Some people are natural minimalists. They can look around, decide that it’s time to make a change, and get rid of virtually everything they own in a weekend. These are the people who travel the world with one carry-on bag, or relocate to a new city with only what will fit in the back seat of a compact car. Then, there are the rest of us.
It’s easy to stuff things in a box or closet or storage unit and forget about them for months or years on end. Then we see those things again and remember why we wanted to keep them. This stuff is awesome! We get caught up in how much we like the individual object and lose sight of the fact that we have 10x more of these objects than we need. If the stuff was not awesome, it would be easy to get rid of it, right?
One strategy that can help is to make a game out of it. The goal is to reduce net clutter. Sometimes we find ourselves in a situation in which the house is full of stuff, but there’s a bunch of stuff we want and don’t have yet. We know we’re going to cave in and buy the new stuff. How can we do this without eventually being buried under it all?
One solution is to trade old things for new things. Any time one object comes into the house, at least two objects have to go out. If an object of a certain size comes in, a combination of objects that takes up a greater amount of space has to go out. Let’s say I really want a set of ice traction devices for my hiking boots. They are not big or heavy. I can choose to get rid of a board game or a couple of paperback books, or anything else that is larger than the new thing. I can also quibble with myself over whether the traction devices count as one thing or two, since they are a pair. So maybe I throw out an old pair of worn-out socks too. Another approach is to raise the money for the new item by selling other things. The ice traction devices cost $15, and it’s surprising how much it takes to raise that kind of cash through a yard sale or secondhand website!
In the pantry: Cook a recipe that uses up at least one container or package before replacing it. Set a goal to use up anything over a year old.
In the closet: Wear every item at least once in the appropriate season. Keep only items that can be worn in at least two combinations of outfits. Trade singletons for more versatile pieces.
On the bookshelf: Read and pass on two books for every new book that comes in.
Following this method may be a way to sustain motivation to go through truly valueless clutter, like piles of junk mail, old catalogs, or boxes that have remained sealed across multiple moves. Getting rid of this useless old stuff can be a nice excuse for splurging on a new treat that will actually get used.
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.