If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that I’m always going to want shiny new things. Each time I browse the Internet or flip through a magazine, there’s always going to be a fluffier sweater, a kick-ass shoe or a bag of buttery soft leather that I’m just dying to have.
The thing I want? It’s like a magic unicorn that’s just around the corner and I haven’t caught up with it yet.
My home is a museum of all the stuff that at some point I had, had, HAD to have. My saving grace, though, is that I like to purge frequently. I put myself through this process because I’ve always craved less clutter and less mess. In the hopes of one day reaching my goal, I’ve come up with a few mental tricks to help me cut down on owning too much stuff. If you’ve got pack rat and hoarding tendencies like me, perhaps this will help.
I know, I know. It hurts to give up your stuff because when you own something for a long time, you form a relationship with it. And why not? You go home to your stuff every night and you share time and space with it. It’s a relationship that outlasts some of your friendships with real people. I think that’s why parting with your possessions can be really difficult.
When I have to make a hard decision, I like to visualize, or use my imagination to see myself going, step by step, to do it.
Let’s say I’m trying to decide whether to part with an object, such as a slow cooker that has stopped working. I know that I can get it fixed if I bring it to a service center in some obscure part of town. Can I see myself taking time out of my day to take it there? No. Can I see myself doing it two weeks from now? Perhaps not, if it’s been taking up space and gathering dust for the past year.
The fact that I once spent a hundred dollars on it is not a good reason to keep it. A better reason would be if I’ve recently found myself eagerly clipping slow cooker recipes out of magazines. But if that’s not the case (and it probably isn’t), out it goes.
Space Is Money.
The biggest mental barrier I have to getting rid of stuff is the thought that it’s really wasteful. But let’s flip it around. What if it actually costs more to keep everything? We all know that time is money, but space has a monetary value as well.
For example, you probably pay a lot more than you’d like on rent or mortgage every month. Now, think about the square footage. What percentage of it is usable, enjoyable space and how much of it is covered in junk? It’s even easier to set a dollar amount if you’re fancy enough to own your home. Figure out the price per square foot by taking the sale price and dividing it by the square footage.
If you live in Brooklyn, NY like me, it should be between $300 to $400 per square foot. For me, space is so expensive that the last thing I want to do is buy more furniture and fill it with lots of crap.
Think Like A Landlord.
To carve out enough space to breathe and wave your arms around in, try this exercise. Think of yourself as a landlord, and all of your possessions as tiny little renters looking for prime real estate in which to park themselves. It’s your job to ensure that the best tenants, or the stuff that is useful, functional or beautiful, get to stay in the best “neighborhoods,” or dressers, closets, pantries and storage racks. Everything else gets the stink eye and an eviction notice.
If you were to set a dollar value on the space they take up, the containers or furniture you buy to keep them, and the serenity you lose by having them around, you’ll realize that these items are the freeloaders and ne’er-do-wells that are costing you big.
Apply The Lifeboat Conundrum.
I’ve always been fascinated by this question: If a ship is sinking and the lifeboat can only seat 20 out of 22 passengers including yourself, what would you do? Who would you save and who would you sacrifice?
Thinking about this problem puts you in the perfect state of mind for purging, organizing and making your stuff fit your space. Let’s use this storage tote as an example. Imagine that it’s a lifeboat, and the medical supplies are the passengers. Pile on whatever you need most, the stuff you like and then the things that will cost a lot to replace. Make decisions quickly and decisively, for once the lifeboat is full, you must leave the remaining passengers to “drown.”
You may find yourself bargaining, getting creative or trying to cheat in order to save a VIP. That’s okay, because it means that you’ve accepted the system and it’s working. Use this method to trim down on stuff you own in mass quantities and have limited space for, such as clothing, shoes, beauty products and books.
Take a deep breath and know that it’s okay if you somehow make a mistake and get rid of something you need. It’s better to repurchase a single item or two than to keep a hundred less than necessary things around, clogging up your space.
Count ‘Em Out.
How many towels does a normal, rational person need? Pick a number, and stick to it. Ask your friends if you have trouble deciding. Your number is probably different from mine, but I think a single person doesn’t need more than three bath towels, six kitchen towels, four blankets and three sets of bed linens. As in the previous method, choose your favorites and say goodbye to the rest.
Use It Or Lose It.
To understand what I mean, try sticking your head in the fridge. Almost everything there has a sell-by or expiration date, so food items need to go in and out in an orderly manner. It’s the kind of place where everything needs to be organized and maintained properly or else food will spoil, and time (spent grocery shopping) and money will be lost.
I like to apply the same concept to things like hair, skin and makeup products. For example, the only way I can get myself to use “extras” like face serum, toner or primer is if I see it when I sit down at my vanity.
When there are lots of products available to me, I’m sure to forget to use some or all of these things. The only way I can be more disciplined about my beauty regimen is if I pare down my collection and start buying less. Sure, getting rid of makeup feels wasteful. But maybe it’s worse to forget to put on sunscreen for a week, or to pick up my concealer only to find that it has dried out in its tube.
Opt for a Trial Separation.
After a good purging session, there will still be a few items you’re not sure about parting with. Don’t give up! You can set up a designated box. Consider it to be a sort of purgatory for your stuff. Mark it with today’s date as well as an expiration date six to 12 months into the future.
During that time, you may find yourself pulling things out, and that’s okay. But on judgment day, most of the items should still be in the box. Since you’ve already had some time to get used to the idea of permanent separation, it should be a lot easier to sell, toss or give away the remaining contents.
Min Lee is on Twitter @minjams.