Home Guru

The Joy of Letting Go of Possessions, and Other Tips on Clutter

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By Bill Primavera

This past Sunday in The New York Times was an article entitled “Clutter is Good for You,” which I suppose illustrates that an argument can be made in favor of anything you can imagine. 

The case for clutter here is that the things we hang on to help to identify who we are. But do we want to identify ourselves as a mishmash of material possessions that may or may not reflect the best of who we are?

As a realtor, I feel – and I think most of my colleagues would agree – that clutter is a dirty word, especially when it comes time to sell a house.

I find that one of the more difficult subjects to discuss with a listing client is clutter – or rather decluttering.

Outside of my real estate business, I have only occasionally dipped into the world of decluttering because I have relied on my wife Margaret, a neatnik and a supremely organized person, to keep our home in order.

Still, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t lend assistance to her, or at least learn how to not get in the way. Over the years, some of the advice to the organizationally challenged has changed, and some has reappeared in a new form many times over.

In the 1980s, cleaning expert Don Aslett published “Clutter’s Last Stand,” one of the most popular of his many titles. His claim to fame was to communicate the techniques and tools of a professional cleaner to the average homemaker so that we can clean faster and more economically. His advice on clutter is to toss it, and his book is filled with inspiration on overcoming the internal resistance to doing so.

In the ‘90s, organization expert Julie Morgenstern took a gentler approach in her book “Organizing From the Inside Out.” Much of the advice is the same, but she advises that once the clutter-clearing dust has settled, you examine your own life and interests when deciding where the possessions should go.

Starting as a web forum participant in the early 2000s, Marla Cilley grew an immense and loyal internet following through her system of changing habits via “baby steps,” cleaning by zones a little bit each day and lovingly accepting one’s own organizational imperfections. To her, “clutter cannot be organized,” and she places great importance on tackling a small bit each day.

A later organizing guru is Marie Kondo, whose 2014 book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,” was a world-wide bestseller. Her next book, “Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up,” was equally successful.

If you take only a superficial glance at her KonMari Method, it seems to be about folding and arranging clothing and other items into mesmerizingly neat and tiny arrangements. She is featured in many hypnotic YouTube videos demonstrating this aspect of her method, and you will probably learn a tidier way to fold shirts from her, if nothing else.

Her system goes well beyond that, however, ultimately focusing not as much on what to discard, but on choosing what to keep based on how much joy it brings you. It even gets downright mystical. For example, in her second book, to determine whether or not a series of books gives you joy, you may want to arrange them in a stack and hug it to see how it makes you feel! That’s a little far out, even for me, but her passion certainly has had an effect on people.

Among her more pragmatic pieces of advice, she advises the opposite of FlyLady: When decluttering, pick one category, scour your entire home for items in that category and sort through them all at once. Seeing all 12 of the similar shirts, for example, will make it easier to know which are your favorites, and the lift from completing the task will be a reward in itself.

Personally, my wife and I experienced a major jolt of downsizing of possessions when we moved from a six-bedroom antique house to a two-bedroom condominium. I wouldn’t describe any of it as “clutter,” but we definitely had more things than we needed to make us happy. The purchaser of our home really seemed to like all the furnishings and accessories we had collected and asked that we leave anything we no longer wanted with the sale of our home. That was a blessing to us, not having to worry about disposing of things we wanted to let go of. 

Is there anything I miss? A large Chippendale wingback chair that was my refuge in my study for reading and meditation. I miss its comfort and the memories it held.

The recurring thread in all the information I gleaned on the subject seems to be that clutter will not make you happy, and whatever does make you really happy is not clutter. I may not reach my wife’s levels of neatness, but I have certainly felt the pleasant effects of letting go of old things as my life and my interests change.

Bill Primavera is a realtor associated with William Raveis Real Estate and founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc. (www.PrimaveraPR.com) To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076 or e-mail williamjprimavera@gmail.com.

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