I moved recently from an apartment to a townhouse and the process overwhelmed me. How had I managed to fit all this stuff into a one-bedroom apartment? Some of it held sentimental value, of course, but much of it was just taking up space. A look at my bookshelves provided insight into the larger problem. The shelves were crowded with volumes I rarely looked at:
- collections of crochet patterns, which I now prefer to browse for online;
- Shakespeare’s plays (from the days when I could afford a subscription to the Chicago Shakespeare Theater);
- gardening books (not useful for apartment dwellers);
- user manuals for software and devices I no longer owned;
- textbooks from my (long ago) days as an undergrad;
- books I felt I should read but probably never would.
I walked past these shelves every day but I wasn’t actually seeing what was on them. I had accumulated much of this clutter by default, simply by not paying attention to what I had and what I really needed. Broadening my gaze to the rest of the apartment, I found the same problem everywhere: too much stuff. I was reminded of comedian George Carlin’s classic routine about stuff:
I felt better after watching George’s routine, but I still needed a plan, a system, to make sense of the chaos. I didn’t have a system of my own, so I decided to borrow someone else’s. I went to the Flylady blog, written by Marla Cilley. Flylady is a guru for those of us who need help with organizing and cleaning, cheerfully reminding us to take baby steps and learn to do a little bit every day. Her page on moving offered some liberating advice: If you don’t love it, don’t move it.
To get rid of clutter, or “decluttering” as she calls it, Flylady recommends getting 3 boxes or bins (laundry baskets work well for this) and using them to sort things into 3 piles:
- Put away
- Give away
- Throw away
I started with the books. At first, her system seemed harsh. How could I let go of things I had owned for decades? But gradually, as space opened up on the bookshelves, I started to feel better. I hadn’t realized how much all this stuff weighed me down. Letting go made me feel lighter. Freer. Relieved. I continued moving through the apartment, letting go of things I no longer needed or wanted. I regularly donated boxes of clothes, books, and household goods to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. I liked to think about the people I might be helping this way. I reminded myself how lucky I was to be in a position to help others. Interesting the way that giving often leads to gratitude.
I’d like to claim that I thoroughly simplified my life in that one move, but I didn’t. I held on to many things out of fear that I might need them in some far-off future. When I started unpacking at the new place I was dismayed by how much I had schlepped with me. So I got out 3 boxes, sorted things into piles and made daily trips to Goodwill. I’ve learned that living this way is a process, and a never-ending one. New stuff will always find its way into my home, so I need to make uncluttering a regular habit. When I buy a new book, which I am bound to do, I need to get rid of an old one.
I’ve found several rewards for my efforts. Dusting has gotten easier. I have more room to display the items I really treasure, like the brass samovar from my uncle’s travels. I don’t dread going into my closet to search for something to wear. And I have a place now that feels not just tidier, but more spacious, more serene, more welcoming. More like home.