Sometimes clients cling to items they’re certain they will need or find a use for someday, even though that the particular item either has no practical application in their current life situation, or exists in a quantity that far exceeds probable need. However, I’m confessing here and now that I’ve fallen under the spell of something. In my defense, this something doesn’t occupy space I do not have, nor am I emotionally attached. It’s just…they’re so… I mean… I’m talkin’ GIANT RED RUBBER BANDS, people!

Giant red rubber bands

I’ve added other items to this photo so you can accurately gauge the size. They arrive via the morning paper delivery which means we get, on average, five giant red rubber bands per week. On wet days we get an orange plastic bag. We have no pets, so I readily recycle those or save for a friend’s dog’s poop. (How many blog posts will you read this week that mention dog poop? My money’s on one.)

I put some giant red rubber bands in the kitchen “junk drawer,” a few in my desk drawer, a handful in my Home Solutions work bag, and a couple on the tool bench in the basement.

Just recently, I was able to secure my rolled-up yoga mat with two, one on each end. Yay! I found a use for two of the twenty giant red rubber bands we have on hand.

Because they’re not recyclable, unwanted ones would normally go in the trash, but that feels wrong. Maybe I’ll save them to give back to the paper delivery dude, wrapped in a pretty package with his holiday tip!

Or, according to a recent facebook post, I can fund my retirement selling random, everyday household items on ebay, things like empty egg cartons and nubby crayons. Is it possible there’s a market for giant red rubber bands?

*turns attention from 401K statement to “selling red rubber bands” research*

What’s your thing – the thing you have too many of, the thing you’ve been saving for decades and still haven’t found a use for, the thing that’s just taking up space, both physically AND emotionally, in your life?

When is a bargain not a bargain?

Do you ever get caught in the vicious clutter-creating cycle that goes something like this:

  • You buy something you really don’t need and probably won’t use
  • You tell yourself it was worth it because it was on sale
  • You have no idea where to put it when you get it home/it gets delivered…
  • …so it sits in a bag/box/corner where it’s joined by more “bargains”
  • And now you won’t get rid of it because you paid good money for it

Sound familiar? I see this regularly when working in clients’ homes, so you’re not alone.

How can you break the cycle?

  • Before making ANY purchase – especially an impulsive one, ask yourself:
    • Do I need it?
    • Will I use it?
    • Where will it live when I get it home?
  • If there are certain stores (brick and mortar OR online!) you can’t resist, proclaim a 30-day moratorium on visiting them. Break that habit of impulse buying!
  • Take things out of the shopping bags/open delivered packages. It’s too easy to ignore something you can’t see.
  • Create one designated area for pre-purchased gifts and “shop the house” when an occasion arises.
  • Donate new/unused items to non-profit organizations for their fund-raising gift basket raffles.

Trust me when I say that retail therapy rarely produces long-lasting, positive results.

 

Here’s an interesting NY Times article on clutter with a different spin on it.

Where's the car?

Where’s the car?

I think the author has, to a degree, taken a tongue-in-cheek approach, but I get it. Clutter and “stuff” isn’t an issue… until it is; until the stuff accumulates to the degree and in a way that affects the quality of your life and your ability to function on a daily basis. Do you currently co-exist comfortably with your stuff, or does it cause you stress? Do you invite friends into your home, or are you embarrassed by your clutter? There is no one-size-fits-all rule for how much stuff we should have in our lives.

I love books and have lots of them. But they live on three bookshelves in our living room. Those shelves define how many books I get to keep. Books don’t earn a spot on the shelves until I’ve read them AND enjoyed them, (or disliked them so much, I must keep them for reference, should someone try to convince me of their goodness) so unread books live in the two beautiful baskets – my reading runway, so to speak – they’re waiting patiently to be chosen. In order to make room for newly-read books on the shelves, I periodically clear out a few and donate them to the library’s book sale. Some people like to get books from  the library. Yay them. I don’t. I like – no, need – to own the books I read. Quirky? Maybe, but that’s how it is with me and books.

A simplified version of the criteria I suggest for assessing stuff when working with a client goes something like this:

  • Do you love it?
  • Do you use it?
  • Do you have the space to keep it/properly store it?

If you love your stuff, if it brings you joy, if you come home at the end of a long, hard day and revel in the presence of your stuff, rock on. Don’t get rid of things just because a magazine article says you should. By the same token, don’t hang on to stuff that weighs you down, causes anxiety or guilt, or is preventing you from sitting on the comfortable chair you know is under there somewhere.

When looking through piles of stuff to make keep-or-go decisions, I often ask my clients, “Is it relevant to your life anymore?”

Sometimes we hang on to things simply because we have the space. It’s easy to delay the decision-making process when keeping the stuff costs nothing more than the square footage to store it. But it’s important to realize that space doesn’t have to be filled; especially with stuff we don’t need, use, want, or love.

Old sports equipment is one example. If the hockey pads your son or daughter used six years ago are just gathering dust, I’ll bet there’s someone out there who would truly benefit from your gently used sports equipment donation.

Those college textbooks up in the attic? Unless the content is something you still use that hasn’t changed over time, they’re not too desirable. You can donate them.

If something doesn’t qualify for donation, maybe it can be recycled.

We had to make a tough decision here at home two years ago. We had a pool that came with the house. As close as we could calculate, it was at least 40 years old. When our boys were young that pool was a godsend. And in the heat of the summer, many a cold beverage was enjoyed during relaxing pool-float sessions. It had an attached deck, and for nearly 20 years we ate dinner up there from late spring through early autumn.

I nicknamed our pool, “The Albatross” because it really was a monstrosity – not much to look at – more function than form. As our boys grew into young men, The Albatross was used much less as a pool and more as an elevated eating area.

The time finally came when I was not looking forward to opening The Albatross. The idea of maintaining it for months on end wore me down. When I asked the question, “Is it relevant to our lives right now?” the honest answer was, “No.”  The cost to maintain in terms of time, effort, and money was no longer worth the return on that investment. And the truth of the matter was, our fond memories wouldn’t disappear with the pool, they would stay with us in our minds and hearts. Oh, and in our photographs, too.

And so it was with mixed emotions that we bid a fond farewell to The Albatross. It owed us nothing; it had served us well.

The Albatross as it once was

The tear-down process was something to behold. All recyclable materials were, indeed, recycled.

IMG_0731

Now we have a lovely patio we truly enjoy that fits our current lifestyle. We’re homebodies; we love to putter in the yard and gardens, we enjoy feeding and watching all the different birds our yard attracts. Oh, and wine. Our patio is the perfect place to enjoy a glass (or two) of wine at the end of the day. After the long hard winter of 2014-15, we’ll be especially happy for patio season to roll around.

New patio

Aretha RespectWhile working with a client in her basement one day, I pulled a box out from under the stairs. The area was dusty, full of cobwebs; the box, water-stained and dilapidated.

“What’s in here?” I asked. She didn’t know.

The top of the box was filled with yellowed, age-worn newspaper. As I dug a little deeper and unwrapped the first item, my client exclaimed, “Oh, those are my grandmother’s dishes! Those are very special and precious to me – that’s all I have to remember her by!”

Really? The first thing I felt compelled to gently point out is that things are not memories. Things can trigger memories, but the memories reside within us.  Imagine what your life would look like if you required a thing in order to remember any other thing – a person, a place, an event – we’d be overwhelmed with a huge clutterpile of things. Aha – you’re beginning to see an issue I deal with on a regular basis.

The second point I made was that if, indeed, these dishes were special and precious, they didn’t belong in a water-stained box under the basement stairs. That was not a place of honor for the one tangible thing that represented the memory of her grandmother.

We took the box of dishes upstairs. We unpacked them, washed them, and made a place for them in the dining room so my client could actually use them. She loved the idea that with each use she would think fondly of her grandmother, who had been an important and influential person in her life.

I think that’s how you show respect – for things and for the memories they represent.

If and when the time comes when you can no longer keep the “thing” or no longer have a use or a need for it, passing it on –  releasing it out into the universe – is another awesome way to show respect. Think of the positive energy created by allowing someone else to love and use what was once precious and special to you. Sounds like a win-win situation to me.