Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Escape From The Clutter Trap!

"Out, darn stuff! Out, I say!" That was me a few autumns ago, embarking on a major household declutter. Maybe it was because I had reached LP speed (33 for the young folks) or maybe it was the major life change that rose up as my old workplace downsized. 

In the months that I plotted my escape from the clutter trap, our city finally rolled out a blue cart recycling program. Prior to this, recycling meant loading up the hatchback, driving to a drop off location and hoping for empty bins. Now try doing this in a Canadian winter. It was easier to let stuff pile up in the basement and garage. I was also becoming more pressed for time. Creative time was nonexistent. Anxious and hemmed in, my brain finally realized what my heart was feeling:

"I'm so tired of looking after stuff! What if I spent less time looking after stuff and more time looking after myself?"


Since I'm a big nerd, I even calculated just how much left the house by way of trash bag, copy paper box or blue cart. Are you sitting down? 249 cubic feet. That would fill three quarters of my home office.

No corner of the house was spared. I gave away clothes, old furniture, half the plants. Chipped dishes, broken this and that - out! Called up the Girl Guides and donated a big box of craft supplies. Took all the old paint cans down to the eco station. Donated the giant chest freezer to a charity. Giving became a huge source of satisfaction. 

These tricks worked for me:
  • Put belongings and clothes in a box, seal, and if unopened after a year, donate
  • Enlist a friend to help - they're impartial and will offer support
  • Photograph items being discarded or donated (especially helpful if a memory is associated with the item)
  • Make piles - keep, sell, donate, recycle/trash
Of course, there are lots of websites to help you out (Unclutterer is my favourite).

As I mentioned in an earlier post, it's all too easy to wind up with a giant collection of something. Instead of opening my own Horse Gift Emporium, I kept my most cherished horsey things and found a few horse crazy girls who were thrilled to be given figurines, bags and t-shirts. I emphasized to close friends and family that experiences were better than things. They could show their affection without stuff - time with them is the best gift of all - instead of something that collected dust or could break.

A kind of ripple effect occurs when one escapes the clutter trap. Suddenly everything is up for evaluation. It became easier to find better ways of doing things and manage mail, plus the sense of accomplishment that went along with my newfound free time and space. My goal had come true - I was looking after the things that mattered more than just stuff! 

And it was great. It is great. Getting rid of the physical clutter had gotten rid of the mental clutter. The ripple washed over my husband and my mother. Mr. Potenti found himself with a workspace after hauling away four shopping carts of old computer equipment at Staples. Mom, who was never good at letting go because it was such an emotional process, found the same relief I did as she sorted, tossed and donated. The mental aspect of hanging on to stuff cannot be overlooked - and the difficulty individuals face is very real - but can be overcome. 

The best part of all is that what went out has not come back in. It’s not perfect, and maybe some day my house will look like an IKEA catalogue. Some people go really hardcore and try a 100 Thing Challenge. Do a few hundred books count as “one thing”? Yes? No? Well, you can't get rid of every thing sometimes!