Knowing my preoccupation with clutter-clearing, a friend emailed me a few days ago: “I am starting the great purge of our belongings in preparation for moving. What mantras should I be using?"
Good question! Moving is a fantastic opportunity to tackle clutter. And even if you’re not thinking about moving, you might want to try the “virtual move”—you look at what you have, and ask yourself, “If I were moving, would I bother to wrap this in bubblewrap and stick it in a box? Or would I chuck it or give it away?”
Whether you’re really moving, or virtually moving, here are some questions to ask yourself, as you consider whether some particular piece of stuff is worth keeping. Remember, you have to be HONEST!
1. Do I actually use this?
2. If I get rid of this, and it turns out I need it, how hard will it be to replace?
3. How many of this object do I really need? E.g., how many coffee mugs do you actually use? Beware of what’s called the “maximum-use imperative”—the fact that people will often buy or keep something to accommodate a use that they need only rarely (like a dining room table big enough to seat the whole family, who visits once every two years). Also, although you may be tempted to keep every usable rubber band or every packet of ketchup that comes into your house, if you’re never going to use them up, get rid of the excess.
4. Does this work properly? If not, get it fixed, give it away, or throw it away.
5. At this moment, do I know how to operate this thing?
6. Am I keeping a gift out of sentiment or politeness, even though I don't really like or need it?
7. Am I keeping something as a memento? That's ok, but pick your mementos wisely. Try to pick things that don’t take up too much room. You don’t need lots of mementos from the same period of time. You can take a picture of something if you just want the visual cue, but don’t really want to use the thing—this is especially useful when the memento is large, say, your father's desk.
8. When in doubt, throw it out! (or give it away).
Tip: I find it’s much easier for me to get rid of things when I can envision that my things will be better used by someone else. So, as you prepare for your real or virtual move, take the time to identify destinations for your stuff. Do you know a family who could use your hand-me-downs? A thrift store that accepts used toys? Would you post a notice so that someone who wanted something could come take it? Etc.
UPDATE: I wrote a new book about how to de-clutter and organize to make more room for happiness. Order Outer Order, Inner Calm here.
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