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Hoard No More: The Art of Throwing Stuff Away
When I was about 10 years old, my mother and I got into a fight. In the bedroom I shared with my little brother, she’d enlisted my help in getting rid of everything we no longer needed, used, or fit into. But when she approached the closetful of stuffed animals I hadn’t glanced at in years, I burst into tears.
“You can’t give them away!” I wailed.
“But you have so many toys,” she said calmly. “What about sick kids who don’t have any?”
In the end I agreed to donate half the collection to the local children’s hospital. It was probably the first, but certainly not the last, time I’d struggle to get rid of things. Difficulty giving away possessions is a complicated issue that sometimes has to do with fears about letting go of the past, worries about being wasteful, or just not knowing how to start organizing. But it’s possible to overcome those obstacles and get rid of absolutely all (or fine, maybe just half) that extra stuff.
Surrounded by Stuff — The Need-to-Know
Spoiled brat though I may have been, some organization experts say difficulty throwing stuff away isn’t just about selfishness: It’s often a way to avoid change. A house full of clutter may also reflect the procrastination habits of a person who’s just too lazy to get rid of ticket stubs and used garbage bags.
But my mother was, of course, right (at least in that situation — I still refuse to take her hairstyle advice). Stashing away everything we’ve ever bought, touched, or blown our nose into can contribute to serious stress. For one thing, a cluttered desk can be distracting and over-stimulating when it’s time to buckle down. And constantly having to look around at all the stuff that really belongs in the nearest garbage truck can provoke feelings of guilt and anxiety.
In certain situations, the inability to throw anything away can become a pathological disorder known as “hoarding” . Glorified in some popular television series, hoarding problems affect between two and five percent of the American population, keeping them from fully using their living space and interfering with their daily lifes. But for those who don’t struggle with this psychological issue, getting rid of extra stuff can be liberating and energizing. (Plus you won’t scare off potential suitors when they stop by before that date.)
Clear The Air — Your Action Plan
Not to get too metaphorical, but getting rid of physical messes can also mean tackling mental and emotional clutter and letting go of the past. (Cue the violins.) Some health experts say getting rid of junk can be genuinely refreshing. A newly cleaned room feels peaceful and spacious — not to mention fully functional, now that the 15-year-old treadmill-turned-clothes-rack has been trashed.
But clearing clutter is a lot easier said than done. There are lots of excuses we use to weasel our way out of cleaning up, like not having enough time and thinking we’ll use the stuff at some point. (Maybe that broken pen could be a hair accessory!) Luckily, we’ve got some suggestions to make the task just a little bit easier. Try these 12 tips and watch the clutter vanish, no English governess required.
1. Set aside about 20 minutes every day to clean. That way you don’t have to worry about the clothes closet swallowing you whole or starting a job you’ll never finish.
2. Question your reasoning. Ask yourself: Are you keeping this item because it makes you happy? Or because you think you should keep it? If it’s the latter, throw that broken Tamagotchi in the trash.
3. Tackle the “maybes.” When going through items to give away, make a pile of items you “might” need and hide them somewhere for a month. If over the course of that month you find you don’t need them even once, they’re probably not essential enough to keep.
4. Remember your memories aren’t in physical objects — they’re in your mind. It’s hard to give away sentimental items like a great-grandparent’s dish set, but it doesn’t mean you’re forgetting about the great-grandparents.
5. Dump the stack of old magazines. If you haven’t already read them, you probably won’t; if you’ve read them already, you’re unlikely to browse them again. Instead keep a folder of favorite magazine clippings and donate the rest of the collection to a local library.
6. Refresh your wardrobe. Try this trick: At the beginning of a new season, turn all the hangers so they face right. After you wear an item once, turn its hanger around to face left. Once the season’s over, keep only the clothes on the hangers pointing left. (So long, Spice Girls costume from Halloween ’98!)
7. Steer clear of danger! Chances are there are some expired medicines and old makeup hiding in the bathroom cabinet. Avoid an accidental dose of 20-year-old Tylenol and throw that stuff away. (Follow these guidelines for safe disposal.)
8. Digitize it. Throw away old receipts you don’t need for tax day or for items you’re not returning. Then scan the rest of the receipts, bills, and other financial papers, and store them in cyberspace.
9. Make some money. That old blender sitting in the attic could quickly turn into a $50 bill. Try selling unused items online instead of just dumping them in the trash.
10. Donate items to charity. You might use that pancake spatula at some point in the next century, but there’s probably someone who needs it right now. Don’t wait for the holidays to do a good deed: Try the local Salvation Army or Goodwill, or check out this list of charities that accept used books, athletic equipment, and musical instruments.
11. Hire a professional organizer. Getting help from a cleanup pro can be costly, but if clutter is a serious issue, it might be worth it.
12. Set up a system. Going forward, try to deal with clutter on a regular basis, getting rid of old shopping bags, used batteries, and ugly gifts right away. Donate a bunch of unwanted stuff every month, or even every week. And keep your bedroom from overflowing: Every time you buy a new item, get rid of one old one.
Do you have a hard time getting rid of stuff? What are your tips for battling clutter? Let us know in the comments below!
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We are transitioning from living in a house, to living in our 5th wheel trailer full time. So between the two of us, we have a lot of stuff to get rid of. I am not a huge collector of things, but the hubs is. The magazine stack, ya, he has that. I am ready to sell or donate just about everything, but he can't quite do that. I do get stuck in the sentimental trap though, that's the hardest one for me. Downsizing everything to fit into our trailer has been a challenge, we are selling and storing and yes, donating a lot of the stuff. Nothing like a little downsizing to get a different perspective on all that "stuff".
I have found it effective to compartmentalize your stuff into separate categories, trash, donate" & keep. Once you have successfully gotten your things down to the "keep" category, you can further category it into three sections, for example my clothing I separated everything into three groups: pants, shirts, skirts/dresses... and then the shirts I organized into, short sleeve, long sleeve, and sleeveless.. For me chunking items into three's really helps me stay organized.
Letting go can be especially challenging when emotional attachments are involved. One technique that can be effective is to sort and edit with a friend, family member or professional. Let the friend "hold" the object in question for the decision-maker to view. Removing the physical act of handling and touching helps to lessen the emotional attachment of the decision-maker. For some, when objects are touched, the emotional bond strengthens, which then makes it harder for them to let go. This emotional attachment through touch is called kinesthetic sympathy.
A great resource for those that struggle with letting go is the Institute for Challenging Disorganization. They have free fact sheets, publications, classes and directory of organizers and other related professionals that are experts on chronic disorganization. Here's the link to their site: http://www.challengingdisorganization.org/
I printed this out and stuck it to my dads bathroom door so he would be forced to read it. I've noticed he has issues dealing with the past, like picking our current dog because she looks like our last dog, and naming her after his crashed motorbike. He also constantly keeps things like wires and tools 'just in case' when in reality he doesn't even remember they are there, cant find them, or just buys a new one anyway.
"Every time you buy something, get rid of something". NOT! Hey, once you manage to declutter you don't always have something to get rid of....unless that junk mail that fills the box every day counts.
We just bought some "everyday" dishes because we kept breaking our nice plates. Now we have the special occasion china that must be babied and hand-washed, nice dishware for entertainment and occasional "nicer dinner" use, as well as the everyday dishware that is practically unbreakable. No, we are not going to get rid of any of these because each has it's specific use....and we finally have all of the sets we actually need.
This "get rid of every time you buy" advice alwasy seems to be included on any decluttering advice. But I say it is just consumerism thinking working it's way into otherwise practical advice. Don't be frugal, just get rid of it even if you do still use it. You can always buy it again later (and get rid of something else).
I wrote this whole thing about donating to libraries specifically because that's what the article mentioned, but really this is universal:
If you want to donate to a library, DO NOT just drop stuff off. Call whatever library you're thinking of and ask if they are accepting donations, and be prepared to tell them in general what type of things you have. If you'd like a receipt for tax purposes, ask if they will be able to give you one--not all places can. And for the love of all that is holy, if things are damaged--mold/mildew, water damage, covers torn off of books, things cut/torn out of magazines--just throw them out (yes, people sometimes need to be told this).
Everything that ends up in a library's collections must be processed, physically and electronically by staff, and few libraries have substantial space to spare, so there is very little chance the library will want everything you give them. If you're not OK with the library throwing away--not recycling or giving away--what they don't want, you're probably better off getting rid of the items on via freecycling or Craigslist. If you have colorful magazines, a good place to check is primary schools, where the photos can be used in art projects etc.
I think this article was written without a lot of empathy for anybody with any sort of hoarding problem. First of all, the stress on throwing things away in the first half along with suggesting that people who procrastinate are lazy is a little 1980's, and does nothing to actually make it seem like a hopeful and doable prospect. This article was written for people who didn't really need to read this article, and uses an example from the author's childhood closet. It makes me think of someone without a drinking problem telling alcoholics it is easy to just stop drinking, because "one time, they were at a party and just said no thank you when offered beer, even though they were really tempted to drink it".
My mother and sister are hoarders, and believe me, they are well aware they have a problem, they are just so amazingly overwhelmed that they can't deal with it. Not that they don't try every now and then, only to give up after getting overwhelmed again. And they have incredible control/shame issues which makes it impossible for anyone else to help.
And although another poster mentioned that libraries might not want the magazines without prior approval, she didn't mention that they probably don't want them at all after someone with a hoarding issue has gone through and clipped out all the parts that they someday might want to read again. (Hello? Has the author ever even met a hoarder?) In this case I think pointing out that all that information can be found on the internet at places like Pinterest would have been much better. Also not subscribing to newspapers and magazines in the first place would be a giant step forward.
This article is about as naive as my husband asking me why I didn't just clean up the house when I was growing up? Hahahahahaha. The few times I tried were not worth the wrath I suffered in the end when she noticed the paths were wider and there was an actual countertop showing through in the kitchen.
Maybe I was disappointed because the title suggested the article was going to be about tackling hoarding, as opposed to de-cluttering.
Another comparison: An "OBESE NO MORE" article written by and for someone who wants to lose those pesky 10 pounds that somehow crept on during college, along with the appropriate examples/stories/sarcasm, when a lot of the people clicking on the article are waiting for a gastric bypass operation.
I'm sending this one to my mother. Maybe she'll finally get rid of something... anything? Crossing my fingers.