Thanks everyone for all the comments on Facebook/Twitter and here on my blog about makeup staples. I had a lot of fun posting that and I’ve really streamlined my own look lately. I got lots of good suggestions and ideas that I will be using in the future, too!
Years ago, I was watching Hellen Buttigieg’s show Neat and heard something that has stuck with me ever since. She is a professional organizer and finds her biggest challenge is helping her clients change their thinking when it comes to all the stuff they have. She asks a lot of fantastic questions to get her clients to start thinking about WHY they keep the things they do and WHY their house clutter seems to stress them out so much. I’m not normally one for asking why (I prefer how and when!), but in this situation, I think it’s great to start thinking about the WHY to get the HOW and WHEN. One way Hellen challenged her clients was to have them ask themselves a series of questions even before they bring a new item into the house. The most important thing, though, was that she asked her clients to listen to what they’re telling themselves and not let any of these excuses slip through their lips. Excuses like “I’m going to fix it someday…” or “I need it just in case…”
I have found exactly the same excuses in myself when I’m decluttering and I’ve heard them numerous times when I’ve helped declutter someone else’s situation. The chief one I hear over and over that really gets to the heart of these excuses is “But it’s a perfectly good ____.” Time and again, I will be helping someone makeover a bathroom or a closet or an office and when push comes to shove and no other excuses suffice to keep an item, I hear, “But it’s a perfectly good box!” or “It’s a perfectly good ribbon!” or “It’s a perfectly good bag!” Yes, the emphasis is in the original.
I call this Perfectlygooditis. The disease of thinking that everything is perfectly good, so why “waste” it.
This disease is highly contagious. I hear “perfectly good” out of the mouths of all ages, backgrounds, sexes. It crosses generational lines. Mothers say it, fathers say it, children say it. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard it on an organizing or decluttering or even hoarding show, I’d be a very rich lady.
Perfectlygooditis also includes a myriad of excuses that everyone (including me!) makes about the things in their home that they just can’t bear to part with. I urge everyone to remember what I’ve said time and again when it comes to micro living… Make room for what you love! So the WHY for me is about making room for the things you really love in life: relaxing, spending time with our families, dedicating ourselves to the work and projects that make us who we are, enjoying ourselves, making all those recipes we’ve always wanted to make or creating a guest room for our friends or a playroom for our kids. When we surround ourselves with clutter for no good reason other than “it’s perfectly good!” we crowd out the things in our life we truly love.
I’ve made a list of phrases that you should be watching out for when you’re making room for all the important things in your life. When you hear yourself saying them, put yourself on what Hellen calls “high clutter alert.” Listen closely to how you rationalize all those little extras that make your life a little bit too full. I’m also going to include exceptions, because for every decluttering project, there’s room for a little of your life too! Remember my crisis with having nothing to decorate with? I certainly don’t want that to happen either. Listen closely for these excuses, but also make sure you don’t get rid of everything in your life… Trust me, extreme micro living can come back to haunt you!
In addition to exceptions, I’ve grouped these excuses together to more easily see that a lot of them are just versions of the same theme. Ok, let’s start!
It was on sale/I got a great deal.
It cost me a lot of money.
It’s an investment.
I could sell that for…
I’ll sell it in a garage sale/online.
It’s a collectible.
The theme with all of these thoughts is the same: money. All purchases obviously cost money. And money is something that people scrimp and save and put a lot of value on. With these excuses, it’s not the object we’re valuing, it’s the monetary output we’re putting the emphasis on. When we reduce an object to simply how much money we “saved” buying it, how much it cost us or how much we can get for it, we forget the true meaning of the things to us. We might be holding up a sweater that never fit right and is not in a color we particularly love, but we what we’re really thinking of is how much it cost or could fetch in the future. If one of the things we’re buying is on sale, sometimes reason and logic go out the window and we get caught up in what a good deal it was. If we spent a lot of money on something, we have a hard time parting with it lest we waste money. As for investments, re-selling things or putting things in a garage sale, that’s something that requires some thought and a few questions. When’s the last time you actually had a garage sale? Do you ever end up making up the time and energy you put into selling it? Does anyone actually collect this collectible? Will anyone else spend money on it? I find frequently that when people get the great idea to sell things, they end up cluttering up our homes because we don’t have the time or the energy to put the effort into selling them. If it really is valuable, wouldn’t someone else really appreciate it? And if it just doesn’t work for you, like shoes that are a little too tight or something that’s hopelessly out of fashion or use, wouldn’t you love handing it over to someone who fits the shoe or who can make something great out of the fabric from your discarded old favorite?
If you actively sell online, trade or do garage sales, you know your market, you’ve sold things before and it’s an ongoing project, it might be a good idea to hold onto what you have and get your money’s worth. I did say ACTIVELY though. If the last time you sold something online was six months ago and you spent more money on shipping than the object was worth, than it’s time to reassess whether this system is working for you or working against you (in terms of storage, time, energy, cost).
It’s going to fit when I lose/gain the weight.
Maybe if I had… it would work.
I’ve been meaning to fix it.
I might need it.
I’d like it better if…
I’d like to start using it.
I need it just in case.
I’ll get rid of it when…
It’s for my dream house/future/baby/business I’m starting.
So much clutter is kept around “just in case.” You know, just in case you need a ball of string in an emergency. Or just in case you suddenly drop 50 lbs. one morning. Really, anything could happen. But if your just in case pile is blocking a door or taking up room in a closet where you could store a fire extinguisher, your just in case can makes things much even worse in the future. Ok, maybe that sounded a little like a threat… It’s just really too bad that people make room for things in lives they’re not living right now. With future weight loss/gain it’s a bit of a challenge, but it’s pretty rare that anyone wakes up one morning 50 lbs. lighter or heavier. By the time we’ve lost the weight, a lot of the skinny jeans we’ve been holding on to might not fit quite right or be completely out of date. Even if something does come back in fashion during the 10 years you’ve spent trying to get the weight off, it never comes back in exactly the same way. Tight jeans are big again, but extreme acid wash, denim bows and ankle zippers may have seen their day. As with selling things in the future, if you’re not actively participating in an activity you might use your object in, it might be time for it to go. For example, if you have always been meaning to take up calligraphy, but it’s been 5 years and you still haven’t signed up for a class or talked to a single calligrapher, maybe those calligraphy supplies can find a better home. Same goes with fixing something, if it’s been awhile and you haven’t even gotten the replacement part or that broken lamp is gathering dust, it might be time to trash it.
For future babies, homes or the like, if you have room for it, you’re not superstitious and you know when it’s going to be useful (well, for babies, you can have a general idea), you’re good. I’m saving the train for my wedding dress to make a baptismal gown for a hypothetical baby. My mom is storing it, I have a definite cut off point for when it’s no longer necessary and I have a concrete plan to use it if that happens. Also, if you happen to have extreme weight fluctuations on a frequent basis, first, go see your doctor! If everything checks out ok or you are managing it, having a few things on hand is not a bad idea. The “get rid of it” advice is mostly for those of us who are still holding on to a prom dress made for an 18 year old body.
I don’t want it to go to waste.
I know exactly the person who could use this.
It’s still in good shape.
Someone may be able to use it.
This is the heart of perfectlygooditis. We have a general idea of the value of something, or put an imaginary value on it (“useful” or “in good shape”) and we keep it because of that perceived value. We hate to “waste” things and we feel that if we hold on to them, they’re not going to waste. “Someone may be able to use it…” and “I know the exactly the person who could use this.” are in this category because we believe others will value this object as much as we do. Recently decluttering a friend’s bathroom full of junk from 20 years ago showed me just how pervasive this idea is. One by one, I pulled out the owner’s objects and started sorting them into garbage and give away piles. The person I was helping kept piping up with her ideas of the value of things and was panicked that something, anything might go to waste. I tried to help her understand that the Salvation Army or Goodwill are not bottomless pits where things go to die. People who could actually use these things that are languishing and actually going to waste in our homes are waiting for you to send them their way! And most of the time, when we feel like we know exactly the right person to have something, we put it away, clutter up our house and manage to forget it every time we see them or don’t see them for months and months. It’s not “perfectly good” if you’re not using it.
If you know of a family in need or a friend in need or you frequently do follow through with your promises of finding a good home for things, you get an out on this one. I’d give it a time limit. “If I don’t see Aunt Bertha in the next two weeks, I’ll give this away.” I kept our dog crate for about a week until we got a new one (Chloe keeps needing bigger crates!), and our neighbor ended up needing one that week for her rescued puppy from the Humane Society. That was an object that I was really excited to give away and I’m glad it found its new owner right away. We also had the room to store the crate during that time and it wasn’t taking up room or getting in the way. Another huge exception: socks and underwear! Socks and underwear that are in perfectly good shape and are not frayed, torn, threadbare or stretched out past all reasonable limit are perfectly fine. I hate doing laundry every day too.
It goes in the maybe pile.
I’m not ready to make a decision.
I don’t have time.
A lot of our clutter is around simply because we procrastinate getting rid of it. We feel like we have other things to do on a Saturday afternoon then spend the hour it takes to clean out a closet (remember that thinking about it and procrastinating usually take more time than the act itself!). We put things in our “maybe” pile or say we’re not ready to decide on the future of whatever we’re holding on to. These phrases are frequently just an excuse to not say to ourselves, “Yes, I am procrastinating.” Are we really just lallygagging and putting off what needs to get done today for tomorrow? The time is NOW to make the hard decisions, to cut our losses and finally get things done.
If we REALLY don’t have the time, that’s ok. Make a plan to carve out time in the future. A concrete plan that you’ll stick to. I can’t remember how many times I’ve put off decluttering under my kitchen sink because I thought I didn’t have the time, or I really did have a million errands to do that day. One morning when I had a block of time, I set aside 15 minutes to get it done. If I had continued to tell myself maybe… someday… I’m not ready… it would have just been something I would cringe about every time I had to find dishwashing soap or when I bought that second bottle of Windex because I had no idea how many I had. Setting a concrete time in the future also helps if the reason you’re putting it off is because it’s an emotionally taxing project (cleaning out a loved one’s home or getting rid of mementos from a past relationship). If you know that you just need a full month for grieving, then take that time for yourself. Remember, though, that sometimes just pushing through the grief and getting rid of the things you’re hanging on to might make the healing go more quickly.
But… gave it to me.
But… made it for me.
But it’s my favorite!
This is a tricky one and one I’ve been dealing with since I realized that I basically hold on to nothing. A world without mementos is pretty sterile. But having an entire room filled with drawings your toddler made a year ago is a waste. Keeping things to remind us of our families, friends or a happy past is a wonderful way to turn a house (or apartment or condo) into a home. Keeping everything we’ve ever loved until it crowds out present and future memories is just a pity. This is a situation where being selective and decisive is key. I love making room to display things I really love and being able to see them instead of just seeing all the clutter in front of them. My favorite vases in the world are on my mantle right now. They’re not only valuable money wise, they’re also beautiful, I love them and they remind me of my “hometown” in Japan. Every time I look at them I smile. If I had a million tchotchkes on my mantle, I wouldn’t be able to see them. And I would be stressed out when I looked at them because I might be afraid that they would fall over under the weight of everything around them or I would see them and see all the things I’ve been putting off doing (like take down the Christmas decorations or dust my ever growing origami collection). The same goes for things that people have given me or made for me. I’ve kept a few, like a pin from a dear friend who passed away… but I’ve gotten rid of all the cheap jewelry and unused watches that were piling on top of it and causing me to never see it in the first place. Keeping things just because someone gave them to you can also make them clutter catchers if you don’t have a special relationship to the person who gave them to you or to the object itself. I was holding on to a potpourri dish from a cousin I don’t often see and have never been close to that she got me for my wedding. I don’t use potpourri. After about about a year of storing it with other unused wedding gifts, I finally cut it loose and gave it away to Salvation Army. Now I have room for the lovely picture frame she gave me (that’s useful and pretty). If it’s your favorite thing ever, make sure it’s still usable and in good shape. I can’t tell you how many favorite tshirts I’ve worn to death and should’ve been retired years before I retired them. If they’re threadbare, stained or in otherwise unusable shape, it might be time to retire them.
Sometimes, “but it’s my favorite!” is a perfectly good reason to keep something (I had to add that…). AS LONG AS you have room and it’s not taking up valuable space, time and energy. And it’s in good shape. And it’s ok from time to time to keep something just because. I know that might sound like it’s counter to everything I’ve said when it comes to micro living, but when our irrational mind takes over and you can’t ever bear to part with a few small, select things, cut yourself some slack and keep them. I have basically zero use for this purse I have. It doesn’t match anything I own. It’s kind of weird and kooky. I’ve had friends make fun of it. BUT IT’S MY FAVORITE!
Original packaging makes it more valuable.
What if I need to return it?
What if it breaks?
It’s a perfectly good toothpick!
Sometimes things are literally just garbage. I normally advocate decluttering by giving things away or selling them (if you’re actually going to follow through with it). I don’t really have a lot of pure garbage that goes in the landfill. I try to recycle when I can and reuse things when it’s appropriate. But sometimes things are irrevocably broken, have missing pieces you’ll never find, are moldy, threadbare, stained beyond repair or are just plain junk. I know some people who open a pack of gum, ball up the wrapper and throw it someplace in their house or car so they don’t have to walk the ten feet to the garbage can or wait until they get to a gas station to throw it out. I don’t know many recycling facilities that will take gum wrappers and you can’t reuse them. They’re dirty and they’re just trash. Ok, maybe it’s not really a gum wrapper. Maybe it’s packaging to an old laptop or a frayed computer cord or directions to something that’s long gone. Maybe it’s a board game that’s missing pieces and it just gets thrown in a closet for a future date or “just in case.” Maybe it’s a Barbie you gave to your daughter that’s actually collectible, but by the time she’s done dressing it and cutting its hair, it’s lost all resale value. The original packaging is not going to undo that Mohawk! This is something that’s beyond just decluttering. This is verging into hoarding territory. If there’s something in your house that you just know beyond a reasonable doubt is trash, THROW IT OUT! Like, in-the-garbage-with-egg-shells trash. Under leftover spaghetti. On top of used kleenex. (The grosser you make it to retrieve, the less likely you are to consider it perfectly good.)
A recyclable that goes into a recycling program that is frequently picked up or dropped off on a consistent basis.
If you have felt a little guilty looking into the mirror of “perfectlygooditis” like I have, then now is a good time to start decluttering! If you hear yourself saying these things or even thinking them, take a long hard look at your junk drawer or junk closet or even junk room. Take a minute to look at everything and say what your gut reaction to the object is out loud. Or write it down. As long as you make yourself acutely aware of your “reason” for keeping it. If you hear yourself saying an excuse and you hear it out loud, you might think twice about keeping all those things you’re holding on to.
Did I miss anything? If you hear yourself saying another excuse over and over for keeping unnecessary or useless stuff in your home, let me know! I, for one, am convicted on a lot of these counts and will start on it… when I’m ready. I’m writing a blog post. I have a perfectly good excuse to wait until later to throw out that cookie wrapper…