When we were stuck inside right after the pandemic hit and before it was deemed safe to head outdoors, many of us started to heed Marie Kondo’s advice to tidy up. But so many of us wearied of the task to declutter well and when we look around, we still probably see too much stuff, mostly excess stuff, still there in every room. Peer into closets and drawers, and the stuff overflows. Go up to an attic or down to a basement if you have them, and boxes usually are crammed with belongings and often doubles, triples and more of additional stuff.
We’ve learned—and especially now—that stuff doesn’t make us happy. People do, as well as the experiences and memories. And this is why we suggest when you’re tired of your walks or have to be indoors, take a break from baking, cooking, putting together jigsaw puzzles and talking on Zoom sessions to get rid of some stuff you no longer use. We’re not talking about the big-ticket items—furnishings, artworks, expensive clothing—or special collections of coins, postcards or snow globes. That’s for another time when you can carefully look at those items and think would I take this to the next place I live or is it time to part with it now or sell them? No, we’re talking about sorting through the odds and ends that take up precious real estate and rarely see the light of day.
Margaret lives in a small cramped apartment that some might say is barely larger than a prison cell. She finds the space fine for herself until the clutter starts to accumulate, leaving barely enough room for oxygen. Although she moved less than a year ago, the junk has started to pile up again—in drawers and on shelves behind closed doors.
Barbara who lives in a two-story vintage home with a basement, attic and outdoor shed often thinks she has far more space than she needs, except when her grown daughters and their family members visit. However, she also knows that the more space you have the more clutter you accumulate. There are so many places she can stash all the stuff—especially in kitchen cabinets, chests in bedrooms, linen and medicine cabinets and bookshelves.
From clothes that are out of style to outdated electronics, pens without ink, credit cards for stores no longer in business and other useless stuff, “the average American hoards some 23 items in their home for which they have no use,” according to a 2017 ClosetMaid survey of 2,000 people. “Fifty-seven percent said they kept things for sentimental reasons, while a third procrastinate throwing things out.”
As a result, many of our homes have become huge dumpsters of paint cans, dried up caulk, particle board, plungers, dirty sponges, industrial strength steel wool the size of a storm cloud, worn out mops and brooms, stained dish towels, computer screens, keyboards, old-fashioned fans, broken window air conditioners, boxes of dated documents we no longer need to save, yearbooks our kids won’t want to inherit and old worn appliances that make our homes resemble a big box store from decades ago. The list could go on much longer.
And we haven’t even gotten to the medicine cabinets with outdated creams that no longer would provide magical days of youth or the pills with expiration dates from decades past. How many water bottles with logos do we need, even if we loved the baseball Cardinals, a certain college or spa? Some of us also have containers of shampoo and conditioner and other hair care products half used. And in our dresser drawer we often find those single socks because we hope the mate will suddenly reappear? In the kitchen cabinet there are too many mugs since we all know the days of large crowds gathering are zero, zip or nil. We say pitch them except for a token few. But, it’s so hard.
The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) suggests the 30-day rule. If you haven’t used it or thought about it in 30 days, it’s time to ditch it. The main reason people cannot let go of unnecessary items is based on skewed thinking. “What if I’ll end up needing it in the future?” If you do, you can go out and buy a new one of whatever it is.
Now is the perfect time to dejunk. Barbara started the process when the pandemic first surfaced and did so by going through her bins and baskets in bathrooms to throw out half opened tubes of this and that from months and years ago, old meds, stale cough drops. She pitched chipped dishes and disposed of very dirty tea towels. She threw out magazine and newspaper recipe clippings she knew she’d never make because of unhealthy ingredients like heavy cream and buttermilk! How many chocolate cake recipes do you really need? She whittled down the 15 she had to three. She took the room by room approach and set a time frame of three months. Those months passed and she’s now back on the job. She put off the attic because it would require someone else bringing down all the boxes. And to date she’s resisted asking her long-time friend to get rid of the 25 boxes of books she stored there, along with a good bicycle in her shed. But she plans to…very, very soon.
There are also all the American Girls doll paraphernalia in her attic, which has been waiting for a granddaughter or good friend’s granddaughter to claim them. If not, Barbara plans to have a heart-to-heart talk with her daughters about the dolls--Molly, Samantha, Kirsten, Felicity and Addy. Barbara knows some children would be thrilled to have them.
Margaret, who threw away most of her unwanted junk before moving to New York City, still tends to collect magazines and newspaper clippings that she stuffs into baskets, racks and stands. It’s unsightly. She now has a two-week rule. Let the magazines and newspapers sit around that long and then walk them to the recycle bin, share with the neighbors or take photos of the clippings and pitch the paper.
We’ve selected a handful of items that we, and many others, tend to hoard the most with some suggestions about how to get the messy clutter out of homes and lives.
Old clothing accounts for a great deal of our clutter. “If you’re waiting until you can fit into it again, you might be dead until that happens,” says Barbara. This includes Bohemian clothing that went out with the hippie era, as well as blazers from the ‘90s, floppy bow ties from the days of our spouses trying to look like corporate men, fancy floor-length dresses (where are you going these days?), miniskirts and short shorts, tops that are torn or too tight, old scarves you never wear that are dirty or dated—or new ones you were gifted and never liked, as well as those old bridesmaids’ dresses for posterity. And how many coats and hats do you need? The rule of thumb is if you haven’t worn it in three to five years or can’t fit into it and hope with the next diet you will, it’s time to hand down, donate or sell. This website offers 10 ways to turn your old clothing into cash. https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/team-blog/2019/10/the-top-clothes-flogging-sites/ .
Old footwear such as tennis shoes, boots and high heels take up a big chunk of our closet space. Barbara can’t bear to part with the first pair of sleek black Manolo Blahnik heels she bought when she was separated from her husband. They’re worn, but now she plans to bid them adieu unless she finds a shoe museum that wants them. When your tennis shoes become soleless and worn-out, don’t be so quick to toss them in the trash. Nike has a Reuse-a-Shoe program https://www.nike.com/help/a/recycle-shoes. Any brand is accepted and then shredded to be repurposed into various sports surfaces such as playgrounds, basketball courts and running tracks.
High heels that we almost bankrupted ourselves for and can no longer wear, four-inch platform sandals, five-inch leopard pumps we could lurch about five inches in, are just sitting there taking up space, too. The money we spent on them might have freed us to retire to the Riviera by now. Give it up. With our aching feet, falling arches, bunions and other foot ailments, it’s not worth it to keep them in hiding. Donate them, for instance, to Soles4Souls. According to their website, https://soles4souls.org/give-shoes/ “When you do so, it’s more than cleaning out your closet. You are helping the planet and changing someone’s life,” the website says. To find out how to recycle old shoes and clothing that’s not in tip top condition, go to https://www.bustle.com/p/how-to-recycle-clothes-shoes-that-arent-in-good-condition-15723408
Every time you receive flowers, they may come in a glass vase of some sort, unless in a box. Before Margaret moved to New York, she had accumulated no less than 30 glass vases taking up an entire kitchen cabinet. There was no room for them in her new digs. And seriously, did she really need them? To dispose of the vases, she donated the whole lot to a local florist shop with the caveat that she preferred they be used to send flowers to hospital patients. Barbara recently threw out at least 10 vases in her mother’s apartment. She kept a few good crystal ones for the times her mom receives a bouquet.
Unfortunately, you can’t just pitch it. One solution is to haul the cans to a recycling center or dry it out if you have a bunch of nearly empty cans lying about and you don’t feel like schlepping them to a center. Look online for ways to dry out the paint. Here’s one site to check out: https://www.hunker.com/13416972/how-to-dry-out-cans-of-latex-paint
Junk drawer stuff
Go paperless. In today’s world, there’s no need to keep the junk—take out menus, receipts and bills. Simply digitize them—take photos--and shred or pitch the hard copies. Then sign up to receive bills online. Digitally archive other data like expenses, spending totals and more with certain apps like CamScanner, Evernote Scannable, Shoeboxed and more. For favorite restaurant menus, find them online. And these days more of us are cooking. Speaking of cooking, pitch cookbooks you never use or donate to your library.
Also, go through those drawers and cabinets for old appliances you never use—a Cuisinart, juicer, nutcracker, can opener, colanders and more. Again, if you haven’t used these items in ages, give away or toss. Many in our age group aren’t hosting big family gatherings anymore, anyway, so why save them for the just-in-case possibilities? Barbara recently threw out at least 20 pairs of corn holders. She first asked her daughters if they wanted them and got a fast NO.
Books and magazines
Oh, those boxes and boxes of books in the basement or attic. Margaret had hundreds of titles before her move. She pared down to mostly first editions, donated the rest to libraries, schools and Goodwill or to any charity having a used book sale. You can also sell books online on such sites as eBay, Half and Amazon or swap old books with friends and family. Another idea is to set up a free book box at your work or local school. Today, Margaret reads predominantly ebooks or checks out books from the library. As for her rather extensive collection of children’s books, she donated most to a local preschool before moving to New York.
Barbara gave up 40 years of Gourmet magazines when she moved East 10 years ago; her library was thrilled to have them. She donated 600 books also to the library. Now, she prefers to take out books from her library and only buys ones that she really wants and plans to keep since she has bookshelves but they’re already full.
Pantry and refrigerated items
How about your kitchen cabinets and refrigerator laden with outdated flour, different oils, canned goods, teas, spices, oats, baking soda…we could go on and on. For tips on what expires and how to purge the pantry, go to https://www.huffpost.com/entry/pantry-purge-expired-food_l_5dfa845be4b006dceaa79c14. Also go through your freezer carefully and if you haven’t eaten something after four months or so, time to discard. Anyway, why did you save that half-eaten chocolate birthday cake from a year ago?
If your home is suffocating from jumble mania, now’s the time to purge as much as you can. There are always new, effective tips for getting rid of stuff and perhaps putting a few bucks in your pocket. Dumping useless items does not diminish your life. And, you’ll be amazed at how much better you’ll feel once you’ve lightened your home’s load. Moreover, you don’t want to spend money on storing anything in off-site storage spaces. Before you know it, the years will pass by and the bills will have added up.