When I was in college, getting a new book in the mail felt like Christmas morning. The fresh smell of newly cut pages, a smart new cover design, sometimes with a glossy book jacket. I loved to stack them on my desk and bookshelves, highlight, notate, dog-ear, bookmark, post-it tab…until the term paper was due and the semester ended. I moved on to the next set of classes and it was soon time to order a new batch of bound buddies.
After college, I met my husband in Hawaii and 12 months later we were planning our new life together. That meant packing up the things most valuable to me, 80% of which were all of the books. About seven boxes and 200 plus pounds of them to be shipped across the Pacific Ocean. Over the next few years, I began my new career and needed not one of those precious publications, and if there was a need to reference, between my new colleagues and Google, the problem was quickly remedied.
Less Is More When Life Changes
Over the next few years, between starting a family and moving to a smaller apartment in the city, I began to rethink my spacial priorities. I didn’t want to have stuff just to have stuff. I wanted the things in my life to have meaning and purpose, and although I swore up and down I would crack those textbooks and reference manuals again someday, time had proven otherwise. I ended up donating my textbooks to our church and Salvation Army, finding some comfort in knowing they would go to good use.
The lesson I was learning over time was that there are seasons for the things we bring into our space. It’s ok to let go of items that are no longer useful to make room for others, or simply just to have the freedom of open spaces. I like to think of it like having a conversation; just as there is awkward silence and one person feels the need to fill that silence with words (we call them “gap fillers”), there is a similar need we have to fill every space in our home with stuff.
Just as silence can be a necessary and peaceful moment to welcome thought and clarity, so open spaces can allow a room to feel expanded, spacious, and free from clutter.
I spent the majority of my formative years with my grandfather who was a retired chief from the Navy and the Army. He fought in WWII, and in his golden years, maintained a tidy home, even after Nana passed away when I was five. I kept a lot of my toys and after school crafts at his house and he would repeat loudly and authoritatively, “Jenner, a place for everything and everything in it’s place!” This man taught me an important lesson; if I did not have a designated space for my things, the things weren’t worth having.
Some commonly kept items you might consider discarding are:
- Paperwork – old bills, binders from training workshops or studies
- Clothes / Shoes
- Broken electronics
- Videos (VHS, DVD)
- Uncategorized Photos (sitting in a box, or boxes)
- Trophies / Awards
- Figurines (dust collectors)
- Dishes / Cookware
Why Do I Need This?
Why is this item so important to me? If it holds sentimental value or was a gift from a loved one, think about whether taking a picture of it would suffice rather than having it take up space in your home. I know some folks who have multiple sets of dishes. Over time they have continued to collect but unwilling to trade out the old set because it was still in good condition. This question also applies when we’re shopping, which I address more in Over Spent: The Trap of Consumerism.
1. When Will I Use It?
Or maybe the better question is, “When was the last time I used it?” A good rule of thumb for a piece of clothing, for example, is: if you can’t remember wearing it in the past 6 months to a year, it has served its purpose or is no longer necessary. I’m sorry, but “I’ll get to it someday” is not cutting it anymore.
Give yourself a specific and definite time frame for when the project will be attacked. Schedule it to happen. Personal deadlines can be a powerful tool for moving forward and flushing things out of your life that don’t belong. Take Marie Condo’s advice and thank your item for it’s service before tossing or donating so you feel a little bit better about your decision.
2. How Much Time, Space, or Energy is It Taking Up?
If the item(s) being kept require you to spend time maintaining them, time that you could otherwise be using to do things that bring you joy, you may want to consider its ranking on your priority list. For instance, if items need to be constantly shifted around to make room for others coming in, why keep all of them?
Sooner or later the pile will grow and grow until you find yourself spending more time just maintaining what you have. Is it really worth it? In my article Fluffing the Nest: Making Your Home a Place of Rest, I mention that there is a direct correlation to “stuff,” or the messes we see around us and how it affects our stress levels. Other members of the family could be affected, but not know how to alleviate the problem.
3. What Are My Decluttering Options?
Here are some options for what to do as you make peace with the things in your life:
- Salvation Army
- Library (books, magazines, videos)
- Friend Swap
- Sell Online
One Step at a Time
Looking back, I probably would have encouraged my younger self to resell my textbooks or pass along to another starving student in need. Instead of a large bookcase taking up one side of the wall, I could have fit a little bistro table with a vase of flowers, a place where I could sit and journal or have coffee with my husband in the morning.
Changing a lifestyle pattern takes time; baby steps before running, before walking in the freedom that you will find when “stuff” no longer controls the way you live. Less stuff means more time and investment in the things that really matter.