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....but what if I need it someday?
September 22, 2009 6:35 PM   Subscribe

Okay. I have too much stuff. It's a major pain in my derriere, but just treating the symptoms of too-much-stuff-itis has not cured the disease.

Aside from the obvious physical act of giving away and/or throwing away tons of my stuff (which I do periodically and always have-- I moved a lot growing up so anything I accumulated was eventually trashed when I moved) I need to address the underlying psychological causes for my too-much-stuff-itis.

I know part of my issue is that I've never had much money. Sometimes I find myself lamenting the loss of some rarely used item because I simply can't afford to replace it with a new one. So I hold onto things that may one day come in handy (i.e. "Oh well, one day maybe I'll need a graphing calculator...")

Then there's all the crap that follows me because I simply don't know what to do with it. By this I mean old checkbooks that are for closed out bank accounts and with incorrect addresses. Unidentifiable cords and manuals for gadgets also fall into this category. These things usually end up stuffed in a bag and under my bed or in the closet.

And then of course are the chotchkies. I have some random stuff. I mean, geez. Of course, I'm an artist and I like weird things so I have right now a deer jaw on my dresser, coke bottles on my windowsill, old tequila boxes that I once thought I'd use for some art project...

And on top of all of that is the limitless number of sentimental items. This I believe is at the heart of my issues, as a pair of glasses my grandmother used to wear, boxes of photographs and old journals are always in my face and cluttering up my room.

It's worth noting that I am in college, and everything I own is in my very small bedroom in my small rented apartment. My parents are too up in the air for me to store things with them for the most part, aside from a few suitcases that I'm keeping at my mom's. Also I'm an artist, which means I have this ever-growing reservoir of old art and doodles that I can't bring myself to throw away.

Right now I am in the thick of trying to reorganize my room (and thereby my life) and I'm attempting to give away a number of my old art pieces and clothes of which I'm no longer fond.

So... are there any MeFis out there who have struggled with and overcome compulsive retention of crap? I tend to vacillate between holding onto everything until I can bearly stand it and then the desire to throw everything away and start over. I know it's not the healthiest approach, does anyone have any suggestions?
posted by wild like kudzu to Home & Garden (40 answers total) 82 users marked this as a favorite
 
When I'm clearing out clothes/possessions, I use this to gauge whether I should keep something: Have I used this in the year? Do I have an actual, recent memory of wearing this dress or reading this book?

If not, I get rid of it.
posted by Juliet Banana at 6:43 PM on September 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


When in doubt, throw it out is my motto.

I never let paperwork build up. I scan in to my computer all the important documents (and I back my computer up regularly). Admittedly this is not an entirely failsafe method but I have yet to come across the piece of paper that can't be reproduced elsewhere. (I figure that if it is a will, my lawyer retains a copy of it, if it's a birth certificate, I can order new copies from the city records department, if it's a tax return, copies suffice at least until I get my accountant involved, etc.)

As for all other paperwork: bills are paid immediately upon receipt and then shredded. All catalogs and junk mail go directly into the garbage.

I still find that I throw out enormous quantities of stuff every week; I pay it no mind.

It is a very freeing feeling.

I still have a lot of clutter, but this is because I am not a fanatically neat person for whom "everything has its place and everything in its place" applies.
posted by dfriedman at 6:51 PM on September 22, 2009


My mom is kind of a borderline hoarder. Most of her house is okay, but one room is just full of junk. like, at least a foot deep for an entire bedroom. My sister and I call it the Shit Room. It's horrifying, and now that I've moved out I'm obsessed with minimalism.


You could try being around a Shit Room for a while.
posted by oinopaponton at 6:52 PM on September 22, 2009


One simple question: Does this thing make my life better? Not "Has it made my life better in the past?" Not "Will it make my life better in the future?" Does this thing make my life better?

(Yes, the is a blatent ripoff of today's Unclutterer post. But an excellent concept, nonetheless.)
posted by mollymayhem at 6:57 PM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Watching about 10 minutes of Hoarders never fails to send me on a three day culling spree.

Shred and discard the old and incorrect checkbooks. Same for the financial records according to a schedule, something like this one.

Discard duplicate cords, toss old manuals and instructions (usually can find the info online) while remembering this: if you haven't gotten around to RTFM by now, you never will.

The sentimental stuff is more difficult, of course. Some people find taking a photo of the item is enough (this might work for your old sketches—I dumped 4 years of college artwork and so can you). I like to distill the sentimental items down to the most essential pieces so something like grandma's eyeglasses would go in a shadow box frame along w/ a few photos and maybe one other small item. Scan the rest, distribute the originals to family. For collections of random stuff: group them and display. Anything not on display goes into one copy paper sized box. Rotate the display now and then to keep it fresh and cull mercilessly at the slightest excuse.

Flylady has a nice way of looking at items you aren't using but for whatever reason find difficult to get rid of: giving them away will benefit someone, somewhere. They aren't doing any good trapped in the back of your closet.
posted by jamaro at 7:03 PM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


great advice guys! only wish i didn't have class at 8am :(
posted by wild like kudzu at 7:04 PM on September 22, 2009


I find it easier to get rid of things that might possibly be useful if I can get them into the hands of somebody who can use them. As opposed to pitching them into the garbage, or even recycling them. This is also the only approach that works (and even then, it's only middlin' successful) on my Mom, who's a serious packrat.

So: post free stuff on Craigslist, donate clothing or bedding to shelters/ASPCA/etc, donate "normal" art supplies to elementary schools. For your weirder art materials, do you have artist friends who could use them? Or can you donate them to one of those municipal "cheap weird stuff we're keeping out of the waste stream because artists or elementary school kids might use them" places? Of course, the danger with bringing your junk to one of those places is that you might come home with more than you started with!
posted by Quietgal at 7:05 PM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Julie Morganstern's book Organizing from the Inside Out might be really helpful. I really would not bother with FlyLady except for the testimonials. (I am a sucker for success stories.) Another book is Peter Walsh's It's All Too Much. It's very good.

Think of retrieval, not storage. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with keeping journals and photos if you want to. But if they are hard to get at when you want to review them, and/or if they are buggy, musty, and damp, well then, they're not much good.

Using "prosperity thinking" helps me combat hanging on to things that I tag with the monetary baggage. I got rid of a lot of spendy suits that don't fit (kept them because "someday...") because I know from experience that someone needs them, now, for job-hunting.

Julie has "no-brainer toss lists" in her book. The manuals and cords you speak of, having no accompanying device, would fall in that category. Some communities have "e-cycling" initiatives that you could check out for the cords.

I miss my old AOL org-o boards and the organizedhome.com boards. I wish there was someplace I could direct you for camaraderie, info, and support.

Best wishes! I've been down this road.
posted by jgirl at 7:07 PM on September 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


Seconding the advice to watch Hoarders. There's an element of schadenfreude of course, but it works for me.

I also realize that the pang of regret I've felt for the few things I've tossed that I could have used is part of what keeps me hanging on to stuff that I don't need. But when I have that thought, I ask myself what's worse, feeling like I'm consistently overwhelmed by clutter, or the three or four moments I can remember where I really, really wished I hadn't tossed that outlet adapter.
posted by pazazygeek at 7:09 PM on September 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


Get a container, make it your goal to fill the container. The goal is not to 'throw away' but to fill the nice container (then get it out of the house). Rinse, repeat.
posted by sammyo at 7:10 PM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Instead of throwing away your old art and doodles, build a fire and give them your blessing to go out into the world in their component molecules to be reborn.

Clothes go to Goodwill or the equivalent.

Scan all the photos. Pick a maximum of ten objects to keep. If there's no one in the family who wants the photos and journals, give them to a vintage store, the kind of place artists look for materials. And let them go.

The "it might be useful thing" is harder. Look at each item and decide how much it would cost you to replace it, how often you're likely to need it, and how unique it is. Coke bottles? Tequila boxes? Pitch 'em. You can always find more.

Pick up each thing in your room. Will you wear it this year? Do you have an immediate use for it? If not, gift it or pitch it.
posted by dogrose at 7:12 PM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Do you have a friend with the same problem? You can each clean out the other's place. It's much easier to make rational decisions about someone else's stuff.
posted by winston at 7:17 PM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wanted to add: if someone comes into my house and admires an item in the random display, I just give it to them then and there. Keeps things moving in a positive way.

Also yah, ignore the flylady site aside from her decluttering advice (the "toss 27 items in 15 minutes" challenge is fun) as most of her methods have become way too involved and...cluttered.
posted by jamaro at 7:17 PM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have the same problem as you do, although I would say that it's improved in the past year. Mainly due to my current boyfriend, whose minimalist Scandinavian sensibility shines through both being uncommonly clean AND has few possessions. It puts my rat-packing ways to shame. Anyway, here's a few suggestions I've found useful. It takes a lot of soul searching or being organized, but you too, can lighten the load as I did.

SENTIMENTALS
Are the photos loosely packed in boxes? Do you have a lot of ephemera, like movie tickets and stuff? Invest in memory/photo books and acid-free glue. Buy one large memory/photo book for each year of your life and organize everything accordingly. You might want to think about sending old photos to a scanning service to be digitally stored.

Most of mine are in flat paper form, so I don't have a lot of experience with stuff like glasses and bigger things.

CLOTHES
I grew up in a frugal family, who emphasized buying things cheaply. So I became accustomed to buying clothes that were cheap and cute, but not necessarily something I would wear all the time. Or I would change styles and still schlep my 5 inch platform boots around while wearing J Crew cardigans.

So when buying clothes, try to figure out how it works into your current wardrobe. It may be funky and awesome, but if it doesn't go with anything you are wearing RIGHT NOW, pass. And just because it's cheap doesn't mean anything. Again, see if it would go with anything you are wearing at the moment. Resist the urge to think "Oh, I can find a way to integrate it into my wardrobe."

Regarding clothes you already own, go through it once every three or six months. If you have not worn something in that time period, give it up. If you can't really let go, put a sticker on it. When you come around to clearing the closet again in another three or six months, and the sticker is there, GET RID OF IT.

While donating to Goodwill or giving it to friends may work for some clothes, you find yourself in a pickle about stuff that you don't wear anymore but is "too good" for Goodwill/friends/dumpster. Collect that stuff and go sell it at a consignment store, like Buffalo Exchange. I just made $72 on a bunch of stuff I didn't wear anymore; some of the stuff still had tags, but they were five years old, so it wasn't like I was going to wear it anytime soon.

It may be tough, but I gave away/sold a lot of clothes that were awesome but I never got around to wearing. I have never regretted ridding myself of any item of clothing either.

RANDOM STUFF
Again, due to growing up in a frugal family I became accustomed to buying things that were cute/cheap, but not necessarily something I would use. Anything that can be bought again, you should dump now if you can't remember using it. Recycle those Coke and Tequila bottles; you can always get more (and do some drinking too).

I used to own a lot of craft stuff, because I was always telling myself, "Someday I will sew/knit/make x/y/z item." But I never did, and as I moved, all the supplies and tools became jumbled up. And when I was trying to throw it away, I was like "Oh but I can't really afford to buy another leather crimper/beaded fringe/snap fastener. It already took so much time/money to accumulate this." If you have not touched said items or used them for anything, THROW IT OUT/GIVE IT AWAY, especially if you're missing pieces. See it as punishing yourself for having the willpower to spend money on the items but not enough willpower to actually go through with starting or completing the project. When you see the pile of trashed items, you'll feel guilty about it. I do - dear god, all the fabric I accumulated - but it really is a good reminder when you're contemplating on whether to really go through with a project.

Collect all your old paper stuff. Do you have any friends who work in an office? Maybe you can come by and shred that shit. School papers or notes, throw them away. I used to keep my notes from high school before realizing that in the almost ten years that I've graduated, I have NEVER REFERRED TO THEM.

Floating cords? Do you actually know where they belong? Do you still own the gadget that needs them? If the answer is no to one or more of these, throw them out. To be honest, you will never need them if you don't even know where the gadget is. And you can probably find a replacement.

Missing manuals? Most appliances have manuals available online. If you haven't referred to them, recycle them. In the RARE case that you do - which has never happened to me - find the manual online.

Essentially, when in doubt, JUST THROW IT AWAY. The reluctance on your part is due to spending money on it. But having not used it at all and just carrying it around, you've already wasted money on it. Don't waste your energy vacillating. JUST THROW IT AWAY/RECYCLE IT/SELL IT.
posted by mlo at 7:20 PM on September 22, 2009 [8 favorites]


i was thinking about a couple of different things... some of these answers are really awesome, like the suggestion to burn old art and the question of "is missing the item better or worse than dealing with its presence?" is really intriguing.

i'm considering some sort of long-term decluttering methodology along the lines of getting rid of one thing a day for a month/year and see where that gets me. i like practical things i can do in the long term as opposed to these biannual day-long cleaning and purging spells.
posted by wild like kudzu at 7:21 PM on September 22, 2009


I have photographed some of my sentimental stuff that was just cluttery and then put the photos in an album (a few I framed) and the items themselves in a box. I've found it's just as satisfying seeing staged, well-lighted pictures of my things as it is seeing the things themselves. And it allows me to fill my bookshelves with books instead of dusty cluttery tchochkes. You might have some success with this approach if you can see it as a creative project. (I have not yet taken the box of sentimental items to Goodwill, but I'm getting there. And they're all in one box, so it's a vast improvement already!)
posted by headnsouth at 7:25 PM on September 22, 2009


If you can't find it, then it's no use. It's fine to keep every single screw and piece of string if:

- you have space to store it
- you are organised enough to be able to find it in a timely manner when you need it
- the amount of stuff you have doesn't negatively affect your lifestyle or the comfort of your house.

Unfortunately it sounds like none of these are true. Start purging. Join freecycle if you can't bear throwing things away, and then when you need new stuff you can try there first before you have to buy a new one.
posted by kjs4 at 7:26 PM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


It is once again time to link to Pastabagel's brilliant solution to all hoarding problems ever:

All of the computers on Ebay are mine. In fact, everything on Ebay is already mine. All of those things are just in long term storage that I pay nothing for. Storage is free.

When I want to take something out of storage, I just pay the for the storage costs for that particular thing up to that point, plus a nominal shipping fee, and my things are delivered to me so I can use them. When I am done with them, I return them to storage via Craigslist or Ebay, and I am given a fee as compensation for freeing up the storage facilities resources.

This is also the case with all of my stuff that Amazon and Walmart are holding for me. I have antiques, priceless art, cars, estates, and jewels beyond the dreams of avarice.


Rent a storage unit for the sentimental items. The rest you don't need to keep around at all, because someone else is already doing it for you.
posted by ook at 7:32 PM on September 22, 2009 [35 favorites]


Hahaha Ook what an interesting way to look at it!
posted by wild like kudzu at 7:33 PM on September 22, 2009


Nothing new can enter my life until I make space for it.

I think that's usually said of the space in your hearth for relationships or for happiness, but in the circumstances you could simply drop the metaphor and say it of the ft^3 of space in your apartment.
posted by gmarceau at 7:50 PM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've gone through more than a few purges, usually fueled by moving, but here's something for the long term: when you acquire something, get rid of something else. Sometimes two things. Make a habit of it.
posted by box at 7:50 PM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


"I have the largest seashell collection on the planet. I keep it scattered on beaches around the world." - Steven Wright

It kind of goes with what Pastabagel says there, via ook. I try to use that philosophy when decluttering. Sometimes it works.
posted by bendy at 8:06 PM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


I still have trouble getting rid of things, but it is easiest when I can give that thing to someone I know will enjoy it or find a use for it. Sometimes people on MetaFilter! It's a trifle morbid, but sometimes I play the "if I were dead, to whom would I like this to go?" game as a way to determine where an item might best live.

Note, this does not apply to books. Unless I have doubles of them, the books stay with me. When I die, I will be burned atop a pile of my books so that they'll follow me into that great Library in the Sky.
posted by adipocere at 8:07 PM on September 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


Pick one section (a shelf full of gewgaws, a desk, a pile of boxes, a part of the floor which is traditionally crowded, whatever) of your apartment/bedroom (sorry, not clear on whether you are renting a room, or a whole apartment). Better if it's a part of your space you use regularly, or often have in view. Then de-clutter it with extreme prejudice. Your goal is as much empty space as is possible. Go to bed. Wake up. Notice how differently you feel encountering that empty space in the morning. If you're anything like me or other recovering packrats I know, you'll feel great.

Remember this feeling. Use it to inspire you to clean another discrete part of your space. Remember the feeling that results from this too, the change in the "energy" in your space (for lack of a better term). You may just start to miss this feeling when clutter threatens to take it away from you. You may find that you had less space in your mind than you had realized, and that the state of your room effects this.

If you've got furniture (or boxes which may as well be) which are serving only as storage, see if you can't get rid of them - and then use that space for something which inspires you, or reflects things you want to focus on in your more spacious, less-cluttered life. For instance, a wall in my place that was once taken up by drawers with things piled on top of them is now occupied by a musical instrument.

You're not really trying to de-clutter, you're trying to uncover the basic dignity of a living space which reflects you, and facilitates your life rather than distracting you from it (or with it).

It's interesting that you're a visual artist. It's seemed to me for a while now that integral to any artistic process is trusting you've always got another piece in you - that mistakes are ok, and end products aren't necessarily sacred. That's hard to stay convinced of, especially for anyone who has part of their identity explicitly wrapped up in creation. But getting rid of a bunch of the old pieces may help you in more way than one. The suggestion above to give things to friends whenever possible is a good one - it may be especially cool for friends to get art that made you think of them (as long as you aren't just using them as trash bins).

Then, it's not too long a step from trusting your ability to provide for your own creative needs to trusting that the world and other people can provide for your other needs too. And if you believe you've always got another piece in you, maybe you can believe you've always got another friendship, relationship, road trip, etc. in you - so you don't need to hold on to everything (nothing wrong with a few mementos, though). Then you don't need to keep everything just because you might have a need for it some day, or because you're afraid of letting things go.

So long as you remain able to pay the bills, you've really already got most or all of what you need anyway: creativity and basic human abilities for interacting with the world around you.
posted by regicide is good for you at 8:09 PM on September 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


Oh and on the money thing: having a clutter-free space will save you money in the long run: you'll eat out less, you'll replace fewer things, you'll pay less in library fines, spend less time in coffee shops because you can't relax in your place, etc... I'm sure you can think of things that would apply to you if my examples don't.
posted by regicide is good for you at 8:28 PM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


I maintain more than one part-time household, so my biggest pain is actually "dammit, I know I own one of those... I guess it's not here though...."

This leads to a lot of duplication, sadly, so in general, I try to use Ms. Banana's rule (Unused in a year? Buh-bye.) but I've also found that a good friend can be invaluable here.

Someone else going through your things in front of you and saying "Why do you need this? Convince me." can really cut through a lot of clutter.

(You need to trust this person, of course, and even then you may want a little Xanax, or at least a bottle of wine to prepare yourself for the laying-bare.)
posted by rokusan at 8:31 PM on September 22, 2009


I grew up with relatives with border-line hoarding tendencies and have a very reality-based fear of becoming like that myself. I struggled with clutter for years and here is what worked for me:

1. Therapy to address the underlying issues.

2. Stopping all magazine and catalog subscriptions.

3. Reducing the amount of stuff I bring into my apt in the first place.

4. Having a very organized, non-judgmental, pro-simplicity friend come over and review my belongings with me. I gave her free range over practical items. She was ruthless. All those plastic food storage containers collecting dust in my cabinets? Purged. Nails, screws, old keys, rubber bands, old pens, and other junk drawer items? Purged. Same with clothes I hadn't worn in a year, old shoes, fabric swatches I would use when I learned to quilt...you get my drift. I had a harder time parting with sentimental items, so we boxed them up and put them in a closet for me to review later.

5. Learning from a good friend/former roommate who lived by the "when in doubt, throw it out" philosophy. If he brought something new into the apt, he got rid of the old item (new pair of shoes in = old pair out, new dress shirt in = old dress shirt out, etc.). It was horrifying at first, watching him throw away paper shopping bags, old extension cords and chargers, phone books, and other clutter without a second thought. But his apt was always so clean and organized and I wanted that for myself.

6. I resisted it at first because it seemed hokey and old-fashioned, but Flylady helped. I ignored the goofy housewifey stuff and just followed the practical tips. Her "set a timer for 15 minutes" and "throw away 27 items in 3 minutes" tips especially worked. I also developed good habits from her site, like having morning and bedtime routines and making my bed every day.

7. I donated all but a few cherished books to the local library. I view it as free storage with the added bonus that other people get to enjoy them.

8. I don't know if the show Clean Sweep on TLC is still on the air, but I liked host Peter Walsh's approach. He has a website. Hoarders is good too.

9. The website apartmenttherapy.com is great. I searched for things like "clutter" and "organizing."

10. One of my worst habits used to be emptying out a drawer or cabinet on the pretense of "organizing" it, then going over every single item, side-tracked by nostalgia, with the end result being an even bigger mess than before. Now when I notice a particular area -- whether it's an entire room or just my desk -- getting cluttered, I divide it into manageable parts and work on one at a time. It's key that I put everything back before I move on from the task, so it's important to be realistic about how much I can accomplish at one time.

Good luck!
posted by Majorita at 8:32 PM on September 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


Oh but please, try and reasonably avoid just throwing things out when getting rid of them, if an alternative exists. Craigslist, freecycle (or your local non-authoritarian variant which may exist), Sally Ann drop-offs, swap meets, neighbourhood garage sales, Really Really Free Markets, etc. are always there for you.

At the least please try and keep electronics (and other similar resource-intensive things) out of landfills, since they are toxic as hell, and almost always being sought second-hand by someone who can't afford them new.
posted by regicide is good for you at 8:50 PM on September 22, 2009


A BIG thumbs up to Unclutterer, which has fantastic tips and a great friendly tone.

I found Flylady mostly irrelevant to me and the way I live my life (it's geared towards families with houses, and has a heavily Christian bent), but it has a couple good tips that are always useful: you can do anything for 15 minutes, and just run around a room and get rid of 27 things, no matter what they are.

The show Clean Sweep, and its main guy Peter Walsh, are what really made me see how my habits were affecting my ability to live comfortably. The two biggest things I got from that:

1) You hold onto things because you don't have confidence in your ability to provide later on. You know where to buy stuff, right? In fact, you probably know how to find stuff at St. Vinnie's or borrow things from a good place, and you know how to find stuff on the Web instead of having to save or clip magazines. So don't get things unless you need them right now. YOU CAN DO IT.

2) If you're saving something because you say it'll be worth something, or because it's an heirloom, are you treating it like it deserves to be treated? Is it in a broken box, or covered with dust, or cracked/discolored from heat and humidity? If you can't treat it right, you shouldn't keep it. (That was a great episode -- the mother of Chunk from the Goonies was saving Cabbage Patch Kids for posterity. Can't sell for mint condition prices when the boxes are broken!)

So check out this book and his others.

I'd also add that saving money to buy exactly what I need and want, instead of something that will just make do, ends up saving me money and mental hassle in the long run.

Also, it's a lot easier to figure out what you can get rid of when you group the like items with each other. Then you can say, "Okay, I like this one much better than that one, so I can get rid of the latter," or "Geez, I keep buying staplers because I can never remember if I have one!"

If you're in an area with Craigslist, people will come pick up stuff within the hour. It's great!

And yes, you need a friend who can keep you on task.

Finally, the way to make it better and KEEP it that way is to make sure that everything has a place (especially one that makes sense for how you live!). If it doesn't have a place, or you can't remember what that place is, maybe you should think about getting rid of it.
posted by Madamina at 9:20 PM on September 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


Been there, done that, got the t-shirt (and far too much other clutter-related merchandise.) Growing up poor* was a big starting point for me as well. And moving a lot? I'm told we moved over 20 times before I was five; I personally remember about 8 times after that age. You'd think moving that much would reinforce a mentality of only keeping the minimum. In fact for me it just made things seem more impermanent and thus more need for keepsaking.

I went through many cycles of getting and giving. There were three things that made the clutter-busting finally stick:
== Listing the _many_ different ways clutter was hindering me;
== being more present in the moment;
== Finding out what's worth maintaining.

List The Ways Clutter Hinders Me
We can say to ourselves that we rationally understand that junk holds us back, but in my experience that understanding just did NOT hit home until I listed all the ways it hindered me. I suggest you list these for yourself. Here's just a few of the ways clutter caused pain or kept me back:
- not finding things quickly enough (missed events, prescriptions that had to be rewritten, expired cheques and coupons, even expired food(!))
- social embarrassment (not being able to have young family members over; anxiety about bringing people over; having to explain the mess)
- feelings of inadequacy ('why can't I nip this in the bud'; 'is there something wrong with me', 'will I ever be able to stop', etc.)

Be More Pesent In The Moment
The tips given by others above are good, and I've used many of them in past cleanouts. But none of them became habits until I acquired the first habit of being more present in the moments where I deal with clutter: Getting, Maintaining, and Decluttering. When doing any of these activities I have to get past my desires for some thing, my internal dialogues about the different emotions and past experiences that drive me to want what's before me. Otherwise I'm just going down the same path that let the clutter in before. I have to be present enough to see those desires and dialogues, acknowledge they are there, and look at them for what they are. Then I have to be present enough to assess my true needs, and think calmly about where this thing fits in with those needs.

Find Out What's Worth Maintaining
One reason clutter stays around longer than household tools (like appliances, for instance) is that clutterers don't usually have to maintain it. That box of nicknacks doesn't require dusting, cleaning, reshelving, sorting etc. Unless you _make_ it so. Create a simple rule that items in your living spaces can't be in boxes. This will force you to either put clutter boxes in storage, or unpack the items (and thus have to maintain them.) It's amazing how fast some clutter goes out the door when suddenly we have to work at keeping it.

------
*We were so poor my dad unplugged the clocks when we went to bed.
Thank you Chris Rock.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 9:46 PM on September 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


OK, I was reading some organizedhome.com threads that I saved to PDF in the days before the forum went dark. (The main site is still there.)

I saved the entire eight pages of a thread called "A Radical Idea." That one thread over the three years it was up (they ended up pinning it) received over 55,000 views. (Most threads would be, you know, a few hundred, and would not be such useful content as to be pinned.)

This poster moved away from thinking along the lines of decluttering. She went away from her home (this is key), and she sat down at a Starbucks with a pad and paper.

She thought about each area of her home, not with the view of "what should I get rid of" -- but, instead, "what do I want and need in this place?"

So instead of haplessly staring at, for example, the bedside table's drawer or the pantry or whatever and throwing out some stuff and still needing to do it again at least once over the course of the year, you instead decide what should be there. And you keep only those things there. You relocate the others elsewhere in the home, or donate, or otherwise get them out.

This might sound like a big plate of beans, but, trust me, it's not.
posted by jgirl at 9:47 PM on September 22, 2009 [38 favorites]


Invest in a scanner and a shredder and also a digital camera if you don't already have one (take pictures of the little things that have only a small amount of sentimental value so you can remember them and then get rid of them).
posted by pised at 10:14 PM on September 22, 2009


Pastabagel/ook's answer FTW, with pised's observation that digital records take a lot less space and are a lot easier to search than paper a very close second, for my money. That said, there's a lot of good advice in this thread. I need to implement some of that myself.

Really, the only thing that I have to add is related to FlyLady's "27 items in 15 minutes" thing, which is that I once read a book that recommended a "toss ten things" regimen--every time you're at home and think of it, focus on dumping unnecessary stuff until you've gotten rid of ten things.

(Semi-related: I used to live in Northern New Mexico, where it is a) very dry, b) partially forested and c) formerly subject to aggressive fire-suppression policies. The result is that there are decades of downed wood that would have burned naturally years ago, but now is just sitting around waiting to turn a regular forest fire into a nearly-impossible-to-extinguish inferno. The solution has been to send Forest Service crews in to haul out the downed wood in "fuel mitigation" efforts. After I heard of that, I started to refer to purging my apartment of junk as "crap mitigation.")
posted by tellumo at 10:48 PM on September 22, 2009


It occurs to me that the "if in doubt, throw it out" people are just as nuts as the hoarders. Sure, it's silly to keep stuff you will never use. But it's also silly to throw away things that you may well use (there is no such thing as an unneeded extension cord!). It seems so wasteful to go through all of that just to avoid organization. I mean, how many extension cords will you buy throughout a lifetime because you throw them away if you don't need them?

NEVER throw sentimental items away. Your future self will probably be angry with you.
posted by gjc at 4:44 AM on September 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Go through everything you own and place it into one of three categories:

1) Things I have used in the last year.
2) Things I have not used, but think I might use.
3) Things I have not and will not use.

Everything in pile 3 gets donated, everything in pile 1 gets kept, and everything in pile 2 gets stuck in a closet somewhere. If you need something from pile two over the course of the next few months, you take it out, use it, and put it where it belongs in your house. After a few months, everything that's still in the closet obviously wasn't used, so it gets discarded.
posted by chrisamiller at 6:27 AM on September 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


when i'm on an outcrufting spree (like outgassing, but stuff instead of gas), one of the things i use to get around the "what if i need it?" is to look, honestly, at whether i will be able to replace it if i do need it. that, coupled with thinking of "keeping things" as having a resource cost rather than being 'free', has been helping me.

like, books: mass market paperbacks that i do not have great attachment to? yeah, they're going. also, many tech reference books and cookbooks have been replaced by the internet. so, "fabulous one dish meals for bored professionals" cookbook goes, but julia child's "the way to cook" stays.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:05 AM on September 23, 2009


Another way to look at it: If you take items to Goodwill, Salvation Army, etc., you can get an itemized receipt for tax deduction. We did this "rethrifting" several times last year and got a nice payoff on our taxes.
posted by vickyverky at 11:59 AM on September 23, 2009


These are great suggestions guys! I've got the time and mental energy now to sit down and think... while I'm in the other room (it's an apartment I share with my roommate, so I keep the living room quite clean and it is therefore more pleasant for relaxing in) I'm going to write down everything I need to have/want to have in my space. Then I'm going to go in there and get rid of everything else. I'll be a little lenient with the stuff I want but don't need, but if I can't even remember that I want it then iit is clearly time to go.

Anybody have any thoughts on cluttered wallspace? I like looking at things, but sometimes I think having multiple pictures and paintings on the walls is a little..... distracting? Stimulating? Something like that.
posted by wild like kudzu at 12:29 PM on September 23, 2009


Re: giving stuff to Goodwill, selling it on Craigslist, etc.: you need to think seriously about whether you are the kind of person who is capable of this or not.

I am a a total clutter fiend with some pretty bad hoarder-y tendencies. When trying to de-mess my life, I tend to get bogged down in well-meaning plans for how to responsibly dispose of things, so that I can save the planet/help those in need/get some much-needed cash. These are totally reasonable ideas, but the fact is that I'm a) a pretty busy person and b) spectacularly lazy and pracrastinate-y when I do have down time, and what happens is that I have bags of things that I am tooooootally "going to drop at the Salvation Army this weekend" "going to sell on eBay, as soon as I bother to set up an account. Of course I'll also need some boxes to ship things in. You know, I should probably just hold off on this whole thing until I know I'm going to have time to stop by the post office..." blah, blah, blah, and what happens is that these piles of junk that I am totally going to get rid of any day now just end up sitting on my floor for months on end.

If any of this sounds like you, just throw that shit out. Seriously. This is something you need to honestly assess yourself on. If that's not part of your problem, more power to you.

And I second whoever said cancel your magazine subscriptions. I am like neck-deep in Economists that I am totally going to read any day now, I swear...
posted by naoko at 6:11 PM on September 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


If I haven't used it, worn it, or appreciated it in the last two years, I give it to someone who will. Simply taking a picture of a pile of stuff and posting it on my blog with "first person here gets anything they want out of this pile" tends to bring friends out of the woodwork like nothing else. If that fails, put it in a pile and throw a party, where the point is to take something with you from the pile. Everything that I don't give away goes to Goodwill, Vietnam Veterans of America, or Construction Junction (a local re-use warehouse).

All of the sentimental items are in a set of shoeboxes that I paw through once a year.
posted by talldean at 8:05 PM on September 27, 2009


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