Two weeks ago, I was standing in my guest bedroom, up to my knees in cardboard boxes and dusty old shit.
Everything was there. The boxes and boxes of stuffed animals and Beanie Babies that have followed me from house to house since I was a kid. A bag of ancient baby clothes my mom didn’t want to throw out, so gave to me instead.
If you looked through each box, you could see exactly who I was at 4, 7, 12, 18, and 22.
At 29, I stood there thinking, what the fuck am I going to do with all of this?
I’m a chronic thrower-outer, mostly. I can get rid of things I’ve purchased for myself without a second thought; the problem comes when I want to toss something someone has given me.
When it comes to downsizing, as humans we struggle when:
- We don’t know how to organize our shit
- We have too much stuff, and don’t know where to start
- We feel wasteful throwing items away
The internet has a lot of information to help those dealing with chronic disorganization.
If you watched TLC in the early 2000s, you know how big of a boner everyone had for the keep / donate / recycle method. But what about when you’re emotionally attached to the things you’re trying to remove?
You can learn how to organize, put effort into downsizing, and buy a storage solution, but getting over the hump of emotional attachment is more complicated than that. It doesn’t have a simple solution.
That’s what I realized when I was standing there, up to my knees in – well – junk.
I felt guilty about severing my attachment to these items, and that’s why they had successfully followed me from house to house and city to city over the last ten years. I SAW TOY STORY 3, OKAY. And it fucked me up.
The more I sat and debated what I was going to do with these glassy-eyed teddy bears and boxes full of dolls, the worse I felt. I knew getting rid of these things would make me feel good – eventually – but I’d have to rip the bandaid off, quick.
How to Get Rid of Stuff When You’re Really, Really Bad at It
Here’s what I try and remember:
⏃ Your junk doesn’t want to sit alone in a box or bag. Why squirrel away old stuffed animals when someone else could enjoy and love them?
⏃ It can be overwhelming and emotionally taxing to go through everything at once. If you can, split your pile up into boxes or Rubbermaids, and go through one per week.
⏃ Your memory is not the physical item.
⏃ Ask yourself if you’re keeping the item because you want it, or because you feel indebted to it or the person who gave it to you.
⏃ Let yourself keep the very important things. Designate a space for your memories, and allow yourself to fill that shelf or box. If something doesn’t fit, either it or another item goes.
⏃ Crossing unfinished business off your list will free up time + energy for future you. Recycle the project you never finished, donate the ~skinny pants~ you’ll never fit back into, and sell the jewelry you haven’t worn in ten years.
The advice I would give my year-ago self is: make a memory book.
Actually, I would give this advice to my 18-year-old self, too. There are lots of items I’ve donated that I wish I had some memory of – and a photo book would have suited my needs perfectly.
I usually do a deep clean once a year – spring cleaning is real! – and, for the last two years, I’ve created a photo book after the dust has settled.
Photo books are so dangerously easy to create and publish, I have NO IDEA why I didn’t start doing them earlier. To make a memory photo book, I’ll take a picture of each sentimental item I’m donating, and then I’ll write a little caption for it. As I put my photo book together, I’ll do either 2 or 4 items per page, alongside their little caption.
Because Mixbook is my fav, here’s a little coupon:
My last piece of advice is: find a reason to throw things away.
It will make it easier to let go if you can donate your old magazines to an after school art program, your old blankets to an animal rescue, and your childhood toys to a Women in Need shelter.
If you’re worried you won’t remember the sentiment behind something, take a picture of the item. With enough photos, you can create a photobook that includes little stories, descriptions, or anecdotes related your memory.
You own your possessions; they don’t own you.
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