use it…or give it away: decluttering 101

One of the baby steps on the road to simple living is decluttering…travelling light, as Saint-Exupery said.  Few of us, if any, have to worry about finding things to fill our homes.  On the contrary, I can think of almost a dozen self-storage facilities within a ten minute drive of my home, a fact that belies our incredible American wealth in comparison with the rest of the world.

We’re rarely ever truly in want of something we need; instead we struggle with how we are going to store all the things we have acculumlated through the years.  Our closets overflow into our attics and garages, which overflow into storage units–and sometimes even more than one!  Do we need it?  No.  Do we use it all?  Nope.  Do we use even the vast majority of it?  Not a chance.

This isn’t simple living, this is chaotic living…and it stresses me out.

A couple of months ago, I was standing in my closet choosing what I was going to wear, much like you do every morning.  As I looked at the several dozen shirts I had hanging there, I chose one of the seven or so I tend to wear all the time, just like you do.  Just then it hit me like a ton of bricks…why do I have all these other shirts?  I couldn’t even remember the last time I wore many of them, so why where they there?  No reason.

Then I started throwing all the shirts I hadn’t worn for a while in a pile on our bathroom floor.  Next, I did the same with pants.  Finally, I did the same with shoes.  After a while I had a pile that was as large as it was depressing.  Why so much stuff?  Why so much stuff I didn’t need or use?  I didn’t need it, but I knew there were others that could make good use of it…so I folded everything up, bagged it all up, and took THREE large garbage bags of perfectly good but never used clothes to Goodwill.

My closet instantly became more practical and less stressful.  Hopefully someone who needed some clothes was able to pick them up for a super-reasonable price.  I benefited from having a more reasonable number of clothes, and I was able to share from the abundance with which I’ve been blessed to help others.  Perfect.

So how do you go about beginning to declutter?  I’m tempted to say just go for it, but invariably some guidelines would be helpful.  Everett Bogue suggests the 30-day rule for keeping clutter to a minimum.  In other words, if you haven’t used it in 30 days, get rid of it.  Leo Babauta uses a 6-month guideline.  I didn’t set a fixed time for this first round in my closet, but if I couldn’t remember wearing something recently, out it went.

What’s next?  Choose another area in your home and repeat it.  Maybe it’s time to declutter your kitchen, or your garage, or your (insert room here)?  As a huge bibliophile, I set out to declutter my bookshelves, leaving home for Half Price Books with several boxes of books and returning home with nearly $100.  Not bad for getting rid of things I didn’t want anyway, right?

The question now is, what’s keeping you from getting started?  Go for it!

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