Posts Tagged ‘cleaning out’

Donating Household Items

Nearly anything you clean out of your home can be donated to a local thrift store. It's okay if items are worn (people know they are used when they buy them), but make sure they are clean and functional — don't just dump broken junk into the donate bag, because that creates more work for the thrift store employees. The nice thing about donating your discards is that someone else will get some use out of them — as they say, one man's trash is another's treasure. You can clean out with a clear conscience, knowing that your stuff isn't clogging up a landfill, but moving on to a new owner who will love and cherish it. And, of course, if you choose a non-profit or church organization, the resale of your donations will benefit their cause.

Donating Office Items

Some thrift stores simply can't take office furniture, business electronics, and computer equipment — but there is no reason for these items to end up littering the landscape as trash. Why not go straight to the source? There are many worthwhile non-profit agencies in your town that are running on a shoestring budget and have a hard time affording the basics — these organizations can always use donations of business supplies. Whether you're cleaning out a desk or a box of file folders, a copy machine or a high-end printer — you can easily find a group that would appreciate the help and put your discards to good use. If you're not sure where to start, contact your local United Way and they can point you in the right direction.

Donating Building Supplies

Cleaning out as you renovate has always been a challenge — thrift stores have zero interest in items like cabinets, cans of paint, tile, grout, windows, doors, sinks, fixtures, and lumber. But now, there's a great way to keep these items from ending up in a landfill. Habitat For Humanity's Restores accept donations of building supplies — both new and used. They then resell these items through their “building thrift stores” which are open to the public (FYI: a great way to find inexpensive items for your next fix-it project). Everyone benefits — you receive a tax deduction and a greener way to dispose of home repair and construction materials, and someone else gets a great bargain on discounted building supplies.

Commonly Accepted Recyclables

You can actually recycle more household items than you might think — most recycling centers will take some or all of the following (visit Recycle.net or GRN.com to find a drop-off near you):

  • clear and frosted plastic bottles
  • glass bottles, jars, and containers without the lids
  • aluminum (cans and foil)
  • steel cans (the kind that canned vegetables come in)
  • plastic and paper grocery bags
  • white copy paper and office paper
  • junk mail and colored paper
  • magazines
  • newspaper and newsprint
  • telephone books
  • corrugated cardboard (not slick)
You can also recycle a number of other items — it just takes a bit more effort to find a drop-off location:

  • aseptic packaging (milk cartons, drink boxes, etc.) — call Coca Cola at 800-888-6488
  • refrigerators, heat pumps, and air conditioners — must be taken away by a certified hauler
  • packing “peanuts” — the Plastic Loose Fill Council offers a list of drop-off sites
  • polystyrene packaging — contact the Alliance Of Foam Packaging Recyclers
  • carpet and carpet padding — Dupont Antron has a program for recycling carpet
  • eyeglasses — the Lions Club accepts donations to fit with new lenses for the needy
  • holiday cards — send to St. Jude's Ranch to be made into new cards
  • GreenDisk has a program to recycle media (digital or magnetic) and computer components
  • tires and rubber, scrap metal, and automotive parts — contact your local mechanic
  • ink and toner cartridges — choose from a number of recycling programs
  • cell phones, cordless items, and rechargeable batteries — contact Call2Recycle

Toxic Substances

Some items are considered toxic and will poison a landfill if thrown into the trash. These must be handled with care, and can't be recycled along with your glass and paper — but you can take them to a hazardous materials recycler for correct disposal. Take motor oil, antifreeze and other automotive fluids to your local quick lube shop. You can call your local garbage company for advice in dealing with fluorescent light bulbs, thermometers, household cleaners, poisons, paints, and solvents. Lead acid batteries may be taken to an automotive shop — or contact The Battery Council for a referral. And if you have a smoke detector (which contains radioactive material) to discard, call First Alert at 800-323-9005.
While the goal is to recycle as much as you can, some things just can't be re-purposed and must be tossed:

  • other grades of plastic (varies by local area)
  • waxed, food contaminated, and oil-soaked paper
  • stickers and plastic laminated paper such as fast food wrappers
  • pet food bags
  • carbon or thermal fax paper
  • sanitary products or tissues
  • plate glass and mirrors
  • crockery, china, or pottery

Starting Without A Plan

Imagine taking a trip to a new city without a map, a GPS, or even directions to your final destination. How would you ever get there? That's what organizing without a plan is like — you can make as much forward progress as you like, but you have no idea if you're even headed the right way (in fact, you might just be going in the exact opposite direction of where you would like to end up!)

Before beginning any organizing project, think about what you want to accomplish — what your life will look like when you're done. From there, you can figure out the steps you will need to take, and your timeline for each phase. But knowing where you are going prior to starting out is the only guaranteed way to reach your destination.

Not Cleaning Out Before You Organize

Organizing involves more than just moving your stuff around. Decluttering is about devoting your space to those objects that you actually use and love — and being willing to let go of the rest. If you want your organizing experience to be a successful one, expect to make some hard decisions about what to keep and what to get rid of.

Before you start worrying about organizing supplies and storage containers, begin with a full-scale purge. Go through your stacks and piles, and pull out anything that you don't use, need, or want anymore — functional items in the “donate” bin, the rest in the recycle or the trash. If you clear out the excess first, you'll have less to organize and the rest of the process will be a snap.

Using Opaque Storage Containers With No Labels

All the space in the world won't do you a bit of good if you can't see what you're storing. Many people waste as much time searching for items that they have “organized” (read as “hidden out-of-sight and out-of-mind”) — as they did when it was all just heaped together in a pile! You should never have to guess where you have put something away.

Your best choice is a clear container that allows you to see what's inside. You're less likely to lose things when you can tell a box's contents without ever having to remove the lid. If you must use an opaque tub, be sure to clearly label it — and be specific! That means going a step farther with your descriptions — not just “Christmas decorations,” but “Christmas lights” or “holiday candles” or “tree ornaments.”

Saying “I'll Put It Here For Now”

One of the biggest mistakes you can make with your storage is creating “in-between” spots for your belongings. The minute you say, “I'll deal with it away later” — you've not only created extra work for yourself later (two steps instead of one), but you have also diminished your chances of actually putting the damned thing away at all!

Rather than sitting something down in the first place you see, make sure you have a set home for each item and a logical reason for putting it there. Cleaning up is quick and easy when you know that your iron lives on the shelf above the washing machine,  and your whisk belongs in the third drawer from the stove. Not to mention the fact that you will actually be able to find that item again when you next need it.

Failing To Subdivide Big Open Spaces

A lot of storage spaces are so big that they become almost impractical. Just dumping your stuff into a huge gaping closet or cabinet doesn't make you organized — in fact, this sort of arrangement can actually encourage clutter. Sometimes it's better to break large spaces up into smaller components.

When dealing with oversized storage, try to find some way to compartmentalize collections of small items. Desk drawers just beg for dividers, your kitchen pantry becomes more manageable with a few shelves, the tools in the garage can be hung on racks, and the extra toiletries in your bathroom closet are less messy when placed in containers.

Ignoring Your Dead Space

Most people wish for expanded storage, but you actually have more room than you think — if you look in the right places. Glance around and see if you've been overlooking spots that contain unrealized organizational possibilities. Taking advantage of underutilized “dead space” can sometimes double or triple your available storage.

Don't forget about the areas under beds, on the backs of doors, near the ceiling, and on the floor.  Hang tools and sports equipment in the garage, hats and belts in the closet, and kid's school bags in your mud room or entryway. Less accessible spots in the basement, garage, and attic are particularly good for storing items you don't get at very often — like holiday decorations and memorabilia.

Failing To Make Adjustments

Remember that your storage is a dynamic system — it should continue to evolve as your interests and lifestyle change. The system you set up today may serve your every need right now, but will it still work for you in a year or two? Organization is a journey, not a destination. And while you can certainly clear up your clutter worries, it takes regular maintenance and revision of your systems to keep it that way.

The key to lasting organization is flexibility — don't be afraid to make changes to your systems when necessary. Keep an eye out for systems that need a little tweaking. If you're experiencing frustrations, can't find what you're looking for, or seem to have run out of space, it's time for an overhaul.

Filling Your Storage To Capacity

Do you ever plan to buy anything new ever again? Even those of us who are committed minimalists are going to eventually bring home a new acquisition — it's unavoidable! But if you stuff your storage spaces to overflowing, where will you put your purchases?

As you organize, think about leaving some free space — room to grow. The general rule of thumb is that you should always have about 15% of your storage unoccupied — that way, when you do go shopping, you won't have to worry about “making” a spot for the newcomers. But if you can't manage that, institute a “one-in/one-out” rule — every time you bring something into your house, something else has to go away. With a little discipline, you'll never run out of room again!

Storing Items Too Far Away

It may seem like common sense, but we don't always think to put things nearest the point where we use them. A poor choice  of storage location makes daily life vastly more complicated than it needs to be! The most direct route to “efficient” is via “convenient,” so keep your storage close to where that activity occurs.

Make an effort to look at your storage with a critical eye — asking yourself if a simple shift in geography would relieve some of your stress. Then feel free to move objects around if your current system doesn't make sense. You don't want to have to walk across your office every time you need something off of the printer — and your child is less likely to put his dirty towel in the hamper if it's in the other room.

Skipping The Yearly Purge

Don't think that once you have set up your storage spaces, you can simply sit back and rest on your laurels. You may be “done” for now, but your system is going to need a little annual TLC if you expect it to keep the clutter at bey. Sure, if you set up an organized space and then never touched it, things would remain in good order — but daily use, changing needs, and the addition of new “stuff” will kill good organization if you aren't careful!

You need to take some time at least once a year to sort through your belongings — pulling out anything that is broken, hasn't been used in the past 12 months, or has become obsolete. The best time for this is during a natural point of transition like a change in the seasons — spring cleaning, back to school, or the New Year.

The Keepers

The first step toward cleaning out the clutter is recognizing that not everything is a keeper! Even those things that used to be keepers can slide into the “Get Rid Of” category without you realizing it. “Keep” is only meant for items that you have defined as CURRENTLY beautiful, useful, or loved. Deciding which items are “Keep's” should be fairly obvious — if you use it all the time or consider it a cherished memento, that's a “Keep.” You may even want to have several boxes of “Keep's” — each box labeled for a different area in your house. That way, you can take all of your “Kitchen Keeps” and “Bedroom Keeps” and “Basement Keeps” to their respective homes without making 30 different trips.

You may locate a few stray objectsthat are missing a part or in need of an accessory. Of course, youwould be perfectly happy to use these items — if you only had thoseessential lost components. Put these fabulous finds into a box labeled”need to buy,” and make a list of all the parts and pieces you arelooking for. Then you can take the list with you on your next shoppingtrip. You can do the same with any object that requires modification or repairbefore it can be used. But set a time limit — if you don't get an item in functional workingorder by your deadline, it gets moved to the “Get Rid Of” pile.

You can also create a space for unfinished projects that you still intend to tackle. However, this box is not meant to be a graveyard for past guilt. Askyourself if each task is still as meaningful as when you first beganworking on it. Macramé potholders may have sounded like a good idea 10years ago, but now? It's okay to admit that you will never write thegreat American novel. You're not going to hell if you decide that tennis just isn't for you anymore. I hereby grant you permission to let go ofoutdated interests, and to focus on activities that bring you joytoday. And if it sits in the project box for more than a couple ofmonths, it's out of here!

Get Rid Of

This box is for those objects that you are certain you don't want any more. Oh no — you have to make a decision?  Whatever will you do! I know the concept is frightening, but what I'm asking really should not be that hard — you ought to be able to look at a broken lamp or an old book you haven't read in 20 years or a pair of pants that will never fit you again and know that it serves no purpose in your life (if not, we've got much bigger issues to tackle than disorganization!) Remember, we're only looking for those items that you can immediately identify as clutter — ones that don't require a lot of thought or deliberation. Of course, you may want to break “Get Rid Of” into some smaller categories — such as “Throw Away” for the trash, “Give Away” for those things you would like to donate, and a even a “Sell” box for anything you think might be worth money.

You're also going to find some “Get Rid Of's” that aren't even your responsibility. If you are like every other person on this planet, you probably havecustody of at least one item does not belong to you. These orphanedsouls create a sense of guilt, of incompleteness, and of loose ends tobe tied up. How freeing would it be to rid yourself of other people'sclutter? Let's put these in a box labeled “To Return,” and then schedule time to get them back to their respective homes. I promise that — once youhave freed yourself of everything that doesn't belong to you, serve a purpose in your life, or mean anything to you –you will find it much easier to organize the rest. And you will havetaken a tremendous weight off of your shoulders — the weight ofunnecessary clutter. Just be sure to go through this process at leastonce a year to keep the piles trimmed back!

Not Sure

While I would love (in a perfect world) for you to be quick and decisive about each item, I realize that you are going to run across a few things that stump you. I give you permission to label these as “Not Sure.” That having been said, it's best if you can try to keep the “Not Sure's” to a minimum. This box is supposed to be for belongings that you can't rationally justify keeping — but some gut feeling won't let you part with them yet. Remember, your “Not Sure Box” isn't a dumping ground for things that you just don't want to take the time to think about. The last thing we want to do is ask the same questions about the same objects over and over again. Try your very best to make a solid “yes or no” decision about your belongings the first time that you pick them up.

If you honestly can't decide what to do with an item, put it in “Not Sure.” When your box is full, tape it shut and label it. Make sure you list the contents (kitchenware, books, clothing), the date you packed it away, and any special storage instructions on the outside. Then, I want you to stash this box in the garage, attic, or basement — some place out of the way. Trust me on this one. I actively want you to forget about this stuff for a while. Just make sure that you put your box where its contents won't get ruined (that means, don't place something that will melt in an attic without air conditioning!)

Make a note in your calendar (you are using a calendar, right?) to check back in 6 to 12 months. If, during that time, you haven't needed anything out of your box, it will be a lot easier to let go of those “Not Sure's.” If you still can't part with an item, that might be a hint that it is more beloved than you first thought. Either way, this will help you make a final decision about what to keep!

Your Schedule

Take a look at your calendar and your “to-do” list — how much of what you have written down is critical to your survival on this planet? Very little, I'm sure. How many of your appointments involve something that you dearly love to do. A great deal, I hope — but if you're like most people, probably not. What eats up most of your time during the day?

Unfortunately, most folks' schedules are filled with external obligations — things that you have promised other people. “I have to pick up my kids from soccer practice.” “I have to attend committee meeting.” “I have to clean the house.” “I have to, I have to, I have to.” Guess what — you don't have to! If you don't want to do it, say “no.”

I'm not suggesting that you turn completely selfish — compromise is an important part of maintaining civil relations with those around you! I'm merely suggesting that you be very judicious about what you put in your schedule. Get rid of that knee-jerk reaction of saying “yes” everytime someone asks you to volunteer. It's all a matter of training the people around you not to automatically expect you to participate.

Your Finances

Didn't realize you could have clutter in your finances, did you? Take a look at your spending patterns — do you see any money leaks? These are places where your hard-earned dollars simply slip away without you even realizing it. Your danger zones could be buying snacks at work — or late fees and interest charges that accumulate when you forget to pay your bills — or groceries that go bad before you get a chance to eat them. But you need to be especially aware of these types of “unconscious” spending (asking you to be aware of something unconscious — a bit of a contradiction, I know!)

Try keeping track of every penny you spend for the next month — that includes personal items, business expenses, magazines, coffee, whatever. This may sound hard, but it's not bad if you get into the habit of carrying a small notebook with you. Every time you pull out your wallet or credit card or checkbook, make a note (even if you're only paying a quarter for a stick of gum!) At the end of the month, take a look at your expenses — you'll be surprised to see where your money goes. Once you say, “My gosh, I had no idea I spent so much on ______!” you know how to curb your money leaks.

Your Relationships

People feel trapped in relationships that are “less than fulfilling” for many reasons — low self-esteem, fear of change, habit, obligation, or because it's easier than leaving. But most folks tolerate difficult people for one simple reason — because they never stopped to think that they had another choice. Of course this includes seriously dysfunctional relationships, but also that friend who does nothing but complain every time you're together, or the family member who borrows money and never pays you back. You're not getting a positive return out of the arrangement and something has to change.

Let's sort your relationships the way we would any other clutter. “Keep's” are those near and dear to you. “Get Rid Of's” might be a harder — but you need to learn when to call it quits. If you can't think of anything good about the relationship, ask yourself why you really need that person in your life. The “Not Sure's” are mixed — some things are good and some are bad. Your job is to present your concerns to the other person, set some rules (this certain thing has to happen more/less often for the relationship to work), and see if you can reach a mutually satisfying agreement. If not, toss 'em out!

Your Job

Employment has become an institutionalized form of slavery. How many folks do you know that feel trapped by their jobs? If you are  putting up with a crappy work situation because you're are afraid of losing that steady paycheck, it's time to regain control over your environment, responsibilities, and schedule! What would you like to do differently at your job? Cut down on unnecessary meetings? Go home on time each day and refuse to work evenings or weekends? Hand a few menial duties off to an administrative assistant? What would happen if you approached your employer with a list of ideas (in a pleasant and professional way, of course?) Would you get fired — or would he consider your needs? Honestly, if your boss would can you for making a suggestion, maybe you don't need that job! It's worth a try, anyway. And if you're self-employed, you have no excuse for not drawing some boundaries. Would you look at your job duties any differently if you worked for someone else? Why don't you treat yourself at least as well as you would treat an employee?

Your Own Head

We saved the most challenging area for last! How much “junk” do you have floating around in your head, littering your thoughts? People don't think about emotions as clutter, because they aren't tangible — but guilt, jealousy, anger, and unreasonable expectations of what we can accomplish in a day eat up as much of our time and energy.

Think about the last time you had something heavy on your mind — did you get much work done that day? I'll bet that every time you set out to accomplish a task, you were distracted by your thoughts. It's like a gang of incredibly annoying adolescents, making noise and causing a ruckus in your cerebellum. Too bad you can't just slap them! The only way to make these bad boys go away is to become conscious of them. Pay attention when your mind strays to some unproductive and negative emotion — and make a concerted effort to let it go. This will take some practice — awareness of your mental state doesn't happen in a day — but it will pay off in the end.

A Bad Case Of Indecision

You know what “waffling” is. It begins when you decide to get rid of that old waffle iron you never use. As you put it in the donation bag, you think to yourself, “But what if someone wants waffles?” You take it back out. Then you think, “That's silly. No one has wanted waffles in more than 5 years.” You stick it back in the bag. “I could start making waffles again.” It comes out. “I hate making waffles.” It goes back in. This continues for another 15 minutes until you go to the dark side with, “But I might need it someday.” You put the waffle iron back in the cabinet, to collect dust for another 5 years. Why do you do this? It's not because you are an evil and indecisive person. You simply lack a solid set of criteria for determining an item's worth. No longer!

The key to trimming down the clutter is being honest with yourself about what purpose that item serves in your life. If you can't conjure up at least one plausible scenario requiring the use of that green shag toilet-seat cover or dot-matrix printer from 1988, you may want to ask yourself if it is worth hanging on to. Try to provide solid answers to each of these questions:    

  • Why would I need it? (try to come up with one occasion when you would need that particular item again — what would have to happen in your life for it to be useful, relevant, and valuable to you)
  • Where would I need it? (if the item in question is only useful up north and you now live in Miami — or only useful in a corporate environment and you're now self-employed, why keep it?)
  • What would I need it for? (what purpose does this item serve? are you still involved with that activity? no reason to keep letterhead from an old job or tap shoes if you gave up dancing)
  • Who would ask me for it? (people seem to hang onto stuff because they are afraid someone will ask them for it someday — if it's the IRS or the police, keep it — if not, think twice)
  • When would I need it? (okay, you might need it “someday” — but when is will that day arrive? 3 months or 35 years from now? is it worth hanging onto that long?)

The Past Is Future

Ifyou haven't touched something in years, chances are thatyou're not going to use it anytime soon. Clothes and sporting goodsseem to be some of the worst offenders! It's natural for people to havea hard time letting go of the past. And if an old outfit or a bowlingball really means that much to you, put it away with yourkeepsakes. Just don't take upvaluable space in your active storage areas with items you don't use. Behonest and realistic about this one! At what point will the aforementioned green shagtoilet-seat cover be crucial to your survival? If you can picture aspecific, concrete instance when you will need it in the foreseeablefuture, then by all means keep it. “I might need it someday” isn't agood enough rationale.

What Is The Worst Thing That Would Happen If You Got Rid Of It?

When my clients are anxious about discarding an item, they are reallysaying, “I'm afraid of what might happen if I got rid of it.” This issimply fear of the unknown — uncertainty about the consequences oftheir actions. So I ask my clients to let their apprehensions run wild,and to imagine the absolute worst-case scenario. Will the world end if you toss outthat ring binder you haven't used since college? Probably not. Thisknowledge helps dissipate the fear and makes letting go a little easier.

So let's say you do get rid of something, and then decide thatyou need it 6 months later (my mother claims this always happens toher, as a justification for postponing cleaning out!) This isn't alwaysa problem. Ask yourself what would be required for you to replace thislost treasure. If we are talking about an expensive or hard-to-finditem, you are certainly justified in thinking twice before tossing it.But if it's just an old butter dish or an extra stapler, it's not such a big deal. You have to consider cost versus benefit — it may cost you more (intime, space, energy, or money) to keep the item than to replace it ifand when you ever need it.