Spring is long-gone and we’re well into summer, but there’s never a bad time to take an afternoon and clean out your closet, your kitchen, or any other cluttered space in your home.
I was a hoarder as a child. I kept everything from tiny scraps of paper to fully wrapped chocolate Easter bunnies that I felt guilty eating because they were too cute. But one of the good things about living in New York, and subsequently living in a small space, is that you can’t accumulate too many things without completely losing your mind.
My friends here in New York seem to love commenting on how much stuff I have. Truth be told, yeah, I do have a lot of stuff. But it’s not “oh my God you’re a hoarder” amounts of stuff. It’s stuff that is carefully organized and put away for future use. I’m constantly going through my stuff and getting rid of things, but what’s always left over are the things that I use regularly. No harm, no foul.
The key to having stuff is keeping it organized and also making yourself go through it every few months, especially with clothes, lest you have a buildup of crap, which collects like soap scum in your tub until it becomes so impossible to get rid of that you decide to not even bother.
As I began to think about moving out of an apartment last winter, and what it would to move into my smallest space yet, I created a process for purging unnecessary items in my life.
There are a few categories to put items into when purging:
1) Items you know you want to keep
2) Items you aren’t at all willing to give up
3) Items you think you’ll use someday
4) Items you know you don’t need but still want
5) Items you don’t use and have no use for
The first and last categories are the easiest to determine: either you keep it or you toss it. (For the last category, make sure you consider if it’s an item that you could donate before chucking it toward the trash pile.) It’s those second, third, and fourth categories that can be the trickiest. So here are a few things to consider to help you categorize those items, and ultimately help you decide whether or not they’re worth keeping around.
- What is the sentiment? What is it attached to?
- Is the item in good shape?
- If not, is the item reparable?
- If it is, repair it right now. If not, let it go.
Sentimental items are often the most difficult items to get rid of. When it comes right down to it, you have to tell yourself that it’s only a thing. Keep the things that mean the most to you. Everything else has memories attached to them, and if those memories are valuable, you’ll always have them with you.
- Do you view or handle the item often or is it stuck away in storage?
- If it’s on view, then keep it, maybe display it in a new way if you feel so inclined.
- If it’s in storage, consider putting it on view, perhaps rotating it with other things you have in your home.
- If it’s not on view and you haven’t pulled it out in a long time, why is it packed away?
- If it’s been gone for a while and you haven’t had the desire to put it up or keep it out, toss it.
(Yes, this applies to all of you bibliomaniacs, too. Keeping unnecessary ones doesn’t make you look any more literary, okay?)
- Have you read it before?
- If not, do you have a strong urge to read it right now?
- If no, get rid of it.
- If you have read it, did you love it?
- If no, get rid of it.
CDs and Music:
Really? You still have CDs?
Alright, if this is the still the case and you don’t have an iPod or MP3 player, you should still follow the general rules of the books above.
However, if you DO listen to your music digitally, make sure every album is uploaded to your computer.
Record albums are another thing — those probably belong more up top with sentimental items. But if you have cassette tapes that you absolutely MUST have, look up the album on iTunes and download it. Then toss the tape.
Digital space is your best friend when it comes to music. After all, the digital world doesn’t take up room in your home and doesn’t collect dust–two wins in one!
Once all of your music is digitized, get rid of those cases. If you have particular affinity for any of the art or the whole album package, keep it, but do something with it right away. For example, I’m partial to my Lady Gaga albums and I have them all in one large frame on display in my living room. Get creative with your favorites.
There’s always that worry about your digital space failing, and that’s a legitimate concern. Back up, back up, back up! Then put all of your discs–only the music you would actually care about losing–cover-free, in a zippered CD binder.
DVDs and VHS tapes:
- How many times have you watched it?
- When was the last time you watched it?
- Why do you own it?
- If it’s not something you really thoroughly enjoyed, get rid of it.
- If it’s a VHS that you love, get it on DVD.
If you’re like my mom, you still have a lot of VHS tapes. These things take up a TON of space, they’re not worth anything, and chances are your VCR doesn’t work anymore and even if it does, I bet you don’t use it much.
DVDs in large quantities still take up as much space as VHS tapes and books, so treat them like your CDs: recycle the covers and store the discs in a zippered CD binder. If you’re super advanced, digitize your DVDs and download your VHS tapes from the iTunes store instead of buying the DVD.
Helpful Tip: eBay, Half.com, and Amazon.com are fantastic resources to sell your books, CDs, and DVDs. I made over $100 selling DVDs on eBay last year, and have sold a significant number of books on Half.com, especially for ones I knew the bookstore downtown wouldn’t buy off of me.
This is pretty simple…
- Does it still fit?
- If no, donate it.
- Have your worn it in the last year?
- If no, donate it.
- If damaged, how long has it been damaged?
- If over two months, toss it.
- Is it stained beyond repair? Toss it.
Helpful Tip: When your clothes are suddenly too small, don’t go out and buy new clothes. Change your diet and go out for a walk with your dog. Weight sneaks up on you as you get older, and many people go out and buy clothes that fit, leaving the smaller ones in their closets to take up space while their bodies get larger. So when your pants start to pinch and you know it’s not because they shrunk in the wash, step back and consider the real reason why. Keeping that awareness of how your clothes fit and feel will not only help you steer clear of too much closet clutter, but will also pay off for your health in the long run.
- If it’s expired, toss it (duh).
- If you have duplicates of food items, try to consolidate them, and make a note that you don’t need to buy any more of that item.
- Make your meals for the next two weeks using as many of the products you currently have as possible.
- Anything that doesn’t have a lid or a bottom gets tossed.
- Anything that is grungy gets tossed.
- After you’ve organized the container storage space, anything that doesn’t fit gets donated or tossed.
- Duplicates? Choose one, donate or toss the other(s).
- Haven’t used it in over a year? Donate.
- Broken? Toss
Magazines, Newspapers, and Catalogs:
- Magazines and catalogs more than a month old get tossed. Even if you haven’t read them yet.
- If there’s a collection, like “National Geographic,” they should be organized and treated as such. Immediately.
- Newspapers should be tossed every day.
Bills and Junk Mail:
- Pull the bills out of their envelopes the moment they come in the mail, and put them in one designated spot.
- Shred everything you know is junk.
- Organize your bills and receipts at least once a week.
If you keep your previous years’ bills, they say you should keep the last seven years’ worth. I struggle with this one. I want to get rid of them SO badly. If nothing else, keep all of your tax returns, any financial statements from large purchases, and anything you may need to show on the off-chance you get audited. Make sure to always keep your receipts, UPC labels, and serial numbers for any expensive merchandise that you own. If you get burglarized, you’ll need these for insurance purposes (trust me, I’ve now been there twice!). But it’s important to keep these things well-organized, too. So keep them in labeled files in a banker’s box or plastic file bin.
- Why do you have it?
- How long have you had it?
- What did you originally get it for?
- When did you last use it? Have you used it since? How often do you use it?
- If it turns out you need it after you toss it, will you be able to borrow or obtain another one?
I think these last few questions are the most useful of all of them when it comes to categorizing and determining the necessity of items you’re keeping around. I’m constantly falling victim to “well I might use that one day” and also talking myself into keeping a lot of things–like worn-out bathing suits and scarfs I’ve never sported outside the house.
Misfitting clothes, craft items, damaged things to be fixed, art to be hung, gadgets bought on a whim…all of these things take up more space than they should in our lives. Sure, things like tools are important to keep around, because when you need them, you really need them. And crafts and projects are always a good thing to lean back on when you’re bored. But the key thing to remember is that most of the time our brains are bigger than our living spaces. And for almost every little thing you bring in to your home, you should get rid one other thing. Or, as my mom’s friend Linde said,
“Toss one thing every day.”
Wise words to live by.
All images were found on Google Image Search and are used without permission.