How can I minimize without being a minimalist?
April 10, 2012 12:52 PM   Subscribe

I'm ready to downsize, and I know how to use a garbage bag, photos of souvenirs and the "haven't worn it in a year" methods, but what else is there? What works for you?

I'm moving into a new apartment the end of the month, and unlike a lot of people, I love to move. It forces me to clean house, weed out my closet, and get rid of things I realize I've accumulated over the years I've been in a place. However, I have come to find I do mostly superficial tossing/donating of things, and I want to get a little deeper than just skimming the worn out clothes and books off the top.

I'm not looking to become a total minimalist. Or even a slight minimalist, I just want to be able to get a better handle on different techniques I can use to get rid of while I pack (and while I live there).

So, my question to you is, how do you do your deep down spring cleaning? How do you decide what kitchen things to keep or get rid of? How do you get rid of things to keep a clean dresser? I want to be able to easily dust the tops of my bookshelf and dresser, without mail, or clothes, or other crap in the way, but I find it hard to weed out. How did you get better at just getting rid? And what tips do you highly recommend?
posted by bleachandink to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 69 users marked this as a favorite
A few things that work for me...
  • Re moving, change your mindset to "What will I take with me?" rather than "What can I keep?" or "What should I toss?" Everything left over goes out the door.
  • FlyLady's the "27-fling boogie" in which you roam your house, preferably to music, and find 27 things to toss.
  • Put toss dates on paper, files, frozen food, etc. so that future you doesn't have to think about the decision.
  • To keep surfaces clean of things that don't have proper homes, have a single drawer or basket for random crap that isn't very large and then go through it when it gets full.
  • Scan all the paper stuff you feel compelled to save but don't need in its original form, including articles you intend to send to friends
  • For paper, develop the habit of asking yourself a) how soon it will become obsolete and b) if/how you could obtain it again should you need to. Usually the answer is that you could call the company and ask for a copy of their records or that you could look the information up or buy the magazine on eBay. Now you can toss without fear.
I've described my tactic for maintaining order elsewhere as part of a thread that you might find useful.
posted by carmicha at 1:13 PM on April 10, 2012

Buying a scanner and storing reams of paper documents electronically has reduced my files to two small boxes, easy to weed out regularly. Included in the documents scanned were instruction manuals, warranties, old tax files, school records.

Sorting books was hard for me: I finally divided them into
1. will never reread
2. will reread at least once
3. consistently reread
Immediately took 1. to a prison, reread 2. and took those to the prison after a while. I found a good home for at least 30 boxes of books, and I kept the rest.

Kitchen things were easy: either I had used it during the previous 12 months or it went in the donation box.
posted by francesca too at 1:21 PM on April 10, 2012

Seconding MoonOrb's "two-step" approach. With clothes (though you could do this with books and household items too), I will put things I want to get rid of in a bag, and put the bag in the trunk of my car. If at some point in the next month or so I go to my closet and go, "WHERE IS THAT GREEN SWEATER??" I can still go back and get it and then I know it's something I'm not ready to get rid of, but 9/10 times, it goes into the trunk, I never think about it again, and then one day when I drive past a thrift store I just take the bag in and by that time I've usually forgotten what was even in there. It's sort of like moving something to the recycling bin on your computer--it's out of the way and "gone", but if you REALLY had to go get something back, you could.

This is more clothes-specific, but I heard a tip somewhere that said to take all of the clothes in your closet and turn the hangers so that they're the 'wrong' way. As you wear stuff, wash it, and put it back on the hanger you turn it the right way around. After 6 months or a year, if there is stuff that's still turned around on the hanger, there's a good chance you'll never wear it again and it can go.

I have a hard time getting rid of stuff because I sentimental to the point of being ridiculous, and one way I have found to remedy that is by thinking about who will be able to have something like that if I donate it. For example, I just got rid of some books that I've had since middle school and felt "attached to"...I just thought about some kid finding one of those books at a secondhand store and loving it as much as I did. That helps with a lot of stuff--I just got rid of a couple pots and pans that were in perfectly good shape but were surplus in my kitchen; I thought, "Someone who would not be able to afford to buy this kind of thing new in the store will be so stoked to find this [in a secondhand shop]" and lots of times that warm, charitable feeling is the extra push i need.
posted by lovableiago at 1:21 PM on April 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm one of those people who hates getting rid of stuff - I always think I'll use something or wear something again - so making donation piles doesn't always work. One thing that did work for me when moving was to be meticulous in my packing before the move. I made sure that each box served a functional purpose (i.e. kitchen utensils, knick knacks and photos for decoration, etc) - then further prioritized items so that I had, for example, one box of kitchen utensils I absolutely needed, two more boxes of utensils that I may use occasionally, and the rest was what I planned to donate. Use detailed labels.

Once you get to the new place, only open the "priority 1" boxes. Only open priority 2 when you need something - otherwise leave unopened boxes all over the house. After a set period of time (for me it was 2 months, but you can go longer or shorter) I donated all unopened boxes, plus anything from an open box that never found a permanent place in the new home.

Yes, this method means you are packing and moving a lot of stuff you won't keep...and it takes you much longer to get all the way unpacked and feeling settled. But you will be absolutely amazed at how much stuff you end up getting rid of that you never would have willingly parted with before the move.
posted by trivia genius at 1:25 PM on April 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

When I moved cross-country, the question I constantly asked myself was "am I willing to pay 59 cents per pound to keep this item?"
posted by psycheslamp at 1:28 PM on April 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

This won't help you while packing, but one thing that will help prevent the clutter from re-accumulating is to be really specific whenever you go shopping. Buy things you love, that will last, and that you can use or wear all the time. If you own two pairs of shoes that could be replaced with one pair, get the one pair and give away the other two.

It may also help you to do a small Goodwill drop-off once a month, instead of hauling eight overstuffed bags right before you move. Start a pile like MoonOrb mentions, and keep it in an accessible place. Whenever you're getting dressed or doing laundry, and you come across that one thing you keep meaning to give away, just chuck it in the pile right then. When you buy a new thing, put the thing it's replacing in the pile. If you want to get really organizey about it, keep a tally of things you've given away versus things you've purchased in a month.

Also, if you live alone, make an effort to entertain friends in your home at least twice a month, if not once a week. Sure, you can cheat and stuff things in the closet when you're cleaning for company, but do it enough times and you'll want to keep things tidy to avoid the rush.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:42 PM on April 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

I also like to move, and to get rid of things. I think in terms of what to keep, re: decorative items (i.e. anything you don't actually need to use) only keep the ones that really mean something. I used to have a ton of little knick-knacks that I bought or that people gave me, and I kept them just because they were cute. But that's how the little knick-knacks slowly conspire to take over the room. Now I only have the ones that have a specific meaning/story for me.

The other thing is, assuming you move relatively frequently, for every thing you own (or in the future, buy) figure out if it will be worth the trouble/cost to bring it with you. If it's very cheap and you can easily give it away when you move, fine. If it's very useful and easily packs up and you can take it with you, fine. If it's heavy and cumbersome and the pain of getting rid of it or bringing it is greater than the enjoyment/use you'll get out of it, you don't want it.

(Though I might be too minimalist for you, b/c my first thought was, "Why do you need bookshelves and a dresser?")

I've recommended this site before, but it has some good tips for getting rid of things and deciding what you need. I don't think you have to be as extreme as they are to get something out of it.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 1:53 PM on April 10, 2012

I read in a Japanese housecleaning manual that you should own nothing that does not make your life sparkle.

I wouldn't go that far; my dish towels don't make my life sparkle, but they dry my dishes, and that's good enough for me. But it's a nice thing to remind myself of it when I fall into the trap of "I'll use that someday" or "My friend gave that to me." (And it has enough wiggle room to allow for the fact that sometimes, just the fact that it was a gift from a friend is enough to make your life sparkle.)
posted by Jeanne at 2:25 PM on April 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are you a girl?

This may sound strange, but I tend to be able to be completely ruthless about cleaning stuff out at the same time I'm PMSing. I start feeling claustrophobic and have an urge to throw stuff away. Use your hormones to your advantage!!
posted by katypickle at 3:30 PM on April 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

What worked for me recently was realizing I had too much stuff in order to be able to:

1. Travel to another country tomorrow, if need be.
2. Remember what I owned if I had to list all of the items in any one category (examples: clothes, technology, books)
3. Pack all of my items in as few bags as possible, as neatly as possible, as light as possible.

Disclaimer is that I'm in the military. Mind you, I'd love to be able to store multiple shoes in neat little plastic bins, hang all of my t-shirts, have various beautiful reference books on hand....but I found I can make decisions as to what I need and what I want -real- fast.

Also, any future products I buy, including replacement clothing, luggage, etc will be purchased based on functionality and weight first, as if I were going to be trekking across the Himalayas via beast of bitchy and stubborn burden.
posted by DisreputableDog at 3:44 PM on April 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Watch an episode of Hoarders.
posted by Hermes32 at 4:50 PM on April 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

I was helped recently by thinking about an forum thread on "What fantasy self are you decluttering?" With me it's more of a former self -- former congressional staffer who saved stuff, former ice skater who is not sure I'll be able to skate again, and the like. I didn't get rid of the skating stuff at all or all of the congressional stuff (but a lot!); still, it helped me to focus on what is important and needed for the life I have now and the one I want.

Things that are damaged beyond repair, things that are damaged that you could've repaired but didn't, and things with unhappy associations were ditched. Clothes I was saving ... and saving, and saving ... for weight loss (except for about three things) were finally ditched. Most undergraduate notes were somewhat reluctantly ditched. Although there was some good reading there, I still have the books, which are more informative than often-cryptic notes.

Think of "edification" in the sense of "building up." I got rid of dis-edifying things -- an incredible amount of clothes and papers (plus stuff damaged by a recent apartment calamity) in order to maximize the potential and use of the things that do build me up. Finding them, for one thing!
posted by jgirl at 5:46 PM on April 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

This will sound dumb, but it worked for me. One question.

About 6 months ago my partner and I moved from an interim apartment at a time when my life was really busy. The process of having to touch every single thing that I owned (to pack it, or otherwise make a decision about taking it or not) gave me the opportunity to ask myself: "Is this simplifying my life?"

If the answer was "No, it makes my life harder by being distracting/adding clutter/reminding me that I'm not doing everything I once thought I would" - it went.

If it was "No, but I still love it and think it's beautiful and am serious about it" it stayed.

If it was "Yes," it stayed.

This was a profoundly effective system. You have to really commit to valuing simplicity, though. For me I just reached a stress point where living simply and peacefully every day was more important than accumulating stuff related to a fantasy version of myself that was not real and not ever going to be real.
posted by Miko at 7:49 PM on April 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Congrats on the move!

Here are my tactics:

(1) Tackle one area at a time.
(2) Take your time. Sometimes you'll find something that you have an emotional connection with-- and never use. You are more likely to regret your decision if you rush through. Take the time to think through it.
(3) Don't take your stuff to goodwill right away, if you can. I usually let it sit in my car for a day or two. This ensures if you have anything you decide you don't want to get rid of, you can easily get it back.
(4) Go through your stuff before every move. If you won't be moving for a long time, consider going through your stuff every year or two.
posted by emilynoa at 6:12 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

A few suggestions, beyond the excellent ones already mentioned:

1. I have one client who always asks himself: If I didn't already own this, would I buy it again? Other people have found this question useful, too.

2. Peter Walsh suggests starting with this: Imagine the life you want to live. When you have a really clear picture of that, each item can be evaluated as helping you live that life, or not.

3. For some people, it really helps to know someone else is going to be using/cherishing the items you're giving away. I use Freecycle a lot for just that reason; it helps my clients (and me, when I declutter for myself) to know things are going to a teacher who needs classroom supplies, a fellow cat lover who will love the cat-related items, another history reader who will enjoy that Schama book I'll never re-read, etc. For other people, the ease of dropping things off at Goodwill or other such groups works better.
posted by jeri at 10:46 PM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just came across this -- some advice from Apartment Therapy about what NOT to do.
posted by lovableiago at 8:55 AM on April 12, 2012

If I can digitize something (scanning documents and images, buying as an ebook, etc), I do.
posted by talldean at 8:27 AM on April 17, 2012

I'm not looking to become a total minimalist. Or even a slight minimalist, I just want to be able to get a better handle on different techniques I can use to get rid of while I pack (and while I live there).

I don't know why you keep using the word minimal then.

With that out of the way, I think I know what you mean. You seek strategies besides "if you still have unopened boxes from the last time you moved, toss em!" You want to maximize the utility over a fixed quantity of stuff. I'm something of a minimalist, and not because I have any particular aversion to material wealth. It's more of a deficiency of mine, a deep aversion to shopping.

The first is a trick from backpackers: multipurposing. Some guys have a large toolbox, I have a gerber multitool. It's small and lightweight enough to carry around. I have a smallish set of pots and pans; I'm told that some cooks can do a great many things with just a wok. Ten years ago people had a dozen portable electronic things: GPS, radio, calculator, alarm clock, watch, PDA, cell phone, mp3 player, flashlight, camera, and a suitably decked out nerd required a utility belt to house it all. Today I have a smartphone that does all those and there are newer ones that do a much better job at that and more. So if you happen to own a smartphone you carry everywhere, and a bunch of old electronics that are all super helpful on paper, it's time to question whether you can't make do without them. I'm sure there's an entire askMefi to be written on this subject alone.

The second tactic is renting over owning. I don't own many of books. Partly that's just because I don't read as much, but it's also partly thanks to Zach, a former roommate in college, who demonstrated that buying a used book on ebay and selling it off again was a breakeven or sometimes profitable proposition. I mostly abuse the local libraries since I fear dealing with UPS. I don't own a house or have a garage full of lawn implements; the landlord takes care of it. It took me a long time to really go for it, but I just remember if I ever need it again I can get it for a bit more than what I got for selling it. Amazon is my bookshelf!

For papers, I bought a small plastic ... folder thingy. It's like a small portable version of the file drawers you put hanging folders in and label the tabs on. One folder for each counterparty (bank, school, lender, insurer, etc), and one for each of the past 7 tax years. Important things I get in the mail goes in there. The rest of the mail gets reviewed when I get home and typically trashed immediately. Most bills are on autopay and I don't need to keep them once they're paid anyways.

Personally, I don't have a problem with having too many clothes. Arguably I have too few. One strategy might be to own a dresser that holds fewer clothes. Knowing that you literally don't have room might be a deterrent to buying more clothes? You could also prioritize keeping clothes that go with multiple other articles. Sort of like lego blocks; lots of individually unimpressive stuff that you put together to make something amazing.
posted by pwnguin at 10:47 PM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

« Older Write or flight?   |   What are some old proprietary file formats that... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.