True Story: I used to be a pack rat. I saved everything: ticket stubs, playbills, greeting cards, pens that had run out of ink, etc… As a shutterbug, I also had closets (kid you not, actual CLOSETS) full of photo albums. However, years of moving and relocating cities taught me that I needed to cut the fat ASAP. Keep only the essentials. Things that were no longer of use and weren’t regularly used (as in used literally every day) got tossed, donated or recycled. The lighter I became in my possessions, the lighter I felt as a person. It was easier to move, easier to transition, easier to look forward and think positively about the future. Less physical baggage = less emotional baggage.
The start of the new year (i.e. right now), early spring or even September are great times to tackle the clutter, whether it be in your home, your office or your relationships. Body & Soul magazine had a great article in April 2009 by Gail Blanke about how to declutter, and Leo Babuta over at Zen Habits always has great posts on how to minimalize and streamline your life.
I used pretty much the same method that Gail suggests in Body & Soul, though my approach certainly wasn’t so formalized. Here are some of her suggestions for starting the cleaning process, with my notes added in:
- Start with the low-hanging fruit
Go for the obvious stuff first: broken jewelry and tools; expired medicines, cosmetics and food stashed in the back of the cabinets; mismatched socks; old clothes; and anything unworn or unused in over a year. Still got those “skinny jeans” from 10 years ago? What about those size 2XL t-shirts from the Freshman 15? Time for them to go.
- Take a hard look at the clothes closet
Ask yourself “what do you want to look like?” Gail Blanke rightly says that we can’t afford to go out and buy a new wardrobe, but we can begin to “edit out the stuff that no longer makes us feel good.” So be really honest: what haven’t you worn in more than 6 months? What no longer serves a purpose in your life? What just doesn’t look good on you anymore?
- Tackle the attic/basement, tackle your subconscious
Decluttering this space is like decluttering your subconscious. When tackling this area, Blank suggests (and I am SO with her on this one, as hard as it may be,) “house only the positive memories. Anything that reminds you of a difficult or negative experience or a time when you felt bad has to go. I don’t care how valuable it is. What we surround ourselves with – even if it’s stashed away – influences our thinking.” And if you’re still hanging on to the detritus of the past decisions and relationships, you can’t open yourself up to the beauty of the future.
- Stop Second Guessing Yourself
The best suggestion in Blanke’s article is one that, for me, is constantly reinforced through my yoga practice: get rid of the “shoulds”. Fight those voices telling you that you “should” be perfect, or your “should” keep that old, broken item just because it once belonged to someone else. Giving in to what other people think is counterproductive to your decluttering and to your mental health.
Yoga teaches you to “throw out the word perfect”. Reliving the things that didn’t work, the relationships that failed, the jobs that were dead ends, trying to think of what we could have done better, is a waste of your time and energy. Waste it going around in circles (and hanging on to the clutter) and you have no time or energy to look forward and make immediate positive changes in your life right now.
So get cleaning! Declutter one space in your home or office today. Just like practicing yoga or going for a good run, you’ll feel (and be) better for it.