A decluttering diary

From staff reportsJune 26, 2014 

Stacy Chandler kept a daily log of her progress in her 30 Bags in 30 Days decluttering project. Here are some excerpts.

Day 1

I decided to start out with my home-office bookcase, which was filled with easy targets: old textbooks, gift books I never read, coffee-table books that didn’t fit on the coffee table, etc. The first bag filled up fast, but then I got to my old travel guidebooks. Many were more than a decade old. But when I grabbed my Fodor’s guide to Prague, a bunch of mementos from my 1997 trip rained out. Train ticket stubs, classical music concert fliers, a business card from a bar – could I really part with those? After a memory-filled moment or two, I decided I could. The memories were in my brain, not in those scraps of paper. Once I reminded myself of that, I was good.

Day 8

Sometime soon after college, I bought I file cabinet, because that seemed like a thing that grownups do. It gave me a place to stash paid utility bills, bank statements, rental agreements, product manuals and other documents. Problem is, I never took any of that stuff out. In just a few minutes of sorting through it, I generated a mountain of paper that made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. Why, why, why did I keep bank statements from an account I closed in 2002? Did I really need every power bill from the apartment I lived in five moves ago? And I didn’t even have the thing that corresponded to a lot of the manuals anymore.

I kept a lot of that out of pure laziness, sure – or just forgetting to go through and cull stuff once in a while. But some stuff lived in there because I was afraid to throw it out. Aren’t you supposed to keep financial documents in case you get audited? Or … something? A quick Google search turned up a handy guide from the feds ( http://tinyurl.com/cggydkp) on what to keep and what can go, and that empowered me to shred without fear. I did have one problem, though: All that paper burned out my shredder!

Day 10

I love magazines. But I never have time to read them. My house had accumulated several embarrassingly tall stacks of New Yorkers, Wireds, and others I was just never going to get around to. A hundred times I’d decided to get rid of those stacks, but I was always paralyzed by good intentions. Sure, I could just recycle them. But maybe the library would want them! Or a nursing home? The hospital? I never made good on my resolutions to look into that, so I decided this was the day for action instead. I gathered the stack and dumped all of them in the recycling bin. I’d still like to find some better new home for my magazines the next time they stack up, but sometimes, I’ve learned from this focus on decluttering, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to get it done.

Day 12

There’s a bright red Macy’s paper shopping bag that’s lived in my bedroom for at least a year. It’s the result of decluttering without a plan. I started it last summer when I came across some shirts that no longer fit me. I folded them neatly and stuck them in the bag, which was only about halfway filled. “I’ll go through my sweaters this weekend,” I remember thinking, “so I fill up the bag.” I did eventually fill up the bag, and I even started a new one. But I never got around to taking those bags anyplace to get rid of them. They blended into the background (clutter has a way of enabling that) and became something to step over. When I finally did take them to Cause for Paws’ thrift store, along with a bunch of other bags this project generated, I was ashamed of myself. Was that really so hard? Couldn’t I have done that a year ago? Sure, I could have, if only I’d made a plan to do it, which is the crucial step I missed.

Day 26

My bedside table has all these nooks and crannies that are great for storing a bunch of stuff in a compact space. Except I forgot about half the nooks and crannies, so there were some surprises when I pulled everything out. Apparently this is where I stashed all my most emotion-laden stuff. I found journals I’d kept in my early 20s, greeting cards from relatives who have passed away, and stationery I’d bought as a kid with the express purpose of writing to my grandmother, who died when I was in high school. I hated that I had any of that stationery left. The journals and greeting cards (there were only a few) I kept, but the stationery (both the set intended for my grandmother and much more I’d accumulated as a kid) got tossed. All had some sentimental value, but that value isn’t in the stuff itself. It was hard to see it go in the trash, but days later, when I found all the memories were still very much intact, I let go of any regret.

Day 30

The last day of my decluttering project – at least the first phase, for generating 30 bags – fell on a Saturday. After a quick afternoon nap, I awoke and couldn’t find my husband anywhere in the house. Seems he’d been inspired by my recent work in our garage and decided to do some cleaning out of his own. I found him standing outside, by the garbage and recycling cans, dumping huge piles of papers he’d amassed early in his teaching career. “This feels amazing,” he said. In turn, I was inspired to get the garage, which we’d sort of half-decluttered, all the way done. So it turned into an afternoon of work that yielded way more than one bag. It was like the big finale at the end of the fireworks show. For all that effort (which was fun because we worked together), we had piles of stuff destined for donation or the dump and a garage that was roomier, much more functional and even not too bad to look at. It was a great way to cap off the month of decluttering – and to inspire more to come.

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