Stealth Decluttering

In the past, I used to engage in big, glorious acts of decluttering—the type in which an entire closet is emptied and the contents scattered across the room, each item awaiting its fate. Sometimes I’d put on music, pour a glass of wine, and dance around my castoffs.

Ah, those were the days… If I tried that now, a pint-sized scavenger would be dragging whatever she could grab to far-flung corners of our home. And I’m sure a good amount would be adopted as new (albeit unconventional) playthings.

So now I declutter in stealth mode.

Instead of extravagant purging sessions, I pare down our possessions quietly, piece by piece. I keep a donation box in the closet, and as I run across things that no longer pull their weight, I add them in—sometimes sneaking them across the house, if need be. To be honest, most of the castoffs belong to my daughter Plumblossom—outgrown clothing, toys, and baby accoutrements—hence the need for secrecy. If she catches sight of a familiar item (no matter how long it’s been forgotten), it may get stuck in our house for months to come.

Which got me thinking…stealth decluttering can be an effective technique if you’re facing resistance from full-grown members of your household.

Now, don’t get me wrong—I don’t advocate tossing your spouse’s high school yearbooks or prized bottle cap collection (tempting as it may be). Ditto for the knitting stash and dusty sports gear. Sentimental and hobby items are sticky wickets, and messing with them can get you into trouble.

But if your partner is the type that will become hopelessly attached to the duplicate stapler the moment he/she lays eyes on it, I think you’re justified in making some executive decisions.

The best candidates for stealth decluttering:

• Broken stuff. Nobody can fault you for tossing something that doesn’t work—especially if it hasn’t worked in a long time. If there’s no motivation or intention to fix it, let it go; obviously, it hasn’t been that essential to the workings of your household.

• Mundane stuff. These are the things that can be replaced easily and inexpensively in the remote chance that they’re missed. Many of these items have a tendency to multiply—pens, mugs, Tupperware, etc. Nobody is likely to notice if a few cups are missing, or if you pare down the stash of takeout chopsticks—except that it might be easier to close those drawers and cabinets.

• Children’s stuff. Give your kids the gift of space by eliminating the outgrown, the unloved, and the non-essential from their lives. Although I believe in encouraging children to give away their old stuff, you don’t need to run every castoff by them. It’s better for some things to disappear quietly. I stash questionable items in a “limbo” box for a few months, just in case they’re requested in the near future.

Your stuff. When it comes to your personal possessions, skip the PDD (public display of decluttering). Seeking validation from your partner may very well backfire (“You’re getting rid of that after paying so much for it?!”) and break your resolve.

My opinion: when done right, stealth decluttering isn’t an act of duplicity, it’s an act of kindness. We’re keeping our households clear, pleasant, and spacious without burdening our loved ones with the task (especially those who may genuinely struggle with such decisions).

(I should note that I don’t need to employ this with my husband, as he’s as minimalist as I am–and he’s more than welcome to do some stealth decluttering of his own. ;-) )

So let’s come clean in the Comments—do you ever declutter on the QT?

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Decluttering Update: Hello eBay, My Old Friend

Hello eBay, my old friend
I’ve come to list with you again…

Sometimes you reach a point in life when you have things all figured out—you’ve accomplished that elusive goal, you’ve designed that perfect lifestyle, you’ve tweaked and fine-tuned your way into the ideal routine.

And then what happens? Well, things change, of course. One of the tenets of Zen Buddhism is that life is never static—and that the desire for it to be so is cause for great suffering. Better to accept that change is the rule, and embrace the twists and turns that occur along the way.

I had once decluttered my way to minimalist nirvana. I’d whittled down my belongings to the essential. I had fewer than one hundred possessions. I had no permanent address and I lived out of a suitcase. My eBay account, once a hotbed of activity, stood dormant for years.

And then I had a baby.

Now, don’t get me wrong; having a child has been the most amazing experience of my life. However, it’s thrown me into the midst of a whole new level of stuff-management.

When I was pregnant, I didn’t shop or nest like many moms-to-be. In fact, I hardly bought anything, confidant that my little one could get by with a handful of outfits and toys. I didn’t even acquire a crib or car seat until I was nearly full term. I haven’t become much of a shopper since her arrival, either, and generally scramble to fill needs as they arise (oh, there’s six inches of snow–my daughter needs boots and mittens!).

But, this being the first grandchild on both sides of the family, my relatives have more than made up for my lack. So the last two years have found me back in decluttering mode, as Plumblossom rapidly outgrows her clothes and baby paraphernalia.

While the bulk of her castoffs go to charity, I’ve listed some of her nicer dress clothes on eBay. It’s actually been less time-consuming than expected, primarily because of eBay’s shipping label service. After the auction, all I have to do is put the article of clothing in a small padded envelope, weigh it on our kitchen scale, print off the label (paid via Paypal), and drop it into the drive-through mailbox at the post office. It’s a far cry from my eBay heyday a decade ago, when I’d wait for checks in the mail, take them to the bank, make my own labels, and wait in line at the post office (!).

So I’m back in the trenches with y’all, and have integrated a new decluttering routine into my minimalist life. I have three bags in the guest room closet: one for clothes donations, one for books and toys donations, and one for eBay sales (unfortunately, none of our friends or family have had baby girls recently, leaving a lack of hand-me-down recipients). I like to keep Plumblossom’s closet and play area as clutter-free as possible, so anything that’s outgrown or no longer useful goes straight into the bags. Then every few months, I make my donations and list on eBay. And Plumblossom grows, and the cycle goes on…

(For those wondering why I’m not saving stuff for a future sibling, see my Huffington Post article.)

The point of this post? That when it comes to decluttering, sometimes there isn’t an end point—and that’s okay. Sometimes, no matter how perfectly you’ve pared down your possessions, life circumstances might throw some extra stuff your way. But as long as you keep your minimalist mindset, and deal with clutter as soon as it becomes clutter, you’ll continue on your merry minimalist path.

In fact, it’s good to hone those decluttering muscles once in a while. When it comes to my own stuff, having a child has made me even more minimalist (perhaps to compensate, both mentally and physically, for her things?). I’ve acquired practically nothing for myself since her birth, and finally let go of the box of “nice” office clothes I’d stored while overseas (and lamented in Storage is Not a Solution). I have a renewed enthusiasm for becoming as paperless as possible–more on that in a future post. Perhaps (to paraphrase Nietzsche) the clutter that doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. ;-)

So has life ever thrown you a clutter curveball? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the Comments!

[Note: Am I blogging again? Sort of. I'll try to post about once a month for now, and slowly ease my way back...]

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Storage is Not a Solution

(Photo: Amazon)

Look at any organizational website or catalog, and you’ll find a plethora of boxes, bags, and containers billed as “storage solutions.” No matter what the item, there’s a vessel to hold it—big, small, tall, flat, thin, wide, clear, colored, fabric, plastic, leather, wood.

Put them on shelves, pile them in closets, stack them in your attic, basement, and garage. If you run out of room, gather them up and stick them in a storage unit across town.

And presto—your clutter problems are over!

Uh, not really. Storage is not a solution.

Just because it’s out of sight, doesn’t mean it’s out of mind. Your clutter is still there, hanging over your head, piled beneath your feet, lurking in the dark corners of your home. Just the thought of being surrounded by junk can be psychologically suffocating.

(And forget about dressing it up in designer boxes—making it pretty doesn’t make it go away.)

I re-learned this lesson myself, just recently. When my husband and I returned from England, we had our own little storage unit to deal with. Stuff we’d lived swimmingly without for 2+ years had come back to haunt us. It wasn’t all unwelcome, of course—we’re happy to be reunited with our bikes, and Plumblossom loves to cruise along our newly-reinstated futon/sofa.

But I’m also dealing with a box of books, a box of paperwork, and a box of clothing that I’d all but forgotten about. How tempting it was to toss them without opening them—after all, I hadn’t used (or really missed) their contents in years. Unfortunately, I had to peek inside and rediscover the “nice” office clothes that would be $$$ to replace (will I work outside the home again?), the dress shoes made in Italy, the out-of-print art books that will never be available in a library or on a Kindle.

Sigh. While three boxes is far from a clutter problem, it’s more than this minimalist wants to own. And in all fairness, the paperwork is mostly tax, housing, or medical-related, and necessary to keep. But my goal is to slowly detach myself from the rest (I’ve already started).

So take it from me: storage is not a solution—it’s just a way to hide your stuff until you (or worse yet, someone else!) must deal with it later. Instead: declutter, declutter, and declutter some more!

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Possessions as Promises

When Plumblossom was just a few months old, I bought an infant swing. I never thought I’d own such an item—but desperate to get my daughter to nap, I went online and discovered this “solution” to my problem. It promised to calm my little one with its gentle rocking, and send her off to sleep in no time flat; the Amazon reviews confirmed its efficacy (“My baby naps 3 hours in this!”). I couldn’t part with my money fast enough.

My enthusiasm to acquire this new thing made me think: what are our possessions, really, but a bunch of promises? That dress promises to make us look stylish; that smartphone promises to keep us tech-savvy and connected; that cookbook promises to make us a culinary whiz; that moisturizer promises to take years off our face; that heirloom china promises to help us remember our grandmother.

These promises to make our lives easier, better, chicer, or more productive are enticing. The problem: the products don’t always deliver. In our disappointment, we shove them to the back of the closet, up in the attic, or out in the garage—or we may just let them sit around in our living room, kitchen, or bedroom, unwilling to admit that they didn’t really live up to our expectations.

All too often, we end up with a pile of broken promises—or, in other words, clutter.

So what can you do about it?

For the stuff you currently own:

* Ask what “promise” each possession holds. It’s a great way to evaluate exactly why you own a particular item.

* Ask if it’s delivering on its promise. If not, pass it on to someone else; perhaps its true potential may be found in another home.

For stuff you’re considering acquiring:

* Identify any insecurities that may be behind the purchase. Are those stilettos calling your name because you’ve been feeling a bit frumpy?

* Consider non-stuff solutions to your problem. Could an aerobics class make you feel fitter and sexier than a new pair of shoes?

So back to my own story: when the swing arrived, my husband and I had it out of the box and set up in minutes. At her next naptime, I lowered Plumblossom into it with bated breath, waiting for her to close her eyes and drift off to dreamland. Instead, she looked up at me as if to say “you must be kidding,” and in about three minutes broke into a wail. Undeterred, I tried it again and again, almost always with the same result. She’d sometimes lounge in it for ten minutes while my husband and I ate dinner, but napping? Not a chance.

The swing clearly spoke to my insecurities as a new mom. In the process, I learned that for my daughter, a mechanical device is no substitute for the warmth and motion of my own arms, and that a softly-sung lullaby is much more soothing than an electronic one. A thing was not going to instantly make her a better napper. (Needless to say, it’s since been donated.)

I’ve used this example not because I’m becoming a mommy blogger, but to illustrate how these things can sneak up on us when we experience new situations in life. As a long-time, card-carrying minimalist, I thought I was long past falling for such promises. I’d become a minsumer extraordinaire, immune to the siren calls of miracle creams, designer handbags, and the latest-and-greatest gadgets. But in the past year, I’ve found that you don’t “perfect” minimalism and call it a day—you have to keep working on it as life throws new challenges your way. :)

Do you have any broken promises cluttering your home? Tell us about them in the Comments!

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Walls of Stuff

(Photo: RBerteig)

An observation from my minimalist life: when you don’t have a lot of stuff in your home, you tend to look outward for entertainment.

When my husband and I lived in our tiny flat in England, we rarely spent our leisure time indoors—other than reading or cooking, there simply wasn’t much to do. Instead, weekends and evenings would find us walking the streets of London, or the idyllic paths of the countryside.

The same holds true now: even though we live in a larger house, there’s still not much to keep us inside. During the day, I usually put Plumblossom in my Baby Bjorn carrier, wander through the neighborhood, and chat with anyone who happens to be out and about. On weekends, our little family goes for long walks and picnics in a local park. As far as I can tell, Plumblossom—budding minimalist that she is—much prefers an outdoor jaunt than staying inside and playing with toys. And my husband and I would certainly rather get some fresh air and exercise than sit around at home.

Along my minimalist journey, I’ve learned that too much stuff can build up into walls around us—keeping us isolated from everything and everyone out there. When we declutter, we dismantle those stacks and mounds and piles of clutter, and reconnect with the world at large. Oftentimes, it’s simply a matter of pursuing our interests and activities on public ground rather than private.

Here’s a few examples:

* Instead of buying (and storing) a treadmill or rowing machine, go for walks/runs or join a recreational athletic league.

* Instead of outfitting a media room with the latest and greatest in viewing technology, take your family out to the movies.

* Instead of owning an ice cream maker, cappuccino machine, or specialty bakeware, go out for an indulgent treat.

* Instead of accumulating collectibles, visit a gallery or museum (or window shop) to satisfy your aesthetic interests.

* Instead of stashing away closetfuls of craft supplies, take a class or course in your hobby of choice. That way, you can use the studio’s equipment rather than invest in your own.

As I write in my book, The Joy of Less:

In our quest to become minimalists, we want to reduce the amount of things in our homes that require our care and attention. Fortunately, we have ample opportunity to do so—simply by shifting some of our pleasures and activities into the public realm. In fact, such action produces a pretty wonderful side effect. For when we hang out in parks, museums, movie houses, and coffee shops—instead of trying to create similar experiences in our own homes—we become significantly more socially active and civically engaged. By breaking down the walls of stuff around us, we’re able to get out into the world and enjoy fresher, more direct, and more rewarding experiences.

Do you have any walls of stuff you need to break down? Tell us about it in the Comments!

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Sinking the Boat (or Ancient Chinese Decluttering)

(Photo: waferboard)

There’s a popular Buddhist story about Layman P’ang, a successful merchant in 8th century China. He was a family man who, instead of becoming a monk, chose to pursue a lay practice and study the sutras with his wife and children. Worried that his material wealth might impede his path to enlightenment, he put all his worldly possessions in a boat, and sank it in the middle of a river.

Ah, don’t you sometimes wish you could do the same! Decluttering can be a long and arduous process, as we agonize over each possession. Should we keep it? Should we part with it? What if we need it next week/next month/next year? Wash, rinse, and repeat with the next item. It seems much easier, and certainly more expedient, if we could heave it all in one go and not look back.

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to “sink my boat” when I moved overseas. I had only weeks to divest myself of the majority of my stuff–and to be honest, it was a minimalist’s dream come true. Who knows how long it may have taken me to declutter, had I not had such a powerful incentive?

Of course, not everyone has the benefit of a long-distance move to make them instantly revalue (and release) their possessions. But sinking the boat sure does make for an interesting (and perhaps enlightening) thought experiment.

Is there a category of possessions you wish you could part with in one fell swoop? Your stash of yarn? Your dusty sports equipment? Your atticful of inherited heirlooms?

Or is your excess cargo less tangible—such as unfulfilling commitments, unrewarding relationships, or unreasonable expectations?

Please share with us in the Comments: what would you sink in your boat?

{Note: please don’t take this metaphor for decluttering as a recommendation to pollute the waterways with consumer detritus. Your castoffs can do much more good on land than at the bottom of a river. :)}

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Twenty Questions to Clear Your Clutter

In your quest to declutter, sometimes a good interrogation is in order. If you caught a trespasser on your property, you’d likely question their presence—why not do the same for your stuff? That way, you can determine whether it truly belongs in your household, or needs to be escorted off the premises.

To that end, here are twenty questions to ask of your clutter:

1. What are you? Let’s face it—if you have to ask, the item under scrutiny should already be halfway out the door. It might sound like a ridiculous question, but I’d wager that most of us have plenty of unidentifiable bits and bobs in our junk drawers and garages.

2. How did you get here? Determine whether you invited the item into your life (by purchasing it), or if it snuck in by some other means—like in the form of a gift, freebie, or heirloom. If you didn’t intentionally acquire it, you may have little incentive to keep it.

3. What do you do? If the answer is “not much,” it may be time to give it the boot. You don’t need any freeloaders in your household. Things that perform more than one function, on the other hand, get extra points for versatility.

4. When did I last use you? Good answers: a few hours ago, yesterday, last week. Bad answers: sometime in the 1990s, when my grown children were babies, I haven’t the slightest idea.

5. When will I use you again? Good answer: soon. Bad answer: perhaps in some as-yet-undetermined situation in the unforeseeable future.

6. Would I miss you (or even notice) if you were gone? If its absence would be a non-issue, you might as well send it on its way.

7. Do you have a twin (or close cousin)? Space is at a premium in our minimalist homes; there’s no sense in keeping duplicates, or two things that do the same job.

8. Could I re-acquire you if necessary? This question may spare those out-of-print books, but can effectively eliminate those seldom-used, might-need-it items that can be picked up easily and inexpensively if the need arises.

9. Can someone else make better use of you? Instead of hoarding stuff you might need someday, give it to someone who needs it now.

10. Are you more trouble than you’re worth? If something takes up too much of your time, money, or energy (like for maintenance, repairs, and insurance), it may bring you much relief to let it go.

11. Do you belong to my fantasy self? Sometimes, the only use an item gets is in your daydreams (of being a socialite, world traveler, high-powered executive, etc.). Release it, and make space for your real life instead.

12. Are you valuable? If a little-used item can bring a nice chunk of change, consider selling it on eBay, Craigslist, or in a consignment shop. The money may do you more good than a dust-gathering object. Conversely, if it has no value or use, don’t feel compelled to provide it a home.

13. Would I rather have the space you take up? Every item you own takes away a little bit of your space. Decide what’s more valuable to you, the stuff or the space it occupies.

14. Can I return you? If a spontaneous shopping spree left you with some ill-considered purchases, see if you can take them back. Many stores offer generous return policies (sometimes several months) on unused, unworn, or unopened merchandise.

15. Are you a stand-in for a memory? Our memories don’t need physical objects to contain them. Things can be broken, tarnished, or taken away—yet our memories live on in our minds.

16. Can you be digitized? Turning your music, movies, books, photos, and documents into intangible bits and bytes can free up a significant amount of space.

17. Can you be miniaturized? This is a great question for those hard-to-part-with heirlooms. If the purpose of something is to evoke memories, consider if the same memories can be evoked by a smaller piece (like a single square from a quilt, or one plate from a set of china).

18. Did I forget I owned you? If so, feel free to declutter it without regrets. Chances are, you’ll just as likely forget about it once it’s gone.

19. Do you belong to someone else? If so, and they’re a member of your household, turn it over to them for action (keeping or purging, putting it in the proper place). If it belongs to someone external (a friend, a neighbor, a grown child), make arrangements for its return.

20. Do you make me smile? An item may fail all your other criteria (practicality, versatility, etc.)—but if its presence truly brings you joy (the lei from your honeymoon, your child’s first drawing), it has a rightful place in your household. If it doesn’t bring a smile to your face, make room for something that does.

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Exorcise Your Clutter Ghosts

We all have some clutter skeletons in our closets—purchases and behaviors that have junked up our homes, emptied our bank accounts, and perhaps even chained us to an unsatisfying work-spend treadmill.

And despite our best intentions, some of these demons continue to haunt us, sucking the space from our homes, the money from our wallets, and the joy from our lives.

In the spirit of Halloween, I propose an exorcism: let’s call out each of these clutter ghosts in turn, and banish them once and for all!

Novelty. If you find yourself idly browsing retail websites, paging through catalogs, stopping by the mall every weekend, or otherwise looking for things “to want,” the ghost of novelty may be haunting you. We all know, however, that the rush from acquiring a shiny new item is usually short-lived—and often followed by buyer’s remorse. Instead of shopping for entertainment, read a good book, go to the park, or have coffee with a friend.

Excess. Blame this demon for your overflowing closets, shelves, and kitchen drawers. Sometimes we go overboard in acquiring certain items—as if one more pair of shoes, or electronic gadget, will make our lives complete. The best way to exorcise this one is to consolidate and make an inventory of your “problem” categories; discovering just how many t-shirts or DVDs you own can be downright scary, and inspire a major decluttering session!

Sentiment. This ghost keeps us holding on to things we don’t want in the name of “memories.” We feel that if we let go of the object in question, the person, place, or occasion associated with it will vanish forever from our thoughts. We have to remember that our memories don’t reside in that thing, but in our minds—which is a much better place for them, as they can never be tarnished, stolen, or taken away.

Guilt. The ghost of guilt sure is a scary one! It keeps our attics stuffed with unloved heirlooms, our closets with unworn clothes, and our drawers with unwanted gifts. This monster can take several forms: guilt over failing to preserve our family history, wasting money on an impulse purchase, or getting rid of presents from loved ones. How to exorcise it? Realize that letting these things out into the world, where they’ll be loved and appreciated, can do more good than hoarding them away.

Laziness. Does the thought of your clutter keep you glued to the couch? Ignore this ghoul, and your problem will become all the more terrifying. The solution: don’t feel you have to tackle everything at once. Start small—a One-a-Day Declutter takes little effort, but can be incredibly effective.

Fear. Ah, the ghost of just-in-case and might-need-it! Think about all those things you’re squirreling away because you’re afraid they’ll be useful someday (even though you haven’t used, looked at, or even thought about them for years). Ponder what’s the worst that can happen if you don’t have that item on hand. You’ll likely conclude that it’s far from the end of the world, and hardly worth hoarding a hundred items in the slim chance you might need one of them.

Insecurity. If you’re buying stuff to show your “status,” or in an effort to keep up with the Joneses, you may be possessed by the ghost of insecurity. Always ask “why?” before you buy something—is it because you really need it? Or because you think it’s a symbol of your success, or similar to what your peers or neighbors have? Foil this demon, and free yourself of conspicuous consumption.

So while the kids are trick-or-treating this weekend, keep an eye out for ghouls and goblins of the clutter kind. The sooner you recognize them, the sooner you can dispel them—and the less frightening it’ll be to open your drawers, your closets, and your bank statement! 

Is a particular clutter ghoul haunting you? Let’s do some ghost-busting in the Comments!

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

No Regrets

(Photo: ibm4381)

I’ve been decluttering for a long time now, and have pared down my possessions to quite a minimal level. Consequently, people often ask me if I’ve ever regretted getting rid of certain items. Surely, in over ten years, there must be something I wish I hadn’t purged.

It may seem unbelievable, but to be perfectly honest, I have no regrets. I can’t think of a single thing that I long to have back in my life. I don’t miss any of the clothes, the books, the heirlooms, the tchotchkes, the shoes, the handbags, or the kitchen gadgets I decided I could live without.

Perhaps I just have a short memory. Maybe if I had photographed each castoff, I’d look back through the memories and wax nostalgic about a long-lost sweater or hastily-decluttered pasta pot. I highly doubt it, though. If these things truly had a special place in my life, the least I’d be able to do is remember them!

One of the biggest barriers to decluttering is the nagging feeling that you’ll regret giving something away. Take heart in the fact that the odds are pretty slim. Chances are, you’ll forget about that item pretty quickly once it leaves your premises. I’d have a hard time listing what I decluttered last year, let alone five or ten years ago.

And in the off-chance that you do, what’s the worst that’ll happen? You’ll have to go out and buy another? Sometimes that’s not such a bad thing. Recently, I’ve been toying with the idea of buying a digitizing (drawing) tablet, so that I can illustrate my future books. Several years ago, I owned (and decluttered) one—but no, I’m not pining for the old thing. I know that even if I had it, the technology has advanced to such an extent that I’d probably find it inadequate anyway. Even if it were sitting here next to me, I’d be browsing the internet for one with better features than my 5+ year-old model. And it certainly wouldn’t have been worth dragging around with me (or storing) all these years in the interim.

Still finding it hard to let go? Here are some tips on minimizing regrets:

1. Photograph sentimental items. In the fog of nostalgia, sometimes we remember objects as nicer than they actually were. A digital pic can be a great reminder that that velvet Elvis was no masterpiece. Photos also make great substitutes for such items—a snapshot of your aunt’s snowglobe collection brings back the same memories as having them displayed across your mantel (or packed away in your attic!).

2. Consider technology. Are you saving that old cell phone, monitor, or digital camera in case your new one bites the dust? At that point, will it really be up-to-snuff (or even functional)? Perhaps it would be better for someone else to use it now, and you can acquire a new and improved model when you need a replacement. I know I certainly wouldn’t replace a defunct laser printer with a dot matrix from the garage.

3. Do a trial separation. Box up questionable items for six months (or even a year, if it makes you feel better). If you haven’t missed them in that time frame, you probably won’t miss them at all. Consider donating the contents, unopened, so you won’t need to go through a new round of deliberation.

4. Get some money for it. Whether it’s a tech gadget you no longer use, a designer outfit that no longer fits, or a piece of jewelry that’s no longer your taste, sell it. That way, you can use the proceeds towards a (new and better) replacement if the need arises in the future.

5. Do good with your clutter. Donate your castoffs to someone in need. You’ll be much less likely to regret purging something if it’s brought joy or assistance to another person.

6. Value your space. Sure, if you get rid of 100 items, you might find need for one of them down the road. But look at all that glorious space you’ve enjoyed in the meantime! Much better to acquire that one replacement when needed, than keep drawers and closets stuffed with scores of “just in cases.”

7. Put it in perspective. Do you rue the day you decluttered your apple corer? It’s really not the end of the world. Go out and buy a new one—and think of the new appreciation you’ll have for the value it adds to your life.

So, what about you: do you have any decluttering regrets? Or do you find that once something’s out of sight, it’s also out of mind? Please share your experiences in the Comments!

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

100 Possessions: Glass Plates and Bowls

After I graduated from college, I inherited a beautiful set of china from my grandmother. My fantasy self—the one who planned to throw fabulous dinner parties in her English manor house—was elated to own twelve place settings of vintage tableware. My real self, however—the one who carefully wrapped every dinner plate, salad plate, dessert plate, bowl, cup, and saucer during each move—became decidedly less enthusiastic about it over time.

After going through the painstaking process of packing and unpacking it at least four times (and constantly worrying about breaking an irreplaceable piece), I’d had enough. I finally gave the whole set to a less nomadic family member, and breathed a huge sigh of relief. The irony: despite all the effort I put into preserving it, I’d used it on only one or two “special” occasions.

My dinnerware today is much simpler: four glass plates and two glass bowls, pictured above. Sure, it may not be as elegant—but it’s inexpensive, lightweight, and causes me not a whit of worry. The last time I moved, I didn’t even bother to wrap it up. Should I break a piece, I can simply nip on down to my local Ikea and pick up another ($0.99 in US, £0.70 in UK). And should I someday decide that transporting it is a hassle, I can donate it to a charity shop (or give it away on Freecycle), and spend about $6 to replace it at my new destination.

What about entertaining? So far, it hasn’t been a problem. We rarely have more than two guests for dinner, and if multiple courses are involved, I wash the plates in between. The very few times I’ve been short on tableware—like when I hosted Thanksgiving dinner—I’ve simply borrowed from friends and family. No one ever seemed put out by my request, but rather happy to contribute to the occasion. (I think the pooling of resources can enhance the warmth of a gathering, much like a potluck dinner!)

Certainly, I can’t guarantee that I’ll have the right plate (or enough plates) to accommodate every possible culinary situation. But that’s okay by me: what I have fits my current lifestyle, and when it comes to dinnerware, I’m perfectly content to “live on the edge.” ;-)

And though my grandmother’s set was lovely, I personally like the simplicity and versatility of plain glass. It blends with a variety of décor, is appropriate for any occasion, and most importantly, calls attention not to itself, but to its contents. For in the end, it’s what’s on the plate that really matters anyway!

(This post is part of my “100 Possessions” series, in which I explain why each item I own deserves a place in my minimalist life.)

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}