A ministep in getting rid of stuff

Before moving into my current condo four years ago this month, I dejunked a lot but could have done more. Decisions about many “keep or toss?” items were left for the unpacking stage.

Anxious to stop looking at boxes once I was here, however, I stashed everything away.

In the last few weeks I finally made an overdue attempt at decluttering. It was a mixed success. After going through every closet, cabinet, and drawer, I was disappointed to see that the discards filled just four medium-sized boxes for the Salvation Army.

Looks like I did a good job of organizing and not so good a job of purging.

If the guideline of giving away what hasn’t been used in the last six months, or even the last year, were followed, nearly all the books would go. There are clothes not worn in years; kitchen utensils on upper shelves that I never look at; a file drawer of how-to clippings that predate the Internet; a plastic cube of cleaning products that have sat untouched since I went eco-friendly. I found rolls of undeveloped film and a bag with dozens of keys I’m reluctant to toss because some day I might discover what they open.

I tell myself I’ll be more brutal when the shelves and drawers start to overflow. I’m not there yet.

Psychology Today says that the number one reason people hold on to stuff is that they don’t feel entitled to get rid of it. That sounded farfetched until I interpreted it as another way of saying you feel guilty about getting rid of what’s still usable. Note to self for next time: What’s still usable is exactly what charities and thrift stores want.

Not making the time or feeling overwhelmed with the magnitude of the task are also mentioned by Psychology Today. I did make the time to look at everything but, I realize now that the task is finished, spent a lot of hours moving things around. It would not have taken more time to put stuff on a discard pile rather than on a shelf.

People sometimes say they hold on to a thing because they might need whatever it is sometime. How often does that happen?

People also keep things for sentimental reasons, and this is the reason I’m most sympathetic to. I have boxes with keepsakes, dozens of journals, trip souvenirs, samples from my editorial career, notes from my extensive genealogy research, and photos. I imagine myself sitting in a rocking chair in 20 years looking at those things to remember my life. Discarding them would feel like erasing my past. Yes, I could scan (or have scanned) some of these but so far haven’t been motivated to spend the time or money. Besides, I’d have to go through everything to decide what to have scanned.

Am I making excuses? Possibly. But as long as stuff is organized — and it is now — it doesn’t feel like a burden. It’s out of sight — not on display and needing to be dusted.

And there’s no reason not to do another purge, maybe an annual purge. Or, less daunting, to clean out one drawer or shelf at a time whenever the mood strikes.

As for now, self-criticism is mingled with self-congratulation. It does feel good to know what I have and where it is. Going through stuff needn’t be about discarding only. It can also be about discovery of things you can put to use. It was great to find a forgotten humidifier, for instance. Since winter is almost over, I didn’t take the humidifier out of the box but put the box where it’s right in my face when the closet door is opened. Next winter the humidifier will not sit on a shelf.


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  • Saving stuff, I know what you mean. Recently i found a pair of Ice
    Skates that i have had for 30 years, I said to myself, don't throw
    these skates out, maybe one day you will try Ice Skating again?
    Well this winter I actually put those skates on, and skated around the
    rink, not well, but I did it. Save the Fun Stuff.

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