There are bloggers, and authors, and speakers, and just TONS of information about how to get rid of/organize about 85% of your stuff. However, when I was in the thick of it, I ran into some interesting aspects of paring down that I never found addressed anywhere else. My hope is that by explaining some points here, you’ll be able to work your way through the paring down process much easier than I did.
So here are some steps that might help:
1) First off, you’re going to feel crazy. Like, really really crazy. Is it mad to get rid of those 15 shirts? Or that leather jacket your mom gave you? Or even your coin collection? I’m here to tell you no, no it’s not at all.
Every year for as long as I can remember I’d do a big spring cleaning. It would be when I’d switch out my winter clothes for my summer ones. You know the process, pulling down the dusty, hopefully-not-spider-ridden trashbag from the depths of the closet, and making the switcheraroo. ‘Oh, I forgot about that old sweater! Aww, there’s my old softball uniform!’ – that kind of thing. I’d go through my stuff and get rid of a few things; mainly things that didn’t fit anymore or I was too embarrassed to wear. I’d be proud of my small donation stack. But then one year I made the awful mistake of arming myself with knowledge by reading a book about the clothing industry. I read one-too-many facts about synthetic clothing, pesticides, and heavy metals. I even performed a burn test (if you’re ever curious, take a thread of polyester clothing and a thread of cotton clothing and burn them separately – see what happens. Give it a sniff too. That’s pretty fun), and decided I was going to get rid of all clothing that wasn’t cotton.
SO MANY CLOTHES.
So yeah, I felt crazy. I felt like everyone I knew would think I was insane for trying to get rid of most of my clothes, and I actually didn’t tell many other people about my minimalist mindwarp because I didn’t think they’d understand. Or, at best they would understand, and then promptly commit me to an asylum.
But the reason it felt crazy to me was because we live in the land of abundance, where consumerism is wrapped around every telephone pole and silver screen. So when you’re going against the grain by actually getting rid of stuff instead of accumulating it, yeah, people are going to think it’s weird.
But (plot twist) you’re not.
You’re actually freeing yourself.
But more on that in a minute.
2) Don’t worry, getting rid of stuff is hard at first, but it becomes a snowballing effect. The stuff you don’t think you can approach now, like sentimental items or stuff that others have passed on to you, will become easier to face later on down the road. Trust me. It took me months to finally pare down all my office stuff to tiny-house-level.
What if I need this binder for grad school? I don’t want to buy another one. What about all these pens? Those are useful, right? The hole puncher? Just in case I need one? I know it’s ridiculous, but I swear it took Drew two months to convince me that I didn’t need three calculators (Drew’s note: and three staplers)…
3) Do the process in waves. Do a thorough cleaning, then, when exhausted, wait a few months. Then once you have your energy up for it again, go through what’s left and get rid of more stuff. I promise this works. I’ve been doing it for years and still find things to get rid of. It’s like you will see whatever you didn’t clear out the last time and ask, “Why did I keep this?”
4) Keep only the things that bring you joy when you touch them. This method comes from a book by Japanese author Marie Kondo called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. In terms of books on organization, I feel this is probably the most effective book I have read in providing tips that actually work. Why? Because the author isn’t trying to sell you some kind of huge trip that only works if you buy better organization products, or use a strict one size fits all system. I think the best part about it is how she debunks so many of the commonly held beliefs about tidying like the advice that you should only tidy one room at a time. Rather, she advocates for a one time, thorough, clean out of every room in the house. I know: it sounds intimidating. But, she places a lot of emphasis on the order in which you tidy to make sure you start with easy stuff and build up momentum along the way.
It works long term too because you’re keeping only the things that make you the happiest, so you’re satisfied by whatever you look at in your home: you have no feeling of need for anything else. It’s a fascinating read that came at the end of my paring down experience, but I wish I had read it earlier.
5) Get a no-B.S. friend to help you out. Ask them to follow you around and ask things like “When do you use that?” “Does that actually make you happy to keep?” “What kinds of memories do you have with that?” “Where did you get this?” “Didn’t I just see two more just like this in that drawer?” (No Drew, you just imagined that those calculators magically appeared back in the drawer…)
6) It is going to be really hard to get rid of stuff responsibly. Okay, I’m a green nut, I admit it. When Drew and I got rid of stuff, a lot of what we came across was really hard to get rid of, not because we were attached to them, but simply because the items have little to no retail value, and few people, if anyone, still want them or even have a use for them: spare lightbulbs, packing materials, obscure books, old computer hardware, paintings and artwork, wires, assorted art supplies, VHS tapes, pens, pencils, binders, rugs, half-used cosmetic items, etc. In fact, once we started getting rid of stuff in large quantities, our families started giving us stuff to get rid of too! And now we’ve sort of ended up with a small pile of things, “the dregs” of decluttering that are almost impossible to give away to someone who needs/wants them. What do you do with out-of-date textbooks?
It’s so easy to attain possessions. Just go to any sort of expo or fair and get free pens, bags, notepads, business cards/flyers, etc. In college I used to go to these fairs just to stock up on pens. Look around in the room you’re in right now. Did at least one thing come to you for free? Was it really “free?” or is it just taking up space now?
Yes, it would be easy to approach everything with trashbag in hand, but I could rant for hours on why that is a really bad idea. I’ll spare you the details here, so let me instead present you with some alternative ways to get rid of things:
- Yardsale. If it’s still in decent condition, try to sell it. Why not? Get a bunch of stuff together, post a listing online, maybe even mention some prize items in the ad, and go for it. This is a good step for after you’ve worked for a long while going through cycles of getting rid of things.
- Amazon or Ebay. If you can find the item on Amazon and it’s in a good condition, sell it! I’ve had a lot of success with this option. And you can list everything from books to video games. Ebay is better for those more obscure items. You can make a nice bit of pocket change if you’re willing to put in the work on this one.
- Still stuck with an item? Now to try resale stores. Try consignment shops (furniture is great for these, or clothes), used bookstores, and more.
Can’t sell it? Is it just past that point but you don’t want to dump it? Here are some options:
- Charity – Goodwill, Habitat for Humanity, Salvation Army, your local library, etc. Goodwill even accepts old torn up clothing and rags for rag recycling. Just put it in a bag labeled “rag recycling” and give it to them.
- Recycling groups – Where I live we have hard-to-recycle collection events. They take everything ranging from Styrofoam and old batteries to broken plastic flowerpots. Check with your local green organizations and see what you have available. Have an old rug or carpet? Donate to a pet shelter. You’d be surprised what can be of use.
- Chain stores – Best Buy will recycle old electronics, DVDs, CDs, cables/cords, etc. Lowes Home Improvement will recycle CFL light bulbs and more.
- Freecycle – a great resource where people list things they’re giving away for free. I acquired some wood for my build from someone through Freecycle. I also gave away 20 wooden Clementine boxes and a box of dried up art supplies. It’s amazing what people can use. Look up Freecycle to find a group in your area.
- Earth911.com is a wonderful resource! You can look up different items and see what places will take them to recycle. I’ve recycled pens, shoes, VHS tapes, everything. Another place to look is Terracycle.
- When all else fails, do an Internet search. Through this I was able to recycle dryer lint.
(There’s an artist who makes sculptures out of them). I’m not kidding, this stuff works. All you have to do is look. If you’re still stuck, write in the comments and I’ll try to help you out.
7) I know it’s pretty obvious, but don’t buy new stuff you don’t need. Think about it critically. When holding the item in the store (or mentally online), imagine using it in a tiny house. What will it replace? Does it have more than one use? Utilitarian thinking is key here. If it’s a single-use item like straws or paper plates, consider buying a metal reusable straw (yes, they make them), and using real plates. Don’t worry about doing the dishes. You won’t have many in a tiny house.
Also, consider alternatives to buying things. I used to hate using the library, but now I use it all the time instead of buying books. I at first feared that I’d want the book later on as a resource, but I found that my library carries just about everything I need. And if it doesn’t, worldcat.org (a worldwide catalog of all books from all libraries with internet access) does. However, I did come across a couple books that were such great resources that I did end up purchasing (second-hand at a local used bookstore), which I can always sell back if I decide I don’t need them.
One good thing that is on your side in this step is that you won’t have much room for anything else. If you’re already living in a tiny house and you find that the place that was once so spacious doesn’t seem so roomy now, consider what new things have accrued in the space.
Now, I’m not saying to not go out and buy that fancy clock you’ve been longing for. I’d say wait a month or two, and if you still want it, by all means buy it. You’ve just prevented an impulse buy while also proving to yourself that it’s worth the cost and will bring you joy. After all, it’s your space. It’s best to fill it with things that give your life meaning. Just make sure you have a plan and a space for it.
8) Most importantly, do not feel guilty for getting rid of stuff. If you haven’t played the guitar for 10 years, but maybekindasorta hope to take it up again, maybe, someday, at least your high school self wanted you to, then get rid of it. You’re guilting yourself into keeping it by holding on to outdated standards of yourself. Have a family heirloom that was passed down to you that you don’t really understand (or, dare I say, care) what it means? It may be that your family member was just trying to get rid of it him/herself. Or maybe it really does mean something, I couldn’t say. That’s up to you to decide. But do know that it’s okay to get rid of these things. You don’t have to keep it just because someone gave it to you, or you feel like you should. This applies to heirlooms, gifts, hand-me-downs, wedding keepsakes, the whole lot. It’s okay to let it go.
But you can’t just get rid of it! You say. I agree. Again, don’t just throw it away. If it’s something historically relevant, try donating it to a museum that specializes in that era of history. That way many more people can enjoy it instead of it sitting in your closet for the next 20 years causing you grief every time you see it. Or, if you’re lucky enough to have a relative or friend who geeks out at this stuff, pass it along to them.
One item that I’ve been particularly caught up on is old pictures. What do you do with pictures that are relevant to the people who passed, but don’t hold memories for you? For example, say you have a picture of your parents with an old friend of theirs you’ve never met. Maybe you have 50 pictures from this party they all went to. Would it be possible to hunt down the person in the picture, or maybe their family? How cool would it be to surprise them with a photo of their relatives or old friends? Not only have you now met some interesting people, you might hear some cool stories about your parents or from that time period.
Or, if that makes you nervous, go ahead and make a digital copy. Scan it, or take a photo of yourself with it and keep that instead. Then donate the item to be enjoyed by someone else.
Now again, note that these are merely suggestions. It’s up to you to determine what’s important enough for you to keep. That heirloom might mean the world to you. If it brings you joy, then by all means keep it. I will never try to convince someone to get rid of something that means a lot to them. All I ask is that they think critically about it before they make the decision. I have many scrapbooks I made in high school that I can’t bring myself to part with just yet. They still bring back intense memories that I would forget otherwise. Maybe one day I’ll turn them into digital files, or maybe I’ll get rid of them altogether. But even if I do keep them in physical scrapbook form, I know that I’d be making the right decision for me.
Be creative, you can come up with all sorts of cool ways to get rid of things. After all, they’re just things. The stories around them are timeless.
By freeing yourself from possessions you’re giving yourself more room to live. You’re creating an environment filled with possibilities. Years ago I came up with my own version of a Room of Requirement, based on the idea that one room can turn into any numerous meaningful uses a person would like it to. It’s a room shaped by the people living in it, not the objects it holds. By paring down, your life isn’t about taking care of possessions anymore. I read a statistic a while ago that said we use 20% of our stuff 80% of the time. That really stuck with me. Imagine if you didn’t need a storage unit anymore, or an attic, or a basement. If you didn’t need an alarm system to guard your stuff while you’re on vacation. If it only took you 15 minutes to clean your entire house, or 3 minutes to do dishes. What would you do with all that free time? Or all that money you’re saving by not buying, guarding, and maintaining new things? Would you finally write that book? Would you travel? Visit friends and family more often? The possibilities are limitless, and it all starts with a new mindset.