“Old Rubbish! Old Letters, Old Clothes, Old Objects that One Does Not Want to Throw Away.”

“Oh! Old rubbish! Old  letters, old clothes, old objects that one does not want to throw away. How well nature has understood that, every year, she must change her leaves, her flowers, her fruit and her vegetables, and make manure out of the mementos of her year!”

–Jules Renard, Journal

Do you feel that getting rid of “old rubbish” helps to make you feel more energetic, more creative, more vital? As I study habits and happiness, I find myself doing a crazy amount of thinking about clutter.

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  • Susan

    Living in a climate with a lot of extremes and in a small house I change our wardrobes 2 times a year. It’s such a chore and incredibly satisfying when it’s over. We had a serious clutter problem a few years ago and it was so mentally destructive and definitely an impediment to happiness. I’ve stayed on top of it with full household purges based on the seasons. My tip: teeny tiny waste bins in every room. It’s easy to throw stuff out and the bins fill up so quickly they need to be emptied every day which is always gives me a little boost.

  • DB

    Yes! I have made a major effort in the past year to clean out and get rid of things I am not using or that are not particularly memorable (e.g. photos, souvenirs, etc.). It has been incredibly rewarding and satisfying. Having less clutter, fewer things to keep track of, organize, or dust, and having more space has definitely impacted my daily stress levels in a positive way. One strategy for keeping up with my wardrobe is as follows: anytime I wear something and decide that I don’t like how it fits, looks, wears, whatever – I put it in a “hold” pile. Then every 3-6 months, if I have not missed whatever is in the pile, I take it to donate at Goodwill or similar.

  • Penelope Schmitt

    I love the idea of thinking of one’s clutter as ‘fallen leaves.’ Where I live, yards have to be cleaned very regularly of leaves, pine cones, branches and vines or the yards will quickly become jungle. I am able to think of paper clutter the same way, but I have a lot of other ‘stuff’ that could use the same treatment!

  • Jamie

    what a truly excellent quote!

  • Mimi Gregor

    Great quote! And I find myself nodding vigorously in agreement! I look forward to the thorough cleaning and re-organizing that I give my home every spring. Everything is evaluated. Do I love it? Does it hold positive memories for me? Is it useful? I do this with objets d’art… books… clothing… everything…. as I work my way around the house, doing each room in turn. Although I find weekly cleaning a chore, I actually enjoy THIS process. And when I am done, I know that everything I have or wear is suited to ME. I don’t keep things merely for sentiment, or because it was a gift, or because it was expensive. Anything that doesn’t suit me is either sold or given to charity. Last year, as I did this, I also ragged the walls of each room as I went along, turning them more into “Tuscan villa” rather than the stark white they were. Because I have changed and I wanted my surroundings to reflect that. And when I was finished, I felt more at ease in my surroundings. It truly felt like “home”.

  • Helene Domi

    Clutter. I hate clutter, but I also strongly believe in saving things that have some sort of meaning or value to me now or in the future. For example, we used to argue at my mom for keeping things such as newspaper articles, letters, cards. Now that my mom is gone and my kids are entering/entered adulthood, these items are priceless.

  • Wendy

    As much as I hate to clean the clutter eventually makes me crazy. I feel so much better when I get rid of it. The good part about me is that I don’t mind throwing old stuff out, although my husband might sometimes disagree. The bad part about me is that I don’t do it until I have a total mess on my hands.
    Last time we moved he went 2 months early and I had to pack everything. the trade off was no one knows what I got rid and nothing has been missed.

  • youonlylawonce

    Getting rid of clutter is really exhilarating for me. Paradoxically, it also justifies being able to reward myself by buying new things. For example, I got rid of my old unmatched socks that were stretched out and got myself some new, more comfortable socks. And that made me happier. Just an example (I know I can’t extend this thinking to all situations).

  • Petunia

    My rule is to get rid of two things for each new item I buy. That means clothes! It works much better with clothing than with books. We constantly cull our many bookshelves and try to discard two books for every new one. That’s sooo difficult, because old favorites deserve to be read and savored again.

  • Gezonder en Fitter (Martine)

    great insights, thx again

  • Jill Douthett

    Snakes shed their skin several times a year. Why? To allow for growth.

  • Frances Erickson

    When I was “young” and married, we moved every 2 yrs and that provided a great opportunity to get of all kinds of stuff that hadn’t been used, looked for or otherwise wanted during that time. Since no longer married or moving so often, I have to make an extra effort to keep down the clutter. But I do it and give many things away to charity.

  • Elizabeth

    Gretchen, I absolutely love your writing and pieces – such a contribution to my life and many others!

    I grew up in a cluttered home. It was “organized” and “hidden”, but at least 30% of the house was unusable due to boxes of junk piled up floor to ceiling. I dabbled in clutter myself as a child and teen, but always felt relief after cleaning out clutter.

    Once I moved away to college, I had to move just about every six months back and forth between coasts and as a scholarship kid I quickly realized: I can’t afford to store this stuff, ship this stuff, or even move this stuff into donation before my quick flight home after finals.

    I had to just…throw it all away. I have fantasies that those less fortunate may have found all this stuff privately and used it to it’s full potential value, but truthfully, I felt pressured, and I had to clean out my apartment, and I felt..guilt. I didn’t realize how easy it was, without much income, to acquire so much stuff.

    That feeling really, deeply, truly sticks with me. There is a certain lightness of being I experience by being organized AND clutter free. A certain easy task of dusting a completely clean shelf, or discovering a complete empty drawer.

    I feel energized giving “old stuff” away that no longer “serves” me to make way for new life in a new way…and off of my shelves and out of my apartment.

  • Kathryn Lester

    I’m a borderline hoarder. I attach sentimental value to items. I don’t throw broken items away because they can be used in my crafting. I have craft books/magazines from before I was born as they were passed down from my mother or I found them at Thrift Shops. I feel comfortable and safe with these things. I don’t have to run out and purchase some of this stuff at horrible prices and make my creativity wait until payday or I can get to a store.
    Now that I’ve stated all of the above. I’m in the very slow process of trying to eliminate some of my stuff. I’m scanning what I want from my craft books/magazines and then letting them go. My external hard drive backup takes up much less room. I’m disabled now, so I’m looking at what I can realistically accomplish with my loss of body movements and tolerances. So if it is for a craft that I can’t do – it’s out of here. I’ve also decided to take photos of items that are of sentimental value, but that’s the only value, and letting the item itself go away. This doesn’t pertain to everything such as diaries, military buttons, pins, etc… they are being kept.. But a figurine that my mom loved and bought for herself, a picture will work just as well. I hope to have these put on as slide show to share with my other siblings and their families.
    I’m a work in progress with some sliding back, but each day gives me an opportunity to try yet again.

  • ozjos

    If you ever feel the need to declutter – move house. If you want to make not hoarding a permanent habit, move house several times. By yourself. Overseas. Where you have to wrap and pack every single article that you decide you want to keep. And pay for the shipping. Pay a lot. Per kilogram. These days, whenever I’m tempted to buy a thing, my automatic response is “hmmm, one day I’m going to have to pack that” and 9 times out of 10 I don’t buy it.

  • UsedtobeEP

    Here is some clutter I would love to deal with. The papers kids bring home weekly. My kids contribute more to the amount of clutter in the house than any single other thing in it. The junk that comes home from school is immeasurable. I am so weary of deciding which papers to keep and which to toss. I know in two years they won’t want any of it but right now it all seems precious to them and I am a secret, guilty recycler when I can get away with it.

  • Awesome post. Insightful and the quote is really nice. Do you know other Jules Renard’s writings? Would love to read his works.

  • Alex

    Money is wasted when you purchase something you don’t use or don’t need, not at the point where you give something away or throw it away. Much of what we hang onto because we think it has value or is too good to waste doesn’t have the value we project onto it. I know I’m not interested in finding the time to organize an execute a yard sale or sell things online.

    A friend whose home is clutter-free once told me that she never says no when a charity calls about a donated items pick-up. I keep a box in a closet and add things to it as I run across items in the house. It’s liberating.