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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Common Hidden Clutter Hanging Around

Many people, including myself, have claimed to be clutter-free when in fact they're not. Below I'm going to list the most common & easily-missed areas of excess that tend to be overlooked when one's becoming more minimalist.

1) Recipes: Whether in hardbound cookbooks, neatly put in binders, on index cards in a recipe box or torn-out pages hidden in a drawer, recipes are without question one area many people struggle in de-cluttering. I know because I was one of them! I owned at least thirty cookbooks over the years. There's no problem with that in & of itself. The problem was that I only used three or four of those books & I knew that there were many that I'd never utilize. They were great cookbooks, but they weren't for me. Sometimes they were books intended for big families or potluck cooking, neither of which is applicable to me. Even if it was, there are so many recipes available to quickly print online these days that I didn't need the books. I took the cookbooks to my work's library & they were promptly scooped up by other people, for which I'm glad. But It didn't end there. I had torn-out pages which were brown with age, falling apart at the edges & ready to crumble from use. I had to purge the recipes I knew I either didn't like or would never try. The few recipes that were used all the time, I typed onto fresh paper, printed each one out, three-hole-punched it & put it in a nice three binder to use with greater ease. I haven't been able to get my mother to purge the wooden recipe box yet, despite being full of things she's never cooked. But since the box isn't mine (for now), I'll leave it be, lest I get my head chopped off in retribution. However, if you have a box like this & you know there's recipes to be purged or printed onto a better piece of paper by now (or a new index card), get it done. For some people, recipe purging can free up whole drawers, cabinets & bookshelves or bookcases. Remember, clutter equals real estate being used in a poor manner. There may be something used all the time that could be stored in that space instead.

2) Clothing: Some people are great at purging clothing, but other people aren't. There are many different ways about going at the purge. Some people decide to keep only what is in their current size- anything too large either must be altered to fit their current body type, it's sold to consignment or given to charity. Anything way too small, it's sold or given away. But occasionally even if we think we've gotten rid of all that we can, it's simply not true. We're holding onto clothes from a different time in our lives, for example- items we wouldn't wear outside now. Even if they're the right size, it's totally unappealing or uncomfortable to put on. An example would be that you used to work as an attorney & now you're a stay-at-home mom. In this example, you may have a couple of beautiful business suits, some classy work-appropriate dresses, lots of blouses, several pencil skirts & a drawer full of pantyhose. But now you wear jeans & a tee-shirt every day- and you know that's not going to change for quite awhile to come. You haven't worn the attorney-related clothes in two years. You've hung on to the clothing from your old life because they were of such high quality & so much money went into buying them. They may represent things you feel you've lost- youth, freedom, your own money, etc. (Remember, you have to separate feelings from items where clutter is concerned. Just because an item represents something seemingly-pleasant doesn't mean it necessarily should be kept.) But regardless of those facts, these pieces no longer appeal to you at all to actually wear. They're impractical for the life you've got now as a mom with a baby that spits up on you at least once a day & a toddler who tucks cereal into the strangest of places, forcing you to get on your knees & dig out crumbs from underneath the sofa or the back of an SUV. A business suit is simply not going to mesh with that life! If you're unsure of what you're wearing & what you aren't, use this good old trick: Take everything hanging in your closet & turn the hanger around so that the hanger hook is facing you. When you take the piece off of a particular hanger & wear it, put the hanger back so that the hook is facing away from you (as is normal in a closet). After a pre-determined period of time (I'd allow about three months), see how many hangers still having the hook facing you. Those are the pieces you're not wearing on a regular basis. The only exception to this rule would be funeral, black-tie or white-tie wear that you don't use week in, week out, but do need on an occasional basis. (These pieces must still fit you correctly, though.) Most of us reach for the same clothes week after week. You might be surprised at how little of your wardrobe you actually wear. A lot of people think that having a ton of clothes is symbolic of a successful life. This belief is up to you to believe in. If you buy a lot of clothing, wear it all regularly & can afford it without going into debt, great. But remember that catalogs & Internet sites are set up with pretty models smiling & going about enjoyable activities in the clothing they want to sell to you. We look at how these models appear to be- thin, tall, fulfilled, engaged in a fun activity- and we see an image we ourselves would want to experience. Often, though, this reaction is just an unconscious one. We don't often look below the surface & see our reality meshed with that piece of clothing. Then we see a very different picture sometimes. We realize that piece of clothing, no matter how well it's modeled, is not going to be our ticket to effortless beauty, fun, fulfillment or wealth. It's just a shirt, a pair of pants, a skirt. Not a genie in a bottle or a magic wand. Once understood, clothing starts to be viewed in a more objective light. It doesn't mean we don't shop or don't enjoy our lives- we just know how companies market things to us, and any shopping we do becomes a conscious decision. You start buying only what works for your life now & chances are you'll be shopping less. Nice clothing certainly helps us feel a bit better about ourselves, don't get me wrong. But as with anything, keep it in balance.

3) Shoes: If they're not comfortable (no matter how beautiful or expensive they are), either find a way to make them comfortable- put in a special orthotic, stiletto aid or arch support- or find some way to remove the footwear from your home. Sell it at a consignment shop if they're like new & are desirable to others, sell them to a friend or family member, donate them, throw them out if they're just plain worn to death, simply get it done. A person can get by on having one or two pairs of shoes, technically. There will always be new shoes you'll want if footwear is your thing. But our closets only hold so much. If you have a closet floor cluttered with shoes, go through them. Organize them onto shelving, a shoe caddy or shoe tree. But what is beyond your home's carefully-designed ability to hold, you must let go of. Children's shoes, especially ones which are outgrown, are often another source of hidden clutter. And don't think that because items are neatly stored & labeled in a box that they aren't clutter. If they're not being used, are never going to be used by anyone in your household again, it doesn't matter how nicely-stored they are- the items are clutter, period!

4) Papers filed in a file cabinet or box: Just because a paper is neatly identified in a manila folder, held beautifully by a hanging file folder in a cabinet doesn't mean it should be kept. My rule is to go through one manila folder a day to make sure I'm not keeping anything no longer needed. The big ones we tend to hold onto? Tax papers more than seven years old, paid medical bills more than ten years old, old bank registers & related paraphernalia from an account that you don't even have anymore or that has changed names, recipes, receipts, handbooks & warranties for items we no longer possess.

5) Jewelry: This is a tough category for some people to even broach de-cluttering with. Whether out of sentiment or the original money spent on the item being a factor, some people flat-out refuse to go through even unworn pieces. If you love & wear all of your jewelry frequently (in other words, every piece gets worn at least once a year, you have a pair of earrings you always wear for fancy events that come up, etc.), this doesn't apply to you. But many people will inherit jewelry & won't even consider tossing broken pieces without value (in other words, costume or badly-tarnished pieces). Many also won't consider selling the pieces deceased relatives wore, even when they don't wear the jewelry themselves & no one else in their family wants to, either.

6) Linen closet items like tablecloths, towels, washcloths, spare blankets & sheets: Torn edges. Strings hanging off the raggedy seams. Scrunched-up hems. Items browned from age & being folded in one position too long. Printed polyester sheets as thin as tissue paper because they were bought in 1975. You only need two to three bath towels & three to seven washcloths (if you use them- many people these days don't) per person, a few hand towels for the bathroom, enough dishtowels & kitchen hand towels for a week, a tablecloth or two & two sets of sheets per bed. Having a few old but not extremely raggedy bath towels around for emergencies- leaks, big spills, etc.- isn't a bad idea. Having enough blankets for every member of the household plus a guest blanket or two is also important. Anything beyond that is usually just excess. Even that bare minimum takes up plenty of shelf space. No matter how neatly folded & arranged, too much is too much. Not in use anymore, not in house anymore- the minimalist's motto.

7) Kitchen items of all shapes, sizes & types: Small appliances, plates, cups, silverware, drinking glasses, bakeware, pans, pots, old dried herbs & spices...Especially when a person has a big kitchen, it can be really easy to overlook unused items & identify them as clutter. One reason why we think we need bigger homes than we actually do are these "hidden" items that appear really useful, but in fact are just never used. Loaf pans when you never bake anything in that shape. A big automatic mixer when you never use anything but your hand mixer now that the kids have moved out & you're making much smaller dinners. Toaster ovens never utilized anymore because you've bought a better broiler/roasting oven that multi-tasks & also serves to toast any item needed beautifully. An out-of-date coffeemaker that still works just fine but got tossed aside when you bought that beautiful espresso machine that makes every drop of coffee you now drink. Anything covered in dust bunnies because it's become purely decorative & can't even be reached without a step stool. Chipped dishes & mugs you wouldn't be caught dead serving to others. Duplicate pans because two people got you the same item at Christmas one year- pans that food sticks to & you've come to despise. Wine glasses when you never drink alcohol at home. You get my drift. Pretend you're going in as a professional chef viewing your kitchen. A chef won't put up with anything looking less-than-flawless in serving bowls, plates & glasses. Flatware must be gleaming & in great condition- no flaking off or rough edges allowed. All knives must be sharpened to precision & anything dull or half-broken is tossed without a care. Only the finest pans are allowed- if what the chef cooks sticks to the pan or won't heat items evenly, out it goes. All dust, dirt, grease, rust, bugs- gone, or the chef goes berserk. Cutting boards must be clean as a whistle & not all scratched up. There's the right number of matching drinking glasses, mugs, goblets, wine glasses, plates (dinner & dessert), soup bowls & cereal bowls for the amount of people being served- not so many that the chef could feed the entire U.S. Army & still have some items to spare. Chefs don't tolerate unused equipment cluttering up their kitchen, period- and neither should you! Look at your items with a fine-tooth comb & a skeptical eye.

8) Items in china or curio cabinets: Often an extension of kitchen items, china cabinets are meant to hold exactly what they sound like they do. I have no problem with this, as long as you at least occasionally use the china pieces within it! China or curio cabinets can be a lovely display piece of furniture, but they can also be a hoarder's dream. They can either add to the beauty of your home or make it look utterly disorganized. Consider carefully what items you need or love within (don't keep it simply because it was a gift, if you don't like it & it's not valuable). Consider carefully before you buy furniture to store these items at all. When people get minimalist, knick-knacks are often first to go. If you own it, you've got to clean it. Everything you own adds to dusting time, real estate space needed (not cheap in this day & age) & it can raise how much insurance you have to carry. Don't make any buying decisions lightly.

Here's to being an organized minimalist,
Liz

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