Thursday, March 1, 2012

Make Your House Bigger... taking things out of it.

There was a weekend last year when I finally understood and internalized the raw fact that we weren't moving into a new house any time soon.  We'd been in our starter house for nine years, and I checked, and something went "click" in my brain.  If I wanted to live somewhere better with more space, it would be because I upgraded this house and got rid of a bunch of stuff.

The upgrades have gone very well, and should form the subject of many posts which are relevant to the title of this blog.  This essay is about de-cluttering, specifically lessons and hang-ups experienced by a pair of engineers who were raised by people who were raised by people who lived through the depression.

I had previously considered "clutter" to mean useless trinkets set out for decoration, so I didn't think I had any.  Nope.  I could look around my house as a whole, and think, "How do two adults and one cat need so much STUFF to live?"  Clutter can be broadly defined as any object that takes up more space than it has rights to.  Useful things are making my house smaller! THIS is why it is so difficult to purge large quantities of stuff.  When one has deep-seated generational worry about suddenly losing economic stability and nearly starving or freezing to death, it affects ones ability to let go of useful objects in ones possession.

Things do not make us secure, and holding extra things is not a virtue.  Discarding is not a sin, or a failure, it is a natural result of being a consumer and the last step in the cycle of ownership.  I need/want something, I buy/receive it, I use/enjoy it, then I discard it.  Dust to dust, and all that jazz.

Enough theory and platitudes.  Here's a bullet list of hints and realizations which helped me get through a purge and make a real difference in the apparent size of our living area.

*There is only one decision to make for each item I come across: are we keeping this or not?  I do not need to organize what I am keeping or do any cleaning while de-cluttering.

*This is a long-term project, to be handled one item and one decision at a time.  Do not set a goal about how many items I must purge, or how quickly I will finish a room.  Work a little at a time, more when I feel in a groove.

*Measure progress in volumetric terms.  How many cubic feet of matter is leaving my house?  Once it was shoved into garbage bags to go to the curb or placed into shopping bags for donation, I could really feel like I was making a difference.

*I did the easy stuff first.  I started with things with less emotional attachment.  I DID NOT start with paperwork, clothing, or childhood memories. I DID start with the laundry room, linen closet, under the sinks, and in the pantry.

*Anything expired got thrown out immediately.  Trash (empty envelopes? water damaged books?) got thrown out immediately. If a bottle of medicine that we use regularly expired before it was finished, I put it on a shopping list and made sure to buy a smaller size for less money this time.

*Anything that we like having around gets kept.

*I didn't put anything in the regular garbage that needed to be sent into a special waste stream.  I researched where to recycle electronics and how to dispose of household hazardous waste.

*If I thought I would start using something neglected now that I unearthed it again, I put it on probation.  I have a week or so to use it before getting rid of it for real.

*I am not having a garage sale.  I had a virtual garage sale, where I offered things to my facebook friends for free, if they came to pick it up immediately.  One friend now owns all of my planters and plant pots.  I didn't move all the stuff to a different place in the house to await the garage sale that never comes.

*Seriously, if it is worth the effort to sell, I brought it to a place that would buy it on the spot.  Half Price Books is my outlet of choice for this.  (If you don't have one of those nearby, a pawn shop, an Ebay storefront, or a consignment store will give you a fair price for valuable discards.)

*If it was not worth the effort to sell, I gave it to a charity.  People who are less fortunate can get good use out of these useful things we are parting with.  In either case, I got the things out of the house and into my car so I can drop it off the next time I was near a Goodwill or a Half Price Books.

*Packaging is trash.  I recycled all those cardboard boxes from electronics, and especially the custom molded foam inserts.  I still had the cardboard boxes from every laptop I ever owned stashed in our crawlspace!  Decorative tins are packaging, and therefore trash.  I recycled the Altoid tins, the fancy tins the scotch came in, and the holiday cookie tins.

*Duplicates are clutter.  After upgrading to a better version, I don't need to keep a second toaster, or a second coffee maker in case my main one breaks.  I can LIVE WITHOUT IT for the twelve hours to two days I might have to wait to replace it.

*Gifts are not sacred. I doubt the people who gave us wedding gifts intended to give us burdens we'd be obligated to possess for the rest of our lives.  The decision to keep or purge is not linked to how an object arrived in my hands.

*I had to train myself to see things as they are now, not as they were when I bought them or wanted them.  Stuff wears out.  Stuff goes obsolete.  I break up with a hobby.  It happens.

I learned a lot about myself while doing this purge.  After looking objectively at my possessions, I am a smarter consumer.  I like that I got rid of so many things.  The ratio of awesome things to "meh" things in my house is much higher, too.

[I'm hoping something in this post resonates with the blog reading public - please comment if so moved.]


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