Two weeks ago, I was standing in my guest bedroom, up to my knees in cardboard boxes and dust.
Everything was there. The boxes of stuffed animals and Beanie Babies that have followed me from house to house since I was a kid. A bag of ancient, crumpled baby clothes my mom didn’t have it in her to throw out, and gave to me instead. These items held no promise of future use; at thirty years old, I wasn’t planning a Beanie renissance.
That day, I stood there, half-assedly moving things from one pile to the other, and decided, alright. I HAVE to do something with all of this.
To start? I knew I had to identify my own patterns.
I’m a chronic thrower-outer… most of the time. I can get rid of things I’ve purchased for myself without a second thought. Don’t use it? Don’t need to keep it! Doesn’t work the way I want it to? Bye, I’ll look for a replacement next time I’m at Superstore.
The problem was (is) when I need to throw out something that someone has given me.
As a long-time fan of cleaning, purging, and TLC, there seem to be three zones we struggle with:
We don’t have a LOT of stuff, but we do not know how to organize it, and it’s everywhere right now.
We have so much stuff, we don’t know where to start organizing it.
We have stuff to get rid of, but we feel wasteful about throwing it away.
Yes, the keep / donate / recycle method TECHNICALLY works. But, in my experience, it does not work when you are emotionally attached to the item you’re trying to sort. Yes, I know I SHOULD donate this toy my great grandma gave me in 1992, but she’s dead now, and if I remove this toy from my life, I feel like I’ll be removing a piece of her, too. How am I supposed to sort that?
Getting over the hump of emotional attachment to physical objects is complicated. It doesn’t have a simple solution.
The more I sat in my guest bedroom and debated what I was going to do with these glassy-eyed teddy bears and boxes full of porcelain dolls, the worse I felt. Pontificating was getting me no where. I knew it would feel good to have a clean, empty storage space, but to get there, I would have to rip the bandaid off. Quick.
Here’s what I want you to know about getting rid of stuff.
⏃ Your belongings don’t want to sit alone in a box or bag for decades. Squirreling away old stuffed animals and child’s toys not only defeats the purpose of owning the object, but takes the ability away from someone else to enjoy the item, too.
⏃ If you get overwhelmed or emotional while going through things, remember that you don’t have to tackle everything at once. Get a couple of Rubbermaids (or 6 or 7 or 10), and pile everything you know you need to go through in them. Once a week, or month, pull a Rubbermaid out, and go through it piece by piece.
⏃ The memory you have of the item isn’t attached to its physical presence in your life. Ask yourself if you’re keeping the item because you want it, and can use it, or if it’s because you feel indebted to the person who gave it to you.
⏃ Let yourself keep the Very Important Things, and don’t feel bad about that. Designate a space for your memories. Allow yourself to fill that shelf or box. I have one single Rubbermaid that I keep in my closet, and it’s full of all kinds of crap that would look like junk to anyone that wasn’t me. Designate one space, and limit yourself to that.
⏃ Crossing unfinished business off of your “one day” list will free up time and energy for future you. Recycle the project you never finished. The last time you looked at it, it was 2004. Donate the pants that no longer fit you well. Sell the jewelry you haven’t worn in ten years. It’s tarnished!
⏃ You won’t flip that item, you won’t sell it, and you won’t give it to Brenda. If the book you’ve been meaning to give to your sister for six months is still sitting by the front door, it’s very unlikely that it’s that important for her to read. Let the item, and your plans for that item, go.
Most of the emotions that we feel about physical belongings are tied up in memories. My best friend gave me that, this was the last thing he touched before he died, I remember how small you were when you made that for me.
Of course we do not have to throw everything out. There are lots of belongings and memories that we want to keep. But the tier two stuff, the things that are hoarded away in boxes and suitcases and bags, that we can let go.
To ease your emotional attachment to these items, here’s something I did:
First, I took pictures of every single item I was having a hard time parting with. All of them were benign in their memory – stuffed animals I remembered living in a pile on the top bunk of my bed. Archie Comics I read from cover to cover over and over again. VHS tapes full of Britney interviews from 2001.
Taking photos felt like I was collecting the items again. And at first, I didn’t know what I was going to do with them. Honestly? They languished on my laptop for years. And years. I sold the comics on Facebook Marketplace, recycled the tapes, and donated the stuffed animals. Each item went to a better home.
And then, years later, it hit me:
I used Mixbook to make mine. I kept it very simple, just one picture of each item per page, and then a quick caption underneath with a memory I had attached to the belonging. I won this at the fair in 1998; LEN was my favorite song that summer. I’m surprised I didn’t ruin these tapes playing them so much – Britney was all over TV that year. After school I would sit in the car and read two of these cover to cover, I think I still remember some of the gags.
Turning these items from a physical presence in my life to a paper one changed the game for me. I could see the item still – look, there it is, just like I remembered it. Except now, it felt like I was actually enjoying and honoring the item. My memory was right there! I could access it any time.
Here are some quick ideas on how to get rid of stuff without dumping it all at the thrift store:
⏃ Look up local organizations on Facebook. Message their page, and ask if there’s anything they’re looking for in particular. This is a good way to donate clothing items, bedding, and like-new toys.
⏃ Winter jackets, blankets, cold weather items, and canned food can usually be donated to homeless or low-income shelters. Remember to only donate these items if they’re in good, unexpired condition.
⏃ Dog rescues and shelters are often looking for blankets, towels, and comfort items, as well as used crates, leashes, etc.
⏃ You can donate mascara wands to small animal organizations.
⏃ At Christmas there are usually hamper drives for children in need. Toys new with tags, new clothing, and canned items are good for these kinds of events.
⏃ List bigger items on used sites first. I use Varage Sale, Used, and Facebook Marketplace a lot. Most buyers are happy to drop the cash under your door mat or in your mailbox if you leave the item outside. This is a nice passive way to move an item into a new home, and get a little coin in yo pocket in the process.
Getting rid of stuff is a really long process. You may have to go over the same pile multiple times, and it may take you weeks or month. But it’s WORTH IT. Believe it!
READ THE NEXT POST IN THIS SERIES: HOW TO HELP OTHERS GET RID OF STUFF WHEN THEY’RE REALLY, REALLY BAD AT IT!
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