Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Clutter clutter everywhere…

Desk drawer - selective focus
Originally uploaded by kcdsTM
I had stopped seeing a lot of the clutter around my house, mostly because although I had lots of it, I have enough closet, drawer, and cabinet space that I could keep the clutter and keep the place neat looking. Finally though, I’d had enough. It wasn’t anything major that happened, it was just a growing realization that I have way too much stuff. So I decided to tackle it all. I’m certainly not done yet, but I’ve made a big dent.

I’ve freecycled a bunch of things, sold a few items on ebay, and set aside several large bags of stuff to donate to charity. I even found a few items that were still in the packaging that I returned to Home Depot to make over $20 in store credit! I’d always been in the habit of buying stuff I probably didn’t even need, because I knew I could return it if I didn’t use it. Except I never get around to returning a lot of it. I brought three items back, still in packaging, and now I have some “free money” to use on something I’ll actually need in the future.

Deciding what to do with things isn’t really the challenge though. The tough part is deciding what to get rid of, or where to start. Decluttering a whole house is a big project to take on, especially when that house is filled with the combined clutter from two previously single adult lives.

I did a bunch of poking around online to see how other people were handling their clutter. I found a few good ideas that, combined with a healthy dose of common sense, allowed me to really clear out the unnecessary stuff that’s been cramping my style.

1. Start small – but start: I began my project by picking a single drawer in my kitchen. It wasn’t even my junk drawer, but it was a drawer that I almost never opened. So I opened it, and I took everything out. This became one of the key factors that really helped me to weed out what I didn’t want. Looking into a drawer or cabinet, it was easy for me to say, yeah, I use all that stuff. But when I had to handle each individual item, I realized there probably wasn’t too much point in saving a dumpling maker that I’ve had for six years and never used once, or a piece of plastic with holes in it to measure out spaghetti portions – also never used. I made a box of all such items and freecycled them. Generally, I tried to use that same rule they tell us to use when cleaning out our closets: “Have I worn this in the past year?” If I haven’t used any item in the past year, I set it in a pile that I go through after I’ve put all the “keep” stuff away, and then I seriously consider whether I can live without it. I usually find I can. The best part is that now I can actually see what is left in the drawers and cabinets!
2. Pack it up – or pretend you’re going to: I read this online somewhere (and apologize for not being able to find the link, but I’m not taking credit for this as an original idea). The idea is that if you were moving across the ocean, you’d have to be very selective with the items you’d be able to bring with you, both for reasons of space and cost. So go through the house, room by room, and decide what you would bring with you if you were actually moving out of the country. Obviously, furniture is kind of exempt, but for me, this was a good way to gain some perspective on which of my possessions I really value (and clear out those that I don’t).
3. Close your eyes and memorize: Again, I found this somewhere and have since lost the link, but it’s a great idea even if it’s not mine: Look around a room in your house for a minute or two. Close your eyes, and try to remember every single item in the room. This can be scaled down to the drawer, cabinet, or closet level as well. This was a good exercise for me, because like the packing exercise, it made me spend some time thinking about the items that I forgot. Why did I forget them? In most cases, it was because they weren’t items that I particularly valued or used frequently. That makes them a good candidate for finding a new home.

In addition to no longer being surrounded by stuff I no longer used, or never used in the first place, all of these things were helpful because they reminded me of things that I did have already and could be using. There was a ton of stuff that I’d just forgotten about. Having a better idea of what I do have already will certainly help me to buy less going forward, leading to my two new favorite things, saving money and buying less / reducing my consumption.

What was really cool about this for me was some of the unexpected areas I was able to clean out. My food cupboards were a big one. I try not to buy stuff that I won’t use, but when I took each and every item out, I was amazed at some of the stuff I found that I know I won’t use. I know there are plenty of food pantries that will appreciate the bag of groceries I cleared out though.

The other thing that amazed me was that we had only moved a year ago. It was a cross country move, so we had done (I thought) a fair amount of cleaning out at the time. What I realize now is that having a packing service handle boxing everything up excused me from really having to evaluate what I needed or wanted to keep. Next time we move, I’ll make myself pack each individual item. I have a feeling I’ll end up deciding there’s a lot that I don’t actually need to hold onto, even after my recent round of de-cluttering.

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