It seems we can hardly go a day anymore without seeing someone extolling the virtues of “decluttering.” While most of us acknowledge we have “too much stuff,” getting rid of enough things to make a dent in the clutter can be a paralyzing thought. Sure, we may not use this gizmo very often, and that gadget never did quite work right. But still – what if we need it someday?
Thankfully, there is a way to get some insight on what we can safely get rid of, without actually getting rid of anything. Call it an “undo button” for your decluttering; a way to take back any mistakes you might have made in the initial frenzy to “pitch all the things!”
Start with a nice, big, cardboard box or plastic tote.
Now, take it to the part of your house you most want to declutter.
Don’t think about decorations or knick-knacks right now. At the moment, you’re just going to be looking at things that are meant to be used.
Open the box, and start ruthlessly putting everything in it that meets any of the following criteria:
- You haven’t used it for at least a week.
- There’s not a specific reason you know you will need to use it in the future.
- You know what you would use it for, but in your gut you know you’ll never actually use it.
- It’s meant to do a very specific task that you can do with a more multi-purpose tool instead.
When I say do this ruthlessly, I really mean it. Get as much in the box as you can. Pack fragile items carefully, and go get more boxes if you need to. The more stuff you gather, the better. (Some notable exceptions would be first aid equipment, fire extinguishers, toilet plungers, or anything else you might have on hand for dealing with true emergencies. Also, your husband’s toolbox is off-limits! 😊 )
Now that you’ve done that, tape the box shut and put it aside.
Get another box, and this time start filling it with whatever knick-knacks and decorations that meet any of the following criteria:
- You don’t like it, but haven’t felt free to get rid of it for some reason.
- It’s “blended in” and you don’t actually notice it anymore.
- You kind of like it, but not as much as some other items.
Pack this box up carefully too, then tape it shut as well.
Now, carry the boxes somewhere out of the way where they’ll be safe, but ideally out of sight and at least somewhat inconvenient to access.
Make a commitment to yourself to not touch the boxes at all for at least one month, unless you actually need something out of them so badly that you’d have to go buy a replacement if you don’t get out the one you packed away.
Try not to let “missing” items cramp your style; you should still be able to do everything that’s important to you without those items. You might have to innovate a little, but that’s part of the exercise.
After a month, evaluate two things:
- How many times did you find yourself looking for something, only to remember you packed it away?
- How much did you enjoy your less-cluttered area?
- Do you need more time with your “safety net” before actually getting rid of everything in the boxes?
- Do any of the packed items have sentimental value? If so, do they need to be used or displayed, or is it enough to just get them out and look at them every now and then?
If you must, restore some of the items you really did miss and would like to have back. If you’re ready to get rid of some items, then go ahead and do so (try to do this productively if possible; it’s always better to sell or gift an old item than to waste it!)
Then, repeat steps 1 – 4, either in a different part of your house, or if you’re feeling adventurous, try it again in the same area as the first time!
The idea of getting rid of things outright is concerning to some of us. Still, most of us have a lot of things that just get in the way. A “trial run” gives us the freedom to see what we really use and gain some confidence about our choices as to what to keep and what to get rid of, while still being able to change our minds if we find we’ve made a mistake.
If you’ve been wanting to declutter but haven’t known where to start, give this method a try. You might find you can get by with a lot less than you thought!