Since almost the very start of the pandemic, the lines at Goodwill donation drop spots have wrapped around the block. So, almost two years later, we must all live in tidy, well-appointed homes, right?
Although we haven’t been spending as much money going out, there has still been plenty of retail therapy going on.
“For people who didn’t lose their jobs, it was a huge buying time,” says Katrina Hamilton, owner of Katrina Consults, a decluttering service in Seattle. “They used purchasing power as their trauma coping mechanism.”
If that sounds like you, or you just feel like your home is always a mess, there’s good news: You’re not alone. Nearly everyone has a room in the house where stuff goes to die. The spare bedroom. The garage. The basement.
“Every client I go to always tends to think their problems are unique to them. They feel like everyone else has it figured out except them,” Hamilton says. “The people who ask me, ‘Is this the worst you’ve seen?’ are always the least messy.”
Organizing isn’t a one-time thing, it’s an ongoing process, says Denise Allan, owner of Simplify Experts in Redmond.
“If you have young children in the house, you could do a heavy purge every six months. As an adult, an annual purge is pretty fantastic,” she says.
Let’s walk through common sticking points for culling some of the most challenging items, with advice from organizing pros for getting the job done.
Curating your media
Is it time to ditch all the physical media and rely solely on streaming and e-books?
First, ask yourself why you’re keeping the book, Hamilton says. Some people like to keep a big library of everything they’ve ever read; it’s like having old friends. For others, unread books are a source of guilt.
Hamilton keeps books that are sentimental or that she thinks she’ll reread within five years. The rest? “I let it go out into the world for someone else,” she says.
If you have a vast collection of CDs, separate the music you love from the physical object. Hamilton suggests asking yourself, “Does this actual CD mean anything? Or do I just like the songs on it, then I go listen to them on my streaming service?” But an indie band you saw in college, or a signed CD — those might be worth hanging on to.
For your media collections — DVDs, CDs and, oh yes, VHS tapes — do you even have a device that plays them?
“You’ve spent more time in your home in the last couple years than you have in a long time,” Allan says. “Did you go to those collections? Did you touch upon those things you were saving for when you had the time?” If you didn’t, will you ever?
Editing your closet
An old trick to editing your closet is to turn your hangers around once you’ve worn something. Then after 6 months or a year, donate everything on a hanger that’s still turned — meaning it hasn’t been worn.
But wait. The hanger trick doesn’t apply this year.
“During the pandemic is the first time I had to talk people out of getting rid of something,” Hamilton says. “Do you intend to live a life where you wear it again? I haven’t worn any of my dresses in two years, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to go to a wedding again.”
Did your closet magically, ahem, shrink your clothes? Funny how that happens. Hamilton says it’s fine to keep a few aspirational pieces that you really love but that don’t fit anymore. But don’t keep a whole closet’s worth of these items.
Allan uses what she calls “the ex-factor”: If you would be embarrassed if your ex saw you in it, then it should go.
Pilly stuff, stained stuff, sloppy stuff — let it all go. Your closet space is valuable. Use it for things you love and feel confident wearing.
“We’ve gone through a huge slump of working from home in sweats, but it benefits us to put on pants that button and shoes that tie,” Allan says. She says to ask yourself, “Do I love it? Does it fit well? Would I be pleased to wear this in front of someone else?”
When Lisa Saksons works with clients, she pulls everything out of their closet first. And she doesn’t mess around with Marie Kondo’s sparking joy method. “I charge by the hour,” says Saksons, chief organizer at Organized By Lisa in Lake Stevens. “If they want to look at each piece and kiss it and hug it, that’s fine.”
Instead, she sorts like with like: jeans together, dressy tops, casual tops and so on. When you can see that you have 10 pairs of black pants, it becomes faster and less emotionally draining to sort them into “yes,” “no” and “maybe” piles.
Sorting the sentimental
For sentimental items, Hamilton says there’s only one of three things that you can do with it: Put it on display. Store it correctly. Or get rid of it.
“A lot of people end up with those sentimental things shoved haphazardly in boxes in the garage and they feel bad about it,” Hamilton says. “Do you want this on display in your home? Is it your style? Do you like it? Sometimes the answer is no.”
If you don’t want it on display, your options are putting in a sturdy bin (an old Amazon box doesn’t cut it) or getting rid of it. Donate it, recycle it or throw it away.
For each of her kids, Saksons has one file box for keepsakes, with folders organized from birth to high school. Her kids, 7 and 9, choose around 10 items from each school year that they consider important, from birthday cards to handwritten assignments.
“It’s a lot easier to start your children out at a young age and teach them the executive functioning skills to decide,” Saksons says. “It’s just a really great life skill to learn.”
Sakson’s end goal is to pass a single box of keepsakes to her kids when they grow up and leave the house — instead of four billion boxes.
In other areas of the house, she employs the “one in, one out” rule. If a new piece of artwork appears on the fridge, she asks the kids which old one they are ready to take down.
“We would go through the stuff and talk about it,” Saksons says. “It’s OK to feel sad to say goodbye to something, but you only have so much physical space to store things.”
Saksons uses the same method for adults. She suggests curating a box for paperwork divided by labels that make sense to you. For bulkier sentimental items, she also limits herself to one box.
It may sound ruthless, but Saksons is speaking from experience. When she had her daughter, her mother brought over a box of her own baby clothes, and there was no way that scratchy polyester fabric was going to touch her newborn daughter’s skin.
“It was fun for a minute to look at,” Saksons says, “but I would have been just as happy to look at a photo.”