Cutting Off the Clutter

As a long-time subscriber and a sometime contributor to the House of Order weekly newsletter, I have heard and thought quite a bit about organizing.  I confess, I am the kind of person who sets up systems and maintains them for awhile, then I fall off the wagon and need to go into “reset” mode, clearing out and gaining control afresh.  After a local move three years ago, things that were “dumped” in the basement eventually found homes — but all was not established as efficiently as it should have been.  I knew this and had plans to fix the problem, but other responsibilities precluded the major overhaul that needed to take place.  I set some proximate goals to use what I had and waited for things to change.


Change they have!  A remodel to the main floor room where much of my fabric and craft supply has been stored has meant that the overflowing abundance was moved (while I was away on a trip) to a room in the basement apartment — where more of my things have been squirreled away.  And that apartment, previously used as a part of our home, is being prepared for rental.  I now have a great deal to shed, as well as to organize.



What to do?  What follows are some ideas that have helped me, as I have undergone the mad rush to pare down and create a house of order.



Examine your heart and clear your mind. There is a multitude of reasons for holding onto things, and not every reason is inherently unhealthy — most are probably born of noble intentions.  Examine your heart and mind without accusation to discover each of your own reasons, and consider — in proportion — what your motivations express about you and the things you have collected.  For example:  Do you keep a box of old shirts because you simply want to be frugal and make quilts from what you have, or is there a sentimental reason for hanging onto these particular items?  Are you looking for a way to be generous or share good feelings with others?  Are you, perhaps, looking for an outlet for your creativity?  Is this a link to your past identity, or is it an expression of hope for virtue in your future character? If you note you’re keeping something for “fear of ghosts,” this self-examination is the first step to finding out where those ghosts came from and sending them — and the stuff that keeps them around — away.



Most likely, you have been motivated by many factors to hold onto what you have saved.  Identifying your motivations helps you decide what to do with what you have.



Consider the variety of possible ways your things can fulfill your purposes for them — with and without you. If my purposes for keeping that pile of shirts includes generosity, I might consider donating them to someone who could use them.  If I have a sentimental attachment to this collection, I could consider cutting out a small piece of each (a collection of 3” squares would make a delightful throw pillow) and discarding the rest — or I could take photos and add them to a scrapbook.  If I keep this collection as an expression of creativity, I would consider putting that creativity to use now by determining the best use of my resources and coming up with an effective plan for them.  If I cut out the current supplies and maintain a policy to cut additional pieces before adding them to the collection (to be stored with detailed instructions of my plan), I am creating a “kit” that will be ready whenever I am — or which will make the collection a treasure to someone else later.  It preserves my cutting hand and saves room, too:  the “good parts” from a couple of garbage bags full of used clothes fit nicely into a shoebox.


Put out the word. Whatever you decide to do with your things, advertise it — and make yourself accountable to others.  If you choose to have a yard sale, commit to a time and schedule it with the newspaper and with your neighbors.  If you wish to give things to a good home, think about the people you know who share your interests or whose needs could be met by what you have, and let them know you are willing to share.   Using electronic media contact lists is quick and efficient, and it is easy for others to respond.  I made a preliminary list and extended an invitation to all of my cousins; within hours, several expressed interest in various types of items.  Because I know loved ones are coming to get their things, I am motivated to make their visit worth their time.


Establish a holding tank. Move things out of your living space.  My family has parked a car on the street for a few days so the garage can temporarily house the stuff that is leaving.  Armed with assorted boxes, translucent trash bags, and permanent markers, my station near the sorting center in the basement helps me keep track of where things are and what goes to whom.   Helpers haul filled bags up and out!  Not only is the stuff psychologically gone (yet close enough to reconsider), the fun is contained in its own area, conveniently ready to load up and truck to a donation site when others have filled their needs.


Pick off the easy ones. For some things, you’ll need but a hint of excuse to send them on their way; others are harder to part with.  Start with those you know should go, and relish the ease with which they leave your space.  The freedom you feel will motivate you to be more vigorous about saying goodbye to the rest.


Prioritize and eliminate the bottom of the list. Your priorities are your own, and so are your limitations on space and time.  If (after your initial clear out) you still have too much, consider more closely.  If another project that I do not yet have would take priority over one I’ve got, I know I am not committed to completing this one — and it could more effectively bring satisfaction to someone else.  When I examine my heart and know what I really want, the rest is free to drop out of my life.


Smile and breathe! As we focus on serving others and developing talents and relationships that will last, our lives become rich and satisfying.  To the degree our possessions help us accomplish such ends, they are blessings; as they crowd them out they become a curse.  Sending our excess resources to the places they can do the most good helps us — and everyone involved — to experience a more joyful and abundant life.



©2011 Daunell Clarke/



Photos from  Used with permission of heimdall, CWMGary, and  lupoianfla.


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