Week 2: Simplify Your Stuff

One of the key reasons people are drawn to the idea of simplifying their lives is they want to get rid of the clutter -- the stacks of mail, the piles of magazines and the drawers that have deteriorated to collections of junk.

This leads me to our Week Two topic: simplifying your stuff. Why is this topic important to so many of us? First of all, living in a clutter-free environment always makes us feel better. We feel in control and enjoy our home more when our space is more organized. But clutter is also related to the concept of simplicity. Here's why: It is very taxing and time consuming to straighten up your home on a daily or weekly basis! How can we cut back on time-wasters, as we discussed in Week One, if we are spending too much time picking up after our things? Think about it: If you had less stuff, you would simply spend less time cleaning and organizing. And if you spent less time cleaning and organizing, you'd have more time to read your favorite book or take the kids to the park (without feeling harried). It really is a domino effect.

So the first step is to eliminate the things you don't need. Easier said than done, right? First of all, I want you to remember that you're simplifying your life for one person: you. Your house doesn't have to look like a picture in a magazine or be filled with the knick-knacks your mother adores. Part of dealing with clutter is recognizing who you really are. We are not all orderly. Most of you who signed up for this Community Challenge probably fall into that camp.

Clearing Out Your Stuff
Usually the principal problem is that we just have too much stuff to keep organized, which is why reducing what you have is so important. Though you may find it painful, getting rid of things can be incredibly liberating. The problem for most people is they can't is deciding what to get rid of. Please know that you don't have to pare down everything all at once! Let peace of mind be your guide.

When you are assessing each item, ask yourself first if you really need it, or if you've used it recently. Many women cleaning out their stuff will go by the "one year" rule, meaning, if you haven't used it in a year, toss it. Or you can try putting questionable items in a box in the basement with the date on it. If after one year you have forgotten what is in the box, give it away without opening it. (I also recommend the five-month rule. There's no reason you have to keep a box of stuff for an entire year if you know you aren't going to use it.) Other women develop little rules for themselves -- like every time they buy something new, they have to get rid of something old.

Of course you'll keep some things that seemingly have no use -- maybe they will remind you of a happy time in your past. I will always keep things that my mother gave to me before she died. But I have finally decided that I must get rid of a lot of my books -- I have so many that I can't find the right book when I need it. Are there items like this in your home you could do without?

Don't Collect Stuff
Getting rid of excess stuff is one way to reduce clutter, but the real solution to limiting clutter is to bring less stuff into your house! This means not picking up free information -- free pamphlets or magazines, or bringing home a free a gift with purchase you know you'll never use. It means not getting things "just in case" you might need them. It means not buying little toys that your dog or your children will surely ignore or grow tired of within mere hours or days.

Finally, as I mentioned earlier, getting rid of clutter can be a form of self-discovery and of admitting to yourself who you really are. For years I had an Exercycle in our bedroom -- I usually just hung clothes on it. Every so often I would put it in the basement and then bring it back up again thinking that I would really start using it. Getting rid of it was like a statement of freedom, since I was finally admitting that I wasn't going to use it. I was getting rid of the guilt of having it in the house, unused.

Thinking/Journal Entry
Before you start getting rid of things, take some time to understand yourself in relation to your stuff. You may also find it useful to assess your progress so far before you take the next steps. Answer these questions in your journal or in the simplicity circle on the Simplify Your Life message board.

1. What is it about the clutter in your home that really bothers you? What kind of clutter can you live with? What is it about your housekeeping practices that you want to change?

2. It's been seven days since I asked you to cut one time-waster out of your schedule and slow down. Write about how it felt when you stopped doing your "one thing." Did you miss it?

3. Write about how it felt when you started slowing down. When you first stopped doing that one thing, what did you think would happen? What actually happened? Think about the next time-waster you can cut out of your schedule.

Taking Action/Weekly Exercise
When taking action this week, I want you to start small. Pick just one thing to get rid of this week. Give it away, throw it away or sell it.

Other ways you can get rid of clutter:

  • Spend five minutes a day going through a drawer or a closet and throwing out what you no longer need. Though any daily project might sound overwhelming, I just want you to commit to five minutes. If you find yourself eager to spend more than five minutes, then by all means keep going! You'll be amazed at the difference clearing the clutter for five minutes a day can make. In fact, an activity like this will keep you motivated throughout the Community Challenge and beyond. Plus, you'll feel better about yourself and your ability to simplify your life.
  • Work with a friend to clean out a closet. Have your friend be stern and make sure she asks you if you've used items in the last year.

Share the one item you parted with this week, and how you feel about it. Also find out what the other members of your simplicity circle on the Simplify Your Life message board are parting with this week. Since clutter is such a big topic for so many of us, keep the discussion going and ask others in what way they are attached to their things and why it might be difficult for them to pare down.

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