There is a genetic defect in The Wealthy Accountant’s family. It is so serious it threatens to overrun everything we value, costing us money and health. No one doubts grandpa accountant possessed the genetic mutation back in the farming days. Dad accountant followed in grandpa’s footsteps and a brief look around my home will erase any question in your mind the acorn does not fall far from the tree.
When I was a wee tyke my grandfather had a special job for us on rainy days. Rather than take a day off he sent us kids to the old shed where all the nails and screws from assorted jobs were thrown into a wooden bin. Our job was to separate them. Lest you think I am pulling your leg I have a sworn affidavit in my drawer, god forbid I would throw that away.
Nothing was wasted on the farm. The Great Depression left an indelible mark on my grandparents as they saved everything “just in case”. When we talk frugal today we have nothing on my granddad. Nothing. We worked hard for the sake of working. The fear in the back of our minds was the hardship of the Great Depression would return. It did in 1982, the year I graduated from high school. The late 1970s put the family farm in debt and the inflation and interest rates of the early 1980s ended several generations of farming.
I live in a county with a current population under 50,000. I live more toward the center of the county. If you exclude the heavy population in the northwest corner, the county is very rural. I grew up in one of the ruralist (is that a word) parts of the state. We never spent money on anything unless absolutely necessary. The milkman would deliver dairy products when he picked up our milk. Grocery shopping was a major event. I was a senior in high school when I left the county for the first time. My uncle did not leave the state until he was in his 40s and it was to cross the Illinois border by ten miles to pick up his oldest daughter when her car broke down. He left the state one other time in his life for his honeymoon several years later (he enjoyed a cruise).
The Diagnosed Sickness
The genetic disease I speak of is clutter. My grandfather’s house took months to empty after he died. It boggles the mind the material a guy can collect over 90 years when nothing gets tossed. Of course, most of the garbage, I mean belongings, ended up in a dumpster. One of the items we struggled to part with was a vintage home-made jar of thistle wine from 1976. It was a good year for thistles.
When do we finally say enough is enough? My grandparents ran from a monster that never existed. Some things need to be discarded. Quality of life was sacrificed to satiate the demons. I am better than most in my family but the photos in this post attest to a few minor issues I need to deal with.
The first step is admitting you have a problem. Progress has been made over the last few years. There are tricks to reducing clutter in your life without the emotional response of parting with a loved one. (Okay, it’s junk. Junk! You bought it for twenty-five cents at a rummage sale fourteen years ago and it has been collecting dust for all those fourteen years. Junk.)
If you read this far you are all for decluttering your life and living a more minimalist lifestyle. I have seen all the different internet challenges to create a minimalist lifestyle. They don’t work for people who need an intervention. Taking a 100 item challenge (get rid of everything except for 100 things) is meaningless when you have 42,611 pieces of crap lying around the place. I have a farm. Do you know how much the local landfill would expand if I tossed all but 100 items in my life? Geesh!
Steps to Declutter Your Life and Take Back Control
Clutter destroys quality of life. Taking control of your life requires downsizing. If you have a storage unit to hold all the stuff you can’t fit in your home/apartment there is a great place to start downsizing and saving money. There are few reasons to have stuff in a storage unit. If it does not fit in your home then maybe you should have keep your money in your wallet.
Here are some ways I have reduced the stuff cluttering the house or office:
- For every item brought in the house one has to go. It’s a simple theory until you realize you need to choose something in your arsenal to sell/donate/junk if you want a new item. Want to make it a bigger challenge? If a family member brings in something and refuses to choose what goes, you choose one of your things. A month or two of that and you begin to realize you have the ability to preach.
- Start with one room and put everything in that room in boxes, you know, the boxes you can never throw away. Anytime you need something from the boxes feel free to take that item out. Stuff you did not use after a month goes to Goodwill. You might even get a deduction. Tell’em the Wealthy Accountant sent ya.
- Get honest. I love my books and as frugal as I am I have way too many books I could have borrowed from the library the one time I wanted to read them. Movies are worse. A decade or so ago I got the crazy idea I would buy movies since I did not waste money on cable. It did not take long to build a pile of shit, I mean movies. One day I got serious and donated over half to the library. (I can always check them out if I want to see them again. So far, never had the itch to check out one of my donated movies. Go figure.) It is time to get rid of half the remaining half this year. I call it ‘The Garbage Bag Declutter’. Get a garbage bag and fill it with stuff for Goodwill. You know who to them sent you. Right?
- Books are a different story. I have parted with few of my children, ah, books. Well they treat me better than my kids! Okay, I jest. But bibliophile knows exactly how I feel. Some day, when I am strong, I will part with two, maybe three of my cherished books. I may not post for a while as I go through the stages of grief, but no one can say I don’t walk the talk.
- Act like you are moving. Want to make decluttering easy? Simple. Act like you have to pay to move all your sh . . . junk by the pound. You will figure out real quick how important that rummage sale bargain beanbag chair is. I know. It was a good idea at the time.
- Paper party. One of the worst offenders of clutter is paper: newspapers, mail, letters, magazines, et cetera. Take time to sort the piles of paper. Tax documents should be saved in a filing cabinet and disposed of after the statuette of limitations runs out. Be sure to keep important paperwork like the deed to your properties. And the marriage license. Don’t throw that out. Yikes! Mrs. Accountant would have my neck if I tossed that. Paperwork that seemed important six months ago might be candidates for recycling or shredding. Old magazines have to go.
- Don’t forget the basement, attic, side rooms, and closets. If you have a big mess, start with one room at a time, tackling one per week, or one per month if you need more time to recover from the shock of the previous room. Yeah, you might find some moldy stuff back there. Good thing you finally cleaned that corner out after a decade.
- Don’t let people dump stuff on you. A portion of my clutter comes from well-intentioned people giving me something they thought I needed and now I feel obligated to keep. Christmas is a no-gift zone in my house. No Christmas tree either. We have a plant we call Fronds we decorate with whatever we can find. It looks strange, but then again look who is giving the advice.
- Set a date/have a plan. Packrats with genetic issues have a hard time starting the decluttering process. I find setting a date to free a room from bondage works for me. Trick yourself into doing it. The clean, decluttered, minimalist room is the one you will spend most time in afterwards because there is room to move.
- Don’t forget the bathroom either. Clean out all old medications and first-aid supplies. Bandages from 1974 might need a refresh. Brill cream after fifteen or so years is nasty.
- Uncluttered/minimalism is sexy. A room is inviting and alive when there are few items in it. Act like Steve Jobs. He never found the perfect furniture so he never bought any; he sat on the floor. Put off until tomorrow what you want to add to a room today. Most of the time on second thought you will take a pass.
- Don’t stop now! Your computer looks like a hurricane went through it. Pack stuff away in folders. Your computer desktop should be neat and clean with a slant toward efficiency.
- Personal life. Your cluttered personal life needs some cleaning too. All the demands and commitments are making a mess of your time. You only get so much of that time stuff so you better be careful or you will run out before you learn to enjoy life. Declutter your social life and you will appreciate what you have more.
- Learn the meaning of enough. I get offered stuff all the time. I say no a lot. It takes a while to learn how to say no without hurting feelings, but it is a valuable skill once learned. Many times my decision to pass on a beer or other stuff allows the other person to say no too. It empowers you and them!
I dream of living a minimalist lifestyle. Three seconds in my home, office, or barn and you will know I am nowhere near completing that goal. Reaching the perfect decluttered, minimalist life is not the goal; it is all about the journey. Freeing yourself from clutter a bit at a time extends the great feeling of freedom when you realize you have less stuff to take care of or worse, protect.
I gotta get going. The garage needs some work.
The Joy of Minimalism | The Wealthy Accountant
Saturday 26th of January 2019
[…] few days ago I enlightened you with my deluttering manifesto. As you know I am far from living the minimalist lifestyle. What you don’t know is I do have a […]
Monday 15th of August 2016
Decluttering is exhausting, but well worth it. We recently moved to a different state and I did not want to take my clutter with me. I got rid of some much stuff. I felt like the moving load was so much lighter. And I didn't have nearly as much to unpack and put up when we got to our new house!
Penny Plain Fit
Monday 15th of August 2016
I'm currently in the declutter phase on the way to minimalism and I have days when I consider just throwing everything out and be done with it. I'm struggling to find places where I can recycle CDs, I struggle to find places that want my crap, I struggle to see that light at the end of the tunnel. I hope I won't have to do this ever again and I'll have to warn my mom to start doing the same cause I won't lose another month of my life dealing with her 3!!! houses when she's gone. I'm documenting my progress on the blog by the way :) http://www.pennyplainfit.co.uk/ xx Andreea
Monday 15th of August 2016
I'll watch your progress, Andreea. I agree with dealing with clutter when people are alive. My grandfather had a massive mess to work through when he passed. Stuff that can't find a home unfortunately goes to the landfill and then new stuff is not purchased refilling the space.
Monday 15th of August 2016
Loved, loved this article. I am an organizer and the first step you mentioned, is the hardest. Getting someone to admit they have a problem. Most people feel they are not cluttered but being thrifty by not throwing anything away. I laughed throughout this article too. You're funny. :)
Sunday 14th of August 2016
Right there with ya. My personal style is "messy piles". I can tell you where exactly everything is, but it looks like a bomb went off on my kitchen table. Fortunately I'm learning how to say no now when I'm 25 rather than later in life after i accumulated crap. But I do have boxes of stuff from my parent's house I can't bear to part with... I earned that softball trophy fair and square when I was 8!!
Sunday 14th of August 2016
Small steps, Gwen. Small steps.