Confession #1: Through my childhood and teen years, my room was a mess. I only made my bed if absolutely forced to, and any projects I was working on, books I was reading, and school stuff could almost always be found laying around on my bed or desk or on the floor. My mom wasn’t overly-picky about the condition of my room, but if we had company coming over, I had to pick everything up. Then, my room was neat as a pin. My closet and the space under my bed and hidden by a floor-length dust ruffle were a different story. I’m sure you get the idea.
As a college freshman, I moved into a dorm room in my sorority’s on-campus housing. It was as if Mr. Hyde became Dr. Jekyll as I crossed over the threshold into the tiny room I shared with a pledge sister. Gone were my sloppy housekeeping habits; they were replaced by an “everything in its place when not being used” style of living. Mr. Hyde was gone for good. As a result, I’ve been bothered for some time by my basement, filled with piles of things I needed to sort as well as boxes and large plastic bins full of all sorts of things . Some of these boxes a bins hadn’t been opened — other than for my husband or I to peek in when looking for something — from the time they’d been filled in March 2006, when we placed most of our possessions in storage to move into a small trailer while building a house (long story, best left for another day).
My #1 project for this summer was to sort through every single box, bin, and pile in the basement, bringing upstairs anything I wanted to use in some way, selling what I could, donating to a charitable thrift shop anything I couldn’t sell or didn’t want to bother with, and throwing away as much as possible that was left. Ultimately, anything that was left after that process would remain packed in large bins to be brought upstairs when needed (ex: Christmas decorations).
Confession #2: I put this task off as long as possible. First, I was out of town for 10 days. But after I returned, I found all sorts of reasons to avoid going downstairs and diving in. Eventually, though, I did, and I am now halfway finished. I started with the 1/2 of the basement that I knew would be the hardest to work on because that’s where most of the boxes and bins were stored. In those boxes and bins, I knew, were the remnants of 24 years and 11 months of married and family life — my husband’s hunting clothes and supplies, mementos from family vacations that I was saving to put in scrapbooks, a quilt made for us as a wedding shower gift by my husband’s grandmother, baby clothes, framed photos that hung on the walls of our home “in town” that were never unpacked and hung in the house we built, and other items that I dreaded unpacking.
I worked fairly methodically once I got started, and as of last night, I have finished sorting almost all of the stuff in that 1/2 of the basement. Left undone, but separated and organized neatly, are the boxes and bins of things belonging to my son and daughter. Two relatively small stacks that I can easily live with until they have a chance to go through things and have a place of their own large enough to take what they want to keep.
Confession #3: I’m feeling pretty darned proud of myself, especially since the other 1/2 of the basement houses larger items that require less sorting and hold fewer memories.
I’ve learned a few things through this process:
1. Sorting through things and determining what stays and what goes is not a one-time-and-we’re-done event. As time passes, needs and wants change, and you may find that you want to dispose of some of the things you kept the first — or even the second or third — time around.
2. Don’t push yourself to go through things until *you* are ready; on the other hand, don’t put it off too long. Allow yourself to be the judge of when you are ready to do this; well-meaning friends and family members may have an opinion, but you should do what you feel is right. On the other hand, if a trusted, dear friend who always has your best interest at heart tells you they think you might need to start going through things, carefully consider that they might be right.
3. Having someone help can be very helpful. Having someone help can make it a little harder. Having someone help can make the job unbearably difficult. It depends, I believe, on your own personality, the personality of the “helper”, the items being sorted, and possibly other factors.
4. If you do want help, don’t be afraid to ask someone. If you are so inclined, turn it into a “fun” event as much as possible. For example, this past January a coworker shared that she and her husband were moving from their large historic home of 30+ years into a smaller condo. Several of us offered to help, and a few weeks later I received an emailed invitation to a “Packing Party”. I arrived to find wine and snacks, lots of packing supplies and the a dining room filled with a variety of items, packing material, and boxes; we were told, though, not to bother with anything in that room. After we had packed and chatted for awhile, our hostess called a break and invited us into the dining room. She had written down what order we arrived, and we were invited to take turns taking one item we wanted — *if* we wanted anything. She had some lovely glass pieces, porcelain teapots, tablecloths, books, etc, and we enjoyed choosing something, seeing what our coworkers chose, and then admiring our “finds”. When we finished, we packed up what remained to be donated to a charity thrift shop.
5. Work at your own pace but without getting too bogged down.
6. Prepare for the process. Buy a roll of heavy duty trash bags for items you decide to discard. Collect boxes or plastic bins for items you plan to keep and those things you decide to donate or sell. Also, create a space to work in, and designate areas as “keep”, “donate”, “discard”, and (if applicable) “sell”.
7. Determine your criteria for keeping something. This may sound silly, but it’s a key element to the process. If you don’t have a standard in mind, the job will be much more difficult and time consuming. My criteria was two-fold:
a.) The item is used on at least a yearly basis and, if used yearly, is more difficult to rent/borrow than to keep
b) The item is one I at least really like and/or I have a sentimental attachment to it
I also kept the original boxes for appliances, electronic devices, collectibles, etc; I packed all of those in 3 larger boxes.
8. Handle each item one time; consider the item and your criteria and make a decision as quickly as possible. If you can’t easily make up your mind about an item, put it in a box marked something like “Not Sure”. Caution: don’t place too many items in this box. Keep focused on your goal and work as quickly and efficiently as you can. Leave the “Not Sure” box in the basement. I have 5 item in a “Not Sure” box; next year on July 1, the items still in that box are leaving my house for good.
What about you? Do you look your basement, garage, spare bedroom, or maybe even multiple rooms and think “I really need to get rid of some of this stuff?” What is it that stands in your way? I hope you’ll share by commenting below. Maybe it would help you to have an online accountability partner or two. I’d be more than happy to serve in that capacity. Or maybe you’ve already gone through this process and have some words of wisdom for the rest of us. I hope you’ll share your tips and/or your own experiences via a comment or an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is a picture of the “finished” 1/2 of my basement. The stack of items on the near right are my daughter’s; the stack of items about 1/2-way back on the left are my son’s. I would share a “before” picture, but that would be far too embarrassing. 🙂