Downsizing 101

Are you overwhelmed with too much stuff? Do you still hang on to old tax returns or text books from college? Does The thought of cleaning out the garage, a closet, or the entire house leave you feeling stressed? There are plenty of theories of why we hang on to things, but it’s different for each individual.  According to Psychology Today, one reason, we don’t know how to proceed to remedy the situation because it’s all so overwhelming. Whether it’s an emotional attachment to items or just not sure where to begin, consider the following tips to start simplifying your excess baggage. 

Make a plan.  Why do we hang on to stuff we really don’t need?  Begin with an assessment of what needs to stay and what needs to go.  Start small, choose one room at a time.  Develop guidelines designed to help eliminate items you don’t need or use.  For example, if it’s an item you haven’t used or touched in the past two years, it should go.  You’ll be surprised at how many items in your home that haven’t been touched in years.

Inventory items.  Do you keep things in hopes of using it someday?  I did too.  I had many items filled with future possibilities, but deep down I knew would never see it come to fruition.  While you are going through items it’s also a good time to take inventory of important items for insurance purposes.  To have a record of items, take photos of sports equipment, electronics, fine china, jewelry, and family heirlooms and store the photos outside the home, or better yet, use an online site like Dropbox to store insurance photos, and scanned copies of important documents for safe keeping.

Pile management. Let the sorting begin. If the whole process of downsizing intimidates you, start small.  A great place to start is the junk drawer, and yes, we all have one…maybe two.  Start by making three piles; one: for things you need,  two: for things that can be repurposed and pile three: things that go into File 13 (the trash can).  Same thing with items in the closet, basement, or attic.  Create your own guidelines for getting rid of stuff; be realistic for a gratifying outcome.

Digitize collections. Are you housing a CD collection that spans an entire wall?  Or maybe you have shoeboxes galore with old photos and memorabilia. Whatever the case, you can simply your collections by creating digital copies. Not only will you free up space, but you can create backups of all your music and photos and store on an iPod or a external hard drive.

Take a picture, it last longer!  Have you been hanging on to sentimental items like a special childhood toy or your kids artwork from kindergarten?  It’s ok to let go, but before you do, take a photo and you’ve captured it forever.

Give it, sell it, share it. Donating your gently used items will give them yet another life outside a landfill; plus it helps many non-profits in your community. If you want to make a little extra cash, organize a yard sale.  If you have kids, chances are you have old sports equipment, toys, and clothes that no longer fit; let other parents know, they’ll be glad to take your hand-me-downs for a fraction of the cost of new ones.   Invite your friends over to help clean out the closet; who knows, they may want to give your wardrobe a second chance too.

Purge the pantry.  When was the last time you cleaned out your food and spice cabinets?  For me it was way too long, I still had McCormick spices in tins (it’s been over 15 years since MCCormick stopped using metal tins.) Go shelf by shelf to check for expiration dates or discoloration of packaging or damaged cans.  Move older items to the front of the cabinet so you use them first as part of a rotation process.  Consider donating duplicate items to your local food bank.

Medicine Cabinet.  It’s easy to fill your medicine cabinet with all kinds of things you anticipate you may need someday.  But like food, medicines and first aid supplies can expire.  Im embarrassed to say, I found an unopened bottle of ipecac that I bought when my son was born; he’s now 23.  If you have old prescriptions sitting around, they need to go.  Contact your local pharmacy for appropriate disposal methods for your area.  First aid cremes, sunscreen, and salves can lose potency overtime; be sure to read labels and look for expiration dates and warnings.  Ladies, your fresh look is only as fresh as your makeup.  Like everything else in the medicine cabinet, cosmetics have a limited shelf life, get rid of that lipstick you’ve had since Halloween 2008.

Stop the junk mail.  What do you do with all the junk mail in the mailbox; does it end up in the trash?  You can make it stop!  For the fastest and most effective method, contact merchants directly by phone and ask to be removed from their mailing list.  It usually takes up to six weeks to see results. Or better yet, contact the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) offering consumers a free service to opt out of over 3,600 of the largest direct mail companies.  The DMA promises to cut your junk mail by 90%.

Scan the important stuff.  As you start sorting through your important documents, medical records, and receipts, know what you need to keep and shred the rest.  Create a digital file (securely store it offsite or online) of scanned documents like: birth certificates, passports, life insurance policies, auto titles, immunization records and property deeds.  If the original documents are destroyed by fire or natural disaster, you still have a digital backup copy.  Now, what to do with all those past tax returns and cancelled checks?  According to the IRS,  there are specific guidelines for how long to keep filed tax records, it basically depends on the type of return you file.  Before destroying any records, always consult your tax professional or the IRS guidelines.

“Don’t let the things you own end up owning you.”  Prioritize what’s important and take it from there.  Discover the concept of ‘less is more’ and liberate your spirit with simplification.  It works; we’re living proof! Tell us your simplification struggles and successes!