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decluttering help

I want to get rid of stuff, because the stuff is now overflowing the available space for stuff storage.

I have trouble getting rid of stuff. So I started at the corner of one bookshelf full of books and other stuff, looked at each item, and wrote down reasons to keep it and reasons not to keep it.

If you have ever successfully decluttered, I'd like some feedback on how you make decisions based on reasons like these. I'm thinking of assigning points to each of the reasons and trying to make decisions that way. I think that most of my reasons to keep something are legitimate in and of themselves, but since I would apply them to pretty much everything, I'm going to have to figure out a way to rank some of them such that I can actually get rid of some stuff.

Here are my lists of reasons.
I can replace it easily if I need it
I can get the equivalent information from the web
I have several and don't need them all
It's out of date
I'm probably not going to use it in the future
I know someone / someplace I can give it to
I don't like it
ETA It frees up space, which is relaxing (and the point of the exercise)

It is or might be worth a lot of money
It makes me feel nostalgic
I like it (it's pretty, it makes me feel good)
It might be useful again someday
I made it
It was a gift
A friend made it
It's useful for my work
It's not actually mine (usually this means it's co-owned with the OH)
It's part of a collection I have
I haven't read or used it yet

For the record, here are some maybe not so good reasons I have a hard time throwing some things out:

*I have several and it would take a lot of work to decide which one(s) to keep

*It's not worth giving away, e.g. it's broken or damaged or no one would want it, and I feel bad just throwing it out (yes, I do know about Freecycle, but I've had bad luck with it, and while I'm willing to use it again, the fact that something might be freecyclable doesn't make me feel good about giving it away)

*It would be valuable to a small set of people but it would be a lot of work to find those people and get the stuff to them (e.g., my old Newton books) but giving it away some other way feels like a waste

*I don't have any place to store giveaways until I get around to giving them away


( 29 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 24th, 2006 01:13 am (UTC)
We have "bulky trash pickup" twice/year, and that's a good time to put out stuff in your "it's not worth giving away" category. Most of it gets taken by alley pickers, so very little of it actually has to be put in the landfill.
Jun. 24th, 2006 02:08 am (UTC)
Ah, we have that too. Good point.
Jun. 24th, 2006 02:52 am (UTC)
I have to say that when I moved into this house, I got the smallest trashcan possible. But, for $15 more per year, I can get a huge one. I got it last year when I decided my house looked like I was depressed and I wasn't depressed any more so I should start cleaning. I've kept it, because I haven't finished cleaning...

But the point is, I just bit the bullet and threw a lot of stuff away because I didn't want to wait for bulky trash. In some cases, I just put it out on the street, and stuff disappeared. It was REALLY therapeutic. I can't recommend it too highly.
Jun. 24th, 2006 03:05 am (UTC)
Good suggestion, thanks!

The OH's sweetie and her husband once bought a bulk trash bin and had a garage sale; everything left over went into the bulk trash bin. But in some cases throwing it in the garbage in bits would serve the same purpose.
Jun. 24th, 2006 01:17 am (UTC)
I'm sure I'm the opposite of a declutterer, but I wish you luck! Maybe it would help to reframe it in terms of, say, looking for things to sell on eBay, rather than stuff to declutter. Maybe you've got other likely candidates for culling/whatever (old clothes, magazines, excess not-so-great pots and pans, etc.) that you would have less emotional attachment to than books.
Jun. 24th, 2006 02:09 am (UTC)
Thanks! If it's salable on eBay then I take it to the humane society's thrift store and feel good about it. And clothes are definitely on the to-be-culled list.
Jun. 24th, 2006 01:41 am (UTC)
Don't think of it as getting rid of stuff -- think of it as gaining valuable space! I am kind of a packrat by nature, but frequent moving has taught me how to get rid of things when necessary. While all your reasons to get rid of sound good to me, some of your reasons to keep wouldn't really apply if I were going through my stuff.

First, the reasons I agree are good:
It makes me feel nostalgic
I like it (it's pretty, it makes me feel good)
It's useful for my work
It's not actually mine (usually this means it's co-owned with the OH)

Everything else seems to be related to at least one of these reasons.

It is or might be worth a lot of money -- To me, if there's not another reason I want to keep it, this just means I should sell it (or give it to someone I like) rather than throwing it out or giving it to Goodwill or Freecycle or whatever.
It might be useful again someday -- Anything in the world might be useful in some circumstances. My rule is "Do I expect to use this within the next three years?" [or: before my next move] If not, it can go. (Exceptions can be made for irreplaceable things, but usually things I'm hanging onto because they might be useful are things like torn clothes for sewing materials or parts of broken chairs.)
I made it -- For me this would only be a reason if I also liked it or wanted to keep it for the nostalgia value. (That is, it's not in and of itself a reason, but things I've made are more likely to be nostalgic than other things.)
It was a gift -- Same as above.
A friend made it -- Same as above.
It's part of a collection I have -- I don't quite get the collector-impulse, so I would evaluate things based on whether I liked them rather than whether they were necessary to complete a collection.
I haven't read or used it yet -- Again, I would evaluate based on whether you expect to use it within the next few years.

One suggestion I've heard to figure out which things you really want is to pack away all the things you aren't sure about in a box for a year. If at the end of the year you haven't missed it, you probably won't miss it in the future and can safely get rid of it.

I will also point out that it is often possible to pack up those nostalgic, might-be-useful, and other seldom-used items in ways that make them take up very little space and not be out in view, which at least makes things look much less cluttered.
Jun. 24th, 2006 02:14 am (UTC)
think of it as gaining valuable space

GOOD point.

To me some of the points you see as related to "nostalgia" also have different nuances, I'll have to ponder whether they are sufficiently different to count.

Jun. 24th, 2006 02:31 am (UTC)
I don't know that I'm terribly qualified here (I'm more packrat than declutterer, but I'm not *awful*), but the advice I've seen on TLC's Clean Sweep regarding stuff with nostalgic/collector value is to stop and think about what it is that you really treasure about it. They usually have one of two suggestions for people. Either throw out all but one or two of the best examples of something (after all, it's the memories that are important, not the stuff, right?) or find a way to display the collection in a way that really does it justice (take the stuff out of the boxes in the basement, get it framed, that sort of thing).

Also, consider whether something might be just as "wasted" by sitting in a box not being used for years and years as by being thrown out or given away.
Jun. 24th, 2006 03:03 am (UTC)
Thanks! Yes, using my home as a temporary distributed landfill is not solving anything.

I am thinking on whether photographs of some of the nostalgic things would serve the same purpose as the things themselves.

Displaying more stuff will have to wait until I've decluttered some more. ;-)
Jun. 24th, 2006 03:18 am (UTC)
I tend to think in terms of balancing space with stuff. With clothing I tend to keep the space static, so I toss out clothing that doesn't fit well or has developed holes. With books and jewelry, I've acquired more shelves and an additional storage box.
Jun. 24th, 2006 07:02 am (UTC)
Good way to think about it.

I've added storage boxes but I don't see a way to add more without spending lots of money on a professional Organization Solution (which I may do at some point, but I'd like to be organizing the things I really want/need to keep, and not a bunch of junk too).

(Deleted comment)
Jun. 24th, 2006 04:31 am (UTC)
All excellent suggestions, thanks! I'm not sure that thinking of any of my reasons as "bad reasons" works for me, but I can see how it would be useful to some people.

It's very true that visual chaos makes me anxious. I need to add that to my "reasons to get rid of"

I give stuff worth reselling to the local humane shelter thrift store. I also have a bunch of stuff they don't want, like computer books.
Jun. 24th, 2006 05:49 am (UTC)
Your public library might want the computer books. If not, they'll sell them and make money that way.
Jun. 24th, 2006 07:03 am (UTC)
Out-of-date computer books are worth money? Hmm...
Jun. 24th, 2006 10:07 am (UTC)
"It might be useful again someday" was my biggest bad reason for keeping things. It's not at all the same as "It will be useful again someday" and I was treating it as the same.

My house is so much nicer now we've gotten rid of heaps of stuff. Which reminds me, must make another Freecycle list.
Jun. 24th, 2006 05:16 pm (UTC)
It's not at all the same as "It will be useful again someday" and I was treating it as the same.

Good point.
Jun. 24th, 2006 05:12 am (UTC)
Thanks for your lists. I always find it helpful to see how someone else deals with this perennial problem.

WRT "I haven't read it or used it yet," I might also think about WHY I haven't read it or used it. If it's just too far down the list for me to get to in the next 5 years (just a time-frame at random), and it's still in good condition, I start thinking about "re-gifting." ;^)
Jun. 24th, 2006 07:04 am (UTC)
I like the "next 5 years" idea. Thanks!
Jun. 24th, 2006 05:16 am (UTC)
I think I have slightly packratty tendencies, TOILW is worse. I have to work really hard to get him to throw things out. But yes, if you pack stuff away and forget you have it, it's probably safe to go. And if you're not using stuff, yes, it's just distributed landfill, which isn't helpful to anyone. You could also try the question: "if I (and OH) vanished off the face of the planet tomorrow, what would happen to this?"
Jun. 24th, 2006 07:06 am (UTC)
Good thoughts, thanks!

You could also try the question: "if I (and OH) vanished off the face of the planet tomorrow, what would happen to this?"

I do think about that a fair bit, but it kinda depresses me into inaction. :/
Jun. 24th, 2006 10:30 am (UTC)
Oh well, you win some, you lose some.

(It's helped me see certain objects as an outsider might, and realise it was time to throw them out or replace them. Sure, they might have sentimental value, but I have a lot of stuff with sentimental value, and I've noticed that it doesn't matter much what period of my past I get sentimental about, it all feels much the same.)
Jun. 24th, 2006 05:17 pm (UTC)
It's helped me see certain objects as an outsider might

Good idea, I'll have to try that...
Jun. 24th, 2006 06:04 am (UTC)
When I'm back from the trip, I should see how the battery in my eMate is working. If it is, I might be interested in any of the Newton books that cover programming.
Jun. 24th, 2006 07:07 am (UTC)
Jun. 24th, 2006 06:11 am (UTC)
Stuff that you keep because you might do something specific with it should have a "goal" that is served by that action. What is that goal, and can it be accomplished without this item?

Stuff that you keep because you think you might need it but you're not sure can be given a date. Give yourself a small amount of space to keep things "indefinitely" and fill it with items that are small, potentially high-value, or have high sentimental value. Give yourself a slightly larger space to keep stuff for 1 year, and a fairly generous space to keep stuff for 6 months. Follow through on the implied commitment to do something with it, or find a better home for it, in that amount of time.

I recommend "Getting Things Done" by David Allen. He has some really great ideas about getting organized, mostly for office work and paper files, but with some creativity and a few plastic bins the principles can be applied to clutter of various sizes.
Jun. 24th, 2006 07:08 am (UTC)
Good ideas!

I've read bits of "Getting Things Done". It's a very helpful book.
Jun. 24th, 2006 08:01 pm (UTC)
books, other misc. thoughts
Did you already catch this nifty book swap by mail club in my journal (or elsewhere)? I'm thinking that, since books are one of your issues, you could at least get rid of some of the ones you know you don't want, and replace them with ones you know you do want! [link thanks to tyrsalvia, btw]

In a similar vein, it might be effective to put some of your "not worth giving away" stuff out on your front walk with a big sign on it "FREE" (and possibly notes about stuff that is broken or doesn't work). You'd be surprised at what people will take away, without your ever having to lift a finger beyond getting it to the curb. If you think you don't get enough foot traffic, maybe you could put up "Garage Sale" signs, and then fail to ask for any money, just leaving the stuff on the curb. :^)

Tangentially related to that, I find that if I can manage to box it or bag it up, and drop it off at a donation center (Salvation Army is the one closest to us with the best hours), then I can salve my conscience, even about stuff that I think isn't really worth giving away. If they don't think it's worth fixing or selling, then they are set up to dispose of stuff on a grand scale. It might go into a landfill, but hey, who cares? It would if I threw it away, too. And at least this way there's *some* possibility that it might get fixed/used again. And someone else can make that decision, not me. What a relief!

I certainly resonate with your challenges, and definitely hear you on a lot of the reasons you continue to hold on to things. The process of sorting things is just exhausting for me, as it requires me to make decisions over and over again, not something that's typically a strong suit for me. We did take pictures of some of the "things" over the years that Victoria made or that Allegra made, and got rid of the things themselves. That technique definitely worked for us for certain of those "someone made it/gave it to me, and it has sentimental value" items. Pictures store much more compactly, especially on-line. :^)

I am continuing to follow this discussion with interest, because this is a topic that's a continual challenge for me. I am a verified packrat (my totem animal is a squirrel!), and yet I, too, am more at ease with less stuff around than is typical for our home. It's one of the things that klrmn's arrival in our life has improved--she's broken the deadlock on some of this stuff, and is giving us very good incentive to clean things up, throw things out, get things organized, and make space for her amongst our things. It's challenging and rewarding at the same time, and she's a real peach for being willing to actually pitch in on the process.
Jun. 25th, 2006 07:51 am (UTC)
Re: books, other misc. thoughts
Thanks for the info on the book swap club. I actually have lots of places to get rid of books (library friends, animal shelter thrift store). But maybe I will look into it to see if anyone wants old computer books.

The "FREE" sign is a good idea. San Carlos has a garage sale weekend and I gave away some stuff last year that way.

Good point about letting the thrift store decide what is worth selling vs giving away.

Good luck with your decluttering! Having someone else participate does seem to help.
( 29 comments — Leave a comment )

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