Rules for Uncluttering, continued

In the next few articles we will continue to cover some rules that will help you out of a lifestyle bogged down with stuff, from our book Clutter Control.


Nothing we say can have such a liberating effect on your life. There seem to be an abundance of opportunities to acquire things in our lives. We are invited to do so by every imaginable source of advertisement; by our perpetual comparisons of our possessions with those of our friends, relatives and neighbors; and by our own private insecurities and habits. We feel like we are building our nest. The more things we can add to our nest, the more secure and successful we feel.

Once an item makes it into our nest, a metamorphosis takes place as it becomes “ours,” and its value is completely transformed. For example, before a crystal decanter becomes our possession, if it should be broken or lost it would barely qualify as an accident. Once we get it into our home, however, if it is broken we regard it as a disaster. Obviously this has something to do with how much we paid for it, but it can acquire its own almost inexplicable value, which involves much more than money alone.

The trouble is, acquiring everything you have the chance to, just isn’t worth it. The price paid is a lifetime of being loaded down by things we wouldn’t miss if they were taken away from us, things we couldn’t find if we needed them, things we don’t even remember we have unless we see them, and unused things that ultimately crowd out the necessary things we actually use.

Don’t wait for that to happen. Do it of your own free will now!

Popular Excuses for Keeping Things Forever

If you are not actually using something, why allow it to complicate your home? I have a section of my desk drawer that is reserved just for pens. It’s always overflowing. The problem is, if my favorite pen isn’t there, I will turn the house upside down looking for it rather than use any of the pens that are stuffed into this drawer.


Save the favorite pen, plus three or four spares, and toss the rest. Now there’s room for adding something to the drawer should the occasion arise. And the drawer even closes easily for the first time in years!

If you have several pairs of eyeglasses with outdated prescriptions, give them away to a charity that can re-use them. Give your grown kids’ things back to them. If you do, maybe they will learn to deal with clutter a couple of decades earlier than you did. The same goes for your friends, neighbors, or other relatives for whom you are storing things. (It’s different if you use something occasionally, like Christmas ornaments.)

Don’t use the old excuse, “It’s too nice to throw away.” If it’s really nice but you don’t need it, give it to someone who will use it and appreciate it. If it’s broken, fix it or toss it. If it’s ripped, have it mended. If it doesn’t fit, have it altered. Don’t put it anywhere “just for now” and keep it in a perpetual holding pattern.

If you find a screw or have one left over after a project, don’t start saving them. It will drive you crazy. Usually when you buy something that needs a screw, it will have one included. If it doesn’t, you can get the exact number of appropriate screws while you’re at the store. That’s much faster and easier than picking through all your saved screws (which over time have a way of starting to get nails mixed in with them, plus a few tacks, push-pins, washers, picture hangers, and other small, sharp, rusty objects). And even if you do search your collection and ultimately find three of the screws you need, the project will probably call for four of them.

Since most households do have need of a nail or screw occasionally, remember that almost any method of acquiring and storing them is preferable to the one-at-a-time-whenever-you-happen-upon-one method and then adding it to the little box or mayonnaise jar full of them.

Save big ticket item boxes for 30 days. If it hasn’t broken by then, discard the box. And unless you are moving soon (have the date set, etc.), don’t keep the box just because you will “need it when you move.” It may be true, but your move may be years away. You or the moving company can use other boxes when the time comes.

Rule 1 still counts if you don’t know what an item is. You may save something, even though you’re not at all sure what it is. You have convinced yourself that it fell out of the refrigerator, or something else vital, and that if you throw it away you will then discover where it should have gone. Think about how many years you have saved some of these things. If you haven’t learned what something is by now, there is no particular likelihood you will in the next decades.

Stay tuned as we look at “The Cost of Storing Your Things.”

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