Monday, January 7, 2013

What's the Point?

My project to get 10 things a week out of my house did not begin out of generosity.  I was feeling crowded, pressed for time, overwhelmingly busy, not enough room for my interests and friends, in short,  jam packed.  My brain felt packed and jumbled. Notes were everywhere to be added to my lists of "things to do".   I noticed there was 'stuff' on the floor of the garage, on countertops, bedside tables, on the floors of closets: stuff lying around because drawers and closets and shelves were full of other stuff.   I wanted to de-clutter my mind. I wanted less on my mind, less on my list, less stuff lying around, more clean surfaces, more bare closet floors, more empty drawers.  For the last few years, I was repeatedly involved in assisting my elderly parents move, first out of our childhood home and into independent living, then into assisted living. Downsizing from their house, office, storage warehouse, until all they had was what was special enough for one room in skilled nursing or the alzheimer's wing. So much stuff to go through over and over again. And I felt the same way about my house.

But I was overwhelmed about how to start. 

So I decided to get rid of (not necessarily "give away") ten things each week in 2012.  At first and for many months, I donated.   For the first months, most of the stuff leaving my house was not anything I wanted and I didn't know anyone else who did, so it wasn't 'generous', it was 'removal'. It wasn't a life decision, it was activity (though surprisingly, would have some lasting impact).

I wasn't inspired, initially, to live a simpler life, just one less frantic, trampled and cluttered.

The by-product of what happened during 2012 as I got rid of 10 things each week, was I learned a lot about why I had acquired, kept, and forgotten so much stuff. I learned a lot about my relationship to objects, shopping, memorabilia, sentimentality, and even my personal relationships with others.

If you are interested in following along, jumping in and getting rid of 520+ things this year, first think, about what's your purpose in doing this? What do you hope to accomplish? What's the point for you? 

It's important to figure this out at the onset because as you go along, you'll find the need to develop some guidelines about what 'counts'?  Being able to relate questions that arise back to your intention will be helpful and necessary.    For example, since my purpose was to get stuff out of my house,  I decided during the year that selling things would 'count'; gifting to my family would 'count'; asking friends and neighbors if they wanted stuff would 'count'.  I decided trashing would not count.  If it wasn't good enough to be salvaged for any use I couldn't count it. I wasn't going to count what I was taking out in the trash.  

 I found it helpful to do my house survey and selection on a given day each week, as a routine  assignment, like taking out the recycling.   At the beginning, this survey and selection took less than 30 minutes - there was so much to choose from. It got harder but only after several months (what does that tell you !) I might only get things together in a box, not taken to a donation center every single week, But the regular practice of going through and looking for 10 unneeded things helped seed a recurring awareness that developed into conscious change. Of course, many of us have a tendency to tackle this enthusiastically and go get 100 things eliminated all at once and wait for a quarter year to pass before tackling again.   Sporadic purging won't result in the top of mind consciousness that sparks interest and insight.

What's your intention for doing this and what number of items do you want to set as your weekly goal? 

Next, thoughts on where to donate.....


  1. Hey Kathy -- I love your blog! Maybe it has to do with turning the corner into a new year, but I have similarly been on a mission to de-clutter, although I've only been at it about a week, not a full year! Like you, I have also been trying to help my parents as they moved from their home of many years. Having been in their apartment for over 8 years now, my father is feeling the need for more "purging". So, what do I do when he tries to pass things on to me? He hates the thought of just giving them away, and mind you, I'm not talking about particularly sentimental things, but more on the line of socks and sweaters. I have a friend who tells me that when your parents try to give you something, the answer is always "yes", but I don't need or want this stuff! I offer to go with my dad to take things to Goodwill, but he still would prefer for me to have them. Any advice? How does your counting system work if I put them in my car and then immediately go to my local Goodwill?! Any advice, fellow de-clutterer?!

    1. Hi Julie -Happy New year! so good to hear from you - my sisters and I have been surrounded with my parents stuff for years too - first moving them from our childhood home, then clearing out my father's office, then downsizing them yet again as they moved into nursing rooms, then storage warehouses ..... all this to say, I think our parents stuff will become our stuff and our issue. So I agree with your friend, if they ask you to take stuff, say yes, and drive it straight to a donation center. ( I didn't 'count' stuff like that because it never really landed here with me, though it might stay in my car trunk for awhile). Going through all the downsizing with my parents was part of the impetus for me to do this with my own stuff so no one else has to (hopefully) I'm still on it this year. Hope all is well - loved the Christmas letter!