Tell Your Stuff to Take a Hike by Janice Russell

Lots of communication happens around our stuff. People indicate they love us by giving us stuff. We tell people to get their stuff out of the way. Having the right stuff helps us feel good about ourselves. Despite all of the communication and hence, emotion regarding our stuff. In reality, the stuff itself is inanimate. If you feel overwhelmed by stuff, it is time to develop some tools to better communicate with and about your stuff.

First, if you have too much stuff, it is time to implement stuff deletion. Choose a drawer, box, small space, and pick up an item. Ask, “when was the last time I used this object?” If the answer is “I don’t know” or “over six months ago” then it is time to consider whether or not the item deserves a place in your space. Here is where your self-talk comes into play. In the back of your mind a little voice is saying, “Aunt Sue gave this to me and I can’t get rid of it” or “I paid good money for this.” Time to change that communication! Instead ask, “Does this item need me?” I believe that some of our unused stuff feels sad because it is not being used. Think about it. I bet there is a coat in your closet that you haven’t worn in a couple years that is thinking, “I still have lots of wear left in me, and I wish I could be with someone who would use me.” Change that communication from “I might need this someday” to “I think this item might like a new owner.”

Second, curb stuff acquiring habits by practicing stuff deacquisition. We are very good at obtaining stuff:

  • Intentional purchase from a store
  • Gift-holiday or otherwise
  • Freebie picked up somewhere
  • Unplanned purchase from a store

It takes strong and consistent communication to apply stuff deacquisition principles. The first principle involves self-talk. When you reach pick up something in the store, ask yourself if it is a true need or a want, if you have a place to put it, and what item you are going to delete as a result of the new purchase. Take time to consider each of these questions so that you don’t make unnecessary or impulse purchases. The second principle involves communicating with others. Let people know that you are simplifying your life and as such are trying to pare down your possessions. You can do this in several ways. If you are known for your collection of panda bear figurines but they can be found on every available surface and you aren’t really interested in pandas anymore, tell others that while you have appreciated their panda gifts in the past, you feel that your panda bear collection is complete. If you are really bold, you could let them know that you will be choosing a limited number from your current collection and passing the remainder to others. Another suggestion is to let people know that if they feel like they must give a gift (not that you need any or are encouraging them to), that you would be interested in consumable gifts. You can give them a couple of hints: gift certificate for manicure or massage, gasoline card, restaurant gift certificate, etc. By the way, you can lead the charge by giving consumable gifts to others as an example!

Third, communicate that you honor your stuff. One of the main reasons that people keep so much stuff is that it holds memories. You may feel that if you delete the item, you erase the memory. Unfortunately, many times we do not treat our stuff like we cherish it. We keep it in inadequate containers in locations that are more likely to destroy than to preserve the item. Ask yourself, “what can I do to keep the memory?” For instance, going back to the panda bears in the previous paragraph, if you have 35 pandas, pick out your 10 most treasured. Take one or two pictures of the other 25. Place the 10 pandas on a display shelf with the picture of the others in a frame on the same shelf. This way you reduce your physical collection, but you can remember the entire collection. A second example might be reducing your extension assortment of t-shirts from various places and events. Truthfully, if you have 50 t-shirts, even if you wear one every day (that’s assuming that they all fit and are in wearable shape), it will take you almost two months to wear each one once. Choose 10 to wear and have a quilt made with the other 40. In the winter you can wrap up in your memory quilt and remember days gone by!

If you need additional help telling your stuff to take a hike, the Stuff-flow  website provides additional principles regarding decluttering. The Stop Letting Stuff Overwhelm You audio covers topics such as causes of clutter, chronic disorganization, and consequences of clutter.

Start telling your stuff to take a hike; it will give you a great sense of freedom!

© 2008 Janice Russell. North Carolina’s first Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization, Janice Russell, and her firm, Minding Your Matters® Organizing, have built a reputation for helping business and residential clients organize their space, items, documents, and time using the flexible structure principle™. Janice’s workshops on topics such as tackling the “no time” trap, perishing paper piles, and stopping stuff from being overwhelming are dynamic, informative, and practical. Minding Your Matters® is dedicated to helping people achieve organization with lasting results™ in their personal and professional lives. Janice is highly regarded within her industry. She is a Golden Circle Member of National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) and past president of the North Carolina Chapter of NAPO. Janice is the author of the book Get Organized This Year!  and the audio Stop Letting Stuff Overwhelm You. For more information, please visit or call 919-467-7058.

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