Sorting Our Stuff
As we think about having less stuff, and sorting through the things we have, there are lots of ways to approach this. I am now convinced that using the concept of “essentializing” is a huge step in the right direction.
Choose “the best of the best.”
If we identify those things in our home or apartment that mean the most to us, we have a different perspective on the stuff that used to have meaning and no longer does. I believe this makes it easier to decide what to let go of and what to keep, and that we will let go of more than we expected.
With that in mind, here are some things to ponder. As always, take what works and leave the rest.
- Where to start? Sometimes figuring out where to start can be a daunting task in itself. Perhaps it’s the garage or an extra bedroom so you can then use that space (or part of it) for sorting and setting aside the things you’re letting go of. Or start where it’s bothering you the most. I often suggest starting in your bedroom (so it’s easier to sleep), or wherever you enter your home (front door? back door? garage?) so you’re not drained by clutter when you walk by.
- Choose one space at a time, one category at a time. You cannot clear everything all at once, although many clients wish I had a magic wand to do so. It’s also easier to make decisions if you gather all of one category together first. For example, get together all your vases so you can see how many you have. Then, choose “the best of the best.” I currently have 2 cupboards full of vases. I do have space for them in the laundry room, but as I apply the concept of “essentializing,” there are only 4 that I use most often. I plan to give the rest away.
- Keep destinations and key questions in mind. Are there special people or places where others can use and appreciate your extra stuff? (Don’t forget homeless shelters and encampments.) In addition to asking, “Is it useful? Is it beautiful? Is it meaningful?” how about adding, “Is this essential for my well-being?”
Here are some tips, one category at a time
There are lots of categories here because most of us have lots of stuff. Pick the ones that might apply to you.
BEDDING: How many beds do you have and what size are their sheets? Do you really need more than two sets for each one (plus pillow cases)—one on the bed, one in the wash? I tend to keep a few extra pillows for extra houseguests. Grandkids used to love sleeping in forts in the living room, but now they’ve all outgrown that. Time to let go of extra pillows; same with extra blankets, bedspreads & throws.
BOOKS: How many books do we really need? Which ones are essential? Between us, my husband and I love to read and when we combined households we ended up with 8 bookcases full. We actually use many of our books that reflect our many interests. AND, if I only had one bookcase, I now realize that there are only about 10 books that are the most nourishing and inspiring. The rest will go to Friends of the Library. We’re converting to e-books.
CD’S, CASSETTES, VCR TAPES, LP’S & DVD’s: We used to have an abundance of these, but we’ve given all but about 10 CD’s away. There are lots of electronic ways to listen to music. AND, there’s quite the market for some of these items. I’ve also kept about 10 special DVD’s; mostly comedies because we love to laugh!
CLOTHES, SHOES & ACCESSORIES: Closets and dresser drawers can be a challenge, AND, for some reason, when you only keep the clothes, shoes & accessories that you really, really like and fit really well, it’s amazing how it feels like you have so much more to wear. I do keep one garment bag of clothing I wear less frequently, for special occasions or a few favorites that are just a tiny bit tight. (Now I fit into them!)
COLLECTIONS: Some people get great joy from creating collections, whether it’s sports memorabilia, teaspoons, stamps or other keepsakes. What may have once brought us joy could now be “dust catchers.” I’ve sold or passed on to others all of my collections and now choose to collect experiences. They take up much less space!
COOKBOOKS & RECIPES: How much cooking do you do? I’ve pared down cookbooks with every move, but still have one bookshelf full. Now I’m thinking I’ll only keep 3-4, which contain family favorites. AND, tastes & diets change over the years—how many new recipes are we really going to try? I’ve kept the best of the best (including family favorites). I had 2 boxes of recipes to try. Now I have one folder. There’s lots online.
CRAFT, HOBBY & OFFICE SUPPLIES: I’ve had an abundance of all of these over the years. I plan to give all the extras to local schools and youth organizations. I love making collages and art journaling using a variety of materials, so this is where I’ll keep a bit more. My husband is a photographer so that‘s one thing that we’ll always create space for (until he no longer takes pictures). Creativity really feeds us.
DÉCOR/CHATCHKES/KNICK KNACKS: Another category of “dust catchers.” Many of these could have great meaning, or they once did. Think about what really brings you joy NOW. Of all the “treasures” we’ve collected through the years, there are maybe 10 things that really warm our hearts and feed our souls. We’ll let family know which have either financial or sentimental value in our spiral notebook and let go of the rest.
DISHES, GLASSWARE, SILVERWARE: Do you entertain much these days? We’ve enjoyed this part of our lives a lot but now most of our gatherings are very informal and smaller so, if/when we move and have less space, we’ll probably take enough dishes, glassware and silverware to serve 8, plus a few serving pieces.
GAMES, PUZZLES & TOYS: Our family played lots of games and had lots of toys. With grandchildren around, I kept some for them and their playmates. They are older now so last year I passed on to others all but what would fit in a small trunk… a few games and decks of cards we still play with once in awhile plus some jigsaw puzzles and a small collection of favorite toys for visiting kidlets. Essential? I’ll probably keep 2-3 games and 5-6 favorite jigsaw puzzles (to fit in that one bookcase) and donate the rest. (It was fun to see our new neighbor’s toddler light up when he saw the basket of blocks I brought to him!)
FAMILY HEIRLOOMS: Our parents may have had some special china, cut glass and other treasures. I’m finding it fun to give these away and am so glad some of my nephews are grateful to have something from their ancestors. Others have no interest. Consignment shops appreciate good quality heirlooms and I have sold some of the better things there. Now I’m ready to let go of some more.
HOLIDAY DECORATIONS: I use holidays as a target for giving away the decorations we no longer use. Our house used to be fully decorated for every holiday. But with kids gone, I gave each of them “their own” decorations and now have just one small box for all but Christmas, which we’ve reduced to one large box. Decorations are now minimal. If/when we move, I’d probably have 1 small box for all our holiday décor, if that.
JEWELRY: It’s really easy to accumulate a lot of jewelry. But how much do you really wear? I’m on my third round of selling or giving away jewelry I used to love. Consignment stores love the better stuff; charity thrift stores love the rest, but I always give kids and grandkids first option and that feels really good.
JOURNALS: From my point of view, personal journals are sacred. Over the years (especially the most challenging ones), journaling really helped me process what was happening in my life. I don’t think family would get much out of them (and there aren’t really many “secrets”), but I’m hoping to take time in the next year to skim them and see if there’s anything I would want to keep. If/when I move they will not come with me (except my art journals that have captured poignant memories of travels in the last six years).
KITCHEN: How many pots, pans, bowls, utensils, cookie sheets, storage containers, etc. do we really need? I use about a third of what we now have. I do like leftover containers and a favorite omelet pan, but a lot of it can go.
LUGGAGE, BACK PACKS & TOTE BAGS: How much do you travel these days? Have you got lots of extras? I’ve given several recently to a foster care program…some of those kids carry all their belongings in a trash bag.
MEMORABILIA: There can be lots of accumulated memorabilia and here again, pick “the best of the best.” Think about what family members might be interested in the things that bring back the best memories for you. Only you can decide what’s essential to keep. Family history & genealogy could be quite meaningful. I used to have 5 boxes of memorabilia. Now I have one small file drawer sorted by decades because I’d still like to create a “life review” album with the most meaningful memories.
MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS & SHEET MUSIC: Do you still play musical instruments? If not, contact local music teachers who can find buyers or needy students. We won’t take our piano with us so all that sheet music can go. We’ll keep our ukuleles so that music will come with us.
PHOTOGRAPHS & SLIDES: This also can be a huge challenge, especially if you’ve inherited boxes from family. Apply the “best of the best” rule again here. It may require you to be pretty ruthless. I had 10 boxes of photos. It took me several weeks to go through them, but I ended up with one box for each of my daughters (keeping maybe 20 favorites for myself), one box of family (both current and past), and one box of my life, which is now sorted by year and will go in my life review album. I knew I’d never take time to go through all the negatives & slides, so I just tossed them. That was very freeing! Haven’t missed them a bit! (P.S. Date and identify people in each photo especially if they are family. Future generations will definitely appreciate this.)
RUGS: Rugs can make spaces much more elegant or cozy. However, they can also be tripping hazards, so we now have very few. I’ve kept one small oriental family heirloom that I’ve chosen to hang on the wall. Not sure I’ll keep it forever.
SPORTS & CAMPING EQUIPMENT: What sports do you still take part in? Do you still go camping? If not, pass that stuff on to others. Think of all the space you’ll create when that stuff is gone.
STUFFED ANIMALS & DOLLS: We used to have lots of these. I kept some childhood dolls for awhile, but they had less and less meaning over the years. Now we each have one stuffed animal that sits in a guest room rocker. They still make us smile. Should we move, we’ll probably give them away…or not. They are quite soft & cuddly.
TABLE LINENS: How often do you use your tablecloths, placemats & napkins? Are they still in good shape? We won’t take any large tables with us, so my “essentials” are three (two of them oil cloth) that fit the table we would take. We’d only take 2-4 placemats & maybe 8 cloth napkins. Away the rest will go.
TOILETRIES & COSMETICS: Do you have lots of stuff you never use? How about all those little hotel samples & cosmetics you bought and no longer like? I give these to a homeless shelter where they are deeply appreciated.
TOOLS & GARDEN EQUIPMENT: Do you still do a lot of your own repairs and gardening? If not, how much do you really need? A couple of screwdrivers & pliers; maybe a hammer or 2 and some picture-hanging supplies? What is still “essential?”
TOWELS: How many towels do you really need? I’ve pared ours down several times, but keep 2 sets for our master bath, enough for houseguests and a few for floor mop-ups. We live near the beach so we also have some beach towels, but I’ve given lots away and especially enjoy donating the worn towels to the local animal shelter.
TROPHIES & PLAQUES: Awards can make us feel really good when we get them. Are they now just dust catchers? Donate them to a youth program that can arrange to replace the nameplates. Some trophy shops see that they are reused if they are in good condition. Take photos of them if they are hard to give away.
WALL DÉCOR: How much stuff do you want on your walls? We have lots of things we really like that add a lot to our home. But if I were taking only “essentials,” there are only 3 or 4 pieces I’d find it hard to part with. And we’ve gotten rid of all the pictures that we used to have up and were stored in the garage. Now others are enjoying them, or have repurposed the frames.
Let go of all the stuff that weighs you down.
Hopefully you’ve found tips that will help you start paring down, and perhaps you have discovered which categories you will start with.
We’ve found over the years that this process of letting go and lightening up isn’t necessarily done just once. As our needs, tastes and lives change, some things become less important. And a few years later, this all changes again. As the years go by, and we continue to ask, “How much stuff do we really need?” the answer comes in louder and clearer every month: “Not very much!” It’s time to do another round of letting go and feeling lighter and lighter.
Consider this an invitation to begin your own essentializing process. Think how much better you will feel when you have less stuff.