“Don’t own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire.”—Wendell Berry
Last fall, the living room started closing in on me. The knickknacks leered from the book shelf, coffee table, mantel, and TV stand. I shuddered to think of my storage closet where junk lurked in the obscene darkness, breeding like vicious rabbits.
Not long after, we started getting rid of everything.
Four months later, after combing every inch of our house for things to trash, sell, or otherwise evict, and after spending hours of meeting people to buy our stuff from Facebook Yardsale pages (some as far away as South Carolina!), we’re fairly satisfied with our trimmed-down apartment—everything in its place and with a purpose.
Through the months of purging, I collected some principles for cleaning house. See if they’ll inspire you to do some de-cluttering of your own.
Look at your stuff suspiciously.
When Laura and I started this process, we eyed every item in our house like Joe McCarthy looking for a communist. Pick things up, appraise their value, and if they aren’t worth keeping, then don’t. Surround yourself with meaningful things. Look at your house like someone else would look at your house, room by room. What does your stuff say about you?
When you get something new, get rid of something old.
Don’t stick it in the storage closet—be purposeful about recycling it. Recently, we bought a new kitchen utensil holder at IKEA. So I put my old crock on Facebook Marketplace and sold it two days later for $5. This rotation rule is a great way to get rid of unnecessary items—and make some cash.
Think ahead—but not for every scenario.
Some people are noble pack rats: they’re resourceful and prudent because somewhere in their past they got rid of something that they ended up needing the next week. But there comes a time when you have to ask yourself if needing the item in a possible futuristic scenario outweighs the need to de-clutter now.
If it hasn’t been used/thought of in the past year, don’t feel guilty for letting it go.
This applies to gifts. Laura hoards mugs like Smaug hoards gold—or at least she used to. Through the years I’ve talked her out of keeping mugs simply because they had been given to her by family or friends. I encouraged her when she got a new mug to get rid of an old one. (If ever you wanted to buy her a present, please, whatever you do, no mugs!) At the risk of impalement, I also want to point out that this applies to books. I often hear people gasp at the idea of getting rid of books, as if it says something of our intellect or the purity of our souls. But books can become clutter just like anything else—especially if you don’t intend to read them. We were blessed to find a Half-Price Books up the street from our house. They pay for used books, games, or DVDs. And let me tell you, I dread my next move less now that I’ve thinned out about half of my book collection.
Don’t keep stuff just because, but don’t get rid of stuff just because.
Find that happy balance between prudence and pack-rattery. It’s one thing to keep something truly special because of an emotional connection, but another thing to become emotionally connected to stuff just because it’s yours.
Avoid shifting your clutter to other pack rats.
I’m guilty of this by heredity. I come from a family of junk swappers. I think it helps us feel better to keep our junk close by—so we can go visit it. I’m slowly getting better about giving my stuff to strangers rather than to my mom or sister, unless it’s something I know they need.
Find creative ways to de-clutter.
- Regift. Our de-cluttering process didn’t end with our own storage closet—we pulled our junk from our parents’ attics and garages as well. Almost all of the gifts that Laura gave this Christmas (at least to her nieces and nephew) were stuffed animals and books that she found among her childhood hoard. If it’s in good condition, why not save it to give to a friend or loved one? A regift of something that you once loved might mean more than a new item.
- Set goals. Last year, my sister set a goal to get rid of 100 things in a month. Anything was fair game—toys and clothes, furniture and decorations. It seemed like a goal I could get behind, and although I didn’t keep count, I’m pretty sure I hit that mark. Maybe set a goal of 10 things per room. Or 50 things from the basement and 50 from the attic.
- Use Amazon. In the grand history of ways to get rid of stuff, this is one of the coolest. If for some reason you don’t have a Goodwill nearby, Amazon will take your items and ship them to Goodwill for free! All you have to do is fill a box—any box—with clothes and other items that you no longer need, print a shipping label from Give Back Box website, and take it to a post office! Not only are you getting your unwanted stuff out of your hair, you’re also donating to an organization that this year alone opened over 70,000 positions for people who otherwise might not have had employment opportunities. It’s a total win!
- Host a joint yard sale. Of course this isn’t terribly creative, but it is an awful lot of fun. Laura and I don’t have a yard at our apartment complex, so we borrowed a friend’s driveway. An added bonus is spending time lounging around with friends and perfect strangers.
These are some decluttering principles I learned during our great purge this year. But how about you? What are some tips that you have found to keep your inner pack rat at bay? Let me know in the comments.