Pretend You’re Moving…


Carl Richards

A while back when I was promoting our book Moving On, I came across advice – not quite sure from where – for cleaning out that pesky kitchen drawer full of too many small utensils.

The suggestion was to put all the items in a cardboard carton. Then as you use each utensil, put it back in the drawer. In a month, what is in the drawer is what you use; what is left in the carton can be donated because if you haven’t used it in a month, you probably don’t need it.

How brilliant, I thought. The cardboard carton exercise, as I like to think of it, is a practical way to see which items you use and which ones just clutter up your kitchen. It’s a great way to declutter without having to make value judgments about the items or to agonize over what to get rid of.

I was reminded of this story recently when I read Carl Richards’ New York Times post “Three Ways to Figure Out What Stuff You Should Keep.” His first suggestion is to move out. When you move, he explains, you are forced to deal with your stuff.

If you’re not moving, and many of us are not, Richards says to pretend that you are. He suggests that you could move everything out of your house or apartment and bring back only what you really need. Or do this room by room, moving everything from the bedroom to the living room, for example. As Richards says “Live with it bare for a day or two, then slowly start inviting the stuff you love/want/need back.” Repeat with every room in the house.

If this seems too drastic, you could do as one reader suggested and use the “move out” method on closets and dressers. Empty them completely and then put back only what you need or love.

Another reader commented that cleaning out a house after the death of a spouse made him realize that they had accumulated more things than they could possibly use. Surrounded by unneeded stuff gave him a feeling of oppression but “I do get a sense of relief when I send the stuff on its way.”

Isn’t that what we all want? A sense of relief from getting rid of what we don’t need and seeing it donated, sold, or given away to people who do need it.

One dramatic way to achieve this sense of relief is to live with an empty room and then, as Richards says, invite back only those things that you love/want/need. This sounds absolutely transformational to me. You start with an empty drawer, a cleaned-out closet, or a completely bare room and then create the closet or room that you’ve always wanted, a room that reflects the way you want to live.

And the way you want to live, the way we all want to live, is in a room filled with what you need and love, but not with more than you need.

Linda Hetzer is an editor and author of books on home design, crafts, and foodand coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home

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