Living with less: Any regrets on decluttering?
May 24, 2016 6:47 AM   Subscribe

I've come to the conclusion that I have way too much stuff and want to simplify and get rid of a lot. For those who've gone before, any regrets?

After years of dragging around boxes and boxes of books, DVDs, and many other possessions, I really want to pare down to the bare necessities.

This includes getting rid of books that I've intended to read for years, bins of computer parts I "might" need, etc. I don't plan on going overboard, I'll keep a bunch of my books and just plan to shuck the DVDs out of their cases and get rid of the cases (for example).

Just wondering - for folks who've gone the simplify/declutter route, any regrets? Ever look back and wish you'd kept those paperbacks or collectible things? Any advice you'd give?

(For the interested: I'm male, single, mid-40s, work in tech, and have been accumulating books, graphic novels, DVDs, and so forth since the 80s.)
posted by jzb to Home & Garden (55 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
I did the whole Marie Kondo thing about a year ago. She says out right in the book that you might end up getting rid of a few things that you regret.

There have definitely been a couple of times when I thought about reading a book that we had, but realized that we had gotten rid of it, or thought about wearing something that I'd given away, but it (1) really hasn't happened a lot, and (2) I've just ended up wearing something else/reading another book/going to the library.
posted by damayanti at 6:52 AM on May 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

I've moved a lot and have had to declutter often. Now I enjoy it. The things I keep have that much more significance.

Once in awhile I will remember an item, usually clothes, and wonder why I gave it away. But I have plenty more clothes so the feeling is always short-lived. As for books, I now have a collection I can be proud of, instead of a collection of random books I think I should read.
posted by Milau at 6:53 AM on May 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Stuff you haven't even looked at yet cannot truly cause any regret, can it? If you really want some of those items back, get them back when you have time for them.

Other stuff that seems to clutter your existence? Others will beyond doubt try to hard-line you into "just get rid of it all" but if that's a good idea depends totally on your personality type.
I'm still mourning a 1967 automobile catalogue I threw out when I was 13, worthless at the time, but somehow of value for me, only I didn't see it.
And the HO train set I sold at 15 (that's 42 years ago)? I actually spend the past two years to research, find, wait, bid and ultimately buy all the stuff back on auction sites.
So it all depends, is all I'm saying.
posted by Namlit at 6:54 AM on May 24, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'm just starting this process myself. I *think* my rules of thumb are:

1 - Any mass market object that can be easily replaced is fair game
2 - Modified mass market objects (such as autographed books) or those objects which would take real effort to replace without a whole lot of personal sentiment attached can be photographed or scanned or collaged
3 - Unique objects -- family mementos, old art, etc. -- should be handled with great caution. If in doubt, put things in specially marked storage and reconsider them at an appropriate future date.
posted by maudlin at 6:57 AM on May 24, 2016 [16 favorites]

Mefi has a couple of posts on the KonMari method. I've applied a lightweight version of it and have been very happy with applying this approach so far. I just felt an immediate sense of losing built up guilt over stuff I'd been keeping around for "reasons" rather than adding a positive experience to my life.

The thing I've realised is that for a majority of things, they are quite easy to replace if it turns out I made a mistake. It's also made me more mindful of future consumption, making me ask myself "Am I really going to read/listen/use this?" before buying something new.
posted by like_neon at 6:57 AM on May 24, 2016 [7 favorites]

I have done this and learned that the regrets I feel are that I have used resources like money and space on things I do not actually need. Purging myself of them feels great and has led to positive behavior changes where I am much less likely now to accumulate possessions.

In short, I don't regret getting rid of things I've accumulated, but I have had to overcome the regret that I accumulated them in the first place.
posted by MoonOrb at 7:00 AM on May 24, 2016 [6 favorites]

I did this, and also went paperless, scanning in pretty much anything important. But I had a lot of letters/cards/etc that took up a ton of space that I scanned and threw away the original -- and now I really miss the originals, no matter how much space they took up. I would keep this stuff now.
posted by heavenknows at 7:03 AM on May 24, 2016 [10 favorites]

I tend to be a fairly ruthless purger - my general instincts are to throw away things if I don't have any use for them any longer, or they are no longer attractive to me (if something decorative or to be worn). I've rarely regretted things I've thrown away, with the following big exceptions: things that remind me of my childhood or my family. The longer I'm away from my family of origin, the more I value things that remind me of my secure, happy childhood and loving extended family. This became even more true once my grandparents began to die. Books that I read at formative ages also hold special meaning for me, so I've replaced several of the children's books my parents threw out or boxed up never to be seen again in their ruthless purges. I've also realized over time that I have very poor memories of events - so I try to keep at least a few objects that remind me of each period of my life and can trigger specific recollections.
posted by peacheater at 7:09 AM on May 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

I have maybe one-tenth of the stuff I had ten years ago, and right now I can't think of anything I regret purging. In fact, I wish I could get rid of more. But your question reminded me that during one purge I bought a lovely CD storage case, shucked a lot of CDs out of their cases and carefully filed the CD and the inner sleeves into the storage case, thinking I'd keep them forever. Of course, I barely ever look at the CDs in the case and wish I'd made the call back then to chuck, sell or donate them. To get rid of them now, I'd have to either dump them all in the bin OR hunt down new/used storage cases, put them all back into the cases, take them down to the - ugh, I'm tired and bored just typing about it. tl;dr: any DVDs that you don't get pleasure from seeing on your shelf/rewatch regularly, it might be better to ditch.
posted by trotzdem_kunst at 7:11 AM on May 24, 2016 [9 favorites]

As a fellow keeper-of-things-that-may-be-useful, not having the supplies at hand to make or at least test creative fixes is occasionally frustrating. I've outsourced a lot of the stashes into participation in lending libraries and a community bike workshop but I do still sometimes feel pangs of "that doohickey would have been perfect!" Of course, it's entirely possible I'm romanticizing my doohickies and they wouldn't have actually worked, and the other 95% of the time I'm much happier not dealing with them day in and day out.

It does make receiving gifts more fraught, because there can be a sense of burden if it's not an item you actually wish to possess. I've been working on that for a while. It was easier to just politely tuck things away.
posted by teremala at 7:21 AM on May 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

A year ago I worked myself into a panic thinking that I had purged a particular book (sheet music for my one of my favorite albums, which is Japanese and could be replaced at considerable time and expense.) Since then I've told myself that it's all right to keep something I'm on the fence about if it means something to me beyond its immediate usefulness, and if it would be impossible (or merely difficult and expensive) to replace.

Still, though, I have WAY more books than KonMari would approve of.
posted by Jeanne at 7:22 AM on May 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Generally speaking: NOPE.

I will occasionally slightly regret getting rid of something, usually an article of clothing or some kind of art/craft supply. But I miss the clothing in the same way that I occasionally miss clothing that I've worn out or gotten too big/small for; I don't consider losing clothing a tragedy because it wasn't going to stick around forever anyway. As for art supplies, there are always more art supplies.

In just about every instance, the regret happens a long time after the purge, and it's minor and fleeting. Five minutes of regret is better than five years of keeping something you neither want nor need.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:22 AM on May 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

The only regret I have whenever I've decluttered is that the space I see that makes me so happy takes about three weeks to be filled with brand-new stuff.
posted by xingcat at 7:23 AM on May 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

I had to get rid of a lot of stuff before a big move a few years ago, and I still regret selling off the graphic novels I had. That's the only thing.
posted by neushoorn at 7:25 AM on May 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Stuff I have regretted:

1. Vintage things that have disappeared off the market. I can still see this beautiful fifties sweater in aqua wool with intricate white beading, for instance.

2. What I think of as archival stuff - I lost a big crate of nineties comics and zines in a move about ten years ago and I still regret it. I regret getting rid of some political posters and paper ephemera.

3. Comics collections - it can be harder to replace those than you think. In that same move, I somehow lost a box with all my collected Love and Rockets from the nineties, and some of those individual books are hard to find/expensive now. Plus, honestly, I bought them already, paying for them again is annoying.

4. Small press and rare books; out of print books. It's easy to say that everything is available online but that's not true. I have a bunch of sixties/seventies/eighties small press left and science fiction stuff, for instance, and when I've lost that kind of thing, I really haven't always been able to replace it.

5. Decent furniture, good-quality kitchen stuff. Things like that are getting more expensive and lower-quality. Unless it's stuff like a patent plastic egg-slicer, I would rather carry around spare kitchen stuff in a box so that I still have it later.

Things that are neither here nor there:

I still have most of my CDs but got rid of the cases and wish I hadn't. I have found that getting rid of the cases has meant that I listen to them way less because it's more of a chore to keep them organized in books. Before you get rid of the cases, make sure that you are going to still listen to them if you have to rustle around with a bunch of spindles and books just to find the one you want. I mean really, I almost might as well have gotten rid of the CDs themselves, because the act of looking at them was a prompt for me to listen to music.
posted by Frowner at 7:37 AM on May 24, 2016 [12 favorites]

Maybe once or twice a year I think about some object I had and mildly wish I still had it. And then promptly forget about it again.

Maybe three or four times a week I relish how easy it is to keep my house neat. Everything has a place! It's easy to get the things in their places!

Pretty much every day I'm glad that there isn't a whole lot of stuff I don't need getting between me and the things I do need.
posted by mcduff at 7:39 AM on May 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

I regret tossing thoughtful, rare or handmade gifts – letters – unlikely nodes of my book collection – vintage art supplies – a few strange furniture items – and a heavy red leather moto jacket that didn't fit me but I miss to pieces anyway.

Still, I'm grateful for the quiet poetics of space.

Photograph, scan, list, give to friends and be free.
posted by fritillary at 7:54 AM on May 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

My family has minor hoarding tendencies (not bad enough for the TV show, but bad enough to fill up most of my parents' garage and all of our closets with boxes of stuff), and I've been tackling that behavior in myself for the past five or six years. I still have quite a bit of stuff, but it's maybe 20% of what I had a decade ago, and most of what I still have is of nostalgic importance to me.

I wouldn't say I regret getting rid of anything. I'll have a twinge now and then where I'll need a specific doohicky, and I'll remember that I used to have one and was hanging onto it because I might need it someday, and then I chucked it at some point while decluttering. But it's usually something fairly common like a craft supply or a charging cord that can be replaced if necessary.

One thing that's helped is selling anything of value. My part of the garage hoard was mostly old toys; I pulled out my favorites and started eBaying the rest. It's been tedious, but I'm a lot less likely to miss Princess Floofy the My Little Pony if she deposits an extra $50 in my bank account on her way out the door.

If you're concerned about regrets, I suggest decluttering in stages. Get rid of the stuff with little to no meaning first. Then start over and see what else can go. I'm getting rid of stuff now that you would have had to pry from my cold, dead hands a few years ago. It gets so much easier.
posted by QuickedWeen at 8:03 AM on May 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

I've become increasingly minimalist for about 10-15 years now.* I don't regret any of the decluttering I've done, but I do wish I had kept a record of all the books I've given away over the years. I still have a lot of books but I used to have sooooo many more, and while I don't miss those I no longer own, the organizing-obsessed part of me wishes I knew the name of every book I've ever read.

Advice - declutter in a smart, methodical way. Take your time. I suppose the Kondo method works for some, but to my mind, if you just start throwing stuff away without addressing the underlying reasons why you acquired the stuff in the first place, you'll be back to owning too much stuff again in a year. Also, if you're careful about your decluttering, you won't regret not having any of those items because there will be a good reason why it's gone. Occasionally I'll think "Do I still have that blue skirt? I wish I had it." And then I'll realize "Oh yeah, I gave that away because it always turned itself around awkwardly when I walked, and it couldn't be fixed, so I'm better off without it." And then I can evaluate whether a new blue skirt would really fit into my wardrobe now, whether I really need something like that, whether it's worth giving away some other clothing item so that I can add a new skirt without accumulating more excess stuff, and so on.

*Increasingly minimalist with the major exception that I went from renting small (sometimes super small) apartments my entire adult life to owning a house (and not a tiny house.) So now I own furniture. (Shock, horror.) This is weird and while I'm enjoying it for now, I feel like I might regret it someday.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 8:04 AM on May 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

I've done massive purging over the last 2 years. I used the 20 minutes/$20 rule: if it can be replaced in less than 20 minutes for less than $20 (ie, easily findable via, say, Amazon), it goes. This got rid of a lot of the "extras" I was saving "just in case" - many of which were hand-me-downs or cheap things I furnished my first apartments with.

I went through boxes of childhood letters, cards, school projects (thanks, Mom) and whittled 10 or so boxes into one small box of memories. It was a lot of fun to go through, but most of it didn't need to stick around. I'm glad I saved my childhood diaries (however awkward) and photos, but most of the other paper went in the trash.

I'm a book hoarder, but I've become more realistic about what I'll (re)read, and donated several hundred to the local library. Many of my books are currently in storage (I'm in the midst of combining households), and I find myself wishing I could refer to some that I did save - but know if I really, really wanted to, the local library has nearly everything.

It's certainly been a mindshift, and there have been moments of, "Oh, the whisk broke, I used to have an extra in the basement, but now I'll have to go to Target"- but overall, I'm much happier with less stuff. (And, changing my consumption habits has freed up more money for experiences - concerts, museums, trips, etc.)
posted by writermcwriterson at 8:04 AM on May 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

Frowner's list (which you've marked as best answer) tracks my experience with purging my possessions.

Things I keep:
1. One of a kind, vintage or handmade articles, I very much try not to give away. (We're currently undergoing an aggressive purge related to killing a clothes moth infestation and I struggled for a few moments before refusing to give up the steamer trunk full of family wedding dresses I have. There's no-one to inherit them and when I'm old and closer to dying, I may finally rid myself of them but for now I'll keep them),

2. High quality things even if I rarely use them that maintain utility (some kitchen implements, some serving pieces, a lovely wing chair in the guest room that mostly the cat sleeps on).

3. Comics, small press, books with my Dad's notes in the margins, my box of concert ticket stubs.

The things I never regret giving away are (1) clothes (non vintage, one of kind), (2) mass market modern books, (3) the extra whatever I'm keeping [things like power strips or silverware or winter scarves] which are readily available and well within my means to replace in the unlikely event I find myself in want of yet another fork, (4) linens, towels, napkins beyond having two full spare sets, (5) non-special ephemera (Christmas cards with no note in them, even those ones that are specially printed pictures of someone else's kids; programs from plays or operas; matchbooks--even though restaurants don't give them away anymore), (6) impulse purchases that I regret every time I see again, (7) dead technology and their boxes and manuals, (8) those fine boxes or really good packing materials that are just annoying to store and I will probably never need, (9) photographs of people I knew in grade school and have never heard from again or photographs in which everyone looks terrible (especially when there are others from the same occasion which are more flattering), (10) nostalgic momentos from failed relationships in my teens and 20s.

I think taking it very slowly is fine. Pick a room or a closet, put everything in that room or closet you don't really want to keep into a box. Put that box in the garage or basement or somewhere out of the way for a month or more. Go back, without ever opening the box, try to picture each thing in the box and try to picture yourself using it and realize you've forgotten what's in the box or you can't recall yourself using it more recently than several years ago. Give the box away.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:13 AM on May 24, 2016 [7 favorites]

There are moments of regret based on how sentimental I was about the thing in the first place, not gonna lie, but they are FAR outweighed by the peace and calm and lightness of not being weighed down by junk.

There are no scary junky secret garbagey cluttered stressful critter-attracting drawers, closets, or boxes in my home and psychologically that is a LOT more meaningful to me than a book I could download or repurchase if I truly wanted to read it.

Bins of parts you "might" need-- how many times in your life have you needed those? And was it such an emergency or expense that you couldn't buy it in a pinch? I had tons of stuff I might need to "fix" or "make" jewelry but had to remind myself I hadn't done so in 10 years. Kept some especially unique beloved items, but if I ever get in the habit again I'll seek out new stuff.

Old chargers, etc., can be donated. I feel GREAT about everything I've ever donated. Don't underestimate the psychological boost of making a little money off stuff you can sell, or donating to those in need.

And so, stuff you cannot sell, donate, and has no meaning to you? What is that? That, my friend, is trash.
posted by kapers at 8:15 AM on May 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

I've never regretted getting rid of anything I made a conscious decision to get rid of, even if the decision was difficult. I did once, however, throw out a box without looking at its contents and realized later that that box contained a picture of my dad as a kid that was beyond precious to me. I regret that mightily.

I say declutter ruthlessly but make sure you go through everything individually.
posted by Brain Sturgeon at 8:17 AM on May 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

The things I've most personally regretted getting rid of are vintage things. Particularly a bunch of IBM Model M keyboards and old telephones, some of which I'd refurbished. They used to be plentiful in thrift stores and yard sales, so I'd give them out to people who wanted them, but they've since become collectible, and I realized that the people who asked for them didn't really understand what they were, and treated them like they were disposable. I wish I'd kept at least most of those things, or at least sold them to people who appreciated them.

I also had a very traumatic experience with someone stealing and selling most of my vinyl albums when I was young, so I never ever dispose of CDs or cases or anything. I convert it all to digital and mostly listen to it from my media server, but I keep the physical media in storage. It takes up some space, but it's out of the way and not cluttery.

I've also had some things, like good quality drafting stuff and various other tools, that I rarely use now but prefer to keep around, because on the rare occasions I do need something, I can't really justify buying a whole new one. That's a really weird category, I guess, but it comes up fairly often for me.

I almost never regret getting rid of clothes or shoes that I'm not currently using (many people do, though), or easily replaced gee gaws, especially ones that aren't particularly well made. This includes most kitchen stuff, appliances, and things like that. And I try not to have too many cables and stuff. Maybe one of each common type, and a few weird ones as backup if they're something I use, but giant boxes o' random cables actually make it harder for me to find what I need.
posted by ernielundquist at 8:21 AM on May 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

I declutter and donate pretty regularly, and I definitely regret a lot of stuff I've given away. I don't think I've often accidentally donated anything sentimental or valuable (Frowner's list of regrets is close to my own) - but I have donated usable household items and clothing, and later wished I hadn't.

The reason is this: If I donate something, I can't just go buy a replacement if it turns out I was wrong. We don't have that kind of money. If we give something away, it's likely gone forever. If that's not a problem for you, great. It's something to think about, though.
posted by Coatlicue at 8:24 AM on May 24, 2016

I agree with everyone who says that your degree of ruthlessness should vary with the replaceability of the object in question. I've lived in small city apartments most of my adult life, which puts steady pressure on my stuff-collecting habits (and a very clear price tag, if I were to overflow and need to rent storage). You are, indeed, occasionally going to wish you had something you tossed, but if you are more careful about throwing away more personal/irreplaceable items, it's much less likely to be a catastrophic regret and much more an inconvenience.

So keep the handmade items, the personal letters, the ephemera from your trips; ditch the clothes that don't fit anymore (unless they're expensive and your weight fluctuates), the books you've have for years and haven't read, the random electrical crap in your junk drawer that you can't even identify what it goes with.
posted by praemunire at 8:37 AM on May 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

The only thing I regret throwing away was a family heirloom I tossed in anger (there's a story, but I won't bore you with it.)

Have never, ever regretted getting rid of purchased (as opposed to handmade by my grandma) clothes, books, electronics, anything replaceable. In fact, recently I lost quite a bit of weight, and opened a box of clothes that I had put away in case I ever did fit into them... HA, what a bunch of unwearable junk! I swear there were like 5 pairs of 90s Gap khakis. How long had I been lugging them around?!
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:54 AM on May 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've not regretted getting rid of anything where the decision hinged on utility (where you force yourself to move past "is this useful?" and face the truth of "will I use it?"). I have, however, regretted letting go of a few things of sentimental value. Probably the best example would be the hand-sewn sleeping bag that my mom made for me when I was about 3 years old. I convinced myself that I would just cut out a swatch of the fabric and keep that, in the days when everyone was advising to just take pictures of big bulky memorabilia and get rid of the memorabilia itself.

Almost as soon as it was gone I wished I'd gotten rid of 5 less-meaningful mass produced fleece throw blankets and kept the less-practical sleeping bag. Now every time I look at that swath of fabric it fills me not with warm memories but with guilt and regret.
posted by drlith at 8:57 AM on May 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

I've come full circle a handful of times now, from moving to a new state with what would fit in my car, through accumulating far too much stuff, dropping back down to what would fit in my car, accumulating too much stuff, having half of it destroyed in a flood...

I'm back in the "too much stuff" part of the cycle, and I just moved, and it has been a pain in the ass. Not infrequently, I miss the way my apartment was "furnished" a few years back: Bedroll, a couple of pans, clock radio, backpack. My SO is moving in soon, and in combining our households there is going to be a lot of random crap that makes its way to the thrift store or the landfill.

On reflection, though, I'm not in a huge hurry to offload the bulk of my stuff until it's necessary. Of things without much personal emotional significance, I have camping gear, tools, electronics, cooking gear, bikes, books, records, kitchen gear — what's going to happen if I get rid of all that stuff? I'll spend time and money buying it again is what. How many times in one life should I really need to acquire a socket set or a cast iron pan or a decent shovel?

That said, like others in this thread, the only things I really regret having given up or lost in the past (as opposed to things where I'm like "god dammit, I had one of these ten years ago, why am I paying for it all over") are letters, photos, family documents, etc. That and every time I get rid of a cable or a drive or whatever, I discover a month or a year later that I need it for something.
posted by brennen at 9:09 AM on May 24, 2016

Having just completed the Son Of Forced Decluttering Event, I can tell you one thing right now: Get rid of that bin of computer parts. It's all junk.

Take the easy win and save your energy for the items of sentimental value (e.g. your childhood toys that you saved for your offspring that they have now outgrown. *snif*)
posted by whuppy at 9:12 AM on May 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

This was asked before. The conclusion I remember from that thread is that people were most likely to miss books. You might look in the archives to read it for yourself.
posted by salvia at 9:24 AM on May 24, 2016

I see that you've marked an answer that references "archival stuff". I'll say the same thing here I said to a past question about how someone should store their old Omni magazines: with most things, I urge you not to get into an "archival" mindset. Unless you somehow have an archival institution already lined up that you know for sure is going to want your collection. Who would you be "archiving" e.g. 1990s zines, comics, or paper ephemera for? Who do they land on after you're dead, and do those people want to deal with it? Are you just pushing downstream the time when someone's going to have to make the decision to let the stuff go?

With the Omni magazines, I encouraged the person to keep them in the living room, read them, enjoy them, if they're still relevant and enjoyable. If not, have fond memories of them, and let them go. Don't cast yourself as an amateur archive; that mostly just enables clutter by giving it a high-minded excuse.
posted by theatro at 9:28 AM on May 24, 2016 [13 favorites]

No. I have a stranger-than-average life situation, but I literally own a hiking backpack worth of stuff and miss virtually none of the rest. It was sometimes hard to let go of things, mostly my favorite books, and I sometimes miss the more rare/truly cool things I let go of, but life is part regret and a ton of joy.
posted by Jacen at 9:38 AM on May 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Doing it myself. No regrets. There are so many things to read, watch, play, listen to, etc. that the things I was collecting was never read, watched, played or listened to if it weren't immediately available. If you put the stuff that you are considering a purge of into a box, put it in a corner with a date on it, see how often you actually go into the box to look at the stuff. If you don't go in there within whatever designated time you give yourself, it is time to give it to someone else who may be able to enjoy it.

I say to myself "when I die, this will be garbage...let me not make someone have to throw this stuff out when I am gone." which makes me feel better if I give it all to someone who can use it now.
posted by Yellow at 9:50 AM on May 24, 2016

Another way to look at it is that regret about getting rid of something is part of the prices of learning about what is valuable to you. I've regretted donating things in the past, which gives me a better idea what sort of stuff I should hang onto now. Go slow, go in the order London suggests.

I also sold a bunch of stuff and looked at that money as a fund for repurchasing things if I got rid of too much. So far, it hasn't been an issue and I've continued to shed some stuff post KM.
posted by momus_window at 9:51 AM on May 24, 2016

I've decluttered quite a bit through various moves, and I've also been robbed. Here are some random thoughts:

1. Remember there's a LOT of info available online nowadays. You do not need to keep old magazines and newspapers unless there's some sentimental or true historic value (like a presidential assassination, 9/11, etc.) I promise there's a backup copy of it online. Recycle them.

2. You don't need to keep gadgets and chargers and accessories for products you don't own anymore. Chances are no one you know owns them, either. Donate them.

3. If you don't enjoy wearing it, can't fit into it, or have multiple versions of it, donate it. Who needs eight black t-shirts, five khaki pants, three white tennis shoes, etc.?

4. Unless it's rare, very well-made, antique, or sentimental, you can probably get rid of books you haven't read, kitchen gadgets you don't use much, furniture, knicknacks, etc. Donate them.

5. My cautionary tale: Back in the 90s I got robbed, and the jackasses stole my computer, my DVDs, my CDs, my diskettes and my backup diskettes. I lost everything. Now I stream most things, and for data, I use the cloud for backup religiously. And I've also learned not to put my treasure in things here on earth (speaking "religiously," heh heh).

Hope some of that was helpful.
posted by jhope71 at 10:06 AM on May 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

My guiding principle for decluttering is what William Morris said: Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.

I don't have a lot of giveaway regrets. If it's a) not useful, b) not beautiful, or c) isn't a particularly sentimental item, it's usually pretty easy for me to part with it, especially if its function is easily replaced with something the same or better for nominal cost.

That said, here are my "not useful/beautiful" pitfalls and how I have dealt with it:

- A particularly nice item that I just do not need or want or use, but simply donating it seems wasteful somehow. It's the "but I could probably sell this" trap. Solution: Asking myself, "You COULD, but will you? Is the time and energy you'd spend gathering this stuff to sell worth the $20 you might get?" The answer is usually no, which makes it easier to part with.

- Souvenirs or gifts (especially handmade) that are hard or impossible to replace AND hard to display or use. Example: orange and white lap blanket lovingly crocheted by my mom, but made of scratchy acrylic yarn and matches none of my stuff. Solution: Decide first if getting rid of an unwanted item is worth the emotional cost. For me, scratchy or no, giving away one small lap blanket in the name of minimalism is NOT worth the look on my mother's face if she finds out I chucked it. If you're keeping it, figure out a way to use or display it or store it away properly.

- Paper correspondence and ephemera. I like to hang onto some cool little flyers and ticket stubs and old letters, but without a plan for it, this stuff can really stack up. Solution: Find a storage container or method that best suits the kinds of things you usually accumulate. For small paper bits, I like a Smash Book. For letters and cards, maybe a nice letter-sized box. Keep what makes you happy. But (and this is important), do NOT leave room for your collection to grow. That letter box is that letter box FOREVER, and if you're starting to run out of space in that box, it's probably time to prune your stash.

- Gorgeous old books or small run books. Honestly...I don't have a solution to this except be choosy about what you accumulate in the first place. Because books are HEAVY and tend to stick around once they're there.

Good luck!
posted by helloimjennsco at 11:13 AM on May 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think you are underestimating how much of your time is being consumed by having a mountain of crap. What are some things you would like to do with your life that aren't happening because you do not have the time and/or money? Do you really enjoy your things that much?

When my sons were encouraged to sell a bunch of their video games because we were moving to a smaller space, my oldest cried about only one game. I told him he could keep that one game and the system it ran on and he opted to let it go. Then they had money for new games and they realized most games did not have much replay value. They really got into trading games in and got a lot pickier about which games they held onto. They had been holding onto games out of a poverty mentality of "What if I don't have money for games and I am bored?" Then they learned selling their old games could help finance new ones.

And then, also, when they took over the cleaning, they became a lot more ruthless. Dusting something over and over that they hardly ever used made it clear there was a cost to keeping things. If you do not get more value out of it than it costs you to keep it, it isn't worth it.

Our quality of life went up dramatically after that. We don't spend all our time cleaning, reshuffling our crap, etc. We have more time to have a life. Our lives are no longer being consumed by things.

Life is so much better this way that any momentary pangs of "I wish I still had that photo" just really don't cut deep.
posted by Michele in California at 11:16 AM on May 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

I purged an entire 4 bedroom house to move into a loft 8 years ago. No regrets. Everything cool or valuable that I couldn't fit in the loft was sold or given to friends. Extraneous crap was donated.

I sold pretty much everything else 4 years ago to go backpacking around the world for several years. No regrets.

What I kept:

My favorite books and clothes, antique clothing and furniture that is irreplaceable, camping stuff, tools, and a small selection of sentimental objects.

Kitchen stuff - this all lives at a friend's house now, they use it all the time, and it's there for me if I ever decide to reclaim it.

I put my movies and music onto an external hard drive that gets backed up and replaced yearly. But honestly, I don't even use them much -- with Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, Pandora, and streaming from Amazon prime, there's not a huge reason to horde this stuff unless it's super rare. The most use this gets is when I'm on a long road trip and grab some stuff to listen to offline in the car.

Ultimately, it's just stuff. Now that I've lived without so much of it, it doesn't really have the same hold on me that it used to. I like my life a lot better now :)
posted by ananci at 11:25 AM on May 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

I just did a minor purge of about three dozen books that I admitted I was never going to read. Some I gave to friends, some I donated to my local public library, where they were received with joy, and some I left out in a book swap corner, where I got great satisfaction observing people going through and taking them all by the end of the day.

Books I'll always hang onto: personal favorites, two special different particular collection that I've been building for years, and books related to my occupation. Books on the chopping block: anything that's been in the "to be read pile" for more than two years and books on the shelf that I either never actually read or never actually liked. And after a fascinating survey on FB, I did decide to hang onto a couple of hardcover dictionaries/encyclopedias, but those are more for sentimental reasons.

So: think about the gifts you're making available to other people when you give up some of your media goods, in particular. (I imagine the same might be true of clothing in good condition that you can donate, especially stuff like winter gear). These actions help fend off any regret I might otherwise feel.
posted by TwoStride at 11:44 AM on May 24, 2016

You can feel a pang of regret or a wistful "man I wish I still had that cardigan it would work way better for this outfit" even when the decision to get rid of it was still the right one. The moments of regret feel sharper and thus more important, but all the other moments of calm and clarity you get from decluttering add up to a much greater impact on your life, IMO.

To directly answer the question, yes I have regretted getting rid of things. For the most part, though, I can't even remember today specifically what those things were. Typically it's something like a bike part, a piece of clothing that would work for a DIY halloween costume, etc. I do have a couple boxes of sentimental stuff that I hang on to no matter what.
posted by misskaz at 1:56 PM on May 24, 2016

In re the archival stuff - it's things that I do actually refer to for various projects, and anticipate referring to going forward. It's not "archival" in any larger sense, but I collect (for example) obscure small press SF stuff, and I use it for teaching and other purposes. Activist ephemera, the same. It's not stuff that I am necessarily going to read or look at for pleasure; it's reference material.

It's worth considering how much pleasure stuff gives you. Stuff gives me a lot of pleasure. I'm a fairly tactile person, and I get a lot of happiness from, eg, a couple of velvet pillows or an unusual clay plate. I also really like to look at some stuff - I have some family art and oddments that I like having because I like to lie in bed and contemplate the world and idly trace them over with my eyes. I'm an introvert and I enjoy being in my room surrounded by my familiar things. I'm particular about color, and I'm happy that I've managed to acquire curtains in a particular blue pattern. That is, I experience my stuff. Everyone is always "oh, put your money into experiences and not stuff", but I have experiences when I touch or use or look at things that are important to me. Those are experiences. (What else would they be? Hallucinations? Prose? Sausages?)

I mean, this whole "stuff can't bring you joy" narrative has always seemed sort of weird to me. Humans have made stuff forever, much of it for the sheer pleasure of creating something and then looking at it or using it. It seems weird to be fascinated by skilled craftspeople - as the internet so often is - because they "make rather than have" while thinking that wanting to use the products of the skilled craftspeople is a sign of false consciousness. Surely the skilled craftspeople are more purveyors of spiritual pollution than anything else, right?

I mean, again, your mileage may vary - but if you get real, day to day pleasure out of "experiencing" your stuff, don't deep six it on the theory that more "authentic" experiences will be had when you clear your shelves.
posted by Frowner at 2:32 PM on May 24, 2016 [10 favorites]

Recently donated half our book collection. When tossing them in boxes, a photograph of my grandfather & I (circa 1965!) fell out in front of me. What a blessing.

Flip thru your books before letting them go, who knows what bookmarks are in there.
posted by artdrectr at 4:48 PM on May 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

For those who've gone before, any regrets?

Zero. Best thing I ever did for myself. Go forth and simplify.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:41 PM on May 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

My husband and I have moved a lot - at least every year - for the past....six years? Sometimes by choice, sometimes not; across the Pacific twice. We have 2 cats and a 1.5 yr old.

ZERO regrets. Between my "tiny house" (aka apartment) and the constant weeding... well, it took me maybe half an hour to clean the whole house this morning. Awesome. I love constantly using, seeing, and being around the stuff I really love. I love that our bookshelves are filled with photo albums and unusual art books that can't be found at the library. I love that my kid isn't overwhelmed with stuff and it can be picked up in a few minutes. Other things we keep? Letters, hobby-related materials, an heirloom quilt of my great-grandmother's that desperately needs repairs. It's really about being intentional with what you have. Lots of great advice above.

The only thing I kinda regret is a pair of earrings I lost some time ago - I think sold in a yard sale. Cheap, but they looked really good on me.
posted by jrobin276 at 7:16 PM on May 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

Goodwill will store these things for you for a small fee.
posted by k8t at 7:26 PM on May 24, 2016

I had it done to me by a genuinely evil person; he ended up with everything I had accumulated for fifty-odd years -- family memorabilia, antique woodworking tools, books -- just everything I owned. I left town more-or-less homeless and ended up in Southeast Arizona, where I'm gradually accumulating things, just high-quality essential household stuff. I'm off the grid living in a paid-for cabin out in the desert, no running water, but I rarely think about any of the stuff I once owned. Internet access is my one bill. I pretend (half in jest) that it was a fire or flood which swept away my possessions. The end result was the same.
posted by Agave at 7:28 PM on May 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm trying to purge... So far the only thing I can't give up is the covers and booklets from my old CDs. I miss liner notes!
posted by bendy at 1:08 AM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

If I'm thinking of getting rid of a book that I might want back, I check Amazon. If they have it for $0.01 + $3.99 shipping, then it won't be an expensive or irreversible mistake, if I decide it was a mistake. I have repurchased a few books this way, but not many. But it is reassuring knowing that the book isn't gone forever if I do change my mind.
posted by Anne Neville at 5:09 AM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you have Half Price Books near you, they will buy any book. Yes, that includes textbooks from the 90's (at least for the ones here in Pittsburgh). If you can't bring yourself to throw away books, that might be a good solution.
posted by Anne Neville at 5:42 AM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

I love books and tend to own too many, so I made it a rule to borrow books I would only read once and donate something that I loved, with the thought that someone else could enjoy it more. I keep books I have strong physical attachments to - books I read over and over, or that I feel I need to touch the paper and turn the pages. I don't feel the same way about every book.

Regarding clothes, if I haven't worn it in awhile and don't see myself putting it on next week (doesn't fit, feels too revealing, it's nice but not my style, its too uncomfortable, i bought it for a rare and totally unlikely occasion) I donate or resell it. Or give it away to a friend.

For mementos, I decided on a box and told myself I had to fit everything in there. that won't work for everyone. I turned a sketchbook/journal into a scrapbook. Things that I really want to keep, I might paste in there or scan/take a photo of something and write down notes next to it. I like to go back and see what i wrote about something a few years ago, and add a new thought. I keep mementos like the hairbrush of my childhood dog, because the wood smells nice and it brings back memories to hold the handle. And I loved that dog like hell. I scan in paper that I like to look at, but I hold onto things that provide a real tactile pleasure. It's sometimes hard to discern the two, but for me, there's a real difference. I'm a writer type person, so describing things is sometimes enough. Describing the tactile experience and keeping a photo of an object helps me stay connected to things and hold onto the memory without having to keep the object. In some ways it helps me feel lighter, less tied to physical needs.
posted by mmmleaf at 10:51 AM on May 25, 2016

Maybe I'm unusually unsentimental, but I have never regretting getting rid of stuff. I've used Amazon gift cards to replace physical books I want to keep with ebook equivalents.
posted by danb at 9:52 AM on May 28, 2016

Nope, no regrets. I went through a big purge when I was laid off six years ago and have been working on the basement again... I took pictures of a few things, but even then I don't go back to look at them.
posted by Calzephyr at 2:41 PM on May 28, 2016

I haven't regretted it for a moment. I have got rid of, honestly, about 80% of the stuff I once owned, and still feel like I have too much.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:29 PM on May 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

We moved from a 2400+ sq ft house to a 600 sq ft apartment, more or less.

I had a 200 sq ft wood shop, and that had to go, so it went. I don't regret getting rid of anything else, but getting rid of still-useful tools I'd spent several thousand hours using, yeah, not a fan.

So if there's stuff you have that you've spent several thousand hours with, and it's still in active use, keep that. Otherwise, it's just stuff, and it's stuff that's taking up space both physical and mental. Get rid of it.
posted by talldean at 10:31 AM on May 31, 2016

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