I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’m a hoarder, but I definitely like to hold on to stuff. I have a drawer full to the brim with almost every card I have ever received. I still have the uniform Doc Marten-esque shoes I wore throughout high school, even though it’s been almost nine years since I graduated and I have no intentions of ever wearing those lead weights again. While on a road trip with my friends, I tried to buy a cooler and ice to transport all our leftovers for 500 miles (thank you, smart friends, for talking me out of that).
My tendency to accumulate random items was severely challenged earlier this year when I packed up my life in New Orleans and moved 5,000 miles away to Santiago, Chile. I had to face my fiercest foe: throwing things away. I certainly haven’t figured it all out, but here are a few ideas — and a few questions — that helped me organize and minimize.
Stick to the Golden Rule: When was the last time I needed to use this?
We’ve all heard the golden rule of spring cleaning: “if you haven’t used it in a year, throw it away.” But what happens when you have really good excuses like “this shirt/dress/pants/skirt is coming back in style?”
The truth is, the rule is golden for a reason. If 365 days have gone by without you touching that outfit, it is highly likely you will not touch it for another 365 days. Let it go. If it loves you it will come back in the form of a thrift store find.
It is just stuff: Does this item serve a purpose and am I using it on a regular basis for that purpose?
Every t-shirt from my high school’s homecoming. The hair tie that matched my elementary school uniform. The friendship bracelet that I got from who knows in the 3rd grade. These things all traveled with me from apartment to apartment for years and every time I saw them, a wave of nostalgia would hit and I would put these things back where I found them.
After the fourth or fifth move, I finally had to remove the sentimental value from things that I only saw once or twice a year. I had to tell myself these were just things and carried no more weight than the t-shirts and headbands I currently own and actually use.
Evaluate the cost of storage versus shopping for something later: Is it cheaper to just re-buy certain things?
Furniture is usually cheaper to move than it is to re-buy; but, if you are moving it into storage for a year, the costs may not balance out. Some things are worth replacing. I held on to the same set of pots and pans from freshman year of college. I kept one pot (it has a self-draining lid!) and gave the rest away. The set may have been cheaper to keep but they probably would have needed replacing soon anyway.
Consider if other people could make better use of it: Does someone else need this more than me?
This question brought me back to those damn t-shirts. I realized I was holding onto these ancient shirts for sentimental value when someone else needs a shirt to actually wear. Yes, I had great intentions of making a beautiful t-shirt quilt, but let’s be real, that wasn’t going to happen. Someone else in this world does not have a clean t-shirt to use for its intended purpose. Letting another person make good use of a lot of my items here and now is much better for both me and the person who uses them.
Set limits and ask for help: Which three [of one type of item] are my favorite/do I need?
Numbers are hard and fast and do not have a gray area. The problem is sticking to them. After living in New Orleans for three years, I had bags of Mardi Gras beads and cups. I gave myself a rule to take only five beads and three cups. That was like asking myself to choose eight favorite foods that were the only foods I could ever eat for the rest of my life. I decided that if I hesitated to keep it, it had to go.
You don’t have to do this alone. When in doubt, friends can help. Right before I left, I had my friends come through my apartment and take things. They cleared the place out and helped me stick to my limit on some pieces that I was holding on to for dear life.
How do you declutter and let go? Let us know in the comments below!