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
onetwelve 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.
See the entire Living With Less series HERE.