To Declutter or Not To Declutter

I’ve declared 2009 not just a year of Buying Nothing New by joining The Compact, but also a year of Decluttering. Actually, I thought I’d declutter in January and that would be that. On February 1st, I realized it might take a bit longer. Now, on April 1st, I think I’ll be lucky if I get through it in a year.

I’m actually excited about the idea of ridding my life of all extraneous STUFF. It’s taking up space, in my home and in my psyche. And I joined Non Consumer Girl in her goal of making an extra $5000 by selling things she no longer needs or uses on ebay. That made me even more excited, although my husband made a snide remark about that figure being unrealistic (he might have said crazy). Actually, he probably said unrealistic, but I heard crazy.

Anyway, the 5000 bucks really got me excited. Now I’m even more psyched to get rid of stuff. And yet. Stuff still here. Stuff not leaving the house. What could be going on?

I’m a little worried I have a bit of a hoarder in me. I’m not proud of it. In fact, it scares the hell out of me. I have seen the results of hoarding in more old relatives than I care to count. It’s pathological. It’s illogical. It’s germy.

So I know I don’t want to become the lady with 87 cats or the old man with stacks of old newspapers blocking the path to the bathroom, but what’s keeping me from getting rid of some things I no longer use?

Part of it is sentimentality. I have a lot of old clothes and books and toys from when I was young that I can’t part with. I’ve heard “organization and declutter experts” say to take a photo of the item and get rid of it, because things aren’t memories. True. And yet…

I think it comes down to fear. Fear of getting rid of something I’ll regret. What if I give it away and then wish I hadn’t? The funny part is that I can only think of ONE THING in my whole life that I later wished I hadn’t gotten rid of. And it was just a shirt that I thought about later and wondered why I’d sold it at a garage sale for a dollar. A shirt.

So, I really should take my chances. There’s really no choice here. It’s not as if I’m going to forget my senses and suddenly throw my favorite piece of jewelry – my great aunt’s onyx ring – into the recycling bin. I’ll keep all the photos, old letters, and old journals. But I can give up the Mickey Mouse alarm clock.

There are all kinds of tricks and rules for decluttering: start with one drawer, get rid of any item of clothing you haven’t worn for a year, etc. The best and easiest method I’ve found is on FruWiki, a great website about living frugally, reducing waste, and saving money. Click here for their decluttering tips. I’m going to start using them… very soon.

What about you? Are you fearful of decluttering, or do you love it? Have you ever gotten rid of something and regretted it? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section.


  1. lala2074 says

    Hi Angela,

    At least your husband just thinks you are crazy aiming for the $5000 declutter challenge!

    My husband knows that I will make my goal and so his comments relate to on what he wants to spend the $5000!
    Non Consumer Girl

  2. calimama@compactbydesign says

    On the one hand I wish I had enough stuff to make $5000 selling it, but I’m one of those people that the thought of keeping stuff makes me all jittery and neurotic in the same way it makes others feel about getting rid of stuff!

    Have you thought about digitizing your pictures? I have a shoe box of old photos. My husband had 2 moving boxes of old photos! We are in the process of digitizing all the negatives (even the ones from 15 years ago) and keeping everything on the computer with an external hard-drive backup. All of our current pictures are digital anyway so that’s where we look at photos. Plus it means we give the hardcopies to friends and family and share the digital pics with anyone, anytime.

  3. Tam says

    If you have that much stuff, I think it’s pretty reasonable to make $5,000 off ebay. My husband has been selling random things from the shed that he hasn’t used in years (dirt bike forks, motorcycle tank, etc.) and he’ s made a cool $700.
    You can do it!
    Love the blog.

  4. Ellen says

    Hi Angela–I’m definitely one of those that are fearful of decluttering, even after urging myself in that direction. I guess I feel that my “stuff” is my main sense of security, being single and far from family members. I like having a nice, familiar home to come HOME to. I need to separate that idea from the “what if I give it away and then decide I need it but can’t afford to buy it back” mentality. I’m working on that, more and more all the time, but it’s an ongoing process.

  5. Angela says

    Thank you all for coming by, and for your comments and encouragement.

    I’m taking baby steps, and that usually works for me…

  6. Meg says

    Thanks for mentioning FruWiki! I’m so glad you like the site!

    Decluttering has really become a passion of mine. It’s rather addictive, lol. The more I get rid of, the better I feel and the more I think that I can downsize even more. My husband and I just got rid of a huge pile of stuff using Freecycle the other day and are now down to about one pile of stuff to sell. It feels good!

    I know a lot of people associate frugality more with being a packrat, but the less I have the less I want to bring in more junk, lol, so it has helped us save a lot of money! And you know, we have yet to think, “OMG! I shouldn’t have given that away because NOW I need it!” Plus, that urge to buy a bigger house is gone — we almost have more room than we know what to do with!

  7. Angela says

    I really do enjoy FruWiki.
    The most positive step I’ve made so far towards decluttering is to not buy anything new, and to consider everything that comes in.
    I don’t want to have to deal with it later, so it’s not just getting put away- for example, a gift that’s nice but I have a feeling I won’t use.
    Not buying or bringing in for 3 months has already helped considerably, now I just need to start getting rid of stuff. I’ve always done it periodically with clothes and things I really know I’m not going to use. As I mentioned, the hardest part is the sentimental stuff, or things I’ve held on to for so long it’s sort of like I’m telling myself there must have been some good reason I saved it.

  8. KateSommers says

    I’ve moved so many times that I’ve become an expert at letting go of stuff.It feels good to only have the stuff I use around.I made a rule(since shipping back and forth from Hawaii to the Mainland is so expensive!) that if it doesn’t bring me joy too see it and use it then don’t keep it.So now when I look around I have only the things I love around me.I do have a box or two of keepsakes like my kids baby blankets and one baby outfit from each of them.I’ve also kept some stuffed animals that have been well loved.They seem to have the energy of that time in them.
    I don’t think a photo of these things would be the same for me.
    Angela,I’m surprised and happy to say that your blog is really impacting my life.I’m looking at my spending in so many new ways.It might not sound like much but today I made the choice to not buy the liquid hand soap for the bathroom and kitchen sink.It’s a lot of plastic waste and I can save money by having only one and walking ALL the way to where it is to wash my hands…imagine that!Also we’ve cut way back on small things like stopping off for that espresso and afternoon cookie or treat in someway.Instead we’re looking at all of our spending and ways to save…and I’m pleased to say that I’ve lost a few pounds since and can fit back into some of those things that have been hanging in the back of my closet all year!Yeah Compact!

  9. Angela says

    That is so sweet to say that the blog has impacted your life. I’m so glad! And what a great bonus to fit into some of the clothes you hadn’t been able to wear! I love when that happens.

    Re: the soap. I haven’t been able to give up that handsoap, but last year I started buying a huge jug and just refilling the little guy. It’s cheaper and saves the plastic. I’m sure a really “green” person wouldn’t use any of it and would have a formula for making the soap, but I can’t do everything at once… baby steps is the key…

    thanks again for reading the blog and making comments.

  10. Betsy Talbot says

    So glad to have found your blog! We have been decluttering/downsizing gradually for the last 3 years, and now we have taken it to another level as we save and plan for a trip around the world next year.

    I’m going through a house declutter project this month to take it down another level, and we are having some really great success selling things on Craigslist. Our savings is getting fatter and our house is getting leaner…all good things!

    Your blog is great and I’m subscribing now. Good luck!

  11. Angela says

    I’m so glad you found my blog too- because I just looked at yours and I’m very excited. I can’t wait to read more after work tonight.

    A trip around the world is my absolute dream. How exciting! Now I will be able to live vicariously through you until perhaps we are able to figure out how to swing that.

    Thanks so much for stopping by, and for subscribing!

  12. Angela says

    You know how to look at it, right?
    You just click on her name and it will take you to her blog. It’s great! I’ve been sneaking peeks all afternoon while I’m supposed to be working…

  13. Kristin says

    You’re doing well, at least you have the right mind frame. My parents had to build a storage unit b/c they didnt’ want to get rid of ANY of our toys. Thank God there were just 2 of us!

  14. Angela says

    Yes, your parents are lucky there were only 2 of you! My husband’s parents saved everything of his. We recently found a note he wrote to Santa Claus when he was about five- very cute. So I guess that’s the good side of the coin. Oh- and the couple of thousand dollars he made on ebay selling his old toys several years ago when his dad died and he went through everything.

  15. WilliamB says

    In some ways, declutter and frugality are mutually incompatable. If you have it, get rid of it, then need it, you have to spend money to get it again. If you keep clutter, you keep on hand things you might need to fix something else, or give to someone, or make something, or replace a part. In short, you may use it later.

    IMHO, if you can keep it without incurring extra expense, then why not?

    But don’t go renting storage space or buying uneeded stuff because you might need it later.

  16. Meg says


    I think a lot of hoarder-types use that as an excuse, but I think frugality and decluttering are very compatible. First, because I stop buying crap in the first place, but second because you realize that you don’t NEED a lot of stuff. I mean, I could save all my onion bags to make scrubbies, but how many do I really need? And I’d rather pay more for fewer, higher quality items I’ll use long term — which, imho, is often the most frugal choice.

    Plus, when you realize all the free and really cheap ways to get or borrow things, there’s less need to own a lot of stuff just in case. It wasn’t till I started using the library that I really felt like I could let go of a lot of my books. And I probably read the books I own more now than ever because it’s easier to pick one out.

    I’ve decluttered A LOT, but have missed NOTHING. And the more I declutter, the less I want to buy new stuff because I feel like it is going in the opposite direction.

  17. Ms. Davis. says

    I have a very hard time letting things go, granted I'm only nineteen and my memories of childhood are stronger in things. I have not been able to get rid of my stuffed animals, which I still keep on my bed or my Barbies or "little people" that I used to play with. I just do not want to. Decluttering for me is very hard, but there are times when I feel like I have too much stuff and those moments bother me a lot. Yet I still can barely get rid of anything. It is a pull on me.

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