“This year I vow to organize our clutter in matching baskets with tidy labels.”
I found this quotation in a catalog from several years back. (I wish I’d taken a picture before I tossed the catalog.)
No. That’s not how this works. (That’s not how any of this works. 🙂 ) Rather than “organize” your clutter, you should declutter first. Because if something you never use is “organized” in a basket with a label, what is the purpose of having it in the first place? Why waste time cleaning it or insuring it or labeling it or paying for the basket to store it?
You have to develop a mindset toward (against!) clutter from the beginning of your simplifying and decluttering journey.
And the best way I’ve found to create that mindset is to develop a list of questions to guide your decision to purchase or keep items.
Here are a few of mine:
- Will I still want this item in my home in five years, or is it bound for a yard sale, the thrift store, or the garbage? I recently reviewed an inspiration notebook I kept about five years ago. It has a lot of pages I pulled from catalogs and magazines. Some of the design ideas are classic, and some of the storage ideas are decent, but some of the decorating ideas are–in my mind anyway–just clutter that I’m glad I decided not to pursue. Bingo balls in a vase? Fake eggs in a wire basket? Books with the covers ripped off and tied together with jute? Corks in an apothecary jar? (Even IKEA had these in a page marked “Organic minimalism”!) I actually bought the corks, and they have already been sent to the local thrift store! With a few exceptions (children’s toys are a great example), if an item isn’t going to be in my home in five years, I don’t waste money or space or cleaning time on it today.
- Is this item easy to care for? I do love the upholstered headboards that are so popular these days. But I can’t imagine the dead skin cells and dust mites that might exist on such an upholstered surface (reminder: At least one provider has diagnosed me with OCD), and I really don’t want anything else to have to vacuum and shampoo periodically as I do my other upholstered items. My wood headboard works just as well and is easy to clean. Similarly, as romantically beautiful as they look in theory, duvet- or tablecloth-covered round tables are just a dust magnet. In fact, I just replaced my tablecloth-covered round tables with wooden tables, and I spend 5-10 minutes less time cleaning these every two weeks) I don’t even want to have to take clothing to be dry cleaned at this point, although I understand that some jobs require clothing that must be dry cleaned.
- Is it functional, or am I at least in love with it? Do you really need all the tchotchkes or “knick-knacks” in your home? I had quite a few once upon a time, and I was forever dusting them. They had no purpose other than to make my home more attractive. Today I know they really didn’t make my house look more attractive; they made it look cluttered. So for the most part, items coming into my home or staying in my home now must be functional. Exceptions do exist. My husband collects globes and maps because he absolutely loves them, and I collect milk glass because I truly love it. But the remainder of our collections have been sold, and I have far less to clean these days.
- (For items currently in your home) Can I take a picture of an item I have sentimental attachment to and then bear to part with it? I’m sentimental. I kept the (broken) plastic Bugs Bunny talking coin bank I had when I was three (in the 1980’s) until 2015. When we were moving to our current state, I took a picture of it and trashed it. A late friend gave me a non-working lovely antique milk glass lamp. I kept it for a while and then decided to retain the milk glass portion and discard the lamp portion. I don’t have to have it to remember my friend.
- What would my grandmother do? My little white-haired Native American grandmother lived during the Depression. She potentially would not approve of a number of items that I believe make my life easier or better. But I feel certain that she would shake her head disapprovingly at the cost and waste of monogrammed cloth napkins and towels. At a $60 child’s Easter dress. At monogrammed clothing. At vinyled cars. In general, I frequently ask myself whether she would approve of what I am doing, and if the answer is no, I question whether I should be doing it. And that includes the items I spend my money on and bring into my home.
- Could my money be better spent? I think a lot about the aid we could give to others without some of the things that we’ve become accustomed to having. If having a Nintendo Switch or XBox One or the latest iPad makes your life easier or better or makes you happy, spend your money as you wish. But I personally have decided I would rather donate those funds I might once have used to buy my daughter’s furnishings, linens, and toys from Pottery Barn.
- Am I really going to finish this project? I’ve been a crafter since I went on sabbatical from my job in 2011. I had about ten small- and medium-sized Sterlite containers holding craft supplies in my guest room closet. But I recently gave my yarn to my niece and my scrapbook paper to my neighbor. I’ll soon sell my cake decorating kit at our upcoming yard sale. And I’ve started getting rid of other things, too. For example, I bought a lot of sheet music a few years ago at the thrift store so that I could make a sheet music wreath I’d seen on Pinterest. Do you know how hard it is to clean and store a sheet music wreath when you decide you want to remove it from your door or wall? I donated the sheet music back to the thrift store. As another example, my husband and I spent $30+ on unbreakable Christmas ornaments a few years ago so that we could make an ornament wreath using those ornaments and a white wire hanger. At this point, I’m storing that wreath in the attic hanging on a nail, but I don’t really love it, and it won’t even fit on my front door because of how big the ornaments are. It’s pretty enough, but in retrospect, greenery would have been just as beautiful and could have gone in the compost pile. That ornament wreath is likely going to be donated or sold this year.
These are the questions that worked to declutter our household. You should develop your own list, taking into account what is important to you and your family. Here are a few other questions I’ve seen people incorporate into their lists:
- Will I use this item?
- Do I want to store this item?
- Do I want to clean and maintain this item? This question may be highly pertinent to you when you consider whether you want to keep or buy clothing that must be dry cleaned.
- Would I rather spend this money elsewhere? Trying to decide whether to keep the RV or boat? Even if it’s paid for, you may be spending money insuring and maintaining it that could be used paying down your debt, saving for retirement, or doing something you really do want to do.
Spend some time and think about it. Then tell me in the comments: What questions are on your list?
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