I’m not the neatest person, but I’ve always been a bit of stress organizer. Whenever something major happens like a death in the family, a job change, a change in roommates or a bad break-up I suddenly get fixated on purging and re-organizing things in one area of the house. Then my stress lessens and I lose interest, leaving the rest of the house until the next crisis.
My mother was a hoarder. When she died my siblings and I spent days and days sorting through crap in two states, wondering why on earth she’d kept TV guides from the 1980s, packets of saltines, or a billion craft supplies she never used. As we sifted through stacks and stacks of stuff looking for the occasional useful thing, I had a vision of the future. I pictured my sister and brother going through my house with 20 plus years of stuff in it (including items from multiple family members), drinking tequila and saying, “God, this is just like when Mom died.”
Needless to say, the horror of that one sent me on my longest decluttering spree. And while my initial energy faded I’ve continued to sort through things pretty regularly. I’m pleased to say that I have purged a lot of stuff the last two years. (You’re welcome, George and Margaret).
But sometimes it’s overwhelming. There are some projects that I just haven’t been able to deal with: our tiny linen closet so stuffed with towels and linens that every time I open the door a stack of blankets fall on my head; the drawer in the kitchen that’s hard to open because it’s so full, the basement with furniture and boxes stacked up to the ceiling, and the “guest” room that doesn’t have a bed but is filled with suitcases, extension cords, tools, every piece of clothing and equipment for any sport I’ve ever tried, overflow items from Costco, and the miscellaneous body part of a clothing mannequin. (I know, it’s like a horror movie in there). Organizing these areas feels overwhelming because they’re such huge jobs. Where do I start?
I’ve recently dedicated myself to more thorough purging and organizing because, as regular readers know, I’ve drunk the Marie Kondo kool-aid. You can read more here. Inspired by Marie and my own sense that this house is one bag of popcorn away from exploding with stuff like that house in the movie Real Genius (mmm, young Val Kilmer…), I’ve been dedicating some time every weekend to purge and re-organize.
I’ve also been looking at the areas that I’ve already decluttered but still have items that I think I should keep “just in case”: clothes that don’t fit me but may again one time in the future, books, a million pens I’ve picked up here and there, extra dog leashes, snow shoes, an ice cream maker.
I’m making good progress, but I’ve been curious about my periodic reticence to make like Elsa and let it go. Of course I’m not alone here. Researchers have noted that most people have certain things they hold onto, regardless of where they are on the scale between minimalist and hoarding. This is because of any number of factors including:
- Sentimental value: Some things are based on self-identification or connection, like your old yearbooks or your grandfather’s pipe or skinny jeans that represent you at an “ideal” weight. We feel pain letting these things go, because they’re a part of us.
- Scarcity: Many of us have been raised to think we should hold onto things just in case we need them later. A sense of scarcity makes up afraid that if we get rid of something and need it again in the future, we won’t have the money to replace it.
- Guilt: We may hold onto a gift we don’t like because we feel guilty giving it away. Or we may think that because an item was expensive, it seems like a waste of money to not keep it.
- Dreams: We sometimes hold onto things because we feel like they are our future, and letting go of them means we are giving up. Thing includes things like “skinny clothes”, exercise equipment, or the bread maker collecting dust in the cabinet. We honestly intend to use these items “some day”, but some day may never come.
This weekend I did a first pass at the “guest” room, where I got rid of the most obvious stuff and reorganized the things I couldn’t deal with yet. This, by the way, is not the Kondo recommended way to handle it, but for me, breaking such a large project into smaller more manageable chunks felt better.
I also did a full Marie Kondo treatment on that pesky linen closet. I completely emptied it out and assessed each item before folding the keepers in the closest facsimile to how Marie does it. It looks great. There’s actually extra space now and bonus – nothing is falling on my head when I open the door.
I have a sense of accomplishment and just feel lighter overall, even if it did mean asking myself some hard questions about why I couldn’t let certain things go.
Maybe some day I’ll be strong enough to tackle that basement…
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