Decluttering should be approached in the same zen-like frame of mind as weight loss: this didn’t happen overnight, and it’s not going to get fixed overnight. Just as you can only chip away so many calories from a day and so many pounds in a week or a month, you can only tidy or rearrange so many things in a day or week to fix up a space in a week or a month. And both, in my opinion, are ongoing concerns. There’s no real “end” to getting your body in shape and there’s no real “end” to getting your living space in shape. You may get all the unwanted stuff out some day but that may leave you with something awkward you want to reshape with remodeling (via the hardware store or the gym, respectively).
You’re going to keep eating. You’re going to keep buying stuff. You’re not “done” until you’re dead.
OK, so now that I’ve been all preachy and worn a metaphor wafer thin, here’s the actual tip:
One of the all-time great organization tips, one that you will encounter in every single organization book is the one about ditching any clothes you haven’t worn in a year. This, along with the one about throwing away (without looking inside) any box you haven’t opened in a year, is very very very hard for me.
I read a book not too long ago that had a variant version of this rule that I preferred: take everything out of your closet and dresser and dump it on the floor or in a box and then working your way through it by wearing everything at least once. If you wear it you put it back on the hanger or back in the drawer and if you try it on and think “ugh, no” you take it to the thrift store. The old wisdom was to do this in a day; to heap everything on your bed and try everything on, one after another, like a horrible back-to-school-shopping flashback, and make all those decisions in one day. Eep! Too stressful. I know I would make decisions I would regret later. This newer method lets me evaluate the piece for a day. Maybe I hated that shirt all by itself but it turns out to be the perfect thing for layering under that sweater I never wear because the neckline is too low. Or maybe I thought that dress wasn’t a flattering color but when I get to the grocery store three women stop me to tell me they love it on me. (Both of these things have happened to me.)
While I think this is a great idea I haven’t got the floorspace required for all those clothes to hang out for who-knows-how-long while I work my lazy ass through them.
In many retail stores — and not just groceries — the stocking policy is to put the new stuff behind the old stuff. With this in mind, I instituted a new rule, instead of letting my only-just-now tidy bedroom devolve back into chaos. First I sorted all the closet clothes into bunches (all the shirts together, all the jackets together, all the skirts together, etc.). No need to do this in the dresser, since it’s sorted by drawer. So the new rule is: after you wear it, if you’re going to keep it it goes in back (in the closet) or at the bottom of the pile (in the dresser). If I’m not keeping it it either goes to the thrift store or in rare cases (such as the Ireland shirt) gets restyled. (Added bonus: this answers the nagging daily question of “What am I gonna wear today?” Well, you’re wearing that thing, because it’s on top. And if it’s really so goddamn awful to have to wear that today then ditch it!)
Soon, I will have worked my way through the lot and I will not only have gotten rid of all the stuff that doesn’t fit or makes me feel bad, but I will have found a new appreciation for some old stuff I didn’t use to fit or like, and I will have invented some creative new outfits, too.
The book I think I got this tip from is Throw out Fifty Things by Gail Blanke. I highly recommend it because it stresses repeatedly a point I really needed to hear: that you shouldn’t keep anything that makes you feel bad about yourself, no matter how much it cost or who gave it to you. Also, unlike any other organization book I’ve encountered, this book does not limit itself to your home and office. It also gives advice on decluttering your mind, because you’re metaphorically tripping over that inferiority complex as surely as you’re physically tripping over that box on the landing. Seriously, though: this is the only organization book I have read that I look forward to rereading some day soon. (Also, the book on tape version was great, and that is not always the case, even with the best of books.)