I struggle with getting rid of things. I’m a bit of a clutter queen, though I aspire to be a minimalist in my fantasy life. I’ve read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and appreciated its message. (I really DO want to focus only on things that bring me joy! PLEASE FREE ME FROM MY PRISON OF THINGS.) But I also really like stuff. I live for Target runs. I like good deals, and I’m definitely an overbuyer. I’m most certainly not cheap and have no problem putting my money toward expenses and people I care about, but I do consider myself thrifty. I enjoy something (be it a pair of jeans, a dinner out, or an entire vacation) MUCH more when I feel good about the price. My husband, though much tidier than I am, also struggles with throwing things away, designating a place for something new, and just plain making a decision about an item’s fate.
All of these tendencies contribute to clutter around our house. Our basement has progressively filled up with old furniture, clothing, and other random stuff we probably don’t need. (Extra washer and dryer, I’m looking at you.) If you give us a gift, even if it’s something we like, it will probably sit on the floor for a month until we find the strength and inner fortitude to determine its future. We have piles of mail and important papers just sitting out, waiting to be filed or shredded. It seems so draining to deal with things; it’s much easier to put it off and just not deal with things. Anyone else with me?
My brother and his wife, on the other hand, do NOT struggle with clutter. They definitely err on the side of fewer possessions, less furniture, and less knick knacks. One evening, after my brother and sister-in-law had hosted us for dinner, I observed the two of them cleaning up the kitchen. I watched in amazement as my brother picked up a giant bowl of leftover salad and dumped the entire thing in the trash. At first, I was horrified. My brain screamed, “Omg, that was perfectly good food! He’s wasting all that uneaten food!” I would have transferred every last scrap to a Ziploc or Tupperware. But then it occurred to me: Salad DOES. NOT. KEEP. So why would I keep it??? Let’s face it, no one is chomping at the bit to eat bagged salad when it’s super fresh; why would anyone eat it two days later, when it’s STILL SALAD and also covered in light brown goo? So the two available options are:
- Throw it away in 4-19 days, feeling guilty for wasting food and grossing up the inside of my fridge for that entire duration of time; or
- Grow a pair and MAKE THE FREAKING CALL.
The concept began to click into place. My mindset took a small step toward common sense that day. But it wasn’t until a few months later that I had the real lightbulb moment.
Again, my brother and his Spartan sensibilities deserve all the credit for my eventual epiphany. He was preparing his famous guacamole in my kitchen on a Sunday afternoon. As I busied myself refilling everyone’s beers and cleaning up the guac ingredients, I grabbed a Ziploc bag and wrapped up the quarter of a small red onion he’d left on the cutting board. Drying his hands, my brother leaned toward me and said with a wry smile, “Lauren, are you saving an onion, or are you wasting a Ziploc?”
Mind. Blown. It was one of those spot-on questions that makes you re-evaluate EVERYTHING. It occurred to me that, my entire life, I’d been asking the wrong question about my stuff. I had been asking, “Is this thing still good?” If it was still good, still usable, I kept it. No point in throwing something out if it can still be used, right? But the better question is actually, “Will I use this?” Will I ACTUALLY wear that dress, put out those throw pillows again, use up that quarter of a red onion before it absorbs all the gross odors from the fridge, turns rubbery and white, and starts growing a new onion??
I can’t say my husband and I are perfect about avoiding clutter since this epiphany, but I will say we’ve gotten a lot better about making decisions based on probable use rather than the item’s theoretical potential. It’s all about being honest with ourselves. If we do get a bigger house someday, will I really have a place for those old, rickety chairs? Even if I do finally lose all the weight and get back into those skinny jeans, will I really want to wear jeans from 2010 that have been sitting in the basement for 7+ years? Or will I go shopping and pick up some new threads to match my smoking hot bod? Ding ding ding. (Hey, this is my fantasy life, right? Might as well go big.) And in the meantime, holding on to these items I don’t actually want to use in the future takes a toll. I’m taking up space in my house and in my life, adding to my mental load and stress level. In short, I’m wasting the freaking Ziploc.
I hope this anecdote helps someone else wag the Clutter War, and please let me know your best organizing tips and other mom-hack epiphanies.