Help From a Former Pack Rat: Getting Rid of Stuff
I am writing to you from the trenches — my parents' house in New Hampshire — where the me of today is engaged in battle with the pack rat me of the past. Our battlefield is the drawers, boxes, and bins full of stuff that I left here. Right now, I am happy to say that I am winning — although the fight has not been easy.
Overcoming my pack rat tendencies over the past several years has taken some serious work. Part of the trouble is that, on the surface, being a pack rat can seem very frugal — it's easy to justify keeping stuff by telling yourself that you're saving it to reuse. For example, I used to craft a lot — but when I realized that I had multiple bins of craft supplies sitting around, untouched for years, I had to admit that I had a problem. (See also: Simple-Living Lessons I Learned From "Hoarders")
Below are some of the things that have helped me get rid of stuff — and if you've had a pack rat past, I hope they can help you too.
1. Set a Deadline
People who are able to get things done without deadlines, I salute you. But for me (and so many people I know), a deadline really helps drive productivity. Whether it's something big, like moving, or just agreeing to participate in a neighborhood yard sale, set a deadline to get yourself sorting through stuff.
2. Ask When You'll Use It
This isn't the same as how you'll use it. It's easy enough to look at a bag of yarn and tell yourself “Oh, I'll pick up knitting again sometime.” If you haven't used an item in the last six months and you can't see yourself using it in the next six months, toss it. If you do decide you want to knit again, there's always a good chance someone else will be selling their old gear around that time.
3. Work With a Voice of Reason
It's easy to argue with yourself about whether or not you'll use something and then get frustrated. Ask a trusted friend or loved one to help you sort through stuff and provide another perspective.
4. Get Excited About Making Money
Hey, you don't just have to get rid of stuff — you can sell it. Whether it's at a yard sale, on Craigslist, or via eBay, getting excited about the extra cash your old stuff might bring in can help you get active.
5. Experience the Joy of Giving
I'm not ready to have kids yet, but many of my friends and cousins have started having children...while I still have toys from when I was a kid sitting in my parents' basement. Yikes! But that means I also get to be the awesome person who bestows gifts on all of my friends' kids, and if you haven't seen a kid open a gift recently, let me tell you — it's pretty joyful.
6. Take Pictures
Digital photographs don't take up physical space — unlike the piles of middle and high school art I have. Now, when I'm throwing out art, I always take a digital picture first. That way I can still see my bizarre artwork if I really want to (and I'm serious about the bizarre part — earlier today I found a colored-pencil drawing I did of Scully from "The X-Files" standing near a phone booth on an abstract, multicolor background) without having to carry things around.
7. Go Through Again
I thought it was a good idea to keep some photos from my college photography class...until, when I was going through another closet, I found even better versions of the photos I decided to keep. Revisit what you've decided to keep. After you have a better sense of the big picture, you might be more willing to part with things you had previously decided to save.
8. Save Some Stuff...or Don't
There are two ways to approach what to keep, I think, and it all depends on what matters to you. I'm keeping a small selection of photographs, journals, and items that really matter to me. It makes it easier to get rid of other things when I think about how truly important these items are.
At the same time, getting rid of everything can really help you focus on the present. The important thing is to spend some time thinking about what really matters to you.
9. Remember the Joy of Simplicity
To not be bogged down with stuff, to not be paralyzed by too many choices, to live without clutter — these things are wonderful. Remember that as you get rid of things. Even if you can't sell something, even if you have to give it away for free — in many ways, you are not losing, you are gaining.
Are you a former (or current) pack rat? What helps you get rid of stuff? Leave you answer in the comments below.