Getting Rid of Stuff

This Discardian tip is about letting go of material objects. There are two main reasons for ending up with a bunch of things you don’t really want or need: entropy and guilt.

You know how the entropy ones happen; they just pile up, usually literally. Magazines & newspapers, clothes with missing buttons, mail to read, half-finished projects, obsolete computer parts…

The problem is not that you don’t know how to get rid of these things – you know how trash, recycling and the Goodwill donation box work – it’s making yourself get around to it. Rather than giving yourself a hard time for it, your first Discardian act should be to let go of feeling bad about what you haven’t gotten done by now. You were doing something else; it was a choice; you’re a big kid; it’s okay.

Now that that’s out of the way, I’m not going to tell you to get cracking and clean the house. If you didn’t wanna before you probably don’t wanna now. No, what I’m suggesting is that you take a few small steps to achieve two things: slow down your accumulation of this stuff and make it easier for you to get rid of it in future.

Pick a room in your home (or an area of a room, such as your desk) and look at it with fresh eyes. Don’t pick the area that depresses you most; be nice to yourself and start with something around the middle of your list of annoyances. Now ask yourself some questions about what you see.

Is there a category of stuff that is cluttering up your space and which you want to be rid of?
A common example of this is catalogs. There might be something you want in there – how will you ever know if you don’t read it?! Forget about it. If you need it, you’ll seek it out. If you don’t seek it out, you don’t need it right now. Another good example is old toys that don’t get played with anymore (by you, the kids, the cat, whoever) because they’re broken, old & dirty, or just boring.

Where does this category of stuff come from?
In the case of catalogs, they come in the mail. Some are solicited – the result of you buying from that company or an affiliate of it – and some are just deadtree spam. Old toys come from your own shopping + time; they are digested remnants of past fun.

Where should this category of stuff go?
Catalogs should go into the recycling bin. Old toys that won’t be fun for anyone go in the trash and boring ones can go to A Good Cause (about which more later).

Now you have one or two questions to ask about the category on whose ass you’ve decided to celebrate a little Discardia.

How can you slow the incoming flow of this category of stuff?
In the case of catalogs, the solution involves the telephone. Pick up one of the least interesting looking catalogs, call that 1-800 phone number and tell the operator eagerly awaiting your order that you no longer wish to receive the catalog. Also tell them (and tell anyone you order things from) that you do not want them to sell your name & address to anyone. You don’t have to do all those catalogs at once; just when you have 5 minutes and the energy. For the old toys, the solution might be to buy fewer or buy better ones that will last longer.

How can you make disposal of this category of stuff easier?
For the catalogs, make your recycling process easier. Set up a sack or other receptacle in a convenient spot (ours is in the kitchen) and sort the mail over it; if you never set it down where the piles build up, it can’t contribute to the clutter. For the toys, start a habit of physical motion when your mind moves the item to your “junk” list; when you think “that catnip mouse is a lost cause”, immediately reach down, pick it up and fling it in the trash. The old toys that aren’t really trash – they’re just boring – can be just as easy to deal with. Set up another bag for things to donate to A Good Cause (or sell) and put the rejected items in the bag as soon as you think “I don’t really want that anymore.”

This last point brings us to the other reason for things piling up. Maybe you feel guilty about getting rid of that “perfectly good” toy you don’t like anymore. Stop. It may be perfectly good for someone, but that someone isn’t you. There’s nothing inherently wrong with you getting rid of it. Who are you worried about offending? (As the Ikea ad says “Many of you feel sorry for this lamp. You are crazy. It has no feelings.”)

Guilt is an insidious thing, though, and often not so easily brushed aside. Let’s think about where the guilt comes from. There are four main kinds of guilt which lead you to keep things you no longer want or need. The first of these is that feeling that if you get rid of this object it will mean that you wasted your money. It causes you to behave as if somehow by keeping it around you are improving your chances of compensation for the expense.

How can you avoid the guilt of bad buying decisions?
Think about purchases longer before making them. Also, recognize that you will make some bad decisions.

Chronic remorse, as all the moralists agree, is a most undesirable sentiment. If you have behaved badly, repent, make what amends you can and address yourself to the task of behaving better next time. On no account brood over your wrongdoing. Rolling in the muck is not the best way of getting clean – Aldous Huxley, A Brave New World

More about amends in a moment. The second kind of guilt to consider is gift guilt. Someone gave it to you and either you didn’t like it from the start or you’ve outgrown it (in some sense or another). Tell me this: when you visit the homes of your friends and family do you check to see if your past gifts are in use? And if they aren’t, are you really more likely to be hurt and upset with them than you are to think “Hmm, whoops, guess that wasn’t really the right thing; I’ll try a gift certificate next time”? If the answer to both those questions is yes, consider yourself slapped and cut it out; it isn’t doing you or anyone else any good.

How can you part with unwanted gifts without considering it an insult to the giver?
Give everyone permission not to be able to read your mind and give yourself permission to change. The intent of gift giving is to make someone feel good (and/or to repay a social obligation). Recognize the act and the intent. Perhaps keep the gift around for a courteous amount of time, but on no account lie excessively about how much you like things you don’t – you don’t want to set yourself up for a matching bad gift the next time. Once the necessary niceties have been observed enough to communicate your gratitude for the intent, you should part with unwanted gifts without guilt. Disposing of them may require more discretion than with other things – the yard sale which the giver is likely to attend is a bad method, but the bottom of your Goodwill bag covered by that shirt that doesn’t fit anymore is just dandy. Quietly get rid of it and if the giver asks about it later, say something about your appreciation of the occasion and their thoughtfulness, but that it just didn’t fit with your other things.

Note: there are some gifts into which a great deal of hard work was put. For these, it is probably best to come clean and let the giver have the opportunity to take back their artistic efforts rather than sneakily disposing of it. Bite the bullet and say “I really appreciate your making me something so special. I am impressed by your thoughtfulness. Unfortunately, this painting just doesn’t fit with the rest of my decor/I don’t wear the color of this hand-knit sweater/I’m allergic to taxidermied animals…” Whatever. It might be a rough conversation, but it’s better than the “You gave away my masterpiece to Goodwill?!!!” one.

How do you get better gifts?
Tell people what you want, especially if what you want is nothing. Also, for those whose perception of your tastes is consistently dead wrong (or for everyone if you’re really on a Discardian kick or planning a cross-country move), let them know what you really want is an experience, like dinner or some movie tickets, or, even safer, a donation to one of your favorite charities (Heifer Project is a good one for this; everyone likes a goat for Christmas).

So now we come to gifts from yourself. Souvenirs can be very hard to part with because of the memory they represent. It took me almost 8 years to decide to find a new home for the pair of big rubber squeak rats that were the mascots of my bookstore, Inkspot. Their names are Fido & Hepsibah and they now live with a couple of completely twisted friends who will enjoy the way Hepsibah’s squeak is more delicate and feminine and how Fido can be made to breathe heavily in a sinister fashion rather than emit a squeak.

How do you let go of a souvenir without letting go of the good or at least important time it reminds you of?
This one is actually not as tough as it seems. Memories are actually easier to digitize than you might think. Start a web site (TypePad and Blogger are great for this) and write about why the object matters to you and what it reminds you of (…the 2 teenage girls who shrieked and jumped when I squeaked Fido at them). Take digital photos or scan flat things and put the pictures and the stories up on your web site. My friend Lilly did a great project like this for all her old t-shirts. Or if web publishing isn’t quite your style, just get together some friends and tell your stories as a way of bidding things farewell. Often you’ll find it isn’t the souvenir itself that the story is really about.

The last type of object-related guilt I want you to consider is what I term Dream Duty. This is associated with objects you keep because they represent someone you want (or wanted) to become. If I don’t get rid of this guitar/skateboard/ballroom dress, I will eventually get around to using it proficiently, even though I don’t practice. Folks, ya gotta shit or get off the pot. Start making time to work on that dream or let it go. If you want to fit into those pants again, eat less & exercise or get a pair like them in the size you are now.

How do you decide whether or not to keep the dream & its associated objects in your life?
Rather than trying to decide about a particular object, come at it from the other angle; what are your dreams now? Take some time, give yourself permission to imagine anything, and see where your heart is leading you. The book Wishcraft by Barbara Sher is a great guide to this process. Decide what really matters to you, where you really want to be heading, and then look again at the dream duty objects taking up space in your home. If those things aren’t part of your top goals, get them out of your way. Again, as with souvenirs, acknowledge who you were when you dreamed those dreams and allow yourself to be someone different now. Sometimes you’ll find your dreams have changed, that’s the easier situation to deal with. The hard one is when you still have the dream but it just doesn’t seem realistic. You may still want to be a ballerina, but if you’re about to celebrate your 40th birthday, you may have to figure out what part of that dream held the most appeal and how you can get that without having to trade yourself in for a body 20 years younger. Wishcraft is helpful with this dilemma as well.

Whatever the reason for having objects you don’t want or need crowding your life, one of the best gifts you can give yourself is the ability to let things go. Put your energy where it counts: in making your dreams real and in living a less stressful life. There is one more question to ask:
What could you be doing or feeling if all this stuff wasn’t in the way?

Please share your reactions, tips and challenges in the comments below.

Author: dinahsanders

Author. Discardian. Defender of life, liberty, & the pursuit of happiness. she/her

81 thoughts on “Getting Rid of Stuff”

  1. This is a fantastic website! I’ve been going through the archives pretty much all afternoon, every time I need a break from purging my closet (I don’t know why getting rid of stuff that doesn’t fit is so hard, but it is).
    Reading through your posts is giving me the positive reinforcement I need to get through this overwhelming task. Thank you! And thank you also for keeping the site so easy on the eyes, as well.

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  2. Came across this site after months of working on downsizing
    my stuff; great posts! It’s so hard to get rid of things.
    I’ve been using freecycle and craigslist, boxes on the curb,
    dumpster, recycling, and donating to the Sally Ann. So far,
    have gotten rid of a car and about one ton of other stuff,
    but still a ways to go! Big problem is 50+ pieces of family
    art, a lot of painters in the family, but I’m going to take
    the plunge and give most of them away to other family members!
    Well, that’s my one piece of advice: if you can’t part with
    that heirloom, pass it on to someone else. I know it’s a bit
    cruel to saddle them with it, but then I don’t like my family
    much anyway. (smile)

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  3. I am good at decluttering daily – I do not like tip toeing around -stuff-
    I do know what lurks in the closets The dress I wore to… those shoes may come back in style and I do like them… knitting stash and the list goes on…. HELP any anwers ???

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  4. Start with purging yourselves from those loser men in your lives, you know the one who brings you down, mooches, and trys to dominate. Throw them out first (especially you Kiki).

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  5. One must decide to clean up the clutter, but more importantly, discard or give away objects, without remorse. To the trash bin, to the charity, to your kids, your neighbors? Have a yard give away! Just set out your stuff and let others freely take it away! You will have less expense in cleaning up left overs than a yard sale which would make you less money than the good feeling of seeing stuff go away freely. Good Luck!

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  6. Wow. I love this. I’ve been practicing “Discardia” for four years now, and I can happily say that I am near total organization. I have shed clothes, paperwork, furniture, fat, guilt, inherited junk and one husband. I look around my house and feel peace. It’s the first time I’ve felt this in my entire life. I am reluctant to buy anything — and, I live in Miami, land of people who love to shop — and it feels really AMAZING. Happy Discardia, all!

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  7. Jason — STOP! You’re about to go too far. You’ve become addicted to discarding.
    Getting rid of your car in a place where public transportation is a myth will
    inevitably have negative consequences. Congratulate yourself for all that you’ve
    done, and keep your car. Think of it as a necessity that you’ve truly earned.
    Good luck!

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  8. If your excuse is “but i paid alot for that …” Then start shopping at goodwill! I never buy new clothes anymore, because I know I probably will get to fat to wear them, or just end up not liking it. When you’re done with it, give it back to goodwill. You’re only out $5 bux instead of $50 for those jeans.
    If you’re purging because you need that space for something else, ask yourself on every item “is this more important, or the space i need?” Usually you will answer “the space”. Right now I’m getting rid of everything that has no use or sentimental value because we’re trying to move across the country, and I want to make sure it all fits into one truck. I know I can buy another spice rack at goodwill, so I’ll let this one go for now 🙂
    Once you get started, you can’t stop! It feels amazing to know I am helping people and getting the space I need!

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  9. Very good questions. I say these because the questions that raise other questions are in fact the good ones, because they make you think. Creating space in your home is a thing that must be done, even if you don’t need it, because it creates a good habbit of keeping things fresh, new and in harmony with yourself.

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  10. Dinah,
    Thank you, thank you, thank you for a very cool and inspiring site.
    Your ideas & those on the posts are very motivating.
    Thanks for sharing.
    P.S. Is there a way to lists the posts in order of most recent first, to avoid having to scroll through the old to read the new? Thanks.

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  11. I need help. My biggest hangup is one that was mentioned in the post but not addressed very much: GUILT.
    I feel so much guilt about the “stuff” that I have accumulated and not used…books not yet read, clothes with the tags still on, shoes I’ve never worn, etc. etc. Purchases I feel stupid about.
    So I am able to identify lots of “stuff” to get rid of, but then I feel like I should try to sell it somehow, to atone for my wastefulness, like if I can sell it I won’t feel quite so stupid for wasting money because I was able to get a little bit of it back.
    I sell big stuff on craigslist; I take clothes to consignment stores, but they don’t take everything (a lot of them only want “designer” stuff).
    I’ve tried selling stuff on eBay…which has just led to me having a space cluttered with a big box of “stuff” and a ton of packing materials, and it takes up a lot of time and is a pain in the ass. Taking good photos, figuring out shipping cost, etc. (Not to mention, selling on eBay means being on eBay…which is dangerous! I have actually accumulated more stuff from being on the site. Probably more than I have sold. Seriously, I bought a pair of shoes while writing this comment.)
    I recognize that having this “stuff” around still, when I have already identified that it should go, is draining my energy and stressing me out. How can I just snap the hell out of this guilt and get rid of everything? What is wrong with me that I can’t just seem to let it go? How can I stop feeling so stupid and wasteful for buying these things in the first place? GAH.
    Would appreciate input.
    (also: I realize that stopping the shopping is part of the problem. GAH.)

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  12. I probably need a psychologist for my post but what my question is about the “guilt” also. I have no children, I have one nephew whom lives in total chaos with his mother who has my family’s “illness” for collecting because she might “need that someday” and she confessed that if she tried to get rid of anything, she felt a lot of “guilt”. Our mother figure, decides to “purge” lightly, and give us her cast offs. Some things are absolutely worthless have no meaning then she displays her pusher attitude like I should be grateful she gave it to me in the first place! I have been ridiculed for wanting only the “good stuff” from our family out of fear I might make some cash off of it that they didn’t make. Things I have adored or want I can’t say I want, or she will sell or get rid of because I want the item.
    In certain cases of the following: I would consider it abusive if someone in a family asks about the whereabouts of this item or that item, or badgering why did you get rid of that, or has any sort of known pride of displaying these items in my home. Or try to PLACE an item in my home. It had gotten so bad that now all my family items are boxed out of anger and all due of the error of people’s ways and their attachments to stuff. If it were up to me, I could live in a van down by the river and not care about a single thing other than a quilt my only loving non- judgmental relative made me as a material item from her.
    The rest can go. I feel spite, anger, many things arise from it.
    What do you do when you have mental abuse that goes along with it? Or say a relative wants an item “back”. Having a huge family blow up isn’t my scene as there is a lot of egoism that goes along with it pride and foolishness. My biggest fear is the shame I will be put through if an item even close to something that has been cast off to me, is spotted in a flea market, sold, or is brought up or missed. I am sure there are several of you out there that feel this way but too afraid to mention the word abuse. Taunting is abuse.

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  13. I decided 2.5 years ago to start listening to my heart, to follow my intuition, to stop worrying about what everyone else thinks about me, to start taking care of myself, to start paying attention to my needs as a unique individual, to learn to accept myself, to love myself, to allow myself to dream and aim for my dreams. The journey since then has involved, among other steps, a long process of un-hoarding. 2.5 years and I’m beginning to feel like the end is in sight, finally! To anyone who feels overwhelmed by the thought of de-cluttering, I’m gonna say:
    1) Don’t think, just do. Thinking just delays the process AND drains vital energy.
    2) Set aside manageable chunks of time for it. I’d like to share how I did this: I switched to a 4- day workweek and have been doing de-cluttering work one or two days every weekend for 3 weekends a month for the last 2.5 years. It took me almost a decade to hoard, I figure 2.5 yrs is a reasonable amount of time to take to unhoard.
    3) Stay consistent. Remember, slow and steady wins the space : )
    4) Don’t feel miserable. Think of it as inevitable Karma that you are taking on willingly. It’s easier to swallow the bitter pill when you’re choosing to do so out of free will as opposed to being forced to by someone else or by Life.
    5) Make it as fun a project as you can. Play music, take dance breaks in between, sing, allow yourself to feel excited about how much closer you are to feeling free and light with each moment you spend de-cluttering!
    6) Work on what caused you to hoard in the first place, so you don’t end up replacing old stuff with new stuff. Those who hoard usually are trying to ground themselves. Speaking in terms of energy imbalance, this usually has to do with Root Chakra imbalances. Spending time in Nature is a healthy way to ground.
    7) Enjoy the process of change you are undergoing.
    To all my fellow unhoarders, I wish you peace, shanti, shalom, salaam!

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  14. K.T.,
    This really does sound like an unpleasant situation all around. A therapist would be a really useful skilled person to bring in to help work through the mental home improvement of making this all suck less.
    I’m guessing that some of that process is to comb apart “things that spark a lot of negative emotions or worry in me which actually are outside my control (e.g. nephew’s possible unhappiness living in chaos)” v.s. “things ditto that I can have some control over (e.g. whether or not I get worked up over what happens to all that stuff that I could happily live without)”.
    When you are having a good day and feeling confident, take a look at a few of those things you have that have sparked negative emotions in the past. Is there anything about them that makes your life better? If not, let them go. If the least painful way to do that is to have a box labeled “stuff for other folks” that sits quietly out of sight somewhere, that’s fine until you need the space.
    Seems like some in the family have a really hard time not feeling responsible for the fate of every object in their homes – what an uncomfortable and unnecessary burden to saddle oneself with! – and so instead of donating to charity (where they’d actually stand a chance of finding the one who needs them) or throwing away, they try to do right by the object by giving it to someone they trust. Taking these things away does help them lighten their load, but you might want to start smiling and saying something like “Well, you know me; I’m really getting into this Discardian idea of letting go of things that don’t make my life awesome, so is it going to be okay if this moves on out of my home at some point? If not, it probably better go to someone else.” Perhaps they will be bothered by it at first, but either they’ll adapt or else you’ll probably move off the “trusted home” mental list. Since it sounds like there isn’t anything you’re really worried about missing out on, that could be a plus. 😉

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  15. I am currently in the process of cleaning up my life. Each step that I take gives me such a g ood feeling that it gives me more motivation.

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  16. Sigh…I’ve gone through bouts of discarding, made hard choices and been relieved to be rid of stuff.
    But, darn, it’s actually getting harder not easier because, each time, something I’ve gotten rid of –unable to remember the last time I used it– becomes something I need within a few weeks or so. When this happens, it’s frustrating to spend time finding a suitable replacement or, worse, in a fruitless search then trying to make do with an unsatisfactory and/or jury-rigged replacement (new or from my stuff).
    How do I get past this?

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  17. You may want to experiment with giving things a time out, putting them in a box in a closet or garage with clear discard date a month in the future.
    It’s also worth weight the “cost” of those somethings you do find a use for soon after letting them go against the benefit of having gotten rid of the things you don’t need again—and may not even remember you ever had. I talk about this issue of perception in chapter four of the book. That 90% you never need again isn’t worth putting up with for the 10% or less you might.

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  18. This was really helpful. Thank you very much. On my own I’ve come to realize I have too much stuff… but there’s so much I’m intimidated about where to even start. Now I have a better idea, more confidence, and if the guilt of stuff overwhelms me, I can just come read this again. 🙂

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  19. One of the most difficult things I am dealing with is the lost financial value of these items I’ve been “hoarding” if they go to Goodwill or the trash. Example. I wear size 13 shoes – not always easy to find. For a while there, Nordstrom Rack had lots of size 13 shoes for $50-60/pair. I bought a bunch of them over a few months, but never really got around to wearing them like I thought (I found other shoes that I liked better). Now, I have about $600 in outdated, but new shoes. Even giving to Goodwill there’s the depreciation etc., to claim on my income tax. To toss them, that’s $600 out the window. Granted, they’re not making me any money sitting the box in my spare bedroom, but there’s the “potential” of making $100 to $200 on these shoes. That’s what keeps me from parting with them, but I know I really don’t have time to do a flea market and what not. SIGH.

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  20. It can definitely be tough to walk away from that potential money, but it’s important to do the mental math on the other side of the equation too.
    How much time will it take you, really, to attempt those sales (whether flea market, eBay, or garage sale)? And how much would you resent the lost time if the sales didn’t happen or you earned much less than you hoped?
    How much would you pay to have a free hour to work on a project you love?
    How much would you pay for some sort of magic organizing accessory that would make the space where those shoes are stored available to you again?
    Go for your real best return on time, space, mood, and (probably less important than the other three) money!

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  21. Can I really get rid of the calendar I got from a Chinese takeaway? I have another as a scroll! I only ever see it when I’m having a rid, at the end of the day it’s going in a bin. It’s got a picture of a rabbit! Next time. The other day a charity stall wanted to give me a flier; I read it on the spot, and gave it back. Ha. Ha. Ha!!!

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