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 when we’re perfectly comfortable getting rid of stuff in general, we often err on the side of caution. After all, if we get rid of it, that’s it – forever. That’s why I developed the Six-Month Clutter Rule.
When you start going through all your stuff, you may find that you tend to rationalize or get sentimental. Even with items you never liked and never used, you come up with possible future uses. Or 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 Six-Month Clutter Rule
The next time you decide to declutter, make a commitment to get rid of anything you haven’t used in the past six months. Generally speaking, if you haven’t used something in six months, you’re almost surely never going to use it.
Now, of course, there are exceptions. Not everything you haven’t used in six months should be thrown away. For example:
- Seasonal items. Obviously, you don’t use annual holiday decorations every six months. So, change the rule to a couple of years on this one.
- Special occasion clothing. If you have a special outfit for certain occasions, you may not use it every six months and should keep it until it’s no longer what you would wear on that type of occasion.
- You didn’t get a chance to use it. If you bought an item and then something came up to prevent you from using it, give it another six months. If you still haven’t used it then, consider whether you’re really ever going to “get around to it” someday.
- Your child made it. Kids are the exception to every rule. Just because you don’t use that funny-looking ashtray your kid made in art class doesn’t mean you should part with it.
- Mementos. With souveniers and momentos, you don’t expect to “use” them every six months. Instead, consider how strong your emotional attachment is to them. If it’s not doing much for you anymore, there’s no reason to keep it.
Here are the sort of rationalizations you’ll probably hear in your mind. Don’t listen to them.
- 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 may mean 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. Don’t let your mistakes own you. 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.
Here’s how I apply the six-month clutter rule. 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? Let’s say it’s a special dedicated egg-beating device that does nothing but beat eggs. But you already have an electric mixer that does the job just as well, and also does other jobs. Why keep the special egg-beating device?
- 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’m thinking it might work fine for dried. 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 – items that pass for brand new – but it can be a great way to save money on holidays and clear your clutter at the same time.