As a personal organizer, I am lucky to have a lot of variety in my job. Each client has a unique set of circumstances and a specific set of challenges. But over and over again, I watch clients get stuck on clearing out certain items — items that accumulate relentlessly, and usually pointlessly, over the years. Busy parents, downsizing home-sellers, crowded apartment dwellers, they all trip over the same junk. Today, I’m here to give them — and you — a little backbone. I’m saying: Throw that stuff out. Here’s why.
These audio and video recordings seem to cause endless questions about whether they should be kept for sentimental reasons, whether they can be disposed of in an environmentally friendly way, whether they can be donated, and whether they will ever be valuable again. My best advice is that if you have no machine on which to play them, you should get rid of them. The best option for disposing of them properly is e-cycling them at a private company or, if it’s an option, at your local dump.
Often people think they’ll forget a band, a song or a movie unless they have an actual disc or tape to refer to. You can do that with a digital copy; there is no need to have untouched boxes of CDs and VHS tapes taking up space in your home.
Raise your hand if you have a box labeled “Miscellaneous Electronics/Cords.” Okay, maybe your box isn’t labeled, but chances are you have a sizable collection of cables, plugs and electrical components somewhere in your house. They’ve no doubt been accumulating for years, and you’re simultaneously scared to throw them away and annoyed that you’re keeping them.
Here is the rule: If you’ve never located a missing cord or other accessory in your pile, you don’t need any of them. In fact, you may no longer even own some of the devices that were paired with these items, and if you do, would it even be possible to find the proper component in your tangled, unlabeled collection? Nothing bad will happen if you recycle them, I promise. At the very worst, you’ll have to purchase a new cord. And if the cord is no longer available, you’ll replace your device. Everything will be fine.
The big question here is: How many of each do you really need? They’re easy to accumulate. But just because someone gave you flowers for a special occasion or a picture as a gift, you are not required to keep the vase or frame forever. There is a limit to how many bouquets you’ll have in your house at any given time, so finding space to store 24 vases is not necessary. Likewise, if you haven’t used a specific picture frame in a few years, is it really worth keeping? The answer is no. Keep a small handful of vases and frames in a variety of sizes and give the rest to someone who can use and enjoy them.
Unused craft supplies can cause so much guilt. Maybe you planned to do a special project to mark a big occasion or thought you would teach your child to knit, but years have passed and the supplies serve as a constant reminder about your failure to follow through. I know that craft supplies can be very expensive, which is why you’ve been keeping them, but let it go. Accept that you no longer have the time for — or interest in — the project. Give the supplies to a school, an assisted-living facility or a neighbor. You’ll feel instantly lighter. And if you ever decide to take up jewelry-making or embroidery again, you can buy what you need.
This is a big one. Many people fastidiously file their product information and instruction manuals when they make a large purchase, but have you ever gone looking for one? When something goes wrong with your TV, toaster or refrigerator, you usually call someone to repair it or realize that it’s just time to purchase a new one. Although I don’t necessarily like the idea that everything can be easily replaced or that people rarely attempt to repair anything anymore, that seems to be the reality. Also, almost all product paperwork is now available online, so holding on to the big bulky paper copies of instructions is not necessary. And if you really must keep something on paper, make a list of the make, model and serial number of your major household appliances. That way, you’ll always be able to find the corresponding manual easily online.
To sum up, don’t let yourself become too caught up in the dilemma of whether to keep or toss something. Take a step back and really assess whether the item is as important to you as the space it takes up in your home. Most of all, remember that these are just objects. In my experience, people rarely regret parting with something they truly don’t need.
Anzia is a freelance writer and owner of Neatnik. She can be reached at email@example.com.