The Being & The Doing EPISODE 17:
Too Much Stuff!
Getting Rid of Your Clutter
Too much stuff makes us stressed. It also wastes our time, makes us less productive and zaps our energy. It’s time to sort, purge and organize! You can get a handle on your clutter with some simple rules for clearing stuff out. In this episode I share the plain facts about decluttering so you can finally take charge of your piles of stuff. Be sure to grab your free Ultimate Guide to Decluttering. It’s jam packed with inspiration and tips for clearing the clutter that holds you back.
*A full transcript will soon be posted at the bottom of this page.
Declutter podcast series
This is the 3rd part in a series on decluttering. Listen to the other podcasts in this series:
The Ultimate Guide to Decluttering [free download]
Grab the Ultimate Guide to Decluttering to help you clear the clutter that holds you back in life. Click Here for the free download.
This Episode’s Homework
Something to think about:
What’s my biggest excuse for not tackling the piles of stuff?
Something to try:
Write down the biggest excuse you came up with in your reflection.
Then write “How can I _______ “ and fill in your excuse
My biggest excuse is I don’t know where to start.
How can I start?
Then answer that question.
I can start with the kitchen junk drawer
I can start by asking a friend to come help me
This activity helps shift you from stuck to action.
You can grab your FREE homework Awareness & Action guide HERE.
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CREDITS: The Being & The Doing podcast is produced by Neela Bell. Voiceovers by Jason Harris. Music is GoodMorning Sunshine by Yoav Alyagon and Firefly by Scott Buckley.
Full Transcript of the Show
Laurel: Hey, lovely ones, welcome to Episode 17 of The Being and The Doing. This is Part 3 of the series ‘Clearing the Clutter that Holds You Back.’ So I started doing this series on clutter and because I couldn’t jam it all into one episode so that’s why we’re doing three episodes and this is the third part. In the first episode of the series, we looked at what clutter is and why we have this addiction to stuff and really, what the toll is that all of that clutter is taking on us; the mental, the physical, the emotional clutter. You know, it messes with our energy and it creates a sense of overwhelm and that just adds to stress that we already have. And so, ultimately, when we have clutter, we’re just not as successful as we could be at home or at work or with anything that’s really important to us.
So then, in the second episode of the series, we looked at invisible clutter; the things that clutter up your mind, especially your thoughts and things that clutter up your heart, which has to do with unresolved feelings or emotions and relationships. Because just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it isn’t having an impact on you and I really believe that the clutter that you have in your mind, in your heart, really is probably the biggest obstacle that you have to getting rid of the physical clutter in your life. So, if you haven’t had a chance to listen to episode 15 and episode 16, I encourage you to do that.
Onto today. We get to the part of decluttering that most people really want to focus on, they want to focus on stuff and so, that’s what we’re going to tackle today. What the heck do I do with all my stuff and where do I start? And I’m going to share lots of information so if it’s convenient now, you want to grab a pen and notepaper so that you can jot down some notes. There will be a transcript. We always, eventually, put a transcript on the episode page for each episode so you can go back and see the transcript. It takes us a few days to get that up.
But let me start first with a personal story and this is a story from a few years ago. So if I was creating some kind of clutter management scale, it would probably have two extremes. So on one end of the scale, someone’s house would look something like that hoarder television program that people watch where you have to crawl through some little space and in around the junk just actually get into your house; that would be on one end of the scale. And on the other end of the scale, it would be a house that may be reflected Marie condos, the Japanese art of tidying up where everything was very minimalist and very neat and tidy kind of, probably, Martha Stewart in the extreme although, those would be the two ends of the spectrum. Now, my house, I think, fall somewhere in between. It’s mostly tidy, and I don’t have a lot of clever clutter. Unless, of course, you were to go under the stairs in my basement. So there’s this big space under my stairs and it became the repository of all things that didn’t have a home or a practical purpose or were infused with some kind of real or imagined sentimentality that prevented me from getting rid of it. So for 20 years, it became this space where stuff, no one wanted to deal with, got shoved. And so, I always had a reason for why now was not a really good time to go under the stairs and deal with the accumulation of things that had kind of taken up permanent residence under there; it’s kind of like the troll under the bridge.
And then one summer, a few years ago, I decided, okay, I have to face the truth that there was never going to be a perfect time and so it might as well be now. And so, I went under the stairs and here’s some of the stuff that I found under the stairs. I found a stack of [quote-unquote] love letters from a boy I met one summer when we were both 15, whose name I had completely forgotten, along with any reason why I might have been madly in love with him. There was a sleeping bag under there with a broken zipper and probably would have caused more money to fix it than it would be to just buy a whole brand new sleeping bag. There were enough empty binders to restock a small staple store. There was an Italian flag; my husband’s Italian, there was an Italian flag, there was a Canadian flag and there was a World War II gas mask that had belonged to my father which he had actually bought at a garage sale one time. And there was this box of stuff that my mother had kept from my grandmother’s house after my grandmother had died and my mother had intended one day to sort through it and she didn’t and then after my mother died, I brought the box back to my house. Not sorted, still unsorted so you get the idea.
There was a lot of stuff underneath the stairs and I took it on with this ‘no going back’ philosophy. Everything and I mean absolutely everything was hauled out to be assessed, ruthlessly assessed. And once I spread out all the stuff, it filled the hallway and into our rec room in the basement and it didn’t take long before I really was starting to think, why the heck did I start doing this right, uugh, it’s just this giant mess. And I had to keep reminding myself that things get worse before they get better lots of times. So I just kept going, one box or one Rubbermaid bin at a time. And of course, there were some useful and practical items under there and there were some that made me laugh and some that made me sad. Some that made me reminisce but what I found was that most of the stuff was just taking up space, taking up space under the stairs. And I found something else under the stairs. I found this clarity, this aha of that clutter really represents a lack of mindfulness.
You know, the stuff that we hang onto kind of represents this no man’s land, where time passed and time yet to come sort of converge and we hold on to all these things from the past just because one day, we might pass it along to our children; only that we find out that they really aren’t attached old birthday cards or macaroni works of art and we’re afraid they’re going to lose our memories of times gone by if we don’t have this thing that we’re holding on to.
And we keep things that one day that might be really useful even though probably it’s last useful day was a decade ago or some time in World War II. The worst thing about this kind of no man’s land is that it pulls us away from the present moment because that pile of stuff, wherever you have it, whether it’s under your stairs or somewhere else, just sits there. It sits there as this reminder of things that you should do or you didn’t do or you wished you had done. And you know what? Your life is not in those boxes and Rubbermaid bins. It’s right here, in this moment, right now.
So today, this episode is all about going under the stairs or in your spare bedroom or out into the garage or wherever you keep your pile of stuff and reclaiming the present moment. And you know what? It will get worse before it gets better, but the better is really a whole lot better. Now, I cannot share all of my tips for decluttering in this episode. But what I did do, was put a ton of declutter tips in The Ultimate Guide to Decluttering Your Life and it’s absolutely free. You’ll find the download link in the show notes. So all of the stuff that I’m going to talk about is pretty much included all of the tips.
Now, let’s talk about mindset for a moment because your physical clutter actually says a lot about your current mindset. We’re going to live our lives one of two ways, with one or another mindset. So one mindset we can have is a scarcity mindset, where we tend to hold onto things, just in case. We collect stuff because we’re worried about the future and you know, do we actually have enough?
And fear becomes this motivator that ‘I gotta hold on to all of this stuff’. And the other mindset that we can have is one of abundance. And that means that we’re confident that we have enough or that we will have enough in the future and we understand that there are wants and there are needs and we are grateful for what we have. And we’re not trying to fill up some space in our hearts with stuff from Walmart because we trust ourselves. Trust becomes our guide in the process.
Now, don’t get me wrong, reusing and recycling stuff is a really great idea and being thrifty means that you have your priorities straight, right? You’re not wasteful. But unless your circumstances dictate it, stockpiling stuff is more about being afraid that you don’t have enough or worse yet, that you don’t feel that you are enough. It’s that, more than it is really about being practical. Because clutter is often just a sign of a scarcity mindset because when you brought that stuff into your house you were thinking, you didn’t have enough of something; you didn’t have enough clothes or books or toys or ideas or love or attention. You know, clutter also means that maybe you don’t trust yourself, “I have to keep this thing because I’m afraid I won’t be able to handle whatever is coming in the future. So I need all of this junk, this stuff in my arsenal just in case,” or maybe, “I don’t trust that. I’m going to keep or honor the memory of something if I don’t have this tangible thing to remind me.” But the truth is, that all of that stuff that you’ve piled up just is really messing around with your energy, your physical energy, and the energy in your home and it doesn’t make your life better. It just takes up space and collects dust. So, here’s my little rant about what it actually maybe means. But still we keep stuff, right? But we often have these stupid reasons for keeping stuff. So I’m going to give you a few stupid reasons to keep something. Here’s one: “Well, that might fit one day.” Well, okay, maybe but you know what? The odds are against it. Unless it fits and is maybe just a little too snug and you’re currently working at getting in shape, it just doesn’t make sense to hold onto clothes that don’t fit. Keep the clothes that you can wear now and that makes you feel really great and the rest of them need to go.
Okay, another stupid reason: “I might need that one day.” Well, maybe but you know, if you use that logic, then you should never get rid of anything because who knows what you might end up needing one day. So unless it’s something is irreplaceable, chances are good that you could find another one if you actually did need it at some point down the road. But chances are you’re probably not going to need it, anyway.
Okay, here’s the third stupid reason to keep stuff: “I’m keeping it for my kids.” So, the real truth is, most of the time the stuff that parents put away for their kids is all about them and not really about the kids. You know, when I went through the stuff with my kids that I had put away for them, other than you know, it was interesting or is a bit of a funny walk down memory lane, in the end, all they really said was, “Well, I don’t really want this stuff.” They kept very, very few items. Because “I’m keeping it for my kids” really means, it’s more about, “I’m hanging on to my own memories, not that I’m actually hanging onto mementos for them.” Sure, it’s great to have keepsakes of one’s childhood, but not every piece of artwork, handicraft, frilly little dress that they wore or stuffed toy or card or whatever. Ask your kids which things have meaning to them and keep those and the rest of them, you can just lovingly release.
Okay, last stupid reason I’m going to give you is: “I’m keeping this because it has sentimental value.” Well, it might but how much value does it actually have? Because I really challenge you to look at, where do you currently have this item? So this thing that you say has such sentimental value to you, is it actually stored in a box and it never sees the light of day? Is it stored in a way that protects it against deterioration against time? Because most of the time [quote] ‘sentimental value’ actually means: “I’m afraid if I get rid of this thing, I’ll forget the memory it represented.” Or “Somehow, I actually devalue the relationship with my mother or my grandfather or whoever if I don’t keep this.” Or “I’m keeping it because it was something that they really loved.” If it really has sentimental value, then display it in a place of honor. And if not, move it out and just trust your memories because relationships were never comprised of things. They were comprised of experiences and feelings and emotions.
Now, in The Ultimate Guide, that I had mentioned, there are a bunch more counter-arguments to some other stupid reasons to keep stuff so you can read them in there. So, you kind of have to be brave when you’re ready to start the declutter process. When you do decide to dive in there, some questions that can help you to decide whether something’s worth keeping or not.
Okay, question number one: “Do I love this thing? Now, I know Marie kondo is the ‘pick it up and hold it and does it spark joy?’ Okay, great, that system. But really, just, “Do I love this? Does it make me smile? Would I be heartbroken if I didn’t have it any longer?” And there’s kind of a follow-up question to that, “Does it enrich my life?” Where enrich really means, “Does this add value to my life? Does it make my life better?” No, not everything means that you love it or it enriches your life, sometimes we’re talking about things being functional, right? I don’t have a really emotional attachment to my toaster, but it’s functional so I’m not getting rid of my toaster. But the question to ask about some of the stuff is, “Is this currently functional, does it work?” Because things that are broken, need to get fixed and if you’re not willing to fix them, then there’s no point in keeping them. Remember I had a sleeping bag with a zipper that didn’t work; it wasn’t worth keeping, it wasn’t functional.
Now, “when was the last time I used it?” And you know one year is a pretty good rule. If you haven’t used it or worn it in the past year, the chances are, you are never going to wear it or use it again, they’re slim that you’re going to do that. And if you’re not exactly sure, there is a strategy that you can use. Where you put the thing into a box, seal the box up, put it back in the space and if you don’t go looking for that thing within a year, then you know, don’t open the box. Whatever was in there, you didn’t really need and so just get rid of it. So you’re kind of postponing it for a year, but sometimes it helps you over the hump. So, when you’ve got all these ‘I’m not sure things’, put them in a box, mark it as ‘stuff’, put a date on it. If you have not opened that box in a year, just get rid of it. Don’t open it.
Another helpful question: “Do I have more of these?” Having multiple items when one is sufficient is a sure sign that it’s time to let go of some of them. Because how many do you really need? How many pairs of jeans do you need? How many black t-shirts do you really need? How many wooden spoons do you really need? And could I replace it if I actually did need it? You know, we do that: “Oh, I might need that one day.” But if you haven’t used it in the past year, just ask yourself: “Could you get another one if you actually needed it at some point, distant point in the future?” Could you go get another wooden spoon? Black T-shirt, a pair of jeans? Yeah, you probably could.
I like this question: “Could somebody else actually use this right now?” Because there were probably people out there in the world who need this thing more than you need it stuck in your basement or the garage or under the stairs so pass it along. Because someone else can actually have value in that thing right now, where you’re just storing it for maybe, someday, sometime.
Now once you know whether you’re keeping something or not, here’s the next step; you have to do something with it. So if this is an item that you’re going to keep, put it in its place. Put it where it belongs because if you don’t know where it belongs and you might want to reconsider keeping it. Because things that are useful to us, we know where they belong. If you don’t know where it belongs, start asking those questions again. So if it’s something that you’re keeping, then put it in its place. Which isn’t in a Rubbermaid bin under the stairs.
So you can also recycle things. If you want to get rid of some things, you can recycle them. You know, there are lots of different ways that you can recycle them. Many communities have like a freecycle, kind of organization. You just Google Freecycle.com and find it or there are take-it-or-leave-it events that communities organize or host and Habitat for Humanity runs recycle centers. I mean, there’s all kinds of places to recycle items. Now, you can donate it because there are lots of charities that like to take all kinds of stuff that’s gently used. And sometimes, yes, they are reselling those things, but the money to do that, is used to fund programs or to provide employment in thrift stores and sorting facilities for people who may have challenges. So, donating your stuff to someone who needs it more than you, is a really great idea because it is a win-win.
Now, sometimes the truth is, you’re just going to toss it. Now, you know, it might not possible to donate it or recycle it and then your only choice might be, just throw it away. Because if it no longer has used or it’s soiled or it’s not fixable, then yeah, it’s going to the landfill. And remember landfills really have a limited capacity. So the other side of that is about making really conscious choices about things that you buy in the future because one day, they might end up there. Everything that you’re thinking about donating, recycling or tossing, you made a choice, conscious or unconscious, to bring that into your home or to purchase.
Now there are two more choices, but I really urge you to use them with caution. So the first one is, you can sell your stuff. So the problem with that is, most of the time we think our stuff is more valuable than it actually is. So if an item has actual real value, then go ahead and sell it. But just remember that there are time and energy that’s invested in selling something. You have to put the ad up, you have to meet with people, all of that. And so by the time you add up what it costs you and your time and energy to sell something, you might not actually be making a, quote-unquote, profit.
In The Ultimate Guide, I actually share there’s a whole section on why garage sales are a really bad idea and so you might consider donating the item to someone instead of selling things. And you know, there is this option of storing something. So you can guess, the big problem with storing stuff, it’s just prolonging the inevitable. But if there’s something that you decide you have to keep and it doesn’t have a place of its own in your home, then you have a choice about storing it but think about it, if you are renting a storage locker, just consider the ongoing cost of keeping those items that are now totally out of sight. They’re not just in the back room or in the garage or under the stairs, they’re totally out of sight and is there a better use for that money? Oh, yeah, I bet you there is. So storing something, boy, you want to think long and hard about your decision to do that.
Now, I get it. I get that this whole declutter of your physical stuff is not an easy thing. Everyone is talking about it. Everyone feels challenged about it. You know, there are programs you can watch and books you can read. What I want you to remember is it might not feel easy, but it’s actually quite simple. Now, you might have to enlist the help of a third-party because sometimes, you know, we let ourselves off easier than we need to and so we enlist a third-party. Like maybe a friend, who can really hold your feet to the fire about what you’re keeping and why you’re keeping it. So pick one area and begin there. Because unless you’re super motivated, just start with something really small; a drawer. Just one little place and begin using those principles of being ruthless about why it is that you’re keeping something.
Wow! Declutter. So for now, as always, let me leave you with a little ‘being and doing’ homework, something to think about and something to try. Here’s your something to think about, a question: “What’s my biggest excuse for not tackling the piles of stuff?” It’s really helpful for you to understand, what’s the story I’m telling myself about ‘why I can’t do this’, the excuse that I’m using? Because that feeds right into your something to try.
You’ve thought about ‘what’s my biggest excuse?’. Now try this; write down that excuse that you came up with or maybe you got a list of them, do them one at a time. So write down the excuse and then write, ‘how can I’ and fill that blank in with your excuse? So for example, my biggest excuse is I don’t know where to start. Okay, ‘how can I start?’ And then answer that question, just kind of brainstorm it. So for example, ‘well, I could start with the kitchen junk drawer or I could start by asking my BFF to come and help me. I could start by…’ and just by doing that, it begins to open up the possibility. So you get the idea of that. This activity kind of helps you shift from being stuck about it to actually moving into action.
So that’s a wrap on this three-part series of Clearing the Clutter that Holds You Back. Feel free to post your comments or questions on the episode page. I would really love to hear your success stories or maybe your epic fails or maybe what you find under the stairs or wherever it is that you’re going or maybe you’ve got some ‘how-to’ questions. Like, “How would I do this, Laurel” or “What do you think about that?” You can post your questions there. And be sure to grab your copy of The Ultimate Guide to Decluttering Your Life. All of the tips that I shared today are in there and so much more and you will find the link for that free download on the episode page.
Now, next time, I am going to share some ideas about having a more mindful work day. I don’t know; you go to work, ever feel distracted or frustrated or wishing you were somewhere else on any particular workday? Well, then you’re going to want to tune in because I’ve got some insights and some tips for you on that. Until then, lovely ones, pause, breathe and enjoy your day.
Outro: You’ve been listening to The Being and The Doing with your host, Laurel Vespi. If you liked this episode and think other people would, please subscribe, rate and give a review on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.
Be sure to tune in next week for another conversation about The Being and The Doing. Thanks for listening.