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Clearing Out the Clutter for a New Year

by on January 01, 2018 5:00 AM


Commercials for weight loss programs, gym equipment and other health related products litter the airways at this time of year. The one that got me this past week was the spot advertising sales on storage containers and storage systems available at one of the home improvement stores. The ad shows the actors organizing their toy rooms and bedrooms and even showed a ceiling storage contraption for one’s garage.

One of my vows for 2018 is to start decluttering my life. I need to start getting rid of the stuff that I no longer need.

In examining the list of things that need to be decluttered in my life in the coming year, getting rid of the actual physical “stuff” is likely going to be the easiest.   

Americans are known for amassing stuff. Our excess comes in many forms – technology, communication, food, exercise, etc. Most of all, however, we like to buy, buy more and collect stuff. As just one example, I am taken back every year when I see stores stuffed with things available to decorate one’s house for Christmas alone. As I walked through the aisles in the home decorations sections of the stores with all of the holiday decorations, I couldn’t help but think “more stuff.”

Comparatively, my husband and I are not big accumulators. We aren’t collectors, aren’t big on knick knacks and are pretty efficient consumers. I can actually park one car in our two-car garage if I choose to.  (The other side has a 1940 Ford truck in it that is my husband’s hobby).

Even with the relatively limited amount of stuff in our house, it sometimes feels suffocating.  We have the usual junk in our basement – bins full of family pictures and our kids’ mementos from childhood. The off-season sports equipment like a tent and golf clubs are stored there too. My wedding dress and the baptism and First Holy Communion outfits are in special boxes that allegedly preserve clothing for the long term. We have boxes of tax records, the baskets I accumulated during the 90s when the home basket party was the fad, and some small appliances that we don’t use every day (like the electric ice cream maker and the 60-cup coffee maker). That’s just the basement. When I add in the closets, the bureaus, the garage and the shed, it becomes overwhelming.

Thankfully, we haven’t extended our amassing to off-site storage – yet.

The self-storage industry in this country is a booming, multi-billion dollar business with reportedly more self-storage locations than McDonald’s franchises. There is even a show called Storage Wars in which abandoned units – people collect and store stuff and then forget about it - are auctioned off to the highest bidder.  In recent years, the medical community has even come to recognize hoarding as a symptom of mental illness. There are enough people who risk their home, health and safety by hoarding stuff, including garbage, because of the emotional distress they experience when faced with parting with it that it is an official disorder.

When I start to think about downsizing now that we are empty nesters, or retirement and a possible  move to warm weather, I understand the panic. I have no problems parting with stuff. I just can’t imagine the effort and cost and potential waste that will come with digging through 29 years of living in the same house. What do people do with all their crap? Yard sales? Thrift shops for charity? More importantly, do I want my kids to have to deal with all of this stuff? I have watched friends spend weeks and even months going through their parents’ houses and their things after a death or a parent moves to assisted living.  

I think I need to take responsibility for my own accumulation of stuff and start the process of cleaning out.

Author Margareta Magnusson recently wrote a book called “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning.”  She introduces the Swedish ritual of decluttering called döstädning which literally translates into “death” and “cleaning.” It is an amusing and somehow hopeful book about what can be a pretty morbid idea – what will happen to all of the stuff after you are gone? Death cleaning suggests we should begin the process of minimalizing while we are still alive to make our eventual “transition” easier for all.  

Decluttering, cleaning and clearing out. The implications go beyond the junk in my basement, but it is a good place to start.

So, add decluttering to my list of things to do in 2018. Get rid of what we don’t need or don’t use.  Let go of things that no longer fit or don’t serve. Put the emphasis on family and friends, on conversation and experiences. Clear out the stuff.



Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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