I wonder how many of you cringed when you saw the title of this blog post.
For most of us, getting rid of our stuff is definitely not a comfortable topic to talk about and an even less comfortable process to walk through.
Through sheer practice, we’ve gotten pretty good at getting rid of things. We hope our tips, created in response to blunder, will help you in simplifying your life.
When Seth and I got married four years ago, we had tons of stuff: a storage unit and an entire house crammed full of things we really never used; one of three bedrooms was piled full of boxes not to mention that every drawer, closet, and cupboard was stuffed to capacity.
We had been of the opinion that “eventually,” we’d probably need this gadget or that doo-hickey. So, we kept everything.
A little over a year ago, after we had devised our hair-brained idea to travel the country, we knew we had to make some changes. We set about putting our plan into motion. We ended up slimming our belongings down to a few things we put in storage (including kitchen stuff and our bed) and the rest went in our car for our traveling adventure. We found that without the constant pressure of unnecessary stuff hanging around our necks, we could breathe easier. Our minds are clearer. We don’t have such a hard time finding things. We find we don’t miss or even think about the stuff we’ve gotten rid of.
The Psychology of Stuff
Stuff is stuff—that’s it. Buying it won’t make you happy. Owning it won’t make you any more secure. Hoarding it won’t heal your painful past. Maybe I’ve watched too many episodes of Hoarders, but it seems that behind every “junkie” is a perfectly normal person who doesn’t put stuff in its rightful place mentally. If you’re one of these people, take a deep breath, try to identify the root of why you’re so attached to these belongings, and remind yourself that stuff is stuff.
With this new mantra in mind…
1. Do I need it/is it useful?
Keep it if you actually use it—simple enough. What do you do with your old junior high class notes or your Care Bears fanny pack from when you were a kid. Do you really need these items? Also, toasters are great, but do you really need more than one? Limit such things to one or several if necessary.
2. Have you used it in the last six months to a year?
Maybe owning your own chocolate fountain is useful…, but really, have you used the thing in the last six months to a year? If you’re anything like me, and I suspect you probably are, you bought it for someone’s wedding or a foufy special occasion, and other than that, it has never again been pulled from the box.
3. Does it require fixing?
This one is especially painful since I’m always looking for ways to save a buck. “Well,” I tell myself. “This is just too cute to pass up. I’ll just tailor it down from a 4XL to a XSM.” So, it sits in my closet and nothing ever gets done with it. It ends up in the Goodwill pile in five years, after I’ve gotten real with myself.
Now, some people are real fixer-uppers. This is great; put everything together that needs to be fixed in one area, and start whittling through it. Set a future date (ex: a year from now) by which the thing or project needs to be finished. After that date, get rid of it—it doesn’t look like it’s going to get done.
4. Do I have a place for it?
Sometimes, you’re just plain tight on space. Don’t try to cram more things into a small living space. It breeds an environment of chaos and anxiety.
5. Can I just take a picture of it or create an electronic copy?
Sometimes, taking a picture of something is enough to remember it by. For example, I seemingly couldn’t bring myself to get of my childhood academic trophies—it just seemed so wrong. But at the same time, I didn’t want to keep them. The answer was simple: take a picture of them for posterity and donate them to Goodwill.
Do you want to keep your college notes? Why not scan them? Electronic copies take up far less space than the things themselves.
You Decide to Keep It
Find a logical place for it immediately, and put it in its place. If you use it frequently, put it somewhere that’s easily accessible. If you use it every once in a while (but still at least once a year), box it up or set it on a shelf that’s perhaps not as accessible as frequently used items.
Also, a note about sentimental things: Keeping things around for sentimental reasons isn’t bad. However, if your entire life is cluttered with these keepsakes, that’s probably a good indication that you might be using stuff to fill an emotional void. The solution?: Limit yourself to only a small amount of keepsakes. (ex: Only keep what will fit in a plastic tub or a cedar chest.)
You Decide to Get Rid of It
Seth and I use a two-bag/three-bag system. One bag is for things to donate. The other is a trash bag. And the third bag (optional) is for anything you might want to sell. However, for right now, let’s just deal with the first two bags.
Once anything goes in either bag, you can’t pull it out. Consider it gone. Once a donation bag gets full, immediately take it out to the car for your next run to Goodwill. Once your trash bag gets full, immediately take it outside and throw it away. Don’t wait. The longer stuff hangs around your living space, the more tempted you might become to resurrect it.
In this day and age, if you want to get rid of your stuff, you have SO many options…
Goodwill is pretty much amazing. More than half of our belongings have gone to Goodwill. It’s an awesome company. The donation people are pretty easy to work with; they’ll unload your donations for you and sometimes even offer you a bottle of water when the transaction is complete.
Facebook is a great way to sell stuff you don’t need. I find it’s helpful to either create an event or a photo album of pictures (with info) of things you want to get rid of. Then, you can just promote either the event or the photo album, but use wisdom because there’s nothing more annoying than someone over-using their personal Facebook account to make money.
Highly sophisticated, reliable, and pretty darn safe, Ebay lets you sell your stuff online for a minimal fee. Plus, Ebay uses PayPal which helps cover your rear when it comes to payment. There is kind of a learning curve when it comes to using Ebay, and that’s why so many We’ll-Ebay-Your-Stuff, middlemen type businesses have popped up. Our suggestion? Unless it’s something that’s pretty valuable, use Craig’s List.
- Craig’s List
Craig’s List is more of a less sophisticated, region-specific Ebay. It’s a pretty cool resource, but be careful. Make sure you deal in CASH only, and if an ad looks fishy or too good to be true, it probably is.
I haven’t actually tried this one myself, but one of my friends is quite the fan. It works kind of like Craig’s List, but everything is free.
- Give It To a Friend
If you know your best friend has been eying your cute dress that just doesn’t fit anymore, give it to her. If you know someone who will appreciate your collection of Faulkner novels more than you do, make a present of it.
- Think Outside the Box
Does a local coffee shop have a tiny book swap—donate those nerdy lit major novels you know you’ll never read again. Instead of throwing away those Halloween costumes you keep stuffed in your closet, why not give them to the local high school theatre department? What about all those seasons of Lost you purchased only to discover that the ending was an uncreatively lame-o cop-out? Give them to your local library so other unsuspecting people can also experience the same level of gut-wrenching disappointment you experienced.
How to Avoid Re-Cluttering
- Be picky about what you buy.
If it’s cheaply made and you know it’s going to break and be thrown into the “fix it” pile, why not buy something that will last a while? Save yourself the headache.
- Be specific about birthday and Christmas presents.
It happens to everyone: at Christmas, you get that really tacky sweater from your grandma, and you know she’s paid some ungodly amount of money for it at an “older person” store that isn’t exactly your style. It ends up in the Goodwill bin, an eighty dollar waste, after the guilt of disliking it has worn off in two or three years.This scenario could have been avoided by being more specific about what exactly you want. Make a list for your family, or, if you think this it too control freak, ask for money or gift cards to your favorite stores.
- Use the Replacement Rule.
If you get a new something, replace it by getting rid of the old something. For example, if you simply must have a stainless steel colander, why not get rid of your plastic one? Do you really need two? When you buy a new shirt, look in your wardrobe for one that’s a little worn out.