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Lessons from a Recovering Doormat


Cleaning is my favorite tool because it’s do-able! Eliminating clutter gives you more room for new stuff. Cleaning is an easy, therapeutic way to improve life. I used to be a terrible clutter-holic. When I didn’t respect myself, I didn’t respect my possessions or living space. Now that I do, I enjoy cleaning and clearing things out. It brings great rewards!

I’m in the middle of my yearly purge. It’s amazing how great it feels after so many years of hording every possession I ever owned. For the last many years, I have a ritual in December. I make time each day to go through at least one drawer, cabinet, section of a closet, etc. By New Years eve I’ve covered every inch of everything I live with.

When I first began, there were many things I never noticed and continued allowing them to reside with me. I call them fixtures—the things that we’re so used to seeing that they become part of the landscape. It’s harder to get rid of those, since we’ve accepted their presence and often don’t really see them as disposable. I learned that many things are.

A friend visited for a few days and offered to help me get rid of stuff. I got defensive. No need to help me go through my things. I knew best! But I didn’t. He showed me what my habits overlooked. I’ll never forget when he asked why I had dozens and dozens of plastic bags from stores crammed in my hall closet and other places. “I recycle,” I indignantly informed him. Yet I could never use them all if I tried hard. I thought I was doing something good by shoving them into my closet.

But I was just creating a possible fire hazard by increasing my clutter. I was a different kind of bag lady!

He gently had me think of a use for them. I couldn’t! So he offered to help me clear them out. I winced as he pulled bag after dusty bag out of my closet and other places I stuck them. He filled several bags with my bags. It had seemed so rational all those years as I saved them to use “someday” in order to do my part for the environment. But it hurt my living environment. He took me by the hand and together, we put bags full of bags down the garbage chute.

I felt lighter walking back to my apartment, bag free. Well, I still had a bunch to use for garbage. But my closets looked so much nicer without them. I learned how clearing unnecessary stuff out can make a big difference in your self-image. Before that, every time I opened the closet and saw the bags I’d wince. Now I felt pride to see a neater view.

Cleaning truly is a tonic for your self-esteem.

Now I purge at the end of every year, to enter the New Year with lots of room for more goodies. Nothing is sacred anymore. I keep plastic bags on the inside and outside doorknobs in each room. One side is for things to be thrown out. The other side is for giveaways. A woman who works in my building lives in a poor neighborhood and finds homes for all the stuff I no longer need.

Right after Thanksgiving I begin to pay attention to my things. I WANT to fill the bags because it feels so good!

I look at everything that I haven’t used or worn recently and ask myself, “Do I really need this?” Many things can be purged by consciously assessing if they’re necessary to your life.

* Go though ALL your clothing: I’ve become more honest over the years. Last year I finally got rid of the dress I loved in college and hoped to wear again someday. I couldn’t think of why I’d ever wear it. I tried it on once and gave it to someone who’ll appreciate it more, with the shoes I love but have no opportunity to wear. Some were cracked from laying in my closet. Yet I kept them still for years, thinking that when the occasion came, I’d have them fixed. Now they’re gone!

* Photos of scenery and people you know. A few years ago I began looking at the hundreds of photos I’ve collected over many years—the ones in albums and all the ones in boxes or drawers. I threw out over half of them! Why keep photos of people who have no meaning to me, or even a good memory? And I only need one of each, instead of the same scene taken 3 times. I love the outdoors and had many photos of pretty scenes that began to look alike. So I kept one or two of the best from each location and chucked the rest.

OUCH! You might say at the idea of tossing photos. People have looked at me like I was nuts to suggest it. But if you think about it clearly, why keep them if you don’t do anything with them? Make room for new memories!

* Photos you don’t like of YOU: I tossed ALL photos of me that I hated. Do you keep those that you don’t want to show anyone because you don’t like how you look in them? Why on earth do we keep those I asked myself? It’s more fun to look through old photos now that there are much less of them and I like them all now. They all have meaning. When I tell someone I did this, I often get looks of horror at the idea of chucking pics. Try it sometime! It’s lovely to take control of your need to save them all, even when many mean nothing.

* Partially used products that you put aside because you don’t care for them or have something you like better: Throw out the shampoo sample you never use! Toss the almost empty lipstick tube or shaving cream if you haven’t used it in a while. I’m the type that can have many lotions or shampoos or other products that I try new brands and the old ones sit. Now I try to use up one before I use the newer one. While I use a lot of cosmetics, I’m downsizing the number of bottles. Having more space feels great!

* Old programs, sport memorabilia, and other souvenirs or memories that have grown less meaningful. Ask yourself, “How often do I look at this?” If they just sit and collect dust, are they really worth keeping? My cabinets get emptier as I’m honest about it.

* Chachkies: This is all the little decorative things around many living spaces—the rock from a vacation, candles that you never light but collect dust, gifts from friends’ vacations that are sort of meaningless to you. These are things that can be the fixtures I mentioned earlier—stuff that’s always been on your shelf and it feels like part of the furniture. Does each thing have a purpose or bring you joy to look at it? No? Give it to someone less fortunate!

I once read one of Suze Orman’s books about clearing out to make room for more. She had 2 exercises:

* Find 50 things that are in good shape to give to someone else.
* Find 50 things to throw away.

I’d just done a lot of cleaning and purging. But I challenged myself to do it anyway. Surprisingly it wasn’t that hard. Kind of scared me a little that I was able to find 100 more things to get rid of. It pushed me
to new limits and I enjoyed convincing myself to give away the very cute velvet jacket I bought in London 10 years ago but had never found an occasion to wear it.

Glasses, dishes, books, t-shirts, all found new homes. And old lipsticks, socks with holes (that I still loved!), a poster, and many other things took a dive down the garbage chute. 100 less things in my life! It was actually fun to search for and find things to get rid of.

Cleaning and purging can instill a tremendous feeling of pride and strong sense of being in control. I love entering the new year feeling more empowered than ever!

A few days before New Years I clean my place from top to bottom. Usually in the afternoon on New Years eve I finish dusting and vacuuming every room. The new year never feels better than when I enter it with a clean and less cluttered living space. Cleaning makes you feel good to have a neat place to live. I highly recommend you join me in this habit.

The more you get rid of clutter, the more you make room for new and better things! Yeah!

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