Tag Archives: possessions

My best de-cluttering tips

I know many people have spent time during quarantine cleaning out their houses. I haven’t done too much because I’ve been committed to de-c!uttering for years. I got lots of good ideas from books when I became devoted to a clutter-free home and over time I’ve come up with a few of my own.

1. Ask yourself: If I was moving would I take this with me? I find this helps me see what something means to me & how much trouble it’s worth. If it’s not worth moving, why is it worth keeping?

2. Put a date on the object & put it aside. When you look at it again it’ll give you a better idea of whether you a) use it or b) missed it. I also like to put short notes on items I have some question about. “Needs new cord” or “extra” or “jeans too loose at waist.” Waiting awhile can eliminate my indecision or give me a fresh idea. It’s useful, if possible, to keep such items together somewhere they won’t be forgotten/overlooked.

3. Think of a person – someone you know or a celebrity – whose style you admire and who, to your knowledge, lives clutter-free in a nice home. Ask yourself: would such-and-so have this item in their house?

4. Consider if the item is one-of-a-kind; i.e. if you get rid of it & regret it, how hard would it be to replace? I had a conversation once with a cousin who was afraid she might get rid of something valuable, a concern lots of us have. I pointed out that if it was a box of gold bricks, she’d probably keep it.😁 Most things can be replaced and your life won’t be a shambles but for the excised object.

5. Go through all your belongings on a regular basis. What seemed important to keep two years ago might no longer seem so now. I’ve been surprised by what the passage of time can do to my desire to hang onto things.

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.

January show & tell (mostly of December stuff)

Back in grade school I loved “Show and tell” day. Each kid brought in an item or a story and presented it before the class. I liked to hear the other kids’ stuff and I especially relished the chance to share something of my own. That trait has stuck with me. If you know me, you’ll probably be shown this-or-that interesting object or find semi-regularly. I just want to share my excitement.

A short aside/secondary intro which may or not belong here but I’ve opted to leave in:  The psychology of things, not surprisingly, is a strong interest and one I reference from time to time here; what we own, how we relate to our possessions, and, in this country, how people not only accumulate and hoard, but often rely on belongings both for self-definition and distraction from troubles. I’ve given a lot of thought to my possessions, have pared down considerably, and try to keep those things which I use or find beautiful or meaningful.

One year at holiday time, back in that small grade school I mentioned, a couple of the kids’ mothers made little Christmas stockings for each of the members of my class, even taking the trouble to put our names on them.


I have kept mine. I wonder if anyone else still has theirs? See, I was so thrilled and touched at the time that someone had made this just for me, totally unexpectedly. The parents could have gone to the store and bought a couple dozen little stockings or given everybody identical ones, without bothering to personalize them, but instead they did something special. I wish I knew or could remember which mothers made them but I’m sad to say I don’t (I’m not certain I knew at the time).

It’s yet another reminder to me how much seemingly small gestures can mean to other people (for reasons we may never know). Too often I forget or misplace this knowledge, essentially how much we can impact others, even when we don’t know it, even with small gestures. It’s as if I can see how much I appreciate the things which have been done for me but often fail to realize how my gestures can impact others. Which isn’t to say that every gesture or kindness I (or you) do for someone else causes wild gratitude – or even should – but that we often don’t know, or maybe underestimate, the possibility of truly touching someone or maybe reaching out at an exact moment it’s needed.

My town never did big holiday decorations in what amounts to “the town square” before this year (they decorated but mostly in another location) and I was delighted for weeks by the results. Charming and tasteful. I caught these shots after a December rain at dusk, with the lights reflecting on wet pavement.



I’m going to briefly step away from the post-holiday reflections theme to show you something I found a few years ago. (I forever remain a little kid who walks around looking at the ground in hopes of finding money or other treasures. Occasionally it pays off.)


Now, I always took this to be merely an interesting-shaped rock. However, in the last several days I started to wonder if it might be an arrowhead. I’ve heard people talk about finding arrowheads, but honestly, I never knew what that meant exactly. I wasn’t thinking about the word literally enough, as in “the head of an arrow.” I probably saw artifacts in a museum somewhere along the way that would have included arrowheads, but I don’t remember for sure. Anyway, I googled arrowhead images now and the pictures mostly show a curved bottom, not a flat line like mine has. Two of the sides have a “finished” man-made look. So I don’t know. Either way I have a special rock.


I found two tantalizing objects tossed out last week. They and a few other items were in a bag by the road (although I admit it’s a risky business examining bags left by the road) and for that reason went unnoticed by other people. I didn’t bother with them the first time I passed since I was out for a fast-paced walk but on another day I stopped when I saw them still sitting there.

The first is a string of magic lights! I wish I could show you a video but having attempted it, I get an “unsupported” message so that’s not happening. Anyway, they can do all these clever things. There’s a small box attached with a button that controls eight light settings. Some are flashy & wild and others more demure and peaceful. Admittedly, I don’t get around much, but I’ve never seen anything like them. There’s no recognizable manufacturer name but it does say “Germany” on the controller. They are so cheering. I just stare & stare as they run through their many colors.

The second item was more amenable to a photo session. This 3″ tall tin tea light holder is so detailed, with all the quintessential Christmas toy scenes. When I was a kid, I’d have been enthralled by it. And now, I still think it’s special.


Here’s a little girl (or a big doll, your choice) with a bow in her hair, a snazzy doll house and a tea set.


“Why yes, I would like a cup please.”


Drum set, trumpet, blocks, and ball. (Somewhere a parent will be warning through gritted teeth, “If you pound that drum or blow that horn one more time, Young Man…”)




Sled, wrapped package


Of course, a “choo choo” train

This next and final diorama was initially puzzling.


The teddy bear & spinning top are fine but the tall fellow on the back right gives pause. What the…?

The figure in the back resembles an upright, long-eared dog with muscular thighs. I’ve seen plenty of toy/tin soldiers – and having hit every stereotypical Christmas emblem on this tea light holder, that’s the only missing one – but he didn’t look like any I’ve seen.


What Christmas is complete without… this guy?

I puzzled over it and then something clicked. The string lights came from Germany, so might that be the origin of the tea light holder too? I’m no history whiz but I got the notion to look up Hessian soldiers. I’m not sure that’s the right one – some images seem close – but it makes sense that the little guy is some kind of German soldier. Funny how everything else was so instantly, universally almost, recognizable, but this one aspect suggested a specific region.





I think a lot about stuff, things, and consumerism. Both how they play in my life and on a broader scale. It is easy in America, to fall into tunnel vision, where the focus is on gobs & gobs of possessions, forever trading up, keeping current, going bigger, and god forbid, not getting left behind. I live very simply; I don’t have money or things by the standards around me, yet even I am susceptible to the desires perpetually stroked by our consumer culture. I don’t know when exactly happiness and possessions became so inextricably linked here – likely further back in time than I’d guess, but linked they are.

At times I intentionally force myself out of the limited tunnel of vision, and think about how my life and possessions might appear to someone in the second or third world. It’s almost embarrassing to consider, especially when I’m feeling deprived in any fashion. I see an abundance. Food, clothes, entertainment. I see the positive effects of lifelong nutrition and dental care. I see plants, greenery and the upside of nature. I see education and access to books. And access is a great word here, because that may be the one thing, access of all stripes, that stands out in relief. This kind of reflection jogs my thoughts out of wanting mode and makes me see that what I have is enough for a happy life. That is, I’m reminded that if I am not happy, or more accurately, satisfied, it is not the fault of my possessions or what my life affords me, literally and figuratively.

Within the last couple years, I have put my hands on every last thing I own. There are no “mystery boxes,” no “what is this part for?” conundrums, no “I haven’t worn this shirt in 10 years but dagnabbit I’m keeping it anyway” stances. If I’m hanging onto anything extraneous or illogical, I know what it is and where it is. I’ve moved a lot of junk on down the road. It’s outta here. A woman I know told me that you spend the first half of your life collecting things and the second half getting rid of them. I’d never heard that before! It sure sounds like what smart people would do. I can’t exactly sign on for that plan though, because I never really had much in the first place, and what I mean by that are nice, quality things. I don’t have any family heirlooms, no good China, no investment pieces. What I’ve sent packing was detritus, even if it took awhile, in some instances a long while, to see that.

There are still things I want, still cravings and wishes. However, I can catch myself and decipher what’s motivating those urges. I think carefully before bringing anything into my life. There has to be room for it in every sense. I now buy smallish things that make my life easier or more enjoyable, that I did without in the past (whether I opted out, they didn’t yet exist, or I just didn’t know they existed), but even they are subject to standards. It’s a bit of a cliché that when you get rid of old things, space is freed for better things. I gotta admit, cliché or not, I’ve found it to be true. Habit, fear, and imagined senses of obligation (“I must hang onto this!”) drive much of what keeps a person stuck. And what I’m saying applies to objects yes, but it’s shown itself beyond that as well. I hadn’t figured on that. The thinking changes I’ve made are broad and philosophical in scope. You have to clear the decks of all the crap and clutter, create space and then consider what you want to fill in the spaces with, if anything. That’s where I’m at anyway.