Decluttering Made Simple
When my husband and I were finishing seminary, we moved in with my parents to save money. Also to save money, we packed up all our belongings and stored them in their barn, instead of renting a storage unit. We weren’t sure how long our stay would be, but it turned out that most of our items were stored there for 27 months while we house-hopped, moving four times with our two kids before we settled into a home of our own.
Sure, there were times it was frustrating to know we owned an item and weren’t able to use it, (Merry Christmas! Oops, the tree stand is packed.) but for the most part it was eye-opening to realize that by moving our stuff out of proximity we moved it out of our minds—and didn’t miss it at all.
When the day finally came to unpack all our belongings into a large home of our own, I felt a tinge of sadness. Sure, I now had table-service for twenty, but our days of simple-living had been sweet. When we finally unpacked everything I felt suffocated by all our stuff. Why do we have all this? Item by item, we began to sort, toss, and give away. I’m still in process, but the whole experience drove home one key principle that’s been helpful in the de-cluttering process ever since:
Slowly step away from the stuff.
This is the basic idea behind a toss box – a box in your garage where you put items you think may be unnecessary. If you put them there and don’t miss them, it’s probably safe to toss or give away.
Take this idea and run with it.
It’s hard to de-clutter when it’s an all-or-nothing deal. A “keep or toss” mentality makes it really hard to let go. A few of us may be blessed with the “ruthless-purger” gene, but for the rest of us, we need help pulling our grubby little hands off our precious things, don’t we?
So consider this simple way of slowly stepping away, moving items out of proximity. Once they’re out of sight they’ll soon be out of mind, making them that much easier to eventually haul way. So, if you’re really out to de-clutter, simply pretend that you’re moving—temporarily—into a tiny space. Keep only your favorite things and move the rest out of sight.
Closet — Keep only your favorite clothing items in your closet. Only the best 2-3 pairs of jeans, shirts, sweaters, etc. Only what fits perfectly, is the right color, and makes you feel fabulous. The rest move into the kid’s closet or hall closet or a tote elsewhere. Move out those fabulous four-inch heels you’ve never worn and that jacket that looks great on the hanger and terrible on you.
You don’t have to toss, and you might bring them back later, but chances are a lot of them will not be missed. If this sounds overwhelming, consider calling in reinforcements. A friend who is unattached to your stuff can be a huge help.
Kitchen — Keep only your favorite pots, pans, and dishes in the kitchen. Move the rest to a box in the garage. You can still pull out that turkey roaster at Thanksgiving. Just think of it as an experiment, to see what you can live without. Last year I tossed more than a dozen pots and pans and traded them for three multi-purpose cast-iron pieces.
Kids — Keep only your kids’ very favorite toys. Keep the items they actually love and play with. Keep kids from panicking by explaining that the other toys are simply going to rest for a while in the garage. Don’t throw them away, just give them a break. If/when you do bring them back they’ll be like new! And if the kids never miss them and never ask for them, consider it good riddance and haul them away.
Get creative and apply this principle wherever you can. We used to have an office in our home where we kept all our books. When we downsized, the books were moved out into a storage room in the garage. Next step? Goodwill. It gets easier and easier the farther they are from the center of your life. Out of sight, out of mind. Look around and find any items you can move out of sight. Then, mark a date on your calendar 2-4 months down the road to re-evaluate and move the items even farther away—to the donation bin.
Finally, If the de-cluttering is especially difficult for you, create a system of baby-steps for moving items out of your mind and sight. Use the process above, in smaller steps. Unworn clothes go first, still hanging nicely, in a hall closet. Then folded into a tote in the garage. Then boxed and into the back of your car. When you work up the courage, take that box to Goodwill and congratulate yourself on a job—eventually—well done.
Slowly but surely you can step away from your stuff; and better done slowly than not at all.
Kari Patterson is a pastor’s wifey, writer, speaker, reader, blogger and frugal living enthusiast. She writes all about the beautiful mess of life over at KariPatterson.com.
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