This month, we’re giving you tools to help you accomplish the Postconsumers 2016 New Year’s resolution, which is to learn how to separate emotion from “stuff.” Of course, along with accomplishing that goal, you’ll likely find yourself de-cluttering and purging some of the “stuff” that you’ve been holding on to. Today we’re going to walk you through a project to help give you a jumpstart on that goal. It’s not only a little break from the theory and philosophy of emotion and “stuff” that we’ve been talking about, it’s also an opportunity to give you a hands-on approach to working on your New Year’s resolution.
Often, The Key to Success is to Start Small: Pick a Closet
Today, we’ve decided to take you through tackling the clearing out of just one closet. Why? Because if you follow the steps of the project we’re describing below on a bigger space like an attic, basement, storage shed or your entire house, we can pretty much guarantee you that you’ll be overwhelmed. One drawer probably isn’t enough for you to get the hang of this process (though we’ve advised that as a way to get started when you’re just looking to de-clutter before), but a closet is a good place to start. Begin by selecting your closet (and of course we know that many people only have one closet, at most). Select a closet where you know that you store things that you haven’t used in a while. For example, in our house there’s a third-floor closet with shirts, accessories and even some holiday decorations. We’re starting there.
Step One: Everything Comes Out
The first step is the most simple. Clear some space on the floor or other area and get every.single.thing out of that closet. Nothing should be left when you’re done. Unrelated to assessing the emotional clutter element of your closet, now is also a great time to sort things into related piles. So using our example above, all shirts in one pile, all accessories in one pile and all holiday decorations in one pile. What you may find when you do this process is that you’re already emotionally overwhelmed as you see everything that’s in your closet. Items in there that you’ve assigned emotional value to can stir up feelings right away. If you’re paying attention to how you’re actually feeling (many people just aren’t paying attention to that when they clean out a closet) you might be in for a surprise.
Step Two: The “In Use” Quick Sort
This part is easy! Go through your piles and pull out anything that you have actually used in the last year. But you have to have actually used it. Used it does not mean that you opened the closet one day and saw it and said, “Oh, I still own that! Good! I like it!” Used it means that you either wore it, had it out to decorate in your house, used it to make something, played it, built it … you get the point. Once you’ve done the initial sort – and again the key here is to be honest with yourself about whether you’ve used it or not – you can put all of the items that are regular use items back into the closet. Of course, while you’re doing this take the time to neatly sort and organize them, too!
Pro Tip: There’s one phrase you’re absolutely not supposed to use in this process. And that phrase is, “I mean, I didn’t use it in the last year, but I think I’ll probably use it again.” No. Just no. If you haven’t used an item in a year or more, you really are not likely going to use it again. It does not go into the “recently used” pile.
Step Three: Grab Some Post-It Notes and Start Labeling Emotions
Everything else that you’re keeping in that closet is something that you’re keeping there for an emotional reason, you just haven’t realized that yet. This is the part of the process where we’re going to address that. For every item still on the floor (or table) from the closet, we want you to take the time to look at it, evaluate what emotional attachment you’ve assigned to it and label it. You might, for example, label it “nostalgia and warm feelings” if you’ve saved an item because it reminds you of a person, place or event. You might label it “fear” if you’re keeping an item just because you’re afraid you might “need” it again someday. You might label it “hope” if you’re keeping something because you hope you’ll use it (or fit into it!) again. This process might take you a long time. Because we’re not “trained” to think about the emotions that we’re applying to “stuff” you may have to really ponder what the emotion you’ve associated with a thing is.
Step Four: 10% Minimum Purge
The entire point of this exercise is to help you start separating emotion and “stuff.” That means that you can’t complete the project unless you purge at least a small amount. Of course, we’re not going to stop you (literally or virtually) if you want to go big and purge a lot now that you realize you’re only holding onto things because of emotional assignment. But we’re also guessing that you’re probably not ready to make that leap. We need you to at least make a tiny leap. Commit to getting rid of 10% of what you’ve sorted. If you’re having difficulty deciding what to donate, we think you should start with anything that you labeled with “fear.” That’s a pretty negative emotion and one you don’t want to keep around via “stuff.” While there’s almost no emotional attachment that justifies keeping a thing, if you’re struggling to let go of stuff and emotion, starting with the negative emotion can help.
Pro Tip: Once you decide to discard something, do it quickly. Go to Goodwill or wherever you are donating your purged items the same day if possible. The longer something stays in your home, the more likely you are to end up just continuing to hold on to it in a different location.
There you go! You’ve completed your first project towards your goal of learning to separate emotion from stuff and even gotten a cleaner closet in the process. Now, get ready to tackle a bigger space with the same strategy!
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Photo Credit: m01229 via Flickr