Clutter rules (no, Clutter RULES)

I’ve written before about de-cluttering and organizing, which, like any other practice or commitment, is ongoing. I have less clutter and am more organized than I’ve ever been in my life. My home is not high end but attractive and fairly stream-lined. I generally know where things are. I can look around with pleasure and a sense of accomplishment so I would not be embarrassed to show you around if you turned up unannounced (but don’t turn up unannounced, okay?!) Still, there is always more to get rid of and areas where things accumulate.

Several books helped me improve my thinking about possessions. I took many things to heart but one idea was that being surrounded by stuff and things could serve as a distraction, to keep someone from focusing on more important issues, specifically those they should be addressing. As is true of any other crutch, obsession, or addiction, once the coping element is removed, a person has to deal directly with whatever is really amiss. That is, when the tables are cleared, there is nothing between you and “the world,” you and your troubles – and that’s a good thing. That makes sense to me.

I was never a hoarder, never someone who had a serious issue with clutter. As a lifetime renter, hanging onto stuff (and moving it from place to place) was not an option. That alone was incentive to not own a whole lot. Having stayed in one place for some time now though, I’ve seen the temptation to collect.

My parents stayed in one place for decades and kept a lot of junk. Things were loosely organized. Yes, they had many children (and I absolutely understand when children are involved, there is going to be much more stuff), but even when those children were gone, the stuff stayed. My mother blamed my father for owning so much junk, but she kept a lot of stuff too, just different kinds. Regular de-cluttering was not part of the way I grew up. Hanging onto stuff, keeping it “in case” very much was. I took my parents’ attitudes into my adulthood but I didn’t see that for a long time. I had to examine what was in my head from childhood versus how things could be. Chances are most people repeat the patterns they knew early.

There are specific practices that help me. When I am looking through my things with an eye to getting rid of stuff, I ask myself questions like:

1) If I was moving, would I take this?
2) If I died tomorrow, would somebody else want this item (or would it be promptly thrown out? “Good god, why was she keeping this??!”)
3) Would Madonna have this in her house? (You may substitute anybody you like but although she and I have very different lifestyles and means, Madonna works for me because she seems like somebody who treats herself well and wouldn’t keep crap around.)
4) Would I be sorry if I got rid of this? Would my life be any different?
5) Am I keeping this for reasons other than it’s useful, meaningful, or makes me happy?
6) Are the reasons I was keeping this no longer true?
7) Why am I keeping this?

This isn’t original, but one de-cluttering idea is to place all the clothes that are on hangers backward in your closet. As you remove and wear them, the hanger is turned back around. (If there is something about the garment you don’t like after wearing it, good-bye to it.) After 6 months or a year, it’s obvious what isn’t getting worn. This idea can be applied to other objects as well. I am currently doing the same thing with my music collection to see if I am hanging onto music I no longer like or listen to.

If I try on a piece of clothing in my closet and there’s something not right with it, I stick a little note on it with the date and what was wrong, such as on a pair of pants “4/16 too tight at the waist but baggy in the butt”. That way if I revisit the clothing in 6 months and the issue is still the same, I know it’s time to get rid of it. Sometimes I just write “not flattering” and see later if I still think that. I do the same thing with other objects as “needs cord” or “missing a piece” or “needs repair”. (Nothing is allowed to sit around listlessly for 3 years with a “needs repair” note stuck on it.)

I date things. If uncertain about whether to get rid of an item I put it in a box or bag with a date on it and set it out of the way. When it isn’t missed for 6 months or a year, there’s a better sense of how important it is or isn’t. I will also write dates on things indicating when a decision needs to be made.

I put my hands on everything I own on a regular basis. Otherwise they “cease to exist”. I will never have a box I don’t open for five years because what is the point?

An easy way to organize is to have numbered containers and a corresponding list saying what’s in each one. Same idea with a drawer or closet. Instead of rummaging around hunting for something, it’s quicker to consult a simple list. Every now and again I look to make sure the lists are current and accurate. This isn’t fancy stuff; just handwritten notes. It is just too easy to forget what you own and where it is otherwise, especially if it’s in the back of a closet or hidden away in an attic or on a top shelf out of sight. I tell myself all the time “I’ll remember so-and-so” – where I stored something – but often enough I don’t, so I know not to trust myself.

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12 thoughts on “Clutter rules (no, Clutter RULES)

  1. jan

    I’m okay with de-cluttering but I’m married to a guy who lives in clutter. I’ve learned to relax and leave enough money for the kids to rent several large dumpsters and people to throw stuff out!

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      I now know I couldn’t live with somebody else’s clutter – a clean, clutter-free place is what allows me to relax and feel good – but I understand your plan!

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  2. C.E.Robinson

    Good ideas! I’m with you putting notes on stuff! And I bag things up to donate to Goodwill! I’m never done with decluttering though! It’s a lifetime project! Think you are way ahead of me with your system! 💛 Elizabeth

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Thanks and yes, yes, it doesn’t end because there is always MORE stuff coming in. I try to remember that if one thing comes in, something else goes. And like you I always have a bag or box of stuff ready to donate. Yesterday either I missed our bi-monthly pick-up truck (or it didn’t show up); it killed me to take my bag of donations home again!

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  3. Sheila Moss

    It isn’t my stuff that’s a problem, it’s all the junk that belongs to other people that I can’t throw away. I like your idea of numbering bins and keeping a list of contents. I write what it is on the bin so I at least know which one to look in.

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  4. Anxious Mom

    I feel like I’m constantly decluttering this house, but with all the bins of stuff we’ve sent to Goodwill or put in storage this year, I know we’ve made some strides at least. I like your list on what to keep. I need to pass it on to my son and husband, both of whom like to keep everything they’ve ever touched “just in case.” 😀

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      I’d think with two little kids and four people total you’d just have more stuff period. Still, I know the feeling of constantly de-cluttering. I remind myself that objects don’t mysteriously appear; I brought them in! When I stopped doing the “just in case” and guilting myself about keeping things, I felt so much better. Maybe your husband and son need a rule? They can keep everything that fits in a box, or on a shelf, or in a corner? One thing’s added, one thing goes? It’s that perpetual spread that does people in…

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      1. Anxious Mom

        It certainly feels like that’s what we’re doing every other week. Hopefully after putting so much stuff in storage, when we revisit it in a few months or a year, they’ll realize they didn’t miss most of it at all and part with it.

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        1. writerinsoul Post author

          Just speaking for myself, I know there’s anxiety in letting go of things. I try to tease out how whatever it is – and it’s rarely the actual thing – is providing comfort and/or security.

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