I like to throw things away when I’m stressed. Okay, maybe not actually throw things away – but I’m the person that comes home from dropping off a few bags at Goodwill and promptly starts another donation bag. It’s a fact of life I’ve long ago accepted, in part because my dad has a similar setup, and that my husband has learned to live with. But what happens when it’s a stressful month and I’ve already been through the house three times to get my cleaning/organizing/purging fix?
If you’re anything like me, you may be aware of the enticing articles on Pinterest: 100 Things to Throw Out Today! 89 Things to Remove From Your Home and Your Life! How I Got Rid of 91% of Our Stuff! 50 Things You Can Toss Right Now! (The fact that I didn’t have to look up these titles should concern me. It doesn’t. And no, I didn’t make up the numbers.)
The problem is, most of these lists are made up of obvious, miniscule items. They’re full of old receipts, holey socks, and wrapping paper scraps. Do I really need a list to tell me to toss things that are, by definition, trash?
It took about three months of annoyance with these articles that I realized that throwing things out wasn’t the key. It was just part of the process. What I really wanted was a list of things I could live without, things that could be gotten rid of so I had to spend less time looking for what I actually like and use. I want less things so I have to spend less time cleaning, or can pack up in short notice and GO SOMEWHERE without digging through all the crap to find the right gear. I was looking for a list that said “Get Rid of These Things and Then You Will Be Free.” Free to do what didn’t really matter – I just don’t want to feel like my things are holding me back. (If you ever find that article, let me know.)
Like most things, once I’d identified the actual crux of the issue, it became considerably easier to solve. It also became easier to ignore the voice whispering just throw it all out. No, I don’t need to get rid of my ski jacket just because I have a different winter coat. I use both of those. One of them lets me go outside when it’s -10 and windy. I use the other one every winter on the ski slopes. Isn’t that a kind of freedom right there?
On the flip side, I absolutely do not need to keep that shoulder bag. I bought it when I was feeling insecure and I’m only keeping it because I paid too much money for it, and maybe someday I will be the kind of woman who takes a pretty shoulder bag to work. Except there is no way it could replace my beloved North Face office-in-a-bag backpack that has kept up with me on multiple jobsites in three different states and will continue to do so for years. At this point, keeping the shoulder bag is the opposite of freedom. It makes me feel guilty and conflicted and just generally less every time I see it. And to go back to the wisdom of all those articles I read – if I ever do become someone who works in the office full-time and needs a pretty bag, won’t I want to buy one then?
With that in mind, I decided to come up with my own list of X Things to Get Rid of Today!
- The notepad, pen, and keyboard stickers you were given for serving on a panel that you will never use because you have too many notepads and pens and never use keyboard stickers.
- The bowl you got as a wedding present that you LOVE but will never use because it’s “too pretty” for mundane items and the lid doesn’t seal at all. Find someone who will actually USE it.
- The kitchen whisk that made you feel like a grown up but has never been used because you grew up whisking things with forks and will always, always, always reach for a fork first.
- The horseback riding boots you used in high school that you were planning to replace years ago but haven’t because you never actually got that horse and quite honestly have no desire to get a horse anymore because bicycles don’t eat or poop and can be put in the closet and ignored all winter without animal welfare groups breaking down the door.
- The book that is signed by the author but you’ve never finished because while the premise is great you absolutely disagree with the main points the author makes.
So there it is, my list of things to clean out this weekend. Have you found a secret to letting go of things guilt-free? Are you holding on to anything for reasons that are irrational to anyone but you? I’d love to hear about them!