By Vanessa Dolberry
I am one purge away from being a hoarder. I like stuff. I like to buy stuff. I love clothes and home decor items and crafts and books. Lamps, pillows, shoes. I have things I love and use. Other things, I thought I loved and would use, but I don’t. But what if I do next week or next year? I love to shop thrift and bargain stores. And, oh, Target, with your dollar section and your clearance end caps. I am not, by nature, a neat person, and if I’m not careful, my stuff can begin to own me instead of the other way around.
What about you? Sometimes upkeep of all our belongings tends to control our lives. How might it change your day or week to have fewer items or less stuff in your home? If you’re like me, you might need a little help here.
All the items in your home should fall into two categories: Things you need. Things you want. If something you own is not needed or wanted, get rid of it. That’s easy, right? Not so much. So why do we keep things we don’t need or want? There are several reasons. Here are a few to think over.
- Sometimes we keep things because we want to preserve the past. Maybe it’s your great-grandma’s china that’s been passed down from generation to generation stored in the bottom of your china cabinet. You only get them out once a year for Thanksgiving dinner (because that is what you are supposed to do, of course) and you could really use that space to store board games that your family plays on rotation for family game night. What if you kept one piece of the set and let go of the rest?
It’s definitely not wrong to keep items of sentimental value, but often, keeping large amounts of memorabilia can weaken our ability to let things go. When we keep items we do not want or need, we become slaves to those items or the people who gave them to us. Do some hard sifting and make realistic goals for what to keep and donate. Sell or trash the rest.
- Sometimes we keep things out of fear of the future. It’s the reason my sweet Pawpaw has four coffee makers. One is not enough because it might break. He needs a backup … or three. Are you keeping items in case you need them in the future? Maybe one coffee maker really can be enough. Speaking of china again: when I got married, we registered for a set of everyday dishes and a set of fine china. That’s just what people did. I used my everyday dishes, well, every day. But my china only came out maybe once every five years, and even then, it was only a piece or two. I unpacked it at our fifth house and put it in our china cabinet where it was always displayed and I realized that it was doing nothing but taking up space. I liked it, but it had no purpose but to be displayed. So, I got rid of it. It wasn’t an easy decision, but after I made it and had cleared out the space where the china had been, it was freeing. I was keeping that china for sentimental reasons of course, but also because I might use it one day. The 12-year-old price stickers still on the underside of the soup bowls should have taught me otherwise much sooner. What things are you holding on to just in case? Can you allow yourself to let go of them and free up space for the things you actually need and use now?
- Sometimes we keep things because we get lazy and discontent. Instead of making a decision to throw away, give away, or sell an item, we just stuff it in a closet. We aren’t organized, so we forget where we put things that we do need and end up with duplicates of the same item. Instead of using items until they wear out, we buy the newest model of the same thing we already have. I have five pairs of boots in my closet, but these have that cute detail at the ankle, and they’re on clearance. Into the cart they go and add to the belongings in my closet to be worn once or twice during boot season. Ask yourself if you are buying more things because you need them or because you’ve neglected or just been discontent with the ones you already own. Maybe we keep items we don’t want or need because they aren’t paid for yet. Did you buy something on credit and it lost it’s lustre long before you were able to pay off the bill? Cut your losses now. Sell it, pay down the bill, and try to make a wiser purchase next time.
If you’ve made it this far and have gotten rid of items you don’t want or need, there may still be some items you can purge. Of the items remaining, ask yourself these questions to determine whether you should keep them. Purposes of items can vary. The purpose of the toaster is to toast my waffl es every morning. The purpose of my son’s baby book is to remember his milestones as he was a growing baby. Don’t get too legalistic on everything having a practical purpose. The purpose of an item can simply be to make you happy. Items that are broken should be repaired or discarded.
Once you’ve pared down your belongings, it’s time to begin making designated spots for everything. Most items are pretty self-explanatory where they should go. Food items are stored in the kitchen. Clothing goes in the closet or dresser. For some items, however, it might not be as obvious. For those items, remind yourself of the purpose of the item and then store it in the area where you use it.
It’s always best to pull all items out of a closet or cabinet to assess how many items you have and how they would best be stored. Be realistic about what items even need containers. While I love to look at a pantry full of jars of rice, pasta and cereal, that’s too much upkeep for me. My pasta can stay right in the box it comes in.
When you have a home where all your belongings are items you want and/or need, when all those items have a home, when you own your stuff and your stuff no longer owns you — that’s when your home serves you well. When you clear the clutter, you live a fuller, happier life.
Vanessa Dolberry lives outside Nashville, Tenn., with her husband and three children. She is a frequent contributor to ParentLife magazine.
This article originally appeared in ParentLife Magazine (January 2018) ParentLife.