Today is Leap Day, the Extra Day every four years, giving us all some addition time to work on New Year’s Resolutions or otherwise make the most of the year.
Of course, it’s not really an Extra Day in any meaningful sense—the week still has seven days, it’s not a national holiday (there’s a sweet idea!). It is simply a reconciliation of the calendar, kind of like an accountant tossing an extra few dollars in the petty cash at the end of the day to get the books to balance.
However, as Americans, we live in a World of Spare Time. We have the living wage and the managed workday. Some of us do work multiple jobs, so that 40 hours is not necessarily the end of the week. But the days of laboring from six in the morning until after dark in the fields and sleeping on dirt in a straw thatch shack are a thing of the past. (Or should be.)
We are also the Land of plentiful food, diseases of affluence, spendable income and overstuffed houses—basements, attics, closets, garages, storage lockers, stuffed to the gills with stuff.
Here in the Middle, we are particularly overstuffed, because cheap land = big houses = lots and lots of the above. (Unrestored 1950 Chevrolet? Just roll it into the third stall in the garage! I’ll fix it up eventually!) Unlike other parts of the country where single family homes are less common, and where they are found usually come with a basement, attic or garage, here in the Heartland homeownership is common (yay!) with basement, attic and garage for everyone.
One slice of interregional culture shock I experienced when l left the Middle was the dumbfounded reaction my new neighbors had to saving boxes. The boxes that my small appliances and home electronics came in, boxes that mail orders and gifts arrived with. This was mysterious, unfathomable behavior to Easties and Westies, an absurd form of clutter and borderline hoarding. A mysterious and unfathomable behavior which declouded when I moved and had no cost safe carriage for my small appliances and home electronics and avoided $3-20 and up packaging expenses every time I put something in the mail.
I’ll admit, smaller spaces are good because they require you to make decisions about what you want and what possessions you think are important. The box for the computer stays, the box for the blender goes. I would never support someone throwing or giving away things that really mattered to them.
I think the trick is figure out what is important to you. I say this from personal experience. As part of cleaning up my house to sell it and move, I went through a declutter process last year. This was an extension of a declutter process I had been going through for a number of years for a variety of reasons: my disorganized photographs weighed on my heart and soul—getting them in order was one of the best things I ever did for myself; general sense that I wanted my living space more comfortable and spacious; facing reality I was never going to fit into my college clothes again.
What did I learn from declutter efforts? The wisdom of my efforts . . . .
- It will be much greater time commitment than you think—more time per week, more months than you thought or scheduled—and it won’t happen without a commitment
- It will reap much greater benefits to your life than you realize—finding things you had forgotten about, get rid of things you hadn’t needed for years, make space for who you are now
- It will only happen if you make a major commitment, not just of time, but energy, thought, money
- Be easy on yourself, and reward yourself with time off or something else when you hit a benchmark—the kitchen’s done, the clothes are sorted
- You will wind up decluttering not only your physical space but intangible aspects of your life, cleaning up your finances, your social life, your professional life—it just sort of happens
- It will take a lot of time, but in the end it will save far more time than it uses
Decluttering for me was not simply about throwing things away, and I don’t think it should be for most people. It should be about sorting through what you have and figuring out if you still want it or need it, and if you do, get it organized and stored in the appropriate way so you can find and use it when you want it or need it. In my various waves of decluttering, there were things that went through the sort process numerous times and eventually landed on the “go” pile. The first few times, I just wasn’t really ready to let go of the dress that used to look awesome or the ticket stub from Avatar. Over time it changes and you realize you don’t need six Little Black Dresses, especially if one has seen better days and one doesn’t really fit that great. Besides there’s always a new crop of high school girls headed to prom or homecoming who might be on the Goodwill plan.
Which gets me to an important point—getting rid of things doesn’t have to mean sending them to the Landfill. There are gobs of organizations that run Thrift Shops, Salvation Army and Goodwill are the biggies, but there are lots of smaller and local groups that do similar. With the economy where it is today, it can be difficult to get money out of used possessions, but you can always donate and take the tax deduction.
In some instances, decluttering saved me money directly—finding a bottle of conditioner pushed into the back of the closet, a misplaced tube of toothpaste, a cardigan purchased at an end of season closeout, shelved for “next year” and never worn.
There are tons of books about decluttering, organizing and such, although I found magazine articles most useful. I think this is because I found myself overwhelmed by the totality of the project and needed the advice on a step-by-step basis. Plus, the before and after pictures in magazines were motivating for me. A book might work for someone.
I slowly evolved into this absurd Martha Stewart double complete with baskets, bins, snaptop plastic containers and a strategically placed orchid. Yee-gods! I barely recognized myself! But it was fun! Plus, it was all, “looky me and how house beautiful I am!” And, “Ha, ha, you thought I was irredeemably clutterbug. But I wasn’t, was I? Ha, ha again.”
Anyway, I should Lord Over too much. If I’ve learned one thing, it is that decluttering is a never ending process. You have to keep at it. But for me, it is also about avoiding letting Declutter take over your life, as much as Clutter. I view that as a pitfall in and of itself as well.
As they say, the Convert is the most Zealous Acolyte. I am an avowed fan of the Declutter, but I freely admit it is a learned behavior and I will always be learning, always imperfect striving for betterment. Because, of course, having created my own little corner of House Beautiful, I sold my home, and now the challenge of the next space . . . . No rest for the Wicked. So much for Spare Time after all.