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On letting go of “stuff”

by Karen on September 16, 2009

storage roomI’ve always been a bit of a pack rat. Not in the pathological sense, but in the sentimental sense. I often hold on to things for which I have no use either because I think I’ll need them or because I can’t let go for “sentimental reasons.”

Books, CDs, electronics, junk from college. I struggle to force myself to let go of things, which has led to an unfortunate amount of clutter stuffed into the closet in our guest room. Among the most embarrassing:

  • My old desktop PC that I haven’t used since I bought my laptop a year and a half ago.
  • A box of CDs that we don’t listen to (those are going to the record store this weekend, I promise).
  • Too many articles of clothing to count that I haven’t worn in probably two years.
  • A footlocker full of sentimental things from high school and college. Some of it is worth keeping (journals and letters and photos), but most of it is just garbage.

I’ve vowed to clear this stuff out of our apartment many times before, but this time I mean it. If it’s junk, it’s not coming with us when we move in 15 months.

If you’re like me, this change in behavior doesn’t happen overnight. Keeping things I don’t need has become a bad habit, but it’s one that I’m determined to break. I recommend the book “It’s All Too Much” by Peter Walsh if you’re trying to break your clutter habit.

Here are the steps I’m taking in the next year to break my habit and clear the clutter from our apartment:

Get a second opinion.

Ask someone who doesn’t have a sentimental attachment to the item whether they can see a use for it. Your spouse or a close friend who doesn’t have a stuff collecting problem can offer you a fresh perspective. If you’re having trouble explaining why you still have your senior prom dress or you feel a little foolish saying that you you might someday wear that bright orange bridesmaid dress again, it’s time to let it go.

Put it to the one year test.

One of my favorite tips for reducing closet clutter is the one season test. At the end of the season, go through each article of clothing, and if you haven’t worn it at all, it’s time to donate it. Try using a similar test for those items lying around that you’re keeping “just in case” you need it again someday. If it’s been stuffed in a drawer or closet for over 12 months and you’ve never had a reason to use it, you most likely never will.

If it’s really that important to you, why is it collecting dust in storage?

My wedding dress has been stuffed in a closet since our wedding day. I saw no reason to have it preserved. I considered selling it, but it’s stained up on the bottom from our outdoor photos and I doubt any bride would want to wear a dress with grass stains. My plan is to use the salvageable fabric to turn it into a baby quilt, but I haven’t gotten around to it.

If you’re holding on to items that you can’t use anymore but can’t bear to throw away, find a way to repurpose them. That box of old photos can be put into a scrapbook; the baby furniture in your attic can be refinished and handed down to someone in your family who can use it; and the stone from your grandmother’s antique ring can be set in a setting that fits your style so you’ll actually wear it. If the item is really that important to you, it shouldn’t be collecting dust in storage.

What are your methods for fighting the war on stuff?

Photo by merrickb

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{ 3 comments }

1 Jill September 16, 2009 at 1:23 pm

Just a tip about clothes *that I saw on Oprah* hehe :) Go thru your closet and turn all the hangers around, so that the hook faces the front instead of the back as it normally would. Once you wear something, you can hang it back in the closet normally. At the end of “said” period of time, re-evaluate the items that are still hanging backwards in your closet. It will hopefully provide a better perspective on the clothes you wear regularly, and those that perhaps can be Goodwill’d or Freecycled.

2 Megan September 17, 2009 at 1:53 pm

I am horrible when it comes to being a packrat, so I am not much help there.

However, with the financial crunch you have coming in future months and years, I would recommend investigating getting some money out of some of the stuff you are trying to get rid of. I think the baby quilt out of your wedding dress is an awesome idea (that I will probably steal!), but most people won’t want to take the time to learn how to quilt. You said the stains at the bottom of the dress make it unattractive- however could it be hemmed for someone shorter? I usually have to hem pants/skirts/dresses at least three inches because I am short, so finding someone who would fit that category could allow you to sell a dress that you would have normally given away. This idea doesn’t work for you because you already have a plan for the dress, but start working at finding these types of solutions to your older junk. The computer could be sold to someone who breaks them into reusable parts for resale.

On the flip side- what of these items could be salvaged to save you money in the future? You said you were planning to quilt- if you want to make more than just the wedding dress quilt look through the clothes you are donating for items that the fabric could be reused for. That way you won’t have to pay for expensive fabric in a few years. (To save space be selective as to what you want and trim away what won’t be useable- hems, zippers, stained areas, ect.) The down side of this- you’re not getting rid of everything you had planned. Doing a cost analysis would help: 1yrd of nice fabric =$8.00+ ; scraps from an old skirt take up about a sandwhich/quart bag of space, fairly light weight for shipping. Is it worth it?

Good luck cleaning everything out!

3 Melinda September 19, 2009 at 3:33 pm

I do the same as Jill – turn the hangers around and get rid of anything that hasn’t been worn for the past 6 months. I use a pencil & put the date on the wood inside the closet door (tiny, of course), that way I know when it’s time to declutter!
.-= Melinda´s last blog ..Spiritual Fasting? =-.

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