Updated: Apr 24, 2018
Can we have it all? I'm not sure, but one thing I know is: You can’t keep it all. As a professional organizer, I spend a lot of time working to dispel the notion that one can keep every item that was ever useful, appeals to one’s sense of self, or that represents a memorable moment from the past. Hanging onto everything is just not possible, nor is it healthy. I mean, we all have a little crazy in our lives; that’s what keeps us fun and interesting, but there comes a point where you aren’t just keeping the stuff, the stuff is keeping you. Once our stuff starts limiting us and barring us from moving forward, creating new relationships or enjoying peace in our home, it’s time to take control of the crazy!
So, how do we pare down the clutter in order to maintain a proper balance of our time, space, matter, and money? Is there a litmus test for what to toss and what to keep? I’m hearing my own rendition of The Clashe’s song in my head: “Should It stay or Should It go? Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah”. Okay, sorry. I digress.
My experience has been that my clients find it a little easier to let go of some of their clutter if I help them examine “why” they have been holding on to it in the first place. Here are some of the most common arguments I hear for keeping things along with some sound reasoning for letting it go.
I can’t let it go because (ICLIGB): It represents a memory or a past event that I don’t want to forget.
Voice of Reason (VOR): First let’s talk about what’s reasonable to keep: Photos, awards for huge milestones such as graduations, etc., and handmade items that you actually LIKE, are a few. Important memorabilia should be treated with respect, and the bottom of a pile in the garage is not that place. Have it repaired (if possible) and put it in a place of honor…immediately. Not reparable? Take a picture and purge. If it's children's art work, and it's just scribbles or you can't even remember which child did it...you can probably let it go.
Note: A crushed paper plate from your daughter’s first birthday party is not a family heirloom and is not reasonable to keep. You took a million pictures. Keep the pictures; toss the plate.
ICLIGB: I paid a lot of money for it, and I don’t want to just give or throw it away. One day, I’m going to have a garage sale or sell it on EBay.
VOR: This is a hard one. I fully understand the amount of money people have sunk into that great pile of stuff….BUT, be honest. if you were able to accomplish this, you probably already would have. Many of my clients suffer from a form of ADD/ADHD and are easily overwhelmed and distracted, so cataloging, taking photos and then selling items one at a time or coordinating a garage sale, is WAY more than they can handle. If this is you, you aren’t alone. So, give yourself a week to start. If you don’t post the items or schedule the sale within that time frame, donate them to your favorite charity and feel good about how many people are going to benefit from your benevolence. Resolve to be a better steward of your space and money going forward. Oh, and don’t forget to collect the donation receipt for your tax return!
ICLIGB: Even though I know I own 4 of them, when one breaks, I have a backup.
VOR: You do not need more than 1 backup. If your space is limited, then you really don’t even need 1 backup…unless it is the coffeemaker. Losing a coffeemaker is an emergency in my home. A backup is advised. Give extras away to someone who doesn’t have one…or donate.
ICLIGB: What if I lose weight? I might be able to wear it again.
VOR: I hope you do reach your target weight, but if you are not currently taking steps to lose the weight and are able to show progress, and/or if the clothing is more than 5 years old….donate. If you do finally lose the weight and get back down to that size some day? Yay! You’ll want to reward yourself with a new wardrobe!
ICLIGB: The idea of the object appeals to me….like I can no longer wear heels but love the “idea” of wearing them…they are so pretty. Or I see my best self as being an artist, so I want to keep the easel I’ve had for 12 years but haven’t ever painted anything but the kitchen wall.
VOR: Again, start wearing them now, or sign up for the lessons within the week. If you are unable to make yourself do it within that amount of time, you aren’t going to. Donate. Or in the case of the shoes, take a pic of your favorites and then donate.
ICLIGB: I can fix it and it will be useful again OR I can use the object to repair something else. This usually comes in the form of lengths of pipe, cords, pieces of plastic, a random wheel from a cart you no longer own, etc. (Ask my husband how I know this one.)
VOR: To some degree, this is a valid point. My husband is always quick to remind me of that ONE TIME he was able to fix something with some piece of metal he had been saving in the garage for just such a time as this. Designate a certain amount of space for what you want to keep to use for repair of other items. Then make a rule that says, when this space is full, I must purge in order to acquire anything else. Many who are environmentally conscious will offer up this argument; they hate to waste or do not want to negatively impact the environment, so they want to recycle it and use in a different way. I get this, but you alone are not responsible for every piece of detritus that doesn’t belong in the landfill. Have an accountability partner or organizer help you out here. There are many recycle programs available these days. If all else fails, put the items out at your curb…someone else may have a use for it, and unwanted items left at the curb often “walk away!” If no one picks it up overnight…find the appropriate way to dispose of it, and do it!
Note: Many cities have locations where paint, oil, pesticides, old batteries, etc. can be dropped off to be disposed of responsibly. Check out your city’s waste management webpage. Do the best you can and let it go. I have a future blog post planned to outline the best places to donate items for recycling, use for parts, etc. so stay tuned.
And finally......The NUMBER 1 reason people give for why they are keeping things: (drum roll, please….)
ICLIGB: I’m saving it for my children.
VOR: Newsflash: They don’t want it. I promise. How do I know? I have 3 grown children. If they wanted it, they would already have it or at least have asked for it. So, do yourself a favor and let it go.
I find that trying to keep it all is like that game you play with a toddler where they sit down around your ankle and you drag them around walking like Fred Munster. Invariably, another toddler will see how much fun it is and wants to pile on. While it is fun when one little person jumps on, you can’t drag around the entire preschool. You quickly become paralyzed and unable to move under the excessive weight. In the same way, trying to hang onto too many things from our past keeps us from living our best now and experiencing our best future. The secret to a life well lived is to embrace each new stage of life and truly live in it. Go ahead! Give yourself permission to make some room for today. Perhaps, Oprah Winfrey said it best when she said, “You can have it all, you just can’t have it all at once.”
Let yesterday take care of itself; make way for the “new” today.
P.S. I purposefully didn’t address the keep or not to keep question regarding paper documents in this post. Stay tuned for a future post on paper to keep and what to toss/shred!