Should I Save or Should It Go?

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People who are collectors love to tell me that things they've held onto for years and years have actually come in handy, so it was worthwhile to keep it. There's often a note of triumph in their voices when they come to the story's punchline, "and I had one!" They assume that I'm against keeping things and they want to head off any suggestions I might have for downsizing.

Elephant
Sometimes, the story is that they decided to get rid of a bunch of stuff that hadn't been used in decades and "the very next day" they needed one of those things. They reluctantly decide it's a big mistake to get rid of anything at all, although they would like to have less clutter. What to do?

I heard a story like the latter one recently and it occurred to me that the storyteller was asking the wrong questions to determine what to keep and what not to keep. He asked himself if he'd used the item in question in the past few years and the answer was no. So, out it went.

But if he had asked, "what will I do if I need this next week and I don't have it?" he would've gotten more helpful answers. Could he borrow one, rent one or buy a new one? Could he farm out the item on long term loan to a friend with the proviso that he could borrow it back as needed? Could he make do somehow with items he did keep? And how would those options feel? If none were acceptable, keeping the item would be the best answer.

The idea is to look into the future ("what will I do?") and not the past ("I haven't used this in years") to make your decision. The future is where you're going to use it (or not).

[White elephant courtesy of Lenny Montana's photostream]

Decluttering = Cheap, Fast Redecorating

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Sure, you can put some fancy European handles on your kitchen cabinets or install track lighting, but designer Christopher J. Grubb also recommends this approach (this quotation came from today’s New York Times and the link may only be temporarily available):

The fastest and least costly way to update your kitchen is by removing clutter. “Do you really need the canister set, breadbox and all of the appliances out on the counters?” Mr. Grubb asked. “Put things away and leave out a bowl of fruit for color, a tray of oils and other beautiful bottles you cook with or use. One chic spice set and a plant is always a great way to add life to a kitchen.”

I would bet the average designer secretly thinks everyone has too much clutter. It’s refreshing to see decluttering offered as an inexpensive and easy alternative to spending money on decor updates!

Of course, you can apply this technique to the whole house. You don’t have to throw things out, just put them away. That way, your eye (and those of your guests) will be drawn to the lovely vase on the shelf or the beautiful color of your sofa rather than flitting restlessly around a crowded room where nothing stands out except excess.

Freedom's Just Another Word for Nothing Left to Lose

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Two years ago, Jenny’s life turned upside down. “The Universe,” she says, “picked me up and spun me around.” She landed in Detroit with her computer and a few bags of clothes.

Nothing else.

At first, she missed her books and her photo albums, but none of the other stuff. Not a thing. That came as a big surprise.

Not only didn’t she miss her houseful of possessions, she actually felt good that it was gone. Relieved. Liberated. So she decided not to get bogged down in crap in the future. Now, she can pack a bag and go somewhere, tomorrow. Possessions will never weigh down her life again.

Having less stuff means having freedom.

We get attached to stuff. Jenny’s previous life was relatively prosperous. She had crafts supplies and baking equipment and lots of other things she rarely used. The intention of someday using them kept her tied to them.

“Purging gets easier the more you do it,” Jenny says. “As you give stuff away, you’ll start to feel freer and want to do it more. And your place will look better! When I did my purge, in every cubby, in every closet, there was just shit. Shit I hadn’t seen in years.

“The aha! is how much psychic space things take up.

“I don’t judge my self worth based on the stuff I have, so I didn’t expect to react strongly to getting rid of those things. I certainly didn’t expect the feeling of liberation.”

Me: Now that you have all this physical and psychic room, what has come into your life?

“What hasn’t? It’s opened up so much. When I look back, it seems like I was helpless with all the things that happened, but on the other hand I took charge of my life in a way I hadn’t before. I freed up space for new possibilities and the new possibilities just keep coming.

“Once you realize you can do something like this, you realize that not only are you okay, but you feel a lot better. It opens your mind to a lot of possibilities. Maybe other assumptions you have are wrong too. It was a very strengthening kind of experience.”

Me: How do you resist the lure of the new and shiny?

“There’s nothing to resist. The realization that I felt better having less stuff was so strong for me that it wouldn’t make any sense to start acquiring stuff again.

“In fact, there’s tension and hesitation when I think about bringing something new into my life. I don’t think that collecting junk is anyone’s goal. There’s an unconscious grabbing, buying and keeping.

“Having things is a false comfort. It’s a lie.”

Me: How can people get this kind of freedom without jettisoning all their belongings and moving 500 miles away?

“I encourage people to push their comfort zones and get rid of a lot more than they think they can. You think you’re going to miss it but actually you feel very free and light. It’s counter intuitive.

“I don’t think I would have discovered this if I hadn’t been put into a situation as I did. You don’t have to get rid of everything, but purge just a little more than you thought you could.

“Have the intention of freeing up space for yourself.”

~~~~~

The lovely and talented Jenny B Bones runs an empire dedicated to changing the world through words. Because she pared down and simplified her life, she’s got a laser focus on doing what she loves and what she can help others with. Read her spicy, witty blog here.

In case you were wondering, I help people with purges large and small. Too much stuff in your home, on your desk, or in your head? Click here to find out how much better it can be.

Sentimental Clutter

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In her book Let Go of Clutter, Harriet Schechter writes about how to let go of sentimental clutter. This kind of clutter is stuff with valid emotional attachments, and logic doesn’t play any part in whether you decide to keep it or not.

Items that make you feel joyful with the memories they bring back, such as love letters and home movies, you’ll want to keep.

We all have items that bring up less than happy feelings, but they are parts of our personal history, so we want to keep them too. The trick is that not all negative emotions are created equal.

What you need to know is: is it sad or is it bad?

Items that make you feel sad, such as condolence cards or pet mementos, are worth keeping in spite of the memories they hold. Even if they make us sad, they give us the warm fuzzies as we remember how much we loved those who aren’t with us now.

Items that make you feel bad should go. These are angry letters, heirlooms from relatives who make you feel bad about yourself, gifts from embittered ex-spouses, etc.

Certainly, into each life a little rain must fall, but that’s no reason to keep a bucket full of it in your closet.

Let the mementos you keep inspire happy memories, or tender ones. Mementos should be reminders of a full, rich life.

Another way to pare down sentimental clutter is by keeping only the “greatest hits.”

 

What is Clutter?

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The stuff that constitutes clutter is in the eye of the beholder. Defining clutter is more about the effect that it has, not what it specifically is.

Clutter is stuff that gets in your way.

I mean that physically and figuratively. If you can’t move freely in your space, that’s clutter. If you can’t get to the things you want and use easily, that’s clutter.

If you have to make space on a given horizontal surface to put something on it (like dinner on the table), that’s clutter.

Figurative clutter is things like unfinished projects that stay out and underfoot, anything that you need to repair or repurpose but have no immediate plans to do so, clothes that don’t fit, appliances you never use and anything you’re going to “get to someday.”

The first category of clutter can be handled by figuring out where to store things and then putting them there. If there’s not enough room for that, you either acquire more storage or deacquisition some stuff. Such are the limitations of three dimensional space.

Things that fall into the second category are more challenging.

They often bring up longing for what could have been and sadness about what’s past. Sometimes they go with an identity that you’re reluctant to let go of, or a life you haven’t lived.

They are full of possibility but the possibility remains locked inside them.

I’m not going to say it’s easy to get rid of those things. It’s not. A major life transition might need to occur before you’re ready. And that brings up an important point: clinging to clutter like that creates stasis.

It makes it hard for you to move forward. It is literally holding you back.

You can wait till life kicks you in the butt. Or you can decide that you are in charge. Which one feels better?

How Can I Help You Get Organized?

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Oasis
I'm glad you asked! Time for a little shameless self promotion here. In the left column you'll see some new links to information about my new organizing sessions, Office Oasis and Office Options.

What's Different?
These sessions are mini customized organizing workshops. You can pick specific trouble spots so that you'll get exactly the help you need get and stay organized. They're designed specifically for your home or business office; having a narrower focus means you'll get specific and detailed strategies.

I Don't Have an Office!
Sure you do. You've got a desk and a phone, you make appointments and pay bills. That's an office. when it's organized, you'll be:

  • clear about your priorities
  • confident about how you spend your time
  • relieved that you've finally done it!

I Live Far Away!
I can still help you over the phone, email or Skype.

Oasis palm from batega's photostream.

Quick Decluttering Tip

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Decluttering, also known as getting rid of stuff you don’t want or need, is something you should do every day. Tossing out the junk mail counts; I’m not talking about clearing out your closet. It’s a good idea to do it everyday because then you get in the habit and don’t have to think about it so much. You also become attuned to looking for clutter to get rid of.

Important point: each time you declutter an area, look at it long and hard. Memorize the way it looks. Make a mental snapshot of what is there. This will help you see at a glance what doesn’t belong so you can get rid of it.

Very often, clients call me when the clutter level has gotten so high they’re lucky they found the telephone. They’re not lazy or messy, but they don’t have the habit of dealing with clutter when it’s new. It’s such a small amount every day, they reason, it seems perfectly okay to handle it some other time. Then, before that day comes around, they realize that those small bits of clutter have congealed into a solid, sticky mass. Uh oh.

You probably already know where your clutter gathering spots are. Typical ones are the kitchen counter (the gorgeous recycled glass counter shown above is from Vetrazzo), the dining table, the foyer table and your desk. Try this: go to your favorite clutter cache and pick up three things. Now, do the right thing with each one, whether that’s recycling it, putting it away (if you’re keeping it, it needs a real place to live), giving it back to its owner or tossing it out.

Another way to do this is to get in the habit of handling one thing each time you pass a clutter nook. Still another way is to go around to all the cluttered areas with a big box and loading everything into it. Then, sit down somewhere where you have sorting room and go through everything. Then walk around putting everything away.

Choose a method that appeals to you, or try them all. They all have the same end result: decluttering.

Ease the Guilt of Unwanted Heirlooms

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Why is it that a museum quality lamp can elicit a ho hum reaction, but the avocado green one with a dented shade from the time your sister threw it at you is a priceless and treasured heirloom? Such is the power of family stuff. Lamp

If the notion of inheriting that lamp or the notion of having to get rid of it both inspire you with dread, read this article in the New York Times
about how to handle heirlooms. Although the tone of the article is
humorous, Ms. Wadler has some good ideas about this touchy subject. I
particularly like #6:

“6. Accepting a piece too big for your
apartment because one day you will have a country house is like buying
pants three sizes too small because one day you will lose 20 pounds.”

My
grandparents were very practical people and they asked everyone to tell
them what items they wanted to inherit. I couldn’t do it at first
because I hated to think of them dying and it seemed so cold to lay
claim to things before they died. But eventually I got a kick out of
knowing the kitchen clock would one day be mine. It still has the piece
of masking tape on the back with my name written on it just so no one
would forget it was mine. 

[Winner of Ugly Lamp contest from merfam’s photostream]

My new organizing guide is here!

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Cover-2Here’s the press release.

Oakland, CA. On May 11, 2015, Claire Tompkins, the Clutter Coach, released her new book, Five Minutes to a Relaxing Bedroom, on Amazon. Compact and to the point, this book is designed to be read quickly and acted upon immediately, like an instruction manual.

No one has any time anymore and that’s not likely to change. Yet, we all want our homes, and particularly our bedrooms, to be peaceful, uncluttered refuges from the pace of modern life. This book is how.

The book is a quick read. It’s not A to Z organizing; it gets straight to the point. You can read the book, put it down, and start using the techniques in your bedroom right away. There’s no learning curve. Real-time practice is what gets results.

Pull quote:

“Your eyes want to rest. They’re done with input for the day. They want harmony and calm so that all you need to think about is, well, nothing. You know how relaxing it feels to go into a nice hotel room, or a beautiful guest room? That’s what you’re aiming for.”

There are many good, comprehensive organizing books on the market, but their scope can be intimidating. This book focuses on a single room, the one you spend the most time in; the bedroom.

Getting and staying organized requires actual hands-on doing, not reading or planning. This book is a training manual. If you can master the five simple habits in the book, you are set to tackle a larger organizing project.

Habits can be simple but not easy. For that reason, the scope of the book is small; just one room. It may not seem like much, but mastering a few small changes and integrating them into your life is actually a big deal. Taking on a small amount at a time is important for success.

Activities done habitually get done faster and almost automatically over time. That means more time for fun!

____________________

Claire Tompkins is a professional organizer and clutter coach in Oakland, CA. Her clients over the past 15 years include architects, stay at home moms, writers, entrepreneurs and more. She has been blogging since 2006 and has posted numerous articles and guest posts online, and has written a guide called “52 Simple Ways to Get Organized” available on her site at www.cluttercoach.net.

Clear Clutter to Create Physical and Mental Space

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I just started a business incubator to get some of my ideas off the ground. It’s called Ladies Who Launch, and so far I’m loving it! For those of us who work solo, as I do, it’s really helpful to get help and support from a group like this.

Our first homework assignment has three tasks, one of which is to get organized! Our fearless leader Jennifer rightly recognizes that whenever you take on a big project or otherwise want to make a significant change, you can get the energy moving by clearing out some clutter. You create flow and also actually make space for something new and wonderful to happen.

Even if you don’t have a project to start, do a little organizing and see if it doesn’t shift something!