Anyone had regrets about a massive decluttering of their lives?
May 28, 2008 1:16 PM   Subscribe

Anyone had regrets about a massive decluttering of their lives?

I want to seriously declutter my life in terms of the items I have in storage and those that sit unused around my home.

I have a lot of stuff. Electronics, iPods, comic books, books, DVDs, clothes, doodads, doohickeys, baubles, etc. all of which are unused in storage or just taking up space in my home. I’d like to declutter. I’ve researched it quite a bit and considered it for a while now.

I plan to do this through Goodwill, Freecycle and a good old-fashioned Yard Sale.

I think I’m ready.

However, I want to know from those who have gone through an extreme purging of stuff, do you have regrets? Is there stuff you wish that you would have kept? Did you go through a post decluttering depression? Did you turn around a buy more junk?
posted by studentbaker to Home & Garden (68 answers total) 72 users marked this as a favorite
I haven't ever done an extreme decluttering but the only things I've regretted removing from my life are books.

My rule with books is: if I plan to re-read it in the next five years, I keep it, otherwise I get it from the library.

My boyfriend has been known to chuck entire boxes of stuff without even looking at it saying that if he hasn't missed it in the _ months/years since he opened the box, he obviously doesn't need it. I'm not sure if I'm willing to be that extreme with my stuff, but I think he has a point.
posted by arnicae at 1:20 PM on May 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

I really, really wish I still had all the old toys my mom cleaned out of the basement when I was like 12.

Other than that, never.
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:27 PM on May 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I had the same experience just last month. I'm moving in with my partner, and like me, she has a lot of "stuff" - collectively we actually had so much stuff that the apartment we were going to move into would have been like Bender's apartment. Our university every year holds a rummage sale where all profits are donated to refugees who are sponsored, so we thought, what better place to get rid of stuff? It helped that the drop-off place was outside, and not up a flight of stairs too, but we ended up getting rid of about half of the things we each owned.

I basically went through and considered every item, and sold a few electronics on eBay (like my iPod Dock). I would stop and consider each piece in a process that went something like this:

1) Does it have significant sentimental value?
2) Would my memory of a time and a place that it represents suffice?
3) Does it have functional value (i.e. do I use it more than once a month)?
4) Would I be able to get by without it?

I'm an avid yard-saler, so even after having done all this I still frequent them and eye all the junk, but I've cast off my old ways, and I only ever snag something when it's an absolute must, or when I realize I can get it and make a sacrifice back home to compensate.

I think the decluttering process is great. It can even have psychological benefits, knowing that your life can be more mobile if the need arises, and moving can be MUCH less a pain. It's also nice to know what you have, rather than having a closet full of mystery boxes and things you stumble upon.
posted by tybeet at 1:29 PM on May 28, 2008 [3 favorites]

I regret throwing out letters from family.
posted by firstdrop at 1:35 PM on May 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

tip: don't get rid of *any* piece of electronics/gadgetry that you've entered information into unless you've made darn certain that you've removed all your personal information first. ID theft ain't fun.

As for a great decluttering - what I regret is not doing it recently.

In 2001 I was in a terrible relationship and it came down to me leaving stealthily in the middle of the night with only the clothes on my back, my car and whatever was in the trunk.

Sure, I missed having stuff, and I did regret leaving a large apartment that I furnished. I missed clothes, music, movies etc. Sure made moving into a new place easy though... Didn't take me long to stop feeling bad about my "stuff" either. I found that I didn't actually need most of it. It was definitely a liberation.

The only things I wished I'd been able to hold on to were a few keepsakes from my childhood.

If you want to do a great purge but have some sentimental attachments to things that you never use or look at but can't quite get rid of... that's fine. Give yourself a limit. Maybe it's one, two or five boxes. Leave them on the couch. Do your purge - tossing anything you want to keep into those boxes. Don't give yourself more boxes. After the purge, tape up the boxes and move them into the garage or attic. The further out of sight, the better. Someday you'll be able to part with most of it.
posted by terpia at 1:35 PM on May 28, 2008

Best answer: We did some pretty extreme decluttering last year before we moved - I bet we got rid of at least half of what we owned. I can't recommend it enough. I gave away "nicer" things to friends and relatives who wanted them, then we had a yard sale, anything usable left after that went to Big Sisters, and there were a couple of dumpster loads after that.

I haven't missed anything. I feel so much freer without all that stuff, and I'm much more conscious of feeling weighed down by things, so I'm less likely to accumulate new stuff. Before I buy anything, I think about where I'll store it, how I'll feel having to look at it every day, how I'll feel throwing it away unused in a year or two ... it really takes the joy of consumerism...

A couple of bonus side effects: my house is so much more relaxing, I don't know if it was just seeing the stuff that was a drag or what, but the house is a better place now; it's a lot easier to keep the house clean; and I really enjoy and use the things that I decided to keep.

I loved the book "Clear You Clutter with Feng Shui" - it's a little hokey sometimes, but I think the author describes the negative mental effects of clutter in a really true and motivating way.
posted by robinpME at 1:36 PM on May 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

I recently got rid of 90% of my old school work and it felt great. Yeah, it was kind of hard throwing all that stuff out but time heals all wounds and now I don’t even remember what I got rid of. The secret is that nothing is sacred…go through your “Keep” pile after a week or so and see if you really do need that old desktop or 8th grade science project. Wait a week and go through everything again. And maybe one more time after that for good measure.

All of that stuff was taking up residence in my parents basement so it didn’t have an immediate impact on my life but it does feel great to have only six boxes of stuff I really care about as opposed to 20 boxes of unfinished homework.
posted by Diskeater at 1:37 PM on May 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

When we remodelled our house we had to empty the attic as it was about to become living space. Like arnicae said, there was stuff in there in boxes that hadn't been touched since we'd moved in. My wife cried a little, but c'mon, if you haven't opened the box or considered its contents in five years you can't possibly need it. And like Burhanistan said, it was liberating to get rid of it. So no, no real regrets. I wish I had my Lionels and my Aurora slot cars, but they are long gone.
posted by fixedgear at 1:37 PM on May 28, 2008

Best answer: Decluttering is awesome. I've done it time and time again and it only gets better.

The piece of clutter most worth holding onto is a book, but only for the purpose of lending it out to someone who might read it and discuss it with you.
posted by Laugh_track at 1:43 PM on May 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

Some years back I had a forced recluttering when my apartment burned down and I lost a ton of stuff. I can honestly say I felt so unfettered and free by the experience it was akin to satori. "Everything is new" someone said to me afterward. Regrets? Not a twinge, but of course I really didnt have much choice in the matter.

That being said, I'm a packrat even today. I cleanse myself of extraneous stuff occasionally and most of it ends up recycled or in the landfill, but I still have boxes and boxes of books in storage, some of which I havent looked at in a decade. My books have always been the hardest thing for me to part with. I always think that they should go to someone who will read and hopefully appreciate them, so those always get donated to a local used bookstore etc. I always feel better about that.

But then again it feels like some sort of inspiration
To let the next life off the hook
But say "Look what I had to overcome from my last life"
I think Ill write a book
--Indigo Girls, Galileo

I cant ever throw away or destroy a book. Everything else is fair game.
posted by elendil71 at 1:43 PM on May 28, 2008

My wife is a huge reader. Probably fully half the mass of our various moves is books. She went through the de-cluttering process with books they she hadn't read forever. Donated them to a local branch library, where they would eventually re-sell them for a couple bucks, each.

She wound up dragging me to that library to visit "her books" for weeks.

That's the only time either of us has shown any regret in getting rid of stuff. In fact, we still have too much stuff. I'm at the point where before I even allow something in my house, I try and predict how useful it will be, and how much joy I will feel when I give it away. More often than not, the answers lead me to keeping it out of my space.

Try collecting experiences and memories, instead. If you're really fixated on stuff, reduce the stuff corresponding to the experience/memory to some small token that can trigger those times - instead of some giant, unwieldy, in-the-way memento.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 1:46 PM on May 28, 2008

Along the lines of terpia's experience, I once got on a plane with five suitcases and walked away from everything else I owned. It was a tremendously liberating experience. I managed to hang on to photos and a few irreplaceable sentimental items, but most stuff is just that, stuff, and you can always get more of it.
posted by ambrosia at 1:50 PM on May 28, 2008

My only regret is that I didn't have the guts to do it like arnicae's boyfriend, because I find going through all those boxes to be so utterly emotionally exhausting.
posted by HotToddy at 1:52 PM on May 28, 2008

Best answer: Conducting my own major decluttering of my life was one of the best choices I've ever made. I've never regretted it.

If there's anything you're worried about get a big box, put all the items you're undecided about in it and label it with a date a few months in the future. If you found you haven't needed/wanted them by that date then pitch them.

If there's anything you're holding on to for sentimental value, try and decide if taking a few high-quality digital shots would capture the feeling the item gives you. I did that with several things, uploaded them to my flikr account and now look at them more than when I actually possessed the item.

Not sure if anyone mentioned it yet, but Paperbackswap is a great place to get rid of your old books and get some new ones you might actually read. Just try and look at each book and honestly decide if you'll ever reread it or if it is unnecessary for reference (i.e. easily found on the interwebs).
posted by highfidelity at 1:53 PM on May 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Since moving to NYC 6 years ago, I've shed an enormous amount of stuff. In 2000, I was living in a 3 bedroom house with garage with my then boyfriend, and was a manager for Pier 1 imports. I had insane amounts of stuff- decorative doodads, furniture, books, media. Now I live in a 380 sq ft studio. And I've never been happier really. My only regret is in the haste of moving, I accidentally threw away a box that had my high school year books. But most everything else, I never give a second thought.

Part of my motivation was necessity. I simply wouldn't be able to function in my new apartment without scaling down in a big way. But I was able to keep most everything that had emotional value. I was able to let go of other things by realizing that they had served their purpose well for the 5, 10, or 15 years that I had had them, but that they weren't special and they weren't irreplaceable.

The nagging voice in my head would say "someday you may need this", but I had to keep reminding myself that by waiting for someday, my today would be very uncomfortable and frustrating in trying to negotiate all of my stuff.

I have bought more things... but they were things that help me get the most out of my small space (mostly storage stuff from Ikea).

One thing that helped me a lot... Bookmooch has been a lifesaver. I always have reading material moving into, and then back out of my life.
posted by kimdog at 1:55 PM on May 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Getting Things Done. That book explains in depth how this "stuff" can weigh us down psychologically. Apart from books, if you haven't used something in 6 months to a year you're probably not going to ever use it.
posted by fantasticninety at 1:55 PM on May 28, 2008

i'm a big fan of massive declutterings. especially the stuff that sits in storage--you will literally NEVER miss it.

i have accidentally given or thrown away some things i later realized i needed, but it was okay. i just replaced it and chalked it up to a learning experience. it made future declutterings easier, too.
posted by thinkingwoman at 2:04 PM on May 28, 2008

I've thrown out stuff before that I wish I still had. But on the whole, I think I have benefited more from the decluttering than I have lost.
posted by grouse at 2:05 PM on May 28, 2008

About 3 years ago, my wife and I moved into a place 2/3rds the size of our previous house. We pared down a lot of stuff in order to make that move, including big pieces of furniture we liked.

There were some trivial "oh, we shouldn't have gotten rid of that kitchen gadget" moments, but we are better off. The house is much easier to keep clean and organized. No regrets.
posted by adamrice at 2:08 PM on May 28, 2008

i've basically abandoned 80% of everything i owned... twice.

right now all i own are some clothes, a few small boxes of sentimental stuff, a few essential electronic items, and a few select books.

i really miss almost nothing. it's such a freeing feeling.
posted by wayward vagabond at 2:12 PM on May 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

I usually do two yearly clean-outs of my stuff (mostly clothes) and I try to be absolutely ruthless about it. I can be very sentimental though, and I've found as long as I have a picture of whatever I'm throwing out, I'm ok with it. I did this with a bunch of stuffed animals and dolls from childhood -- they weren't favourites but they were still things I wanted to remember, and I have a picture of the lot of them. I've never had to go back to the picture, but it's good security to know it's there and it's much easier to let go of things that way.
posted by pised at 2:15 PM on May 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'd like to add that a lot of the sentimentality we wrap up in objects is the fear that we'll lose the feeling that we associate with the object - a feeling of happiness, being loved, etc. If you look to the future for happiness and fulfillment, then it's a lot easier to let go of all the little knicknacks. And, as others have stated above, it feels liberating.

I've massively decluttered several times. The only things I've missed are kitchen gadgets, but that's only because I'm too cheap to replace them. The sentimental stuff never even crossed my mind after it was gone.
posted by reebear at 2:20 PM on May 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

Big fan of de-cluttering here.
No regrets at all.
And, no, I didn't slip back into it. Once everything is de-cluttered and there is a place for everything and it looks so neat and organized, you don't go back.

I seriously suggest watching "Clean Sweep" from TLC for some ideas and inspiration. Peter Walsh is a master of de-cluttering, especially when it comes to those sentimental items.
posted by NoraCharles at 2:26 PM on May 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

I usually declutter quite a bit when I move, but I did a major decluttering when I moved cross-country a few years ago. My husband and I must have gotten rid of at least 60% of our stuff.

Did not once regret it. It was weird while I was actually in the process of letting it all go, but that's it. It felt great, very freeing. I regretted giving away all of one item, and it was easily replaceable. Also, the other regret I have had since then is that we allowed ourselves to accumulate too much stuff since then. I'm eyeing a smilar, but not quite as cut-throat, decluttering session in the next couple of months, and really taking a harder line on what we buy from now on.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 2:27 PM on May 28, 2008

Wow, this thread is interesting, since I've got the same exact situation going on. But doesn't anyone regret decluttering? I like hearing both sides of issues, and in this case it's kind of a one-sided argument so far.
posted by mr. creosote at 2:35 PM on May 28, 2008

i'm guessing it's because very few who actually go through with it regret it.
posted by thinkingwoman at 2:42 PM on May 28, 2008

Sometimes I miss things I've given away.
I do 2x/year clothing exchange party where all the leftovers go to the Salvation Army.
Occasionally I stop and say to myself "Where's that f-ing purple shirt?" and then I remember I gave it away.
This happens about once or twice a year, so I think in the end it is still worth it to get rid of stuff.
When I miss an item, I go buy a similar replacement.
Which reminds me, I need to go get some olive and orange sneakers...
posted by rmless at 2:46 PM on May 28, 2008

There are a few sentimental things that I sort of miss -- letters from deceased family members, things like that. Maybe a total of a file box full, if they were recovered. But then again, not having those things hasn't caused me any trouble, and I don't think about it except when looking at a question like this.

And a few times I've cost myself money by getting rid of something that I ended up needing to buy again a month later. But that is maybe two or three times, and usually it's when I'm moving and decide not to bring something that turns out to be essential in the new place.

So no, I basically have zero regrets about any time I have decluttered. I've always done it as part of moving -- it might be a different process if you are decluttering while staying in one place. But it comes down to the sorts of questions like, If my apartment/house caught on fire, what three things would I bother taking outside with me? What (few) possessions are really adding value and beauty to my life? Which things am I reliant on to live my day-to-day life?
posted by Forktine at 2:47 PM on May 28, 2008

mr. creosote, I think I said there was an aspect of my decluttering I regretted. But still the benefits were even greater.
posted by grouse at 2:51 PM on May 28, 2008

I remember regretting getting rid of some things, but I don't remember what those things are, so there may be a slight mourning period that feels like regret.

I'm in a slow process of decluttering, and for personal reasons it's a pretty sad process, because it means the end of something special.

If there are regrets, it's usually over what could have been, that won't ever be. Not so much getting rid of stuff you're not using.
posted by lysdexic at 2:59 PM on May 28, 2008

While I haven't been able to accumulate enough stuff to require a major decluttering, I have definitely pared down gradually in the last year or so, and every time I sift through a corner of my house it feels great. It never feels "massive," but I usually end up with a trunk full to take for donation or a bunch of stuff for freecycle. If you have a lot of stuff, you may benefit from an initial major declutter of stuff you know you don't need followed by the gradual sifting through papers, mementos, photos, etc. I still have a lot of stuff -- but if I know that I use it, I don't feel guilty keeping it around and boxing it up to move it every few years since I am still young and moving a lot.

I recently gave away my first clarinet to a cousin who is just starting out in band. I'd played the thing for 12 solid years, but I had't really touched it since I graduated from college. It has a lot of good memories, but it felt better to give it to someone who is going to use it. That has probably been the most sentimental/significant thing I have gotten rid of so far.
posted by sararah at 3:07 PM on May 28, 2008

I am a huge fan of decluttering, but - as other posters have mentioned - I did regret getting rid of many of my books when I moved across the country (and have subsequently repurchased most of them.) For some reason, books don't count as "clutter" in my brain.
posted by restless_nomad at 3:11 PM on May 28, 2008

I regret chucking stuff out in a fit of pique following argument with old boyfriend. We're back to being friends now, and I sure wish I still had that Strokes tour t-shirt still.

So I guess chuck out the "stuff" - the CDs and ornaments. But that with sentimental value, try not to have the short term view. Mind you I hoard, and have all my cinema tickets for years in a shoe box on my wardrobe
posted by cluck at 3:15 PM on May 28, 2008

Yes, I regret some of the decluttering -- both the sentimental and the practical. I hate regrets, too, so this is doubly painful to me.

I am in the process of decluttering in preparation for a move across the country, and just went through an entire closet of memorabilia. I was so glad it was all there for me to wander around through, reading old letters, looking at old cards and pictures. I remembered people and events and places I'd forgotten, and it was just heaven. I didn't purge much of that at all, maybe 2%. That's fine with me.

I've saved all of my daughter's baby clothes (the ones that were favorites of mine) and I love seeing them again. I get all squishy inside. I've saved all my books, pretty much forever, and just looking at their spines ignites ideas, memories, feelings that I couldn't get by seeing someone else's copy, or going to a library. My old college books have my notes in the margins, a glimpse of what I thought about what I was reading way back then. Precious, precious. I have no desire to lose touch with that.

And I regret giving away a wine rack that would fit so nicely into a corner in my new house, and I am so glad that I didn't give away the black bed I had all through grad school and kept in storage for years, because now it looks perfect in the guest room with the beautiful Japanese print my mother just gave me.

Yep, stuff means a lot to me. Purging would be like ... cutting my hair. I also don't do that, because without my long, long hair, who would I be? Certainly not the Capri that I am today, and since I'm happy today, I don't see a reason to change.
posted by Capri at 3:57 PM on May 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yes! I moved from DC to San Francisco and gave away everything but two suitcases. Then, I lost my job in SF and moved back to DC. Now, I only own a mattress and my clothes and my friends won't give me my stuff back.
posted by parmanparman at 4:08 PM on May 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm in the process of a major declutter. I used to hoard books but recently sold or gaveaway 100s that I either hadn't read in years, had overread, or could access through the library, and the actual act was hard, but in the 6 months - year afterwards, I've not missed them. I did keep professional works that I still refer to and my Heinlein collection is going to my brother. I got rid of a quilt that I'd had since I was 9 that I never found visually appealling, it was just made up of scraps of fabric from my childhood. That was quite difficult, so I took photos of it first. I've not missed it, it'd been in storage anyway. I don' t have any knickknack/baubley type things, I threw them years ago and never missed them.

With an ipod, how many do you need? Isn't it the music (which presumably you have stored somewhere you can access it) that counts? I doubt you'd miss the ipod. Electrical stuff, natch. If you're not using it, you (I ) wouldn't miss it. Clothes - if you don't fit it now, or don't like to wear it now, you're never going to wear it again. Seriously. Styles come back, but not exactly the same. Toss it. DVDs? You know how it ends. If you need to watch it again, wait for it to come on TV or rent it for $2. We have about 20 DVDs and I can't remember any of us choosing to rewatch any of them.

I'm deliberately not buying junk. If I find something I really want, I leave it and come back to it in a week, if I remember. If I don't, yay, I win. I'm planning on travelling with my husband in a couple of years, and I don't want to have to pay to put a heap of stuff in storage, or cart it with us. So with that goal always in mind, it's been easy for both of us to say, "do you really want that?"

Do it. Seriously, it feels good. Any useless thing that you're holding on to for sentimental reasons, take a picture of it first. (of course, I haven't been able to apply that to my kids' few baby clothes that I'm still clinging to, so exceptions to every rule.)
posted by b33j at 4:22 PM on May 28, 2008

I lost nearly everthing I owned one time, and missed practically nothing, except Books (there seems to be a pattern, no?) and missed them bad. It took 8 years or so before I stopped reaching on the shelves for books that were not there, and 17 years later I still miss them on some level. I've always been attached to my books, and I can't bear to part with them now. I wonder if that might not have been slightly easier if I hadn't gone through that then. (and I could do with shedding a few -- I'm planning on moving half way round the world, and am will end up taking a 1000's of books with me).

That aside it most other ways the experience was liberating, not so much for the decluttering as for knowing that I was never tied down by things.
posted by tallus at 4:35 PM on May 28, 2008

Keep sentimental items in storage until you're really sure you want to get rid of them. You probably won't miss the other junk much, from my experience, unless you already "love" it. Remember, it's just stuff. If it never was that great, it probably will never be great. Make the other stuff you have feel special!

But, keep your camera - take tons of photos of everything!!
posted by belau at 5:05 PM on May 28, 2008

I'm moving to the other side of the continent and currently in the process of decluttering and weeding unnecessary stuff from my life. Getting rid of my books was hard, but I eventually parted ways with over 1,000. They're all available at the library or through Amazon for pennies, should I ever need any of them again (doubtful). It feels great to be rid of them because they took up an unbelievable amount of space and make relocating to a new home much more difficult.

I'm keeping some sentimental items, but I'm photographing the big, ugly, and/or I'm-only-keeping-it-because-I-feel-guilty-getting-rid-of-it items. There's no reason to have my grandmother's hideous, hefty rocking chair in the attic to be looked at every few years for a few moments. I can just look at a photo of the chair and reminisce.
posted by HotPatatta at 5:31 PM on May 28, 2008

I moved earlier this year and did a major decluttering, including getting rid of 75% of my books, all my furniture except my bed, and 90% of my clothes, plus metric tons of other crap I had accumulated in ten years.

The only regret I have is that I totally forget a First Edition of Lolita in one of the boxes of books I donated.

Other than that, my house is clean now, I'm more organized and much happier than I was before.
posted by trip and a half at 5:34 PM on May 28, 2008

forget s/b forgot
posted by trip and a half at 5:35 PM on May 28, 2008

I answered a similar question last year. Here's what I said in that post...

"I wanted to comment on books. Almost without fail when this topic comes up you will have many people tell you to get rid of your books. Well, from one who did that once to 'simplify', I can tell you to be very careful. I miss my books - in a bad way. I'm not suggesting you not get rid of the books either, just be sure you really, really don't want them. I think some of us need books around just like others need pets and some of us need both! For the bibliophile to think they will be happier with less "stuff" and include their books in the "stuff" it can be a very sad experience. What I wouldn't give to have so many of my books back. Some don't even show up in a Bookfinder search! Just be careful. For me, I don't know if it was the glue, the paper, a mixture, whatever - but I realize there was a comforting smell to my domain that WAS my books! I miss seeing the books lined up on bookshelves, miss spotting the spine of a certain favorite, I miss the company of my books. I know, it sounds crazy. So, get rid of your books if you feel you must - but remember me - and give it a lot of thought if you are a true book lover."

Good luck!
posted by Gerard Sorme at 6:31 PM on May 28, 2008

If you do opt to take photos of stuff, make sure to print the photos out and organize them in albums, or they too become clutter.

I have regretted tossing out my bad teenage poetry and artwork because I have since realized my future children would be interested in that stuff. I have regretted getting rid of books and cds. Not much else, though. Actually, this question reminds me that I should do a big declutter soon.
posted by arcticwoman at 6:44 PM on May 28, 2008

I once really regretted giving a bunch of books and dolls to a cousin. But that had as much to do with the fact that I was a) about 1-2 years a little young to give them away (I thought I should, but I think in a year or so I would have felt better about it) and a much bigger b) she treated them terribly. She destroyed the books, threw the dolls around naked. I wasn't a perfect kid by any means, but I knew all the names of my 33 dolls which were lined up on my bed, and kissed them goodnight. I actually ended up taking back some of the dolls, as there were some I decided were too precious. (Now my neice plays with them, and she is nice to them). I think I would have been much happier with giving them away a bit later, and to someone who would have taken care of them (or perhaps somewhere I would never see them get hurt).

That said, this was all when I was about 10 or 12, so things have changed a lot. And I've had to move and store my own stuff, which really puts things in perspective. I've decluttered by necessity several times since then (moving transatlantically, limited storage), and I've discovered that it is as freeing as it is sometimes painful. Now I just try to avoid getting too much stuff, so I don't even have to do so much.

About books - some books you will want to keep. But if you were anything like I was (obsessive book collector), you probably also have a lot of chaff. Books you didn't really enjoy, books you read once and never would again, even books you might not have read (I was paid in books when I worked part-time at a failing bookstore), or books that are freely and easily available anywhere. When I went through my books, obviously I got rid of any that I hadn't read, but I also got rid of a lot that I realised I just didn't care about or wouldn't read again. I kept my children's literature collection, especially as some of them were relatively rare paperbacks that I really could never replace.

I just made piles - books I was sure of to go, books I was sure I wanted to keep, and undecideds in the middle. I would keep the undecideds, and go through them in a few months or years. You may find you've decided since then. I've gotten rid of about 3/4+ of my undecideds after leaving them in storage for 2 years; after not having them for a while, I realised they just weren't that important to me.

I also realised recently that I don't need copies of authors like Jane Austen, as much as I love her. They were just cheap paperback editions, and you can get something like that anywhere. Actually, since they are out of copyright, I've got the etexts from Project Gutenburg, which take up far less space (and I like my PDA/ebook reader). There are a lot of books which may be similarly easy to get if you ever want them -- classics that never go out of print. If they aren't a great binding or a copy you have a personal attachment to, they may be good choices to send onto a charity for other people to enjoy. If you want to read it, you'll always be able to easily get another copy.

But more generally: maybe you should try selling as much as possible, if only for token amounts. That way, you would know it was going to someone who really wanted it, and would really enjoy it. That always makes me feel better when decluttering. I know I don't really need/no longer want something, but I kind of like it (which is why I got it in the first place), so I'm so much happier knowing it has a new home and a new life with someone who likes it.

(Maybe that's why I'm still a bit heartbroken and mad at my cousin, two decades later).
posted by jb at 7:02 PM on May 28, 2008

I came from a hoarding family. Getting rid of stuff at first was very emotionally challenging and difficult.

It's gotten to the point, however, that I'm happy with the stuff that I have. And I'd like to have less of it. My husband and I have been moving into progressively smaller and smaller living spaces over the last few years; that's helped (although I think I still have waaaay too much stuff in the garage).

One thing I will not throw away, though, is books. I have about 3000 or so; I read each of them at least once every two years, often much more frequently. On the flip side, I don't own a TV or any of the associated paraphenalia, which certainly reduces the amount of stuff I lug around.

I have never regretted anything I threw/gave away. Rent is more expensive than buying anything I need again new, anyway.
posted by ysabet at 7:11 PM on May 28, 2008

You will regret living in clutter every day of your life that you do it.
You might regret decluttering once or twice over the course of a few years. I never have, tho.
posted by selfmedicating at 7:33 PM on May 28, 2008

Oh, yeah, I've definitely regretted getting rid of all kinds of stuff. Just today, I regretted getting rid of a BMX bike and a Junior Walker CD. Not at the same time. Either one. Quite possibly some other stuff that I'm forgetting, too.

But measured against the positive feelings and tangible benefits, I still think I'm ahead.
posted by box at 7:51 PM on May 28, 2008

When I moved a couple of years ago I got rid of a lot of things I'd kept for years – items that had survived a previous move and other purges. Most of it I don't regret. But, I ended up having a lot more bookshelf space in my new place and miss most of the books I sold.
posted by D.C. at 8:18 PM on May 28, 2008

Two big purgings I regret:

Tossing all my albums when I bought my first CD player. Oh God. What a stupid, shtupid thing to do. All the soundtracks, all the rock albums, all the classical recordings-- most of which were never replaced by CDs. (And of course the album covers themselves were never replaceable.) I would love to hear my soundtrack from Bambi one more time.

Gutting my massive book collection before the big move from SoCal to NC: I gave away/sold 2/3 of about 8000 books and to this day (8 years later) I sometimes find myself frantically looking for a particular book only to wonder if maybe I got rid of it.

Other than that, I'm pretty ruthless. For example, I don't miss all the Christmas decorations/Christmas china/ Halloween crap I left behind. I'm done with decorating for the holidays. Also, we just tossed about 300 cassette tapes and about 200 VHS tapes but they won't be missed.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 9:00 PM on May 28, 2008

I guess I'll offer a different perspective than that which is available to most people here.

I grew up in the house my grandparents grew up in, and I still own that house and hope that in a few years I'll be able to organize my life in such a way that my son will grow up there too.

Thus, my perspective on "clutter" is somewhat different than that of most people here - I own stuff - a fairly significant amount of stuff - that belonged to my grandmother's mother and father. Stuff they actually toted around, rented house to rented house, during the depression. Most of it is useful stuff: tables, chairs, dishes, a frying pan, etc, but some of it is just knick-knacks: a box full of glass baskets, a Kewpie doll, a china shepherdess. Stuff they valued. Stuff that tells me stories about them even now. Some of the decorations on our Christmas tree are those made by my mother in elementary school during WWII, and I think that's cool.

My Grandparents, in the way of people who came of age during the depression, hoarded "stuff". They had a big old barn full of furniture they'd picked up at lawn sales and backyard auctions. My mother furnished her entire house out of what was in that barn. When the time came, I furnished most of a house as well, and there was still stuff -- a lot of stuff (picked over, admittedly) -- in the barn when my Grandparents died, some ten years ago now. I spent much of my childhood playing in that barn, using the stuff that was stored there to foster my imagination. I read books and held tea parties and built forts out of that stuff. I still have trouble buying furniture if I need to, because I got so used to the idea that there was stuff in the barn that would do service just as well. I was living on my own for well over ten years before I ever bought a plate or a glass, because I didn't need to. There were always some in storage.

My mother, for reasons she can't explain to this day, dealt with her grief over my grandfather's death by calling a hauling service and having all the stuff in the barn (though, thankfully, not the house) hauled away and sold at auction, before I (the only child of an only child) could go through any of it. A lot of that stuff needed to go, to be sure, but a lot more we miss. When I bought my house, I would have loved to go into the tool room in the barn and pick up a rake and a hammer and a folding wooden ruler and lord knows what else to bring by to my house, but they're all gone. I miss having that connection to my family. I miss having the opportunity to hold in my hands the same tools that my grandfather and great grandfather used to rake their yards and hang their pictures on the wall.

The contents of the house are currently in storage (in the barn, actually), and while we were packing it up I was able to find stuff tucked away in drawers that I'm sure any of us would consider "clutter" - old shopping lists and hairpins and dead pens. But I now have at least one sample of my great-grandmother's handwriting because I found a list she'd written back in the '30's that had gotten tucked away inside a cookbook, and I know that she said "Wash" as "Warsh" because she wrote it down: "warshing powder" is one item on the list. I know the name of the shoe factory where my great-grandfather worked as a salesman because I found a cache of old dead pens in a box that had the name of the company on them. My mother was too young to remember where he'd worked; all she could remember is him losing his job in 1930, like so many others in America.

Some of the things from that house are in my house now, because I grew up seeing them every day, and couldn't bear to think of my son growing up missing that connection to his family history. Some of that stuff, I'm sure, was bought cheap at the five and dime. Some of it I know they got free for going to the movies on Saturday morning. It lives here with us and we live with it, and so are able to tie ourselves by a thin thread to the lives of those who came before us.

Which brings me, in a long winded way, to my point: Yes, I'm sure you have a significant amount of clutter and junk in your house. (ipods? plural? Wow.) But before you pitch it out wholesale, ask yourself not only if it has sentimental value to you, but also if it might be interesting to your children or your children's children. I'm not saying "save everything," but one or two well chosen objects can tell your descendants a lot about you and your life at this time. That shopping list of my great-grandmother's, along with her fancy size five wartime pumps (carefully stored in their department store box and bag, with tissue paper and price) tell me so much more about this woman I've never met than any photograph would.

Objects tell our history. The "throw it all away" people sometimes make me a little crazy, because they seem to forget that we aren't isolated pinpoints suspended in time. I am part of a chain that includes my great-grandparents and my son, and the objects that I keep and hold dear help flesh out the story of each link in that chain.

Sometimes I think, too, that our cultural inability to learn lessons from our own history is, in a way, tied to this modern "urge to purge" because we're throwing away our understanding of who our parents and grandparents were along with their broken pens and old shoes. There is a reason my grandparents held on to so much ... they learned hard lessons at a time when it wasn't so easy to just buy a new broom, or a plate, or a sock. My son sleeps under a quilt that my great-grandmother made out of clothes that my grandmother and mother wore when my mother was a child. She didn't do this to be "crafty". She did this because she needed a blanket, and the fabric was there, waiting to be reused. They had to mend, make-do, or do without. I hope that we don't have a time coming to us when we need to learn those same lessons. But the jar of odd screws in my basement might also be part of the insurance policy they were trying to instill in me -- be careful, be frugal, value the things you own, because the factory might close and then what will you do?

My grandmother would say "mend a sock, save a penny" as she darned and knitted. Before you start your purge, I challenge you: what can you keep to tell your story? what can you find a new purpose for? Are you just clearing out to make way for new stuff? If so, wouldn't you rather have the penny?
posted by anastasiav at 9:06 PM on May 28, 2008 [43 favorites]

I got rid of over half what I owned in my last major move. It was great! Every now and then I think of a few childhood toys that I had for years and years and impulsively dumped into the Goodwill bin, but what was I going to do with them.. and a few vintage clothing pieces that came back in style.. and a neat pair of silver Nike track shoes.. :) I think philosophically it was important for me because my mother over-sentimentalizes stuff and obsesses about it to the point of holding grudges for decades with relatives over.. stuff. So I wanted to just get rid of tons of stuff to see if I'd be OK and not attached to it, and it worked for the most part.

I gave away things I could have sold for money, too, but that takes time and effort and one ends up hanging on to things planning to sell them some day.. that doesn't get rid of the weight.. so I just took them straight to Goodwill.

And what do you know, clutter magically accumulates again soon enough..
posted by citron at 9:22 PM on May 28, 2008

I moved across the country without most of my stuff, planning to not bring out anything I didn't miss, and I made a special effort to get these things back:
my journals from ages 19-23
books, particularly the more rare or sentimental ones
high school mix tapes
........ [thinking] ...
posters and decorations? no
clothes? one sweater, but surprisingly, almost nothing
kitchen gadgets? easy to reacquire what I missed
papers? one or two binders from great classes
plus some random big items -- an axe and climbing rope
posted by salvia at 11:05 PM on May 28, 2008

oh, and license plates from old cars. I wanted those again. But now, hmm, where are they?
posted by salvia at 11:08 PM on May 28, 2008

I have done a few massive declutterings in my life and I absolutely love the feeling of having very little. I have found that about 80% of the stuff you have you will never ever miss. When you get down to the basics, you really know where everything is and the stuff you own really gets used. There is always lots of floor space. I live in 475 square feet and, right now, the bedroom is totally empty to allow me to do some remodeling and I can do that because I have very little junk.
posted by Foam Pants at 11:54 PM on May 28, 2008

anastasiav: Wow. One of my favorite posts ever. Thanks for sharing.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 12:54 AM on May 29, 2008

There is a difference between decluttering, and deliberately seeking to hurt yourself by destroying or dumping things. I've done both, although not the latter since my late teens. So long as your intent is good, the results will be liveable, even enjoyable.

I still have too much stuff, but since I just moved, the latest decluttering is still a work in progress.
posted by Goofyy at 2:43 AM on May 29, 2008

Don't get rid of anything that could remind you of a good time with a loved one, or even of that loved one. When they're gone, you'll give anything to have it back, to hold it, and to feel your memories of that person come into crisp focus, even if just for a moment. Eventually you'll be able to let those things move on, but it's much easier than if you never had a choice.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:43 AM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I got rid of pretty much everything I owned save for a backpack of clothes, a laptop, and a bike. Two and a half years later, I have a little bit more than a backpack full of clothes, a laptop with 2 external drives, 3 bikes, and a bit of camping equipment. The only "regret" I have is that I didn't have space for my art supplies, so I haven't made many nice things in the last few years. But I'm young, and mostly had things from my time in school, not nice inherited trinkets.
posted by beerbajay at 5:01 AM on May 29, 2008

great, great post, anastasiav. should be turned into an article and published. I am not kidding.
posted by annabkr at 5:49 AM on May 29, 2008

Clean Sweep is ok, if you ignore the stupid stuff they do to promote conflict (goading people into selecting something the other person treasures in order to get rid of it). I watch for the carpenter Eric.

My favorite show on declutter is "neat". Very little drama, focus on what's being built. One of Hellen's favorite quotes is something I repeat to myself all the time: "Clutter is postponed decisions".
posted by lysdexic at 6:02 AM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I sold a guitar that I really liked but hadn't played in a while. It was a really, really good guitar, made by a really famous craft maker, and I'd gotten a really good price on it. I was in a rush and sold it for less than I paid for it. I'll regret that pretty much forever.

Other than that, not really. I can get everything I own into two trips in a VW Golf and that still seems like a lot. I've gotten rid of a lot. It's weird to not have any furniture, but there's always some around wherever I am living.
posted by sully75 at 6:22 AM on May 29, 2008

I miss getting rid of a scanner and a dress. That's it! I've been a packrat most of my life and there have been some big declutterings.
posted by Melsky at 7:52 AM on May 29, 2008

Does regretting the way my brother cleared out 3 homes of relatives count? There is virtually nothing left of my Aunt & Uncle's lives. I live 3k miles away and was told that they were saving things, but very little actually was. Sadly this was done prior to the reading of my Uncle's will and there were things that were left to me that were already long gone. (There's a lesson here, folks!)
My parents down-sized and got rid of quite a bit. After my dad died and it was time for mom to move to a retirement home I went back home to claim some treasures. What I found was a massive pile of their lives in the garage that literally was front to back and floor to ceiling. I sort through what I could, but it was impossible to go through all of it. I'm sure the 1-800-GotJunk guys had a field day with all the wonderful things they got.
After Mom died, by the time I got to her apartment said brother already had garbage bags filled with her things. I was in no condition to take on the battle, took possession of what I could and let the rest go.
Because of all this I have a hard time letting go of things. I know there were things that were either valuable or historic amongst the "garbage" that was disposed of. Needless to say I'm struggling with getting past this and definitely have regrets.
posted by SoftSummerBreeze at 9:34 AM on May 29, 2008

Anastasiav - Your story is Exactly why I regret my brother's actions so very much. One of my most treasured possessions is my grandparent's engraved silverware that I use on a daily basis. Just holding it and knowing they held it means so much, so much.
You've expressed what I've been trying to for years.
Thank you.
posted by SoftSummerBreeze at 9:42 AM on May 29, 2008

I sold all my CDs (100+) when I was in college because I needed the money and hey, I'd ripped them all to my hard drive anyway. Boy, was I pissed when that hard drive failed.

That said, I am no packrat, and I could fit everything I own (minus furniture) into a standard pickup truck bed.
posted by desjardins at 12:54 PM on May 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Well, it's been nine months and I wanted to say that I am much happier with my surroundings. It really feels great to be in my apartment. I enjoy more activities at home. It's so much simpler to keep things tidy and organized.

We dumped almost everything stuck in boxes in closets. Put our DVDs in sleeves and gave away the boxes. We didn't even ebay, but gave everything to friends and Goodwill. We have small boxes filled with sentimental mementos, but that's it. I don't miss any of it. Even the old 16mm camera my grandmother used to carry everywhere. I had all the reels put on DVD, I gave the camera to a friend who is a filmmaker, and whom I thought would appreciate it. He did, very, very much.

The best part is no longer feeling burdened. It is just stuff but I didn't realize until it was gone.

So, to answer my own question: I have no regrets from a massive decluttering of my home.
posted by studentbaker at 12:56 PM on March 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

Well, hey, congrats! I actually got stalled in the middle of my decluttering (winter blues) and this is kind of inspiring!
posted by lysdexic at 9:11 PM on March 10, 2009

Hey I just did a big declutter too, prior to my move half way around the world (well a third). I did keep most of my books but I got rid a couple of hundred mostly into the arms of a local bookcrossing fanatic I found. This turned out to be an inspired move as I now regularly get message from them as they release my books so I get to follow the books into their afterlife.
posted by tallus at 2:59 PM on March 11, 2009

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