All original work © Jason W. Wong. Please ask for permission to reproduce any work.

All original work © Jason W. Wong. Please ask for permission to reproduce any work.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

But in this ever changing world in which we live makes you give in and cry...Say live and let die!

This week I promised you clutter. Want to see some?

BAM! (You know this photo was taken in June and that the tree had been around since December!)

And here's the AFTER--KAPOW!

This is a new year, and so I think it's time to talk about decluttering and purging. Last year I was obsessed with the show Hoarders until I realized two things: 1) I'd seen enough dead cats after the first season and 2)  yes, it's a mental disease but it's also a slippery slope we could all fall down. I think all you need to have is a career or a family and you're part of the way there.

Two years ago one of my first posts was about decluttering someone's studio apartment (which is where these images are from.) It was tough. It was like looking into the depths of someone's soul and seeing a lot of things I didn't expect to see. I thought I'd never go back, but now I find this is part of my Retrograde work. One of my current clients has a busy family and wanted some standard "rules" she could follow to help her purge the clutter from her home.

I tried to find some cut-and-dried rules for her, but had a hard time doing so. Y'know why? Because it's not that simple. There aren't cut-and-dried rules to follow during this process. Any advice someone gives you will have to sound more holistic than anything else--because after dealing with some folks with serious hoarding tendencies, I can honestly tell you it becomes very emotional.

So if you're going to try and do some purging (a.k.a. "spring cleaning") anytime soon, take these words of advice under consideration and imagine me in the room with you, rooting you on and dishing out some tough love.

1. Always remember this--unless you live in a 200 square foot studio, you probably have more space and storage than I (or a great number of Americans) will ever have. No matter how much (or how little) space you have, no matter how big (or small) your family is, you need to make it work. Always remember this. I just read Tim Gunn's new book and "make it work" has never felt more relevant. If you can afford to move to a bigger place every year or rent another storage space to keep hold of your stuff, then you don't need my advice this week. I told my current client that even though she had more space than others (for San Francisco), she shouldn't feel compelled to hold on to more than other people. I told her that I honestly didn't think she should be wanting for more space.

2. You're all digital, tech-savvy people. You follow blogs, for crying out loud. Get rid of the old magazines you're holding on to. I know most of you are busy people and can honestly say you might never ever dig through them again to search for "that one article" from whenever. If you need a recipe or something from Sunset, you're going to go to their website and search for keywords; you're not going to dig through a stack to find that March 2009 article. This should be an easy one to follow.

3. Boarding passes and other documents/receipts--get rid of them unless you need them for work. Are you honestly going to have the time to go back and verify that information for that expense account? If you haven't recorded the information in a month, then keep this in mind: TIME is your LIFE. It's time for your family, time for yourself and your sanity, time for your work or other more important things. (If you honesly think you need to enter them into some system or save them for some particular time period, then you need to make an appointment with yourself to actually do this. If you don't, or if you miss that appointment for any reason, then you need to toss that stuff out.)

4. Any financial paperwork or tax records--save it for 7 years. Anything older, shred it.

5. Make an appointment to shred your old stuff. Tell a friend when you're going to do it. If you need help, they can try to be there to keep you honest.

6. Tackle one pile of stuff a day. I've seen people with a lot of things on the floor and on/around their desks and they wonder why they're swimming in papers and clutter. If you do one pile of papers/stuff a week, it can be more managable. Don't stop until that pile has been filed or thrown out. The goal is to see your floor and to have a clean desk by the end of the day/week/month.

7. If you ever hide stuff from others, you're hiding it from yourself--and that's not healthy. If you let your garage or basement become a dumping zone, you're creating a risk for your family and home. Remember that one stray spark in those cluttered areas can mean disaster.

8. Kids' clothing is easy. If it doesn't fit them or is pilly or worn, you need to get rid of it, right? So do it monthly. Make it a set time. As you notice things shrinking in the laundry or on a weekly basis, toss it into a bag in the garage. Once a month, post something on an online parents' group saying you have a bag of clothing to give away. And the torn or worn things--if you can't get rid of them, you need to toss them or turn them into rags. I know I'm all about recycling and stuff, but this is your life we're talking about. If throwing things out means an extra half hour of time for you, then I'm all for it.

9. Kids' brutal. If they haven't played with it in a few months, get rid of it. There's a good chance they're forgotten them. Kids are resilient and will bounce back with all the new things they get from friends and family all the time. Don't be afraid to get rid of things--I know I still resent my mother for throwing out this one comic book when I was a kid, but now as an adult I can rationalize it: I left it on the floor for days (where someone could have slipped on it), so I can understand how she threw away my mess in one clean sweep. I'm sure your kids can deal with giving away their old toys. If anything, you're teaching them not to be so precious with material things. And you're teaching them about charity and giving to others. That toy may have come from Grandma, but it's not actually Grandma or her love. I mean, if you donate that old gift, does Grandma love your kids any less? (On a related note, I had a ton of toys when I was a kid, but I had the most fun making things out of old boxes and using my imagination instead. And for some reason, I was okay with those cardboard forts and castles and action figure traps being tossed out after a week. I think it's because I always knew I could make something bigger and better later...)

10. Your toys. Get rid of your old electronics. Just send 'em to Goodwill whether they work or not. (Goodwill in California has a fantastic policy of recycling electronics for parts. Old phones can go to victims of domestic violence. Check with your cell phone carrier for details.) Set a date. Say, "Next Tuesday I'm going to delete all the info from this old phone and donate it." And then do it. Unless you think you're going to have the time to sell it or use it again...(really? Will you have the time? Be honest with yourself.)

11. Your clothing. Even if you're saving old clothes for the day when you lose some weight and can get back into them, will they feel right ever again? Will they still be in fashion? Get rid of anything pilly or worn. That includes old underwear and t-shirts. If you haven't worn it in the past year or two, then seriously consider getting rid of it. Old underwear or socks? Seriously get rid of it. When you've got more space you can treat yourself to new things--but not until you get rid of the old. Do you have a dresser? I don't--my folded stuff is either in this Ikea locker or in a couple of stacks in our modest closet. (My partner has a dresser, but that's because he only keeps his hanging clothes in our closet.)

12. If a lot of your stuff is kept out in stacks or in clear bins, is this because you need to see things? When things are put away, do you find yourself getting multiples of things you already have or might not need? Or is there a reason why things aren't put away? This is a time to assess--as well as clean and unclutter--your home. If it's easier to keep track of things you can see, you might need to rethink all the storage in your home. But if you're okay with having things filed away, then by purging and keeping track of what you actually have you should know where everything is all the time. I know kids or pets might play around and take things out and mess things up. That's life. But as you start clearing things out, it'll be easier for all of you to maintain the progress.

Okay, that's all I can think of right now. Like I said before, it's more holistic and tough love than anything else. (It's also fueled by some beer after working this weekend for Ye Olde Dayjobbe!) It's about being honest with yourself and constantly asking if holding on to the stuff is worth your time or energy. I've always been dramatic and have watched waaaaaay too many disaster movies (thanks to my partner) so I constantly ask myself what I couldn't live without. Imagine if you and your family/loved one(s) were on a desert island somewhere (where food wasn't an issue, of course.) What would you really need?

And then get yourself another drink and be thankful you have a home to keep you warm and safe.
See all the things you don't need:

And see what's important (friends and your sanity):

Out with the old:

And in with the new (or new slipcovers):

A cluttered entryway:

Or something more clean and practical?

It's a new year. It's time to make room for the things that really matter. Don't let yourself get bogged down by your "stuff" and material belonging any more. Say, "Live and let live." (Or maybe--to the clutter and chaos and all the things holding you back--say, "Live and let die.")

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