One of the biggest reasons people collect clutter in their homes is that they keep things “just in case.” It’s not just hoarders, either – even those of us who are perfectly comfortable getting rid of stuff we know we’ll never use can err on the side of caution in dealing with things we aren’t absolutely sure we’ll never use again.
When you start going through all your stuff, deciding what to keep and what to lose, you may find that you tend to rationalize or get sentimental. You come up with several ways you might possibly use items you’ve never used before. You come up with emotional associations that won’t let you get rid of an item: “I can’t throw away this broken carving of a seagull – I bought it on that fabulous vacation.” If you listen to what’s going on in your brain, you realize it’s not always very logical.
The 6 Month Rule
The next time you go on a clutter reduction spree, make a commitment to get rid of anything you haven’t used in the past six months (aside from seasonal items designed only to be used once a year). Generally speaking, if you haven’t used something in six months, you’re almost surely never going to use it. That’s what I’ve found in my experience, anyway.
Now, of course, there are exceptions. But I’m going to now list a bunch of “exceptions” that you should ignore if you hear them in your mind:
- It could come in handy. Sure it could – for someone. But if you haven’t used it in the last six months, maybe that someone isn’t you.
- It cost a lot. It’s painful to get rid of stuff you once paid dearly for. It means you wasted money or got taken in by a gimmick. But keeping the item isn’t going to turn a bad buy into a good one. It just means this mistake you made (and we all make them) is owning you longer than it should. Learn from it and move on. Besides, a valuable item could be turned into cash on Ebay or Craigslist.
- They don’t make it anymore. And if you haven’t used it in six months, maybe now you know why it’s no longer being made.
- It’s associated with something sentimental. But how important is the sentimentality of an item you haven’t thought of in months, or probably years? You only have room in your life for so many mementos. There’s a big difference between keeping an artlessly carved seagull that your child made and keeping one you bought from a souvenir stand on a beach.
If you think you’ve found an exceptional item – one you need to keep even though you haven’t used it in months – ask yourself a few questions:
- Can you think of three uses for it?
- If it’s a single use type item, can you think of something you want to do with it this week?
- Why did you not use it in the past six months, if it’s so useful?
If you do decide to keep an item, set up a means test. Let’s say I decide to keep an old coffee grinder that didn’t work well for coffee because I was just thinking about buying a grinder for fresh dried herbs and spices, and this old grinder might just do the trick. I should then commit to testing the item in the next few days (or as soon as I find time) for that use. If it works, great! If it doesn’t impress me, then I need to go ahead and get rid of the item and start looking for a better option.
Getting rid of stuff
So what do you do with all this stuff you’re getting rid of?
- Garage sales
- Ebay/Craigslist/other online and offline sales venues
- Donate it to charity (no, this is not a tax write-off unless you itemize, but it’s still a nice way to recycle belongings)
- Give it to someone you know
- Take it to work and set it on a table in a common area with a sign that explains it’s a freebie for whomever wants it. Some offices may frown on this practice, but others encourage it. Then everyone brings their used books and other useful items to give away. It can be a lot of fun.
- Re-gift it to someone. This only works on items that actually pass for gifts – newish items you hardly ever used, or ill-chosen gifts you never touched from Secret Santas – but it can be a great way to save money on holidays and clear your clutter at the same time.