Live More by Owning Less, and Scaring the People You Love

clutterSeveral years ago, I read an article about legendary broadcast journalist Walter Cronkite moving from the four-story Manhattan townhouse he’d lived in for decades to a one-level flat after foot surgery limited his mobility.

He discussed the process of sorting through a lifetime of possessions–including a piece of the Berlin Wall–and deciding what to keep and what to get rid of (he kept the fascist pet rock). He jokingly lamented about how he’d hoped to be long gone before it came to this so his kids would have to do it instead.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’ve been helping my parents with this same process. I actually don’t mind de-junking because there is nothing I like more than chucking things I would otherwise have to keep track of, pick up, clean, organize or store.

But going through other people’s stuff is different.

I can’t decide for my parents what’s relevant to them, though I’ve offered strong opinions about it at times since their current living situation is temporary and I’m going to have to help them move all this crap again in a year.

In defense of my methods, I’m kind of a de-junking guru. I’ve even taught some classes. I can’t take full credit for my tactics because I learned them years ago in a class taught by a master de-junkstress, whose name I can’t remember. This brilliant woman’s approach to possession management changed my life and I feel a sense of duty to pass along her liberating anti-hoarding techniques whenever I can, like now.

Here are a few tips to get started on uncluttering your life.

#1. Remember you are what you own.
Everything you own is stored in three places: your space, your time, and your brain. Your possessions take up physical space in your home/office/shed/etc. Possessions take time maintaining, moving, cleaning and organizing them. The brain also keeps a subconscious catalog of all possessions, so when sorting through stuff ask yourself this question, “Do I have room for this in my space, my time, and my brain?”

If you’re like me, those places are already overstuffed, so liberate space!

#2. Start small.
You don’t have to take on your whole house/garage/shed at once. Start with a drawer, shelf, or single box and include it as part of your regular cleaning regime. Plus, your family is much less likely to notice their stuff is being squirreled away if you do it methodically over time in small increments.

#3. “To keep or not to keep–that is the question.”
This is the toughest part. While going through your stuff, memories, sentiment and delusions of usefulness will surface making you get all blubbery and unreasonable. But you probably wouldn’t even have remembered that stuff if you hadn’t been sorting through it. And phones now have handy cameras on them, and a picture is worth a thousand dusty trophies, so click pics, download them in memory books with sappy captions and enjoy your sentiments in accessible compact 2D form.

Apply these simple de-junking steps and I promise you, your children will live in terror of leaving anything on the floor overnight and your parents will never ask you to help them move again.

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