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At Last! A Plan to Deal with All My Stuff

Persuade a buddy or two to compete with you in jettisoning unnecessary stuff; call it The Great American Clutter Buster Challenge

By Linda Goor Nanos

I have a pocketbook graveyard on the top shelf of my closet, and it is only the tip of a huge amorphous berg of possessions acquired over many years. I'm not the sole contributor; it's a multi-generational accumulation. I found four pairs of crutches in a storage closet, which was not surprising considering that we cared for four elders in their final years.

A closet stuffed with clothing and accessories. Next Avenue
Credit: Courtesy of Linda Goor Nanos

My son and daughter moved out well over a decade ago, but they didn't take their prom dresses, soccer trophies and other mementos with them. Instead, they have added cribs, highchairs and toy bins for use when they bring my three grandchildren under five for visits.

I walked in on the tail end of a conversation between my son and daughter that ended with "just get a huge Dumpster." That was my call to action. I was thankful that my parents had downsized from a house to an apartment (although I purchased a second china cabinet to accommodate their dishes when they moved). They kept their apartment in the senior community down to a minimal number of belongings. Even so, when they passed, the senior community gave me only 30 days to vacate the apartment.

Deadlines Are Motivators

It was helpful to have a deadline and I cleared their apartment on schedule. That leads me to believe that as I set out to winnow my possessions, the first order of business will be to have a self-imposed deadline. I checked a life expectancy chart from the Department of Health which gives me another 14.65 years to live, but I don't want to drag this out so I will give myself a year to make a dent.

It doesn't have to be unpleasant. I can put on music and enjoy the memories.

The task can be done in small increments of one drawer, shelf or cabinet at a time so as not to be overwhelming. It doesn't have to be unpleasant. I can put on music and enjoy the memories.

It's suggested to use a timer for however long you decide to dedicate to a task. I have a particular distaste for dealing with paperwork. That is one clearing task that will require a timer, plus a reward for myself when it's done!

I will focus first on my own things. I know better than to touch my husband's belongings. Tolerance for clutter is on a spectrum, like many issues. I fall in the area between obsessive orderliness and hoarding. I would say he lands slightly farther down on the scale.

The kids will be last, but rest assured I will be coming after them with packing boxes. I'll attempt to make it a fun event with music playing, pizza delivery and movies on the TV for the little ones, but I need to begin with my example, or it will be harder to enlist their help.

Divide and Dispose

Having done the clearing-out task before, I understand it is a function of organization and sorting. Possessions must be divided into those without any usefulness, which are trash; those that can be passed on to family or friends; and those that can give pleasure to someone else if donated.

When discussing the charitable donation option with others, I was struck by their kindness. Many people choose organizations that are meaningful to them, such as women's shelters, veterans' organizations or animal shelters. There is consolation in that charitable giving.

I may consider selling some collectibles. There's eBay, Facebook Marketplace and, for the brave, garage sales. If you go the garage sale route, multi-family sales can be social and attract more buyers but be prepared for the buyers who want to pay a dollar for your previously cherished possession.

Give Stuff Away

You may feel that an item served you well and owes you nothing, in which case there are free exchanges on Facebook. I learned about a national group called "Buy Nothing," with local chapters. You can post items for people to pick up, arranged through personal messaging.

An alternative is to put items out in the driveway with a sign saying "please take"; you will often find it gone the next day.


When faced with emotionally challenging tasks, a buddy system is suggested. They have long been a bedrock of emotional support groups such as cancer support and Alcoholic Anonymous. Having a buddy who shares the goal of clearing out the clutter can make the task more fun and let each of you bounce ideas off each other: Where should I donate this? How can I dispose of that?

When I come across possessions that I feel sentimental about, I can take pictures and begin a digital album to remember them and share the photo without needing to keep the item in my personal inventory.

With ever-changing technology, the pile of electronics you receive from your kids but never figure out how to use can grow quickly.

There are items that require special disposal. Many local governments have collection days for certain types of items. I visited our town dump and found bins set up for different types of electronics. With ever-changing technology, the pile of electronics you receive from your kids but never figure out how to use can grow quickly.

As for gifts from family, we have asked not to receive anything that requires storage space. This has led to the gifting of tickets for a show or a game. Pricier tickets may end up being our joint birthday, Mother's Day and Father's Day gift, but that is welcomed.

Make Decluttering Fun

The late comedian George Carlin had a popular routine about "stuff." We may believe that our homes are to provide us with shelter, but he proposed that they are really to house our stuff.

My house is not an exception, but I want to thoughtfully rid it of all but the most useful stuff. I need to determine which items bring me joy, to borrow from the Marie Kondo method. If they no longer serve a purpose and no longer bring me joy, there is no reason to keep them.

What I am proposing is a clutter buster challenge. Find a buddy or two and join me in the Unofficial Great American Clutter Buster Challenge. Don't leave it all for the dreaded Dumpster.

Linda Goor Nanos
Linda Goor Nanos is a practicing attorney, author, wife, mother and grandmother. Her writing credits include a memoir "Forty Years of PMS," professional articles and published essays on life lessons. Read More
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