Monday, May 17, 2010

How to Throw Things Away

I typically hate spring cleaning and starting in March I begin to groan as I think about it. Then, as the weather warms and we slide into April, I find myself noticing winter cobwebs more and more until something snaps and I go on a cleaning binge for a week, working room by room, until everything is completely clean and fresh again. This time it took me a little longer with my gimpy leg but after two weeks of work the house feels great. The yard is raked, my flower beds are clean and sprouting and all that's left is to weed out the dead canes from my raspberries.

Happiness is a clean house. But today we're going to discuss something that might be a little personal to some of you out there. Something that might hurt a bit but that's nonetheless necessary. Today we're going to work on throwing things out.

Yes, I'm a big believer in throwing things away for three simple reasons:

  • It fosters organization, order and cleanliness
  • It helps you not be so attached to material possessions
  • It benefits other people
How can this be? you say--well, I'm glad you asked. Every spring as I work my way through closets, shelves and cupboards I consider whether I should get rid of each object I find by asking myself the following questions:

How to Throw Things Away

How to Throw Things Away


You may find something that it kills you to throw out, sure that someday you'll need it or that someday it'll justify the spot you kept for it in your home all those years but trust me, just throw it out. It's just one less thing you have to keep track of, just one less thing to worry about using and one less thing to clean--and strange as it may seem when you throw out more and keep less you end up buying less because you realize you need less to be happy.

There's nothing so liberating as not needing something to survive and nothing so precious as extra closet space.

***

Updated to add some links my father sent after reading this post: see the New York Times "One Man's Trash . . ." and the accompanying NPR interview "When Too Much 'Stuff' Causes Grief."

Sponsored by Dimples and Dandelions for Serena and Lily baby bedding.

31 comments:

Laura said...

Hi Michelle, I totally agree. Personally I've been in a throwing fit for months now, getting rid of all things I know I won't use anymore - baby stuff, furniture, framed parchments, clothes (I donated boxes of clothes and it makes me feel so much better knowing someone out there is enjoying them way more than me, even my super-expensive sports shoes which didn't fit me at all after I washed them in the wash machine :-D ) People, give away, don't hoard anything, it clutters your life and your space and you end up addicted to material stuff! Michelle, I totally love your diagram, can I take it over to my blog (I will of course give you full credit)? Please, it's too cute and I want to share it with my readers who hardly ever read any blogs that are not in my language!

Shannon said...

I needed this message today. One of the downsides to a foreign service life is that it comes with a weight limit. Just had our pre pack-out survey and we are overweight for this move. Gotta purge purge purge! Will be referring to your flow chart frequently over the next few weeks. I keep telling myself if I get rid of it now I won't have to unpack it in September when all our new stuff shows up at our new house.

Michemily said...

Did you make that chart yourself? It's brilliant.

I loooove to throw things away. In fact, it's gotten actually to a point that probably isn't good. When I'm stressed, I either eat chocolate or toss things out. Or both. Besides my cheap student furniture, my earthly belongings are getting down to about 5 boxes. That might be a little crazy for these days, but I don't like to feel like my belongings tie me down to one location. Too bad I have more than can fit into two suitcases. That would really be ideal. But then I could probably never wear anything unique or do anything I felt like doing, so I guess it's okay . . .

a Tonggu Momma said...

"Can someone else use it MORE?" That is my favorite part of your chart. It really shows that hoarding can be a form of selfishness. Thanks so much for this, Michelle.

Jolanthe said...

You are hilarious. The only problem for me right now is our basement and getting my hubby down there with me to help...since a good chunk of the stuff is his or tools, etc...

Sigh.

I'd chuck stuff and make myself happy, but that could lead to major marital issues....{grins}

CountessLaurie said...

I love the chart. I am totally going to print it and refer to it when I finally get that "spring cleaning" bug you refer to :-)

Tammy said...

I watched TLC's series on hoarding and my husband commented that I am the opposite of a hoarder...I get rid of too much. LOL There are areas that tend to gather clutter, but for the most part I have no problem getting rid of things, and I sometimes get rid of things too fast. But I'd rather have clear spaces that stuff that might be used "one day".

Lucy said...

I've never been a hoarder. My cousin drives me to the brink because she's saved every single thing she "might need again someday" and I want to go through her whole house and Just.Get.Rid.Of.Things. It seems to be a real sickness of some sort. Now on the flip side, I throw out tooooo easily and have found a need for that pesky sewing machine at least a couple of times in the last two decades since I got rid of it. I think of it for oh....about 30 seconds.

Janelle said...

I think my problem is in defining "family history." I'm not one of those people who will save every drawing my daughter puts on the refrigerator, but what about the tickets to the baseball game where I met my husband? What about wedding announcements? Etc.

April said...

I agree! Though "tossing" and "throwing out" can take the form of donating it or selling it, not just trashing it.

For anyone who reads the comments and wants a little more help than what this post gives, I've found http://unclutterer.com/ to be incredibly helpful.

Suzi Dow said...

Does stuff from *his* first marriage count as family history? I have a dress-up dress from when I was a toddler I'm sending it a grand-daughter today. Thanks.

Jenna Consolo said...

I completely agree! I am famous in our house for throwing things away or taking trips to the thrift store. De-junking, de-cluttering---it's so freeing! Great pot!

Scribbit said...

Usually for me if I worry that I might use it down the road it's easier to just buy it again should the need ever arise. But usually the need never arises.

The other thing is, you can hold onto things but so often other people would be able to use them more--give it away to be used by someone else and liberate yourself.

And when I say "throw it out" if it can be used then obviously I'm talking about giving it to Salvation Army or some other such organization. But don't give them junk, it just makes more work for them if you load them down with your trash and then they have to deal with it.

Scribbit said...

Oh and as for mementos from previous relationships? I don't know that I want to touch that one. I suppose it would depend on why the person was keeping it and whether it was useful.

But be careful throwing out stuff like that for the sake of a clean slate--your husband or you may not want to remember his previous marriage but the children should have pictures of their mother. Maybe giving it all to the kids to keep and use would be the best.

Roo said...

Admittedly I AM A PACK RAT. However, I am striving to change that trait. I moved recently and it took about 2 hours longer than it should have because of all of the boxes I have. When my paternal grandparents died about 15 years ago, there were a lot of items my Dad and I couldn't bare to part with at the time. Plus it was a rather hurried move out of the house and we did not have the proper amount of time to go through things. What didn't go home with him, came home with me. I have now moved it across the country and back as well as moved it twice locally. It's time to purge. I have vowed to myself (and others) that before I move again I will go through everything and either give the items to the appropriate people or just throw it away. I have done some already. It feels good. I do have things that I WILL NOT part with, but I have other things that I'm already wondering why I've held on to them for so long.

I've justified keeping "my stuff" all of these years because of the personal relationships I've missed in my life. I realize now this is not a sufficient justification for all of the stuff. I have enough to clutter my life... I don't need so much "STUFF!"

Thank you for the additional prompting.

Robin Sue said...

I think I will tape this chart to my closet and start tossing. I need to tape it in my husband's closet too, and my kitchen, basement, pantry, dining room, living room... ugh!

Scribbit said...

So . . . uh. . .Robin Sue does that mean you're throwing out your husband?

Gosh I hope not :)

Kidding.

Shannon said...

I link to this post on my blog today. I hope it is OK, if not I will happily pull it down.

angie said...

I have the exact same philosophy. I just don't have the diagram to explain. :)

An Almost Unschooling Mom said...

Of course, the real trick is enjoying all the new found closet space, without rushing out to buy a new bunch of useless junk, that you'll have to throw away next spring :)

Inkling said...

Awesome post. Now, can you come down to BC to help me be brave when I go through clothes and stuff here? I've given boxes and boxes to the thrift store here, but still have trouble. Part of it is that I went from never worrying about money as a single person to living an entirely opposite life as a wife and mom. To be honest, being in a lower income bracket is fun in the way it helps me be creative in homemaking and learning to love a life of adventures that don't have high price tags. The only thing that I find harder is letting go of things I've had for years - furniture, crafting supplies/fabric, and my clothing - because I keep thinking about how much money it would cost to replace it. And yet, our tiny rental suite really would be a lot healthier if I'd let some more things go.....like those 3.5 inch adorable mary jane heels that I will probably never have a reason to wear in muddy, rainy BC with a mountain man for a husband who gets a rash if he has to even think about dressing up. And yet, I can't bring myself to give them away. Same goes for all those skirts I used to love and the fabric that I want to use someday when the toddler who lives with me allows me to be by myself for more than two seconds. So see, I need you to come and help me. =)

Donna said...

Found you through Shannon's link. I'm getting ready to move from China to Jordan, so I am in full-on pre-move throw-it-all-away mode. Love the chart.

J at www.jellyjules.com said...

I love purging crap out of the house. Love it. Especially since our little condo is not quite 1200 square feet, no garage, no basement, no attic.

jacjewelry said...

Hilarious! You even made a chart. Nothing says "organized" like a flow chart! Cleaning (spring, winter, summer, autumn and every month in between) is crucial in our tiny one-bedroom NYC apartment!

chelle said...

I totally love purging stuff. I find it liberating and refreshing. My kids hate it :P

Stephanie said...

I give away stuff every.single.week. In fact, it drives my husband a little bit crazy because I always have a new bag for charity somewhere in our house.

Simple living is exactly my style...and the less clutter, the better.

stephanie@metropolitanmama.net

Daisy said...

When we moved into our home I was a brand new teacher, uncertain what grade I'd be teaching or for how long. I kept everything. Now, 14 years later, I cleaned the basement and purged all unnecessary teaching materials. Books went to paperbackswap.com, papers got recycled, old transparencies got thrown out. I made so much space - space that is now filled with my daughter's things. She just graduated from college last weekend!

Scribbit said...

I have a hard time throwing away books--it's my weakness. Until we got a great used book store here in town. Now every time I'm tempting to hold onto something I think about what I could get instead and it's easy to get rid of them. Especially too since anything they won't take back they donate to worthy causes.

mommica said...

I tend to be a 'sentimental' hoarder, emphasis on the 'mental.' I carried around about a dozen shoeboxes of all my birthday cards and every note I was ever passed in high school for years. In our last move, however, I actually got it down to two shoeboxes. And I threw away a ton of other stuff. I've actually gotten pretty good at this purging thing in the last six months or so. It feels great!

Cranberry Morning said...

Love the chart. My parents lived through The Great Depression, so throwing things isn't that easy for me. AND, it truly seems that when I throw something away, I need it within a week. It must be a law of nature or something. Also, I homeschooled for 21 years, so I am still working at dispersing 21 years worth of collecting stuff for school. This is a good blog post for me! Thanks. :-)

Anonymous said...

I like your flow chart, but I think it needs a few more things, such as: Is this item yours? No - then why are you dealing with it - get the owner to do the flowchart questions! (It seriously galls me how often and how okay so many people think it is to throw away other people's things - I regularly search the bin at my house for possessions of mine and my son's that my partner has trashed.)

And another part of the flowchart: Do you use this? Regularly? Is it useful? Yes: Then keep it, it's useful! (Seems like all roads lead to trashing at the moment.)

And, by getting rid of some things, you might finally find that you can get to some of those "one day" projects, like that sewing or knitting or reading or writing or scrapbooking or gardening etc etc etc...

Michelle