To Store or to Purge? The Classic Clutter Question

cleaning clutterPeople whose homes get cluttered over time usually face the same dilemma.  One or more family members likes to collect stuff, and has a hard time letting go of everything from the last magazine they read to photographs they’ve been moving from house to house since childhood.  If you want your home to be clutter-free and organized, you’re eventually going to have to face the question room-by-room: What should be stored, and what can be purged?  The answer isn’t always as easy as you might think. 

Let’s take a look at the problem, room by room:

The Kitchen

Kitchens tend to get cluttered with everything from food stuffed into the backs of cabinets to serving spoons in drawers and rarely used spices.  When you approach your kitchen with the idea of eliminating clutter, the first thing that should be purged is old or unused foods.  On the purge list go all food items that are expired, as well as opened foods that will never be eaten.  If non-perishable foods that are rarely or never consumed are taking up space, donate them to a local charity.

When it comes to small appliances, cutlery, baking pans, tablecloths, dishes and cookware, you have to do some serious thinking.  To keep your kitchen free of clutter, you should only keep the items you will absolutely use.  Many people get stuck on the idea of purging items that have emotional meaning, such the baking pan their grandmother used or wedding gifts that are rarely or never needed.  But think of it this way: these items could be useful to someone who will use them.  And your feelings or memories about a grandmother or wedding guests won’t change simply because a physical item is no longer stored in your home.  Of course, if you really can’t part with something that belonged to a beloved relative, consider one of two options: give the item to another family member who will use it and enjoy spying it inside their home or start using it yourself to honor the family member you love.  If neither of these ideas is an option, consider letting the item go.

The Living Room or Family Room 

What tends to happen in living and family rooms is that entertainment items get stored long past their appeal.  If you’re still storing CDs and you haven’t listened to anything on a CD player in years, donate both, or take your CDs to a second-hand store.  If you have old VCR tapes that you never watch, out they go.  In fact, if you are still storing outdated electronics (that VCR was replaced by a DVD player long ago, but it’s still stacked above the TV), donate them to a local thrift store (or look into recycling them if they don’t work).  Magazines and newspapers that pile up should also be on the purge/recycle list, along with furniture that’s just taking up space (let’s face it, that old chair doesn’t match your new furniture and no one sits it in anymore).  Books that no one reads are also on the purge/donation list, unless they are collector’s items or books that you’ll return to time and again.  The same goes for board games that you haven’t pulled out in years – off to the thrift store!

So what’s on the “store” list?  Collector’s items (such as books or old vinyl records) can be shelved or displayed if you plan to maintain a collection.  Board games and electronics that your family uses regularly should be neatly stored in entertainment centers, on shelves or in cabinets.  Besides your furniture and a lamp or two, do you really need anything else in the living room or family room?

Bathrooms/Linen Closets

The only thing you should store in your bathrooms or linen closets are toiletries, cosmetics, and medicines that your family needs on a regular basis, and linens, towels, and washcloths that see regular use or that are reserved for guests.  If you have linen sets or towels that haven’t been used in years, they should go on the “purge” list.  The same goes for expired medications, cosmetics or toiletries that a family member tried once and never used again. 

Bedrooms 

Bedrooms can end up storing a lot of items that are both significant and regularly used.  Jewelry boxes store treasured pieces.  Closets and chests of drawers are packed with clothing, and tables, shelves, and dressing tables are home to favorite photographs, collectibles, and books.

If you’ve placed something in your bedroom, chances are it means something to you.  But as with all of the other items in your home, you have to make tough choices if you want to maintain a clutter free space.  Otherwise, you will end up collecting more and more items as the years pass and your room will become crowded (and more difficult to clean).  The litmus test is much like it is in any room – store items that you use on a regular basis, and purge items that are no longer a necessary part of your life.  A good rule of thumb is to donate any clothing you haven’t worn in a year.  Photographs and keepsakes are tougher; in the end, you should keep those that are most meaningful to you, and let go of the items that do nothing but gather dust.  Whenever you find it hard to part with something you don’t need or that’s just taking up space – whether it’s a stuffed animal your husband gave you ten Valentine’s Days ago or an extra jewelry box that used to belong to an old friend, remember that someone else might need and enjoy something that is just gathering dust in your home.

When it comes to children’s bedrooms, help your child make the same choices about clothes and toys.  Keep what is needed and used, and teach your child about the joy of giving by donating the rest.

Basements/Attics/Garages

By now you’ve figured out the theme – store what you need and use on a regular basis, and purge the rest from your home.  Basements, attics, and garages are areas that tend to get stuffed and cluttered.  If you moved five years ago and still haven’t unpacked some of the boxes in your garage, chances are what’s stored in them isn’t necessary to your daily life.  If the lawnmower hasn’t worked in two years, get it fixed or move on.  If you have three bicycles but you only ride one, two have to go.  If you haven’t gone camping in a decade and you doubt you will again, out goes the tent.  Donate.  Purge.  Free yourself!

The Exception to the Rule 

We’ve been saying throughout this post that you should only store things in your home that you need, use, or maintain for collection purposes.  But every person or family holds on to certain keepsakes that have no particular usefulness or value but have deep emotional significance.  If you have a photograph of a long-lost relative or friend, a seashell from your honeymoon, or a hand-knitted hat that your grandmother made, there’s no harm in storing or displaying some of these items.  Such things remind us of who we are and keep us attached to earlier times in our lives.  Store just the most important ones in a special place, and enjoy the memories they bring.