I know I am a pack rat and I have developed a very intensive system for dealing with it so I don’t get buried in clutter. I’ve tried to gather a list of the habits I try to foster.
I make regular trips to donate items. I have a garbage bag in the bottom of one of my closets that I fill up every month or two and then once it’s full I take it over, never to be seen again. It absolves a lot of guilt about getting rid of things, because it’s going to a good source.
I have another bag for books that I want to trade at my local used bookstore. They give you the option to donate any books they don’t take, and I always appreciate never taking anything back home with me. This allows me to keep my book habit in check and I don’t have any useless books lying around.
Once a month or so I troll freecycle and craigslist to see if anyone is wanting any items I may have.
If a friend or family member really likes something that I feel neutral about, I’ll offer it up and often it will go to a very good home. Recently I had a very expensive blown colored glass vase that I didn’t care for and I was using it as a chopstick holder inside one of my cupboards. I took it out, wiped it down, and offered it to a visiting friend whose style and colors it matched very well. It now has a prominent place in her living room and I can actually appreciate it for the first time.
I am very picky about many new things that come into the house. I want exactly what I want and I am willing to wait and/or pay more for what I want because I know I will use it. Especially with food. My husband is finally seeing the light on this one: that it doesn’t matter if it was inexpensive, if we throw away food because it spoils faster, tastes worse, or doesn’t have the properties necessary for cooking the dish, then it was wasted money.
That said, if I have impulse buys of non-perishable items, I put them through a testing phase where they sit in the packaging where I can see them. If I haven’t used them by the end of the week, back to the store they go because I obviously don’t need them. I confess that I take back a lot of things but much less than I used to, because I’ve been getting better about another trick:
Evaluating the cart. When I get done shopping at the grocery store or elsewhere, I go through everything one last time. Often I’ve picked up duplicate items, or something that seemed great but upon reflection I would never use. I can usually put back a number of items and that means less coming into the house.
Speaking of coming into the house, I try to let some things go for every similar thing that comes in. That way I don’t get overwhelmed with trying to find storage for all these things, especially when I may have traded up for some items and no longer need the older ones. If it’s something like a craft item, I try to make it a point to do a project with some of the old stuff before or while I am working with the new stuff.
Sometimes there’s just stuff everywhere. Little things have gotten out of hand, there’s piles on every flat surface, and I just can’t seem to find anything: that’s when I just walk around, sweep everything out of place into a box so that I get the immediate gratification of the room looking nicer, and then I sit down with the box, the trash can, and the donation bag and sort aggressively.
Usually when I have small piles of things that I want to keep, it is because they don’t have a home, so I’ll go through the trouble of making one. If it’s an item that already has a home, I’ll relocate the home closer to where the piles are so that it’s more intuitive to put away.
Also, I have days where I’m just ready to Get Rid of Shit. This is kind of like spring cleaning, except there is no cleaning, just a lot of dumping. Nothing receives mercy as I storm around the house addressing emotionally charged items and trash alike. If it can’t pass a few simple questions, then it gets sold or donated. Questions like “Am I using it? Do I plan to use it soon? Will it be better to have this space and buy a new one in three years when I will use it? Do I even like it? Can I do with something smaller? Why do I even have this anyway? Will I really regret not having this? What else could I be doing with this drawer/closet/room?”
I’m sure it sounds cheesy, but keeping the life I want to live in mind as I evaluate my belongings really helps. My current goals are that I want to raise as much food for my family as is practical in my apartment, I want to learn how to cook everything from scratch, and I am planning for a new puppy within a year and a baby within three.
Keeping these things in mind as I look at my available space makes some decisions easy. “Of course I’ll get rid of that old lawnmower (no lawn) so that I can have space for rabbit cages and a chest freezer.” Or perhaps: “We’ll sell the convection oven my dad bought us because there just isn’t room for it in the new kitchen if I want to be able to make bread.”
Other decisions are harder, but still are easy in comparison. “I have to reduce my room full of of art supplies, fiber and fabric into one wall unit and one bin in the garage so that I can have room for a puppy and then eventually a baby.”
When I’m moving somewhere new, I envision what I want the space to look like, and then I don’t let it stray too far from that ideal. If there’s a bunch of stuff left over that categorically fits into the space but doesn’t practically fit into the space, that’s when I start getting very picky about what I keep and what I don’t.
You know what’s going to be purged when I move? Pie plates. I keep finding the damn things tucked away in the kitchen. I do like pies, but dangit, more than four at a time is just silly! I’m only keeping my pyrex ones, and even then, I’m only keeping the pyrex ones that are deep and have handles.
I like moving because having things in boxes outside of their normal place really helps you evaluate. You pull that bundt cake mold out of the box and instead of thinking that it’s a handy thing to have around, you exclaim to yourself, “I haven’t ever made bundt cake in my life!” and then you can really decide if you’re going to make some any time in the near future. What was that? You’re not? Not ever? Out it goes!
I hope some of this helps!