Ready or Not #166: De-Junking

Ahhh, another new year. Another start over – and lots more stuff. Whether you received a lot of new things for Christmas or not, we all have things around our house that create clutter that we need to throw away, give away, or recycle. I know that we aren’t alone because there are many TV series showcasing the too-much-junk problem; Mission Organization is my favorite.

We all need to uncomplicate our lives and de-junk our houses so that we can feel more comfortable in our own homes, and our own heads. This hit me real hard one day about 20 years ago when my husband and I were getting ready to move from our first home. Six months before we moved, we decided to have a monster garage sale and get rid of everything so that we wouldn’t have to pack so much when we moved. Good idea, but a real eye opener.

When I moved out on my own 10 years earlier, before getting married, my mother insisted that I take all my “stuff” with me – she did not want to be aå storage unit. She had been eyeing my room for quite some time to use as an office and didn’t want my stuff cluttering it up. I can’t blame her. Long story short, I had been hauling around a box of COED teenage magazines that I had subscribed to in Jr. High – I was now 30 years old! What was I thinking?! That was the most ridiculous thing that I had, but it wasn’t the only thing. Out of several boxes that I had been lugging around for YEARS, I only found one or two things that were of any value, emotional or otherwise.

A class on de-junking to the rescue. The instructor empowered me to be ruthless; I learned to emotionally cut my strings to my belongings and look at them in a totally different way. Another thing the class taught me was to not try to tackle everything at once. Start with one drawer, one closet, one corner or one pile. When you are finished, move to the next one. I started in the kitchen with the plastic storage container cupboard. Yes, it was hard and scary at first, but I threw away all of the lids that didn’t have matching containers and vice versa. It was also the most freeing feeling ever when I shut the cupboard door and wasn’t afraid to open it again. By the time I finished with the kitchen, I ended up throwing away spices that were too old, old food that had been forgotten, pans that were never used, broken utensils and knives that were past their prime. It was wonderful, it was empowering, and I ended up having more space in my kitchen than I ever thought possible.

After finishing the kitchen, I methodically moved through the entire house gaining momentum and courage as I went. I threw out old catalogs, broken knick knacks, clothes that were out of style or didn’t fit, projects that were never going to be finished and on and on. If I really felt strongly about a project, I gave myself a time limit to finish it and if I hadn’t, then it was gone. I was ruthless – and it was worth it. My husband knew that I was really serious when I attacked my file cabinets – I went from needing four cabinets down to only one and a half (I have two empty drawers in a four drawer file).

Here are some tips to get started. Ask yourself: 1) Do I need it? (do you REALLY need it?), 2) Do I use it? 3) Do I (still) like it? (I asked myself if it still brought me joy), 4) Would I miss it? 5) Do I have room for it? (A better question to ask yourself when you buy something is, “What does it replace and what am I willing to give up to have it?”), 6) Will something else that I already have do the job?

That last question is a really good question to ask. There are lots of creative doo-dads out there that we really don’t need, but are fun fads and after the novelty wears off we stick them in a drawer to never use again. Questioning your motives at point-of-sale is the most effective form of pre-de-junking.

When de-junking, you can either do it fast and furious in one weekend, or you can methodically work on it all year long, but whatever you do, do it with a goal in mind and remember to be absolutely RUTHLESS.

Warning Signals of a Junkaholic

1. Do you hide when the doorbell rings?
2. You wait until it is dark before opening your garage door – with the lights off?
3. You open your closet doors cautiously, standing to the side, with your eyes closed?
4. You find a magazine with a picture of Neil Armstrong landing on the moon?
5. You put on a coat to answer the door so that people will think that you are leaving?
6. When you open your junk drawer it is filled of wedding announcements and doctor
appointments that is older than six months?
7. You find baby bottles in your kitchen cabinets and your baby is thirteen years old?
8. You have storage boxes that haven’t been moved or opened for 10 years and you can’t
remember what is in them.
9. You ask your children to put away their clean laundry and they can’t fit it in their drawers.
10. You are reading this list and nodding your head.

Rules of De-junking

Emotional rule of de-junking: You are allowed to be sentimental, but use good value judgment and remember that you have a lot of life ahead of you and you just can’t save everything – there simply isn’t enough room. Keep a journal instead and write about why the item was so important to you and when you read about it again, it will bring you the same emotional enjoyment that you had when you had it, but without taking up space.

Cultural rule of de-junking: After the depression we were taught to thrifty and save everything, but we were also taught to become consumers. You can’t be both. Try to find a happy medium. Remember this old adage: Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.

Financial rule of de-junking: If we bought it, then we spent money on it and we don’t want to throw it away because we are then throwing money away. Again, when at the point-of-purchase decide if you really need it, want it, or think about what it is replacing. If you are having a hard time not buying something, set the money aside for a week or two, think about it and if you still really do need it, then buy it. Usually the feeling will pass and you will end up having more money and more space – a win-win situation.

Default rules of de-junking: Don’t allow things to hang around by default. These are things that we never asked for and never wanted, but they always seem to find a corner or cupboard to pile on. I’m talking about catalogs, fliers, coupons, kid meal toys, freebees and hand-me-downs that are past their prime. Get into the habit of either throwing things away as they come in (while sorting the mail), or twice a month (when you pay the bills). Easy come, easy go.

Everybody helps rule of de-junking: Do not try to do this all by yourself. Let me repeat that: DO NOT TRY TO DO THIS ALL BY YOURSELF! Yes, you can do the kitchen and the common rooms and closets by yourself, but everybody should chip in and work on their own areas – including husbands. This is a good time for children to learn how to part with items and stop being overwhelmed with stuff. If your children, or husband, want to keep things of which you can see no value in it, make them justify their reasoning for keeping it (empty SoBe bottles are not collector items). If they do want to keep old toys or tools that are precious to them, that is fine, but help them either find an appropriate place to store them, or box it up so they can take it with them when they move.

… and don’t forget to be ruthless.

(Here’s a clever poem, Charge of the Junk Brigade about de-junking.)

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