It’s one of those life passages. You get to an certain age, look around, and realize, “Holy shit, I’ve got a lot of shit.”
The accumulation is insidious. Books, media, “what-nots,” as my grandmother called bric a brac, half empty paint cans, tools, small appliances, the detritus of a consumer society. After just a few years there is a small mountain of stuff, and the more square footage you occupy, the more of it there is. It’s an emotional tangle, a frustrating mix of items “that must have a value to someone,” environmental responsibility, and your personal history of childhood, first loves, lost loves, achievements, souvenirs of good times, good friends, children, and acknowledgements that your time here has meant something.
Whew! That’s a lot to sort. No wonder we avoid it until we die. Rest assured, whomever is left behind will curse you for leaving the mess. Not only is it annoying, paying someone to take on the overwhelming task is expensive.
Basements are accomplices in the mayhem. A large, infrequently used space that doesn’t have to be kept tidy, in case people wander through and question your hoarding tendencies and sanity. All can be hidden by a latched door, your reputation as a reasonable person intact. Cleaning the basement tops the I’ll Get Around to It list. That list you see, sigh, and then binge on Netflix.
If you love your children, follow the advice you drummed into them: Clean your room. I’m striving to leave my daughter only a messenger bag of negotiable securities.
Pick a corner and keep your focus narrow. Looking at the entire project too often is overwhelming and discouraging. Set realistic goals: clear a single shelf or empty one box at a time. You didn’t accumulate all that stuff in a single weekend and you won’t sort it in one, either. Everything you have falls under one of these options: Keep it, sell it, give it, recycle it, toss it.
Reward yourself! Compensate yourself according to the complexity/boredom/frustration of the task. Try not to buy anything tangible, lest you add to the clutter. Watch a single episode of Stranger Things. Buy a bunch of tulips. Take a nap.
Get some company. Many hands make quick work, it’s said. Even if the other person isn’t really doing much, the company can make the chore more bearable.
Turn on some distraction. Music is a must. Or, have a favorite movie or ball game playing in the background, but nothing that demands your undivided attention.
Have a libation, send out for pizza. Add a little party atmosphere. Obviously, don’t drink to the point of inertia.
What to Keep
This will be a small percentage of all that clutter. Most of your stuff is just… stuff. Still, everyone is entitled to a memory box or sentiment chest. To quote Deborah Kerr in An Affair to Remember, “Winter must be cold for those with no warm memories.” Fanny Brice had her blue marble egg, Scout Finch her cigar box.
Keep your history. You’re worth it and eventually your children will be glad you did. As an amature geneaologist, I treasure old handwritten letters and photos. You don’t have to purge that which gives you comfort. However, that doesn’t mean keeping every Christmas card or blurry photo, either. Choose with discretion and keep picture records of things you can’t keep, but don’t want to lose.
Photo albums– use either the real book type or keep online records of birthday parties, vacations, school plays. If you choose online, be sure you have multiple backups in case of hacking, crashes, or any cyber calamity.
Scrapbooks– you can preserve a lot of concert tickets, certificates, newspaper clippings, etc, with some dedication on a rainy afternoon. I don’t mean “scrapbooking,” the craft unless you enjoy it. I find embellishments entirely too much work. A good scrapbook with archival pages is about the best I’ll manage.
What To Do With All The Stuff You Don’t Keep
Keep as much out of the landfills as possible. A wholesale dump is faster, but it is irresponsible and reckless, even illegal if you’re jettisoning anything with chemicals or metals.
Give It Away
Check with your friends and family to see if they want any of your precious belongings. You’ll be amazed how much you won’t miss them once they’re gone, or how much you’ll appreciate new found space. Get rid of anything that causes negative feelings.
- Find a local auction house
- Set up an eBay or Etsy account
- Hold a garage sale
- Try a consignment shop
- Explore decluttr
Don’t expect to make a fortune, but the pin money is fun and you’ll have less to dust.
Animal Shelters-see if they will appreciate your old, but comfy bedding and tattered towels. Patio furniture cushions, too.
Staples is wonderful for electronic recycling.
Fabric – recycle your ratty tees and ragged jeans
Hazardous Waste Days– check with your municipality which days are designated for collecting old batteries, paint, mineral spirits, expired drugs, anything that has no business in local water supplies.
Cruise Pinterest when faced with something that seems useless. Somebody has probably found a way to repurpose it. Jars, broken crockery, jeans, corks, etc.-You’d be amazed at what treasures can be made from what otherwise appears to be trash.
If you’ve truly exhausted all other possibilities, send whatever is left to the dump, but keep this to a minimum.
Finally, be sure not to get yourself in the same situation all over again. Think before you buy the next gimcrack. Spend more for experiences, less on things. Ask friends and family to give you only non-tangible, consumable goods. Time and good will are precious gifts. If you want to spend money, make a donation to a cause the recipient supports, or give a gift card to a restaurant, grocery store, or garden center. Give flowers, chocolates, wine, theater or concert tickets. Something that makes memories without the lasting responsibility of cleaning, maintenance, servicing, or storage.
Those you leave behind will say such nice things about you.