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.

 

“I Hope My Kids Don’t Do This to Me!”

The estate sale I went to last week was a packed one; it was like a museum of my childhood, complete with thermal coffee mugs with woven-straw sides, and a large wood stereo system on tall legs just like you would have found in most of the houses in the neighborhoods of my childhood, back in the 1960s.

But what was most memorable about this sale was that on two separate occasions I heard women say, “I hope my kids don’t do this to me!” as they looked at the displays of two elderly folks’ personal possessions.

My goodness, do they think their kids will keep their houses (and contents) intact after they go to a nursing home, or after they die? Something will have to be done with their things, and it’s extremely likely that their kids will do this to them; what other choice will they have? Do they expect them to keep all of it? We’re talking about a houseful of stuff: tables covered in bric-a-brac, knick-knacks, plates, glasses, linens, tools, you name it.

I wanted to tell these women that there is only one way to be sure your kids don’t do this to you, and that’s to go through it yourself while you’re still alive and kicking. Make the tough decisions now so your kids will never have to put all of your things on display for strangers to pick through someday.

As the late philanthropist Percy Ross used to say, “He who gives while he lives knows where it goes.” Keep only your most favorite and necessary possessions, give the next best items to people you love, and sell or donate the rest. You’ll relieve your kids of a huge burden someday, and you’ll never have to spin in your grave because your home is the site of an estate sale.

(Learn how to give up anything you’re sentimental about in The Sentimental Person’s Guide to Decluttering.)

 

What to Do with Your Late Loved One’s Clothes

There’s a chapter in my new book, The Sentimental Person’s Guide to Decluttering, about what to do with the belongings of someone you loved and lost. It’s a highly emotional subject, especially when your loss is still fresh.

I used to work as a grief support volunteer, and I learned so much from the people I worked with. One woman was a new widow and a mother of seven. She cut up her husband’s shirts into patches, which she turned into quilts for each of her children. I included her story in my book because it’s so inspiring. This woman found comfort while creating comfort for her children.

It’s funny how boxes of a late loved one’s clothes can become an insurmountable fortress for some people, but for others they can turn into vehicles for dealing with grief. If you have boxes of clothes from a late loved one that you haven’t been able to deal with, consider turning them into memory quilts. Hire someone to do it for you if you don’t sew; otherwise, be inspired by this great example and this tutorial. The best mementos are those that are used and seen daily, not packed away under the stairs.

Shrinking My Wardrobe

Today I shrank my wardrobe by about 33%.

I’ve kept many clothes over the years, partly out of sentimentality, and partly because most older clothes are better-made out of better fabrics than the clothes I find in stores today. I’m sure people are sick of seeing me in the same old things, because I’ve been wearing some outfits for years!

I do buy the occasional “new” thing here and there, usually at a thrift store a half-hour from here. There are plenty of thrift stores in my own town, but I seem to have particular luck at the store that’s further away, sometimes even finding actual “new” clothes (they might have been new ten or 15 years ago) that still have the tags on them.

I’ve had a bit too much fun at that store in recent months; as a result, my wardrobe no longer fit in my closet. There were too many things hanging in there, and the two large plastic boxes I keep for out-of-season clothes would no longer close tight; they were way overstuffed.

I took everything out and sorted it into piles by type: tops, sweaters, slacks, jeans, etc. I also went through my dresser drawers and took out anything I hadn’t worn yet this season. I did all this sorting on my bed, which is positioned conveniently between the closet and the dresser.

The first part was the easy and fun part: I found all the socks with large holes in them and pitched them. Ditto for the underwear that I’d be embarrassed to be seen in if I ended up in the hospital.

Then I started making a pile for donations to the local Goodwill, where I can just drive up and they’ll take my stuff before I can change my mind. At first that was easy, too: tops that I haven’t worn in ages, pants that no longer hang right on me, the sweaters that are perfectly fine but that I have far too many of…the result was a nice-sized pile. Some of those items came from the thrift store, so I had little guilt about giving them up because the price I paid for them was a donation to the religious charity that runs the thrift store.

It helped that I’d been planning to go through my clothes for a few weeks, so I’d already begun thinking about which specific pieces of clothing I’d give up. Those items went straight into the pile; I guess I’d already mentally wrestled with them.

But there were plenty of items that I’d forgotten about, so I now had to make decisions about each of them. As a result, despite the decent-sized pile of donations, there were still far more items stacked on my bed than could fit into those two boxes. And so the hard part began.

When you’re sentimental, it’s so easy to find an argument for why you should keep something:

  • I’ve had this forever.
  • I’ve had some good times in this outfit.
  • This was a gift from someone I love.
  • This is one of the few colors that look good on me.
  • I wore this top when my kids were still at home.
  • I’ve always loved this brand.
  • My husband used to compliment me when I wore this.

Yes, I said all those things in my head, and more. Suddenly I grew tired of all the arguments. I began grabbing favorite items and stacking them in the plastic boxes that would be stored in my closet. Once the boxes were full, I put the rest of the clothes in the donation pile before I could change my mind. Then I bagged it all, put the bags in the trunk of the car and slammed the lid.

Back in the bedroom, peace reigned. Two boxes, flat on top instead of bulging, were put back in my closet. There was space between the clothes hanging there. My drawers had plenty in them, but were not overstuffed. Oh….it feels so good to be done with this task for a while!

In a week or two, when I think of some piece of clothing I used to wear, and I realize that I gave it away, I’ll probably feel bad for a second. But then I’ll remember that it served me well and that it was time to let it go. Believe it or not, that always makes me feel better, and then I can move on.

I wish I was one of those people who aren’t sentimental, and can swiftly grab up piles of clothes and get rid of them without a second thought. But that’s just not me, and I know I’m not alone.

(If you’re sentimental like me, you’re going to love my new book, The Sentimental Person’s Guide to Decluttering. Check it out HERE.)