turns out, we never did use it so we were able to get rid of the toaster oven and keep domestic peace.
– Have a family member or friend help you declutter: If you can rope someone into helping you do this task, it might be a good idea to have them there as a second opinion or as a social buffer against the boredom. The important thing to keep in mind is to set some ground rules for what’s going to happen. You want to make sure you and your friend are on the same page with why she is there so she can help you in a way that’s going to be helpful. If she thinks she’s there to be that “voice of reason” for every item you’re hesitating about and you think she’s there to help you drink the wine, it might not be the harmonious declutter festivity that you had planned. Getting rid of stuff can be personal, so be honest with yourself and your partner in declutter crime.
– When you’re done your task – celebrate: Continue drinking wine with your friend or go out and buy more stuff to clutter up our closet again (just kidding). Enjoy your accomplishment because being done is most often the best part!
At the end of the day, decluttering can help you realize what “stuff” is actually worth keeping around. Sometimes you look at all the stuff you are getting rid of and you think of all the money you spent on things you didn’t really want or need. Other times, when you have decluttered a space, you become more critical about what you want to put in it and this can have an impact on your spending as well. The end result is that it can help you assess what you really want to have and what you can probably do without!
What about you? Are you a minimalist or are you a collector? What do you do with your unwanted stuff?