Thursday, January 28, 2016

The de-cluttering war

I am a packrat.  I come from a family of packrats.  The eternal thought that I should save something "just in case" plagues me.  But at the same time, having a clean and orderly space saves my sanity.  When the area around me is tidy, I feel more in control and calmer.  (My parents have told me many times that I was their only child, out of four, who would voluntarily clean.)
So for the sake of my sanity, a few years back I decided to start a war on clutter.  I'm not alone, many people have come to the conclusion that they need to do the same thing, hence the rise of minimalism and books and blog posts about decluttering.  Sorry for adding to that.
But how does an admitted packrat declutter?  It's actually easier than I thought.  I did read Marie Kondo's opus "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up", as well as a few other books and lots of online tips, and basically I'm making my own mish-mash of styles.  You know, making it work for me.
Before we left Fairbanks, wanting to move as little as possible, I spent months cleaning out our apartment.  I mean, I'd been trying to declutter for a while, but the decision to move threw me into high gear.  It turns out that moving a good way across a continent is a decent way to remove sentimentality.  Things I'd saved before because they had some memory attached to them became just one more piece of junk.  Did I actually need the object to remember whatever it was I wanted to remember?  No.  Even my wedding dress, I realized, didn't have sentimental attachments.  Don't get me wrong, I love that dress.  I felt gorgeous in it.  But, realistically, I'm never going to wear it again (although I could! I tried it on before packing it up) so on my list of things to do is to get it cleaned and listed online for sale.  I have pictures of myself in it, and that's good enough.
Now that we're here in my parents' house, I've been trying to help them as well.  It's something my dad has said for years that he wants to do, he just hasn't gotten around to it.  So I'm helping to get the motivation going.  Having less stuff around will help my mother, in particular.  I went through her closet with her (she still had stuff she hadn't worn since the 80s!) and we got rid of so. much. stuff.  It was much easier to do with two people, since I could see her trying to justify keeping something and was able to tell her, "No.  If you're making that face, you don't want to keep this."  And she thanked me, days later, saying that she could finally see all of her favorite clothes.  Hurray!
But harder than the actual deciding what to get rid of, I've found, is what to do with all of the stuff.  Since I hate the idea of arbitrarily adding useful stuff to the landfill, what should happen to all of the stuff we're getting rid of?

1. Homeless shelters.  This is my go-to with nice, office-y clothes (to help people who are job searching) and with any outdoor gear, such as coats and hats.  I took my parents through their front hall closet (which went from so packed that we couldn't stuff any more coats in it to surprisingly roomy) and pretty much everything which wasn't ruined enough to go in the garbage went to the homeless shelter.  Same thing with much of the stuff in the Munchkin's closet (which is still unusable for her because it's still got tons of junk we need to go through).

A huge pile of coats which we donated to the homeless.  I literally
could not carry all of them at once.
2. To friends and family.  When we got married, we got new, nice dishes.  We gave away our old dishes to a friend who was just moving out of the dorms on campus.  Yay!
Recently I went through a few of my photo albums and have set aside bundles of pictures to give to friends and family who probably want them more than I do.

3. Buy Nothing Project.  This is generally organized through Facebook, so if you don't have that you're out of luck, but it's been a great resource for us.  I'm giving away one graduation cap and gown to someone in the group, and I gave away a bunch of foam board which has been sitting in my closet for years for some unknown reason.
One of the women who took some of the foam board had some fold-up clothes drying racks which I'd asked for, so it was awesome to just trade in one go.  Yay for neighbors helping neighbors!
I have more stuff I keep finding to give away, such as an old Homecoming dress from high school.

4. Schools.  The other graduation gown I found will be donated to the local highschool, so that a low income student who possibly couldn't afford one can use it.  The rest of the foam board I found will go to my best friend, a teacher, who works in a school with a ridiculous amount of poverty.  (Some of her kids have talked about time spent in homeless shelters, and many get both breakfast and lunch at school.)

5. Anywhere else which serves the needy.  A friend of ours works for Fairbanks Counseling and Adoption, so before we left we gave a lot of baby stuff to them.  Someone had given us disposable diapers at my work baby shower, not realizing that we were going with cloth, and we did use some (out at the family's cabin, without access to laundry facilities) but not all.  So we gave the rest to our friend, knowing that they'd go to a girl (all their clients are under-21) who badly needed them.  Same with some of the baby blankets and other baby gear we got.  While we are so thankful that so many people thought of us and gave us these items, there are only so many things one tiny human needs, so we decided to pass along the generosity, particularly after our Munchkin outgrew some of them.

6. Thrift stores.  See how I'm putting this sixth on the list?  I'm sure it's easier for people to just drop everything off at one store and be done with it, but I'd rather that my stuff do the most good possible.  I tend to reserve the thrift store for knick-knacks, dishes, things of that nature.  The photo albums which I cleared out of pictures?  Those went to a thrift store.

7. Libraries.  Always, always support the public library.  In addition to books, they also take CDs, DVDs, Blue-ray, even tapes, tape-players, and CD players in many cases.  It's worth an ask.
I found a bunch of CDs from my childhood that I don't want anymore, but I got rid of the cases.  However, I kept the covers.  So on my list is to write to the local library and see if they'll still take the CDs, sans cases.

8. Profit-making ventures, such as Craigslist, eBay, consignment stores, and used bookstores.  I generally find that the effort I put into these things is more than what I get out so I prefer utilizing most of the other methods on this list before turning to one of these.  In fact, I generally only use these if I'm certain to make a fair amount of money.  My wedding dress will be listed for sale, as will my old bike, because each of those should net me enough money to make them worthwhile.  Furniture, also, is generally worth listing if it's in good condition.

Everything useful has a way to get rid of it so that others will take it.  After all, it's useful.  Hell, we gave away a bunch of condoms at the University's Pub when we didn't need them.  I put them in the women's bathroom and they were all gone by the end of the evening.  Three cheers for helping students have safe sex!
I still keep things around more than I probably should, and there are plenty of items which I'm undecided on what to do with.  Stash of random small fabrics in my closet?  Hmm.  Maybe give them to a quilter?  Or get out my mom's sewing machine and make a quilt myself?  Not sure yet.  (Not that we need a quilt, we've got plenty of blankets.  It would be one more thing to get rid of, but a "higher-value" item.  I could give it to a homeless shelter, rather than to someone as a craft project.)
I get discouraged by how slowly I'm decluttering, but when I look around I do see a lot of progress.  When we moved we needed only the enclosed trailer my in-laws graciously loaned to us.  It was awesome.  And my closet here, filled with stuff since this was my room from age 9 until I moved out (and still considered "my room" even when I was long gone) is finally becoming a bit less crammed, a little bit at a time.

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