After the holidays, or just because a full year has gone by and you haven't spent any time getting rid of items in your home, you may be feeling overwhelmed with the amount of stuff surrounding you. I get it. Where do you even start? Read on to find out...
Let's start here: so what makes me an expert on this topic? (skip ahead if you just want the info).
I am NOT an expert. But I am good at getting rid of stuff, and over the last few years I have learned to simplify my life by simplifying my material possessions, my obligations, and my mindset. I have also helped a bunch of clients, friends, and family sort through and say goodbye to the things they no longer need. So that’s my disclaimer: not an expert, just telling my story.
The purpose of simplifying is to make our lives better by utilizing the things we keep in a more meaningful way.
I’ve always been an organized person. I have to be. I can’t relax if things aren’t neat. Anyone who knows me knows that. But in 2020, when in quarantine, I looked around our home and decided that things were out of hand. Yes, it was neat and organized, but there was way too much of everything. Blankets, mixing bowls, Christmas decorations, toys, clothes, shoes, throw pillows, stuffed animals… the list goes on.
So I set off on a mission. What started by just getting rid of a bunch of stuff in some closets and drawers turned into more of a philosophy of living. If I felt more calm and less stressed with less stuff around me, then how could I translate that into every aspect of my life? So that’s what I set out to do - with some help from The Minimalists. And for the past three years, I’ve been working towards that goal: LESS STUFF, MORE CALM.
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HOW TO SAY GOODBYE
Most of us are guilty of keeping way too many things that may or may not have sentimental value, myself included. If you answer yes to any of these questions, you probably have too much stuff:
Do you sometimes buy items just because they are on sale?
Have you ever kept a gift you didn't like because you felt bad getting rid of it?
Do you have clothing in your closet that doesn't fit?
Have you ever said, I should keep this "just in case"?
Do you shop at Target? (joking...but not really)
The answer is YES. To a lot of these questions. If you are human, chances are you have too much stuff.
But what is the point of having bins and boxes that are kept in a closet or the back of your basement that you never see? Now look, I am not saying that you need to get rid of things that have meaning to you, nor am I saying that you should get rid of all your possessions. I am just suggesting that if you are in search of a simpler, lower-stress life, the first step is to get all your stuff under control. I bet you won’t even miss most of it.
So here, I am going to try and categorize the things I think you are holding onto and provide a simple, concrete solution to deal with each.
I’ve broken this into two main categories: SENTIMENTAL ITEMS & EVERYDAY ITEMS.
Here we go.
PART 1: SENTIMENTAL ITEMS
I am very guilty of this. I have one child, so it was easy for me to keep every. single. thing. she ever created. Ever. I mean, like pieces of paper she scribbled one line on, which I’ll be the first to admit is totally unnecessary. But how cute is it all?? I just couldn't help it!
So here are my solutions based on what I did to get the artwork under control.
1. Give yourself an amount to keep
And let’s make it measurable, so I’m going to talk in terms of plastic storage bins. I can’t tell you how many bins to keep- it depends on how many kids you have and how much you have kept. For me, I had…don’t laugh… at least ten bins and boxes of artwork and schoolwork from my daughter, preschool through elementary school.
My rule of thumb is this: whatever you have, try and cut the amount in just under half. So I started with ten bins and I pared it down to four. My next goal is to get it down to three. (Tip: you don’t have to get rid of everything all at once. Take your time, especially if you’re a big keeper).
These are the bins I like because they are shallow but wide enough to fit larger paper.
You will have to set aside some time gather all the artwork you have. If it’s not all in one place, gather it all and put it on a kitchen counter or dining table. Then begin going through it in small stacks, one piece at a time. Try these or these if you are looking for different sizes.
2. Ask yourself these questions
Is there more than one item that looks like this? Set all the similar items aside, toss about half
Is it falling apart? Easy one, toss it
Was this made for a special occasion like Mother’s Day or Christmas? Keep it
Does looking at this make me cry? Keep it, but be careful not to use this excuse too much
This is the hard part. If you’re a big keeper, this process is going to be difficult for you. But the purpose of simplifying is to make our lives better by utilizing the things we keep in a more meaningful way. Shoved in a drawer is not meaningful.
Hint: You might need to go through your items a few times. As you are sorting, if you find yourself keeping too much, revisit your keepers again later or the next day. See if you can just toss a few more items each time you revisit your keepers.
3. What to do with the keepers
Choose a few really special pieces to frame or display. I like these floating frames best so that you don’t have to worry if the paper size is not standard. Just make sure the frame is bigger than the artwork. Get creative with where you display the frames- you don’t have to make a shrine to your child. I have mine dispersed throughout my house in unexpected places: one hanging in my closet, a few leaning on bookshelves dispersed with other artwork, one on the kitchen counter, etc.
4. What to do with the rest.
So now you have a few bins you can fill. Put the artwork that is not displayed in those bins and label them. Keep them somewhere that’s not too hard to get to. A few times a year, get the bins out and look through them.
My daughter loves looking at stuff! She’s a big keeper, not at all like me. We’ll have to work on that later. Now that she's a moody teenager, it's fun to look back on what she created when she was a sweet little girl ;)
ITEMS FROM A LOVED ONE WHO HAS PASSED
This could arguably be one of the most difficult tasks when you are trying to simplify your life, especially if you are the person responsible for the estate of a loved one who has passed. So let’s approach this gently but logically.
The reality: you probably don’t have enough space to keep every single thing your loved one owned… and even if you do have the space, chances are you aren’t doing the items justice by storing them in your basement or closet, or keeping them in your loved one's home.
So let's try this strategy: SMALL, MEDIUM & LARGE
Allow yourself to keep a number of items from each of these categories. Just like with your children's artwork, I can't really tell you how much to keep from each category, and the just under half rule that we used before is probably too much if you are clearing an entire estate. I am going to be bold here and suggest you keep only about 10 percent, but if that seems way too frightening to you, start with maybe 25 percent and go from there.
Think: jewelry, knick-knacks, small kitchen items, etc.
It would be easy to justify holding onto lots of items from this category since they don't take up much space, but you need to limit yourself so that you can enjoy the items that you do keep. Here are some ways you can do that:
Sorting through your grandmother's jewelry, for example: choose two or three pieces you might wear, even if it's in an unconventional way. Wear one of her rings on a chain as a necklace, or have a set of earrings turned into a ring. Hold onto a piece to hand down your daughter, or give a piece to your son for his future children.
Knick-knacks: you may not have the same style as your loved one, so perhaps you only hang onto one or two items in this category, AND THAT'S OKAY! Ask yourself, Is there anything that could be useful to me? That's a word I often come back to: useful. Can I use this kind-of-ugly-but-sort-of-cool ceramic bird? Maybe as a book end rather than as a random decorative object. Here is where you can't feel badly about not keeping items. The memories of your loved one are not in the items themselves, so by donating your great aunt's entire collection of encyclopedias, you are not getting rid of the memories of her. You are simply saying goodbye to some of her material possessions that are no longer relevant or needed.
Other small, random items. This could be anything... silverware, dishes, kitchen glasses, etc. You obviously will keep the items that are heirlooms, handmade, or those that hold great meaning to you and your family, like a crochet afghan from your great grandmother, for example, or a folded American flag that was placed on your grandfather's casket. No question, no argument there. But most of the other stuff can probably go. Unless you are in need of a set of dishes from the 1950s or a VCR, you can likely find a better, more useful home for these items.
Think: clothing, artwork, lamps, etc.
Clothing can be a tricky thing to get rid of for a few reasons. The scent of the clothing might remind you of your loved one, or just looking at the it might make you feel like the person is still there. Emptying your loved one's closet can be upsetting and overwhelming, so my advice on this one is to choose a few items that you want to keep and then turn it over to a friend who can take the rest of the clothing and donate it to a worthy cause for you. Another option is to have a "memory quilt" made out of some of your loved one's signature pieces.
Artwork. I personally think this one is easy, depending on how much and what type of artwork your loved one owned. If it's something you love and you have the perfect place to display it, then keep as much as you like! Yup, I said it. This is one category that I feel strongly about. I love art and the emotions that can be connected to art, so again- as long as you have a place to display it- then by all means keep it. Art displayed on a wall in your home is not impeding your space, nor is it taking up space that could be used for other purposes, so this is the category I say keep as much as you want.
Lamps & other decor. Just like I suggested in the "small, random items" category, I would suggest keeping only a few items that you will use or display in a prominent way. Don't keep a lamp you don't like just because it's an antique and could be valuable. Offer it to another family member or close friend, sell, or donate it. On the other hand, if you have an eclectic style and will definitely use a funky, embroidered throw pillow on your sofa, then absolutely keep it. Again, keep asking yourself, Will I use this right now? And if the answer is no, then why not give someone else the opportunity to use and appreciate the item?
This one might be the easiest to deal with, because unless you have just moved into a new home, you probably don't need an entire house full of furniture. So if space permits and there is a piece or two of furniture that you would love to utilize in your home, then by all means, go for it.
What to do with the rest
Do you have siblings or other family members who would like to have some items to remember your loved one? If so, this is an obvious place to start.
Depending on how much work you want to do, and how much time you have available, I would suggest researching local organizations that can use the items for a good purpose. Here are a few of my favorites:
Habitat for Humanity's ReStores are locally and independently owned and operated and do great things for the communities they serve. This is a great option for furniture and home items.
I love Dress for Success for donating women's clothing.
Books are always tough to deal with, so I suggest scheduling a pickup with The Salvation Army so you don't have to lug heavy boxes all around town.
Here and here you can find comprehensive lists of charities if you would like to donate to a specific cause.
STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT BLOG POST: HOW TO SIMPLIFY YOUR EVERYDAY ITEMS