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Stop Keeping Stuff for the Wrong Reasons

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My clients offer a lot of explanations for why they can’t part with the stuff that clutters their lives. Below are some of the reasons I hear the most often. I’d like to offer some ways to think differently about what to keep and what to let go.

“This cost me a lot of money.”

Okay, so what? Are you using it? Do you like it? If it’s just gathering dust because you don’t want to admit that you made a buying mistake, you have a problem. Sell the item on Craig’s List or eBay, donate it to charity for the tax write-off, or have a garage sale. If something has no other value to you, the fact that it cost a lot of money isn’t a good enough reason for it to waste valuable space in your life.

“My mother/friend/husband/child gave me this.”

Again I ask: do you like it? Are you using it? Does it fit your décor? Your mother or friend or husband or child will be happier with a lovely, uncluttered space than with a space cluttered by things you don’t need. If you’re worried about what they’ll think, offer to give the item back. Otherwise, thank your friends and family sincerely when they give you a gift, but if it’s not your cup of tea, pass it on. Look around the house—there are probably plenty of other gifts that you are keeping. Let go of the ones that you don’t want or use.

“This belonged to my deceased parent/friend.”

This is a hard one—very hard! Sometimes we think we need to hang on to the object to honor or keep alive the memory of the loved one. The truth is that you probably don’t need a lot of stuff to trigger your memories of the most special people. Whenever you talk about them or look at photos, the memories will be there. You won’t lose that love just because you give away the things. Keep one or two precious objects, but let the rest go to a new home.

“I’m going to fix this someday.”

I doubt it! If you really wanted to fix and use it, you would have done it already. Let someone else handle the repairs—someone with a clear and current need for the thing. Especially if you’ve already replaced the broken object with a working model, it’s time to let the old one go.

“I can’t decide if I need this or not.”

Fair enough. Create an “outbox” in your garage or utility room. Put the item that you can’t decide about in there, and leave it for a week. If you haven’t found a need for it and retrieved it within a week, you can probably give it away.

“This belongs to my kids.”

Your house is not your kids’ storage unit. Teach them about ownership and responsibility for their possessions by asking them to manage their own stuff, rather than continuing to store it for them.

“We used to use this all the time.”

Everyone changes over time. What was important then may not be today. You must reevaluate your possessions against your new priorities, not your old ones.

These are the program notes from the September 24, 2009, meeting of the Houston Clutter Coaching Meetup Group. The group is free and open to the public. Visit the meetup group page for information about upcoming meetings.

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