For Decluttering to Really Work, We Need to Cut It Off at the Source

I’m taking about 50,000 Magic: The Gathering cards off to sell at a local store today, bringing to a close a two year project I took on when I bought around 100,000 of the things for $100. (All told, I think I’ll have made around $1,000 off the purchase, so I didn’t do too bad for myself, financially speaking. But was it worth all the time and headache? I’m not sure.)

Now that I’ve got them out of the house, I can turn my attention to decluttering other things. I really like the Marie Kondo “Spark Joy” mentality, though I recently came up with a different approach on my own. I take a look at the stuff I have and ask myself “If I lost this in a flood or a fire or some other accident, how upset would I be?”

In some cases, I’d be pretty upset. If I lost some of my favorite shirts or my media collection or favorite books, I’d be really bummed. But there’s plenty of things (*plenty*) that I’d just sort of shrug and not worry about for another second.

Why in the world do I still have those things, then?

Some of it is due to the cost of having to make decisions about things. I don’t just want to get a big dumpster and toss in everything I don’t want. I want to get rid of things responsibly. Some things we’ve been working on selling: furniture we’re not using anymore, high quality things that would be worth something to someone else. We’ve made some significant progress with that. But there’s a lot of stuff that’s hard to sell, or that really isn’t worth much to begin with. There are also things that aren’t important to me, but which might be important to someone else in the house. It’s hard to just go through and get rid of things left and right. Each item turns into a committee of decisions.

But really, one of the biggest things to help cut the clutter would be to just not buy the stuff in the first place. That’s an area where I have issues (obviously: if I have clutter, it’s coming from *somewhere*.). Many times I’ll buy something because I want it, or because buying it makes me happy. (Let’s not get into a psychoanalysis of where that consumerism comes from for now.)

So what steps can I take to make sure I stop buying things today that I’m going to just want to get rid of tomorrow? As I’ve thought about that problem, I’ve come up with a few approaches:

  • Look at the things I’m needing to declutter. Stop buying more of those things. This means board games that I’m not 100% sold on, kitchen gadgets of questionable worth, clothes that aren’t needed, and pretty much anything I’ve bought on an impulse. (So I’m going to need to work on impulse control, as well. Great.)
  • Add a mandatory waiting period before I buy something. Ask myself if it’s something that’s going to replace something I already have and use (in which case, I need to discard the thing that it’s replacing once it arrives.)
  • Don’t buy things for birthdays and holidays just so I can give something. This might be one of the biggest offenders. Kids have birthdays. I want to show my kids I love them, so I want to get them something. They’re American kids, so they want to *get* something. But a lot of the times, “something” just ends up being nothing more than that: a thing they get and then don’t use. Sure, giving money seems like a cop-out, but one thing I’ve never felt like I’ve had too much of is money. I could also give stocks or experiences.
  • Don’t bring home presents for the kids when I go on business trips. I’ve started bringing home a box of Dunkin’ Donuts instead. That usually goes over just as well, and it automatically declutters itself within a day or so.
  • Conversely, I shouldn’t ask for things for my birthday or holidays just so people have something to give me. This is actually one area where being a Magic: the Gathering collector has really helped. The things I really want tend to be no bigger than a playing card. I get them, and I’m happy, even if the people who give them to me don’t understand why.

It’s easy to look at my kids’ stuff and tell them they need to declutter as well, but I personally don’t feel like I have the right to do that until I’ve decluttered my own stuff. How can I tell them their room needs to be spotless when my own room is littered with Stuff?

In the end, I’m sure if I can just cut the source of the clutter out, then I’ll be able to get on top of things over time using normal decluttering approaches. I still have plenty of low hanging fruit. The biggest offender I hold onto is stuff that I keep “just in case.” Chargers and cable connectors that I “might need one day.” Almost everything I buy ends up coming with its own cables and chargers. And what’s the worst case scenario? I have to buy one thing one time?

I think that’s a risk I can handle.

Anyway. That’s where I am mentally around decluttering today. I’m looking forward to getting more stuff out of my house and freeing up more space inside my house to just live and relax. As long as I keep that vision in mind, it should be easy. Right?

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