Top Ten Tips, #6 – Decisions, Decisions

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As Karen Kingston says, “Without a doubt, the hardest part is actually overcoming your inertia enough to get started.  Once you have begun, the process itself releases more energy to enable you to continue.  All the stagnant energy that is locked up in the clutter gets release for you to use in more positive ways.  And the more you clear clutter, the easier it becomes because you  know how good it feels after you have done it and you know the positive benefits that follow.”

To start, I usually recommend having the following:  trash bags for trash (if you’re going to donate some items and put them in trash bags for donation, but sure to have a color-coding system so you don’t get confused as to which is which.  I usually do black for trash, white or clear for donation), boxes or bins for donations, and boxes or bins for recycling.  You may decide that some of the things will go to other places – like to your sister’s, or to a repair shop – that’s okay.  This is why I’m a big fan of the sticky note – when you start a new location for sorted items, be sure to put down a sticky note in the area so you don’t get confused later and wonder “Now what was I going to do with this pile?”

Now for the decisions.

If you haven’t used an item in over a year and can’t think of a specific instance when you will use it again (and I do mean SPECIFIC) it’s gotta go.

So many of us are holding onto things “just in case”.  Just in case what?  Just in case I decide to take up that sewing hobby, just in case I decide to get back with the softball league, just in case I lose 50 pounds, just in case the apocalypse comes…  I’ve heard just about all of them.

My personal opinion on how we got to be such a nation of hoarders has a lot to do with the history of the U.S. during the early to mid 1900’s, the Great Depression in particular.  The generation that lived through it learned that they must scrimp and save every single little thing – their very existence depended on it.  So that’s what they taught their kids. Then mass marketing and mass production and tons of plastic and other useless items came about.  And those who learned to hoard as a means of survival brought it all home and taught their kids to do the same.  Now here we are.

I have a blurry childhood memory (I couldn’t have been very old) of going into my great, great aunt’s basement many years ago and being mystified by the wall to wall storage of stuff – you could hardly move around in the basement at all!  My fraternal grandparents were military, so they never kept too much stuff because who knew when they would have to relocate again, and my maternal grandparents just weren’t savers.  To me the idea of hoarding as if the world were going to end just didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but to those who lived through the Great Depression, the story was completely different.


Back to the point, when you come upon that sewing machine you’ve been meaning to learn how to use, or any other item that you’re saving “just in case”, use the tip above:

If you haven’t used an item in over a year and can’t think of a specific instance when you will use it again, it’s gotta go.

If this seems hard, go back to the very first day’s Action Challenge – what percentage of your home is clutter and how much is it costing you to store all that clutter? Is this really what you want to be spending your hard-earned money on?

There are exceptions to this rule of course.  For instance, I have a number of canning jars and supplies that I’m currently storing at my house.  I was not able to do canning last year and I may not be able to do it again this year, but I’m still going to keep them because I know that next year more than likely I will indeed use them again (I love canning tomatoes from our garden since it’s rare or expensive to find ones canned in glass, and the BPA levels in the store-bought metal cans is a bit worrisome to me).  This is a hobby that I enjoy but don’t always have time for, so I decided that I was willing to house X number of boxes of canning supplies in our storage area and no more.  I did end up recycling at least a couple boxes worth of jars last year when I realized I wouldn’t be canning.  I know I will re-evaluate again next year, and if next year I’m not doing any canning then it’s time for me to move on.

Another example might be with certain clothes.  Perhaps you have a suit that you only end up wearing to funerals.  If you don’t wear that for a year, good for you – you didn’t have to go to any funerals! But this isn’t something you’d want to get rid of just because you hadn’t worn it for year.  More than likely you’ll need it for a funeral sometime in the future.  Just don’t let yourself get carried away here – if you have tons and tons of clothes like this for special occasions that you hardly ever wear it’s probably not a good idea to keep all of them.

Don’t freak out here!  

You can give yourself an out too – if you’re really not sure you’re ready to let an item go, if it is in fact causing you MORE stress to think about getting rid of an item, make a deal with yourself: store the item for another 6-12 months.  Write the contents and the DATE on the box when you last opened it.  Revisit the box again 6-12 months (decide how long and write it on your calendar!) – if you still haven’t used the item by then, then it’s absolutely gotta go this time around!

Another question you can ask yourself while you’re working through these decisions is:

What is the worst thing that could happen if I got rid of this?

You might be surprised at the answer!  The simple fact is, most things are replaceable.  Is it worth having that $20 one-use kitchen gadget taking up space in your drawer because you “might need it someday”?  If you really, really needed it, couldn’t you go out and buy it again?

Tip #6 Action Challenge

Spend 15 minutes today sorting out one small area in your house.  I suggest you start with either the area that bugging you the most or an area that doesn’t feel so overwhelming.  Where to start is a really individual thing.  Set your timer for 15 minutes, and GO!  (You scheduled some time to get rid of these items later too, right?).


Holistic Professional Organizer and Clutter Coach at Synergy Organizing, LLC

©Synergy Organizing 2012

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