Best of the Forum: Too Much Stuff


We have way too much stuff. We are about to start a remodel, and we need to clear things out. I don’t want to pay for storage as most of our stuff is not valuable. However, it is still good and useful. I’ve been using Freecycle and Craigslist to slowly part with some stuff, but I need to make progress much faster. I’ve considered hiring a professional organizer but that seems to just be adding to the expense of the whole project. Intellectually I know what needs to go — it is just a matter of forcing myself to do it. If friends or family need something, it is easy to give it to them with no strings attached, and I feel great. But I don’t like dumping stuff at Goodwill.

Also, I am a little sentimental. I want the old dishes from my grandmother even though we don’t use them. In a perfect world, I would sort through the old boxes of photos, scan them, and organize them, but with young children I don’t think I will have time to tackle a project like that for many years. I would appreciate simple strategies to purge kids toys, books, gardening supplies, etc. 


  • My strategy has been to gift as much as possible and then call Salvation Army and have them haul the rest away. I try to do this once a season. I try to be ruthless about it, but I, too, am sentimental about stuff. I try to convince myself that anything that I miss too terribly I can always buy again.
  • It sounds like you have too little time to “purge” before the remodel given the constraints you’ve put on yourself. How about changing the constraints? (1) Decide Goodwill is OK after all and take three carloads there tomorrow. (2) Decide two months of renting storage is OK and spend time every weekend sorting through until you can empty the rental (for instance a PODS rental in your driveway that is easy to reach). (3) Push back your remodel for two months to get more time to “purge.”
  • My advice is you need to have a friend sit with you while you get rid of things in order to provide you with emotional support. Clearly that is what you need since you are posting to the PAMP group on this topic. It’s kind of like going clothes shopping with your girlfriends; you need their “okay” on certain purchases to go through with it. Also, I am curious why you don’t want to give stuff to Goodwill. They will find someone to love your things just as much, if not more, than you did. If Goodwill is too impersonal to you, try donating to an organization that has some personal meaning to you. There are other nonprofits that accept donations that have more defined causes. BTW, once the stuff you are “on the fence” about getting rid of is gone, you will never miss it. Trust me. You can test this theory by thinking back to things that you found unexpectedly hidden behind a bed, etc.: You were happy to find the item, but did you seriously think about it one week after it was misplaced? We moved here in January and had to get rid of a lot of stuff. I only kept the stuff that I loved. Also, I created a “maybe” pile, which I stored for about a week and then went through again. It really helps. As for clothes, if you haven’t worn it in 16 months, get rid of it. Same goes for kitchen items.
  • I saw your post and related to it completely. I still haven’t mastered the situation, but hiring pros really did help me a lot. It is very helpful to have a neutral third party around to look at the stuff, sentimental or otherwise, and it prompts you to be a little more clear-eyed about whether you need something or not.
  • I splurged on a professional organizer for Father’s Day (I’d been nagging my husband for months to clean out the garage and finally took matters into my own hands). It was pricey ($45/hr), but oh, it was worth it! Just to be able to walk into my garage and feel that things were not all bunched up and I could locate things.
  • If you are in contact with anyone who is in need, I find that by giving things that are hard to part with to someone who really needs something, I feel a lot better. We have given countless things to our cleaner. He really seems to want things and probably distributes them to his family. I find it’s better to just give something away then to try and figure out where to keep or store it.
  • It’s All Too Much by Peter Walsh, who was on a TLC show called Clean Sweep and is often on Oprah, has some good pointers about the sentimental stuff (e.g., I had things like travel guidebooks from previous world travels, and he points out that these are not really the trip and are not even the memory of the trip). He would say that if you really liked your grandmother’s china you would use it and that this is not a memory of your grandmother. He really gets into all the boxes of “memories.” The other strategy that is helping me get rid of some stuff is the basic one: When was the last time you used that? For clothes they recommend you put stuff on hangers hanging backwards and then when you wear it you flip the hanger around. If stuff is left backward for a certain amount of time you, freecycle/donate, etc. Also for the clothes that don’t fit until you lose 15 lbs: When you lose the 15 lbs you will not want those outdated clothes. Lastly, there is a class called “chaos control” through PA adult ed taught by professional organizer Christine Palen. It is just one evening, and sometimes going to something like that is a motivating, at least for a couple of weeks.
  • First I hired an organizer to help me PRIORITIZE since I felt overwhelmed with too many things and not knowing where to start. That was enormously helpful. Then she helped me get started so I could make sure I had a system in place. Then once I knew what had to be done and how to do it, I hired my babysitter to come when my kids were not home (send them off with Dad or hire a second sitter). A while back one mom suggested this idea: Find a friend with whom you could be “partners,” and trade a couple hours with each other to help each other (send the kids on a playdate with sitters)! I love this idea!


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