How to Get Rid of Your Stuff – The Ease-Into-It Method

Somewhere in Rome

This post is the third in a series called TravlMor, which is designed to show you ways to redesign your life to enable you to travel more often. Currently, we are concentrating on how to reduce the number of things that you own so you can have more money to travel. You might want to check out last week’s post for a more extreme method of how to get rid of your stuff.

If you know that you want to minimize the amount of stuff in your life, but don’t know how to even start, this is the place. Last week, I covered an extreme method to go about this, but honestly, this is not practical for everyone. This week, however, anyone can take advantage of the techniques we share and in a few weeks or months can make a dramatic difference in their lives.

I have found that just a few hours work in this area makes me feel so much better by relieving my stress. When my house is full of clutter, I have a certain amount of tension that never leaves. I think I have a mild case of obsessive compulsive disorder. Once I organize and get rid of the clutter, the tension magically leaves and I can truly relax.

I have noticed that I have a threshold that I can bump up against and can handle the added stress of stuff. However, just a slight increase in the clutter will set me off and I cannot function until I get things squared away. Sara and I have a term for this. We will ask each other if the other is feeling “dzzzt”. As we say this the one asking kind of shudders all over like they are being shocked. It’s easy for Sara to tell that I’m dzzzt because I get very grumpy and short with her. The only thing that can help is for me to get things back in their place.

Sometimes, though, the task can feel overwhelming. There is just so much clutter that I don’t really know what to do.

The most important step here is to begin. I have found that starting a project like this is actually the hardest part. It is literally more than half the battle. Once I begin, I am ok and can continue on, but getting the motivation to actually start is the tough part.

So how do you make getting rid of things easy?

The first step is to find an area of your house that is not used very often and is not too cluttered already. It can be a spare bedroom, a portion of the basement, even a corner in your living room. If there is a little clutter there already, just move that stuff somewhere else for the time being. You want an empty area that you can use for the next few weeks. Just pile it up somewhere. You need an area that is completely blank.

Think about it. Where is it going to be? Identify it now before you read on. Don’t worry about cleaning it, just think about it. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

OK. Got it? All right, your first step is done. Now, step two. Before today is over, make yourself a promise to clean that area up. That’s all. Just move everything out of that area and let your whole family know that nothing goes there unless they want it thrown out. Once an item goes in that area, it is on the way out of the house. Consider them warned.

Classify Your Stuff

The next thing to know is that as you go through things, they will be classified in one of four categories. There are only four and each item must go in one of the four:

  • trash/recycled

  • to be sold

  • to be donated

  • to be kept

As you go through each area of the house, you will touch each item and you will classify it. If it is trash or to be recycled, put it in a pile as you go through the day's items and then actually take them out at the end of the session. There are no second thoughts. Get them out of the house as quickly as possible.

If the items still have some value, determine if you think they can be sold, or if maybe a donation would be better. We will talk about options for selling them in a later post, so for now, just make the designation. If they are to be sold, take them to the special area that you designated and leave them there. Don’t worry about them any more during this cleaning session.

If the items should be donated, take them to the front door and leave them by the door. You do not absolutely have to take them to your charity today, but put them by the door so you have to look at them regularly. I actually find it a bit of a pain to take things to charity, so I let them pile up and make the trip worthwhile.

If the item is to be kept, decide whether the place you are currently cleaning is the best place or not. If it is, then put everything to be kept to the side and once you have pulled everything out, then you can carefully pack the keepers back in the same spot. If however, you have a better location for an item, just take it to the new location and leave it there. Don’t worry about finding the exact spot for it. For now, just get it to the general area where you want it to end up.

Now Put It Away, But with a Purpose

Once you have gone through the entire area that you have designated for the day to be cleaned, take every item that you want to keep in that area and put it back carefully so that you can get to it if necessary. This serves as a reminder so you will actually remember all of the stuff that you decided to keep. If you consciously place everything back, hopefully you will not misplace the items in the future. Also, remember that this is now the home for each of these items. When you are finished using them, they will return to this spot so that you can find them next time you need them.

But Where to Begin?

So now that you have a technique and an area in which to work, how do you start the actual purging? I have found that if I think about it too much as one big project, I will put it off and never do it. Instead I will have a daily or weekly goal of one area that needs cleaning. I will make it my goal to go through one room, one closet or even just a drawer. Take the time to go through all of the steps that I listed above.

I have found that I should focus on the horizontal surfaces in the house. If I can keep the counters, tables and even the floor free of stuff, I generally feel better. I have this fantasy that I will one day have furniture that is all somehow built in to the house and raised off of the floor so that vacuuming is super easy. I’m not exactly sure how that is possible. Yes, I have weird fantasies.

The key is to recognize that if it is something that you have not used or needed in the past year or so, you can probably feel safe in getting rid of it. The enemy of minimalism is Justin Case. Most of the time I used to keep things just in case I might need them down the road. Now I really try to get rid of it if I am reasonably sure I won’t need it. I have made some mistakes and gotten rid of things that I probably shouldn’t have, but all in all I don’t regret much.

I think you, too, will find that if you organize your house, your car, your office and any other areas that you frequent and have control over, you will notice a reduction in the overall amount of stress in your life. As you reduce the number of things that you are responsible for, you will feel the burdens ease and the tension lift. The truth is, you will never be able to be rid of everything, but the fewer things that you have to fuss over, the more relaxed you will become.

Once you get used to having fewer things in your life, you will notice that you do not have the urge to buy more things to make you happy. You will actually get satisfaction and happiness from not having things and you will recognize this and not want to add more back into your life (except possibly Apple products - they are exempt from all minimalist discussions).

All of this talk of minimalism has gotten me to think a bit more about the feasibility of a minimalist lifestyle when you are married and/or have children. There are lots and lots of articles out there written by young single men or women who boast of their lifestyle and their lack of stuff. That’s wonderful for them, but frankly, it’s a pretty simple thing to do in that situation. So what do you do when you are married with children? What’s realistic? Next week we’ll be tackling this, so tune in. Better yet, subscribe to our weekly newsletter so you don’t miss a thing. And if you have made it this far, thanks so much for reading!

TravlMor Series

How to Develop a Minimalist Mindset (TravlMor 1)

How to Get Rid of Your Stuff - The Extreme Method (TravlMor 2)

How to Get Rid of Your Stuff - The Ease-Into-It Method (TravlMor 3)

Minimalism and Family Life (TravlMor 4)

How to Save Money at Restaurants (TravlMor 5)

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  • Very challenging. I think it’s great advice for those of us who are approaching retirement and desire to simplify their lives as well.
    I find the “stuff” that is most difficult to let go of are the “hand-me-downs”; furniture, art, letters, etc. When family members don’t want the “heirlooms” what then? Letting go is hard to do.
    Thanks for the challenge!

    • Yes, getting rid of heirlooms is tough. I have read suggestions that you should take a picture of the really sentimental stuff before you get rid of it. I think that can be a little gruff, but if you can find a willing family member to take everything (maybe someone down in Alabama or Tennessee), you can always go visit your old things. 🙂

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  • Mindi

    Your advice is fantastic, but I love your photo with the artwork and the orange chair. Yes, I am just that shallow. Blogs with great photography always rise to the top or near the top in my opinion. It shows that you took the extra time to make the visual element appealing as well as the writing. Thanks for writing.

    • Thanks, Mindi! I agree that great photography really adds to a blog, and I don’t think that makes you shallow. It is all about the experience. I am lucky that Sara is such a good photographer, because I am not so good. For what it’s worth, this picture was taken in a house in Rome where we stayed for a few days (AirBNB). The rest of the house was just as beautiful.

      • Mindi

        I look forward to reading more on your blog.

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How to Get Rid of Your Stuff – The Extreme Method

This post is the second in a series called TravlMor, which is designed to show you ways to redesign your...