10 Ways to Quit Clutter

Pictures: top: My mother’s buttons and some of her special meaningful items that were sitting in a jewelry box gathering dust I framed and kept. The skeleton key actually works an old lock to my husband’s mother’s house. bottom: More frames with mom’s things in them. The cross in the leftmost picture was hers (I think it belonged to her great grandmother). In the middle picture, the heart in the lower left was one of my most-prized pins from the 70’s. In the right picture, a “J” pendant that dangled from a long-lost chain sits in with some of my favorite buttons my mother saved.

(I always come up with the mature titles)

I don’t know about you (if I did, I might comment on those socks, but this is me, refraining), but clutter is something I’ve had to work on with time. Being a mother, one ends up saving more of the kids’ assignments than necessary (that spleen-shaped bowl was just too cute to toss, and every mother needs 12 of each child’s hand print). If you’ve lost a parent, everything they owned that you now have probably has meaning. Your last foray into ceramics class let you down the path of country-styles pigs and cows, which, of course, turned out with such clever charm, you couldn’t bear to part with it.

And plan to part with these things eventually?

Plan to sell on Ebay? Good thing you’ve been racking up those boxes, right?

Oh PLEASE! Let’s step out of Denialville for a moment.

Admit it: You have at least one room, closet, or portions of rooms filled to the brim with things you don’t need, which never see the light of day, and that, for whatever emotional reasons, you can’t part with. Your garage might be a shrine to ball bearings your husband intends to repack and use in other items (but because the movers dropped the box, the floor now resembles a Tex Avery cartoon, with people’s telescoping eyeballs and aooga noises every time someone steps foot into that precipice).

I am here to help, because– trust me—I’ve been there. From rooms filled with cardboard, to others filled with the relics of dead relatives who don’t care whether I keep the turtle-shaped ashtrays, you have to be able to unbury your sanity, along with your carpets.

Your emotions and feelings are very real, but, so, too, don’t you always feel a little out of control? I know I did. It isn’t easy to part with things. They might have real value, or mean a lot, but if they mean so much, why have they been in that box for the last 10 years?

Do you REALLY think your kids will want it?

Do you REALLY want to pass along the art of saving too much stuff to them?

Have you even looked at it for the last year?

If the answer to that is NO, then you probably don’t need it. It’s been buried under the Elvis Pelvis for the last 9 months.

1. “My mother gave this to me, and she’ll be mad if I get rid of it.”
Do you think mom really cares? She just passed her crap to you to get it out of HER house, and you haven’t put the ceramic gnome outside in the yard anyway because buster keeps using it for his fire hydrant. You don’t even like Spanky the Gnome. He gives you nightmares.
Too bad you dropped it and it broke.
But seriously: Mom wanted it out of her house, so giving it to you was her way of guilt-free giving. The problem? Now you’re in the same boat, and she probably didn’t even think of it because she was selfishly getting it out of her house. Donate it to the local thrift store. Or toss it.

2. “This has sentimental value”
Much of what we can’t part with does.
I had some items of my mother’s which I had been saving for years, and finally realized they weren’t doing anything for me but taking up space. I took photographs of each item and then wrote a short paragraph about why each item is special. It helps me relive those times when mom was still around, and a picture takes up no room, when compared to the big ceramic steins she painted in the 70’s.
Do you have a funny story about the macramé plant hanger? Take a picture. Write your paragraph.
This means much more to the following generations in 80 years than a moth-eaten macramé hanger.<
Once you photograph the item, donate it to charity. Let someone else benefit from your mom. She deserves to be shared.
(I’d still drop Spanky the Gnome, however).

3. “But Carl Jr. made this in art in 2nd grade, the year he had those chicken pox!”
Too bad, so sad. You keep the flat stuff. Scratch that. You keep five things from each year of school, and make sure you put the date and name of each child on each item.

Everything else, you photograph with the child holding it with pride, ditch the items and keep the kid. And the pictures. They’ll mean more than tattered papers or uvula-shaped vases.
4. “I’m going to sell these on…craigslist…ebay”
My widening backside you are. Have you ever sold anything on craigslist or ebay?
*slap slap slap*

Wake up! Donate it today and get it the heck out of your house. You get the tax write-off, and you’re giving to a better charity than under your bed.
And those boxes you were saving for your never-into-Ebay foray? Those can be recycled. Break them down and get them out of the house. You’ll be shocked. I know I recently rid myself of thirty boxes (seriously) that I liked the shape of… liked the shape of?! I’d slap myself if I could.

5. “It might come back into style”
You know that’s as full of bull as the last buffalo burger you had at Mooshie’s Tavern. Have you been nipping a little of their lager on the side, too?
You don’t save the ceramic cow tureen and dutch blue goose kitchen towel sets because you had them for a long time and they coordinated with the teddy bear canisters back in the early 1990’s (what can you say? Lillian Vernon was having a sale!)
It’s time to let go. Again, if they’re not in use, they’re useless to you. Take pictures of them and donate the items to the local thrift store. Pictures remind you of the good times, without requiring room in your home with items which will not be finding their way back in anytime soon.

6. “I will fit into these again”
he Michael Jackson Glove and red “Thriller” jacket weren’t a good look for you then, either.
Donate used clothes to a woman’s shelter where they will do the most good, or to a local charity. If you feel it is appropriate, photograph the items and keep the pictures, along with your fondest memories with those clothes.

7. Make meaningful collections out of things
If you like it enough to hold onto, make it meaningful.
My mother collected buttons. When she died, I saved the most special and framed them. They now hang on the wall where I can be reminded of her. Also included are skeleton keys of a house of my husband’s mother’s old home, and a couple of small trinkets to remind me of mom.

8. Take a Picture: It lasts Longer
Literally. I know I’ve hammered this out time and again in this piece, but it is true: A picture makes the heartache of the item leaving so much less. We are visual as a species (hunters and gatherers), so to have a picture of a loved item, not only takes up less space, but it allows you to sit down and really think about what that item meant to you… and if it means something, write a paragraph about what it meant to you. This will mean more to kids than the odd skunk figurine that was lost behind the furnace for 30 years.

9. Allow yourself to grieve
If your hanging onto something is your way of grieving, it’s time to let it go. Cry, reminisce, take a picture, write down your feelings. Let it go.

10. Get rid of 5 things today
That is, 5 pictures and five donations, out of the house. Five boxes, broken down and recycled. Five pieces of childhood art photographed and discarded (or placed in proper storage).

It doesn’t sound like much, but it is. Over just 20 days, you could rid your life of 100 unneeded items, and better the planet and others in the process.
What are you waiting for? Spanky the Gnome awaits!

Do you have any ideas for getting rid of clutter? If so, share them!

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  1. I must say, your verbage has me laughing at my desk…and my co-workers thinking I sniffed some Wite-Out at lunchtime! I must admit though, you are so right!! I just recently moved myself and my parents out of the house that we lived in the last 30 years…and boy did we have the sh**!!! It was actually kinda fun though, going through, thinking of old times and then PITCHING!!! What a release!! What a rush!! What a feeling of no more (or at least less) clutter!! Thanks so much for your words, and the midday laugh!!

  2. You make me smile! I love your energy!

    Me, when we moved, I kept moving junk from place to place because I didn’t want to make any rash decisions before moving. How dumb was that!

    It sounds like you’ve really got your stuff together now!

    Thanks so much for your great post! I am laughing about your White-Out comment…

  3. ROFLMAO I think I have every single school book of Ryans and he is 14 this year LOLOLOL

  4. I admit, I saved their little belly button umbilical clips from birth (so they wouldn’t unravel like little balloons and go fwoooooooooooooooooooooooosh all over the delivery room. I like balloons.

  5. oh, how I wish I could clear out the clutter. In this home, it is the hubbit unit and not myself. I've tried to surreptitiously move some of his piles from here to there. Not a good move on my part. We've had many a knock-down, drag-out over this.

  6. I have to say, selling on Craigslist and eBay is actually a good thing (and not too hard, especially if you have boxes piling up!)

    Clothes or other low-profit items, I donate.

    Electronics, unusual jewelry, and rare items I sell on eBay. I made a grand in January doing just that. No joke. Granted, now I’m out of big-ticket items… lol.

    Anything in the middle… go ahead and list it on Craigslist. If you try listing it a couple of times and don’t get any interest, toss/donate it!

  7. Yes, yes, yes! This post is right on time. 😀

  8. Moving house several times in quick succession, then moving to a different country cured me of hoarding. We have been here 7 years now and were starting to accumulate stuff again. I have a lovely friend here who buys me the most tasteless china every Christmas and birthday. I have another friend who loves gimmicky stuff. It’s not called offloading unwanted presents, it’s called recycling, right? RIGHT??
    I have kept one of the monstrosities for when number 1 friend visits. I drag it out of the cupboard and display it. It will become a farcical situation a la Lucille Ball if they both visit together…

  9. that’s Tex Avery, not Rex

  10. Been doing the purging thing w/the house crud forEVER. I think we are finally getting a handle on it, though. After 6 kids and the never-ending acquiring stage, we are in the getting-rid of and not replacing stage, thanks be to God! Once another kid or two moves out, I plan to downsize — thinking CONDO — and NO MORE extra stuff. YIPPEE! 😀

  11. I have been doing this lately. But now that I read this post, I’m on a mission this weekend. Got most of the laundry done. Don’t have anything planned this weekend except clutter busting and cooking up some low carb food for the week ahead. You are very funny, dh wonders what I’m laughing at. Good luck ladies!

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