Friday, July 16, 2010

The gift of decluttering

Simplifying the crap in your life takes a massive amount of effort.

Keeping it that way can take a sheer act of God.

Not acquiring even more stuff along the way that you still don't need (despite what the nice lady on television or your peers tell you), takes a deliberate effort.

Everything in our country works directly against simplification. We are raised to be consumers, instead of producers.

Consumer or a producer? This isn't the kind of question I have asked myself once. Regularly I stop and evaluate, "Which one am I, right now? Which one do I do more of with my time and my energy? When I am consuming, is it consumption of things that will disappear quickly or land in a dumpster somewhere ... or am I sucking up renewable resources like happiness and love and laughter and conversation?"

When you force yourself to work through those questions, you have set yourself up for the absolute necessity to declutter, ya' know ... if you still plan to live with yourself.

It's the sentimental items that get most people's goats. I have worked my way through most of mine, and realized I don't need 12 objects to remember one person or one event in my life. In a land of Netflix, that DVD collection is losing its significance. Most media can be digitized and even stored online.

Nancy McGivney, a professional organizer and owner of Getting Things Done, suggests taking a picture of the objects you are having a difficult time parting with. I love that idea. You can digitize it (no more wasting space) and you can pass it on to someone who needs it and will use it right now. You are letting it go physically, holding on to the visual memory, yet passing it on to better care for yourself, others and the planet. Beautiful.

SIDE NOTE: If you are going to donate your extra's, make sure you know where they are going. Be deliberate about it. Find out why some thrift stores will not send clothes to "developing nations" - for the greater good.

I have to declutter fairly often. I swear, my kids crap clutter. Even they were shocked to face the truth of how they hold on to every little thing without a thought as to how it is suffocating the entire house or family experience.

Case in point: four of the kids and I went out to tackle the minivan this week. Everyone was armed with cleaning spray, an old cloth and a trash sack. One of my son's declared, "Okay, my spot is looking good!" I suggested he might want to bend down and look under that seat. He was mortified. We were all a little nervous that we might, indeed, have another family member that we were going to unearth in the middle of all of the old crayons, trinkity toys and bits of paper from Scout meetings and long trips.

Thankfully, there were no extra humans or animals discovered in the process. Nope. But the kids discovered that they smiled more and felt a new sense of energy being surrounded by one another, instead of so much ... stuff.

Some good helps:

Fly Lady's Declutter Fly Lesson

The DeClutter Project: Heirlooms and Sentimental Items

Zen Mind: How to DeClutter

Mommy Savers discussion on decluttering sentimental items

(photo by michael lorenzo, used with permission)


Kim said...

Love it! We're in the process of de-clutterng the entire house and it's taking FOREVER! (Although, I guess we should give ourselves a break - with a 5 month old and 2 year old, getting things done is time consuming when we want to be enjoying one another and the outdoors!)

How do you decide what to keep and what to pass on? Is there anything you choose to keep (trinkets, art, collectables, old letters, journals, etc)? I'd love to have most of our *stuff* gone, but I'd also love for my kids to have an old trunk of stuff of mine to go through when I'm gone! Hmmm ... I think I just had an idea ... only keep things that would be meaningful for the kids/hubby to go through when I'm gone ... don't burden them with useless things and the disposal of such.

Look at me work through my stuff :) Maybe hubby and I should each get a trunk for our "keepsakes" and as long as it fits in the trunk, it's fair to keep? I'm gonna chat with him about this!

Anonymous said...

You know, I always just assumed that Goodwill was giving those clothes away that they ship out - Thanks for the link - awareness is good!

I was able to request the movie referenced "T-Shirt Travels" just now at our library - looking forward to seeing it. Now it seems I need to research local donation options :)

Unknown said...

Kim, I just updated my post with some links for you!

Recovering Noah said...

Ooooh! I love the Thrift Store link! I checked it out and Sim and I are going to watch T-Shirt Travels tonight.

BTW, I need all your cool recs for when we're in Austin in 2 weeks. I mean, we've been to Austin thousands of times... but we've never seen it through Christine's eyes. ;-)


Leslie Richman said...

I really like this site on this subject.

I have an ongoing effort to simplify, and I love the satisfaction when I sit down in my house for a cup of coffee, look aound, and really realize the impact of a simple, well-kept space. Thanks for the post!

Julie said...

Uncluttering is painful, but feels so good aftewards! I love that because of moving around so much we have very few possession and our flat is wonderfully empty!

Another great site link (not mine!):
The editor (Erin Doland) also wrote a book about uncluttering everything in 7 days.

Take Care

Jules said...

Some awesome tips here, for sure. I have been trying to do the same for my house. If you don't mind I wanted to suggest a website called Basically you list books or dvds on their website you want to get rid of and when another person selects the book you are given a link to print out a free postage label which you can attach and just put in the regular mail. You receive points for each book/dvd you send out and then you can redeem them to obtain other books or dvds and you pay for the shipping which is a flat rate of like $4.99 I believe. For me it's been a great way to get rid of stuff.

Secondly, I wanted to mention that second hand clothing imports are likely to have played a role in undermining industrial textile/clothing production and employement in west africa, which experienced a serious decline in the 80's and 90's, however, those importa have not been the only cause. Increasingly cheap imports from asia are competing with local production, while supply-side constraints undermine the efficiency of the domestic industry. These constraints include unreliable and expensive infrastructure; the cost and availability of materials; outdated capital stock and lack of access to credit; and inadequate training and management skills.

People who are concerned with the development of the textile and clothing sector in west africa should work to advocate for creating exemptions or special tariff bands under the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) Common External Tariff which would enable strategic support to kep sub-sectors such as cotton t-shirts, yarn, etc.

Jules said...

Sorry for the typos!

Elizabeth @ My Life, Such as it is... said...

I'm from a long line of packrats and come by it honestly. Add in that all my grandparents are deceased along with my mom so I've inherited lots of stuff. Toss in my sentimentality issues and there ya go!

I have learned however that the important pieces to me are the ones I know the stories behind the object or have direct memories of myself. I have slowly begun to clear out some of the stuff. Papers & family tree stuff I've scanned & then mailed to the associated family member. I always offer a family item to someone in the family first before finding it a new home.

As for clothing, I donate to a local church run resale shop.

Mijk said...

I read this no kidding whil e procrastinating the under the stairs cupboard! So I go now... said...

I am constantly decluttering, the mess that I moved into when P and I got married was overwhelming, we got it under control then we got kids, they add a lot of clutter!

Anonymous said...

Here's my issue--I am a very, VERY tactile person. Like, did I mention I love to touch stuff. I learn and identify by touch. That's why my son's photo-based flower/leaf collection project drove me totally loony tunes. A picture of a willow oak leaf feels exactly like a picture of a red maple leaf!

For me, the memories are in the touch. That really creates a dilemma!

Decluttering is painful sometimes. Especially when your past includes the loss of important items--like everything you own--because of parental choices. It makes me and my kids all edgy and prickly. But I'm doing it anyway. For me, it's going to take a little longer than I'd like.

It's just stuff, said while prying the baby clothes out of my hands! The baby they belonged to is 26!

OurLilFullFam said...

We are in a major de-clutter as well!

My problem is people keep giving us stuff! If I don't get to it first, my kids will "store it" and then I am the meany that throws it away- like the baseball cap with a playboy bunny on it that my neighbor gave my 3 year-old after our pet rabbit died (!) Yes, I am serious he thought it was okay to do that...

That is so interesting about that link, I was wondering why when you see pictures, they always look so "modernly" dressed now!

Not A Mountain said...

My father was very strong in his voluntary simplicity stance. When I grew older, I was astounded that other people thought brand names were cool, went to the mall and bought stuff they didn't go there for, etc. I am only just learning that buying the cheapest one only soon lands in the landfill. Now, even though my means are extremely limited, I try to buy the one that will last the longest.

r. said...

I <3 Treasure City -- and live less than a mile away from their store. It's hard to believe you are so frequently in Austin, so close to all my favorite haunts! I keep telling my boyfriend that we should find a way to camp at your place, but it's a hard sell since it's just so close to my parents' place in Houston (might as well finish the drive, he says...)--not to mention needing to get a tent, deal with mosquitos, etc. But I'll keep working on him!

I'd line up to let you stay at my place just to hang out with a celebrity, but I live in an apartment that's a converted 2-car garage and my "sofa" is a setee that's about four feet long (and often occupied by one of my foster dogs...). Sigh. Perhaps we could do a meal at Wheatsville one day? My treat :-)

Unknown said...

r, are we Facebook friends? If not, GET ON IT! We will totally hook up. I have yet to step foot in Wheatsville. LOVE that idea.

Ah, Austin ... so much wonderful ... so little time.

Although, I will disappoint. Celebrity ... not so much. I do scratch my nose a lot and talk WAY too much.