How to deal with clutter and excess possessions

A not-so-traditional look at how to deal with the stuff we don’t need

Clutter. The word makes my eyes roll and my body quiver. 

Everyone has to deal with it. At my house, it pops up so quickly I get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of it. But there are a few areas that tend to get more clutter than others.

On top of all the clutter, there are the possessions that I have been moving around with me for way too many years. In my previous post, I mentioned that I want to get rid of the excess possessions that are in my life. But saying I want to get rid of stuff and doing it are two very different things. So here is my approach to dealing with my excess and messes.

  1. Step back and look at the big picture.

Overview – Where do you see yourself or where would you like to be in five, ten, fifteen and twenty years? What steps do you need to take to make your current reality match where you want to be?

How this plays out – I know this may seem like a very odd thing to do when dealing with a mess, but hear me out. Over the past month, I have been doing a lot of analysis of my goals, dreams, legacy and hobbies. While I don’t know where I will be living in five, ten or twenty years, I know who I want to be and what I want to accomplish. 

One thing I know is that I don’t want to be a hoarder. I also know that I will be moving again, perhaps several times. Those two things are my end goal when it comes to dealing messes. They are the reason I am doing what I am doing. They are what keeps me going when I want to give up and quit. These goals will influence what I keep and what I get rid of. 

When asking yourself these questions, it may be helpful to write them down. As I have been working through this process of looking at the big picture of my life, I have found it very beneficial to see my goals in writing. It has given me a sense of empowerment, purpose and confidence that I can reach my goals and that I won’t forget them. It is an accountability tool for myself going forward.

  1. How do your possessions make you feel?

Overview – Are your possessions weighing you down? If so, what do you need to get rid of to relieve that weight?

How this plays out – A few months ago, a friend said that she was taking five minutes a day to get rid of stuff they didn’t need any more. She said that doing five minutes a day relieved the decision fatigue that can occur when decluttering and getting rid of stuff. What stuck me the most was the relief she felt with getting rid of their unneeded possessions. Having already started down my own organizational journey, I took her story to heart. While I haven’t done exactly what she did, I have noticed a sense of relief when I get rid of stuff we no longer need. 

But I still am carrying around a fairly heavy weight. As I am going through this process, I am asking myself what needs to go before I will feel like the weight is gone. While I don’t have the complete answer yet, I think I will know it when it happens. 

  1. When was the last time I used this?

Overview – How long has it been since I used this item – six months, a year, three years? If it hasn’t been used for a period of time, should it be kept? Does this item have a purpose that could overshadow time limitations, i.e. Christmas decorations?

How this plays out – Okay, this is a bit traditional. Okay, it’s a lot traditional. But it is a very valuable tool to have in your proverbial tool belt. Or your kitchen. I have actually used this question to sort between the spatulas I use and don’t use. And I need a lot of spatulas. Yes, I’m weird. But if you haven’t those cups buried deep in the back of the cabinet for over a year, it is time to consider getting rid of them. Same for the box of toys in the garage that has five years worth of dust on it.

There is a time where the six month rule doesn’t apply – items that are used once a year, such as Christmas decorations. Other specialty or rare items also are not applicable under this rule. But use this exception sparingly. That seldom, if ever, used crockpot may not qualify under this exemption.

  1. It is okay to keep some sentimental items, but in limited quantities.

Overview – Don’t throw away all your childhood memories because you never use them. Instead limit the quantity to one box or tote.

How this plays out – I am a bit sappy and like to have some sentimental items from my childhood, such as yearbooks, knick knacks that sat on my dresser and photos that were taken before I purchased a digital camera. I also want to keep handmade items given to me by my grandmother swo that I can give them to my children when they get older. These items were stored in my cedar chest and a few totes in the garage. This past week, I decided to go through my cedar chest, remove the items that are usable around the house and combine all the sentimental items into one place. Allowing myself this one space feels freeing. I am able to keep the things that carry memories from my childhood without letting them over run my life (and garage).

I can’t say that I have completely mastered this area yet. I still have a bunch of my childhood toys in the garage that I need to get rid of or let my children play with. I may compromise for a while and let myself keep a one tote of toys in the garage for a while until I am able to fully let them go. 

  1. Dealing with the naysayers

Overview – In the purging process, you will run into opposition from friends, family and yourself. When this happens, take a step back, remember the big picture and reevaluate.

How this plays out – I mentioned to someone that I wanted to get rid of a third of my possession, or at least a third of the garage. They replied with, “I don’t get rid of stuff because I might need it later.” While I love this person dearly, I know an accumulation of possessions and unwillingness to part with things can hold people back from living a full life. However, I realize that this person is in a completely different situation than myself and has the ability to store things where I do not. They also have a different goal than myself and the possessions they are keeping could possibly contribute to their overall goal. 

Still, their statement felt like a criticism. I have had to stop and evaluate if they were correct or not and if their mindset would work for me. A look at my big picture says it won’t and that I should continue on as planned. 

We can also experience negative thoughts and pressure from ourselves. When this happens, grace is the best thing we can give to ourselves. Dealing with clutter and excessive possessions is a process. For some people it may take a few years. The thing to do is remember the big picture, who you want to be and continue making progress, even if it is slow. It may be like my friend who was doing five minutes a day. It may be one weekend a month. Or it could be one month a year. The thing to do is what works best for your situation and your goals.