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Is clutter running your life? (Are you living in a warehouse?)

By January 7, 2009 - 10:25am
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Why do you hold onto things you no longer really want?

If you're like I am, it's because you have an emotional connection to that thing that you're hesitant to give up. That connection can be any of a million things:

-- someone gave it to you
-- it's still usable
-- it reminds you of a specific time or event
-- it might fit someday
-- it needs fixing
-- it used to belong to someone you love who's gone now
-- it's really gorgeous in some way

-- you're saving it for the garage sale or to sell on ebay
-- it's a project you're going to get back to one day

This leads to all kinds of complication when we're trying to do something as relatively simple as decluttering a closet, a countertop or a our bookshelves. You begin with high energy, meaning well, determined to simplify an area and clear a space, and instead you soon get caught in a hundred small, emotional decisions that get you stuck in the mud and keep you there.

Once I talked about this in therapy, and my therapist said something brilliant to me: "Do you want to live in a warehouse?" Because that's what I was doing. I kept clothes that I was meaning to wear, I kept things that I was meaning to sell or give away, I kept every photograph I'd ever taken (which was a huge number), I kept souvenirs from trips, gifts from long ago, anything that had some sort of connection for me to another time, place or person. It got exhausting, and I was nearly immobilized by it all. I'm not a hoarder -- our home is fairly wide open, and filled with light and space. But there are so many projects that I started and didn't finish, so many books I've read once and not again, so many throw pillows that a person has a hard time sitting on the couch without moving some of them. It took me quite a while to really be able to purge things, but once I was able to begin, it made a huge difference in how I felt about my home (and, indirectly, myself).

Do you identify with any of this?

Does it bring you down when you try to clean or purge an area and find yourself wanting to keep everything for a million reasons?

Give yourself an amnesty period each year -- January is a great one! -- and tell yourself that all those things that are trying to attach themselves to you lose their power during January. If you don't really want to finish the project, out it goes, with no guilt. (This is amnesty, remember? No penalty.) If you're keeping it out of some sort of duty to a past gift-giver, try to challenge that notion within yourself. Is it really a slight to that person if you don't keep that gift? No, it isn't. And the emotional energy you're putting into keeping it is huge.

Start small. Take one area. Be ruthless, and let these dictate your choices:

-- do I use it?
-- does it bring me joy?
-- does it fit?

and, on the other side, be honest with yourself when you ask:

-- will i really get back to it? (how many things are in line first?)
-- if i did (fix the button, lose the weight, lower the hem) would i love it?
-- how would it feel to be free of this?

and if none of those work, ask yourself this:

-- Does this contribute to my living in a warehouse?

Let your measure of success be two things: How it feels when you finish, and how great you feel when all those bags go to charity or out in the trash. Here are a couple of great sites to get you started:



How about you?
Are things running your life? Do you identify with any of this?

Or have you learned how to declutter? Share your tips!

Add a Comment3 Comments

Congratulations to everyone who has decided to take control of their lives by letting go of the things you no longer need. I have a bunch of free resources available on my website at www.perfectlyplaced.org

Susan Stewart
Perfectly Placed
Do you need help getting your life organized? Sign up for free tips at the Perfectly Placed website.

February 11, 2009 - 11:07am

I live in a warehouse. Most of the stuff in the attic and my garage isn't mine. Even my house is full of furniture that I don't want, but either my mother or DH have emotional ties to. My DH goes ballistic every time I ask him to purge his closet. What's up with keeping old clothes that don't fit or are out of style?

Along that line, I thought this would be of interest to you: Cleanse Your Closet

Personally, I seem to have some deeply-rooted "need" to out do the local crafts supplies or book stores (I've always been a collector of books), and now even my wine collection is getting a bit out of control (I keep buying more than can be consumed in 6 months). I have kept a few of the kids' things, like their Christening gowns and a few of their childhood art pieces. Other than that, I've been a bit ruthless about purging.

Every time one of the kids moves to a new apartment, we seem to end up with more stuff. We are the epitome of George Carlin's "Stuff" routine.

I grew up loving minimalist spaces. My DH grew up having to fill an empty space. It's always a struggle to keep spaces clear - can't practice feng shui in a warehouse!

There are probably reasons and rationale for why we collect and hold onto the things we do. It's frustrating and depressing to feel overwhelmed by "stuff." I think it's also a symptom of our affluent, materialistic society that we have to have more stuff.

Well...even as we speak, I've a room full of stuff that has been gathered together to take to charity. I just have to pack it all into the van and move it on out of here!

January 7, 2009 - 6:05pm
HERWriter Guide


I don't identify with this. Maybe it's because I have moved around so much and I haven't had the 'luxury' of acquiring clutter.

I actually find it very cleansing to throw stuff away, recycle or donate. I feel very free. I also have to stop myself from throwing away my husband's clutter in case I throw away a bill or important tax document.

In terms of clothes, if I haven't worn it in 6 months, I donate it. Same with my childrens' clothes, although I have kept several outfits each, for sentimental reasons.

Twice a year, I donate toys.

Every winter and summer I sort out closets downstairs and get rid of anything I don't use, and donate anything that doesn't have a really deep sentimental value.

We do have art and object d'art in our home - it's not sterile! But we don't have many knick knacks or stacks of paper anywhere. My husband shreds everything we don't need once a week (with my prodding!).

We have a fab playroom on the first floor that our kids love - it's theirs, it's every kids dream! It also the only room that they can have their toys and we all tidy it every evening.

Do you know that studies show that kids are far more likely to play with toys that are put away? That the act of opening boxes or drawers is a strong incentive for them to play with what they take out? Children are far less likely to play with toys they find on the floor.

My advice?

Invest in a shredder. They don't cost much and will help get rid of all the paperwork we have in our lives. Shred once a week.

Recycle! Have your paper, plastic and glass in boxes in the garage (or wherever suits you) and simply throw it all out there in designated boxes. It's as easy as putting it on a counter or table!

Do a twenty minute sweep every evening. Not only is it a workout, but twenty minutes every evening will clear your house of envelopes, bottles, papers and magazines and you'll never end up looking around and wondering "how did this happen?" Clutter happens quickly - spending a paltry few minutes a day will eliminate the chances of being snowed under with 'stuff'.

If someone has the money (rare, these days) consider a professional organizer who will work with you/ Once you are organized, that twenty minutes a day is all it takes.

While I have kept children's outfits or special toys that I will never give up (my boppy, for example. I nursed all three of my kids with that one nursing pillow and I will keep it for life!) we need to examine what is really sentimental and what is just 'stuff'. I think a lot of what we keep for sentimental reasons is actually just clutter. There is nothing wrong with keeping things, for sentimentality. In fact, it's good, and healthy! But we need to discriminate between the two. That's actually the hardest part, for many people.

On another note altogether, I regret my need for minimalism in some ways. I haven't a whole lot of tangible memories of my life before marriage or kids. Hardly any photos or letters, and no real keepsakes. The opposite of clutter can be a bit dismaying too! I have learned to keep a few things for the sake of nothing more than memories and am getting better at it.

January 7, 2009 - 3:28pm
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