Is It Clutter or Treasure?

Content Updated October 3, 2007

Take a good look at EVERYTHING you own. Do you own your stuff, or does your stuff own you?

We are brought up in a culture that suggests that “more is more,” but we forget to ask “more is more of what?” More time spent cleaning your stuff? More money spent maintaining your stuff? More space for storing your stuff? More work moving your stuff? More anxiety protecting your stuff? All of this stuff clutters our space, our time, and our focus. It drains our energy, our minds, and our savings accounts. The best way to reclaim your time, money, and energy is to get rid of your clutter.

What is clutter?

Anything that’s expired

This goes for food, medication, vitamins, old film or batteries, makeup, and anything else that seems perishable or can harbor germs.

Anything you don’t want

I’m always surprised when I hear people complain about the stuff they don’t want. You do realize that you can get rid of it, don’t you?

“But, it was a gift.”

It’s perfectly fine to get rid of gifts you don’t like. If the person who gave it to you comes for a visit and expect to see it or asks about, feel free to fib (“It’s getting professionally cleaned.” “It broke, and I feel just terrible about it.” “A dear deathly-ill friend of ours loved it so much that we gave it to her, so she could enjoy it in her final days.”), or just tell them the truth.

“But, we paid so much for it.”

Then just think about how much somebody else might be willing to pay for it, and sell it. Even if you don’t get as much as you spent on it, at least you’ll have more than if you just let it sit in your house or garage.

“But it’s worth a lot of money.”

Then sell it!

“But, my husband loves it.”

Then tell your husband to find a way to make it more tolerable to live with. If it’s his favorite chair, get it reupholstered. If it’s his favorite twenty-year-old pair of shoes, then it’s time to have a talk with him about foot hygiene.

“But, it belonged to my grandmother who is now dead.”

Give it to another family member who will cherish it, donate it to a charity or a museum if it’s an antique (your grandmother will be honored by your noble deed), or take a picture of it as it was when she gave it to you, so you can put it in a scrapbook, then use your crafting skills to transform it into something you can live with. If you really can’t part with it, then honor it by using it; don’t just wrap it up in a box and tuck it away.

Anything that doesn’t fit

I know you love those pants you wore five years ago, but if you can’t fit into them now, they’re just taking up space. Help somebody less fortunate than you by donating your old clothes to charity.

“But I’m going to lose weight!”

Well, you are allowed to have a few outfits to inspire you to get to your goal weight, but be warned, just because you will eventually fit into your old clothes again doesn’t mean that you’ll look good in them. Styles change; don’t get stuck in fashion history.

If you have lost weight, get rid of your fat clothes. Keeping them will only encourage you to gain weight again.

Anything that is out of style

This isn’t just about clothes. We’re talking about home decor, automobile decorations, and so forth.

We’re not just talking about what’s trendy either. We’re talking about your style. Your style is an expression of who you are, what you like, and how you life. Just as you grow and change, your style grows and changes. Stop letting your surroundings reflect the person you use to be and start using your environment to reflect the person you are now.

For some of us, being trendy is our style, but what if you’re stuck in the trends of years past? I know you think if you wait ten years it will be all the rage again, but I promise you, if it does come back the style will be just updated enough so that your old dated items just won’t fit in. Future styles are “inspired” by previous designs and rarely copied exactly.

The only exception for throwing out out-of-style items is for costume use; throw it in a costume chest for Halloween and those fun theme days at work or school.

Anything you haven’t used during the last few years

I know that some professional organizers have the “one year” rule. If you haven’t used it in one year then throw it out, but I disagree with this rule. All of us have items that we may not use every year (e.g. snow sleds, surf boards, specialty tools), but that doesn’t mean they’re junk.

I use the “two year” rule. If you haven’t used it in the past two years, you probably won’t need it in the next two years. Let it go. Free up that space for something more useful or just for breathing room. If you do need those items in the future rent them or borrow them. If you find yourself renting or borrowing them frequently, then you can consider buying new items.

Anything that needs to be upgraded

One of the beauties of the human race is that we constantly try to improve things. Many times, those improvements can reduce our clutter (or at least the amount of space that our clutter takes up). It may be time to go shopping for an upgrade.

Still using a VHS recorder. It’s time to upgrade to DVD, and toss out those old VHS tapes (most of which you probably don’t watch anyhow). Purchase your favorite videos on DVD. Transfer your home movies to DVD as well (use your home computer or pay a service to do it for you). DVDs take up much less space than VHS tapes, especially if you take the DVDs out of their cases and put them in a DVD binder. The same goes for audio tapes; upgrade to CDs. If you have a very large music collection or like to listen to your music on the go, switch to MP3s.

Other good examples can be found in your kitchen. Toasters, broilers, and convection ovens have been replaced by small multi-tasking ovens that can cook an entire meal or just a piece of toast with minimal energy and time. Stand mixers have so many attachments that one stand mixer can replace a dozen different small appliances.

Books and magazines you’ll probably never read (again)

“I’m going to read it when I find time.”

If you really do want to read it, put it on the bookshelf and give yourself a deadline. If you haven’t read it by your deadline, donate it to a school, library, or charity.

“But I love that story.”

Then read it again, but don’t just leave it in a box or on a shelf collecting dust. If you don’t read it at least once a year, you probably don’t love it as much as you think you do.

“But what if I need to refer to it some day?”

When some day happens, go the library to borrow a copy or get on the Internet and look up updated information rather than referring to data from an old book, magazine, or encyclopedia.

If you find yourself wishing you hadn’t gotten rid of that book, magazine, etc. because you’re always running to the library to check it out, then buy it again. (But trust me, this happens rarely.)

Is it treasure? Clutter is not…

Anything that belongs in a museum

If you collect antiques, old wine, historical artifacts, etc. then feel free to continue to collect, but treat those items with respect by displaying them for all to see. If you don’t have room for all of it, you may be able to loan your collection to a museum (they display it, but you still own it). Take photographs and design a website dedicated to your collection, so everyone can enjoy and learn from them. Don’t leave them in a box or let them collect dust.

Anything that has strong sentimental value

You can hang on to these things, but treat them like museum quality items. Don’t just leave them in a big box. Put them in a scrapbook or a special display that you can frame and hang on your wall. Set up an entire bookshelf to display your sentimental items (items in cabinets with glass doors require less dusting). Just don’t hide them away. Make sure they are accessible so you can appreciate and share them.

Just don’t get too overly sentimental. I know people who hang onto everything because they have memories (good and bad) that are associated with every object in their home. It’s a nice thought but a nightmare to live in. That’s when you have to ask yourself, “am I extremely attached to this ball of yarn that Fluffy, my cat who died ten years ago, played with one time?” Maybe it would be best to just cut a piece of yarn off the ball and put it in a scrap book about dear old Fluffy.

If you can’t let go of anything, your problem may be deeper; you may need a psychologist to help you get to the root of your attachments.

I’m still not sure if I should get rid of it

If you can’t make up your mind, then don’t throw it out yet. Hang onto it and think about it for awhile. Ask yourself if you want to let it go during your next decluttering session. When you’re ready to let it go, you will.