Decluttering for the New Year

It's All Too Much, Peter WalshWe went to Rapid City for Christmas and, motivated by a book I found while there, I returned ready to take a closer look at our home to see what might be encroaching on our corner of paradise.

Peter Walsh’s workbook, “It’s All Too Much”, begins with an assessment that would suggest that a family intervention isn’t imminent.

“Do you need to clear off the kitchen counter to prepare a meal?”

No.

“Do you regularly misplace your car keys or checkbook?”

No.

“Do you have to remove laundry‚Ķ to get to your bed?”

Not usually.

Yet there’s a reason why I walked out of Books-A-Million with a receipt. We have kitchen gadgets that we do not use. I couldn’t do my taxes tomorrow without taking a day to gather the necessary papers and I feel daunted by a stash of plastic bags that is ever growing thanks to our newspaper subscription.

I was also drawn to some of the exercises in the book. The “I might need it one day” and the “It’s worth a lot of money” excuses for hanging on to stuff are quickly neutralized. Not being a huge hoarder myself, I was surprised to notice that I relied on some of them. It was liberating to be ready with a sensible response:

“If I can’t use it today, right now, for who I am in the life I am living, I don’t need it.”

As clutter piles up over time it becomes invisible. So, in the “What I see – What I’d like to see” exercise where you note in detail what is in each room, you learn to see again.

The “Room Function Chart” was another eye-opening exercise. Room by room you are to note the current and ideal function of a space. Based on that, you can determine what is needed and what must go. Doing this exercise, I discovered that our office was serving too many functions. I had been struggling to find a credenza/armoire/cabinet with very specific dimensions and features so that we could reduce the footprint of stereo cabinets and whatnot on the crowded floor. But then I realized that if we quit using the office/video-audio studio/guestroom for overflow clothing, there would be ample room to serve these other purposes. As a bonus, the search for furniture that doesn’t exist could finally stop.

We need to live within the space that we have. I have always believed in Rule #1 and for the most part we do okay. We certainly aren’t paying for storage, which was the subject of a sermon at my parents’ church back in Rapid. The preacher said, “We fill our houses to the brim, packing every closet until we can’t get into them anymore. We stuff the attic with things we will soon forget. When that’s full, we move boxes we never unpacked from our last move into the garage. Then we rent climate-controlled storage space. If it weren’t for the bill, we would forget about that too. Why do we need so much stuff?”

Rule #2 prioritizes the use of space. So, not only do we have to live within the space that we have, the space must make it possible to easily do what we want to do. Keeping this in mind, it is suddenly much easier to choose between a few jackets that I never wear and having easy access to my collection of taped interviews.

Shoes

I don’t wear them. They’re out.

While difficult to overcome the temptation to move clutter from one spot to another, I won’t be able to do that now without remembering Rule #3: “One room’s clutter is still another room’s clutter.” So, I have a nice little pile of stuff accumulating for the Goodwill, the used bookstore, and Craig’s List.

As I worked through some very tiring exercises, I thought of friends for whom clutter is a constant issue and considered whether this book might be a nice centerpiece to a support group. It might be. I thought of people who are relocating to warmer climates or with a job and who have no choice but to look at and handle absolutely everything they own. Whether they decide to pack it all up or dispose of certain things in one way or another before loading the truck and moving on to the next chapter, they’ll have to make a lot of decisions. I wonder what I would decide about the shoebox full of dried out pens that occupy prime real estate in my closet.

6 thoughts on “Decluttering for the New Year

  1. Maggie

    I enjoyed your article. Recently having an ephinany along the same subject dilemma I totally eliminated years and years of memorabilia in the form of magazines and recordings. The landfill is no friend of mine anymore but it sure did lift a burden and my world is a whole lot lighter.

    Reply
    1. Rebekah Smith Post author

      Congratulations! I too feel some relief in having brought a carload of stuff to the Goodwill yesterday. If someone brought that exact same stuff back to me, I have no idea how I would re-incorporate into my household.

      Reply
  2. barncat

    I think I will check this book out as well. Military moves force us to purge and when we do I’m disgusted at what we’ve accumulated that ends up going to donation because yard sales and craigslist are not in my schedule. If I could stay ahead of the game it wouldn’t be so overwhelming.

    Reply
    1. Rebekah Smith Post author

      You can save yourself some money and potential clutter if you literally “check out” the book. Right now I’m focused on the first part about decluttering. Later, the author offers advice about how to stay ahead of the game and maintain things. I’ll be interested to see if his tips will be something that I can easily absorb or if it’s all just theoretical.

      Reply

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