We live in an age of excess: big cars, large portion sizes at restaurants, any item you need delivered to you with ease. In fact, the average size of the American home has nearly tripled in the last 50 years.1 For what reason? To hold more stuff.
When was the last time you took a good look at your possessions and considered their value to your life? Many of us hold on to things because we “might use them one day” or because they hold sentimental value, and we believe that somewhere down the line we would regret throwing them out.
The truth of the matter is we are overspending, and it’s hurting us in the long run. This excess has lead to poor financial habits among many. Almost 50% of American households don’t save anything.1 It’s time that we start focusing on the important things in life and not on our possessions. We’ll take you through a room-by-room decluttering strategy to help you get back on track.
Before we begin, here are some important principles that can be applied to every aspect of your life.
Before you start sorting through anything, organize it first. This way you know how much and what range of things you are dealing with. You need the big picture before you can start minimizing.
Limit yourself to three piles: keep, throw out, donate. This will help you make hard decisions and hone in your focus on the things that really matter to you.
If you have a sentimental attachment to it but don’t want to keep the object itself, take a photo. That way the sentiment is not forgotten, but the clutter is alleviated.
The thing most likely to be cluttering your bedroom are your clothes. Americans typically have far more clothes than they truly need, so your closet is a great place to start this challenge. Consider the following when going through your clothes:
- Does it fit?
- Have you worn it in the past year?
- Is it in good shape (and not in need of repair)?
- If you saw it in the store today, would you buy it again?
If you answered no to any of these questions, it’s time to bid farewell to that item of clothing. If possible, donate your unwanted clothing — you’re not only helping others but you may also be eligible for a tax credit for the clothes you part with.
If you’re a parent, you’ve probably experienced the pain of stepping on a misplaced toy. Children today have more toys than ever, and while you don’t want to stifle their imagination, it’s best to find a happy medium when it comes to how many toys they own. Here are a few good rules of thumb to help you sort through all of them.
- If they have multiple of an item (e.g. dolls, stuffed animals, balls), choose a reasonable limit — like three or five. Anything beyond that should be donated or thrown out.
- If the toy has not been played with in six months or more, donate it or throw it out.
- Make a rule that if your child wants a new toy, they must first donate one of their old toys. This way you can ensure all your hard work to minimize the volume of toys does not go to waste.
A recent book about tidying up your life encourages its readers to declutter by asking the same question about each object in their possession: Does this item bring you joy? In the case of our belongings used for entertainment purposes, it’s a bit difficult to say “no.” These are items typically purchased out of a desire for fun, not a need, so they inherently bring us some level of joy in their use.
There are a few questions you can ask yourself to help thin out your entertainment items:
- First, consider if you would ever read it again. If not, would you recommend the book to a friend? If you answered no to both of these questions, donate or sell the book.
- Use a similar line of questioning as you did for books. If you would not watch it again or recommend it to a friend, donate or sell the movie.
- Cross reference your DVDs with what is available to stream online or what is available at your local library. If you can access it for free through other means, donate or sell the movie.
If there is one area of your home that should have an established organizational system, it’s your paperwork. Unfortunately, the sheer volume of paperwork we accumulate can make it challenging to keep up or differentiate between what we should keep and what we should throw away. Use these tips to decide:
- Bills: Keep the last six months of statements. When you receive a new one, dispose of the oldest. On the other hand, many banks and lenders will house digital versions of your statement on your customer portal. If that’s the case, opt in for paperless statements and avoid organizing the statements all together.
- Car Maintenance: If you get work done on your car, there is always room for error — labor is not always guaranteed. It’s a good idea to keep record of the work completed on your car so that if something does go wrong close to a repair, you can go back and work with the mechanic to fix it for free, or if you choose, go to another mechanic.
- Medical: It’s a good idea to keep copies of your latest prescriptions. While your doctors and your pharmacist have records of them, it’s good to have their exact names and dosage available in case you need to see a new doctor.
Generally speaking, technology has made it the norm to record many documents digitally. If you can make a transition to digital paperwork for many of life’s events, it will save you the headache of organizing on a regular basis.
Americans spend $1.2 trillion annually on nonessential goods — in other words, items they do not need.1 Take the time to sort through your belongings and decipher what’s needed versus what is wanted to live a less cluttered life.
1Becker, J. (February 24, 2017). 21 surprising statistics that reveal how much stuff we actually own. Retrieved March 7, 2017, from http://www.becomingminimalist.com/clutter-stats/