family is story

5 Tips for Clearing out the Clutter

78518468About once a quarter, I bite the bullet and clear out some clutter, get some things organized, and give some stuff away. Being a sentimental person, sometimes it’s hard to let go of things that may have belonged to a loved one who has passed away. Sometimes, it’s also hard to get rid of something I spent quite a bit of money on but have never used. Here are some things I try to keep in mind:

1)   Have a giveaway box or bag. Every few months, I pull out a box and set it in the corner of the basement. As things come into my home that I know right away I’m not going to keep—the free T-shirt from whatever event, the “gift” with purchase, etc.—they go directly into the giveaway box in the basement. They do not pass my bedroom door, they do not collect dust in the corner.

2)   Everything needs a home—even your favorite childhood stuffed animal (like my Snoops) that you can’t bear to part with. Put things in their place after you use them—this doesn’t take a lot of time and it keeps things from piling up. But some things don’t get returned right away, or things you do want to keep get piled up, so determine their home. Maybe, for a time, their home is a neatly packed box in storage in your basement, clearly labeled. Or, maybe an item can be uniquely displayed in a cabinet or a shelf. Why not put that Snoopy doll out to enjoy on a bookshelf with your kids’ books?

3)   Have a Keepsake box for you and your husband. There are things that Nathan and I want to keep from our childhood. Pictures we drew or cards we received, graduation announcements, or unique trinkets. These are items that normally wouldn’t be displayed, but hold some historical value for our family. So, we each have a keepsake box. (Okay, he has one keepsake box—a large one—I have about four . . . but who’s counting?) As I declutter, if I run across a keepsake that’s out of place, I make sure and consolidate it into the respective keepsake box. Note: Sometimes, de-cluttering is about consolidation and organization. Even as you review boxes of “stuff” you may have accumulated, decide what items should be grouped together. It will make it easier the next time you want to pull out the sonnet you wrote in middle school to prove that you once had mad rhyming skills.

4)   You don’t have to keep every single thing that you inherited from loved ones you’ve lost. I know it sounds callous to some of you, but it can be easy to accumulate trinkets, knick-knacks, pictures, etc., from your precious family members who have passed away. I used to keep everything from my grandparents. Then, when my mother died, I found myself hanging on to many things that even she wasn’t that emotionally attached to. When going through her things, I would sometimes lay out five or six items and look them over. What was I pulled more toward? What reminded me the most of my mom from those items? Which of those things most aptly epitomized her? I found that maybe only three of the items stood out. Now, when my father finds something of my mother’s or even my grandfather’s that he thinks I would want, I think of the items I already have, then decide where this item fits in lining up with my memories and perception of the person. If I have a strong pull, I accept it. If I don’t, I gently tell my dad that I already have items that more strongly represent that person.

5)   Don’t hang on to something because you spent money on it and don’t want to be wasteful. Think of money as a river, it’s going to flow in and out of your life. The money you spent on that item you’ve never used is already WAY down the river. You probably used the item once or twice when you first bought it and now it’s just been sitting. So, you can either donate the item and get a fraction of your money back as a deduction on your taxes, or you can sell the item on eBay or CraigsList and recover some of what you spent. Keeping the item in the corner isn’t gaining you anything except, possibly, that restrictive “should have” feeling.

What are your tried and true tactics for de-cluttering?

©2014 Jennifer Wilder. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint or publish this content elsewhere, please contact me through this blog.