Originally from Matt Baier’s Organizing Works Newsletter, March 2007

Spring Clearing

 “Getting rid of clutter eliminates 40% of housework in an average home” Ottawa Citizen, 1/03/03

 Before the last snow storm I had already managed to enjoy two beautiful spring-like days.  As I opened the windows to let some fresh spring air IN, my thoughts turned to letting some musty old clutter OUT.  Let’s face it, Spring Cleaning is really more about Spring CleaRing.  You can’t clean clutter so you need to get rid of it before you can do any really satisfying cleaning.

Perhaps you decide to start with all that accumulated “junk” in the basement.   Because it’s junk, it should be easy to toss, right? But as soon as you start going through the items one by one you find that it is not “junk” after all.   If it was, you would have tossed it long ago. Perhaps you grab a suit you used to wear, but it doesn’t fit you anymore.  Maybe there’s an old computer that’s still “perfectly good,” but you’ve already replaced it with a state-of-the-art model.  Then there’s the boxes of old tax materials and the expensive dinnerware you never use.  Have you ever bought rolls of wrapping paper and later discovered you already had more than enough buried in the basement?

So how do we end up with so much stuff that we don’t need, but can’t toss?  If simply given the choice to KEEP or TOSS then odds are we will keep it JUST IN CASE.  The problem with that is that valuable items get buried under a pile of JUST IN CASES.  For options to keep or toss refer to my November newsletter [enter link here].  To reduce the accumulation in the first place, resolve to never store anything without considering the 5 “R’s”:

1. Retrieve

2. Recycle

3. Repurpose

4. Refine

5. Reevaluate

These will be the focus of this month’s Matt’s Tips.

Matt’s Tips

 1. Retreive.  When writing a good story it often helps to begin with an end in mind.  The same is true when it comes to good storage.   Let’s take holiday supplies, for example  (display items and that wrapping paper, I mentioned earlier.)   Start by dedicating just ONE zone in your basement or storage room that is strictly for holiday supplies and come to a decision on h ow much is too much.  Be generous (be realistic), but then decide that’s it, that’s the limit.  If it doesn’t fit comfortably in that zone, something’s got to go.  I say comfortably because it is important to keep things visible and accessible.  If you have too much stuff jammed into a small space, you can’t see what you have and things go to waste.  When you store your wrapping paper don’t think HIDE, think RETRIEVE.  See this month’s Featured Product.

 2. Retreive.  Accumulated paper can take up a tremendous amount of space.  Old tax material and outdated records are among the most common JUST IN CASES of all.  Of course you need to hang on to the more recent stuff, but you might be surprised at just how much you DON’T need.  Ask your  Accountant what’s safe to get rid of.  It can be very liberating!   Worried about all the dead trees?  I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating.  Holding on to useless old paper will NEVER bring back all the dead trees, it will only rob you of space.  The best way to extend the trees value is to RECYCLE.

 3. Repurpose.  Sometimes all it takes to free up some space is to rethink the purpose of an item.  Sheila has replaced her old dining room table with a beautiful new one.  She stores the old one in the basement for her son Mike who is in College.  Mike certainly has no room in his dorm for a dining table and is not likely to have a dining room in his next home.  Meanwhile Sheila doesn’t have enough surface area in her craft room.  Sheila decides to ask Mike if she could use the old dining table in her craft room and Mike tells her “Go ahead, I don’t want that old thing!”   Sometimes shifting an item just takes a shift in thinking.

 4. Refine.  Refining is really a sub-stage of Sorting.  By sorting all like items together, you are able to see just how much stuff you have and this makes purging MUCH easier.   Going a step further and refining your choices can make dramatic gains in space too.  Let’s say you’ve managed to sort all your “computer stuff” into two plastic tubs.  That’s great, but now let’s refine the choices by sorting the contents further.    If you put all the computer wires together, perhaps you realize that there is more than you could ever use and you feel more comfortable in tossing the duplicates and triplicates.  How much would they cost to replace anyway?  Now sort all the software and sort out the most up to date software.  Perhaps now you will feel comfortable tossing the old versions.   You may have half a dozen boxes of floppy discs and realize that you don’t even have the appropriate drive for them in your new computer.  Before you rush out and buy an external drive, ask yourself if you have needed ANY of those disks in the last 6 years.  Before you know it, you will have refined those two tubs down to just one, with room to grow.  A series of small gains can DOUBLE your space.  

5. Reevaluate.  Sometimes running out of space is life’s way of telling you to stand back and get perspective.  It’s so easy to get wrapped up in all the daily details that we lose sight of where we are in life.  Let’s say you’ve resolved to free up some space in your closet by emptying out the clothes that your haven’t worn in years.  Great, that makes sense, but before you store your clothes in the basement, stop for a moment and reevaluate them (and the person who’s not wearing them!)  Just because you loved a jacket in 1988, why keep it if you don’t love it today?  If a shirt is two sizes too small, will you really have the time to do the necessary exercise for it to fit again?  If there’s any sort guilt associated with these clothes, let them go.  And don’t beat yourself up about the cost.  They’ve lost their value.  Donate them to someone else, who WILL value them while YOU value the space and freedom you’ve gained.

Just as stagnant water gets dirty, so too inactive items in your home collect dust and make your Spring Cleaning that much harder.  Simplify your Spring Cleaning and your Spring CleaRing by considering the 5 “R’s” before you store.