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Should it stay or should it go?

As I mentioned yesterday, my mother had a tendency to collect things. I believe I inherited bit of that tendency as well. However, the propensity to hoard that my husband brings to our marriage makes my side of the family look totally detached from things. He wants to save everything. "It might be useful someday!" are frequent words as I try to declutter. Which is why this article recommended by Fr. Z caught my eye.  It offers a pretty good psychological explanation of why we hang on to things. Yet, all the explanations in the world are worthless if they do not also offer a solution. I like this idea:

Now, knowing the power of the bias, for each item I ask myself a simple question: If I didn't have this, how much effort would I put in to obtain it? And then more often or not I throw it away, concluding that if I didn't have it, I wouldn't want this.
Let this anti-endowment effect technique perform its magic for you, and you too will soon be joyously throwing away things that you only think you want, but actually wouldn't trouble yourself to acquire if you didn't have them.
The first twenty years of my husband's Air Force career we spent uprooting and moving every one to four years. Moves make you purge excess baggage. It has to be pretty important to move from one coast to another. We did have to make an exception for the three boxes of Hubby's textbooks that moved from house to house with us for those twenty years without ever being unpacked. I think I have finally winnowed that down to just a few books.  It has been mostly a positive thing that the last ten years have been very stable and we have stayed right here in the Metro DC area. The downside, is that we have ten years of accumulated stuff and are in desperate need of purging.

In ten years, our family has morphed from four kids at home ranging from elementary school to high school to effectively no children at home but four adults who spend varying amounts of time in our house. Our oldest has a fully established household of his own. Our second is with us full time right now but we see that becoming more part time in the near future. Our third is in the local area but has her own apartment more conveniently located to graduate school. But our house is still home. Our fourth will be headed to college and dorm life but is still based out of our house. Do we still really need all those relics of childhood?

Well, complicating this picture is the welcome addition of grandchildren. We have a house full of adults but I still want to be welcoming and fun for grandchildren. Having my daughter-in-law and granddaughter live with us while my son deployed to Afghanistan means that we restocked our supply of baby and toddler goods. While they are not living with us now, I hope they visit often and want there to be some familiar toys for their children to look forward to seeing. In addition, now that my daughter is engaged, I can see the possibility of another family of children coming to visit.

Right now, my approach is to look at how sentimental is the item, how easy would it be to replace it, how hard is it to store and how often will it be used. I have two huge plastic totes full of wooden train track and accessories. We started collecting it when my oldest was only a year old. It would be outrageously expensive to replace it, I have many happy memories of my children playing with it, and it and it is completely out of sight when stored. The same goes for our set of wonderful unit blocks made from smooth maple wood. And there is no way you are going to pry our copy of Goodnight Moon out of my hands. However, all electronic toys, Nerf guns, and most of the books that were never sentimental favorites can go.

Exactly how long are you supposed to hang on to the trophies and medals associated with childhood? We have boxes of soccer and tee-ball trophies. My kids do not want the participation trophies from their first year of peewee soccer but am I supposed to keep them stored in my basement? If one of my children is ever President, will these trophies be included in their presidential library? My brain says they should go. My heart is holding on a little tighter.

Looking at my closet, I have gotten a little more disciplined in recent years. If I haven't worn it in a year, it goes. I have gotten rid of most of my "skinny clothes". I am sure some of you have similar collections of clothes that you can't wait to get back in to once you lose weight. I decided that these clothes were providing no motivation for my weight loss plan and if I did lose weight I wouldn't want to wear them anyway. I will reward myself with something new. So they are gone.

Let's just not talk about shoes. I am not exactly Imelda, but I do have more than my share of footwear. Even in this category I have made progress. I still use the one year rule--most of the time. And when I buy a new pair of shoes I try to see if I can get rid of another pair.

Finally, in addition to upping my tossing out activities I have been relooking at my acquisitions. If I see a need, I try to repurpose something I already have to fill it rather than immediately going out to buy something new. I decided that I needed something like a small end table next to my desk to hold various cables, headphones, etc that were cluttering my already small desktop. I was browsing through online catalogues and thinking about a trip to the thrift shop to see if I could find something that fits the bill. Then I remembered that I had a small black wire mesh three drawer cart up in my bedroom. I really didn't use it for much other than another horizontal surface to catch clutter. I cleared out the drawers and brought it down to my office space. Perfect!

I am not in any danger of being selected for one of the hoarder reality shows. But it is tough for me to declutter. How are you doing in this area? Any tips?


Michelle said…
Recent deaths - removed from us, but close to people we know - has had us talking about this issue as well. I remember my great-aunt living in a 1 bedroom apartment in a senior home. Every time we went to visit her, she gave us something else. There was little to deal with when she died.

Contrast that with my parents and in-laws, who may have a decade or two left, but may not (my in-laws are 72, parents are varies, but isn't prime). Not only do they have their own homes full, but they also have storage units full of stuff - my in-laws got theirs over 12 years ago when my husband's grandmother died, leaving a full house of stuff. Some of it is junk (tax forms dating back 30 years or more), but a lot of it is valuable (collectable) or useful (craft), but just collecting dust.

I think about what a headache it would be to go through all that stuff...and then I look at my own stuff with different eyes. Right now, we'll still keep participation trophies, because the kids are young. But even my oldest realized recently if it didn't have his name on it, he didn't need to keep it. I have a trunk in the garage with memorabilia from high school and college which needs going through. I don't think I care any more about programs from HS drama performances. It's easy to get rid of my own memorabilia...and I did sort a box of my kids' stuff (preschool age) before we moved. If it brought back strong memories, I kept it. Still, though, I had a huge pile of artwork that I tossed.

Perhaps it would be easiest for you to decide how much stuff to keep - physical quantity, like a trunk or large storage tote, and get one for each child. Put their memorabilia in there, and if it doesn't fit, it has to go. I do think it would be fun occasionally to pull out a child's bin and go through it with his children.

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