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Decluttering My Way To Happiness

Author: BethArky

When I left my first job at a small-town Colorado newspaper back in the '80s -- yes, Virginia, once upon a time there were such opportunities for recent college grads -- I resold the few pieces of furniture I'd bought from neighbors, entrusted my plants to a friend, wedged the rest of my possessions into my subcompact and headed for "the big time" in New York. I was free and unfettered, literally and figuratively.

Over the years, life has become more complex and, like most people, I've acquired more and more stuff. The last time I moved -- 11 years ago -- my husband and I needed professionals to transport us a mere 15 blocks, from one Brooklyn apartment to another. (That said, our one-bedroom's-worth of things only required one trip. Today, I'm guessing we'd need at least three.)

On top of that, parenthood and working from home have done nothing to enhance my organizational skills. The DH has come to equate my clutter with hoarding. I beg to differ; let's just say I can stand a bigger mess than he can, or we have different priorities, or both. But I will admit to feeling panicked when, under pressure, I can't locate my phone, keys, or important mail for all the stacks of paperwork, piles of coats, and bags stuffed with odds and ends waiting to be sorted the next time I have a few spare hours. (Don't hold your breath.)

With each new year comes the inevitable urge to purge. After all, who doesn't feel better when they've found a place for everything and everything's in its place? I've written about this before. But I've reached a point where I'm looking at the bigger picture, decluttering not just my home office and closets, but my life. As author Barbara Hannah Grufferman advises, it's the only way to become unstuck and make room for whatever lies ahead.

"Ask yourself what you want your life to look like over the next few years," Grufferman writes, "and you'll come up with a vision for your future, which will be your personal theme. Once you have your theme, you can work on getting rid of everything in your life that doesn't fit the theme, and you will be prepared to let go of the clutter."

According to Grufferman, who cites organization and time-management guru Julie Morgenstern as her inspiration, there are different kinds of clutter in our lives -- not just objects but obligations, habits and, yes, people. "People can be just as de-energizing and draining as piles of newspapers and magazines," she writes. "If there's someone in your life who drags you down whenever you see her...maybe it's time to reconsider the relationship." Granted, sometimes a complete break isn't an option. If that's the case, Grufferman advises figuring out a way to minimize the amount of time you spend together. When it comes to shedding objects, she suggests that after we pick the treasures we want to keep, we decide what to give away, sell, recycle, or donate and then do it.

Grufferman is talking about detoxifying and downsizing, key guiding principles of the green movement. She allows that this is a lifelong quest, and I know it won't always be easy for me. But if it helps make the rest of the ride I started in Greeley, Colorado, that much smoother, it will be worth it.

How are you decluttering your life?

photo: karl sinfield


tcrlady picture
That's great new-- decluttering and organizing happens little by little, not all at once, if you want it to stick. I'm a school teacher and I let the kids help me organize. THey bring in babywipe boxes from their younger siblings and those hold markers, crayons, supplies, etc. They like "helping the earth" and it makes the room more neat!
amahel picture
My husband and I just moved in to a new home, so that really helped us streamline. But I think the most important thing is to take it a room at a time. Spend a lot of time in your office? One day before you sit down try to work through the desk clutter. Or maybe the kitchen? Work on it one cupboard at a time. It will go faster than you think, and it will help spread out the cost of organizing tools, like tubs or trays (if you need them). I've found that my closet was the most difficult to go through, until a friend recommended that if you're not sure what to do with an item of clothing, then try to wear it for a day. Works like a charm! Plus, I limit my seasonal items to fit in my suitcase in the off season. I've been able to save a bunch by getting creative with organizing. Instead of buying a pencil holder, I use a old mug that I love. I've seen candle holders for rubberbands and paper clips, and cardboard boxes for things like light bulbs or craft supplies. Easy to mark, cents on the dollar. Check your local thrift shop when you drop off your unwanted items.
maggieaslan706 picture
I too have been working on decluttering, getting rid of things that have been packed up in garage for last 5yrs.,and trying hard to get rid of clothes that have not fit for quite awhile. I do feel better, my apt. looks much better and I've learned somethings about myself, like how i'm emotionally attached to some of those clothes that haven't fit in quite sometime. Anyway long story short just start somewhere a kitchen drawer, anywhere, it will encourage u to do more. good luck. maggieaslan706
jaymg picture
I try to remove an item from our home for every thing that comes in - newer clothing item in, older one out. Most purchases are made at resale stores; we return/recycle what we don't wear out. Becuase of this, my daughter grew up thinking that we returned the clothes to the store when we were done with them. Not a bad idea, I thought. Yes, I still buy too much, but I'm a work in progress. My most recent declutter was (regrettably) my partner of over 20 years - for, yes, as said above, people can absolutely be as "de-energizing and draining" as anything else in our lives, or even more so.
deb5380 picture
What's wrong with yard sales? I think this is a great way to get rid of clutter and buy gently used items at a small fraction of the cost! Whatever you have left you can donate or whatever. Maybe I just didn't understand the previous comment. ???
MotherLodeBeth picture
I use my local freecycle groups which also have a section for those who want to borrow an item rather than own an item. I also think having a mindset of someone who travels alot or moves alot due to a job helps, as it makes you see what you need and use vs stuff you end up with that over time ends up being clutter and stuff that you dont even know you have. I tend to live a French lifestyle which also means an armoire for clothes that unlike an American walk in closet, is small and holds clothes I actually wear, which in turn means I wear classic clothes that never go out of style. Two odd things I see in America are all the storage businesses where people pay to sell their excess stuff, or yard sales. To me these denote folks who have never learned to manage their money and or are lonely people.
Julie Jean picture
Julie Jean
Great article! This is the basis form my green home organizing business, No Wire Hangers, Get organized and stop the cycle of binging and purging.
emilan picture
The best approach is to think b4 u buy by asking yourself the question: "Can I not just borrow it instead?" With tools such as it's a lot easier to share and borrow stuff. Ownership is not essential, it's access to things that really matters. Let's boost the sharing economy!