For several years now I have tried to declutter my life on a regular basis. I routinely ask, "Do I really need this and what will I do with it if I keep it?" Before I save something I ask, "Why save this and to what end?" My pursuit of decluttering my life really began about ten years ago when I was forced to go through the earthly possessions of my mother. We had to move her from her private residence into assisted living. My sister-in-law and I were forced to dig into so much stuff and make a lot of choices and decisions. We trashed about 70% of what we found. We gave away those things that had meaning and value to our families and children so they are now in our respective homes as reminders of our mom and dad. We stored albums of photos and personal things that we believed had real meaning. In the end it was a massive task.

I came home from that three or four day experience in Alabama determined to never force my children to do the same when I was too old to make such decisions. I began to clean, throw away various things and process my stuff. Most of the excess stuff I possessed was not that important when I asked, "Do I need this? Why? What will I do with it if I keep it?"

One of the biggest challenges came when an item had a deep sentimental attachment. We all have cherished possessions that have meaning only to us. Until we understand what that meaning is and why we should, or should not, hold on to a particular physical item will we ever declutter seriously. In reality, my decuttering experience brought new joy and freedom as I let go of some of the past and kept just enough of those things that really had special meaning to me.

One of the more difficult things for me to let go of was my library. It is immense. If I had all the books I have owned, from all the years of my life, it would be more than 20,000. I have room, comfortably, for about 8,000. I have moved books all over the place, and some a dozen times it seems now. I had them in various parts of the house and in my office(s). I finally concluded that this had to stop. I now limit my library to the actual space I have, which is for less than 8,000 books. To add new books, which I am doing less and less these days, I get rid of more and more books. In fact, I am going to sell even more books in 2010. Rarely have I sold a book and then said, "I need that book. Why did I sell it?" If I do find this happens then I can buy it again, which has happened maybe two or three times at most. My other real advantage is that I can use the Wheaton College Library as a part of the adjunct faculty. I also use the public library more than ever. And Amazon's Kindle makes new titles much easier to handle and own.

So how do you let go of stuff? You have to face the very practical and emotional aspects of this process and start somewhere. The "save everything" philosophy of my parents, who went through the Depression, is not my own. If I have several things that bring back great memories I try to pick one and let the rest go. One way to preserve some of these cherished items is to make photos and videos of them and then keep these rather than the objects themselves.

If you are not yet up to decluttering then seriously set aside a few hours and do a little to get started. Then do it again and in time you will get the hang of it. What you will discover is that the more you declutter the more you feel free of stuff and the more your living and working space changes for the better. Life feels a lot more manageable when you get rid of a lot of stuff you do not really need at all.

After I wrote this blog I checked the site meter and concluded that this is my 1,500th blog since I began writing them. Sometimes this type of writing can border on the feelings I get in dealing with clutter but given the ups and downs I think I will still press on.

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  1. Craig December 18, 2009 at 8:18 am

    Congratulations on 1500!
    Please press on.
    And Thanks!
    – Craig

  2. Ed Holm December 18, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    I think it is interesting when going through junk how powerful narrative is. “This is the cup mom had when she went to the hospital.” “This is the collar my pet dog Mickey had when I was a kid (Micky long gone. RIP) “This is the little black book I had in college (Who are these people anyway?” Amazingly, much of the junk has no narrative and never did. Others the narrative is forgotten or meaningless. I was talkikng to my step daughter the other day who wants to erect museums it seems to her rapidly receding past, and was telling her that there are only a few things I still have of my parents and how those few things contain the entire narrative I posess about them.
    During this season of continued acquisition it is wonderful how you have hit upon a great prophetic truth. Thank you for the reminder.

  3. Ray Prigodich December 18, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    When my wife and I moved to Ukraine nine years ago, we shipped nearly our entire library of about 5,000 books. Then two years later, as we prepared to return–sooner than we had expected–to the U.S., we made the painful decision to leave 90% of our books there and ship only 500 of them back home. Some we gave to English-speaking nationals who would otherwise never have been able to acquire them. Most we donated to the library of Donetsk Christian University, where I had been serving as academic dean, so that they could be available for years to come to Ukrainian scholars and Christian workers.
    Have I sometimes regretted having given away certain books? Definitely. But I’m so glad they’re now accessible to people who would otherwise have no access to such resources.

  4. Norma Smith December 22, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    Great stuff!
    Thank you friend for your words of wisdom.
    Less we accumulate during our journey, the easier it’ll be to make to the end. We can’t make to our destination -Heaven- with so much stuff burdening our lives on earth.

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