Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Living With Less: Where to Start

Getting started on Living With Less can be downright overwhelming.  If it's not, then you're probably already Living With Less.  If so--kudos to you!  Go sip some lemonade and read a book.  The rest of us will be busy tunneling through our closets.

Sometimes it's easier to start something big if somebody tells you what to do.  I am totally that kind of person.  So I'll do you a little favor and tell you what to do.  Start somewhere.  Anywhere.  Just start.  Getting started on cutthroat organization is a huge task.  You find yourself bumbling around from one area or room to another, organizing just one or two random things.  And you'll feel like you're getting nowhere.  Until, without realizing it, you've emptied out an entire closet of paperwork onto the floor.

My best advice in getting started is this:
Don't bother with trash cans and baskets at first.  Just make piles.

I very distinctly remember organizing the "coat closet" in our old apartment one day.  (I put "coat closet" in quotation marks because we stored a million other things in there as well.  You have closets like that too.  You know what I mean.)  I was puttering through things.  I was trying to find some piece of paperwork I knew I had stashed in there.  But instead I found old paperwork from a job I had quit months before.  "Why is this still in here?" I thought.  And I tossed it onto the living room floor.  Where it was then joined by 90% of the other random papers that had piled up on the same shelf in the closet.

It wasn't stuff that was hard to sort through.  It was old church programs and print outs of Whatever that we didn't need to keep.  It was just Junk that we had tossed in there and forgotten about.  Often, all it takes to get started is to start throwing stuff on the floor.

Don't worry.  You'll clean it up when you're done sorting.  It's more important to keep your momentum.  The pile on the floor will bug you much more than the pile in the closet.  Once it's out in the open, it'll get cleaned up in a jiffy.

But what you really want to know is what to save and what to get rid of.

Alice Fulton's foundational advice is to "get rid of all the things that you don't need, want, use, like, or have room for."  That, my friends, is extremely sound advice.  Advice that I have learned to live by.  And I'm all the better for it.

Here are some examples of things that fall into any or all of those categories for me:

  • Junk papers--things that you can easily re-print or that serve no real purpose.
  • Gifts I've been given that I don't like--Of course we should always be gracious in receiving gifts.  But that doesn't mean we have to keep them forever.  Or even for a full week.
  • Pictures I don't care about--Before we moved, my mom very thoughtfully sent me a huge tub of photographs I had saved.  Most of them were from high school (in the days before digital cameras).  And most of them went in the trash.  The twenty or so I decided to save are stored neatly in a little album where they can actually be enjoyed.
  • Freebies--Stuff I got for free that I never use.  Like staple removers with pharmaceutical logos.
  • Pens and Pencils--Keep the ones you like.  Throw away the trash ones.  Give the left overs to a local classroom that can put them to good use.
  • Non-champ shirts--You know the shirt you always wear when you want to really look good?  Keep that one.  You know the one you wear when it's way past laundry day?  Get rid of it.  Go through the rest of your closet and do the same for the rest of your clothes.
  • Shoes-- I am a shoe hoarder.  It's just one of those things for me.  I collect them from thrift stores and think about how cool I'll look wearing them.  And then... I don't wear them.  And they just take up room in my closet.  Oh, you do that too?  Pick out the shoes you wear all the time.  Those are your favorites.  Get rid of the rest.  You won't miss them.  I promise.
  • Bags/Purses--Re-read the bit above about shoes and insert "bags/purses" every time you read the word "shoes."
  • Large Furniture--Did you know it's okay to get rid of big ticket items?  Knowing this can change your life.  For the better.  The furniture you own is what's in your house because that's what was available to you at the time you wanted/needed it.  If that hadn't been available to you, you'd have something else.  If you like it and you have room for it, keep it.  If you don't like it or you don't have room for it, don't keep it.  It really is as simple as that.  Or, at least, it can be.  And I've got to add one more thing about large furniture.  Don't keep it because "you might want it when you move."  Chances are, the next place you live will have a totally different layout and by then your life will have a totally different set of needs.  Save yourself the space now and the hassle and cost of moving it later.  Get rid of it.  If you do want it when you move into a new place, you'll be able to find another one there.  And maybe you'll find one you like even better.
  • Outdated Electronics--The world of electronics will forever be updating itself.  Don't bother with all the old stuff you don't use anymore.
  • Toys You Hate--Grandmas, close your eyes for a minute.  No peeking!  ...Psst!  Moms!  Get rid of the toys you don't like.  This can include the ones that make annoying sounds, one ones you're tired of stepping on, or the ones your kids have outgrown.  If your kiddos are little enough (or have too many toys already) they won't even know they're gone.  And you can deal with one twelve less things to trip over.
  • Out-grown Baby Clothes--One day before we moved I was talking to my sister-in-law on the phone and telling her about how we had something like five garbage bags full of out-grown baby clothes.  Of course I didn't want to get rid of them because, you know, we plan to have more kids someday.  My sister-in-law had just recently moved herself and you know what she told me?  "Yeah, I had that problem too.  But somebody's always trying to pawn their old baby clothes off on a new mom.  Next time I have a baby, I'm just going to take them up on their offer."  You know what?  She was totally right.  After that I re-sorted the baby clothes.  I kept (maybe) five things.  
  • Sentimental Stuff That Lives in Boxes--If it really meant a lot to you, it would be somewhere you could see it (or use it) all the time.  If it's living in a box, it's Junk.  (This, by the way, is what I think is the very hardest thing to "sort."  Despite hours and hours of deliberating, we still have boxes of this stuff.  Getting rid of it takes practice.  And multiple re-sorts.  And sometimes it just takes a few years to detach yourself from the Stuff.  Like I said in the beginning, Living With Less is a an on-going process.)
  • Old School Work-- A couple of cute things you wrote in grade school?  Keep.  The rest of the stuff that's so boring that you don't even want to sort through it?  Hello, recycling bin.
  • Broken Stuff--You know exactly what I'm talking about, right?  I hereby give you the permission to throw it away.  Go and be free of it.
  • Non-you Stuff--I love what Dave Bruno, author of The 100 Thing Challenge, says in this interview on Boing Boing about being honest with yourself about who you are.  He talks about how he used to keep (or acquire) a lot of things that represented the person he wished he was, and not the person he actually is.  My high school dance shoes?  Are not the person I am anymore.  And they do not need to take up room in my closet.  Neither does the "cool" scarf that I know deep down I'll never wear.  It's just not my style.  And it doesn't ever have to be.

Obviously this list is not a comprehensive one.  But it should give you a bit of a jump start.  Chances are, you've already thought of twenty things you want to get rid of.  To that I say: Go and Do.

Happy Pile-making!


See the entire Living With Less series HERE.


Brittany said...

Great post, Katie! Now I need a good kick in the pants to get started. :)

Aleatha Shannon said...

Alice Fulton was really inspiring to me too. I was already on the "wagon" so to speak, since reading a ton about simplicity late in high school (starting with Thoreau's Walden). But as you say, it is an ongoing process. A favorite tool I use to start are these questions: "If I lost everything, what would I go out and replace immediately? And what would I be glad that fate had taken from me?"

I got it from this article, which I read in high school.

Looking forward to reading more!

Lynne said...

Great list! I've got to start. I can't believe how much stuff we have accumulated. I was finally able to let go of several large pieces of funiture this summer. They really didn't fit into our new house... and we moved here 5 years ago!

The Jessee Journal said...

We finally got rid of our computer desk. I hated that thing! It was black so it ALWAYS looked dusty AND it was a huge crap collector. Now that it's gone we no longer have a convenient place to drop our papers or other piles ... so we actually put them away ;) I will say, living in a small duplex for the past 7 years has made me very unattached to stuff! We are always in decrapify mode and trying to create more space and order with the small amount of room we have.

Becky said... is an amazing and thoroughly helpful blog.

As a minimalist who has taken on a family formerly run by a packrat (borderline horder) I have been sorting and purging for a year. Now as we are ready to move into our new (and much smaller) home I have very little to pack :)

Polly @ Pieces by Polly said...

Good suggestions, Katie!

Lisa Lou said...

One thing I like to think about when sorting, "Does this make me feel better about myself?" Old receipts, old pay stubs - no. Old journals, old scriptures - yes. Those are the things I want to keep, to remember, to show my children.

Bekka-Reeeeeeee said...

Hear, hear!!! Why just today, I cleaned out 3 of our junk drawers. Just 3 of them. We have many more to go thru. But it felt so liberating to throw stuff in the trash & sort thru it all so I knew what should be kept (the instruction manuals, for example) and what could be tossed (the pens that no longer write or the dead batteries....).

Sarah said...

This is a great topic, Katie friend! It was interesting moving recently and going through things and trying to just keep the favorites of the stuff that collects. I think it's hard for some to let go when we're so focused on stocking up/being prepared for the future. Usefulness should NOT be the sole reason for keeping something.

About the sentimental stuff though... Aunt Nancy let Spencer keep ONE plastic bin/tote full of sentimental-type things growing up (other than stuff in scrapbooks). It's still there with a baby blanket, some photos, cross country stuff, etc. It's perfect! I think the problem with memory-based things is that it quickly gets out of hand. Maybe just give yourself permission for a set amount - whether that be one plastic tote or three or ten. Just set a number.

~ Laura said...

Excellent topic!! I started truly decluttering late last year and when you do it right (which I had never done before!) it feels wonderful!!

It is liberating, too!! Less stuff means less physical and mental time managing the stuff! I had no idea how much time I put into mentally managing!!

On the sentimental stuff...I'm in my 40s and my kids are 16 and 12. I still had stuff from when I was a kid and this time around I came to the realization that one day I'll be gone and I don't want my children having to go through my stuff and possibly feeling burdened by any of it. I'm too sentimental for my own good and if either of my kids are like this (and they both are to some degree now) I don't want them to feel bad tossing my things or worse, keeping it!!! This really helped me prioritize and toss!!

Suzanna said...

When I look at the stacks of boxes in my hall closet I get fired up to get rid of half of it- but when I start going through it- it becomes much harder than I think. I have a lot of the sentimental stuff, plus gifts people gave me that I know they gave me because they thought I would love it. But what do you do when your tastes change and gifts don't fit into your decor anymore?

Kristie said...

Love this series. Now, can you put some of these posts into printable options, so I can have your words of advice in front of me while I de-junk? (And then I will promptly recycle the paper.) I love this list, and all the ideas you have with it.
Thanks for speaking a language I am trying to learn!

Janelle said...

Have to say, can't face the baby clothes yet. We might still "have one more" and I love that I have pictures of my kids in some of the same outfits. But, I am mentally preparing for the end of having babies, trying to plan one or two "special" keepsake outfits for each of them, and be ok with everything else leaving. It will certainly clear A LOT of space in my house.

Anonymous said...

A couple of things--

By the first post, I'm already hooked--this is my reading material for the rest of the day, and that says a lot because I only read the Internet one day in the week.

Also, I'm going to bookmark the entire series after I'm done here, then go back and read all of it.

Thirdly, my motto via organization has been: "I don't spring clean; I move." And it's true. We don't want to pack junk, so we cull and Craigslist and throw away and donate to thrift stores and swaps/exchanges and designate as gifts to other people. And when we unpack it, we re-evaluate because we have to find a new place for it.

But we plan on moving into a house. And I'm already taking notes from your series into my notebook. You know, actual paper. To eventually add to the other notebooks that I have tucked away that are full.

And I'll stop right there. But expect further comments from me later.

Élune said...

Thanks! It was just the right push to make me go through my bookshelf, school stuff, clothes, etc. and throw away many, many, MANY totally useless things that are better off either in the trash container, recycling box or a second-hand store. I've been sorting for the past 2 days and plan on sorting again tomorrow.

It's so liberating! First because it makes room for the more important things, but also because... I dunno... I feel better now that all this junk is out of my life. XD

I'm not a big fan of voluntary simplicity or anything, but I've just realized that throwing away the junk to cherish the things I really like feels awesome. I tend to keep too many - useless - things. And then, things just pile up and I start to hate the whole apartment and everything in it. Now I feel much better! So from now on, I'll try to continue living with less. Thanks again!

HawaiianShirts said...

Sound advice.

Can I add one little tip? I'm fairly sentimental when it comes to some keepsakes, even the ones that live in boxes under the bed. I don't need to look at them all the time, but I have lots of memories attached to them, and I don't want to feel like I'm losing access to the memories. So, I get out the camera and the scanner.

Those old programs from high school plays and concerts? Scanned to a folder on my computer (and external hard drive for backup). Those random objects that are just there for sentimental reasons? I have a little photo session, keep the digital prints on my computer (and external drive), and then send the things off to new homes.

My pack rat tendencies are MUCH easier to deal with this way.