Stores and catalogs now offer a wonderful variety of storage containers, but for many of us, our possessions have outgrown even the most clever "storage solutions." We have been so successful at acquiring things that we now need a system for editing what we have so successfully acquired.
My husband has a theory that we operate in a sort of flat-top pyramid pattern in relation to our possessions. On the incline it is acquire, acquire, acquire. On the plateau it is use, use, use and on the decline it is get rid of, get rid of, get rid of. It seems many of us Baby Boomers are at the top of that down slope.
Offspring come in very handy in this department. Second-string possessions work nicely for first apartments. Unfortunately, many of those offspring have their "first apartment" under our roofs and bring more stuff home! I do know a few people who find it easy to get rid of things. One is my friend Pam, who for years thought she was 5 feet 8 and was thus responsible for passing along to me some wonderful items of clothing. Then she realized that she was 5 feet 4 and discovered the petite department, which cut severely into my wardrobe. My friend Holly follows the rule, "If you don't use it within a year, get rid of it." If I followed that rule I would have nine things in my closet.
There are even people who find it easy to place things on the curb for Goodwill. Others of us need a specific recipient. We can open our closets and cupboards easily if a friend can use something, but we can't just "get rid of it." There is a special pleasure in finding someone who can actually use something we've been saving for years.
Eyeing my basement long ago, my husband commented, "You're saving things for people you haven't even met yet." I think it was meant as a criticism, but it made perfect sense to me. Some of us have that hopeful nature that causes us to see potential value in almost everything. And so we store these items that "could be" useful -- or be used to make something useful -- until we finally realize we are not ever going to put in the work that turns their potential value into real value.
I had an elderly friend who used to say, "Don't buy work." Many of us have not only bought it, we are storing it. The ultimate way to edit possessions, of course, is to move. The prospect of packing, transporting and unpacking an item really makes one question the importance of that item in one's life. Though I have lived in the same house for 28 years, I've helped many friends move. It's comforting to see that others have as much stuff as I do. Or to see that others also have a sentimental attachment to almost every item that has ever entered the house. One strategy we used successfully in a few of these moves was to make three categories: useful, sentimental, and both useful and sentimental. The last pile was a must-keep and the other two depended upon how useful or how sentimental.
Having some sort of system for dealing with the need to move things along is a necessity at certain times in our lives. Polling friends and drawing from experience, a few suggestions for editing possessions follow:
-- Garage sales can be a lot of work for the payoff; do one with a group or consider alternatives.
-- If you have youngsters, find a family with kids a few sizes smaller than yours and make regular deliveries of usable clothing, toys and books (hold on to all Legos and baseball cards). Keep a cupboard of "pass along" items, where your kids can regularly put things they no longer wear and hopefully develop a lifelong habit.
-- Create a system at work or among friends of sharing "bad purchases." Friends know that the strange shades of green they mistakenly buy will look good on me and I know to whom to give the red things I mistakenly purchase.
-- Big items such as tables and dressers that you can't yet part with can be placed on long-term loan with good friends.
-- Call local schools to donate craft supplies for after-school programs.
-- For current and nice clothing, explore the consignment clothing stores, but call ahead to find out what their specifications are.
-- If you don't want items to be resold, check with local churches that help those in need. Find other places to use items that grow dusty in your home. One first-grade teacher brought her bread-making machine to school, and her students are treated to warm bread on Monday mornings. Another habit that can keep us from bringing even more into the mix is to be aware of that dreamy retail glow that surrounds things when they're in the store.
Instead, try to imagine attempting to fit the item in with all the other stuff. The concept of enough is a hard one to nail down. For some of us it just keeps moving up with our capacity to acquire. For others the point comes when we run out of space or when the place in our minds that inspires acquisition is busy with other things.