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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.