Have you ever inherited or been gifted with stuff you can’t use? Have you hung onto items because of emotional attachments? If you feel like you are “stuffocating” (suffocating from all of your stuff—a new word mentioned at my local simple living group meeting), what can you do? How do you decide what to do with Grandma and Grandpa’s or Mom and Dad’s stuff, or all those well-intentioned gifts, hand-me-downs, items you are hanging onto for someone else, or things you keep because of a memory or feeling that they invoke? Try these fresh approaches to help deal with this clutter.

Memories
First, keep in mind that you keep the memory of a person alive in your heart, not in the boxes of their stuff that are sitting in your basement or attic. One way to reduce this kind of clutter is to keep a couple representative pieces rather than whole collections. One or two extra special mementos can remind you of someone and be more meaningful than excess boxes of their old things. It also might be more space saving to take photos and journal rather than to keep all of the actual items.

Tell
Don’t store memories, but do keep the stories alive. Don’t keep historical items in boxes in the basement or attic where they can get wrecked. Display them! Frame Grandma’s hand crocheted doily or collector plate and hang it in a place of honor in your home. It is very important to write the person’s name and story down on the backside of the frame to help keep it alive. When someone notices the item, tell your children, guests, and anyone else who will listen about the person’s life.

Don’t Keep Misery
Remember that people give each other things as acts of kindness. No one intends to add to someone else’s clutter misery. Appreciate the intent of gifts and inherited items but feel free to sell, donate, or re-gift items to others who might have more appreciation for them. If you hang onto old boyfriend letters or items that make you feel bad, for sure, let them go!

Items can be given away on freecycle.org, or sold in the newspaper, on the Internet at craigslist.org or ebay.com, or taken by local estate sale or auction companies who will buy stuff outright or accept things on consignment. Check the yellow pages, and feel free to get more than one opinion on values. Look for similar items on eBay to see what prices people are getting for items similar to yours.

Other People’s Clutter
Clutter boundaries:  Don’t let anyone else’s clutter drag you down. If people try to get you to store their stuff, it is fine to be generous with your space on a short-term basis. Establish a specific deadline for them to retrieve the item. Remind them once. And, finally, feel free to dispose of this stuff as you see fit after the deadline has come and gone.

What am I saying here? Parents, you are not responsible for indefinitely storing stuff for your grown children. It isn’t fair or respectful to you. Further more, do not “gift” stuff to your grown children with strings attached. It isn’t really a gift when you are basically asking for free storage under the loving guise of “keeping it in the family!”

Give Respectfully
What about our own giving? Many have heard the biblical quote, “It is better to give than to receive.” Perhaps we heard it as children when our parents tried to instill a generous spirit in us and teach us to share. In that context, it seemed better to give than to receive for moral and ethical reasons rather than for personal reasons.

We can give generously to get rid of clutter. It allows us to get rid of extra physical stuff, as well as the emotional, and spiritual baggage that clings to our possessions. We get a feeling of satisfaction for sharing our excess with others. At the same time, we free ourselves from the weight of our clutter. Give respectfully, however, by giving to those who can truly use the items they receive. Do not dump on a fellow clutter bug because you know they too have a weakness for stuff. It isn’t kind, and you aren’t doing them any favors.

If you are passing items down in your family, remember to pass down the stories too. Write down why these items have monetary or sentimental value. If you don’t, the treasures may get tossed with the trash. Also, it is kinder to specify who gets what today to prevent painful arguments after you are gone.

Wait!
Getting rid of clutter is not about getting rid of everything. The general rules are to keep what is beautiful, useful, and sentimental. Or, as you weed out, simply look at something and go with your gut response to it before your well-intentioned rationalizations kick in—you know, “It was a gift,” or “It was Grandma’s,” or “I paid good money for it…” If your gut just doesn’t like it, get rid of it! Life brings us enough stress without hanging onto items that increase stress. Period.


Barbara Tako is a clutter clearing motivational speaker and author of Clutter Clearing Choices: Clear Clutter, Organize Your Home, & Reclaim Your Life (O Books, 2010), a seasonally organized book of clutter clearing tips that readers can pick and choose from to fit their personal style and needs. Sign up for her free monthly clutter clearing tips newsletter at www.clutterclearingchoices.com.