Right now I’m reading Rita Emmett’s book The Clutter-Busting Handbook: Clean It Up, Clear It Out, and Keep Your Life Clutter-Free. So far one of its strengths is that it is pretty comprehensive in its reasons for getting rid of things. It also has excellent example stories of people who learned to make difficult decisions and how they progressed in their clutter-busting efforts. I’d like to quote one of them and discuss it.
“In getting started with tossing out clutter, the first time is the hardest. Although de-cluttering eventually will leave you feeling lighter, happier, and freer, parting with some items may cause anxiety. Sometimes you need to discard just a few items at first—as sort of a test to see if your world falls apart when that stuff is gone. Then, when it’s been gone awhile and you feel okay to go on, get rid of more things.
“Linda’s challenge was to de-clutter her many jewelry boxes. (She owned only a few pieces of “real” jewelry; everything else was inexpensive costume baubles.) For more than three decades, she had kept the home she shared with her husband fairly clutter-free but had never disposed of even one piece of jewelry. She often bought earring-necklace-bracelet sets to go with a specific outfit, and kept the jewelry long after the clothes were gone. If she lost one earring and had no use for the remaining one, she still kept it. If she broke a necklace that could not be fixed, she kept it. If a bracelet was too snug and uncomfortable to wear, she kept it.
"Every year, for her birthday and holidays, Linda asked for the same gift: a jewelry box. She described her bedroom as “Jewelry Boxes R Us.” Every surface held an assortment of jewelry boxes. When people commented on her collection, she explained that she collected not boxes but jewelry. She just loved buying jewelry. Yet she had so much jewelry—stored in so many boxes—that she couldn’t keep track of what she owned. When she searched for a specific item, she could never find it, so she’d buy another.
"Linda’s clutter-busting strategy was to go through one or two boxes every evening when she was listening to music. All she was able to throw out at first were broken fragments, a few pieces she never liked, and two jewelry boxes that she didn’t need or like any more. That was not much, but it was the best she could do.
"As months went by, she found it easier to locate some of her cherished pieces and was delighted to be reacquainted with a few favorites from the past that she’d forgotten about. So she decided to go through all the jewelry again and get rid of some earring-necklace-bracelet sets that she knew she’d never wear again. It was clear that she could not throw these “old friends” away; after asking around, she learned that one of her coworkers belonged to a church ministry helping welfare recipients land jobs. Clothes and accessories were especially needed. Once Linda knew that her jewelry would be appreciated and used, she found it easy to donate two or three sets at a time through her colleague at work.
"When a neighbor invited Linda to join in a garage sale, she put out lots more jewelry and jewelry boxes. Linda made a few bucks and moved out about half her jewelry. She plans to dispose of more pieces in the future.
"Now that she finds it easier to say good-bye to her gems, she laughs remembering what a struggle she had with her first clutter-busting sessions” (p77-80)
I really like this story because it illustrates a number of truths about de-cluttering.
1) De-cluttering is a process, not necessarily an event, and it can be worked into your daily routine. The more you work it into your daily routine, the more practice you get at it, and the better you will get at it. The better you get at it, the more fun it will be and the more likely you will be to never get into the same terrible predicament again. Linda worked at going through a jewelry box each day. This kept her from getting intimidated, fatigued, or frustrated. It gave her practice making good decisions. It helped her learn that de-cluttering isn’t a mood that you have to wait for; it is a mindset and a set of skills you can practice and perfect.
2) When you start de-cluttering, no matter how overwhelming the task, you start by weeding out the broken, torn, incomplete, and unused items. Linda started by getting rid of broken pieces of jewelry—the single earrings, the broken necklaces, and the items that she had never liked or needed. Starting builds confidence, and it also makes progress.
3) As you weed out the broken, incomplete, and unused, you also get a memory-refresher of what you have. Often, people rediscovering what they have will say, “Oh! I can use this!” “Oh, I was looking for this!” “Oh, I found my favorite__________!”
4) Rediscovering starts a subconscious timer clock in your head, and later (weeks or months), you will eventually recognize, when you are honest with yourself, some things you rediscovered probably still won’t get used even though you now know they exist. The minute you realize this, get rid of it so that you don’t have to think about it any more. This was what happened when Linda decided to go through her jewelry a second time a few months later. She could get to what she wanted, so she was starting to see a pattern to her usage enough that she could start to discern what she wasn’t using. It became easier to part with what she didn’t need because she finally knew by experience that she didn’t need or use it. (This starts a second round of the de-cluttering process.)
5) Even though Linda’s story does not go into detail about how she went about her third round of de-cluttering when she picked out half her jewelry to get rid of at a garage sale, I bet I can extrapolate what happened. I bet that that she started to be more picky about her criteria for keeping something because her ability to get to exactly the jewelry pieces she wanted had increased so much from the first two rounds of de-cluttering. After you gain the ability to let go of what you obviously don’t need, you gain the ability to discern what it is less obvious you don’t need. (Even if it is less obvious that you don’t need it, you still don’t need it, so it is still clutter that needs to be discarded.)
6) In the final stages, de-cluttering becomes more akin to editing and paring down. It is also the point at which others may begin to question your choices (since your reasons will be less obvious to them), but it will also be the point at which you’ll be able to decide with more confidence because of your previous experience. (I think Linda was probably at this stage of confidence when she began to laugh at herself for her previous struggle to let go.)
If you are de-cluttering your jewelry, here are some questions you may want to ask yourself at different stages.
First round of de-cluttering
- Is this broken? (If yes, toss.)
- Is this part of a set that is incomplete? (If yes, toss.)
- Is this something I haven’t ever worn? (If yes, toss.)
Second round of de-cluttering (after several weeks have gone by since the first round of de-cluttering)
- Have I used this since I’ve rediscovered it? (If no, donate to charity)
- Does this go with anything I usually wear? (If no, donate. If it doesn’t go with anything, you obviously won’t have occasion to use it.)
Third round of de-cluttering (after several months have elapsed since the second round)
- Is this something that REALLY makes me happy to wear? (If no, donate.)
- Is this something that is fits with my personal style, or does it make me feel like I am pretending to be someone I’m not? (If don’t fit personal style, donate.)
- Is this something that REALLY looks good on me when I wear it? (If no, donate.)
- Is there anything inconvenient or painful about wearing this? (If so, donate. Wearing jewelry that is inconvenient or painful in any way will not make you as happy as wearing what is comfortable.)
Ultimately, you will come to a point where you are both de-cluttered and comfortable with what you have left. From time to time, you may have to "edit" a little, but "editing" will kept clutter at bay and out of your life.