Here’s a good article that explains many of the reasons holding us back from dealing with clutter: financial guilt, emotional burden, sentimental attachment, etc.: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/home-and-garden/spring-cleaning/the-secrets-to-throwing-out-your-excess-stuff/article2393489/
I am very good at dealing with financial matters. The first time I was in debt was when my mother died and I inherited a dilapidated, hard-to-sell house in a fishing village everyone was moving out of. I had to invest in repairing the foundation and paying off the debt my mother incurred on replacing the roof. After a year and a half, the house sold, and I recouped the costs and was completely debt-free. The second time I got into debt was when I was doing a Ph.D. and had a baby in the middle of the program. My income was low, and expenses were high. We are just coming out of that debt now – there’s $5,000 left.
So I do not experience the financial guilt the article talks about which drives some people to accumulate unopened bills, etc.. However, the emotional burden is a different matter.
My parents accumulated a lot of stuff. When my mother died, I had to sell or give away almost all of it, as there was no way I could fit even a quarter of it into my little apartment. I still have a few things my parents left me, such as paintings, knick-knacks, and boxes and boxes of slides full of family pictures. I am an only child, and have one daughter. I feel like I am the guardian of my family’s history, and it is my job to preserve it to pass it on to my daughter.
The other things I do not know how to deal with is old letters and cards from people I love. As someone who is deeply interested in history, I know the historical value of items such as this that can give one insight into how people lived their lives. I also have the same attachment to objects from the past. I have two old typewriters from the early 20th century, full beer bottles in the original case from the 1950s, an old washboard, etc. In fact, one of my typewriters was even featured in the historical re-enactment scenes of a TV documentary, because my friend who was involved in the documentary’s production knew what a treasure trove of historical objects I had and borrowed some.
Giving historical objects to a local museum might be a good answer. That way, they are preserved and many people get to enjoy them. The more personal historical objects and documentation are more of a conundrum. I’m sure someone will suggest photographing or scanning this stuff so the substance can be preserved, without taking up physical space. But I do not have the time to do this, and I do not have the money to hire someone to do this. Therefore, I live with piles of cards from people, piles of my child’s artwork, and a locker full of letters and slides dating back before my own birth.
Some of my clutter is related to my thesis research. Since I successfully defended my doctoral dissertation two years ago, I no longer feel the need to keep this stuff, and I toss it into recycling when I find it. I do feel a twinge of guilt, because I think I should be writing articles or books based on my research.
I am good at getting rid of my old clothes. If I don’t wear it, or can’t fit into it, I give it away. I have a strong sense of obligation to giving back to the community. There are many people in my community, and communities around the world, for whom buying clothes is a financial hardship. I usually now give clothes to a local drop-in centre used mainly by homeless women. In the past, I have also donated clothes to a shelter for abused women. Many women have had to flee their homes with little or nothing. Many of these women also do not have clothes that are suitable for job interviews.
Children’s clothes are easy to deal with – but must be gone through frequently. I have given away some of my daughter’s old clothes to Better Beginnings, Brighter Futures, an organization in my community that helps out families living on low incomes. I have used children’s clothing consignment stores. I give them my daughter’s old clothes, and then use the proceeds to buy her second hand clothes from the store.
I used to find books very difficult to give away, because I consider books to be my friends. What helped me immensely is the call for donations to an annual book sale at my daughter’s school. Now, I donate books that I do not think I will read again, so that other people can read it and it can financially benefit the school. I’m not totally on top of book giving, though. I do keep books in my areas of research expertise. I keep books I think might be good for my daughter to read later on. And I can’t seem to part with my collection of Canadian fiction.
One of the major obstacles I faced to dealing with clutter was a sinking feeling that it was too overwhelming, I didn’t know where to start, and no matter what I did didn’t seem to make a dent. Now, I have changed my outlook. I don’t declutter because I think I can be clutter-free within days. I know that’s impossible. I actually engage in decluttering as a weight management and de-stressing tactic. I am slowly and steadily losing weight because I try to be active in cleaning or decluttering, even for just five minutes, as soon as I get up in the morning, and also when I come home from work. Taking action is a great way to counter anxiety and depression. Instead of worrying about the clutter, I am doing something about it, no matter how small. And it gets me moving around, which is all the better. I feel like I am doing something positive for my mental and physical health. So will the clutter be gone tomorrow? No. But one day it will, if I keep taking steps toward that end, no matter how tiny. Part of this endeavour is also committing to bringing nothing into my home that is not necessary. And that saves money too.
Clutter issues are widespread in our society. If you are living with clutter, you are not alone. Most of our ancestors have never had to deal with this much stuff. We are charting a new course as human beings, in a post- mass production world. It is difficult to go against the tide of the consumerism that surrounds us. It’s a two steps forward, one step back kind of process. That is why we need to support each other in this process, and to publicly challenge those who judge others by what they own.