By Derek Beres
From Completely You
Nothing reminds you of how much stuff you own like moving. As someone who has lived in 11 apartments in three states over the past 15 years, I'm well aware of those unopened boxes that get carried around from place to place.
It was not until we recently moved to California that my wife and I decided to open those mysterious crates and figure out what was truly necessary to us. It was, to say the least, a cathartic process.
Do You Really Need That?
Just because you may own a basement or attic does not mean you have to fill it to the brim. Yet we often we do, with the idea that the things we pack away may one day be essential to our lives. But is that really the case?
An estimated 2 to 5 percent of humans suffer from compulsive hoarding, says psychologist and hoarding specialist David Tolin, co-author of Buried in Treasures: Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving, and Hoarding. Many more also hang on to clutter in ways that are unhealthy.
Once lumped into obsessive-compulsive disorder, hoarding now warrants its own brand of brain science. Researchers have found that hoarders emit different brain waves in their frontal lobe. This disorder can affect people on many levels, from having an overstuffed home, to suffering from depression, to overeating, to having trouble sleeping. Even for those who are not hoarders, holding on to large quantities of unnecessary stuff can raise anxiety and lower well-being.
The Art of Letting Go
As a longtime journalist, there are two things that I had a lot of trouble letting go of: books and music. Before my last move, I had well over 8,000 CDs and 1,000 books. And while reading and listening to music are my two favorite things to do, the increased real estate these objects were occupying was taking over my entire space. It was hard enough to navigate our New York City apartment, and my shelf space was maxed out.
Here are a few tips that I found helped me get rid of what I no longer needed.
1. Ask yourself: Is it truly necessary?
Tolin employs a form of cognitive behavioral therapy that uses questions to help clients make informed, rational decisions. As I ridded myself of nearly half of my library, I asked myself, "Will I really read or reference this book again?" In many instances, I would -- since, as a journalist, I take notes in my books that I will use in later articles or books. But I had to admit that it wasn't the case with a lot of them as well. So many of my books found their way to more eager eyes in the form of donations.
2. Think on your feet.
Tolin also trains his patients to make quick decisions. Hedging on whether or not to toss something can be crippling. Usually you end up holding on. There is an old Buddhist adage that applies here: First thought, best thought. If you look at an object you've had for years and you immediately know you don't need it, let it go. It may be hard at first, but I promise it gets easier.
3. Do good.
Perhaps the best de-cluttering technique is donating your stuff to charity. Before our latest move, my wife and I made numerous trips to The Salvation Army and Housing Works in Brooklyn. Knowing that our stuff was going to be used by someone who actually needed it, and that nonprofit organizations benefit from such donations, makes the entire process infinitely easier. Plus, many donations are tax-deductible, so giving comes back to you in many ways.
As I write this on my iMac, I have my laptop open next to me. I'm in the middle of digitizing a few thousand albums. I am transferring the music onto a high-quality external hard drive, and backing that up online so that I know my music will not be lost. While technology can be daunting for some people, it is so user-friendly now that there's no reason not to spend a little money for a hard drive. (I use G-Drives.) While CD cases are not recyclable in most cities, there are organizations that do collect them and reuse them in creative ways.
5. Have a cleaning-out party.
If you are having trouble figuring out what to get rid of, have a few friends over for some food, some wine and some serious throwing out (or, as mentioned, a Salvation Army drive collection). Having an objective observer is crucial. If you have an emotional attachment to objects, a support system will make the process easier. And having a party certainly makes it more fun!
Derek Beres is Completely You's Getting Unstuck blogger. A journalist, yoga instructor and DJ/music producer, he has written for such publications as Departures and The Huffington Post. He teaches yoga at Equinox Fitness and Yogis Anonymous, and is one-half of the music production team EarthRise SoundSystem. For more info, visit DerekBeres.com.
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