Decluttering My Life

John ArmstrongPersonal

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.