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  • Letting Go of Sentimental Items

    I shared some tips for decluttering yesterday, but didn’t discuss sentimental items, which can be extremely difficult to get rid of. It’s hard to let them go because it’s like tossing out a part of your life, not just a thing. And the difficulty is compounded if the item(s) are valuable.

    I speak from personal experience:

    I had some jewelry that I no longer wanted. They had been given to me by loved ones over the years but I never wore them and they truly were clutter. They were the type of items I’d saved for years to give to a daughter if I ever had one. But it’s been pretty clear for a while now that I’m never going to have a daughter of my own.

    I could have sold the jewelry, but wasn’t sure how to start. I didn’t know exactly how much my items were worth, and I didn’t know how to find a place that would pay me a fair value.

    So the items sat in my donate pile for at least a few years. Every time I made a big trip to Salvation Army or Goodwill, I would look at the bag full of small jewelry boxes and think about giving them away. But I was never able to bring myself to do it so the boxes just sat and sat.

    Then, a couple of months ago, a friend’s house was burglarized and a lot of her jewelry was stolen. She was understandably heartbroken, as much of it was heirloom jewelry treasured in her family.

    One night, as I lay falling asleep, it occurred to me that maybe my friend would like the jewelry that I’ve been saving. She has a young daughter and I couldn’t help thinking about how my mother gave me a jewelry box filled with her jewelry when I turned 16. I wanted to make it possible for my friend to do the same for her daughter.

    So I organized the jewelry – finally – and gave it to her with a card that said she should give away whatever she didn’t want. That way there’s no pressure on her to keep anything that’s not her taste. But maybe it will help heal her injured heart. She burst out in tears when I gave her the jewelry, and that was how I knew I’d found the right place for my sentimental but unwanted items.

    The moral of the story, at least for me, is that it’s okay to have a hard time letting go of certain things. If you keep an open mind and heart, the right time to let go will come.

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    Being a Minimalist Takes Work + Tips to Make it Easier

    I’ve been working hard the last couple of weeks to declutter my house. The concept of minimalism has begun to appeal strongly to me, and while I doubt I’ll ever be a true minimalist, the idea of having less stuff is very attractive.

    In addition to dropping off a car-load full of items at Salvation Army last week, I’ve been reorganizing parts of the house to put things out of sight (for less visible clutter). And I’m realizing how much cleaning my house needs – surface cleaning as well as deep cleaning.

    All that got me thinking about the Second Law of Thermodynamics and entropy. Because without constant culling and consolidating, the clutter and dirt just multiplies.

    Here are some strategies I’ve come up with to make decluttering and cleaning easier:

    • Group things in containers. It doesn’t really matter what kind of container you use. Containers just instantly make things look neater, and they’re easier to move when you’re cleaning.
    • Establish routines. I sound like Flylady when I sing the praises of routines, but I totally understand why she’s all about them. My kitchen sink and counters stay relatively clean because of my nightly routine of washing every dirty dish and wiping off the counters. My mornings have improved since I established a new nightly routine of clearing off the dining table so it’s not covered in papers and toys when we come downstairs for breakfast.
      New routines are easiest to establish when you focus on one thing at a time, and stick with it until it becomes second nature. (And this is why Flylady advocates cleaning the bathroom everyday, something I have yet to embrace doing.)
    • Establish rules. You’ll have to find rules that work for you, but there are lots of ideas out there for keeping clutter to a minimum. For example, there’s the “one thing in, one thing out” rule that requires you to discard something every time you bring in a new one. Another example I recently learned about is Project 333, which is about paring your wardrobe down to 33 items.
    • Ask for consumable gifts. My wish list this holiday season included fair trade cocoa powder and green tea. These gifts will actually save me money since I would have bought them for myself anyway, and they’ll get used up for sure.
    • Minimize your stockpile. There are some times when it makes sense to let deals pass by and focus on using up what you have. For the last year and a half, I have had to stop myself from buying cupcake liners because two Easters ago, I bought half a dozen packs on clearance and I’m still using them up. It may be a little strange to deliver goodies in pastel liners to the bake sale in October, but I suspect I’m the only one who noticed the bunny on the bottom!

    What are your best tips for decluttering and cleaning?

    Getting Messages to Declutter

    Maybe I’m just imposing my subconscious desires/pressures onto my everyday reality, but I feel like I’m getting a divine message to declutter my home.

    It started with Gretchen Rubin’s column in a recent issue of Good Housekeeping, in which she discusses the correlation between the lack of clutter and happiness.

    Then I read Cheryl Richardson’s email newsletter this week, and it was about how she and her husband discovered that they had way more stuff than they wanted/needed when they moved.

    And finally, this morning I read I’m an Organizing Junkie‘s post on letting go of clutter that you’re holding onto out of guilt.

    You can see why I feel like there’s a message from the universe being beamed at me.

    Decluttering is something that’s perpetually on my to-do list, but it’s also something that I’ve neglected lately. Quite possibly because I don’t schedule it, and I don’t have a deadline.

    I like Gretchen’s project of going room by room, shelf by shelf, during the school year. So I’m adopting it and making it my goal to finish a full round of decluttering the entire house by the time school gets out on May 31. I’m already daunted by the files in banker’s boxes in my closet. But I have a fast shredder now – so I can conquer paper clutter, LOL!

    How do you minimize clutter in your home?

    Declutter Tip: File papers as they come in

    About a month ago, one of my weekly projects was to file the stack of papers that had built up on my desk over the course of several months. It took less than an hour, but it was tedious.

    Ever since then, I’ve been filing papers as they’ve come in. Which means that I don’t have a month’s worth of papers to file right now, and that feels like a gift to myself. It helps that we’ve cleared away some clutter so it’s easier than ever to access the filing cabinet.

    It only takes a few seconds to file each sheet of paper as it crosses my desk. It takes nearly the same amount of effort to add the paper to my filing box, but this keeps the paper clutter from accumulating.

    The one exception I make to this rule is papers that don’t have a home. There are a few files I need to create, but I’m not quite sure how I want to organize them yet, and some papers I just need to keep for a short time and then can toss. So those pages have been added to my filing box but the pile is so much smaller than what it used to be!

    Tips for getting rid of and cutting down on paper clutter

    As I’ve decluttered the house for the last few months, I’ve discovered that the worst culprit of all is paper clutter. I can’t believe how much of it there is. Here are some tips for getting rid of it, and keeping it from returning:

    1. Know what you have to keep and what can go. Here’s a handy list of financial documents and how long you should keep them.

    2. Start purging. Not everything needs to be shredded, but you’ll probably find that the type of papers you hold onto are the kind that have personal information on them. So at your “purging station,” you’ll need a wastebasket for papers that can go straight into the trash, a box for papers that need a new home, and either a shredder or a box for papers that will be shredded later. I opt for the box for subsequent shredding, since I store my shredder in a closet for safety reasons.

    3. If you don’t have a shredder, get one. There’s no easier or faster way to get rid of documents that contain personal information, and you can get a decent one pretty inexpensively these days.

    4. Relabel your files if appropriate. I’m a cover-all-bases kind of girl, so I keep copies of payoff statements and such. Rather than keep each sheet of paper in a separate file, I recently created a “closed accounts” file to hold all of these papers.

    5. Go paperless. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m starting to really go paperless. I started by eliminating hard copies of documents I really don’t read, like the annual reports and prospectuses for investments I’ve committed to holding. I download and don’t print e-statements for accounts that never sent paper to begin with (such as those with ING and Sharebuilder). I’ve now begun the process of completely switching to paperless with all of our banking statements, investment statements, and bills.

    6. Have a digital backup plan in place and use it. I wasn’t ready to make the full switch to paperless until I had a plan for backing up all of my saved documents. I do this regularly, at least once a week. And I’ve stored a backup of my backup in our safety deposit box at the bank. It obviously won’t have the most recent documents, but at least if disaster strikes we’ll have something. You may want to read this article on digitally storing financial documents.

    7. Keep it manageable. Flylady has taught me that I can accomplish a lot in 15 minutes – even just 5 minutes. You don’t have to go through all of your files at once. Keep the task in front of you small, and eventually the big task will be done.