Wow, my post got really really long...
It sounds like the concern for most of these is that you'll need them one day. Continuing with that thought, what if you did get rid of a thing and then you needed it? You'd have to buy it or otherwise reacquire it. But you'd feel that you made a mistake in getting rid of it. And I think that that's the main fear behind a lot of clutter - the fear of realizing, someday, that you made a mistake. And also the fear that you may not be able to re-buy _exactly_ the same thing that you got rid of.
But my argument is that everyone's life shifts and changes. Everyone will want new stuff and no longer need old stuff. And there is no way of predicting accurately how your life will change later. So I would say that getting rid of something, and then needing it later and having to buy it again, is a _normal_ event that you should expect to happen fairly regularly in your life. It's not a badge of error or irresponsibility; it's just life.
When you _rent_, say, a DVD, you know that you might, someday, want to see that DVD again. But that knowledge doesn't make you keep the DVD, paying rent on it day by day, forever. You know that keeping the DVD is costing you something, so that cost allows you to tolerate the risk that you'll want to re-watch the movie tomorrow, and the risk that next time you want that DVD it may no longer be available at the rental store. You return it anyway, and when you want it again, _that's_ when you go to rent it again.
Now, it's possible that you're not good with that risk, and maybe you always buy your DVDs. :) But just change the scenario to something else. Would you keep renting a carpet shampooer, a garden tiller, a car, an extra apartment, just in case you might need it again? You might never be able to rent that _exact_ brand of carpet shampooer or tiller, might never again get that _exact_ apartment. But you know that the cost of renting those things when you don't need them is too high. The cost overrides the risk that the day after you return the thing you'll need it again (thus making you feel that you made a mistake) and the risk that you won't have that exact thing when you need it again.
What I'm leading up to is: Clutter has cost. It has emotional cost, it often has relationship cost, and it also has financial cost - you're paying rent by the square foot for home space that you can't fully use if that space is cluttered. (Plus, there are a bunch of other subtle ways that clutter steals money from you.)
Can you have parties? Can you have overnight guests? Can your kids have friends over? Is your whole family perfectly satisfied and happy with your home? Are you perfectly satisifed and happy with your home? If not, then your clutter is costing you - you're paying "rent" on it every single day.
> 1. Art and craft supplies
I think that arts and crafts tend to tie in to one's identity, especially if you have a problem with the idea of getting rid of stuff and then getting it again later when it's needed. The combination of these two means that if you get rid of a crafty thing, you're communicating to yourself that you are not, and never again will be, a person who does cross-stitch or knitting or collage or scrapbooking or whatever. That's a painful blow to your identity.
But if you accept the idea that you can get rid of a thing and then, if you want it someday, buy it or something similar again, this changes. You're not an ex-knitter, you're a person who's not knitting right now.
I, myself, am a person who's not sewing right now. I kept my sewing machine, I kept a very small stash of patterns and fabric and notions, but I got rid of boxes and boxes of other patterns and fabric and notions. That high-quality linen? I can buy it again. That silk thread? Again, I can buy it again. That "real" rather than just compressed grosgrain ribbon? If I can't buy it again, my world won't end. That "real" vintage velvet ribbon? Same thing. I cut my stash by probably ninety percent, and I don't feel any real regret - I may cut it some more. The world is full of pretty things - when the day comes that I have room and time to sew, I will joyfully go out and buy some new stuff. If I'm broke when that day comes, I'll joyfully scan the FreeCycle listings.
Try the "rent" theory, too - if you had to pay five dollars a day for every Rubbermaid tote of craft supplies that you're keeping, how many days would you keep them?
> 2. Books
I love books. We make books a storage priority. We have tons of built-in bookcases. So this is sort of another "identity" thing - I am a person who has books.
But to make our books fit in even that much space, I've gotten rid of hundreds of books in the past few years. I can't possibly own all the books that I would ever want to consult. I am a person who has books, and also a person who uses libraries.
My criteria when considering whether to get rid of a book are roughly:
- Is there enough space in the shelf or shelves designated for its category?
- Do I re-read it regularly?
- Do I love it, _really_ love it?
- If I love it but don't read it regularly, is there any real likelihood that I won't be able to buy it again if I want it someday?
(As a side note, if you're afraid that you'll want it someday but that you'll forget the author or title, you could keep a log of book titles and authors.)
For example, I love Agatha Christie novels, but I rarely own more than one or two at a time - I buy them used, read them, maybe re-read them, sell them or give them away, and buy a different one or two. Agatha Christie is never going out of print, so this is a pretty safe strategy.
And even if a book is out of print, you can usually find most books used at, say, Powell's or Amazon or on eBay. It may take a little while, but I've found every Rumer Godden book that I loved as a child, with the right illustrations, on Powell's and Amazon and eBay. Now I'm starting on Ruth M. Arthur, which will be slower. This will be years of off-and-on shopping entertainment, resulting in less than half a shelf of books. I like this fact. :)
Re the grandchildren, this is another area where you can re-buy the category, if not the specific item. If you want to give future grandchildren a lovely, beautifully-bound edition of a classic children's book, there will be dozens, probably hundreds, of choices that you can buy when the time comes.
Yes, you may not be able to find that _exact_ favorite or that favorite with those _exact_ illustrations, but hopefully the number of favorites where your taste is that specific, and your memory of the book and illustrations is that clear, is a lot smaller than the number of books that you have.
There's also the "souvenir" rather than "archive" principle: If you want to present the grandkids with a few heirloom books that have been in the family, I think that you can get as much value with "a few" as you would with hundreds. Keep, say, three, or five, and start giving away the rest or selling them to the used bookstore.
As further motivation: books want to be read. Or, to be less anthropomorphic, authors want their books to be read. You're doing a book a lot more honor by giving it away to someone who will read it, than by keeping it in case you want to read it someday.
> 3. Cooking Magazines
> Well they are full of recipes! And I paid more than five dollars
> each for the good ones and so I want to use the recipes. But do I
> really need a pile of 30 old magazines?
Rent. :) Space. Imagine paying a dollar a week for every magazine.
The world is full of recipes, and the recipes tend to merge together. And they tend to be of variable quality. I think that you'd be better off with a small number of really good cookbooks than a huge number of cooking magazines.
Something that I realized about these magazines, and other pretty magazines, is that I don't keep them for the information, I keep them because I enjoy paging through them for the pretty pictures and the inspiration. But for that I don't need stacks and stacks; ten or twenty, total, will do. So now I consider magazines to be an entertainment expense, like renting a movie - I still buy some, but I buy them, read them, keep them for a little while in case I use the recipes soon, and then I get rid of them.
> 4. China and glassware
> OK I don't entertain much but I want to pass a lot of it on to my
> daughters when they move out...but I do have kitchen cupboards
> crammed with glasses and plates.
Do your daughters want them? Are your daughters happy with the state of the house, do they feel that they have plenty of room to move and live and have friends over? Can you, and they, cook easily in your kitchen and easily keep it clean?
In general, would your daughters be happier to see the dishes go and have a less cluttered home?
And, are they priceless irreplaceable heirlooms, or are they just perfectly nice dishes of a type that you could buy when the time comes? Instead of hanging on to these dishes, why not plan on taking each daughter shopping when she gets her first apartment, and buying her some nice inexpensive things?
> 5. Plastic containers e.g. Tupperware
> As soon as I try to cull these, we always need them for putting
> food away, and surely some are good for storing other bits and
> pieces. Maybe I should get rid of the cheaper ones?
I would recommend that you designate a specific space for these things, and store only as many as can fit in the space. If it turns out that you don't have the perfect thing for storing something, so be it - you could use a less perfect thing, or go out and buy one thing.
> 6. Tableware
> I have bundles of mismatched old cutlery I have been holding onto
> it to pass on to the girls when they move out. Also I have boxes
> and boxes of place mats and drink coasters! Quite a lot of napkin
> rings we don't use often, but sometimes we do.
The same as above - do your daughters want these things? And, to think of it another way, even if they could use them when the day came, would it be so very, very bad if they had to go out and buy new things? (Fresh, new things to their own taste for their own first independent home? How bad is that?) How much of your daily living and storage space should be devoted to ensuring that your daughters will not have to buy their own inexpensive household items someday? Surely your home _now_ is more important than saving them a couple of hundred dollars _then_?
You say that you don't entertain often. Would you like to? Would a less cluttered house make it more possible to do so? If so, then I'd get rid of most of the entertaining gear - the placemats, the napkin rings, more than a dozen or so coasters - and see if, with the extra space and easier-to-clean house, you find that it's more possible to entertain.
> 7. CDs and DVDs
> We have heaps of old music CDs and I am not quite sure what to do
> with them....we don't listen to most of them anymore, but maybe
> we will one day?
If you suddenly develop a craving for Bach or Red Hot Chile Peppers or Breakfast at Tiffany's someday, you can go out and buy that CD or DVD. I'd say that if you're not using these, give them away. Accept the pangs and the pain and the "what if I want it?!", let them roll over you, and give the stuff away. Decluttering can hurt, but it's a good healthy hurt, not a hurt that you should shy away from.
> 8. Toys
> I have boxes stored in the garage filled with toys stored for
> grandchildren. I think I should keep some of the best ones for
> them, but I need to be more selective about what I keep.
Again, is it so bad if your children have to buy toys for their own children?
Going over the top to make a point: When you bought those toys that are now in the garage, were you angry and upset that you had to - did you stomp around the toy store and say, "Mom should have _saved_ these for me! Why do I have to buy toys for my kids?! She had all that extra room in the house that we used to play in and have friends over - why didn't she use it responsibly, for storage? Who needs friends over anyway, when they could have stuff instead!"
I'm guessing probably not. :) I would suggest that you get rid of the vast, vast majority of those toys, leaving yourself with maybe five or ten small items - or, really, it wouldn't be so bad if you kept none at all, and if you just bought your future grandchildren some new heirloom-quality toys when they arrived.
Editing to add: There's one more repeating theme in your post that I tried to talk you out of without offering any substitute for: It seems that you take pleasure and comfort in storing up things for your children and future grandchildren. Why not find a more compact way to do that? For example, rather than two boxes full of toys, why not a silver rattle from Tiffany's? Instead of a cupboard full of dishes, why not a very small decorative item, like a pair of tiny liqueur glasses for daughter and future husband? Instead of a dozen books, why not one very good edition of Winnie The Pooh? You could designate just one small drawer, somewhere, as your "storing up" space, to plan your future love with these things _without_ making yourself and your loved ones unhappy in the present in a cluttered house.
Edited by Crayfish - 9/23/11 at 4:05pm