On Stress, Attachment and Clutter

There is stuff everywhere.

My cluttered desk

No flat surface remains untouched. As if gravity alone is insufficient to hold down the tables and counters. Piles seem to slowly multiply all on their own. There seems to be an increasing amount of stuff hovering around the house.

This ends up stressing you out because you know you had that important document in you hands just the other day and now you can’t find it! Not to mention the keys that you put on the counter just last night, or the cookbook that is now in the back of the lowest shelf of the cabinet behind two stacks of other cookbooks.

Does this sound familiar at all? We’re not talking about the extreme of hoarding. No, we’re talking about perfectly normal, average households that just seem to have more stuff than space. Sure, there is some open counter and desk space, but even that is bordered by piles and papers and cups and trinkets.

It doesn’t have to be this way. You can take control of the monster that has moved into your beautiful home and set up residence on every horizontal surface.

Too Much Stuff

The problem is not insufficient space to put stuff, it is the fact that there is just too much stuff. Notes, mail, nick-knacks, tools, cups, kids’ toys. All of it dutifully holding down the counter tops.

The Real Problem Is Not The Stuff

The real problem is our attachment to that stuff. We find our value in our “stuff”. I mean we slaved to make the money that bought most of that stuff, so it must be valuable, right? That is what society is defining success by.

How much stuff is enough? Do you really need to keep up with the Jonses just because they bought more stuff?

Your value is not in what you own. Your true value is in what you give. What you give to yourself, your family and those around you. The most important things you can give are time, love and attention.

Stuff Is Temporal, Space Eternal

Understand that most stuff is temporal, it wasn’t meant to last forever. Whether it is through engineered obsolescence of larger appliances, or just the nature of the object, few things we own today are meant to last more than a couple of years.

Some things we own are meant to last, and do last quite well. Yet styles and tastes change and we buy newer things without discarding their outdated predecessors. How many old cups and mugs do you have hiding in the corners of your cupboards? How many old books do you have laying around that will never get read again?

If you are going to slay the clutter beast, you need to be willing to accept that much of what you own has reached the end of it’s value and needs to find a new home.

Only by removing the unnecessary items and creating sufficient space for the things that truly add value to your life will you be able to eliminate the stress that the clutter causes.

Give, sell, toss.

Instead of de-cluttering, it is much better to de-own those things that are in need of a new home. Do not just box things up and find a place out in the garage for the box. This is just deferring the needed expulsion of items and reinforces the mental value of those items.

Instead, create three piles. One of things that are valuable enough to take the time to sell. Determine what minimum value something must have in order to be included in this list.

Are you willing to take the time to take a picture, write up a description, list the item, communicate with potential buyers, pack the item and ship it or meet the buyer to complete the transaction for items worth $20? Would it take $50 to go through all that work? How about $100?

I strongly suggest that you pick a number that will make it well worth your time. Use eBay, Craigs List, Garage Sales or any other method to sell the items in the Sell list.

For everything else, determine if it would be of value to someone else. If so, find a charity that is in line with your values and give away everything that they would find valuable. If you are so inclined you can itemize these things and use them as tax deductions at the end of the year. (Be sure to check with the charity that donations to them are tax deductible.)

What ever is left needs to be thrown away. Recycle what you can, shred what is sensitive and simply toss everything else.

When it comes to applying this cleaning strategy, start small. Take a desk or a counter top, or even a junk drawer. Designate a staging area that is close to what you are cleaning. Move everything from the area you are cleaning to the staging area. Then, one item at a time determine where that item should really go. Keep, Give, Sell or Toss. In order to be in the Keep category, make sure that it is being used at least every couple of months, and that it does not have an updated version somewhere in the house.

Once you have sorted everything into the proper categories, put the Keep items back in the area, throw the Toss items into the garbage, box up the Give items and start listing the Sell items.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

When you have a desk, or a room cleaned out, stand back and take in the new found space that your efforts have achieved. Enjoy this newfound space and feel the burden that comes with clutter melt away.

For more details on how to do this, pick up Sell Your Crap by Adam Baker.

Next week we will be showing you some of the progress we’ve made using these techniques!

Where To Start?

What area are you going to attack first? Share in the comments below.

 

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2 Responses to On Stress, Attachment and Clutter

  1. Clayton June 21, 2012 at 9:09 am #

    Cool. I can’t wait to see the progress.

    I traveled through Thailand for 3 months once with just a Jansport backpack and that was one of the best times of my life… All I had was a camera, netbook computer, a journal, and a few changes of clothes.

    I didn’t miss the “stuff” at all.

    (unfortunately, I have a lot more “stuff” in my life these days… Maybe I could benefit from a little de-cluttering…)

    • Mike Routen June 29, 2012 at 6:43 am #

      Clayton,

      I’m so looking forward to seeing Thailand. Not sure when we’ll get there, but it is high in my list.

      Yeah, we’ve certainly got a lot of “stuff” to go through. It is amazing how fast it accumulates when you’re not thinking about it. Especially with two kids.

      What cities did you visit while you where there?