As far as the moving and cleaning is concerned, I’m afraid there is really no way around those two: if you have managed to accumulate a lot of things over a long period of time, and have neglected to manage those items, it speaks for itself that any activity involving looking at those items will take much longer than if you had a decluttering session just a year ago, or if you make conscious choices about what you keep. There is something to be said for “spring cleaning” after all: it sure helps keep the work at bay when you start looking at the bulk of your belongings!
When it comes to deciding which items are worth keeping, we enter a grey zone that extends from here to eternity. There are a lot of reasons why we keep items, and each of those reasons requires a slightly different approach, a different reasoning to go through, different emotional elements involved… it helps to know why exactly things you have kept things to this point.
“I paid a lot for this”
Here’s a classic! If the item has a practical use – and I mean a practical use right now, not in some hypothetical future scenario – then by all means hang on to it. It is not really a problem. Sadly, when I get that answer, usually the items are not in use and it’s only really kept because the owner feels silly for having bought it and can’t stand the idea of losing money over this.
Well, here’s real life for you: “You have already spent that money!” Do you really want to be reminded of this bad investment each time you see the item? Maybe it’s time to look into selling it or – if that is not possible – give it to someone who can make use of it. Either way, you’ll take something out of your home that reinforces an embarrassing memory that you can do without.
“I couldn’t throw away a gift from a friend / family member”
It’s another classic type of thing that I hear a lot, and it’s a slightly more challenging one as it touches on not just your own sentiment and embarrassment, but it involves other people as well. Interestingly, some of this is based on your own imagination of what your friends or family would feel/think if you gave it away.
Maybe it’s time to change your approach to the question. I have mentioned in an earlier blog that “the point of a gift is to be given”, and that involves two elements: the interaction between the giver and the receiver is finished once the gift has been given, and after that it’s really up to you how long you want to keep it. See more details in my earlier blog. Receiving a gift from someone does not oblige you to keep it forever, especially if you neither enjoy it nor use it.
“It reminds me of my holiday / school / youth / my friend x”
Memorabilia. Nice to have, of course, and just the kind of thing that usually has no practical value whatsoever, unless you have found a use for a pair of maracas or that raffia bottle holder you brought back 15 years ago. Holiday memorabilia is not the only type of memorabilia you will come across during a decluttering session: think about study notes (probably incomplete), a collection of beer coasters, your son’s drawings (he has reached the ripe age of 16, is unaware you still hang on to those and would be horrified if he knew), concert stubs or museum tickets, … need I mention more?
There is an incredible number of items that can accumulate and that we assign some fictitious value to. You really want to find out if you hang on just because you are used to those things, or if they actually mean something special. This is particularly true if you hang on to something for someone else’s sake (the son’s drawings). Ask yourself (or your son) a simple question: would you really miss it if it were not here anymore?
You may also want to take into account that most likely you have not been aware of those things until you started decluttering in the first place. If that is the case, why keep it at all? You might only assign value to these items because you hold them in your hands right now.
“It’s an heirloom!”
This one is a mixed version of ‘gifts from friends/family’ and ‘reminds me of’ situations mentioned just above.
If you either like this item or it is being used more or less regularly, there is no issue here, and you will be very much aware of that fact. However, if there is any reason to think that you keep it only out of obligation, it’s time to let go. Since it’s a family heirloom, you might just hang on to it because you feel that one of your family members might one day come and claim it. While that is highly unlikely to happen, why not pre-empt the whole thing and ask everyone, with a polite ultimatum, if they want it and if they don’t … you are off the hook. If YOU don’t want it, maybe this is the time to let it go?
“I might need this (again) later”
Oh, if I had a nickel… this is probably the last comment on practically every item I see someone evaluate. After a long discussion, there is usually a long pause and then out it comes: “I might need this later”.
Indeed, you might. Chances are, however, that you won’t. Many of us have been brought up with a sense of not wasting anything, our parents or grandparents have instilled the idea of scarcity in our young minds and whenever it’s time to chuck out that broken chair, the remnants of wallpaper or paint, superfluous cutlery, or cull that tea towel collection, we waver and think that exact through.
My advice is simple: if it hasn’t been used for a couple of years, get rid of it. 99% of the things we keep “just in case” will just be dead weight after all. The 1% we let go and then end up needing again is worth the investment to get a brand new fully functional and up to date version of, rather than stick with the half-broken and slightly rusty one. If it’s technology we are talking about, forget about it after two years: it’s been relegated to the scrap pile of electronic history by newer developments!
A subset of this issue comes three months later: “I let it go and now I need it!” The question to look at is: would you have known you had it in the first place when the need arose? Would you have looked for it? What have you done all that time without it? The typical response is that they have done with another solution to the problem this item was specifically designed to deal with: so rather than use the specific cappuccino foam mixer, you would have used a regular mixer to fluff up the milk, just as you have done in this instance. It’s only on your mind because you have handled the little mixer thing, have considered it thoroughly and made a decision that you are so acutely aware that it is not around any longer.
Don’t worry about it. Life will go on. Rejoice in the knowledge that for that one item you vaguely regret letting go there are dozens of others you’ll never miss. And a lot more space to live in without it all.
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Hi, my name is Tilo Flache. My current mission: help my clients declutter mind and space.
This blog contains pointers for your journey towards a happier living experience.