Cleaning House–Saving Memories, Losing Junk

Being surrounded by out of date possessions slows the mind and drags down the spirit. It is easy to get lost in them.

The easiest approach is to store them somewhere, the attic, basement, or garage. Increasingly people are renting external storage space, at significant expense to store junk. A recent statistic indicated that twice as many families rent external space now than ten years ago. Interestingly, professional organizers often advise against renting external storage space. Once that sink hole opens, there is no turning back.

At some time though, it’s time to move or just dig out. Then, it may be difficult to distinguish items which have real economic or sentimental value from outdated stuff. Here are some ways to get a grip on the situation.

1. Sentimental Objects.

The joy of these objects is in the occasional discovery and the memories triggered by them. Keep the emotion of discovery alive, even if the object is not kept.

Most sentimental objects are stored out of sight and only occasionally rediscovered. It is the discovery, not the use that is the fun. But you can keep the possibility of discovery alive. Use that digital camera to take pictures of all these sentimental items before they make their way out. Burn a few disks and send them to the family members. They can stuff the disk in their drawers and every now and then stumble across it with pleasure. Actually, more people may share in the delight of discovery

Some of these items can never be used again, like the stuffed animals that have gotten musty or are now recognized as dirty. Others could have great value for people right now. Find these a new home.

2. Select Rather than Sort.

Select from scratch. A key question is: “Would you select this item if you did not already own it?” It may be nice to have, but would you actively choose it now? Suddenly many items become expendable. Why find a new place for something you would not choose?

Usually, people tend to sort through things into keepers and junk. This sorting approach favors keepers since the criteria for declaring something junk is much higher. Selecting is a more efficient process.

3. Assess Usefulness and Value.

There are so many things that might come in handy someday and are worth something. This stuff surrounds us. However, when the items are viewed in terms of the chance that they will actually be needed and the replacement cost, it becomes easier to shed these items.

Books are a good example. They just accumulate. Some are extraordinary and we will always want them around. Others, particularly gifts, have little interest but take their place on the shelves. If you look at a hundred books on your shelf, pick the ten best. Then select out the obvious losers for discard. There may be upwards of half in the gray area. The first instinct is to keep them. After all, there is some chance that you may want to reread a few of them at some indeterminate time in the future. There are two things to keep in mind. First, used books are much easier to replace than in the past. Almost any used book can be obtained relatively inexpensively over the web. So the real value of the books we may use again is really only a few dollars. As many as 90% of the books can be let go without much potential cost.

And clothes. If the clothing has not been worn in a couple of years, the question to ask. “When would this be worn again?” Without a specific answer, it can be let go.

If all of the items that have a small probability of being used again are grouped together, the pile is large. In fact however, there may only be a small expense in replacing those few items that will actually be needed again in the future.

A realistic view of probability of use against replacement cost changes the balance and allows the large amounts of marginal stuff to go.

These guidelines can help to clean house and make mood lighter and faster.


One Response to Cleaning House–Saving Memories, Losing Junk

  1. Joe Kukura says:

    A rule that I have lived by since my last move is that I am keeping the amount of things I own to a fixed number. For every new object that I acquire, an older less useful item either gets discarded or donated. Pictures and photo albums are my sole exceptions. If a new object is less valuable than every single thing I already have, I simply don’t need it and try to get it to someone who would benefit from it more. Over the past three years, I’ve never had to perform a major clean-up of my home and I have not missed anything that I discarded or donated.

    Along those lines, I’ve rediscovered joining a library rather than being a conduit between Barnes & Noble and a used book store. When a library loan is unavailable or not appropriate, such as getting some beach reading material for an extended vacation, I still take my purchased book to the library when I’m done so they can hold it until I want to read it again and perhaps someone else can enjoy the pages.

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