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7 Tips for Learning the Declutter Habit

Posted in Lifehacks, Technology by engtech on September 27, 2007

Lifehacks and Productivity

The roots of clutter come from the same social forces that said collecting comic books and stamps were an “investment”. I don’t know if it comes from corporate greed or from a post-World-War-2 generation where things were so scarce that suddenly everything had value and hoarding became a way of life. But collecting for the sake of collecting is a life habit that you have to break before you find yourself retired and living as a shut-in because cardboard boxes are blocking your doors.

Why declutter? It frees up your house and it frees up your mind. Your possessions own you as anyone who has ever had to move repeatedly over the course of several years can attest. It was moving twice in one year that finally got me to get rid of CDs I no longer listened to and textbooks I hadn’t looked at since university.

Tip #1: Your material goods hold little resale value no matter what you paid for them. This is a hard lesson to come to terms with because you know how much you paid for something. It is particularly hard for electronic goods since they are so costly upfront but become obsolete so fast. Good luck re-selling your bulky CRT monitor set in the age of LCD.

The media format wars means that even if you build up a VHS, DVD, CD, vinyl or cassette tape collection then it will be obsolete in ten years and within twenty years you won’t even own a device that can play them back. Does your new computer have a 3’5″ floppy drive? Changing media formats mean that owning a media collection for the sake of collecting is a useless endeavor.

Tip #2: Digitization is your friend. Photos, music, TV shows and movies can all be stored compactly on your computer hard drive or on DVDs. Have a good backup strategy though because hard drives will eventually fail on you.

Tip #3: “Have I used this in the past year?” is the question to ask when it comes to clothes, shoes, kitchen appliances, all that stuff in the garage or the work shed. Only keep what you really have use for. Your brain plays tricks on you like telling yourself you can lose that 20 lbs in only a few months.

Tip #4: “Will I watch or read this again?” is what should go through your head when it comes to book or movie collections. Lifetime collections should consist of only the favorites you will re-watch or want to share with others, everything else is collecting dust.

Tip #5: Don’t be overly sentimental! When I was 9 years old I convinced my parents to haul a lobster trap back home with us from our summer vacation. It sat in the back of the yard falling apart for years if not decades. Did it inspire any memories of the trip? Not anymore than the easily portable and easily storable photos we had taken with it. Sentimental is keeping things that have special meaning to you — not keeping everything you’ve ever come in contact with.

Tip #6: Renting is more economical than owning. It might not be true when it comes to real estate but it’s definitely true when it comes to books, dvds and any other form of media. Libraries are free. A $6 rental fee is still much cheaper than $25 new or $11 in the bargain bin. Even if it the movie or book is worth becoming part of your lifetime collection then you are still ahead because of all the times when it wasn’t.

Tip #7: Find your downstream ecosystem. When I declutter my only concern is passing things on to someone who will make use of them. It would be nice to recoup some of the cost but the sad fact is most things lose value so fast these days that the effort to regain any of the initial value is wasted.

For small items there are sites like Amazon, Ebay and specialty sites. For large items there are local listings on Facebook and Craigslist. Clothes can go to second hand stores and the Salvation Army. Childrens books and stuffed animals are well appreciated by schools. Local libraries accept books, CDs and DVDs which they then resell to raise funds. With a little digging you can find a non-profit organization that refurbishes computers for underprivileged youth.

The secret to learning how to live a clutter-free life is to realize that items don’t hold their value, that economically renting is cheaper in the long term for single-use goods, and to know how to get rid of stuff in a way that it doesn’t go to waste.

42 Responses

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  1. Bob Warfield said, on September 27, 2007 at 10:20 am

    Tip #7.5: Look for opportunities to schedule donations for pickup. It forces you to have something ready for the date they’re coming.

    Tip #8: Rent a dumpster once a year (spring cleaning for us). Put it somewhere convenient to access. It costs money to rent the dumpster. Don’t let it go until there is something significant in it.

  2. [...] Scott wrote an interesting post today on 7 Tips for Learning the Declutter HabitHere’s a quick [...]

  3. Lisa NYC said, on September 27, 2007 at 10:59 am

    Great post! It’s so true that our “stuff” loses value so quickly, no matter what we paid for it…I need to remember this as it will help let go of clutter for me.

    thanks!

    with friendship,
    Lisa

  4. sciencebase said, on September 27, 2007 at 11:28 am

    I used to have the declutter habit, then along came a cat, two kids, and most recently a dog, now I just stress about it…

    db

  5. Odale said, on September 27, 2007 at 7:11 pm

    Uh, packrat here! Not as bad as in the past, as you said, due to moving. Oddly enough my mom and two older sisters throw away everything! Maybe that’s it…they were always throwing my stuff away! I donate clothes, but will take your advice on using ebay and will look in to facebook and craigslist! Good idea to post this. Thanks!

  6. titus2woman said, on September 27, 2007 at 9:19 pm

    I needed this! I seem to always need this…. (((((HUGS))))) sandi~who LOVES duct tape! Uncle Red would be so proud….

  7. Tirralirra said, on September 27, 2007 at 10:49 pm

    Your old books can make money for a good cause when you put one of these ‘Rent-a-book’ stickers in the front, before you pass them on to their next home.

    The stickers encourage the new owners to make a small donation that helps support a free school for bright kids from poor homes in Tanzania. Check it out. All the pennies will add up.

    http://schoolstjude.blogspot.com/2007/07/hey-ho-rentabook-adds-up.html

    The School of St Jude, Arusha, Tanzania

  8. abarclay12 said, on September 28, 2007 at 2:48 pm

    Great post. It’s the ‘oversentimentality” one that gets me, but I’m now inspired to declutter. Nice job.

  9. engtech said, on September 28, 2007 at 5:02 pm

    @Tirralirra:

    That Rentabook is interesting. I’m familiar with http://bookcrossing.com (slightly different — free books, but encourages people to build an online book log) and I found that I people wouldn’t contribute very often, less then a 10% ratio.

  10. engtech said, on September 28, 2007 at 5:03 pm

    @titus2woman:

    The only solution to declutter is to change your mindset about how you think about your ‘stuff’.

    Otherwise no matter how much stuff you get rid of, you’re going to keep amassing more.

  11. engtech said, on September 28, 2007 at 5:05 pm

    @Odale:

    It’s actually pretty crazy how much of an after market there is for name brand clothes on ebay (and things like purses).

    In my family I’m the only one who isn’t a clutterer — and I have to attest it’s something I picked up from moving every couple of years. There’s nothing like moving the same unopened box to make you realize how little of the stuff we own we actually use.

  12. engtech said, on September 28, 2007 at 5:06 pm

    @Lisa NYC:

    Value over time is the killer. I have a few massive things collecting dust because I can’t bring myself to realize they aren’t worth nearly what I paid for them.

    Maybe I’m trying to convince myself with this post.

  13. engtech said, on September 28, 2007 at 5:08 pm

    @Bob Warfield:

    Both good suggestions, Bob. Thanks.

    I’ve done the schedule donations one while moving before — it’s amazing how many things that were “maybes” become “get rid of it” once the people are there for pickup.

    The dumpster one is a good one.

  14. engtech said, on September 28, 2007 at 5:09 pm

    @sciencebase:

    Surprisingly, my cat helps me with my clutter. If I leave anything sitting out he plays with it in the middle of the night and wakes me up.

  15. sevnetus said, on September 28, 2007 at 7:34 pm

    I read this because I have boxes and bags in my living room since I moved. Mom started saving things because she loved her kids and maybe it can fit in my closets, and maybe some kid stuff can go, since she didn’t take it with her. CD’s and DVD’s seem like media that will last, and the library is my best friend. I should know since I worked as a mover, that people own and move such collections of junk. Books are heavy, and I love my share.

  16. Autumn said, on September 29, 2007 at 1:04 am

    three years ago i was able to get my own home. since i live by myself i know i have a lot of space for my things. it took me two years to empty out the boxes that i have sitting in the garage. i parked my car on the driveway because i have stuff inside the garage. finally i cleared it out and i realized that i don’t even miss the stuff that was inside the boxes. so i purged, donated, threw away the trash. the things that i kept are the basic things i need and i’m proud to say that they have a place of its own. and my car is inside the garage.
    :)

  17. Autumn said, on September 29, 2007 at 1:08 am

    i recently scanned all my pictures that aren’t in a digital form (negatives). i gave all the heavy photo albums that i bought 5 yrs ago. uploaded them in Flickr and into my external hard drive. now i can reminisce without carrying the photo albums.

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  19. Nancy said, on September 29, 2007 at 11:05 am

    Sentimentality, oh so hard … especially when you find out your 17 cousins are all trying to pass on their sentimental stuff to each other too … Depressing to learn that stuff you bought for all that money can’t so easily be sold on for much of anything … But a great place to usefully pass on some things is,
    Free Cycle http://www.freecycle.org
    and things in good condition like blankets and clothes to local Mission and homeless groups, and all those craft supplies you never used to boys & girls clubs and so on.

  20. sciencebase said, on October 01, 2007 at 2:19 am

    …and speaking of pets. Our fast growing pup decided to read the Sunday paper yesterday…with her teeth. Now, that’s decluttering at it’s best as it meant the scraps simply had to go out with the trash

    d

  21. [...] 7 Tips for Learning the Declutter Habit [...]

  22. Richard said, on October 02, 2007 at 9:28 pm

    I am completely with you yet at the same time I love my stuff. It’s fun, like living in a library/museum of only things that I think are great. And the things I have can’t be found in a library (or museum or online, for that matter).

    How can I deprogram myself? I’d love to get rid of lots of it.

    Note that my stuff is not things with potential practical uses, like kitchen gadgets, electronics, or sports equipment. Just books, totchkes, cultural this-n-that.

    (I have started digitizing the records; very slow going)

  23. engtech said, on October 04, 2007 at 12:49 pm

    @Richard:

    What helps with the digitization is culling. Don’t digitize everything willy-nilly. Make a call on what is worth keeping as you’re doing it.

    It’s like tracking all your books on librarything.com — only track the books you’re going to keep, take the opportunity to cull out some books.

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  28. Wet said, on October 11, 2007 at 6:01 pm

    Tip #1. You are certainly correct about how little value one can recoup from resales. The $1400 treadmill which hasn’t been used for years finally came out of the basement and left in a truck today. The total we recouped? $100 ;however, that patch of empty floor has all kinds of possibilities.

  29. Novice Nutritionist said, on October 17, 2007 at 7:50 am

    From your article: “Your brain plays tricks on you like telling yourself you can lose that 20 lbs in only a few months.”

    Assuming you mean “few” as in three or more months, it is quite possible to lose 20 lbs in that amount of time in a healthful manner. Every reasonable (i.e., not selling some gimmick) source I’ve seen has said that the maximum recommended reduction rate is 2 lbs per week. At that rate, it will take ten weeks to lose the weight, which is less than three months. You are limited only by your discipline.

    Now, if you change “can” to “can’t” then it becomes a true statement.

  30. malignedtruth said, on October 23, 2007 at 8:09 am

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    FVA (Homeschooling) works great with this. No raids by US Marshalls with warrants from the BSA (Microsoft). 41 State School Boards have endorsed GNU/Linux for all districts to use, in compliance with the CIPA.

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  31. awsan said, on January 12, 2008 at 10:01 am

    i recently scanned all my pictures that aren’t in a digital form (negatives). i gave all the heavy photo albums that i bought 5 yrs ago. uploaded them in Flickr and into my external hard drive. now i can reminisce without carrying the photo albums.

  32. Rob said, on January 13, 2008 at 7:01 pm

    “The media format wars means that even if you build up a VHS, DVD, CD, vinyl or cassette tape collection then it will be obsolete in ten years and within twenty years you won’t even own a device that can play them back.”

    Certainly untrue for vinyl. Im all for decluttering but degrading music by digitising? No Thanks.

    …Same for photographs.

  33. engtech said, on January 14, 2008 at 11:57 am

    @ Rob:

    With photographs, I think it depends if your the kind of person who
    puts them in albums immediately or if you’re the kind of person who
    has envelopes and envelopes from the local photo developers tucked
    away into shoeboxes for when you “get around to it”.

    re: degrading music by digitizing

    true, but you’re lucky enough to be one of the people who can notice
    the degradation. I know my hearing is shot and I can’t hear the
    difference.

    One interesting trend of the last five years has been club DJs
    switching from vinyl to MP3/CD and sites like beatport.com which allow
    them to purchase high quality MP3s or WAVs over the internet.

  34. Rob said, on January 14, 2008 at 3:44 pm

    The DJ trend is a lot to do with the cost and effort of printing a vinyl, burning to CD is so easy. Plus many DJs are moving to ableton. And on the consumers side an mp3 or WAV is far, far cheaper than vinyls. Being a bedroom DJ nearly bankrupt me at university…!

    I have tried to put the vinyls i bought back then but just can’t do it – sentimental I know, but I know I’ll regret it if I do sell!

    On a different point, http://www.readitswapit.com is a great site to swap books if you are in the UK.

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  36. selfhelpink said, on April 24, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    It is always a good idea to declutter. It allows for a positive chi and provides a good balance to your life.

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  40. Declutter said, on December 02, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    Clutter can truly be a menacing nemesis. Left untamed can cause problems throughout the home. Great tips on learning to Declutter!

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  42. [...] 7 Tips for Learning to Declutter [...]


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