Combatting Clutter

04 March 2013 · 47 comments

For years, I’ve been fighting a battle with stuff.

To me, there are two types of stuff. On a basic level, all of the things you own make up the stuff in your life. But you need some of these things. You need bedding and toiletries and dishes and cleaning supplies. The battle I’ve been fighting is with the stuff beyond the basics — all of the toys and gadgets and souvenirs and decorations and miscellaneous possessions that fill up my space and life. This is the stuff that’s been driving me crazy.

I first realized I had a problem with stuff when I began to travel about five years ago. I’m a light packer. When I travel, I take little with me. I’m able to survive with what I can lug around in a single carry-on suitcase. Living with only few things for several weeks can be liberating, and when I return home I’m often overwhelmed by the sheer volume of things I own.

In recent years, I’ve slowly been shedding my stuff. I’ve purged thousands of books. I’ve donated much of my wardrobe to charity. When Kris and I divorced, I intentionally took as little as possible with me.

All the same, my recent move to a new place reinforced that I still have a lot of stuff. Maybe not as much as most people, but more than I want. I have boxes of books and comics. I have stacks of CDs and DVDs. And I still have too many wires and gadgets. So, as I’ve unpacked over the past three weeks, I’ve done my best to thin things as I go.

But I need some stuff. And there’s other stuff that I want. Kim and I have been drafting an ongoing list of stuff I ought to acquire in order to make this place more livable. Here’s the real-life, honest-to-goodness list of stuff I want right now:

  • wireless speakers for the television
  • a candle snuffer
  • a wine rack
  • a drink muddler
  • a larger cocktail shaker
  • a citrus juicer
  • a mop and a bucket
  • a fire extinguisher
  • a floor lamp

Now obviously some of this stuff is useful and important. Without a mop and a bucket, my floors are going to get filthy. But a candle snuffer? Is that a needful thing? Or is it really, truly just stuff? Where do I draw the line?

I don’t yet know where to draw the line, but I’m beginning to get an idea.

Just the other day, for the first time in my adult life, every room in my house was clean and tidy. All of my stuff was put away. It felt awesome. My physical environment was free of clutter, and that made it so that my mental environment was free of clutter. It helped to reduce the underlying level of anxiety that I’ve come to realize is always present in my life.

I’ve decided that one of my goals will be to maintain this sense of inner calm by being certain that my home always has an outer calm. I want things to be neat and tidy. But in order to accomplish this, I can only have so much stuff. It can’t be pouring out of the closets and cupboards, overflowing onto desks and counters and tables and chairs.

I’ve also re-committed to pursuing quality. While sorting through the things I own, I realized that I have a lot of cheap crap (purchased in an effort to be “frugal”). Sometimes cheap crap is good. If I’m not going to use an item much, there’s no sense paying top dollar for it. However, for the things I use often, it makes sense for me to take the time to find the best solution, to pay a little more to get the best experience.

In short, I want to own fewer things, but I want the things I own to be of better quality.

I suspect I’ll be waging this war on stuff until the day I die. I don’t know of many people who ever win it. (The few I do know who seem to have won the war on stuff have done so through drastic measures. Tammy and Logan, for instance, won the war by moving into a tiny house. I applaud their victory, but that’s not something I’m willing to do for myself.)

I’m curious: How many of you feel like you’re fighting a war on stuff? How many of you are constantly wrestling with physical (and mental) clutter? What techniques have you found to help you fight the battle? What does not work? And do any of you feel like you’ve actually achieved a lasting victory?

1 Stephen @ SE March 4, 2013 at 09:23

Enjoyed the post. I feel like it is an ongoing battle when trying not to accumulate. I too enjoy traveling and feel liberated by being in a new place with only the stuff on my back.

I felt like I was winning the war on stuff and every year I had ended with less than I started. Two big life events (purchasing a first home and first baby) have made it easy to observe how stuff comes in and goes out. What has worked for us is maintaining the one-in-one out rule. But more than that was getting my wife on board with the idea that clutter is tough for me. What hasn’t worked is trying to limit gifts or handmedowns from well meaning family and friends. My wife especially sees it as an affront to not accept generous things, even if it means clutter.

Overall, I feel like we are doing pretty well and having a really small house has helped the long term accumulation.

2 Eileen March 4, 2013 at 10:14

By FAR, the biggest clutter in my life is paper. I can’t seem to tame it or create a system that I can stick to. It really does affect my sense of calm. Typically stuff I think I need to revisit or file or deal with ends up in a stack….then I move that stack and create a new stacks, etc. etc.

I’ve done well with things/clothes, stuff like that (can always do better) but they don’t ‘clutter’ my life to the degree paper does.

Your post is a nice reminder that it’s on my 2013 goals to improve the clutter. I’m taking 1 room at a time (each month). Made progress in Jan…not as much in Feb. Back to it.

3 Tamara March 6, 2013 at 08:03

I haven’t completely conquered the paper battle myself, but I’ve found FreedomFiler (http://www.freedomfiler.com) to be helpful. It’s a filing system. You can customize it, but it was helpful not to have to come up with my own system from scratch. It also helps purge documents when no longer needed, based on where you filed them.

4 Carla March 7, 2013 at 12:48

I have a paper problem as well. Between business files, freelance files, personal bills/expenses files, CASA files (which can be a LOT), taxes, etc, my place can be a mess. I’m in the process of getting rid of paperwork I truly don’t need (a friend gave me a shredder which is very useful given I work from home). The rest I’m scanning and storing on a large thumb drive that Ill keep just in case. Its a process which can take weeks, if not months for me.

5 Melinda March 4, 2013 at 10:59

Hi JD, been reading GRS for awhile and now followed you here. I like this a lot more, by the way. My husband and I are always fighting the war on Stuff. We have well-meaning relatives and a 2 year old son, so I am constantly going through my son’s things, trying to figure out what he’s outgrown and what he hasn’t played with. For us, we just went to IKEA last weekend and bought shelves, and I finally unpacked all of my books that were in bins. I got rid of quite a few along the way. The husband’s office, unfortunately, is a disaster. We bought Cubicals (2 units, one with 8 spaces and one with 12), which have helped, but paper just seems to replicate before my eyes, and it doesn’t help that said well-meaning relatives gave him a very old antique desk that he doesn’t feel right getting rid of (so we have an L-shaped desk and a 6 foot long table in a rather tight fit). This is spring break, so I’m taking a couple of days to really clean and gut the house. I find that if you have a place for something, it helps, and if not, I ask if I really needed it. Since we moved the books onto the shelves, we now have room for my son’s toys in the other bookshelf so they’re not cluttering up the floor, which has made my mental state much calmer. Funny how that happens eh?

6 Liz March 4, 2013 at 11:05

I’ve pretty much been a gyspy in my adult life – I have lived in 7 apartments in the last 10 years. Moving often means that I have pared down my belongings to the essentials. My boyfriend, however, is a different story. He holds on to everything! We moved in together last year, and it has been a tough adjustment. There is STUFF everywhere. We’ve been slowly going through his items and paring down, but the state of our apartment still stresses me out.

One thing that has worked really well for us: we keep a large plastic tote in our living room and we drop items that are to be donated inside. Once the tote is full, we take the contents to Goodwill. We do this about twice a month. It makes the boyfriend feel like he is making progress, and we get a nice tax deduction out of it.

7 chacha1 March 4, 2013 at 12:44

For anyone interested in this topic, I recommend the forum (even more than the main site) at Unclutterer.com.

My decluttering … I wouldn’t call it a war, but certainly “coping with stuff” is a noticeable part of just about every week, if not every day, of my life. For me it’s been a process involving multiple passes through every area I’m trying to reduce. Sometimes it’s taken several attempts to find the right solution. Sometimes it actually is about finding the best storage for a given medium; more often it’s about figuring out why I want to keep the stuff.

My day job involves massive amounts of paper, and after 20+ years in this business I have paper management down to a science. Paper at home isn’t my issue. One important thing I’d stress is that managing clutter is not instinctive; most people have to learn a whole new set of skills about spatial relationships, about workflow, about process (if this, then this kind of stuff) before they really get a handle on it. And that’s AFTER figuring out the ways in which clutter is affecting daily life and diagnosing the acquisition/retention paradigm.

Ultimately, just as J.D. has always said psychology is key to money management, it’s key to managing your stuff. Thou shalt not rule thy stuff … until and unless there is a conscious understanding of 1) why you acquired it in the first place and 2) why you’ve kept it.

8 bethh March 4, 2013 at 14:25

My sort of Stuff that I have problems with is sentimental things (photo albums no one looks at), or things that have made the cut for 20 years of moves. I moved recently, and haven’t yet unpacked the box labeled “Misc Tchotchkes” – I don’t really have a place for them, and though I still like them well enough, some of these are things I bought when I was 24 and living in Boston – that is several lifetimes ago! My solution: I’m going to keep them in a box, and if I haven’t delved into it in a year or so of my move, I’ll consider moving them along to Goodwill.

I actually threw out (gasp!!!) photo albums in my last move. No one, not even me, cares that much about flipping through snapshots from my college days in the early 90s, or pictures of hikes from the mid-90s, or pics from my solo trip to London in 1999. I feel a little bad about it, but I pulled out a few shots from each album I tossed, and keeping a representative sample helped a lot. Also, I KNEW I had never flipped through the albums in the entire six years I was in my last place – that made it easier too. Our biographers may curse the transition to digital photos, but I for one am so glad I’m not constantly sorting through folders of pictures, and negatives, and telling myself I’ve really got to get them in an album.

9 Shari March 6, 2013 at 06:20

One alternative to throwing out photo albums would be to scan the photos to digital format first. That way you still have the photos digitally, but they’re not taking up physical space.

10 Kelly March 4, 2013 at 14:38

Every time I think about buying new “stuff” I think about how it fits into our goal to have a “gap year.” Some time in the next 4 to 8 years, my husband and I are going to sell our home, get rid of and/or pack our belongings, and tour the US for a year.

Now whenever I’m at the purchase point I remind myself that every dollar I spend now is a delay to gap year starting. And I remind myself that everything I bring into the house, I’m going to have to remove one way or another. If it’s not something I’m going to want to pack and pay to store for a year, then it’s probably not something I should be buying unless it’s something I’m going to use so often I’ll wear it out before we leave.

Tying my decisions to this goal has been a powerful way to keep new stuff from coming into the house.

11 Tyler Karaszewski March 4, 2013 at 15:17

I am currently cleaning essentially *everything* out of my garage to make room for just one big thing. I have to renovate the whole garage to do this, since someone filled in the garage door in the past so that it’s just a wall with a window in it. I’m putting the door back in. And replacing the water heater with a tankless one, and moving the washer and dryer to a different location. And taking several loads like this to the dump, because none of this stuff matters to me at this point. And then my intention is to stuff a Porsche Boxster into that space. I have little “plus marks” made in tape on the floor to mark where the car will fit, so I can organize the rest of the garage around that. Once it’s done, I can look for the right car. I’m gonna get a used one, because they are *sooo* much cheaper than new ones. Go look, you can find a 2009 Boxster for about $35,000, which isn’t much more than half the price of a brand new one.

12 Jody March 4, 2013 at 16:22

Don’t buy a mop and buket. Buy a shark steam mop. So much better.

13 Jody March 4, 2013 at 18:31

sorry. :) i meant bucket.

14 dh March 4, 2013 at 16:42

What I’ve learned is that we can manipulate our physical surroundings all we want, become highly organized and clutter-free or whatever, but it will never fully shield us from that underlying level of anxiety you speak of, JD. That’s just a myth that sells books and blogs. The key to dealing with the underlying anxiety is to transform the material of the mind *first* through the practice of meditation, and then let everything else flow from that. You may discover that your drive to be so clutter-free and organized was in itself largely a neurotic preoccupation of an overactive, fearful mind. I’m not saying that’s the case per se, and I like being organized and clutter-free, too. It’s just that I’ve learned which house to put in order first — my internal house. Because when that’s properly in order, everything else seems in order, even when it’s not. I only want to suggest that you may have it backwards, that true inner peace comes from an unconditionally empty mind, not an empty house.

15 moom March 4, 2013 at 21:52

My question is why the stuff bothers you so much? Why does it make you anxious? Maybe that’s what you need to address really? I don’t like dirt but I’m not bothered by having things around and feel a bit reassured to have familiar things around me. I have trouble buying things though… My wife much more likes buying things and sometimes her stuff does annoy me when it is untidy as it tends to be. But I guess that is either because they’re not things I would choose and/or she puts them in places I wouldn’t put them.

16 Lucille March 5, 2013 at 05:16

I agree with moom…..why are we bothered by stuff? Inner calm has nothing to do with physical environment. That’s an artificial concept. You should be calm in a traffic jam as much as a lake. That’s what we have to work on….just seeking peace….not de-cluttering….that’s just vanity!!

17 chacha1 March 6, 2013 at 09:33

I disagree. There’s actually some good research being done on how cluttered environments contribute to stress, anxiety, and depression as well as physical ill health.

This is not to say that a meditation practice wouldn’t be helpful to someone with anxiety; it would.

But it will be much MORE helpful if, upon opening his eyes from the OM, the meditator is not greeted with a panic-attack-inducing pile of disorganized junk.

18 Somsiah March 5, 2013 at 05:49

JD, I know I can live without candle snuffer what is a drink muddler? And yes, mop and bucket are I have them.

But the rest of stuffs, I muddle through them for years, especially books, may be 10 thousands of them. Till one bright day thought came that those books deserve to be read more often and by more people. Most now have been placed in libraries, public & private ones. The process of letting go our books continues as we are still buying books though not as many as before. And we still have a couple of thousands to keep us clutter happy, just can’t live without books hehh.

Clothes are the easiest to let go for us, we mostly keep what we wear daily and few pieces for special occasion. I keep a couple of winter coats for future travels, but my son, since he is growing like a weed, I keep none of his winter clothes.

Toys, we are keeping the lego pieces, but the rest except few hotwheels cars are all given to the younger cousins.

However like Beth, I have photos and photo album, I’m not ready to trim them yet. Someday perhaps I’ll make some scrapbooks for the family. I also have DVDs of movies, and CDs (mainly classicals) … and somehow I’m adamant to keeping them, though we rarely watch or listen much these movies and CDs. Mind you few VHS tapes too …

I think not all stuffs, though they do take space, are clutter as long they are of value to us, or of great use.

19 Andi B. March 5, 2013 at 07:18

The muddler and shaker are necessities! But you can probably do without a candle snuffer. Most people are moving towards the LED candles anyway. I actually have a huge battle with stuff. I discovered that a lot of it is because I’m the last surviving member of my father’s family which means the memorabilia has no where else to go. On one hand, I love having the love letters my grandparents wrote each other…on the other hand, the part of me that wants to up and move to a foreign country feels tied down by stuff. It’s definitely a balancing act.

20 Andrew Snyder March 5, 2013 at 07:21

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”
― William Morris

I try to follow this rule, and try not to let my frequent complete failure to do so bother me too much.

21 Betsy22 March 5, 2013 at 07:25

Re: photo albums – I still occasionally flip through my college photo albums, in fact, I still have and occasionally flip through a photo album of my grandma from when she was in her early 20s. I like having that connection to her, though she died many years ago. There’s a lot of stuff that I need to purge, but I don’t include my photo albums in that list.

22 Daniel Hayes March 5, 2013 at 07:54

JD…you may not recall but my wife Vanessa and I met you briefly at the past two WDSs and have certainly appreciated your involvement in starting WDS and your main stage presentation.

Well…regarding “stuff”…your dilemma is right up our alley. We’ve always had an interest in minimalism and always enjoyed meeting and learning from the various minimalist presenters at WDS. Still, we kept coming back to describing ourselves as being “somewhere between minimalism and mainstream consumerism.” We have kids and we’re just not ready for full-on minimalism. And…we like nice stuff, too! So we decided a “simple” life was for us.

Following last year’s WDS, we decided we’re really going to take our journey toward a more simple life to the next level. Toward the end of 2012 we started a podcast called Simple Life Together to share our journey and hopefully build a community with others who have the same goals as us. WOW! We couldn’t (and still can’t) believe the how many others have come to the same point in their lives as us…and now, you too!

We talk about all the things you mention in this post, and many things listed here in the comments. Living more with less (and nicer) “stuff.” So, if you’re interested in dealing with some of these issue, I cordially invite you to take a listen. If you’d like, you can listen in here: http://SimpleLifeTogether.com It’s the least I can do…since your efforts at WDS really pushed us to make the tough choices to start this journey!

Best of luck, JD…I think you’ll find lots of satisfaction as you scale back.

“Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left t o take away.” Antoine de Saint Exupéry

23 Peg March 5, 2013 at 08:17

As far as clutter goes, having grown children who have their own homes has made a huge difference. I refuse to store anything for them. If it’s not important enough for them to want it in their home, then why should it be in mine? However, the thing that made the biggest difference of all was making two one-thousand mile moves in 9 months. “Things” aren’t nearly as important when you consider-in advance-the effort and money it costs to move this stuff. The things I’ll never part with are our photos and the couple pieces of furniture that belonged to my grandma. Anything and everything else-to me-can be replaced. Or not.

24 AZ Joe March 5, 2013 at 08:43

Emerson said:
Things are in the saddle and ride mankind. ‘Nuff said.

25 Craig Anthony March 5, 2013 at 09:32

Minimizing and getting rid of as much “stuff” in your life as possible is a great thing to do.

I’ve done it an continue to maintain this way of living. Getting rid of a bunch of clothing, thousands of books, my entire DVD collection, etc. has taught me so much about myself.

Not once have I regretted throwing anything out…because if I really need it, I can go buy another one. And in four years, I’ve never had to.

In regards to sentimental things that you can’t necessarily buy again, I’ve learned to live without them too. Sure I keep a few, but being able to break free, mentally, from these items has changed who I am. (And I would have a difficult time explaining this in a brief way)

I think everyone should give “uncluttering” a try. Be ruthless and you won’t regret it.

26 Dennis March 5, 2013 at 09:55

I love the blog JD, been a long time fan of your posts since the GRS days.

Good luck with the process of freeing yourself from your possessions. I recently went through that same process, and I found the process very freeing, both physically in terms of space and mentally.

One process that has helped me pare down my stuff to the essentials, is to imagine that I’m about to move to a new country and settle there for a year. Sure I could opt to put things into storage, but if I’m going to do that, do I really need it? Is it truly necessary? I would only want to take the essential things with me to simplify traveling and establishing a new life. This then frees me to focus on what’s really important: experiences.

Another important facet is to invest in quality items. The few possessions I do own are of very high quality and will ultimately last many years with proper care. Doing research on items before purchasing them helps two-fold: Through delayed gratification, I learn if I truly need that item and if I still decide that I “need” the item I can rest assured knowing that I bought something that will last me a very long time.

Hopefully this helps somebody in someway.

27 Olga King March 5, 2013 at 10:14

I am so anti-clutter (due to Soviet upbringing of not having much, nor space, and also I moved from place to place in US in the last 20 years 14 times), sometimes even I manage to miss a thing or two. But I always make do. Stuff did “grow in numbers” lately, and I’d love to keep fighting, but my husband-now would freak out and kick me as well (not really, but it would be unfair to him, and life would be argument-filled). Looking forward having kids out of the house and downsizing (from 1275 sq ft to about 800 in different state) in a few years. But – am enjoying new Vitamix and food processor…:)

28 Jeffrey Trull March 5, 2013 at 12:41

I feel like I’m doing better than ever with clutter. Not that I ever had problems, but I own less things than any time in my life and I love it.

To me, the big solution has been to really question every purchase and if I need to own something. If I know I can just borrow it instead, I will.

I’m also fairly ruthless with what I get rid of. Instead of letting little knick-knacks hang around my apartment for months, I’ll make a decision right away if I want to get rid of whatever it is. The big key here finding easy ways to get rid of stuff and fast. I’ll donate clothing and put bigger stuff out on the curb, post it on Craigslist’s free section, and it’s often gone within an hour or two.

I’ve also moved apartments a lot. I’ve lived in in 6 different apartments in the last 5 years, including a cross-country move. Each move gave me good reason to discard things that never made it out of storage, helping me cut down on what I own.

29 My Shiny Pennies March 5, 2013 at 13:57

My fiance and I are about to move in together, and clutter is something we’re combatting. We decided that if an item is something we wouldn’t want to take with us in a move across the country then we’re not bringing it to our merged household. I resist clutter by avoiding buying things that have only one purpose and are used only for special occasions.

30 Holly Thrifty March 5, 2013 at 16:42

Controlling clutter coming in is essential. I ask “where will I put it, how often will I use it, how did I live without it until this point and what will I pitch so there is room in the house for this?” It’s amazing how that curbs your appetite to buy.

Then I go through each room annually and purge, donate, toss anything I don’t want. Make it a goal to have one empty drawer, shelf, cabinet in each room and that forces you to purge. Once you get the thrill of letting go, you’ll never collect stuff again. It will lose it’s power over you.

31 Barbara March 5, 2013 at 18:59

I need to go through my closets and reduce by at least 60%. I had a pretty minimal wardrobe about two years ago but it has gradually grown mostly through great thrift store purchases. Maybe this weekend I will start filling bags for Goodwill. A bigger problem is that I also have a lot of jewelry making supplies…beads, wire, clasps, etc. I’d love to get rid of most of them but I am conflicted about how to do so. eBay, Craig’s list, or such? It seems like such a pain. I got rid of one type of jewelry supplies and equipment a few years ago and I just donated them to Goodwill because I didn’t ‘t want the hassle of trying to sell them.

32 KSR March 5, 2013 at 19:51

Clutter comes in both big and small sizes. My method is to buy notable quality—seems I’m a dying breed of days gone by with all the crap for sale nowadays. For example: I admittedly own a BMW (I could go on and on with other items, but I won’t since my intent is not to endorse—hello Birkenstocks!). Not because it’s a BMW, I could care less—but because it was right, and I WAS RIGHT. It’s now 11 years old and still looks like new and—hell—runs like new. I have no plans to sell or trade anytime or ever. I only buy few– and the best (of course, only when I need it) and leave behind all the rest. This philosophy has served me well. Now, wine—well, mine comes in a box. Ha! You don’t need a candle snuffer J.D.—ya just blow—but think of the things you need—and buy quality; the best. It’s a waning value, but I demand it still—so, get it while you can, where you can.

33 Mama Minou March 5, 2013 at 20:12

Most definately, I struggle with Stuff.
A move is a great opportunity to look at it all with fresh eyes.
I live with a historic preservationist and two teen boys in a 950 sqft home, so you can imagine the ongoing teeter-tottering of finding a balance acceptable to all!
Are you familiar with the writing of Miss Minimalist?
And why on earth can’t you simply blow out your candles?

34 Heat March 5, 2013 at 22:06

Funny that I read this today… I just joined a declutter challenge—2013 things in 2013. I’ve purged a few things recently — a couple of bags of clothes, some baby stuff that the baby has outgrown — but this place is still full of crap. 2013 things? I can do that.

It came with a grid, marking off 2013 by hundreds to make keeping track easier. I printed one off for myself, and one off for my husband, should he choose to join me.

Over the past several years, we’ve tackled rooms and closets. I added a fitness room (for a personal training side business), then we cleared out a room for the kid, then we rearranged to make a TV room outside of the main living space. In order to do all of that, a lot has gone away, but there’s a lot left to go.

I think that any thing that gets added to the house is going to count against my 2013 outgoing. That should help reduce adding more crap while we’re getting rid…

We’ll see….

35 Cely March 5, 2013 at 23:50

I find that managing “stuff” is like saving money, or staying fit; it’s the choices you make every day that really make a difference. I try to take one small bag to Goodwill every other week or so, and do a regular pass through the condo to see if we have paperbacks I can take to the library, stuff to throw out, etc. What stresses me out most are the HUGE jobs that result when I don’t do the small tasks on a regular basis. I also hate looking at a closet, a box, a storage unit, and thinking, “I don’t know what’s in there.” Even if I’m keeping stuff, I want to know what I have so I’m not duplicating things.

One tip I heard was to put any “maybe” items into a box, seal it, and date it. If six months passes (or a year) and you can’t name what’s in the box, take it directly to Goodwill — you don’t need it. :)

36 Shari March 6, 2013 at 06:26

My biggest challenge with getting rid of clutter is that I am the only one in the house willing to do it. My husband and 3 kids want to hang onto everything, it seems. I regularly go through the house and get rid of as much as I can (as well as avoiding unnecessary purchases in the first place) but I’m only 20% of the people in my house and it’s an uphill battle. Right now I’m doing my best to keep it under control and trying to be patient for 5 more years, when all of the kids will be out of the house….and I’m going to make them take their stuff with them!

37 Christy March 6, 2013 at 07:47

I stopped shopping at thrift stores for clothes because I ended up with a closet full of clothes that I “almost liked. ” For example, the pants or jacket wasn’t exactly what I was looking for but it was close enough and the price was right, so I would make the purchase. I placed these items in my closet and never took them out.

I donated all the clothes I did not wear back to the thrift store. Now I am very intentional in my clothing purchases. For example, I own four pairs of the same style of black slacks. This is what I wear to work. I own fewer pieces of clothing, clothing that I buy new, and I wear these items frequently. My rule of thumb now is that if I bring another piece of clothing into my home, I give away or donate an existing article of clothing.

38 abby March 6, 2013 at 08:29

I have the opposite problem. I go through purging binges and get rid of EVERYTHING and then I have nothing. So some stuff is good I think. I am literally down to like 5 shirts, and 3 of them are work shirts. I now have to go and buy an outfit for a wedding because I gave all my nice clothes “that I never wear” to the domestic violence shelter.

39 Mrs. Money Mustache March 6, 2013 at 08:37

We’ve reduced a lot of our clutter over the last few years, but we also have a big house, so it’s easy for the clutter to hide.

The main thing I’ve learned is that everything must have its place. If every object in your house has a place where it lives, then clutter is virtually gone. When you clean up, it’s easy because you know exactly where everything goes. The minute something doesn’t have a place, it gets complicated and clutter builds up (or you end up with one of those junk drawers, or junk closets). You avoid putting it away because you don’t know where it goes.

So, my goal has been to give everything its own space. If it doesn’t have a place to live, I find a place for it, or I get rid of it (or sometimes send it down to the basement to never be seen again). When I clean up, it is pretty mindless as I just go around putting things back in their place.

Congrats on your new home, by the way! People need to have their own space as well. :)

40 Mutant Supermodel March 6, 2013 at 13:52

I’m going to recommend this book even though a lot of people have an allergic reaction to the title– Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui. Ok so you don’t do Feng Shui, I don’t either. The book is still amazing. I think you’ll love it because it talks a lot about the effect of the physical environment on the mental and emotional one. Seriously, check it out. It’s awesome.

41 hope March 7, 2013 at 23:15

Wow, I just have to comment here. I also divorced in my 40’s and just like you JD, I consciously left with just what I needed. I was reading books on simplicity and creating space for new things (it was the late 90’s) so I felt like I was doing the right thing, and indeed I was. THEN, I met a man, my future partner whose ex took most of their material things when she left, so between the two of us we each had our own places which were nice and uncluttered. THEN, we moved in together……starting to get a little cluttered again. THEN we bought a cabin on an island as we couldn’t afford a house in our city, the cabin was totally furnished but that was great as we just used it on weekends and holidays and we didn’t need to buy a thing! THEN this summer we moved over to our recently expanded cabin (now a house), so we now have three households of stuff in one……back where I started without buying a thing really.
We are again now in the process of going through it all and giving a lot away but it takes time and I am determined this time not to let anything creep up on me like this. That’s the problem, if you don’t regularly make decisions and clear clutter it sneaks back in. Because we weren’t buying much we didn’t notice it happening. Regular decluttering is the answer. I like the sailboat motto….’one in, one out’, meaning when you bring one thing on the boat you have to take one thing out when you leave. Great method. You now have a fresh start, great time to develop this practice!

42 Anne March 8, 2013 at 08:17

You don’t need any of these things except perhaps a mop and buck and fire extinguisher. You might not even need a mop and bucket. I used to clean my floors in my small apartment with rags and water in a bowl. For no reason than I prefer to clean my floors on my hands and knees. (Bought a mop for the cleaning lady).

It seems to me you keep doing the same things despite saying how much you’ve changed. Didn’t you get rid of your tv? (Except perhaps a candle snuffer. No one needs one these days unless you light your wall sconces with candle light. Like ash trays they are a relic from a former day.)

Put a moratorium on buying ANYTHING that is not absolutely necessary or safety related. Will tv speakers make your home more livable? Until you can answer that question intelligently, you shouldn’t be buying anything for your home. (And it doesn’t mean the answer is to not buy them. It means figure out why you are putting them on your list.)

43 Anne March 8, 2013 at 08:36

I’ll also say, you haven’t learned much if you divide by needed versus fun gadgety stuff. Because you can classify almost anything as needed. You may need extra sheets or not. Some people have a habit of buying something new to replace something worn out and not throwing away the worn item. (Hello me!) You have to consciously look at your possessions and ask why you have them. Do you need four sheets? Maybe. maybe not. Some people have only one set. They wash them and put them back on the bed. Some people do laundry once a month. Some people think because one item as useful, two is more useful. (Hello me again!) You need a more nuanced look at your desire to acquire. (Not that you shouldn’t acquire. I actually consiously choose to keep stuff! I like my stuff.) And just saying “well I didn’t need it on vacation” clearly isn’t working for you. Well, I certainly wouldn’t need two ladles on vacation, but maybe I only need one at home. On vacation, I didn’t pack sheets either. And I left my collections at home. That doesn’t mean I don’t need sheets or I don’t enjoy my collections enough to keep them. I recommend you read Minimalist Packrat. She might help you see things in a different light. Naturally minimalist people like Miss Minimalist, I did not find helpful. (Though Miss Minimalist did say one thing I have carried with me through several choices. Do not make your home a replication of the outside world. Your home does not need to be a spa or a gym or, in my case, a park.)

44 Joel M March 8, 2013 at 11:23

Items #3 through 7 on your want list sound like you’re making cocktails! Can I come over?

45 jdroth March 8, 2013 at 14:26

Joel, you know you are ALWAYS welcome to join me for cocktails, soccer, games, and comics. But you have to venture out of the Midwest for that to happen. ;)

46 Michael March 24, 2013 at 07:35

Heh. #7 is the mop and bucket. Those must be some big cocktails. ;-)

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