We think of ourselves as generally non-materialistic people, but it’s amazing just how much stuff we have accumulated and how difficult it can be to part with. Over the past few years as we considered the possibility of moving abroad, we’ve been conscientious about bringing more stuff home, and doing a little “spring cleaning” when the mood strikes. But when we rented a 10 x 15 ft storage space, the pressure was on to condense our lives into just that amount of space.
Be organized and give yourself options
The more control you can give yourself over the process, the better you will feel. We bought lots of large, strong, stackable boxes to complement our motley crew of flimsier totes. We filled them one by one, labelled each with a number, and kept track of the contents in a chart identifying the box number, type (size and colour) and a short list of contents for easy reference anywhere, thanks to Google Drive.
We also gave ourselves time. Time means you have more options than just keep or throw away including recycling, selling, donating and giving away. It’s easier to part with stuff if I know it’s going to a better place. Make sure you review the recycling guidelines in your area as some of the things you might throw out can actually be re-used or recycled by your neighbourhood eco station (including electronics!). Sites like Kijiji are useful for unloading items that still have use and value, and make a bit of money back at the same time, but expect this to take a bit of work on your part. We had limited success selling items for prices that were worth the effort, but buyers inevitably try to haggle during the handover.
When donating, remember to be respectful. This is a personal pet peeve of mine as I used to help out with a charity that would receive bags of donated trash that ending up costing them money, time and volunteers. Clothing should be new or gently worn, washed, still in fashion and free of holes and stains. If you would not wear the item in public or give it to a friend, please do not donate it to a charity.
Think of friends and family too if there are items they need or could use, but same as above, try not to overload others with more stuff that they don’t need. We happen to live in a highrise where people leave random, weird stuff free for the taking all the time, and almost all of it gets taken. That’s where our last odds and ends will probably go.
Downsize in waves
Giving yourself time also allows you to revisit items you are unsure of. I find I have more success parting with items, and less regret afterwards, if I go through the same collection of items several times. It might mean going back to it the next day, week or month, but you will feel more sure of your decisions each time. The first time, you’re just doing what comes easiest: throw out the obvious garbage and separate into any clear categories (keep or not sure). The second time pay particular attention to the items you were unsure of. You may find that some of these now seem like obvious garbage, and some of the keep items are not so much anymore. Rinse and repeat as many times as necessary.
Break large projects into smaller, achievable steps
One of the first things I decided to tackle was our multimedia collection. We are music and tv buffs, so we have a daunting number of discs, but I knew that getting rid of jewel cases and DVD boxes would be an “easy win” in terms of saving space.
Our CD collection alone is quite formidable. We did some research about the best way to de-case, and decided on large Case Logic CD/DVD “wallets” which could hold both discs and cover art/booklets. Any CDs which came in paper cases we kept as-is. I recorded all of the albums in a spreadsheet so I could keep everything we currently have alphabetized. It’s also the reason I now know that we have almost 1,000 CDs!)
First we recorded all CDs in the spreadsheet, alphabetized by artist, and then letter by letter de-cased and placed in the CD wallets. In the end, we were able to condense all of these CDs and DVDs into just three boxes.
Be honest about its practical and sentimental value
Sometimes getting rid of stuff is just plain hard. It helps to have some basic questions to keep yourself honest and on track:
How did you get the item and what is its sentimental value? Is it still delivering on the use or value that was intended?
When did you last use the item (in the past year)? Will you use it again and when?
Does it expire or has it passed its prime?
Is it worth the cost and space in storage or at home? If you’re feeling stressed out by the amount of stuff you have, be honest about the cost to yourself and your wallet. Is this item really worth it?
The flipside of these questions is also useful to consider when buying new stuff. How much do you need or want it? How much use will you really get out of it? Is it worth having around and taking up space?
Invest in new to part with the old
This seems counter intuitive when you’re trying to downsize, but sometimes the stuff you have just isn’t quite right. You could save yourself a lot of dissatisfaction and over-packing by investing smartly in new items. For example, I have a bunch of old coats that I keep for one reason: one is a rain shell, another a heavier rain jacket, a windbreaker, a dress coat, several for fall, and several for very cold weather. None are really suitable for Holland. Buying a new fall jacket that is waterproof and windproof, can perform as activewear and also look fashionable helped me to part with a few of those jackets that had passed their prime. I did my research and it didn’t cost me too much as it was part of a season ending sale.
I’m not a destructive person by nature, but I have to tell you that this is the secret payoff when you downsize. Whether it’s shredding paper or physically destroying all your crappy particleboard furniture piece by piece with a hammer like I did by myself one fine weekend, give yourself the ultimate happy to take the edge off of all this hard work. Sweat a little, don’t injure yourself too badly and embrace your inner anarchist. Make more space in your life for the stuff that’s worth being in it, and have a little fun at the same time!