Clearing The Clutter

Now that the New Year has arrived, I like to do an inventory of all the stuff I have. Like many others I have accumulated a considerable stack of possessions over the years, in addition to the stuff my late parents left behind after they passed away. As they both lived through the Great Depression, it left them with a pack rat mentality, an urge to accumulate stuff as a hedge against the next set of hard times. As the ‘hard times’ never quite materialized for them, I wound up with quite a pile of, well, stuff.

Some of it was easy to get rid of. The bookshelf crammed with Readers Digest Condensed Books (my father’s) got shuffled off to the local recycling station, especially after I found out you can’t give those things away. Clothing that was purchased by both parents and stored away but never worn, went to the local church rummage sale (if it didn’t fit me, that is…).

My father was the worst offender when it came to saving anything. Glass jar after glass jar of old nails, screws, bolts, nuts, brackets and assorted bric-a-brac cluttered his work shop. A fair percentage of it had been sitting around so long it had begun corroding. Fortunately our recycling station can handle scrap metal, so that all went there as well. He saved every piece of scrap wood from old projects with the idea it could be applied to a future project. He was also a ham radio buff and saved any old tubes and attachments that might conceivably be useful.


These I know can be sold to avid collectors, so if I can ever get ambitious enough for that yard sale I’ve always wanted to do, they will be placed out, hopefully to be scooped up and out of my clutter pile and into someone else’s. The scrap wood was, needless to say, scrapped.

My mother also collected quite a pile, but her stuff was more useful to me. The old cast iron skillets she had were definitely keepers along with her stock pot, dishes and cutlery. Some of her old vintage jewelry I have kept as well. She avidly collected glass ware from antique shops, gift shops and local yard sales. Some of it I will keep for sentimental value but the rest of it will end up in the yard sale. She knitted quite a bit until arthritis stopped her. I have numerous yarn skeins as well as a few half-finished items (a sweater and afghan, I believe). If I ever take up knitting, that will go into my own stash of stuff.

This of course brings me to what I have collected. Needless to say, I have been strongly influenced by my parents. While I hadn’t been born until long after the Great Depression, the attitudes it fostered in them were transmitted to me. I’m not a string saver but I do love to read, so I have a ton of books. I was into collecting pewter fantasy figurines for a while, so I have several shelves full of those. I enjoy cross stitch and can’t resist the kits that various catalogs offer to me. I suspect I have enough projects accumulated that if I stopped buying anything right now, I will be kept busy until the day I die. Word puzzles, like acrostics and the like are enjoyable so I have a stack of puzzle magazines waiting for me to have time to go through them.

If that wasn’t enough, I like to draw and so have stacks of art books, art supplies and so forth. One thing for sure, I will never be bored! However, I think George Carlin pretty much said it all with his classic monologue on ‘stuff’. Our consumer culture with its emphasis on material wealth has caused us to go way over the top on accumulating stuff, even when we’re not really that greedy (or like to think we aren’t.)

So how to cut down on the clutter? Well, the Internet is full of suggestions on the best ways to clear out your excess possessions. Many advocate using the beginning of the year to start de-cluttering. Other recommend a specific date. MoneyMagpie suggests March 11, 2017 as the date. Apparently there is actually a National Clear Your Clutter Day. I’m not exactly sure who designated March as THE month to clean but it’s as good as any.

Getting rid of clothing that no longer fits or is out of style is easy enough. I deal with the monster stash of books by rereading old ones that I haven’t looked at in quite a while. I have found that my reading tastes have changed over the years which allows me to get rid of the books that no longer interest me. Duplicate books are rare but I do occasionally inadvertently buy one. Those go too of course. Recently a co-worker was hospitalized and sidelined for an extended period. A ‘Care Package’ basket was made up for him. I donated a years’ worth of the word puzzle magazines that I never seem to have time to get around to. If the yard sale ever comes off, I will get rid of a few of the knick-knacks I have accumulated as well.

In spite of our computerized culture, there is still a huge amount of paper documents that manage to accumulate in spite of our best efforts. Many of these are important but it isn’t always clear how long they should be kept. I came across a magazine article that helpfully listed what to keep and how long to keep it. As I prefer to do as little on line as possible, it has come in very useful.

1: Keep Forever
Birth and death certificates, adoption papers, health records, marriage certificates, divorce decrees and military discharge papers.

2: Keep for a limited time
Tax records – 7 years; Auto titles and registrations – as long as you own the car; Check registers and bank statements – 7 years; Loan papers – 7 years after the loan is paid off; Pay stubs – until W2 is confirmed by year end; Property deeds – as long as you own the property; Mortgage payments – 7 years after property is sold; Records to support tax return – 7 years.

3: Toss Immediately
Utility bills (once you’ve paid them of course)– unless used for tax deductions; Credit Card statements – unless they record deductible business expenses; Expired insurance policies – unless there is an outstanding claim; Warranties, manuals and receipts for items you no longer own.

Once you get started on this process, it’s rather overwhelming to see the amount of clutter you have but what a relief to get it out from underfoot. And what a surprise to discover how roomy your house or apartment really is!

Happy cleaning and Happy New Year!