Cleaning out closets…and keeping life clutter-free

Interior design by Kanani Mahelona

Well, it’s that time of year – time to regroup, refresh, reevaluate, reprioritize. A big job, yes; but it’s easy to start those wheels in motion through the simple act of cleaning out closets, which will lead to cleaning out cabinets, which will lead to the desired action of taking stock of what you own, what you need, what is meaningful…and what is not.  It’s not an easy process to jumpstart; but once the process is in motion, look out!! The process became much easier for me when I moved to New York City. With cracker-box-sized apartments the norm around here, there is just no other way around learning to keep your space (and life) clutter-free. Otherwise, holding on to an otherwise normal amount of possessions just becomes hoarder-like. I have learned over the years to take stock of what I own and reduce on a regular basis…not just yearly, but every couple of months or so. It’s a good thing – it makes it seem like we live in a “new” apartment every few months or so. The constant editing keeps the things I surround myself interesting and filled with meaning – objects that have a story of an exotic locale I visited or an interesting person who gifted them, or spark conversation with visiting guests – rather than just pretty, catalogue purchases that go in and out of fashion. Here are my top ten personal “rules” for keeping my surroundings and my life clear, open, refreshing and vibrant:

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Rule #1: “Do I like it or LOVE it?” If I like it, it goes…I only keep things I love. (This works for relationships, too!)

Rule #2: Have I worn this garment or used this item in the last year? If not, it goes…but if I really LOVE it, then do I REALLY see myself wearing it or using it this year? If so, I keep it; if not, it goes….once something has not been worn or used for 2 years, it’s obviously served no purpose in my life.

Rule #3: Is there someone or some organization that can make much better use of this item than I can, who would be so honored and happy to have it? If so, then it goes to them. The spirit of “lovingly giving something away” can be so freeing from the guilt of “getting rid” of something. I regularly make donations to my local Housing Works thrift store (which supports HIV- and AIDS-related research and support services), Goodwill Store and area schools. (And don’t forget to get a receipt to claim the monetary value of your donations as deductions on your tax return!)

Interior design by Kanani Mahelona

Rule #4: Plants: It’s always a guilt-ridden task getting rid of something that’s alive. I always remind myself that the reason I buy plants for the home is for DECORATION – not to save the planet, not to add extra oxygen to my living room, not because it’s some endangered species that needs to be propagated. No – for me, it’s just décor. So, if it isn’t pretty – if there are only 3, yellowed leaves left barely hanging on, if I’ve tried to water and fertilize and care for it and it’s still brown, wilted and pathetic – out it goes. There is a famous gardener’s quote that says, “My garden is not an infirmary for diseased and dying plants.” That’s me; that’s my apartment. Out it goes, to someone who has the time and energy, correct amount of light and, yes, the GREEN THUMB, to make it grow and bloom. I’m fortunate to have a community garden next door that lovingly rescued a fern and a succulent that were struggling in my new apartment. I now get to walk past the garden and see them flourishing, as they deserve to be doing!

Interior design by Kanani Mahelona

Rule #5: Craft/art/building materials: These are difficult to get rid of for us creative types because we always assume we can use them one day. If they haven’t inspired me to use them in a year, out they go – their beauty and usefulness is being wasted by my laziness and procrastination in doing something with them, in releasing their potential fabulousness! Chances are, there is someone who is much more talented and deserving of these materials than I am – someone who will be inspired and energized by them. (Besides, if at the end of a year, I haven’t used those tubes of paint, yards of fabric or skeins of yarn, I can do a quick, impromptu painting, sew up a pillow cover or knit a quick scarf – and get to keep them another year without breaking my ruthless 1-year rule! Sneaky!)

Interior design by Kanani Mahelona

Rule #6: I’m a real sentimentalist; and objects that have sentimental value are the hardest to let go. I’ve had to learn that I can maintain the good memories of someone or some event in my life without having the physical objects associated with them lying around and literally zapping my life energy. I know that that special person whose memory I want to honor wouldn’t want their mementos to be the source of a heavy, immobilizing sense of obligation for me. And letting go of the objects eases, somewhat, the “letting go” of the person. I can remember the “having” of that person in my  life and smile, rather than feel my chest and stomach clench with the memory of loss.

Rule #7: If it’s really, really worth being a part of my life, it should be used, worn, or displayed prominently and proudly in my space – not banished like a prisoner to some dark box, closet or (God forbid!) rental storage unit. All things, living and inanimate, have a purpose and should be allowed to fulfill that purpose and shine – not be shut out and wasted in darkness and uselessness. They should be able to tell their fascinating stories, sing their beautiful music.

Interior design by Kanani Mahelona

Rule #8: (Well, this one is more of an unseen benefit than a rule.)  The end of a day of cleaning out my clutter (and my life) is like emptying a large jug – the temporary feeling of guilt, loss and need is gone, providing a clean, open space for feelings of contentment, clarity and giving to flow back in, freely, like cool, fresh water.

Rule #9: Sometimes, you don’t always have to get rid of stuff – you can just get much, much better at organizing it. Learning to organize what you keep is just as important as learning to get rid of what you don’t need. The thing about organized living is, however, if you don’t know exactly where everything is, it’s not really organization. Time to rethink the “organization” escape hatch and go with rules 1-8, above.

Rule #10: One in; one out. This is probably the most important of the rules. Once you have done the difficult work above, the key is to maintain that level of clarity and simplicity in regards to your possessions. I employ the (often challenging, I admit) “one in; one out” rule. This rule dictates that for every object I bring into the apartment, one similar object has to go. If I buy a new shirt, an old shirt has to go. A new pair of shoes or a gorgeous flower vase? Out with the old ones! This is the ONLY way to sustain; no way around it. I promise – this one does get easier the more you adhere to it. But honestly, the most beneficial of the top ten rules, for sure.

Happy editing! Happy organizing! Happy New Year!!!

Interior design by Kanani Mahelona

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2 responses to “Cleaning out closets…and keeping life clutter-free

  1. Thank you for this list!  especially #6, through the last ten to fifteen years I’ve lost my Mother, a sister and brother and my husband.  Its what life is, and I’ve held onto boxes and things because they are memories and the guilt of throwing away is more than I can bear.  But if I don’t do it then my kids will have to and thats not right.  So….with a deep breath I am going to dive into these totes and tubs of stuff.  Donate to the various entitys here and around San Antonio. Clothes, oy!  I’m heard of a trick that I will try for the sorting.  You put a paper tag, on each hanger of clothes that you are not sure of, then when you wear it you can take the tab off.  The hangers with tabs at the end of say 3 months or 6 or whatever they are donated.  I have business suits I havent worn in years.  My idea of dressing up now days is ironing my jeans 🙂 Again, Thank you for this list.  I plan on printing it and sticking it to my fridge…. I forgot to mention the 200 lbs of photos…hahaha…since I have four kids will sort them at night while watching TV into four tubs…and then if really energized I may even put in albums (probably not, hahaha) You are so right about the guilt and the freeing up of the air around you! Almost forgot, one item that I have of Harveys is a Raccoon coat made special for him by a furrier friend in Winnipeg Manitoba in the early 70’s.  I’ve looked a little on the internet and prices are all over the place.  Do you know or have an idea on how I could sell it?  It weighs at least 30+lbs.  Car coat length.  Its not been worn since we lived in Fargo ND! Happy New Year! 

    Sincerely, Bernadette Lipkin

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  2. Oh, boy, you’d have a field day in my house. Boxes in the basement not opened since I moved into my home 15 years ago. Two bedrooms that have now become dumping grounds for stuff I don’t know what else to do with. Come visit and have at it, my friend! (I live a block from each of two hospitals for the apoplexy you would probably experience!) Love this list, I still have it hanging on my bulletin board for the day I have time, energy, nothing else to do, etc. Procrastination? Yes, sir!

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