Today, I was mesmerized by this photo slideshow. It depicts the homes (specifically the clutter) of average middle class American families. I was struck by the garages full of stuff, the offices cluttered with old computer equipment, and the knowledge that there are drawers and closets in my house that would look equally chaotic and hoarders-esque if I let photographers into my own home. So today, we cleaned out drawers and closets, organizing and examining our possessions and asking the one question I’ve found helpful in minifying our lives: “Do I actually want to carry this thing around with me for the rest of my life?”
You see, it’s easy to imagine that you might need an object down the road. I found three pincushions, at least ten different rolls of tape (and an equal number of containers of glue) and about a billion pens, hair ties (the pup’s favorite snack) and embroidery hoops (I could equip a small army of cross stitchers…) They’re all useful objects, with value to someone…but how many of each do I actually need? Or want? I got rid of as many as I could comfortably part with. I suspect that I still have more than I need.
I’m not suggesting that we should get rid of the things we actually like owning many of. I’m the contented owner of many belts and scarves and photo albums, and I’ll be keeping all of them (at least until I become tired of them or they wear out. And the photo albums are here to stay).
The other question I’ve found helpful is “when is the last time I actually used/wore/read/watched this?” If it’s been more than a year, most items can go.The only exception is things with high sentimental value, like my husband’s great grandmother’s cake stand. Whether we use it or not isn’t the point – it’s an actual family heirloom, and it gets pride of place in our dining room. I’m not certain that the same courtesy should be extended to an old computer printer, or an extra chair, or a damaged dog chew toy, all of which also happen to be prominently displayed in my home as well. Those are the kinds of items I’ll be rehoming or repairing in the near future. Sometimes I wonder why we hold on to this sort of clutter at all. For my part, it’s either because something was given to me (the hardest sort of clutter to part with) or because I fall victim to the “what if I need it someday?” mentality. It’s a valid question…but I think we all often fail to recognize that we probably won’t need the item. Ever. Or that if we do, we’re likely to be able to borrow another or buy one secondhand when the day comes that we actually find that 1983 vacuum cleaner to be indispensable again.
We’re a culture of loss aversion. We don’t like for things to go to waste, we don’t like to part with the money we’ve spent. But the money we’ve spent on the objects in our homes is already gone. Spending more money on plastic containers to organize them is not a good investment. Giving them to someone who will get more use out of them than we will? That’s a good investment of resources indeed.
Finally, I’ve found inspiration boards and photos helpful. Instead of the photos from the clutter slideshow that I linked to at the beginning of this post, I’m working toward a home that looks and feels like this: