My mom and aunt ended their two week visit to Portland last night and I spent a quiet evening decluttering every room in my house after they left. It was lovely having them here, but it also reinforced for me how much I value a life not cluttered with stuff. My family is composed of women who simultaneously can't resist a "good deal" and also can't bear to throw away/donate anything. My mom won't throw away 20 year old makeup that she never uses, nail polish I bought when I was 14 years old, etc. My mom also likes to save her nicer things from regular use because she is afraid of damaging them (for example, my sister and I bought her a Le Creuset pot a few months ago for her birthday and she is afraid to use it in case the paint gets scratched. She also has a lovely knife set someone got for her 10 years ago that she has never used) and whenever I try to get her to use these things, she counters by saying she is saving them for when I get married. Which is completely absurd. While they were visiting me, their favorite thing to do was shop. They bought a whole bunch of things on sale, which wouldn't bother me except I knew that these new things were not replacements, but additions to already over-full houses. I can't change how other people live, but the thought of ever living in such an environment was enough to spark a cleaning spree. I tend to have these fairly often anyway, but it was such a cathartic thing to do. Here are the rules I apply to things:
Clothes - With the exception of more formal attire (should not have more than a very few of these items), everything must work for my day to day life. I should be able to wear everything and they should all match with each other. This actually makes shopping much easier because I then stick with a very strict color palette and can't get distracted. I also end up gravitating toward a few basic silhouettes and that again makes future matching way easier. This is a category I prune the most often I think, because sometimes I'll impulsively buy something that ends up not being a good idea. But pruning these is not difficult for me at all.
Shoes - This is a total weakness. I have 20 pairs of shoes, which I think is too much. There are about three pairs that I rarely wear (2 for wedding-ish occasions, 1 to wear with my suit) but are functional so I have no qualms about keeping. But there are also three pairs that I should not have bought in the first place, are completely frivolous and don't match the life I have. I can't really part with them yet, but have been trying hard not to add to this group. While I can't get my shoe collection down to a more comfortable number right now, I think starting now I will install a "one in one out" rule to shoes to nip any growth of this collection.
Kitchen - I'm actually ok with this category of items at the moment because I use everything I have, even though I have quite a few things. The only thing that gives me any qualms is my bread machine, which takes up a lot of space and is seldom used (I bake a lot of bread, but not with the machine), but it was a graduation gift from two of my dearest friends so it's not something I feel ok about getting rid of.
Bathroom - I wear very little makeup but like any other woman had somehow accumulated random piles of eye shadow and blush, etc. I have a feeling most of these were samples gifted to me by my mom at some point, but last night I did a major weeding of my bathroom drawers and rid myself of such makeup, cheap jewelry, old nail polish, and random bits of flotsam. I would actually like to get rid of more stuff, but at least the most obvious things are gone.
Office - I don't have a real office at all, but I do have a drawer of office supplies. This was also scrutinized last night and many pens and again, random flotsam and jetsam were tossed. The truth is, there is no reason for a single person to have more than 10 writing utensils in her home at any moment, especially if she can get a pen from work in the unlikely event that all her pens at home should simultaneously run dry. In my life, I am constantly accumulating free pens from conferences and this can easily get out of hand. In this case, even if the pens works, I don't have to keep it. My mom would say that was wasteful, but what is more wasteful to me is maintaining 100 un-used pens all over my house until they finally run dry.
Food - I cook a lot so there are basic supplies (flour, sugar, grains, spices etc) that I have to keep on hand. My mom and aunt took this to a whole new level. Despite my protests, I now have 3 bottles of rice wine and a remarkable number of ramen packages. I know I'll consume all of these things eventually, and if I had a large pantry I wouldn't be bothered, but as it is, I really do not want a 2 year supply of consumables in my house. At the moment I also have more fruits than I desire to eat, but at least this stuff should either be eaten or spoiled in a couple of weeks and therefore off my hands. My mom and aunt grew up very poor so I wonder if this stashing away of food is a consequence of that. I get very stressed if I have too much perishable food in my fridge because there's such a pressure to eat it all before it goes bad. I like to plan most of my meals for the week and only get enough for that. Bah.
Mementos - What to do with the little gifts and cards and things that accumulate over the years? I think the best idea is to keep it as small as you can. Fairly generic "happy birthday!" cards I toss after about a year, while cards with more special messages I keep. I still have the MIT stuffed beaver my sister gave me when we were both in college and a small collection of knick knacks from my best friends. At the moment this category is well under control, but it's important to still be vigilant. Things of sentimental value are always harder to part with, even if they don't necessarily add value to my life. I try to remember that my memories and friendships don't rest on any physical things and that makes it easier. Physical letters though, I always treasure.
Crafts - This is going to take a good bit of time to organize logically and efficiently. Tackling this is a project for another day (possibly later this weekend since I'm on a roll!)
I think this is mostly everything. Thanks to digital cameras, I don't have boxes of photos and albums thank god, and when I moved I ruthlessly pared my book collection to only beloved volumes. Now that I have my kindle, all new books are also in digital format and clutter is automatically a non-issue. I seldom have the urge to re-watch movies so I don't own many dvds and I expect this to also be completely digital in the future. Technology is tops!