An older friend (yes, there are people even older than me) called to find out if I could help her declutter to get her house ready to go on the market. Fast. Since I’m going away later this week, we decided she she should contact someone else, a woman who had been recommended by her real estate agent. Talking to her brought up several ways to scale down, even if you aren’t going anywhere.
1. Pretend that you are moving in three months to somewhere smaller, but that you’re excited about--Paris or Central Park West or San Francisco. Naturally you want to bring only things worthy of your new life. So look around you and see what you are holding onto that may not qualify.
2. Ask yourself, “When I unpack and see this, will it make me happy?” This is an excellent question whether you’re moving or not. It helps make decisions about things you might be holding onto through inertia or “just in case.”
3. Don’t underestimate the value of getting rid of the smallest thing, one piece of paper, one book, an audiotape, a mismatched fork, a single mug. I’m not going to bore anyone with cliches about grains of sand or acorns and mighty oaks or what the longest journey begins with. But suppose you have a box of memorabilia. When you go through it, maybe a quarter of what’s there doesn’t resonate anymore--like baby shower cards from people whose name you don’t recognize or articles that seemed so significant at the time, but have lost air.
When you’re done discarding them, it may look like you still have the pile of memorabilia or books on the shelves etc. But you don’t. You’ve gotten some psychic deadwood out of your life and you’ve created one less item for whoever ultimately goes through your stuff to have to make a decision about.
Yes, I know that if you threw away or gave away just one thing a day, at the end of a year you’d have 365 items fewer. But I’m not suggesting that. People like us don’t like to be regimented. If we were that methodical, we wouldn’t have gotten into this mess in the first place! My feeling is that anything repetitive becomes onerous and then resented, before the 28 days it takes to become an automatic habit. When you don't keep up with it, it runs the risk of being seen as one more failure .
But do what works for you. Just ask yourself if you’d be happy to see a particular item in your next life. And remember, it never has to be an all-or-nothing thing.