It’s OK to Give Up Birthday and Christmas Gifts

Often, after a birthday, or the holidays, we’re left with more goodies than we really need. That’s why we need to go through the gifts we received, deciding which are keepers and which need to be moved along, so we can remain clutter-free, or at least somewhat clutter-free.

Of course, some gifts are absolute keepers: the scarf your daughter knitted for you, a book you’ve been wanting to read, a bottle of your favorite wine. But what of those gifts of a more generic variety? Items like:

  • A shower kit with a cheap plastic “loofa” and bubble-gum scented shower gel,
  • A box of cheese and sausage snacks from someone who isn’t close enough to you to know you’re vegetarian, or
  • A sweater (with no gift receipt or tags) in a color combo that hasn’t been popular since the 1980s.

These gifts are easy to pass along to someone who you know will want them, or to simply donate to a thrift store or charity that takes items to resell. Make the time to do that now, rather than move them around for the next few months before you finally become fed up and do something with them.

Then there are the wonderful gifts which replace something you already owned. For instance, someone once gave me a lovely pair of woolen slippers. They were sturdy, practical and quite expensive, I later learned. So why did it take me months to start wearing them and to throw out my old, ratty slippers? Emotional attachment is the best explanation, I suppose. But I tripped over the box containing the new pair for ages before I finally made myself do the trade and pitch the old pair.

Duplicate gifts are a bit easier to deal with. If you received two of something, and it’s not consumable, share one with someone else you know who might need it, or pass it along. Why try to make space for it when you already have one?

As you go through your gifts and decide which are keepers and which need to go, let the momentum that builds up carry you along so that you take anything else you happen to see that’s no longer useful to you and move it along, too. You’ll be surprised how that momentum works.

If you need help making the tough decisions about which gifts to keep and which gifts to get rid of, see my book, The Sentimental Person’s Guide to Decluttering for tips on moving along a variety of gifts, including heirlooms and expensive gifts.


Where Should You Go When You Downsize Your Life?

For some, downsizing their life is simply a matter of finding more affordable and smaller digs within commuting distance of their job. But if you don’t have a job or you’re about to lose yours, it’s possible you may need to find a new town to live in, possibly even a new state.

Yes, I’m aware of the increasing number of ex-pats out there (people who have left the U.S.), But I’m assuming most people, like me, want to stay in this country. They just need to know how to find a good place to live that doesn’t cost as much as where they live now.

I shared a great tool for discovering your perfect new town in Downsizing Your Life for Freedom, Flexibility and Financial Peace. Now I have two great links to share, which I’ll probably have my publisher add to my book, but that you can check out right now.

First off, here’s a wonderful document (PDF) that lists all the metropolitan areas of the U.S. in order of affordability. What a find! It starts with the most expensive areas. We moved from page 1 to page 5, making our lives so much more affordable in the process. Find your current town in the document and start looking further down to see where you might go to make your life easier, financially and otherwise.

Then, if you’re wondering where other people are moving, check out this interactive map, which shows who’s moving where and what the per-capita income is in every single county in the country. Be warned, though, you can waste a lot of time playing with this, it’s so interesting!

Even Low-Income People Can Benefit from Decluttering

Reading “The Class Politics of Decluttering” just got my blood going and incited in me the urge for rebuttal.

In short, the author labels decluttering as a trendy habit that has become popular thanks to “the well-off middle class,” who are spoiled and want to make themselves feel better by reducing their overabundance of possessions. Being low-income herself, she feels that poor people flock to sales because it allows them to get the things they need at affordable prices, and suggests that asking them to declutter their excess would be cruel. As she puts it:

Those aren’t the people who would benefit from a minimalist life. They can’t afford to do with less.

Oy, where to begin? Most people in every social class tend to keep more belongings than they need. Even low-income Americans find themselves tripping over bags of clothes their children have outgrown, toys no one plays with anymore, and more cheap plastic tumblers than they can use in a lifetime. Indeed, the author herself describes what happened when she had to move to a smaller apartment:

I had to sort through and get rid of carloads of clothes, my childhood toys, school papers, books, movies and artwork. I couldn’t afford to store all of these items, which had value to me only as a record of my history — including mementos from my parents.

My stuff wasn’t just stuff, but a reminder that I had a foundation of support of people who had loved me growing up: a painting I’d done as a child that my mom had carefully framed and hung in our house, a set of antique Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls my ferret once chewed an eye out of when I was 15, artwork my mom had collected over the decade we lived in Alaska. Things I grew up with that brought me back to a time of living a carefree life.

Goodness! Here’s a grown woman with children of her own still dragging around “carloads” of her childhood belongings? Like so many of us who have had to downsize our living quarters, she could have kept a few of the most precious items and photographed the rest in order to keep her memories intact. Seriously, how many adults keep all their childhood school papers and artwork?

If anything, you would think someone who lives in small quarters, whether by choice or by financial necessity, would see the wisdom in streamlining their possessions so that they can live unencumbered by what they no longer need, leaving extra room in an already small place for the items they need and/or cherish most.

Another thing that got me going: the author implies that the more “stuff” you have, the wealthier you are. Nothing can be further than the truth in 21st century America. Even the poor have more C³ (Cheap Chinese Crap) than they know what to do with. I’ve seen so much evidence of this. In my town (median income $35,000), in both the “poor” areas and the nicer areas, people leave oodles of belongings out on the curb after they move or after they have a garage sale. It always amazes me how much of that stuff is left there for days until the trash truck comes to carry it off. When I was a kid, lots of people “garbage-picked,” but now I rarely see that, most likely because everyone has plenty of stuff of their own.

I won’t go into what I think the author’s real issues are, though they should be obvious to anyone who can read. But it bugs me that she labels decluttering as an elitist pastime. For me and for many others, decluttering is a process that brings many good things into everyone’s lives, including (as I say in the title of my first book) “freedom, flexibility and financial peace.” And people of all social classes can benefit from those!

Finding the Motivation to Declutter

Decluttering cannot be a one-time event. If you’re not careful, your stuff will quietly multiply when you’re not paying attention, and before long you’ll be back where you started. So you must be diligent about not acquiring new items without throwing out a few things in exchange so you can keep your decluttering equilibrium.

Of course, you also have to be careful that you remain motivated to live the decluttered life. Personally, I find that there’s a tipping point, when the closets are getting a little too crowded, or the cupboards are, and then I start thinking about setting aside time to weed out my possessions again.

Recently I experienced a motivation to declutter that I wasn’t expecting. I bought several bags of potting soil so I could re-pot some plants. I backed out the car so I could get to every spare pot, and brought in other pots that were left in the yard. I wanted to see every pot I had so I could pick the best ones for the task.

Wow, had I amassed a lot of pots over the past few years! Once I found them all and got them into one place, I saw that I had far more than I needed. So I chose the best to use, saved a few empty hanging pots in case mine break (I’ve found them to be fragile), and I threw the rest in the recycler.

Did that ever feel good! And the sight of the garden corner of the garage all clean and organized instead of being full of stacked plastic pots so inspired me that I am now motivated to start going through the house and finding things I no longer need or use so the house can go back to being as uncluttered as it was when we moved in.

You just never know where you’ll find the motivation to declutter again!