Last week, I talked about the central role purging your excess stuff plays in staying organized, reducing stress and frustration and saving you time and money. Getting rid of the stuff you no longer need that’s clogging up the closets, drawers, cabinets and surfaces in your home is the first step to taking back control of your domain! Technically speaking, you can organize your belongings without eliminating anything, but it will be more work and won’t stay orderly for very long. You’ll most likely end up like my mom with her muffin tins, constantly moving things from one spot to another as they continue to just get in your way. But, the more you divest, the easier organizing and maintaining your home becomes. There will be less stuff to find homes for and fewer items to put away every day. A leaner home is simply easier to navigate, relax in and keep up.
Almost everybody has items they need to evict from their homes. Any time someone finds out I’m a professional home organizing consultant, their immediate response is always, “Oh, I could really use you! I have way too much stuff!” And while I can (and do) help clients reduce their clutter and get organized, all they really need to succeed on their own is to clear the common hurdles that prevent them from getting started or from continuing to make progress once they do. But first, it’s important to understand that streamlining your stuff is an ongoing task, just like mowing the grass, cleaning the kitchen, or doing the laundry. It isn’t a “one and done” project...it requires a lifestyle change and embracing a different mindset about your belongings. Please don’t stop reading! The good news is that with the right system in place, maintaining a leaner household is easy peasy once you get through the initial purge. I’ll share more about maintenance in this blog later this month. For now, let’s focus on clearing the most common obstacles many people face when they try to part with their precious belongings.
The most common obstructions to streamlining your stuff fall into two main categories: 1) Process hurdles; 2) Item hurdles. Process hurdles prevent you from getting started or slow down your momentum. Item hurdles are roadblocks you encounter along the way that are related to a specific object or category of belongings. They trip up your progress, often causing you to stop the process entirely. Keep reading for a description and a solution for overcoming each one.
It feels overwhelming. Whether the amount of clutter is too great or you just aren’t sure where/how to begin, you keep putting it off until later, and later never comes. In fact, the longer you wait, the worse the problem gets as your piles of clutter continue to grow.
Solution: Start small. Where you start is not nearly as important as that you start. Tackle one drawer, one shelf, one box. There’s no right or wrong place to start...it all needs to get done eventually. However, many people find kitchens and bathrooms contain fewer item hurdles, so beginning there may enable you to build up some momentum to propel you forward.
It might hurt/take too long. It’s only natural to feel a little apprehensive at the prospect of parting with things that were once helpful, hold fond memories, or seem like they may still be of some use/value. It makes sense that you would see it as a cumbersome chore, and no one looks forward to that, especially if it’s a big job that seems like it might take a long time to complete.
Solution: Instead of focusing on the costs (time, energy, stuff you once loved), look forward to all the benefits you'll be gaining. Your life will be easier with more space and accessibility. You’ll feel more free and no longer suffocated by all your stuff. Once you've completed the initial purge, you'll enjoy spending your time on other things without your big pile of excess hogging up space in your home and your head. Best of all, you’ll be creating space to live in the present and create new memories for your future when you let go of things from your past that aren’t as useful as they once were. Write down your benefits list and post it somewhere you're likely to see it to keep you motivated. Even if you have a big pile to go through and it requires a significant investment of time, remember that you don’t have to do it all at once. You can break it into small, manageable pieces. One thing's for sure: the job won’t get any smaller by procrastinating any further.
There’s no clear plan for what to do with the stuff you decide to eliminate. This one actually falls into both categories. When you don’t know what you will do with things in general, it can keep you from getting started; when you don’t know what to do with a specific item, it can threaten your progress.
Solution: There are many ways to eliminate your castoffs and each method depends on the specific item, the amount of time/effort you want to invest in finding a new home for it, where you live, and your personal priorities. I’ll cover some of the options in greater detail in next week’s blog. In the meantime, selecting a charitable organization that accepts most household and clothing items is a good first step. You can google “where to donate household items” or “donation pickup” to identify some or ask friends and neighbors where they donate. Then, visit their website or call to see what they will and will not accept and whether or not you can schedule a donation pickup or where/when you can drop items off. Organizations like Greendrop and DonationTown operate all over the country and partner with multiple charities, so these are a great place to start. You can also join a group like Freecycle, NextDoor, or Buy Nothing to find people near you who need what you have to give away. You’ll find links to all of these organizations and many more at www.easypeasyliving.com/donatingrecycling.
You suffer from “Decision Deferral Syndrome." Frankly, this is the crux of the issue for most people, and it is also why you now have more stuff than you can conveniently accommodate. Making decisions with permanent consequences is often intimidating, so we tend to put it off and end up keeping merely by default. Understand that decision deferral is a decision...a poor one made without intention..
Solution: First, acknowledge that this is a problem and accept that you will likely find forcing yourself to make a real decision uncomfortable at first. However, the more you do it, the easier it will become. Remember that not making a clear decision is how you wound up in this situation in the first place. It’s time to try something new. Take assurance from the fact that, in my experience, long-term regret at getting rid of something is extremely rare. Even when it does happen, it is almost always just mild regret. You will learn to trust your ability to make wise decisions with practice. The sooner you get started, the sooner you'll begin to feel more confident.
There’s no room to work in. This is mostly an issue in homes with extreme clutter or when working in an especially small area.
Solution: The first step is to create a staging area. Even if it requires you to pile things up really high at first, or move some of your clutter outdoors during the initial session, make enough space for a donate bin/box, a trash bag, and a recycle bin. That's all you need to get started. It won’t take very long to clear enough room to make the process a lot easier. Be sure to remove any trash and recycling immediately at the end of each session. If possible, get rid of your donations right away too. Some suggestions: 1) store them in your car until you can pass them on; or 2) plan your purging sessions to coincide with a donation pickup/drop-off to ensure they get taken away immediately.
Gift Guilt/Obligation to keep. Someone gave it to you (or even worse, made it for you) or you inherited it. You don’t like it/can’t use it but feel obliged to keep it because it was a gift or family relic. This can paralyze your purging endeavor if you let it.
Solution: Remember that no one ever intended to give you a burden as a gift. If it is consuming room in your home, getting in your way, or causing you guilt, that is what it has become. The giver may have selected or made that item for you as a tangible expression of the true gift...their love, gratitude, friendship, or congratulations, but it is merely a representation, not the gift itself. It's important to understand that giving away an item that was given to you is neither a rejection of the sentiment behind it nor of the person who gave it to you. Find a way to preserve the memory of it if that makes it easier to say goodbye to it (a photo, journal entry, etc.). Consider honoring the person it came from by giving it to someone else who can use/appreciate it. Chances are, the giver will never even realize, remember or care that you no longer have it. If you still really just can’t part with it, choose another item you were planning to keep and eliminate that in its place.
Someday/Maybe items. If you think long enough and hard enough, everything in your clutter stash could fall into this category. These are things that might be useful at some point in the future but you have only a vague (or no) idea how.
Solution: Remind yourself that just because you might be able to use it again doesn’t mean you will. You don’t have room for “might”. If you did, you wouldn’t be feeling the need to purge. The fact is that you will use the space this item currently occupies, either for storing something else you need or for making the things you do use more accessible and easier to find. Sure, there’s a chance you might end up having to buy it again, but that is easier to do than living in cramped quarters all the time. Only keep someday/maybe items if you have both a specific plan and a timeline for using them in the near future.
Broken stuff. Everybody has broken stuff they are keeping because they plan to fix it...someday.
Solution: Fix it now. Decide who will fix it, when they will fix it, what else they require in order to fix it, and how much it will cost to fix it. Decide all of that now, or get rid of it now. If it is worth fixing, it is worth doing now. Don’t let it consume space in your drawer, cabinet, or closet for another minute without a solid plan. Add it to your to-do list with a deadline and get it done. If you miss the deadline, toss it. No excuses!
Things you “spent good money on”. You paid a lot for it but never really used it or no longer use it for whatever reason.
Solution: Decide why you don’t/haven’t used it. Is it because you forgot about it or couldn’t find it until now? If so, then store it somewhere visible so that you are more likely to start using it. If there's another reason, acknowledge that it was a poor buying decision and let it go. The money is already spent either way, and you aren’t going to get it back unless you try to sell it to recoup a portion of the loss. So either do that (if you can recoup enough to make it worth the time and effort of selling it), or give it away to someone who will use it. Keeping it will not correct your error in buying it to begin with. It’s okay to admit that! We all make bad purchases from time to time. Learn from it and move forward. Don’t continue paying the price by denying yourself the space, accessibility and freedom you deserve.
Invisible Memory Triggers. These are items whose sole purpose is to trigger a fond memory but that you rarely ever see because they have been shoved into a box or bin in the dark recesses of your closets, attic or basement. The problem is that they can’t serve their primary function of triggering memories if they are always out of sight.
Solution: The best way to handle these is to assign them a secondary purpose that places them out in the open where you can use and see them. An example would be using your grandmother’s old silver sugar bowl to hold paper clips in your home office. Every time you reach for a paper clip, you’ll think of Grandma. Then you can eliminate the boring paper clip holder you were using before instead. But sometimes this solution isn't possible. Instead of just keeping everything in your keepsake stash, whittle it down to a small, specific, representative collection of artifacts that best tells your story. Make it small enough that you can store it in a way that makes it easier to pull out and enjoy from time to time or share with others.
Playing curator of your personal museum requires a lot of thought. I recommend saving this category of items for last so that you can take time to enjoy sifting through it, reminiscing over the memories it evokes, and then properly saying goodbye to the items that don’t make the cut. Once you have already eliminated your other excess belongings, you’ll have more time and energy to relish this process in a relaxed and spacious atmosphere. It will be a more positive experience than feeling rushed to just get through it.
If you’ve encountered a hurdle I didn’t mention and need some suggestions for how to clear it, just Ask the Organizer! Chances are good that someone else may be struggling with the very same challenge.
Stay tuned next week for ideas on where to send your discarded belongings next and how to make the process as smooth and positive as possible. Until then, keep it easy peasy!
For more tips and advice on purging and organizing in general, follow @EasyPeasyLiving on Facebook. May is Purging Month, and I’ll be sharing strategies all month on how to rid your home of excess stuff and keep it that way. Plus, you’ll find out how to participate in the May 1-Day EasyPeasy Challenge. Hint: it will help you get your purge on!
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Valerie Sheridan is a professional organizer, wife, mother of two, and Founder/Owner of EasyPeasy Living.