Decluttering Woe

Today has seen the advent of depression and discouragement as far as our home-making project goes; what I thought were six still-packed boxes upstairs somehow morphed into TEN unpacked boxes and three duffel bags, and after beginning, gingerly, to poke into them, I can see that the project is not looking good.  How on earth can it be that at not yet even 30 years old, John and I have accumulated so much junk and garbage?

To be fair, not all of it is junk or garbage – but I think I can fairly say that none of it is anything that we need, or perhaps even want.  It has all been in boxes for a year or more now, which should have told us something.  Would it not have been wiser to understand that in the last year, we made a search expedition for anything that we needed and wanted?  And that what is left may have been better left unexcavated?

I am almost to the point of wishing that instead of opening the boxes, I had just carted them down to the garage, full, and left them for the trash pick up next week.  But of course I don’t wish that,  because as soon as I open the boxes and see what’s in there, memories and thoughts and feelings and hopes for future usefulness of the items come flooding in, and now the items must be dealt with one by one.  My next week shall be spent trying forcibly to impress on my mind the wisdom of organizing and decluttering advice from my mom, my sister-in-law with whom I spent part of the recent holiday bemoaning Too Much Stuff, my friend Joanna, countless Real Simples that I’ve read:

– Gifts do not need to be kept.  One’s responsibility to the giver is a heartfelt thank-you – but there is no need to store and move something that isn’t being used.

– There are better ways to keep memories than through physical items, and those that are attached to items already can be kept with less space – for instance photographing the thing and jotting down in a journal the thoughts and feelings associated with it.

– For me, at least: keeping things just because they MIGHT be useful in the future is not a good idea.  The potential cost of replacing the item, if it turns out to be necessary later, is (probably) well worth the relief of the burden of keeping it.

– Just because a piece of clothing is good quality, still has wear left, is comfortable, is a good fabric, was expensive, was a good bargain, was a gift, or may come back into style some day, it should not be kept in the closet (or a basement box!).

This one is a huge struggle for me.  I would love to have a wardrobe consisting only of comfortable, attractive, stylish, well-fitting clothes, but this goal seems to be almost impossible.  Mine is full of comfy, old, lounging-around clothes that I am embarrassed even to wear to walk Maxwell around the neighborhood, juxtaposed to stylish, nice looking everyday clothes that are not that comfortable for wearing every day – and in the third corner of the triangle, really, really nice dress items that are very high quality (mostly gifts) that I have hardly any occasion to wear.

– I am not responsible for being the repository of other people’s memories.  (This is also a struggle: I have many items that were given to me by someone else, because the thing reminded the giver of a third person and they want to pass that memory on.)

Perhaps I should note that this is all made much more difficult, because I do like things.  John and I sometimes say that we would like to be minimalists, but I think that is only true relative to our current state.  I love our books, and our furniture, and various things we’ve bought – little touches to make our house homelike.  I love our new quilt, and some of the frivolous decorative items we received at our wedding – I love some of the things I’ve had since childhood.  I do not want a sterile, empty home; I do not want each item we own to have to have a strict, utilitarian purpose to be allowed to stay.

I also love the idea of high-quality, long-lasting clothes.  How do I resolve that with wanting a small wardrobe, and with wanting to buy one or two new things each year for fun?  Somehow I have ended up with many too many things in the wardrobe.

I hope you enjoyed my interspersed, unrelated photos – they were taken after we arrived home on Monday afternoon, on a gorgeously crisp and clear day.  I had to savor it, since, as we are heading into the Portland Winter, it might be the last I see for a while.  I would have taking photos of the upstairs unpacking disaster, but it is too embarrassing, and not in a funny or endearing too-much-ice-cream-in-the-freezer way.  I imagine it would be somewhere between depressing and horrifying, depending on your own state of clutter.

Post-posting edit: so as to make this post a little less whiney, I feel like I should add that the boxes are not tiny little book-sized boxes.  No – these are the Home Depot “Large” size: 18″x18″x24″.

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10 thoughts on “Decluttering Woe

  1. I’ll help you! Ian helped me before – sometimes you need an impartial third party who starts tossing stuff when you start to lie down in despair… :) I moved 7 times since 2004, so I declutter frequently. It feels great – but I still hugely regret giving away my snakeskin pants from college! They didn’t fit right, but could have been altered. Oops.

    • That is one of my biggest fears: I definitely have some items that I wish I hadn’t given away, or hadn’t been given away on my behalf. That makes it so much harder to give things away …. Wah.

      I really appreciate your offer, though, and I am definitely piling my summer clothes straight back in the box for another two weeks. John tries to be helpfully brutal, but it doesn’t really work. Thank you!

  2. Julianne, you surely have the right instinct: to grant an item to be retained if and only if it is not clutter, not out of style, not uncomfortable, not unused, not merely a gift and not enhancing to the rest of your life. Making that judgement for me has usually proven so difficult that I have defaulted to retaining far more that I need or can even keep track of. On the other side of the balance scale, however, you also touched upon one of the most rewarding aspects of having kept so much … seldom do I encounter a saved item without also finding at least one memory attached to it. For now for me the memories are winning. Love, Rob

  3. Well i am with Rob on this one — no surprise. for all the reasons you mention, just keep it in boxes, dont worry about it, and who knows when it will come in handy. slothfully yours, dad
    of course i have mom to keep our house passable.

  4. I tend to move a lot so I also de-clutter a lot. I love it! I use it as an excuse to lighten my psychic load as well as the physical stuff I have. That gift from so & so that they SO thought was me – and it so isn’t? – toss! I have one person that loves to buy me clothes even though I have never once worn a thing they’ve bought me & have asked repeatedly they stop with the clothing because their style for me is not my style. :) …..getting to the point…. I find it takes the right head space to tackle the project, perhaps some ice cream would help or playing some up tempo music and dance around the house while you make your keep vs. discard piles, but once you get going you might find it’s a cathartic experience to just let it go. Maybe drink some wine (if that’s your thing) or put on those fancy fancy clothes and play dress up – if you feel beautiful, keep it, if you feel ridiculous, Goodwill pile. Or at least wear the heels & pearls and pretend you’re going through someone else’s estate and only search for the gems.

    • I absolutely love your “right head space” ideas – genius. I got a little bit done today before getting to the internet and reading your comment, but I can definitely see myself working more efficiently tomorrow with some of your ideas implemented.

      I can definitely see it being easier once I get some momentum up – and perhaps music (and ice cream!) will help me get on a roll. When I’m alone with my thoughts, I tend to get a couple of items de-cluttered, but then get stuck thinking about the next item in the box, and have trouble getting going again. Friday motivation, here I come.

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