What do I do with all the stuff?

Help me declutter my basement

The decision to de-clutter and organize deserves a lot of respect.  Our possessions are so often intertwined with our identity, which can make deciding a challenge. To start, try connecting an emotional investment in the outcome of your letting go, like “think of all the $$ I will find,” or “think of the donation write-off I will get!” 

To “Decide” comes from the Latin root “to cut off.”  When we decide on what to do with our stuff, we typically use some of these comparisons:

  • Value vs. junk
  • Important vs. trivial
  • Worthwhile vs. crap
  • Love it vs. don’t love it
  • Attention vs. ignore
items to donate
Items to donate

Many of my professional organizing clients would identify as being chronically disorganized (CD). Judith Kolberg, who is a veteran Professional Organizer, first spoke about CD in 1992, in 1998 wrote a book about it and in 2002 was a founding member of what is now The Institute for Challenging Disorganization (previously named NSGCD).

Chronic Disorganization has three defining features:

  • Persistence of severe disorganization over a long period of time
  • Daily, undermining of one’s quality of life by disorganization
  • History of failed self-help attempts

Inability to Make Decisions:

One of the cornerstones of chronic disorganization is the inability to make decisions, often feeling paralyzed and overwhelmed by the process of sorting through possessions.  Many of the comparisons listed above are very murky and don’t compute. The decision-making process is stalled by these classic characteristics of Chronic Disorganization:

  • Sentimental- has emotional attachment to many objects.
  • Instrumental-many things viewed as useful in the future.
  • Frugal, has many contingency plans for items.
  • Aesthetic- loves to touch and look at lots of items.
  • Has a wide range of interests.

Making any decision starts by having a reason or goal in mind (i.e. I want to live with less stuff.), asking questions that go deeper than will I need this someday? and having a plan for where the items will go when they leave your home. 

bins in basement. what is the goal?
Basement bins to sort

Try asking these questions when sorting through stuff:

  • Is this truly important or does it just seem so because I’m looking at it?
  • Do I have a specific plan to use this item within a reasonable time frame?
  • Would I take it with me if I moved?
  • Would I buy it again if I didn’t already own it?
  • Will not having this help me solve my clutter problem?
  • Will someone else make better use of it than me?
  • Can I get it again if I find I need it?
  • Does this thing pertain to my life NOW?

What will I do with the items as I begin the sorting process?

There are many choices:

  • Toss
  • Recycle
  • Give to relatives (ask first & be prepared for “no.”)
  • Freecycle
  • eBay (involves time to photograph, describe, list, mail)
  • Craiglist or Facebook Local Group “Buy, Sell, Trade.”
  • Scan or Shred
  • Consign
  • Donate
  • Yard Sale
  • Repair
  • Return
  • Ponder (set it aside and think about it)

Not making a decision is a decision. Remember what your goal is, pace yourself and get some help from a professional organizer if you need an extra nudge!