8 painless ways to pare down

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I recently moved out of a fifth-floor walk-up apartment. Moving a dozen and a half boxes down five flights of stairs caused me to ponder the question: “Do I really need all of this stuff?” And it spurred me to pare down my belongings in anticipation of future moves. I have NO plans to live in a fifth-floor walk-up ever again, but I do know that I will be making more moves in my lifetime.

Many of us are aware of popular decluttering tips such as getting rid of clothes that no longer fit, and donating toys and books your child has outgrown to local charities. Below are eight more ways to whittle down your belongings.

1. Take your photos out of albums and scan them or put them in photo boxes.

I had nearly a dozen boxes of photo albums stored in a bedroom closet at my Mom’s house. One of my first tasks on my mission to scale down my stuff was to remove the photos from the albums and store them in photo boxes. The result? I went from 12 boxes of photos to two boxes. An added bonus: I was able to go through all of the photos and get rid of ones that no longer held meaning or that were so awful they would be blackmail worthy.

2. Go through your keepsake box.

I had about six to eight boxes full of keepsakes ranging from a tablecloth my aunt made me to school art projects. Going through the boxes provided me a trip down memory lane, and, similar to the photos, it also allowed me to reconsider what items were still important and to let the rest go. For example, my favorite baby doll—so well loved when I was a child, her dress is now stained and she no longer “sings” when you pull the attached chord—stayed. Report cards from elementary school that said, “Elena is a lovely girl who tries her best but she could use help with her arithmetic”? Those could go.

3. Find a new way to store sentimental stuff.

Having trouble letting go of an item or a group of items—your children’s artwork, greeting cards from loved ones, travel keepsakes that remind you of the great trips you took?  Scan or take photos of the items and store them digitally. Or, find a more space-friendly way to store them such as putting the special artwork and cards in plastic sleeves and storing them in a binder.  Just try to be judicious with what you deem “must-haves,” and capture the rest via scan or photo.

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4. Keep the prize; get rid of the junk.

I used to take our dog Samson to a local pet store to get his picture taken with Santa every year. The pictures were put into cute but cheap plastic frames emblazoned with the store’s logo. To save space, I discarded the frames but kept the photos—major space saver. Take a look around.  Can you get rid of the “casing” of an item?  For example, do you really need to keep the shoeboxes your shoes came in?

5. Don’t forget the pets.

People love to pamper pets—even other people’s pets! In the corner of my home office I have a pile of unused toys that my cat, Angel, has never touched. For one, she has a lot of other toys, and, similar to a child who has a lot of fancy toys but much prefers banging pots and pans around, Angel’s favorite “toy” is some heavy-duty plastic strapping that came from a delivery box. My point? Just as you go through and donate your child’s unused and outgrown toys, do the same for your pet.

6. Enlist the help of a professional organizer.

There are people who are pros at helping you pare down. Your first thought might be, “I don’t need to pay someone to go through my junk!” (After all, you are a faithful Clark Howard follower.) However, it might be worth shelling out a little bit of dough to help with the task. There are organizers who specialize in helping you with moving and estate sales, organizers to transfer your hard-copy photos to an online database, organizers who work with people with ADHD . . . the list goes on. Money well spent, I say! Check out the National Association of Professional Organizers to find a reputable professional organizer in your area.

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7. Buy a book.

If you would rather do it yourself, there are books to help guide you. One book that has come highly recommended by a couple of folks is The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, whose “KonMari Method” instructs readers to become introspective about each item they are deciding whether to keep. In a nutshell: If the item no longer “sparks joy,” let it go.

8. Let go of a timeframe for getting it done.

Except for some glaring examples—you’re clearing out an estate or you’re moving—there are no hard deadlines for decluttering your home. Take the burden off yourself and remember this. Chunk down large tasks, set aside 15 minutes a few times a week or one Saturday a month, you get the idea. It doesn’t have to get done all at once. In fact, trying to do it all at once may overwhelm you and you may abandon the project, stuffing everything back into a box, drawer or closet. And if that happens, just hope you don’t have to move into or out of a fifth-floor walk-up apartment.

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