Sunday, October 03, 2010

A Different Approach to Decluttering

Tip of the Week, September 19, 2010

A few months ago, I helped a friend pack up her apartment here in San Francisco in preparation for her move to New York. Before she put anything into boxes, most of which she would ship once she'd gotten settled in her new home, she weeded out many things she no longer wanted or needed. In the end, she wound up with 26 boxes that would eventually make their way to NY, along with 5 that she took with her as luggage.

Fast forward to last week, when these 26 boxes were due to arrive at her new apartment. Contemplating their arrival, she posted this to Facebook: "Outside the 7 boxes of kitchen stuff, it's hard for me to remember what's IN the other 19 boxes. And even harder for me to picture actually NEEDING much of it. ...Having lived on 5 boxes for close to 4 months, I'm wondering what i could possibly gain at this point from adding another 19 boxes of stuff to my life."

Going Beyond "Pretend That You're Moving"
A piece of advice I sometimes give clients and others who want to declutter is to pretend that they're moving, which can help change their perspective on the things they choose to keep: when you're moving, chances are you won't want to pack up stuff you don't need, use, love, or find beautiful, especially if you have to pay to have that stuff transported to your new home.

But sometimes even "pretend that you're moving" isn't quite enough to spur you to pare down as much as you'd like to. Why? Because when you're holding something in your hands and trying to decide whether to keep it or part with it, it's often very easy to come up with reasons for keeping it--and, on the flip side, very difficult to get a realistic sense of what life would be like without it. Would you miss the item? Would you find that you did in fact need it? Would you completely forget that you ever owned it?

When stuff is out of our sight, though, as were the items in my friend's 26 boxes, your relationship to it changes. If you've been keeping something because you're convinced that you need it and use it, and yet can go for several weeks or months without it, your perspective on it shifts.

How to Put This into Practice
Good news: you can put this out-of-sight technique into practice without having to pack up your entire home or office. The trick is to take things out of circulation a bit at a time and then see what you truly wind up needing. Here's how.
  1. Choose a spot or type of thing to focus on. Start by deciding what you'd like to declutter: your bookshelves? Your kitchen drawers? Your kids' play area? Aim for an area or a type of thing that's not too overwhelming (i.e., not the entire living room) but is significant enough to make an impact.Pack it up. Next, pack up the contents of your decluttering spot. Stash books into boxes. Empty the contents of your kitchen drawers into Ziploc bags, storage containers, or empty shoeboxes. Pack the kids' toys into lidded bins (or, for stuffed animals, clean laundry bags).
  2. Get it out of the way. With your stuff packed up, move it to an out-of-the-way but not completely inaccessible spot, such as a garage or basement, the bottom of a hall closet, or a guest room.
  3. Retrieve only what you need. For the next few weeks, take from storage only the items you realize you truly want or need; these things will earn a permanent space in their original storage spots. If you've packed up your kitchen gadgets, for example, but realize you need your garlic press for a dish you're making, retrieve it, use it, and then put it back in the drawer from which it came when you're done with it. But don't fall into the trap of pulling other items out of storage while you're fetching the garlic press: until you actually have a need for something, it should stay packed up.
  4. Review and reconsider what remains. After a few weeks (two or three might be enough, though more will be extra effective), take a critical look at the stuff you didn't unpack. Set aside anything you didn't use during this trial period but know for sure you will within the next six months, such as the holiday-themed cookie cutters you know you'll pull out come December. For everything else, ask yourself, Did I survive these past few weeks without this? Did I miss it--or even think about it--at all? Is it worth moving this item back into the spot it came from, or will it just become clutter?
I recommend taking the very tough love route here. Remember, your goal is to clear out the things that don't enhance your life in some way. If you've lived happily for a month or so without them, and don't have any specific plans for them within half a year, how much do they really add to your life?

Putting stuff out of sight is an interesting and effective way of changing how you look at it--literally and figuratively. Try the experiment above with a spot you'd like to declutter; you may well find, as did my friend, that the result is a much clearer sense of what truly deserves space in your life.

No comments: