A huge part of getting and staying organized is figuring out what stuff needs to leave your space and your life. Letting things go can be incredibly freeing, but incredibly challenging. Making decisions about what to keep and what to let go is tough, but crucial to getting and keeping your spaces manageable. While we may initially dig in with the best of intentions, we can often be derailed when we come across what I call “sentimental clutter.” This is the physical stuff in our lives that has significance to us in a sentimental way, and sometimes carries real emotional baggage. I always suggest to my clients when they’re trying to make decisions about letting go to ask themselves three questions:
1. Do I use it?
2. Do I need it?
3. Do I love it?
One caveat to the “use it/need it” questions is that they should consider if they use it or need it in their life as they live it today. Not – “I may need this someday.” Or “I used to use this, but haven’t for a long time.” That can often make the decision a little easier to make. Only keeping things in our space that we’re using or need in our lives as we live them right now helps us to define what’s important enough to inhabit our spaces, take up our time, and what we should expend our energy and resources on maintaining.
The “Do I love it?” question is often much, much more difficult to answer, because many times we’re dealing with a gift, inherited item, stuff from our kids, or something expensive. Let’s analyze what you’re keeping, and why.
Gifts: Usually, the intention of someone who gives you a gift is to please you. If what they’ve gifted you is something that doesn’t fit, isn’t your taste, or is something you really can’t use, will the intent of the giver be fulfilled if you keep it? Consider how the gift giver would feel if they knew you were keeping something you disliked or could never use. Would they still want you to keep it?
“If a gift has come to you wrapped in obligations and tied tightly with a ribbon of guilt, then it’s not really a gift at all. It’s a manipulation. A gift should be something freely given that enhances your life and reminds you lovingly of the giver. If it’s not, you simply should not give it a place in your home.” (Peter Walsh)
Inherited Objects: Again, it’s important to determine the intent of the person who bequeathed the item to you. Would they want you to keep things that you couldn’t use, or that didn’t bring you joy? Another consideration is how much stuff you’re actually keeping. Boxes and boxes of things stored in attics, basements, garages, and storage units aren’t really honoring the loved one who left you those things. Choosing a few things to actually use on a regular basis, or to display in an attractive, visible manner, honors those memories and those loved ones much more than allowing them to collect dust, mold, and waste away in storage.
Kids’ Creations: School papers, projects, mother’s and father’s day cards, medals, certificates, photos, mementos…the list of things we save from our children is endless. Our children spend the first eighteen years of their lives as stuff-generating machines, and parents feel obligated to keep it all! We end up with boxes and boxes of the stuff that we never look at again, but which are laden with obligation and not a little bit of guilt. Some parents rationalize that their children will want it all someday and so it must all be kept. News flash – your adult children won’t want it! It has way more meaning to you than it does to them. And if they do want a few things, it will only be the most significant ones – things that symbolize a great honor or significant accomplishment. 4th grade spelling papers are probably not in that category. Keeping just a few things in a memory box or scrapbook will be much more significant to them, and will actually be looked at and enjoyed far more than boxes of dusty papers will ever be.
Expensive Stuff: Often people struggle with letting things go because they spent a lot of money on them, even if they aren’t being used or serve a purpose anymore. But keeping something in your life because it was expensive when it’s no longer something you need, use, or love doesn’t make the item regain any value. It’s what economists call a “sunk cost.” A sunk cost is a cost that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered. The money’s gone, folks. You’re not getting it back by keeping that expensive item hanging around in your space. All it’s doing is taking up valuable space and time to maintain, and probably making you feel guilty in the process. Letting it go, by donating it or gifting it to someone who will appreciate it, use it, or love it will help it regain at least some emotional value for you. Selling it may recoup a small amount of the initial cost, but be sure to factor in how much your time and effort is worth to do so. Consider, as well, what the item is really worth on the open market. Remember that something is worth only what someone else is willing to pay for it, not what you may think it’s worth. Do your research, and be realistic.
Letting go can be really tough, but worth it. Clearing out the clutter from your spaces will open up new space with the added benefit of giving you more time to enjoy it!