Clean House, Clean Mind?

Sometimes what seems small brings great rewards.

Getting Rid of Our Stuff

Clean House Clean MindYou’ve heard the phrase Clean house, Clean Mind? Here’s a story.

A few years ago, we moved a couple hundred miles away from our home near Seattle. We lived in a 3,500 square foot tri-level and most rooms were pretty stuffed. The thought of moving everything across the state was so daunting that we got a little crazy and start selling stuff off as fast as we could list it on eBay or Craigslist. It was fun. We made a few bucks and proved that our closet actually had back walls. Over the next couple of years, we did the same thing twice more as we moved to New York and then to South Carolina.

Wrong Ideas

I’ve been surprised at how little I miss my stuff. And what really surprises me is that I don’t even remember anything we sold other than a few tools and my copy of the OED. I can see now that we had three wrong-headed driving ideas:

  • We damned well paid money for that thing. You think money grows on trees? Who throws stuff away that you paid good money for?
  • Hey! Someone gave us that rocking chair with the broken slats. What kind of a jerk would throw away good stuff that was given to you?
  • Are you kidding? Of course, I’m going to need that thing one day. You think you can just walk into any Home Depot and find that kind of nail?

Did I ever need it? Heck no. Were friends who gave us stuff offended? No. When asked, they all said that giving it to us saved them a trip to the dump. And how about not spending money on so much stuff? It’s a crazy thought.

So, I’ve become a believer in less-is-more. We all say it but few people really believe it and actually try to incorporate it into their lives. It’s a lot like the saying To give is better than to receive which everyone knows is a lie. But I’ve learned, and am learning, something that I didn’t expect: that having less stuff on the outside makes me feel less cluttered on the inside. And that’s a good thing.

  5 Ways to Start Cleaning Up Your Junk

There are lots of good resources for people wanting to clean up but here are a few things that helped us tread the narrow path of less:

  • Get rid of your broken stuff. Why are you – why am I – keeping this junk? This is a hard one for me. I want to fix everything. And when I’m done fixing my stuff, I want to fix your stuff. Maybe this weekend. Between trips to the dump and the store and getting the girls new shoes. But the wanting rarely makes it to the doing. In most cases, it just makes sense to throw stuff out. Your closets and garage and brain will thank you.
  • It really is good advice: if you haven’t used it in a year then get rid of it. Don’t throw out grandma’s old quilt but, really, that half-empty bag of lawn fertilizer? C’mon. You couldn’t break it with a sledge. Toss it.
  • If you can buy it for the cost of two or three cups of coffee then throw it away. I used to keep all kinds of partially used stuff. I would buy a pack of flashlight bulbs for two bucks and use only one. The one left in the blister pack was like gold. I’d cart it from tool box to tool box and shuffle through stacks of other half-opened stuff trying to find anything. This is still hard for me but what I don’t use I throw away. This is why we don’t shop at Sam’s or Costco much. I don’t want to buy four gallons of tomato sauce. It just clutters things up unless you’ve got an industrial-sized pantry. Use what you need and throw the rest away. Or give it away if it makes you feel better.
  • We’ve slowly been shifting our mindset from that of rushing out to buy what we need or want to taking time to buy things that are useful and that bring us some joy. We could buy any old pan for cooking but love our Le Creuset pots. They’re expensive but just using them makes me a little happier. They feel good. They’re easy to cook with. And I can pass them on to my kids when I’m done with them. You can’t do that with what’s on sale at Walmart.
  • Give stuff away. First, I called anyone who gave us things to see if they wanted their stuff back. Most of them laughed and said they got rid of to clean up. So we gave things to food banks or charities or to the neighbor’s kids who are moving into a van down by the river. Someone will find your stuff a godsend and you’ll both be happy.

Be Safe and Sane

If you start selling things, there are two pieces of advice for you that might not seem obvious. You know that hard-cover copy of Steven King’s Carrie that you’ve been lovingly dusting and ‘curating’ for the last twenty years? It’s worth about fifty-cents if you can even find anyone to buy it. I know that you consider it to be investment quality but it’s a door stop to everyone else. Same with Grandpa’s stamps and Dad’s tie collection. We found that a fantastic sale is about twenty-percent or so of what you paid. Expect five to ten percent and you won’t be disappointed. No one is trying to offend you – they just don’t want your junk unless you’re giving it away.

And grow some street smarts. I rarely meet Craigslist buyers at my home. The local grocery store works fine for me. I’ve been ripped off on eBay and Paypal a couple of times and there’s not much you can do about it. The vast majority of buyers and sellers are great folks just like you but take extra precautions. The anonymity of these outlets appeals to certain folks that you wouldn’t want to invite over for dinner.

So clean up a bit. Start with a drawer or a room – there’s no rule that says you have to go top to bottom all at once. You’ll breathe easier and you’ll know where your things are. And there’s something centering about not seeing piles of stuff.
Your brain will feel better.


Thanks so much for reading. Can you think of someone else who would enjoy the post? Please mail it to them or share with your favorite social media using one of the icons below. And won’t you submit your email address in the pop-up? Then you’ll know when I publish another post. Thanks again! And feel free to comment!