As we start to dig ourselves out of the piles we are buried under, we start to realize it’s time for a change. A lot of us are hoarders. My parents can tell you all about my hoarding problems since my childhood hoard still lives in one of their closets, ten years after I moved out! Since moving out, I have acquired a family and 11,000 more pounds of stuff. (When you move as much as I do, you always know exactly how much stuff you have.)
A big part of the hoarding problem is guilt. You look at the items that have served you well, or that maybe haven’t lived up to your hopes for them (but you just want to give them one more chance) and you can’t bear the idea of parting with them. It gets so bad that the t-shirt from a chili cook-off you didn’t even go to is equally as valuable as the sweater your grandma knitted for you for the bicentennial. It shouldn’t be like that. There is stuff and then there are treasures, and you have to learn to tell the difference.
I used to feel guilty if I didn’t keep everything that was ever given to me. I felt like all of the giver’s love was tied up in the object, and that if I didn’t like it, or outgrew it, or never used it, I still had to keep it because it was a gift. The sad thing about this view is that I was hanging on to something I could or would never use that someone else might love or need. I still feel a little twinge when a gift goes into the donation box, although that rarely happens. I figure if I’m tough enough on the other stuff, I can afford to keep the less suitable gifts, because they’re important to me.
Another problem is landfill guilt. Sometimes, it’s not possible to recycle paper, but if you worry at all about the environment, it feels terrible to contribute more trash to the dump. Get over it. Your house is not a landfill, and you shouldn’t use it as one. Don’t keep trash in your house to avoid adding it to the dump. You have other options to help the environment, other than using the house as a dumpster. You can recycle. If your town has optional curb-side recycling, use it. It’s just as easy to put paper in a blue sack as it is to put paper in the trash (or on a pile.) It helps with the guilt if you know your paper will be reused. If your town doesn’t have recycling, maybe you can consider working to make it happen.
Reduce the amount of stuff you bring into the house. My downfall is magazines. I cannot throw away a perfectly good magazine. So, I try to buy as few as I can. I’ve gone from buying 20 or more magazines a month to getting two by subscriptions and the occasional interesting-looking magazine from the newsstand. I’m also working on getting them out of my house while they’re still fresh. I try to donate the finer ones to libraries and the celebrity trash to doctor’s offices. Homemaking and cheap gardening magazines can go to daycare centers. Or you can find a friend who wants your old magazines. (Preferably a friend who has the guts to throw them away when done.)
Duplicate items cause clutter, too. We have 6 irons (other than our daily-use iron.) I doubt any of them work. We have three extra phones, a Dustbuster that has never worked, two Dirt Devils, an upright vacuum cleaner that I hate and refuse to use, an extra toaster, three ceiling fans, car speakers for a 67 Ford Fairlane (we now have a 72 Ford Galaxie 500 with perfectly good speakers,) brake calipers, a burnt out portable typewriter… the list goes on and on. I’m sure if you’re any kind of messie or hoarder, you have a similar list. Get rid of that stuff! Here in the States, there are people who will come and pick up scrap metal, and a lot of that stuff definitely falls in that category. When you replace an appliance, get rid of the old one! If it still works, give it to someone needy. If you’re like us, using appliances until they die, throw it away. Once again, your house is not a landfill.
At some point while you’re ruthlessly decluttering your house, you’re probably going to sit back and say, “I don’t want to do this again.” Life always requires some decluttering, whether it’s the clothes your kids keep outgrowing, or the books that you don’t need to keep around any more, but you can cut it way down. The first, and most important thing, is to think very carefully about what you bring into your house. If you’re a book-hoarder like I am, maybe you can check out more books from the library and buy fewer. Be pickier about your clothing. Cut back on magazine subscriptions. Turn down invitations to make-up parties, kitchen parties, lingerie parties, or any other party where you’ll be guilted into buying something. If you’re usually the hostess, try holding the parties only when the gift is something you really want and need.
Avoid places where you tend to over-buy. It’s not necessarily about money. You may know that you can walk into the Salvation Army with 10 bucks and walk out with four shopping bags full of clothes. Don’t do it! Even if you’re hitting the sales, make a list before you ever leave the house, and if you’re out to get two sweaters for your younger son, don’t buy four sweaters, a pretty candle, three scarves, and some books. It’s likely one sweater won’t fit, the candle will smell funny, you don’t like the scarves that much (but you were afraid someone else would buy them,) and you don’t have time to read the books. Clutter. As you get better at this, you’ll learn to recognize the real treasures. You won’t be as tempted to buy something because you’ll never see it again or because you’re afraid someone else will buy it. You know what? The truth is, you can probably live without it.
How many things do you really need to have? This is something you might want to think about after you’ve decluttered, but before you bring new things in to fill the void. (You may panic at the sight of all those bare shelves and empty drawers!) There are books and websites which will list the items needed for a perfect wardrobe or for a well-stocked kitchen. Try checking your inventory against those, and think carefully about whether you really need the suggested items.
Once you get your house the way you want it, try the trick of getting rid of something for every new thing you bring in. I find, however, that it’s easier to avoid buying something than it is to get rid of it. You can try an old trick I remember from a favorite children’s book. Write down the item you want on a list, and check back a couple weeks later to see if you still really want it.