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A Totally Full House

And not a place to sit…getting rid of clutter



My personal epiphany regarding clutter occurred when I found a jar of my old baby teeth at the bottom of my bureau drawer. It made me think about all the things we save—how they accumulate and transform into forgotten detritus. 

Consider the following: A recent report finds that an astonishing 75 percent of American families had stopped using their garages to park their cars. Why? Possessions were crammed into every inch of their garages, so cars were necessarily consigned to the street or driveway. A full 54 percent of Americans reported feeling overwhelmed by their belongings. These clutter bugs are the savers, the keepers, and the guardians of family relics such as broken appliances, souvenir mugs, used wrapping paper, and children’s macaroni art. 

But why are we afraid to throw things away? It’s often because of their value, sentimental or otherwise, and we worry that if we let them go, we will forget the memories attached to them. This heirloom clutter—items that you don’t need, don’t really want, and don’t use but that you keep because they once belonged to a family member—is a big contributor to the problem. I always fear that the moment I get rid of this or that, I’ll see the exact same item on “Antiques Roadshow” and learn that it was worth millions.

The idea of what we paid for an item can also keep us from releasing the things that no longer serve us. Yesterday’s purchase price has little relationship to what it’s worth today. Today’s value is what you need to be aware of when considering whether to give the item space in your home or to let it go as clutter.

The first step toward being clutter-free is to commit to stopping the flow and vigilantly guarding against the sheer number of things coming in. For some people it may mean avoiding their favorite stores; for others it may mean no more stopping at tag sales; while still others may need to wean themselves from the potent allure of online shopping. 

Marie Kondo is a Japanese organizing consultant and author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, a de-cluttering manifesto that is clearly resonating with readers because it is currently a global best-seller. She advises: “Start off small by discarding just one item a day. When you get something new, get rid of something old.”

For those who need help deciding which items to keep and which to discard: “Discard anything that does not spark joy.” Thanking items for their service is another key component of letting go according to Kondo. When we show gratitude to our possessions, we often decrease the sense of guilt we feel in disposing of them.

Ironically, obtaining more storage space encourages the accumulation of more stuff. Having limited storage options forces one to make choices about what to keep. Additionally, limited space makes you more aware of what you already own and therefore less likely to go out and buy the exact same item again. 

Simply organizing our accumulated flotsam and jetsam without purging any of it is only a temporary solution. By definition, organizing possessions is an action that must be repeated over and over again. On the other hand, getting rid of “stuff” is an action of permanence: Once an item has been removed, it’s gone. Whether we re-sell our possessions, donate them to charity, or give them to a friend, they are immediately put to use by those who need them. Sometimes just throwing an item away after it has lived out its useful life can be cathartic.

Additionally, there is also the mental battle to convince yourself that what you already have is enough. Owning less is far more beneficial than organizing more. Getting rid of life’s excesses allows you to focus on life’s important things, like relationships, pursuing your passions, and contributing to others in a meaningful way.

Controlling clutter can be one of the keys to maintaining a tranquil environment. It often contributes to a feeling of inner calm and an appreciation of things that are truly beautiful. 

In fact, study after study has found that the purchase of material goods isn’t what makes us genuinely happy. Rather, it’s the experiences and meaningful relationships we have that help enrich our lives. So what are you waiting for? It’s time to get organized and maybe even park your car in the garage.


How to Control Clutter...

Marlou Newkirk, a professional organizer, told us that the concept of always putting her keys in the same place changed her life. “I once had to take a $20 cab ride to work because I couldn’t find my car keys in all the clutter.” She offered these tips for staying tidy:

›› Keys Please 
Use a hook, a tray, or a small bowl, and put your keys in the same spot every time you enter your home.

›› Waste Away
Open mail near a recycling container and dispose of unwanted mail immediately.

›› Start Small
Keep de-cluttering sessions short: 10, 20, or 30 minutes, but no more than an hour. Reward yourself no matter how short the session.

›› Put It Away 
Find places for your things to live. Most clutter is caused by not having a proper home for your belongings.

›› Let It Live Elsewhere   
Give your things a second life by donating them to Goodwill, community stores, or take them to a consignment
shop.

›› Caution   
Beware of “freebies” including tote bags, mugs, hand-me-downs, and furniture etc.

 

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