Knowing What To Keep and What To Throw Away - Blog - Saving Advice Articles
"He is richest who is content with the least." - Socrates

Knowing What To Keep and What To Throw Away

By , January 6th, 2010 | 5 Comments »

I spent Christmas visiting my parents. When I am at my parents’ home, I am always amazed that nothing is ever out of place. I can walk into the house and know exactly what I will see and where it will be. I know what is in every drawer and every closet. If they have made a new purchase, it will be obvious immediately. Mum thrives on order and ordered her home will be.

The same was true of our home growing up. Even now, almost twenty years since my parents sold my childhood home, I still can picture all of the furniture and the contents of every drawer, cupboard, closet and attic. Even the garage was always properly arranged. My parents knew what they needed to keep and they knew what could be donated to charity. If an item was no longer in use, it was no longer deemed useful and then removed from the home, unless I salvaged it as a memento of my youth.

The things I saved are not necessarily things that I would ever use. Some I saved purely for sentimental reasons. I still have an old sweater that my Dad wore in the early 1970’s and a shirt that he wore about the same time. I can remember my Dad working in the yard when I was about 4 years old and he always wore the sweater. I am much bigger than my Dad, so I know I’ll never be able to wear the sweater, but I shall always feel connected to him just because I have it.

Knowing what to keep and what to throw away or donate or sell can be a difficult assessment. This past week, I decided to re-organize my office. More specifically, I removed all of the furniture and used it to update my wife’s office. In doing so, I had to sort through a lot of the assorted knick-knacks and collections that I have amassed over the years, but which my wife really does not want in her office. Some of the items I realized I had no basis for keeping as they were long past having any practical utility (a cracked coffee cup that I used in the early 1980’s) or which had no identifiable nostalgic association for me (a telescope that I still do not know how I acquired). Those things I eliminated. Other things (a toy pistol that I got as a souvenir during a trip to Disney World in 1976) I kept because, like my Dad’s sweater, they are evocative of memories that I am not willing to lose.

Every year at this time, I require my sons to do a full cleaning of their respective bedrooms. Of course, they clean their respective rooms regularly, but a full cleaning requires them to try on all of their clothes and to look at every item, and then to decide whether it is something that they really need to keep. I don’t require them to eliminate anything (other than broken items which could injure someone if used) but I remind them that whatever they do not eliminate, they will have to constantly clean around or organize throughout the year. One son embraces the annual clean up and eliminates a significant percentage of the contents of his room. Clothing that won’t fit, books that he will no longer read, games that he has outgrown and not played in years all go into his “yard sale area” (a portion of our garage in which I let him store anything he wants to sell at our community yard sale).

By getting rid of the clutter in our homes, we avoid the need for extra storage, whether that means bookcases, shelving, blanket chests or cardboard boxes. We also save effort because they less we have, the easier it is to know where everything can be found. Knowing what we need to keep, and being willing to part with what we do not need, is not always easy, but the simplification of our lives that comes from parting with the unnecessary, can make life much easier. That, of course, allows us to spend more time doing things that we find more meaningful than dealing with all of our accumulated “stuff.”

How do you decide what you need and what you do not need? Do you sell what you do not need on eBay or in yard sales? Do you donate your unwanted things to charity or simply toss your old things into the trash? As the new year begins, let us know how you deal with the things you have gathered in years past.

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  • Annie Jones says:

    We’re Spring Cleaning here already. So far I’ve done the kitchen and my granddaughter’s bedroom, purging what we don’t need. I’ll continue on throughout the house, then do it all again in 2-3 months.

    We do all of the things you mentioned…we donate to charity, we sell on eBay and craigslist, we hold our own garage sale every year or two, we put things out for free at our curb and yes, we even throw a few items away (but not many).

    Unfortunately, our basement and garage are never clean. We start out with good intentions of them being staging areas for selling and donating, but they end up being catch-alls.

  • Monkey Mama says:

    We are still working on clearing clutter from years past (tail end). I’ve probably done a major purge every single year, for the last 5 years. Which I find amazing because we don’t tend to BUY “stuff.” Though I did realize a tendency to keep gifts and such that I didn’t want or need, out of a feeling of obligation (yes – I am over that!). I think a lot of it is from also being very open to hand-me-downs.

    Anyway, we are also well into stage 2. We try to consciously remove things from the house when we get new things. With the kids, we have it down to an art. We have done it since Day 1, with them. We sell and donate old clothes and toys the second they are outgrown. The adults are still learning. I think I’ve *got it* now, though. I bought a beautiful jacket on a whim last month – unnecessary – and so decided to donate an old jacket. For Christmas, I donated the items that didn’t fit, and immediately returned an expensive item that I didn’t want. Within a week of Christmas – this was all accomplished.

    I tend to freecycle and donate (RARELY throw anything away), BUT if I can get more than $5-$10, I will usually try to sell an item.

    I did a major purge this year of my closet. I felt it easier to give up things in this economy, knowing so many people could REALLY use things that were sitting idle in my closet. Kind of what I needed to let a few things go.

  • Ann says:

    Things representative of family or friends are generally the things that get kept.

    Not that many months ago, I was dusting and noticed that the initials on two pewter boxes that had belonged to my paternal grandmother and grandfather were the same as the initials as a nephew and his wife. I e-mailed them, explained and asked if they’d like them. They were overjoyed though financially the boxes probably weren’t worth a lot.

    I kept hand tools of my father’s even though I have new versions myself… some of them may even have been my grandfather’s. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Clothes, books, videos get donated, along with some other things…. though the books are hard to let go of and I have bookcases filled to capacity all over the house! LOL

    I have a nephew who’s into old family pictures… and a box of framed photos that I need to go through and send some of to him! He was even fascinated by the awards that my father got for patents and asked for them.

    When my mother died, I asked my brother’s 3 kids whether there were any things that they remembered and wanted to have in memory of my parents. I was a little surprised at the things they remembered and asked for… a shapes puzzle, an acrylic cube with tiny metal pieces in it that were part of what my dad “created” for the corporation(s) he worked for, a WWII momento, etc.

    Yes, I get rid of a lot of things, but I just can’t let loose of the rubberband gun that one of my staff gave me. LOL

  • Steven of Chicago says:

    I enjoyed this post.

    When I retired in 2005, I decided to retire my lifestyle as well. I gave up my apartment of thirty years and thirty years of hoarding as well.

    With the exception of six boxes of books, and the clothes on my back, I gave everything I owned to thrift shops and the local public library.

    Today, I live in a tiny efficiency apartment. No stress. No clutter. I have embraced minimalism and I love everything I own.

  • Gail says:

    I have learned to move things that are on its way to the thrift shop to one particular spot until the weather clears enough to carry it out to the van and then when I am in the area of the thrift store and it is open I can drop off a load. Sometimes it is a lot and sometimes it is little, but since I have become systematic, I don’t end up with boxes of stuff that I have no idea whether it is coming or going. With books and videos, I check to see I can sell on line and if the price isn’t worth it, it goes out with the thrift store stuff. Boxes of books goes either to the thrift store or the library sale depending on where I end up first. I was thrilled when my older son asked if I had any extra kitchen stuff and I was able to unload a big trash bag full of Tupperware, food processor, etc. onto him. He is very into cooking at this point and my cooking is slowing down so what I need now is much different than when I was cooking for a big family. Hopefully he will help clear out some more next time he is home.

    I have learned it is much easier to have a clean looking house if there is no clutter. Clutter looks dirty even if it isn’t.
    Rarely is anything thrown out unless it is useless/unrepairable.


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