Were you the kid who lived for stickers on your papers in 2nd grade?
I was that kid.
I still am that kid.
So, when I came across a chart to check off a box every time you get rid of something (give, donate or toss), I printed it off immediately. Because checking things off is of course the adult equivalent of stickers.
Why, you might ask, am I starting off my January recommendations for ways to beat cabin fever with a post about cleaning and organizing? Isn’t a good whole house purge and scrub usually reserved for spring cleaning? Yes. I hope we all clean our houses in the spring, for sure.
But, unless you’re living in a tropical land, no matter how much you get out this winter, the truth is you’ll still be spending lots of time inside too.
So that you might beat claustrophobia and give your living space some fresh appeal, I thought I’d share about one way I challenged myself last January to pare down my belongings, and how it paid off for me in freeing and energizing ways.
It feels “bleh” to write about stuff, especially when it’s your own, but because this has been helpful for me, I want to share in hopes that it might be helpful for some of you too.
Too Much Stuff
If I had to describe our living space, I’d say it’s pretty cozy, comfy, tidy or easily tidy-able when it gets messy. But even so, clutter has always been an issue for me. I’m always aware that our bookshelves, and cupboards, and drawers are full. I prefer more margin.
I particularly have a hard time parting with things that could be useful someday. I like to be prepared. And also, as someone who was basically born a history major, I love artifacts, including the ones from my own life. I have the first birthday card I got from my best friend in seventh grade, my star shaped sunglasses from when I was in kindergarten, and a collection of my first cell phones (circa 2001 – 2010) because how cool is that going to be to look at in 20 years?
This issue was only exacerbated when I got married and my husband and I combined stuff forces. And we moved into smaller, city-living places. Our kitchen drawers were out of control.
Last year, inspired by my friend Heidi who is incredible in this department, I decided I would try to simplify my life and cut down on my possessions. That’s also when I came across a decluttering challenge called “2015 in 2015”…yes, getting rid of 2,015 things over the course of the year.
That might sound crazy (!!!), but do a quick scan of a room in your house and based purely on what’s visible to see how many books, picture frames, mementos or whozits and whatzits galore are all around you. The numbers add up quickly. And that’s not even counting what’s in the cupboards and drawers. Somehow even the minimalists of the world are able to do this challenge year after year, so even people with minimal stuff have stuff. Apparently none of us in this overstuffed western world are exempt.
To my surprise, in the first week of my 2015 in 2015 endeavor, I had gotten rid of over 500 things. As it turns out, once you realize how good it feels to have both visual and physical space (like a fresh, clean hotel room!) it’s easy to get on a roll!
And it’s not an exaggeration to say that getting rid of stuff as a regular practice has been one of the most helpful lifestyle changes I’ve made in my adult life.
Five things I’ve learned about decluttering:
I don’t need as much as I think I do: I know I’d never be a great candidate for a tiny house — I could maybe be on a show called “Medium House Nation” or “Medium House, Big Living”, but I’m never going to try to fool anyone into thinking I am or ever will be the definition of a minimalist. My mother once told me (in regard to me and my clutter issues) that even if I had grown up in the forest as some little forest child, I would have still been weaving together branches into some sort of decorations for my treehouse or making acorn mobiles out of special acorns people had given me or something. I imagine she is right about this. So, for me, it’s not become about trying to make myself into a particular definition of a minimalist, BUT to realize that I don’t need much to live and I can figure out what works for me. I have everything I need. Really. The rest is just extra. It’s so freeing to know.
$5 principle: In the name of resourcefulness, I’m often tempted to hang onto things that I think could be useful in the future (to me or anyone who lives this side of the Mississippi). Even if there is only a very small chance that we’ll need it in the next ten years. So, I’ve gotten better at seeing things in those categories through the lens of, “If I really need it in 7 years, could I get another one for about $5?” If the answer to that question is “yes”, then out it goes and I don’t feel bad about it any more.
Decluttering vs. Organizing: I definitely prefer “organizing” to “cleaning and decluttering” BUT organizing only really works after you’ve decluttered and weeded out the things you don’t need. Once I started decluttering and sending things out the door to donate, recycle, or throw away, I found the organizing part was a lot easier and quicker.
Container principle: This I gleaned from Dana White, a lady who writes honestly about her struggles with cleaning and organizing at A Slob Comes Clean. It’s another one that’s probably glaringly obvious to most people, but it was helpful for me to create a concrete boundary — that you only need what you can keep in a container. It also ensures that everything has it’s place – be it a box, a drawer, or a particular closet. If you have a box devoted to winter sweaters, pare down to what fits in that box and call it a day. It makes it for a clear limit on what you “need”. Unless, of course you have a special collection of ugly Christmas sweaters, and you can decide whether or not it’s worth it for you to devote a special container to just those. Your call.
Sentimental things: I think everyone has a different inclination and tendency when it comes to holding on to things. Some people are tempted to save everything, others have no need for any mementos. I’ve found it’s been easier to winnow some of the random things I’ve held on to as I’ve gotten older. The container principle has helped with this one. I’ve kept my stash to a minimum. And of course, many people who are decluttering geniuses suggest taking pictures of items you don’t want to hang onto but don’t want to forget.
How about you?
Want to challenge yourself to get rid of x number of things by x period of time: Figure out what seems like a reasonable goal for you and go for it! I bet you can meet it if you set out to try. Here’s the link to the “2016 in 2016” challenge, if you at are all interested! Or, just say I’ll try to put ten things in the donate box after work every day this week. (You might even start looking forward to it). You can also make a give-away box for things you think would be useful to friends and family. We had a sharing shelf in our old apartment building and it was motivating to contribute to because I knew it would find a good home.
Places that accept stuff that still has useful life:
Best Buy‘s free and easy recycling program will recycle your electronics, computer batteries, old cell phones, video games, cameras, tvs and more.
Schedule a pickup from Salvation Army. They’ll come right to your door and pick up your donation.
Find a drop-off location for Goodwill
Check local shelters for their needs and donation options, as well as organizations local to you such as Big Brother, Big Sister, Dress for Success, or AmVets.
If you have old sheets and towels, your local animal shelter would love those.
Whatever you do, just start by taking a small step today and another one tomorrow.
I’ll leave it at that for today, and hope that you’ve found something helpful here! And if you know anyone who might benefit from these ideas, please pass the link on to them too. Thanks! I’ll be back soon with more ideas to keep you on your toes this January, and I promise it doesn’t have to do with cleaning. Until then, take care!