It seems like we are all obsessed with the amount of stuff we have in our homes. We all spend way too much time fretting over not having enough stuff, wishing we had better stuff, or trying to rid our homes of unwanted stuff. Friends and family will gladly comment on our stuff, and there’s no shortage of articles to help us manage our stuff.
To be honest, I find it all a bit exhausting.
Depending on who you ask, I either have practically no stuff or I’m a borderline hoarder. I find this funny, as it perfectly highlights the differences of opinion when it comes to the right amount of objects a person should own. Personally, I feel like I’ve more or less landed on the perfect amount of stuff, for me anyway.
I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve found myself reading up on minimalism and considering downsizing even more. While the idea of simplifying and living without clutter is wonderful, dare I say inspiring, it’s definitely not something I can fully commit to. As a creative person, I always have totes upon totes of materials for various projects. My office is filled stacks of paper containing bits and pieces of stories and articles. I’ve got boxes of things that could possibly be repurposed. In short, my hobbies come with a lot of stuff.
I am also a collector and a more than a little sentimental, which again means that even pairing down to the “essentials” just isn’t going to work for me. In fact, I’d argue that having tangible items that bring back certain memories or that simply make me smile is essential.
It is for these reasons that I have had to strike some sort of balance and develop my own sense of half-assed minimalism. Below are 4 essential lessons that have helped me keep the clutter to a minimum and create more space for the stuff that matters.
Ask yourself, does this get used?
I know, I know. This is like decluttering 101. Trust me, there’s a twist on this.
I want you to consider what that question means to you. For some people, random knick-knacks on a shelf may not be “getting used” and can be easily discarded, where as someone else may look at these items every day and smile. You probably have things you only use occasionally, like a specialized tool or holiday decor, that can be stored out of the way rather than tossed. On the flipside, you may have something that you use so infrequently that you’d rather ditch it and just borrow one from a friend as needed.
There are also the items that you have too many of, even if they all get used. Take dishes for example. At one point, we had so many plates that we could go weeks without doing dishes…and we often did. Of course, this meant when we finally ran out of clean plates we had a larger load to wash. It ate into our time, and it certainly didn’t make the kitchen look good. The were being used, but they weren’t particularly useful. Now, we can’t go more than two days without running out of plates, bowls, cups, or silverware. On top of keeping the cabinets clutter free, it forces us to stay on top of the dishes, which results in a cleaner kitchen and less stress.
Pay attention to what you actually use and how your possessions affect your life. Once you have an idea of what you truly want or need in your life you can start weeding out the things that aren’t a good fit.
Hold onto the right stuff.
So, now you’ve taken stock of your possessions and pinpointed some items that can be removed from your life. Good for you! Now, before you go all willy-nilly and just start pitching things, I want you to take a harder look at some of the stuff you may not “use” all the time but might want to keep.
Memories and collections:
Undoubtedly, there are items that you are holding onto just because they evoke strong memories. Lots of people are of the mind that the memories are in your head, so you don’t need most of it. I, however, disagree wholeheartedly. If you are someone who gets pleasure out of holding a treasured item from your past and reminiscing, embrace the fact that it’s part of who you are and keep what you need to keep. That said, see if you can pare it down a bit. Try some of these strategies:
- Take pictures of items you don’t have space for, but don’t want to give up entirely. This is something I have done quite a bit. Whether it’s outfits I used to love but no longer wear, or giant stuffed animals I just don’t have room for, having those pictures in my scrapbook gives me something to look at and smile.
- Hand items down to your kids. The borderline hoarder in me kept a ton of toys from my childhood. Like, several giant tubs full of old toys. Eventually I realized they weren’t doing much good sitting in storage, so I went through them and gave most of them to my daughter. Of course, I put a few things back that I didn’t want totally destroyed, and I finally parted with a lot of them, but seeing my child get enjoyment out of something I loved as a kid is pretty special.
- See if you can repurpose some of your memorabilia. If you can’t find a way to display it as is and don’t want it rotting away in a box somewhere, why not find a new use for it? Old t-shirts can be made into quilts, handbags, and more. CDs and record albums that are no longer playable can be made into all sorts of cool things, including clocks or pieces of wall art. Get on Pinterest and see if you can breathe some new life into your old stuff!
Stuff for projects:
Remember those totes upon totes of project materials I mentioned? These get weeded out fairly regularly, and yet I manage to hold onto most of it, just in case. If you really think you may use it some day, keep it, but maybe give yourself a deadline to finish that project. Be honest with yourself about whether or not you’ll ever realistically do whatever you planned to do with each and every item.
This is especially important when it comes to broken things you plan on repairing. Consider the cost, not just financially but emotionally. Is it worth the time and effort? Will you use it once it’s fixed?
Stuff you know you’ll need later:
I got a lot of flack for holding onto all my daughter’s baby things. From bouncy chairs and toys, to bibs and clothes, I kept anything that wasn’t completely destroyed as she outgrew it all. I knew we wanted more kids, and I knew that purchasing all new stuff for future children would be expensive as hell. Of course, I also knew that if we were to have a boy next, I would have to replace a lot of clothing, but I decided to err on the side of caution. This worked out in my favor, as 5 years later I found myself pregnant with another girl. There is virtually nothing we have to buy for this child, and I have to tell you the feeling is amazing!
Clothes are another great example. I think the old “6 month” rule is obnoxious. I have a tasteful black skirt I only wear to funerals, but I don’t have a funeral to attend every 6 months (knock on wood). It makes no sense to get rid of it and have to buy a new one every time someone dies. I also have some nice dresses that I maybe wear once a year, but I’m not about to toss them and buy a new dress every time I need one. There are also things of various sizes, as my weight tends to fluctuate.
It’s all about knowing yourself. If you know for a fact something will come in handy down the line and the thought of having to buy new stuff at some point makes you queasy, go ahead and stick it back. Again, use your judgement. Only you know how practical it is to keep onto things you use infrequently. The goal is to keep your home from looking like this:
Schedule quarterly eliminations.
Those first two decluttering tips? Put them to use at the end of every season Stick it right in your planner or set a reminder in your phone. Go through everything you own and do a purge.
I know, this sounds like a daunting task, but hear me out.
This is something I have been doing for YEARS and the more you do it, the easier it becomes. In fact, you’ll probably find yourself creating mental lists of things you know you want to ship out with the next batch in between rounds. This is made even easier by keeping an ongoing donation box, which I’ll discuss more in the next section.
This doesn’t have to be an obnoxiously time consuming task, because you know that anything that you didn’t catch this round will be picked up the next time. Just take a Saturday afternoon and glance through your drawers, shelves, and closets. Toss food and medicines that are expired, socks with no mates, anything that is broken beyond repair, and any other random junk you’ve accumulated. Pull out clothes you don’t wear, books you won’t reread and don’t care to display, and anything else that doesn’t currently fit your definition of the “right” stuff. If you’re switching out holiday decorations, weed through them as you go. Chances are you’ll find things you fail to put out year after year, but hold on to just in case. Go ahead and let it go.
If you’re on the fence about something, wait until the next round. That’s the beauty of this system, it’s half-assed.
When you’re done, take all the unneeded junk and get it somewhere where it can help someone else. I don’t care if you do this by selling it, giving it to friends, or donating it to charity, just get it out of your house!
Get organized….and keep it that way.
Pictures go in frames, albums, or scrapbooks. Clothes go in the closet or dresser. Sounds simple right? I mean, haven’t our mothers always gone on about having a place for everything and everything in it’s place? Turns out, she was onto something. If you can’t find a place for it, you may need to reconsider its usefulness.
Keep an ongoing donation box for times when you run across something you spontaneously realize you don’t need. For example, you’re getting ready for a night out and try on 5 shirts before deciding on an outfit. Chances are, at least one of those shirts has been tried on and discarded nearly every time you’ve pulled it out of the closet. You can probably go ahead and pitch it.
Need another example? How many times have you gone to open a drawer and gotten mad when it was jammed due to too much stuff? Dig through it and find the stuff that is doing nothing but taking up space and stick those right in the donation box. Do you really need 8 big plastic spoons?
Think before you shop.
Inevitably, you are going to find yourself in a situation where you need to acquire an item. Maybe your vacuum stopped working, or you ripped out your last good pair of pants. Maybe you went to hang up a picture and realized you don’t own a hammer. Maybe you’ve been longing for a particular kitchen appliance and they’ve gone on sale. Whatever the reason, you are faced with the task of bringing something new into your home.
Before you rush out and buy something, consider whether or not you really need it. Is it something you can borrow from someone else when needed? How long is this thing going to serve a purpose in your life? How much enjoyment are you going to get out of it? How often will it get used?
Next, consider whether or not it’s something you can buy used. There’s a ton of perfectly good stuff out there that’s going to waste, why not save some of it from a landfill? Plus, there are times when the quality of a used item is better than a new one. Which brings us to the next thing to consider: quality. Do your research and make sure you are getting something that will last. Why spend money on something you’ll have to replace later?
Finally, if possible look for multifunctional items. If you need a new bed, why not get one with built in drawers? Maybe the only other function of an item is looking good. Again, the idea of “usefulness” is in the eye of the beholder.
Keeping the clutter down doesn’t have to be a challenge. What it can be, however, is a great way to keep your stress-level down (a little self-care, anyone?) and an opportunity to take stock of the material things you are grateful for. It can also be a worthwhile exercise in mindfulness.
I hope these tips make it a little easier for you to find the right amount of stuff for you. I would love to hear any tips you might have for keeping your stuff in check! Drop a line in the comments below and let us all know what works for you!