By Jane Dennis / Photos by Ebony Blevins and Courtesy of About Space Organizing
Life is rarely neat, orderly and simple. More often, life is messy and comes with an accumulation of “stuff.”
Look around your home. What do you see? Books, artwork, photographs, papers, dishes, clothes, jewelry, furniture, electronics … A unique collection of things that reflect you. It’s not unusual to wonder what can be done today to lighten the load of our accumulations and keep it from being a burden for loved ones tomorrow. Anyone who has been faced with a house chocked full of a lifetime of things after the deaths of parents knows this feeling.
Organizational experts say you are better off — and everyone is ultimately happier — when you proactively deal with your possessions yourself, rather than allowing decisions to be made by others after you’re gone..
First, let’s look at why we have so much stuff.
“We hold on to items and collections of things that we don’t need out of fear … Fear of forgetting the past or fear of not having ‘enough’ in the future,” says central Arkansas professional organizer Megan Ludvinsky. “People tend to attach memories and emotions to items. They are afraid that if they discard these items, they will then lose the connected memory.”
Ludvinsky, founder of About Space Organizing, encourages people to not keep items solely as remembrance triggers. “We can all keep our experiences and memories with us without necessarily holding on to the physical souvenirs of the event,” she says.
Then there’s the fear of scarcity in the future — the age-old “but I might need this one day.” This phenomenon is especially prevalent among Great Depression-era individuals who lived through a time period where many items were difficult to come by, so they kept unnecessary items out of a then-rational fear of not being able to attain them in the future.
“But we are now living in a time where stuff is incredibly easy to procure,” Ludvinsky adds. “Yet, many of us have not abandoned our scarcity outlook. Ironically, what is scarce now is not stuff but space. If we shift our scarcity thinking to that of ‘I need to have more space rather than more stuff,’ then the result is that you only keep items you absolutely love or that are useful to you. I try to get people to remove both past and future fears so they can more easily live in the space of the less cluttered present and enjoy people and experiences over stuff.”
A popular recurring mantra is “your children don’t want your stuff.” But that’s not always the case, says Dani Martin, owner of the Cotton Shed Vintage Market in Bryant.
“Don’t assume that your children or grandchildren don’t want anything just because they’re of a certain generation. While they may not want your dining room table that seats 12 people, they may love having a vase or your sterling silver set,” Martin says. “Or, they may not want it now, but in a few years when they’ve started a family of their own, they might want everything you’ll give them.”
There’s nothing wrong with gifting items to friends or family members during your lifetime, or even tagging items with the name of whom you wish to receive it one day.
Still, take stock of family keepsakes and prepare for a reality check. Items may not always be as valuable as touted in family lore.
Martin frequently hears from people overloaded with accumulations belonging to parents, grandparents or other relatives, who come to her market trying to sell the items. “I think the hardest thing for many people is to accept that their possessions may not be as valuable to other people as they think. I’ve had to break that disappointing news often, and it’s so hard to see their reactions.”
Martin recommends forgoing searching eBay or other sources for clues of what items are “worth” and realizing that worth will be determined by buyers, and those buyers don’t have any emotional attachment to your items.
“It can be painful, but I think it’s critical to reflect on all the great memories you have of or with those items and acknowledge that selling them in no way diminishes those memories,” Martin observes.
Ludvinsky advocates being a ruthless editor of what comes into our spaces and into our lives. This applies to everything from grandmother’s china to negative thinking and bad influences.
“Start decluttering anything that no longer serves you or might become a burden to someone when you’ve moved on,” she advises. “We all need to start having honest and sensitive conversations with our children and with our aging loved ones about what items should be passed down and which should be discarded, donated or gifted.”
Ludvinsky has made a career out of helping people pare down and organize the accumulated stuff of life. Her goal with clients is to get them to think about their stuff differently, and rather than offering advice she prefers to ask simple, nonjudgmental questions, like:
• Tell me about this vintage fur coat?
• How long have you had it?
• Do you love it?
• When was the last time you wore it?
• Is there a reason you have three?
• Is it replaceable?
• If you no longer had it in your possession, would you buy another full-priced in the store?
• How do you feel when you wear it?
She finds it really helps people to speak about their stuff with someone who doesn’t know them very well, so any insinuation (either real or imagined) that would have come out when working with a family member doesn’t factor into their decision-making.
“Questioning allows clients to really hear their own rationale as to why they are holding on to things they may not need, and sometimes it just takes saying it out loud to discover that they no longer need the item at all,” she says.
Ludvinsky also suggests that all adult children and anyone over the age of 60 read The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson. Magnusson wrote this surprise international best seller in response to her own experience cleaning out her parents’ home after their passing. The main message of the book is: Take responsibility for your items and don’t leave them as a burden for family and friends.
With thoughtful and honest examination, a lifetime of memories can be cherished and maintained without clinging to stuff.
Give Your Christmas Trees to Nature
Instead of leaving your holiday tree by the street this year, donate it to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. The agency uses tree donations to enrich the fishing habitats of our many lakes.
For more information and drop-off locations, visit agfc.com.
Professional organizer Megan Ludvinsky recommends these steps for organizing spaces:
1. Empty your space (start small if you are overwhelmed).
2. When decluttering items, filter into keep, toss, or donate piles.
3. Find a “home” for all of the keep pile. (Frequently used items should be easier to access; lesser-used items should be stored out of the way.)
4. Practice returning items to their homes after you use them.
5. Store like items with like items in homes.