Getting Rid of Stuff

Do you ever open a drawer and, in horror, just close the drawer again because you can’t deal with it? Do you have closets that are so jam packed that when you know you need something in it you think it’s just easier to do something else than dig around in that closet (Like sleep on a folded blanket rather than try to find the sheets wedged in the linen closet. It was really late and I was really tired.)? Did you just buy the Costco three pack of ketchup only to find you already had 2 at home but didn’t see them because they were hiding in weird places because you originally just put them in weird places rather than deal with the packed shelf they should have gone on? No? That’s only me? All right then, move along to another blog…

This closet did not pass inspection with Scarlet.

If you thought I was writing about you. Then stick around. This is the next installment of our organization posts.

It’s kind of crazy how we accumulate things. I’m used to seeing storage places off the freeway (always off the freeway, right?) but one day I looked at a new one and thought, “this is nuts.” These are just places where we store our STUFF because have so much STUFF that we can’t fit it in our homes.

I realize that, sometimes, storage makes perfect sense. Moving or in between permanent residences, you need to store the things you aren’t hauling around. But truly, how much do you need it if you can lock it away somewhere like a storage space or a garage?

My personal challenge is that sometimes I’m storing so much stuff; I can’t actually even get to and use the things I need. For example, I have a plastic bin in my garage taunting me. It’s from the last garage clean out. I haven’t even looked at what’s in it for over 2 years. In that bin is a bunch of beautiful, expensive yarn that I got years ago and really want to use in a knitting project. I can’t get to it because it is in that plastic bin in the garage with a bunch of other stuff. That storage is preventing me from even USING something. Storage can start to defeat itself.

Just TRY reaching the stuff on the top of the shelf in the corner.

When I’ve been moving or cleaning out and I need to start getting rid of things, I have a question I ask myself that helps me determine whether or not something stays in my house. “If I lost everything in a fire tomorrow, would I feel bad I lost this? Would I even miss it? Would I replace it?”

I do fall squarely in the camp of cluttered-because-of-time rather than emotional attachment so I tend to think I would miss very little if I lost it tomorrow. If you are more emotionally attached to your clutter, you might try to realistically answer the question, “When is the last time I used or needed this?” If you genuinely need it then you should try to determine how to make it more accessible

Mementos can be really hard to cull. “How precious is this to me?” If it is very precious, is it out where you can enjoy and appreciate it? If it belonged to someone you care about and miss, do you have other things that remind you of this person? Do you need this item too? I had several hand-knit sweaters my Grandmother made when I realized that I was just storing them. I wasn’t wearing them at all so I picked out the one that meant the most to me and donated the others. Having more than one sweater from her doesn’t give me MORE memories or happiness.

Seriously, how many purses can I even use?

Another reality check is comparing your needs to the needs of others. “Will this help someone else?” Am I the only one who values this or will someone else value it more? I have a ton of yarn that hasn’t even seen the light of day in years but I spent a LOT of money accumulating it so it’s hard to just get rid of (a different kind of buyer’s remorse). When I do get around to looking at it, it isn’t even anything I would knit with anymore. My taste and knitting skill level has changed so I wouldn’t even buy this again if given the chance.

Not even close to the entire stash.

I have a friend whose daughter has just enthusiastically taken up knitting. Having this yarn will be a joy to her which makes me happy and feel like I didn’t waste my money in the long run.

If I have something that I enjoy seeing every few years but don’t use in any other way, could it genuinely help someone else? Baby clothes are a good example of that. Donating them to a women’s shelter could be life-changing for someone else who has nothing. A reason some women don’t leave their abusers is because they feel they can’t support their kids or pets on their own. Thinking about that makes it a lot easier for me to let go of things sometimes.

Are you saving this because someone else thinks you should? It sounds weird to talk about peer-pressure hording but it happens to us all the time. I have friends who have saved their wedding dress only because other people are horrified that they would consider not saving them when truthfully, while it was loved on the wedding day, they wouldn’t feel bad if it was gone.

I have some good techniques for thinning the clutter herd:

  1. Remove everything from the space. Seriously, don’t bother trying to weed through it while it is still all in the space. You need to look at everything in a different way. It has to be more difficult to put it back than to just leave it there. Plus, it will just be too tempting to leave stuff there out of habit and not deal with it.
  2. Move away from the space a little. Is there a bed, table or floor space a little ways away? Make it your staging area.
  3. Try to quickly split things into three piles right from the beginning. You’ll get to go through things again but this is your first culling. One space for keep, one space for the items that go (Split this into donate and throw away. It will be tempting to sell but ask yourself if you could get more in a tax write off than selling?), and one space for things that need to be looked at a little more.
  4. Immediately toss the stuff that gets thrown away and move the donate pile someplace else (the back of the car is best because then it is halfway out of your house. You can hit the donation center later that day or during the week sometime. There is probably someplace close to work or somewhere else you need to be). The sell pile should be moved somewhere else too. Preferably it goes right next to your computer so you are motivated to take pictures and sell it right away.
  5. Now go through the pile that you needed more time to go through and start going through it carefully. Split that stuff into either keep or get rid of just like you did the first culling. Keep asking yourself the questions we discussed before. “Would you miss this if you lost it in a fire? When is the last time I used it? Would it be of more value to someone else?”

These tips and techniques work great for me but in the end, getting rid of stuff is something you have to master. Your space is precious. If you think about what your monthly mortgage or rent payment is you can figure what your square footage costs and see what you have paid to store something over the years. Was that old bucket of gardening tools worth the hundreds of dollars it cost me to keep them?

For a list of local resources you can donate to:

Hazardous materials (cleaning supplies, pesticides, paint, batteries, electronics, or CFL light bulbs) –check your garbage company’s website for any sites or events they hold to get rid of these. I found my county holds free events every weekend all over town so last weekend, when one of the events was close to me, I filled up the back of my car with everything and took it in. I didn’t even have to get out of the car. They took everything for free. You can also just search “hazardous waste disposal xxx county” (with your county instead of xxx) and you may find the same free events I found. They don’t like to publicize them a lot. I did a quick search for “hazardous waste disposal Maricopa county” (an Arizona county) and right away found events.

For women’s shelters, I did a quick search for, “women’s shelter donation centers Portland Oregon” and found well-known organizations right away. I’m sure you have some near you. I believe the Salvation Army is also partnered up with many of these organizations too.

Also, another great resource to get rid of things is Freecycle. I’ve gotten rid of good moving boxes immediately before and there is often really good things being offered up. It’s a wonderful concept of people sharing things they don’t need. When I was at the hazardous waste event I saw all these cans of paint in colors I really liked and probably would use if someone just gave them to me. It might be interesting to see what I get on Freecycle when I’m painting the house.


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