come on baby light my fire

I have a friend who has an amazing album collection. He collected and curated through the 70's, 80's and 90's. He's slowed down in the digital age; though he'll argue vociferously for the superior quality of vinyl over digital recording, the ease of the download has caught up with him.

This collection has started to cause him pain. It takes up a lot of space, he's constantly trying to keep his tiny children from trashing the records, and his long-suffering wife is beginning to eye those shelves with a proprietary gleam in her eye. 

Collections are tricky things. They generally represent time, place, and passion, and invoke a deep sense of nostalgia. Some collections lose their luster over the years, and are easily discarded. (I'm thinking  about my childhood rock collection.) Others are intrinsically tied to a particular phase of your life. For my friend, the very idea of getting rid of his albums feels like a negation of his younger self. Getting rid of his albums to make room for wedding pictures and Disney videos? His 20-year-old self likely mocked adults who "sell out" that way. So what to do?

Heck, if they really bring him joy, he could start playing them again! Though be warned, you may find that although you love the feel and smell and even sound of vinyl, you'd actually rather use your iPhone and bluetooth. In that case, maybe you'll decide to keep the 10 records that really feel like talismans of your youth. Hang them on the wall where you can see them regularly; bask in those memories. Stuff that is buried in closets and basements does not bring joy, so why bother to keep it at all? 

We throw out lots of excuses for holding on to things that don't serve us. Dig a little deeper; if the value of an object is truly what's keeping you from discarding it, sell it and be done. If the real reason is that you can't let go of the emotions surrounding the thing then give yourself a break! Holding on to guilt, shame, and remorse do not bring joy, ease and peace into your life. Even items tied up with positive emotions can weigh you down. Bring those things into the light, love them, appreciate them, then let (most of) them go. You'll create more space for new experiences and other loves.




The Value Trap

Often people are reluctant to give away items that they perceive as valuable.

"I know I never wear those shoes, but they cost me $200!"

"I can't give away my album collection - people pay good money for mint condition vinyl." 

The value trap is a double bind; there is a practical component and an emotional one.

First, you may think your stuff is worth a lot of money, but it's likely that you're just thinking about what you paid for it. You spent $200 on those cute sling-backs, but would someone else give you $200 for them today? Things are only worth what someone is currently willing to pay.

Second, you are wrapping more and more negative energy around this thing that you don't really want. You hesitate to discard something you spent $200 on, but never wore. That feels like throwing money straight into the trash. But guess what? You are never getting that $200 back. Just accept that this was not a fabulously great investments and MOVE ON. Otherwise you have to feel that guilt, shame, and annoyance every single time you see those shoes. That doesn't seem like a good use of your precious energy.

Here are just a few things, expensive when new, that do not retain generally their value: clothing, sports equipment, electronics, of-the-moment collectibles, anything to do with a baby. Try to be realistic about the actual cash value of the things you own. Check out Craigslist or Ebay and see what other people are asking for similar items. Ugh. Those shoes are only going for $20 today, and apparently no one else found them comfortable, because there are 15 pairs already available on Thredup.

Maybe you find that the thing you don't want really is still worth something - now, are you really going to get out there and sell it? If you are determined to do it, I recommend setting a time limit. You don't want that rowing machine anymore, but you've been complaining about how it cost too much to toss. Give yourself two weeks to put it on Craigslist or take it to a consignment store. If the two weeks passes and you haven't gotten around to it, donate it. Let someone else enjoy that thing you hate. Donating something valuable to a worthy non-profit or a friendly neighbor is an excellent way to take advantage of that item's worth. You get to feel good about your action, and you get the added advantage of never tripping over that stupid machine again.

 The beauty of letting go of things that are bound up with negative emotions is that you get to let the bad feelings go as well. Now when you look in your closet you won't have that twinge of guilt about the shoes you shouldn't have purchased in the first place. Peace. That's what this is all about.






Gifts: To Toss or Not to Toss


One of the most difficult things to get rid of is a gift. We feel guilty about not wanting the things our loved ones have picked out for us. I’m going to teach you how to get over this. 

  1. Presents are not people. Selling that silver samovar Aunt Agatha gave you 12 years ago is not the same as sending her away to live with strangers. We need to really grasp that the item is not a stand-in for the person, it’s just a thing. Gifts are tokens of affection, freely given. Let’s not turn them into anchors.

  2. Special events do not confer extra value on their gifts. Why is the gift you got for your 21st birthday more important than the one you got for your 23rd? Why is a pair of wine glasses you received as a wedding present more valuable than the pair you chose at a flea market? Major life events are important because of what they say about us: I found the love of my life. I worked my butt off and graduated with honors. I gave this company 25 of my best years. The tokens we receive from friends, family and coworkers commemorate those events - they do not add to the value of the work we did or the love we found.

  3. They might not even care. Sometimes we spend a lot of time and energy picking out something special for the person we love. And sometimes we grab the first appropriate thing we can find between downing lunch and getting to the gym. Think about the last three presents you bought. Would you be devastated if the recipients decided to pass them along?

  4. Who’s going to know? Most gifts aren’t houses or cars or major pieces of furniture. Chances are that your sister hasn’t noticed that you donated that orange scarf she gave you three years ago;  she’s not really looking for it every time she sees you. We live in fear that somehow a huge alarm goes off the minute we put an unwanted present in the Goodwill box. As though a loudspeaker is trawling the highways blaring the news. Honestly, it’s unlikely that the gift giver will notice that the gift is gone.

  5. Grow a backbone, already. The reason you’re getting rid of clutter is because you want to take control of your life. If the fear of Aunt Agatha’s ire is forcing you to hold onto a samovar that you hate, how is this helping you to be your best self, assertive and confident? It might be time to embrace the discomfort and let Aunt Agatha know that you really loved having that samovar in your house, but that it is no longer useful or appropriate to your current life path. Tell her you sold it and donated the profits to the Society for the Preservation of Afternoon Tea. Stand up for your own life! Don’t let junk fester in your house because someone else thinks you should own it.

Organizing vs. Reducing


Organizing your stuff means developing systems to maintain it. Some of these are really beneficial; filing papers instead of letting them pile up on counters, chairs and spare parts of the floor, for example, can really improve your life. Reducing the amount of stuff you own means there is less need for expanded closet space, an additional filing cabinet, a second garage.

Don't get me wrong - I'm all for staying organized.  In fact, I have a single organizing mantra: everything you own should have a home. And I don't mean on the dining room table. It's nearly impossible to clean up if things don't have a spot to return to - you just end up shifting things around and making temporary clutter vignettes.

If an item doesn't have a home you shouldn't draw the immediate conclusion that you don't have enough storage space. You have what you have, so it has to be enough. If you need an additional bookshelf, so be it. But if you spend most of your time researching storage solutions on Pinterest, I've got news for you - you need to get rid of some stuff.

I am solidly against spending money on boxes and bins in order to avoid the real problem - you have too many things. Things that don't serve you, things that require physical and emotional space, things that keep you from moving forward with new endeavors. Get serious about getting rid of those things that are weighing you down, and spend less time worrying about home organization.