What are some great mantras to help keep up momentum while decluttering?
December 4, 2014 1:55 PM   Subscribe

What mantras, mottos, catchphrases, rules of thumb, boot-camp-style commands, etc. have worked best for you to keep up momentum during a major decluttering project?

I'm helping a family member with a somewhat intimidating house clean-out. We're going to be at it for a pretty long time (not all at once, probably stretched out a number of weekends).

Before we dive in, we'd like to prepare an arsenal of mantras for when our productivity starts to ebb -- things we can say to each other to keep us focused and efficient, to refresh how we're looking at the job if needed, to help make decisions about an individual item, to whip us back into high gear, maybe to crack each other up a little... whatever might help keep up our momentum, inspiration, and resolve. (They don't all have to be "rah-rah" -- we'll need some tough love with ourselves from time to time, too.)

I was kind of thinking of things in the spirit of some of these:
"How much would I spend to buy this for the first time now?"
"Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
"Touch it once."
"My collection of possessions will never be exhibited in any museum, ever."
"The 'Maybe' pile is a trap!"
"Clutter is a memento of an outdated decision."
"Should I get rid of this out now... or force my children to get rid of it for me someday?"
...but I have the feeling the hive mind has found something that has really helped (even if it may be tailored to your specific objectives).

Many thanks in advance!
posted by argonauta to Home & Garden (38 answers total) 58 users marked this as a favorite
Everything in it's place AND A PLACE FOR EVERYTHING (the emphasis is important).
posted by sparklemotion at 2:02 PM on December 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

The song "Please Release Me" (sung from the perspective of the object that want to go to a new home via Goodwill or Freecycle or others.

Freecycling really helped because you could meet the people who would come to your house to pick up the stuff and say "thank you" for giving them your stuff. Related to that is the question "Would someone else get better use out of this?"
posted by metahawk at 2:03 PM on December 4, 2014

Best answer: I like Marie Kondo's idea of thanking items as you get rid of them. It's amusing as well as helpful: "Thank you book, for teaching me that I really don't like Kafka. Thank you CD for teaching me to not buy music just because some guy likes it. Thank you casserole dish for your sterling service".
posted by girlgenius at 2:05 PM on December 4, 2014 [25 favorites]

If you're doing a lot of donating I always rely on "someone else needs this more than me".
posted by brilliantine at 2:05 PM on December 4, 2014 [11 favorites]

Best answer: "What's the worst that could happen if I throw this away?"
posted by oneirodynia at 2:06 PM on December 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

I think it's important not just to focus on the stuff you're getting rid of, but also on what you are gaining:
Look at all the room!
The place looks so much bigger this way.
Oh my, it's starting to look great, all neat and clean!
Just look at all the space you're gaining.
Why, it's so much lighter in here!

posted by Too-Ticky at 2:16 PM on December 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Less stuff to keep clean!
posted by a humble nudibranch at 2:17 PM on December 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do I use this?
Do I need this?
Do I love this?
posted by gyusan at 2:19 PM on December 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: If you can't find it, you don't own it.
posted by zamboni at 2:20 PM on December 4, 2014 [16 favorites]

When in doubt, throw it out.
posted by carmicha at 2:20 PM on December 4, 2014 [5 favorites]

If this was stolen, would I bother to replace it?
posted by jon1270 at 2:22 PM on December 4, 2014 [10 favorites]

"I'm sick of all this crap."
posted by michaelh at 2:23 PM on December 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

Also, for things that a thrift store would accept: is someone else more likely to get some use from this than I am?
posted by jon1270 at 2:24 PM on December 4, 2014

Also from the Marie Kondo article that girlgenius linked: does it spark joy?
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 2:24 PM on December 4, 2014

Less Is More
posted by Rash at 2:24 PM on December 4, 2014

"Do I want to be on the show Hoarders some day? Because not getting rid of this is how I get on the show Hoarders some day."
posted by SpacemanStix at 2:26 PM on December 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

--When was the last time I used this? Under what exact circumstances would I use it again?
--Do I want to keep this because it's part of the person I actually am, or the person I want to be?
--If I want to keep this, I have to get rid of something else that I already decided to keep.

(Since this is spread over time, this might be a helpful tip. My husband and I recently downsized to 1/3 of our possessions. For certain things, we found the goodbye box really useful - it was a suggestion we found here on Ask, actually: a box where you put the things which are really hard to say goodbye to but need to go. You review the box about once a week and take things out. If you're still having a hard time, you leave it in for one more week.

It violates the "touch it once" rule so it's best to do it rarely, but it was great for breaking those super hard attachments without actually getting rid of the thing. It was amazing how easy it was to get rid of things after a week in the goodbye box, and in 3 months we only had 1 thing stay in the box more than a week.

And the most useful mantra we found was the "What's the worst that could happen if I throw this away?" which oneirodynia mentioned. )
posted by barchan at 2:32 PM on December 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

"It's not worth it to move this!"
posted by bile and syntax at 2:33 PM on December 4, 2014

This is for clothes, specifically: "Will this ever be the best thing to wear?" or "Will this ever be part of my favorite outfit?"
posted by mskyle at 2:35 PM on December 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

There are two reasons I want to keep this:

1. It has sentimental value
2. I might need it some day

If it's sentimental, why is it not in an honored place in my home?

If I need it, when was the last time I used it? How hard would it be to borrow one if I needed it?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:42 PM on December 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

If it turns out that I miss this item, can I get another one exactly like it on eBay?
If I'm keeping this item because it helps me access memories, can I take a photo of it instead?
Is it worth $x per year (based on the carrying cost per square foot of your home or storage unit) to save this item?
posted by carmicha at 2:44 PM on December 4, 2014

"Own less, have more."
posted by Tomorrowful at 2:50 PM on December 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

"D.W.I." (Deal With It)

"I am no longer a..." (e.g. philatelist, collage artist, softball player, riot-grrrl comics enthusiast)

"I can always check this out at the library if I want to read it again."

"This piece of art is just as satisfying when I view a digital photograph of it."
posted by oxisos at 3:01 PM on December 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

To help to make decisions about individual items that once had known emotional connections or significance attached, but without having to say, "I hate this useless piece of crap!" I would say, "This widget is on thin ice!" to the person I was decluttering with.

That way, if they still had an emotional attachment to the item, it would gently let them know that I was not attached to it and had no use for it, without somehow insulting their great aunt's step brother in-law that gifted them with said widget.

The idea was that if the thin ice pile got too big, it could break through the ice and drown us. It was a silly way of helping to keep the maybe pile in check. Similar to the goodbye box, it gave us time to evaluate and process our current attachments during what was an emotional decluttering process.
posted by Juniper Toast at 3:06 PM on December 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: "Am I really going to fix or use this?" [Realistically, looking back at my behaviour, what are the odds I am actually going to fix, mend, use or refer to this object? How many times have I actually done this, over the past five years?]

Also, "We can do this; this is doable."

If, in the face of the goal, the hoarder's indecision or anxiety becomes frustrating, remember that this is dysfunction and not a desire to make your life difficult. "They're doing their best, and so am I - this is just a hard thing. [But we can do this; this is doable.]"
posted by cotton dress sock at 3:14 PM on December 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

If anything you're looking at is inherited: "It doesn't have to matter to me, just because it mattered to them." It can be so hard to let go of something that you know mattered hugely to someone you loved, but it's okay for that thing not to matter to you. It did its job by mattering to your loved one.
posted by current resident at 3:16 PM on December 4, 2014 [7 favorites]

We just cleaned out my parents' basement and took a lot of photos of things we then got rid of. We didn't use a mantra at the time, but looking back it was "do we need the thing? Or would a picture of the thing spark the same memory?"
posted by trixie119 at 7:51 PM on December 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Sometimes "I will never even miss this once it's gone" is the only thought that keeps me going.

Also, really enjoy and take pleasure in the space left once the cruft is cleared!
posted by squasher at 8:09 PM on December 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

We were at risk of a bushfire recently and I went around the house collecting important things to box up for safety. I was surprised how many things I was actually happy to leave behind even though I have schlepped them around for years.

So my next clean up mantra is: Is this worth saving from a fire?
posted by Kerasia at 9:33 PM on December 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

If I died tomorrow, and family and friends gathered a month later to decide what to do with all my stuff, consider the likely fate of each thing.
1. Kept (by a family member or other loved one) because it has real value of some sort (monetary, sentimental, etc.)
2. Sold (because it may be worth something to someone but we just want the money, not the thing)
3. Thrown away (because it has no real value to anyone as far as we can see)

Based on this decision, you can either:
1. Keep the thing (or give it to a loved one right now)
2. Sell it (eBay, yard sale, whatever)
3. Throw it out or maybe donate it to the sort of place that wants such junk

When you choose (1) to keep something, try to actually shift stuff to other keepers in the family. It's your grandmother's lovely old clock and you don't want to see it sold or thrown away, but you don't want the burden of living with it for the rest of your life, so pass it to a sibling right now who will take good care of it in another home. Don't keep stuff in your home that you don't actually use or appreciate all the time right now. Don't keep stuff that collects dust.
posted by pracowity at 2:37 AM on December 5, 2014

This won't help with the bulk of stuff.. but something I have been trying to do is have a small pile of undies/bedding/trousers etc and actually wear them out so I can can move onto the next. Also books are a killer. Take up so much room etc.. recently I have been thinking "I'm in my late 30's, how many of these books can I realistically read over the rest of my life?! - Sounds dramatic, but it's kind of true. I am trying to finish books and pass them on.
posted by tanktop at 3:59 AM on December 5, 2014

Best answer: Some useful concepts I've picked up from the Stepping Out of Squalor website are:

Saving things to keep them out of the landfill just turns your house into a landfill.

Ask yourself if you buying/keeping things for a life you don't lead? For example, I have a small stack of oil painting how-to books, and a set of oil paints and brushes. Realistically, the earliest date I might have the time/inclination to learn oil painting is about 10 years down the road.

The concept of amnesty. Give yourself permission to throw out (meaning send to the landfill) stuff even if the concept of recycling/repurposing/donating is deeply ingrained.
posted by auntie maim at 6:00 AM on December 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I like Marie Kondo's idea of thanking items as you get rid of them. It's amusing as well as helpful: "Thank you book, for teaching me that I really don't like Kafka. Thank you CD for teaching me to not buy music just because some guy likes it. Thank you casserole dish for your sterling service".

That reminds me of the recent post on farewell ceremonies for things.
posted by zamboni at 6:45 AM on December 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

20/20 theory - if you are keeping it 'just in case', get rid of it if you can replace it for less than $20 and less than 20 minutes from your current location.
posted by AnnaRat at 6:51 AM on December 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Right away is the easiest way!

I aim for retrieval, not storage, so that I won't have to forage.

Facing and fronting. This comes from retail, where you "face" the products toward the aisle and pull them up to the front. This needs to be done at home, in many cases, including pantries and closets. But I've found it helpful in terms of "face the problem and confront it and bring it forward in attention."

Does this thing/commitment move my life forward to the life I want?

Is this thing of similar quality and standard to what I have now? (This is especially good for clothing.)

Does keeping this fall outside of "prosperity thinking"? In other words, am I keeping my too-short, deodorant-stained green shirt because I am a child of Depression parents, fear my own unemployment, and feel it's "too good to throw away" with a sense that I might not be able to have one again?
posted by jgirl at 9:32 AM on December 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

If I haven't used it in the last 6 months, I don't need it. (With exceptions for tools, Christmas ornaments, and heavy winter coats).
posted by vignettist at 4:54 PM on December 5, 2014

I've recently started listening to the A Slob Comes Clean podcast and am finding her advice very heartening.

Her two basic decluttering questions seem to be 1) If I needed this thing, where would I look for it? (corollary: GO PUT IT THERE RIGHT NOW) and 2) If I needed to replace this, how expensive/inconvenient would it be? (corollary: how much is my peace of mind from NOT HAVING THIS CRAP AROUND worth for the time between now and when I might need it?)
posted by Lexica at 8:53 PM on December 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

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