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Have you ever toured an older home and marveled at the lack of closet space? If you’ve considered buying one of these vintage abodes, it may have even given you pause, or perhaps even have been the reason you ultimately turned away. Where on earth would you keep all your stuff?
Even in newer homes we lament our lack of storage space. Our closets, cupboards, cabinets, attics, basements, and garages are simply bursting at the seams. The idea of ever becoming truly organized sometimes seems hopeless because there is just no place to go.
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The problem is not a lack of storage space.
The real problem is too much stuff.
The reason our grandparents and great-grandparents could live with a handful of tiny closets in their modest 1400 square foot homes is that they simply didn’t accumulate the massive quantities of things that we have today. The irony is that all these gadgets and appliances and modern conveniences are supposed to somehow make our lives easier, but instead they just add to the noise, the stress, and the clutter.
The more I work on this in my own home, the more I am realizing that to live a truly organized and orderly life, I have to change my thinking completely. Modern culture has glorified consumption to the point that continually buying more has become the norm. We accumulate more and more and more until we are drowning.
So what’s the solution? I think if we take a step back and take a cue from our grandparents, there are some vintage strategies that can help us change our approach and allow us to live clutter-free forever:
Stop the Flow
A trip to Target this weekend reminded me just how easy it is to mindlessly fill my cart with things I don’t need. Temptation is everywhere. Even though I had gone in the store for a specific purpose–a needed office supply–I was immediately drawn in to all the pretty, shiny, things. An adorable shirt that would look so cute on my daughter. A pillow that would be perfect on my living room couch. My favorite t-shirt in multiple colors and–look–it’s even on sale! Some darling limited edition note-cards and plastic wine glasses at 50% off–such a good deal!
I almost succumbed, and there was a time where I wouldn’t have thought twice about a single one of those purchases. If I liked it, I would buy it. What did it matter if I didn’t really need it? My desire created the need. Our grandparents didn’t have this same temptation. There were no Targets or Walmarts or malls filled with cheap but pretty things. They simply didn’t have an endless array of choices. Making a purchase was a well-planned event, not an impulse buy.
The first step in living a clutter-free life is to commit to stopping the flow. You have to vigilantly guard against the sheer number of things coming in. For me it has meant avoiding my favorite stores; for others it may mean avoiding the thrift stores or no more garage sale hopping. It means winning the mental battle and convincing yourself that what you have is already enough.
Paring down the number of things you already have is the next phase of the battle. Give yourself permission to only keep the things that are currently useful, despite who gave them to you or how much they cost. This can be really hard, especially at first. That’s where the ruthless part comes in. As you sort through your things, ask yourself these questions:
- Do we use it, wear it, or play with it? If it is clothes, does it still fit?
- Is it in good working condition?
- Does it enrich our lives in some way?
- Does it have sentimental value?
- Could someone else use it more?
It is helpful to make 4 categories: 1.) Things to keep in this area, 2.) things to donate, 3.) things to throw away, and 4.) things to put elsewhere (keepsake box, seasonal items, or things that belong in a different room). Once you’ve cleared an area and put away all the items that belong elsewhere, move on to the next area. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Set Strict Limits
We live in a time of more excess and waste than ever before. We think nothing of a closet full of clothes, where our grandmothers and great-grandmothers only ever had a few dresses and a single pair of shoes to get them by. Holidays and birthdays are accompanied by piles of gifts rather than just one or two, while our kitchens and bathrooms are packed to the gills with gadgets, accessories, and products.
Our grandparents didn’t have to set limits because they were already limited by their finances and by what was available. In an era where everything is available and affordable, we have to be diligent about setting our own limits. One way I did this was in my bedroom closet, where I limited my clothing to what would fit on forty hangers. Compared to the closets of a century ago, forty hangers is probably still a lot, but for me–and for most women today–getting rid of that many clothes was a pretty drastic change.
We also set some pretty strict limits when it comes to our kids and toys. After taking their toys away last year, we have tried to be very careful about the number of toys they have access to. This means limiting Christmas and birthday gifts and, when necessary, swapping out something they no longer play with when they do get something new.
Value Quality over Quantity
I think sometimes we have become so accustomed to the steady flow of cheaply-made junk that we forget that quality really does matter. Being incredibly selective, but then spending a little more to buy something that will stand the test of time is not only more frugal, but it is the way things simply used to be. At some point our standards lowered so much that we no longer think twice when a motor stops working after a year, or when our t-shirt gets a hole after just a few washings, or when another toy breaks after only being played with for a week.
When you do find yourself in need of something new, commit actively seeking out things that are well made from quality materials. Take the time to read reviews or to find things that are made locally rather than overseas. Choose long term value over short term savings.
In this day and age it really does take a lot of intentionality to live a little simpler. It means going against the grain of today’s consumer-driven mentality in favor of an organized home, one that is free of excess stuff and that allows us to breathe a little easier. I don’t know about you, but I think the promise of a clutter-free life is definitely worth the effort.