Clean your Closet, Clear your Head

By: Scott Baxter

Getting rid of clutter is more of a mental exercise than a physical one; it's not just belongings you're parting with, but the sentiment and memories associated with all of them. The process of acquiring these is often steeped in emotion, as gifts from friends or family, items that reflect an activity we once enjoyed, or the adrenalin rush that follows the purchase of an item we couldn't do without.

Eventually, you reach a point where there are too many "things" and it's time to declutter. Maybe you're forced into it because of an impending event such as a move or the arrival of company. Other times, we are driven by our own frustration to locate those everyday items, no longer easily within our grasp. Some are motivated by shame; that feeling of humiliation when guests come over and you quickly hang up their coat; closing the door, so they can't see the inside of your closet.

I used to admire people who calmly opened closets and bedroom doors for their guests, proudly displaying their orderly home. It wasn't until I put my home up for sale and had to declutter that I too, felt that way. Whatever your motivations, once you make the decision, focus on your goal and get moving. Look at the items in your closets and ask yourself, "Am I using everything in here or has it become long term storage".

In my case, I was moving across the country, my moving costs averaged .60 per pound. As I scrutinized each item, I asked myself, "Is this worth paying an additional .60 per pound". This was a valuable tool that resulted in my parting with about 30 garbage bags of stuff, enough for 2 garage sales, along with numerous truckloads to the Goodwill and the local dump.

If downsizing is the reason for your cleaning spree - you need to get serious. If you plan on moving into a home 2/3 the size of what you currently have, then you need to part with at least 1/3 of your treasured belongings.

Getting Down to Business

Get some containers handy so that you can organize your stuff as it gets hurled out of the closet; you'll need three or four bins for:

stuff you plan to keep

stuff you're throwing out

stuff you're selling, only if you plan on having a garage sale soon, don't fall into the trap of long term storage for this reason

stuff you're giving away

Sort quickly, trying not to spend too much time on any one item. Take regular breaks and play music that perks you up. Once the area is empty you can quickly clean the shelves and then reorganize the things you want to keep. This may involve getting storage containers or additional hangers.

If you're working on an entire room, start at one end and work your way around. If it's a big job, such as the entire house, break it down into little sections, such as completing two rooms a week.

When decluttering, clothing can be a tough nut to crack; about 1/4 of the clothes fit, the rest hold fond hopes of "I might fit into that someday ". Be strong, if you haven't worn something in 2 years, out it goes.

Items that reflect a change in lifestyle can sometimes be difficult to part with; it may feel like you are giving up a part of yourself. Trust me, when you're done, you'll still have the memories, as well as a nice clean closet.

Items that hold sentimental value can be hard to let go of; like the clay sculpture your child made in grade 3, or the tea set handed down from late, great Aunt Myrna. Be honest with yourself, ask whether you're keeping things out of a sense of obligation or because you really want them.

I had a friend who lost her home in a fire; she received a flood of donations from the community and couldn't bring herself to part with any of it. Years later, her new home was filled with a maze of boxes of unpacked sentiment. Select those items you really want to keep and pass on the rest, your children or other family members may appreciate the memories.

Once you've cleaned out that closet or room, the first thing you'll notice is a sense of lightness. Emotionally, we carry all this clutter around with us; if your home is messy and disorganized that feeling is reflected in your thoughts and overall frame of mind. Your biggest reward will be when friends come by and you shamelessly open the closet door.

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