Yesterday evening Cassie and I walked past a down-at-the-heels house in the neighborhood, its paint peeling, its roof tired, and its lawn going to weeds. At one time, the owners had a lovely, bountiful vegetable garden-someone who lived there loved to putter in the yard. Traces of their handiwork persist: the now feral vegetable patch overgrowing with weeds and bermudagrass, a trellis with a grapevine still producing lush bunches of deep purple grapes, big grapefruit trees strong and green from years of fertilizing and canny tending.
Rare among Southwesterners, these people never fenced their backyard, so you can see everything. The gardener’s old wheelbarrow lies on its side next to the house, its bottom rusted through. Mildewing frost cloths and decrepit shade curtains clutter the back porch.
At first I thought the house had been abandoned, its owners carted off to the nursing home or at least departed to cooler climes for the summer. But last night someone was home, the lights on so you could see inside the family room.
A Case Study in Clutter
What a mess in there! The place is stacked with junk: something that looked like an old exercise machine or an upended table and piles of clutter and trash that should have been thrown out years ago. Until the elderly occupant, unaware of our presence, closed the blinds on the kitchen door, you could see that room was chuckablock full of junk, too.
When we rounded the corner where the house stands, we found a car in the driveway and the garage door open. There was, after all, room for a single vehicle to fit in among the junk in the two-car garage, and so, since the driver hadn’t put the car inside, it’s possible the woman in the kitchen was a caretaker and not the homeowner. What a tangle in the garage! The place was stacked several feet out from the walls with tools, containers of household chemicals, and general junk. Someone had conceived the brilliant idea of using the pull rope for the retractable attic ladder as a device to hang bags full of old plastic grocery bags-and they must have stored a 30-year supply there! Great balloons of plastic bags stuffed with more plastic bags hung from the attic ladder rope, blocking the way to the kitchen door.
Don’t do this to your relatives.When you croak over — which could be any day now, no matter what your age — someone else will have to come into your house and clean out the mess. Have a little mercy. There’s no need to keep your megacollection of toy cars, hub caps, old clocks, plastic flowers, and multifarious sets of dishes with you at all times. Or every plastic bag you ever dragged home from the supermarket.
It is not frugal, not thrifty, to keep and stash every piece of junk you’ve ever managed to acquire, no matter how great a bargain it was when you got your hands on it. To the contrary: the constant acquisition of stuff drains your wealth. While you’re still healthy enough to take care of it, it burdens you with a clutter of junk to have to clean and store. When you’re too old to keep on dusting and scrubbing, it leaves you living in squalor amid stacks of mouldering debris.
The garage you paid for is meant to store your car, not trash. The space inside your house, for which you also paid dearly, is for you to live in, not to collect dust on trinkets and trash
If my neighbor had called an estate sale company and unloaded every piece of clutter that she wasn’t using, she could have had a nice chunk of cash to brighten her old age. At the very least, it would have paid for a weekend in Laughlin, Nevada
A true frugalist lives simply. And that simple lifestyle does the frugalist and her heirs a great favor: less junk to take care of means more time to enjoy healthier pursuits.
Principles of Decluttering
Here are the rules I try to live by:
- If I haven’t used it in a year, it goes to charity or gets sold.
- Nothing sits on a tabletop or counter unless it has a use.
- One use may be decorative, but this should be kept to a minimum: just enough to soften a stark look.
- I try to put things away when I’m done using them.
- Everything should have a place, and the “place” should be inside a drawer or a cabinet.
- The walls are festooned with as little stuff as possible, and what’s on the walls is the best quality artwork or crafts I can afford. Except in my office, I don’t clutter the walls with family photos.
- I discard empty containers, with few exceptions.
- It took some doing, but I finally trained myself to quit collecting old jars, boxes, cans, and fancy clothing-store bags simply because maybe someday they might come in handy. Nine and a half times out of ten, they don’t.
- If I find I’m not using a handy-dandy old bottle, out it goes.
- I do keep plastic bags, because I have two uses for them: wrapping garbage and picking up after the dog.
- But if I didn’t have these uses, I’d use canvas shopping bags or ask for paper bags at the store, to keep that filmy, infinitely lasting plastic out of the landfills.
- Instead of stuffing bags to be reused inside a plastic grocery bag hung on a nail, I use a couple of Kleenex-box-like bag holders, scored at Costco. Much neater.
- I have one set of dishware, not sets for everyday use and sets for entertaining and my grandmother’s Lenox from Tiffany’s. It’s a decent set of stoneware in a timeless style, which I eat from every day and which I feel comfortable using to serve guests. Ditto the glasses. Ditto the silverware.
- I own one set of sheets, one set of towels per bathroom, one set of kitchen towels. When they’re dirty, I wash them and put them back on the bed or into the bathroom.
Simplicity Makes Your Life Better — Long-term
It’s so much easier to clean house when you don’t have to pick up a lot of tchochkies, dust each of them, and dust around them! The less junk you acquire, the less work it is to care for your living environment.
From the vantage point of some maturity, it’s easy to see that developing habits of simplicity — decluttering your life early on and keeping it decluttered — will serve you well as you age. Not only will you save a great deal of cash over the years by not collecting junk that you rarely or never use, the easier it is to take care of your home, the longer you’re likely to be able to stay in your home. If cleaning around your stacks of junk is a major project, at some point along the line you will decide the heck with it. And it won’t be long afterwards that your kids will decide you can’t take care of yourself and move you to the old-folkerie…or worse, in with them!
1 Comment left on iWeb site
At age 50, my spouse and I moved into a new home.I gave away 35 boxes of stuff to Goodwill.It felt so good that I’ve continued to go through the spaces of my new home with a critical eye.I frequently ask myself, have I used this in the last year?No.It’s gone.From experience, I know my daughter and son-in-law will appreciate this.
When my mother-in-law died three years ago, my husband and I cleared out her home in three days.We were able to do this because she had already disposed of all the unessential stuff from her life.
In fact, a couple years prior, my husband spent a few days with her (in another state) and helped her go through her house with the goal of eliminating stuff.They trashed stuff, they kept what Mom still needed, they gave stuff away, they boxed a few things for my husband to bring home, and they had a yard sale.
I believe they made a meaningful experience out of the process.Stuff helped them remember and relive the past.It also helped them consider the present and the future and what Mom was going to need in her last years.Certainly not the collection of mouse Christmas tree ornaments or the collection of 50’s era Hummel, which she worried would disappear with the inevitable strangers she would employ in her home.She wanted to be sure that we would keep the Hummel (with their historiical, sentimental, and real value) in the family.
And yes, Mom pocketed some cash.Further, she felt good about giving away things to people who would enjoy them.But most of all, she maintained control.She made the decisions about her own stuff and about how she would live out her future.
Mom left Hungary during WWII with one small suitcase.Perhaps it is with this perspective that at 80 she was able to make decisions about discarding stuff.I believe, though, that she relieved herself of the burdens associated with keeping stuff.
You offer helpful suggestions for people considering the usefulness of their stuff.Today we have various avenues for unloading stuff.We can give it to fmaily, friends, and/or charities.My friend puts it on the curb with a FREE sign on it.We can use Ebay to send stuff all over the world.My husband has amazingly good luck selling online.We have craigslist.
I personally don’t want to be burdened with all this stuff.I’m all for spreading mine around
Saturday, July 26, 2008 – 09:50 AM