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Just Start With One

Box on a bed to start with one thing when choosing what to donate

I was in a meeting recently with people talking about being lost in their 10,000 things, feeling overwhelmed by what they wanted to get rid of, and being afraid to pick things up because then they wouldn’t be able to let them go. It wasn’t an organizing call, so I didn’t jump in with all the tips I wanted to give about how to decide what to keep and let go. But here we are, in a space you’ve come to for decluttering and organizing tips, so here’s my first one.

Start with One

The way to deal with those 10,000 things is one at a time. Just start with one.

If you’re afraid that touching things will make it harder to let them go, enlist a buddy to hold them up for you. You (or your friend) might ask a series of questions including:

  • Do I like it?
  • Does it make me feel lighter or heavier? (If you love it, but it reminds you of someone you lost, a chapter of your life that’s over, or anything else that feels like pushing on a bruise, it probably makes you feel heavier. Let it go.)
  • When was the last time I used it?
  • Do I need it?

Just one item at a time. Do I like it? Use it? Need it?

Maybe you’ll find some things to get rid of because they’re not in good condition, things you actually need. Make a shopping list of what to replace.

Remember that everything you keep will need to be stored somewhere and dusted or otherwise attended to. All those things you keep take up space that something you really love, need, and use could live. Or nothing could live there. Not the piles, the mess, the chaos. Just open space.

Consider Categories

Back to just looking at one thing at a time. Maybe you put those things into a category so you can see how many others like it you own. Maybe you don’t need all (or any of) the shampoo bottles you brought back from hotels.

Start with the easy stuff, that’s not so sentimental. The functional stuff that doesn’t function for you anymore – whether it doesn’t fit, work, or serve you, let it go.

What about those “special” things? The memories, milestones, and maybe the old news.

If something is special, figure out how to treat it as such. Make a placemat out of your kid’s art. Use the champagne flutes from your wedding to drink orange juice each morning. Having your most precious memorabilia in boxes at the top of closets or out in the garage doesn’t honor them, and doesn’t prompt you to remember. Make a box of letters or photos, those special memories, and go through it every year, on your birthday, or January 1st, or another important time for you.

Another tip: You can keep the memory without keeping the thing. If it is that important to you, you’re not forgetting it. Alternatively, you could take a picture of things and keep them in an “It’s Special” folder on your computer or make a photo book of them.

What You’re Keeping

So, let’s get back to what you’re keeping. Having those 10,000 things is likely weighing you down, not lifting you up. You don’t have to go through a whole room at a time, or even a whole cabinet. Just do a drawer. Or pick a category. Get all the pens scattered around your home and test them while you watch TV. Or just the handful of writing implements in your junk drawer.

One item, one drawer, one category. Just start with one. One plus one eventually equals 10,000.

While you’re deciding what to let go, think about what you’re giving yourself – breathing room, a space with things you love instead of things to step over or clean up, and the ability to go into the closet and only find clothes that fit and that you will actually wear. It’s an amazing gift.

Decluttering first means you’re making space for what’s important. Pick a thing, just one, and begin.

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