Getting Out From Under Household Clutter

McCullough, based in Colorado, is the author of four books on home management.

Recently I bought myself a new robe. I put my old one in my recycle corner until the next time I go by the drop-off center at the local thrift shop.

It's hard to throw things out. In days gone by, when you got something you kept it for life or until it was worn out. But now we live in a world of mass production and marketing. You either have to learn to sort and let go, or build a giant warehouse to contain everything. Not to mention a computer to inventory the stock so you could know what you had "on hand" and where it was located.

We often have things, not because of an active decision to keep them but because we have not made a decision to get rid of them. On an average, people keep things several years after their usefulness has passed. This happens for several reasons:

--There is a natural progression of interests from one season of life to another. Sometimes we overbuy and have supplies, materials and tools left over. The things we liked 10 years ago are not the things we enjoy today, but we hang onto supplies and equipment from those past hobbies and interests. And there are times we save things hoping to get back to them.

--We save an item because it still has some good left in it and we feel obligated to use the item.

--For some people, saving is an emotional reaction to hard times. They habitually keep things to satisfy this anxiety.

--Other people are burdened with things accumulated during the course of raising a family. Sometimes they hold onto household items for the day the young adults get a place of their own. Toys and baby equipment are saved because someday they may be used for grandchildren. They store things for adult children until the children have more space. Parents whose adult children have moved out may need to reevaluate and give themselves a pep talk to gain the courage to relieve themselves of this accumulation.

Face the task of streamlining possessions and ask questions like the following:

--How long has it been since you used this item?

--Do you have good reason to keep it?

--Have you outgrown use for it?

--Do you need this space for something else more than this questionable item?

--Is this an irreplaceable treasure?

--If you disposed of this item and should need it again, could you replace it?

--Will getting rid of this make housekeeping easier and faster?

--How much time and money does it cost per year? Space is valuable.

When you are in the mood to throw it out, don't do it literally. If the item still has some good in it, send it to a charity. Give it to someone who can use it. You will probably find it easier to give discards to a large group that has the staff to separate and resell.

Parting is a deeper emotional experience than keeping, and you will remember the things you've thrown out better than the things you've kept. Surely, in a few days, you'll think of something you could have used that item for. Look at it this way: If you hadn't given it away, you probably wouldn't have remembered you had it. That is the risk you take. But the rewards are terrific--more space without paying for it, a house that's easier to keep clean and fewer lost things.

After you have streamlined the house and garage, the trick is to equalize the incoming with the outgoing. Keep the inventory simple.

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