10 Steps to Declutter Your Stuff

Stuff: we all have it. But sometimes, all the miscellany of life can add up until it feels like a physical weight. After eight moves in eight years, I managed to accumulate a basement full of storage bins that I unquestioningly brought with me to every new home. I found myself buying more and more bins to fill with more and more stuff.

But eventually, all of this stuff became a burden. I began to see myself as a turtle with an obscenely oversized shell that threatened to topple over at any moment. An extra coffee maker, art supplies that I might use “someday”, an unused ironing board, a stereo gathering dust; it’s all too easy to fill a house with things that we use once in a blue moon, if ever—but it’s not so easy to get rid of it.

I didn’t have much choice—I’m downsizing my life dramatically, and all this stuff had to go. Today, half of my belongings are gone and let me tell you, it feels amazing. Here’s how I did it.

1. Make a list of the items you actually use at least once a month. These things are your core possessions, the things you need to live a comfortable and happy life.

2. As you assess each of the items you have left (and there will be many), ask yourself, “Does this contribute to my life in a meaningful way?” Do you love it or need it? Does it have real sentimental value or a legitimate function in your life, or is it just taking up space?

3. Create a “maybe” box and a “no” box. At first, your “maybe” box will be overflowing, but that’s okay. Later on, you’ll get a bit more brutal about deciding what stays and what goes.

4. Let go of your fears about the expectations of others. So Great Aunt Edna gave you a set of tacky gold angel figurines for your birthday five years go, and you think she’s going to be hurt if she doesn’t see it displayed in your home. You know what? Accepting a gift does not mean agreeing to hang on to it for a lifetime.

5. Don’t use stuff as an investment—it’s only worth what other people will pay for it, and you’re paying to store it. A neighbor of mine once had an entire room in his home devoted to Beanie Babies, which were hot sellers in the late ’90s. You know what they’re worth now? Nothing. Only keep stuff like this if it’s in pristine condition and you’re positive that it has collectible value, and in that case, get it appraised and insured. Otherwise, invest your cash and save precious storage space.

6. Analyze your wardrobe. Anything you haven’t worn in at least a year is a goner. If a color or print sticks out like a sore thumb, don’t keep on searching for something that will match. It’s much simpler to stick to a smaller wardrobe of high-quality essentials that can be mixed and matched.

7. Consider whether you’ll need to use each item at least once a year. Some things, like seasonal décor, make sense to keep, but others can be rented or borrowed on those rare occasions when they’re actually called into action. If you’re on the fence about an item that you feel might be useful at some mythical future date, think about giving it to someone who would get more use out of it.

8. On the other hand, don’t get rid of so much stuff that you’re forced to rebuy most of it within months. It’s easy for some people to get caught up in the spirit of de-cluttering, but you don’t want to merely reenter the cycle of consumption and cost yourself more money in the long run.

9. Now, divide your cast-offs into four piles: sell, donate, recycle, and toss. Your trash box should only contain things that have truly outlived their usefulness and can’t be recycled. Sell items that could fetch any cash on eBay, Craigslist, or at a yard sale. Drop off whatever is left at your local charity drive, or find new homes for it at Freecycle.org.

10. Learn from this experience. After witnessing the pitiful pennies that many of my like-new possessions brought in at my yard sale, I now think twice about every new purchase. If you don’t truly need it, it’s a waste of money.

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