Of uncluttering buddies and shoes

After some recent fieldwork, I thought I’d follow up on my post on clutter and couples. As I mentioned in that post, my girlfriend is not the neat freak I am, and we’re moving in together soon. A move, as was pointed out in the comments, is a great time to take stock of your belongings and purge the clutter. So, we decided to tackle her closet last weekend.

It turned out to be a painless process. The toughest challenge a neat-freak like me will face is convincing their partner that in fact there is clutter among their possessions. Luckily for me, Kathleen freely admitted she probably had a thing or two in her wardrobe that she didn’t need. So, it was a simple matter of systematically going through each item in her closet. Here’s what we did:

  1. Action Piles – Following the 30 Days to a Simple Life plan, we set up three areas: love and keep, trash/donate, and ambivalent (only two or three things ended up in this pile).
  2. Tackle Chunks – Rather than just picking at the whole closet (and becoming overwhelmed), we tackled discrete chunks of the closet. For example, we first tackled all the shoes. We didn’t do anything else until we had finished with the shoes. Then we pulled out one drawer from the dresser and did just that one drawer before we moved on to the next. A partner or friend is helpful here because they’ll keep you focused on the task at hand. There’s a temptation to look up from
    the shoes and start going through dresses; a friend can keep you focused.
  3. Evaluate Each Item – It sounds like a lot
    of work, but it’s not, and it can even be, well, fun. The friend or partner (me in this case) picks up one item from the current “chunk” and asks whether it’s a keeper, trash, or what. Again, a friend helps here by fighting off the temptation to rummage through the ‘chunk’ rather than focus on each item one at a time. Another temptation a friend helps fight off is to believe that everything’s a keeper. Because you’re answering your uncluttering buddy, you’ll have to really think about whether you need/use the thing. If something’s not obviously a keeper, but you say it is, your friend can ask gentle but probing questions to find out if that’s really the case.

In the end, we got rid of five garbage bags of clothes and shoes. Yes, ladies, shoes. About half of all her shoes.

My contention is not that a woman shouldn’t have many shoes if it makes her happy. Quite the contrary, I think you should have whatever makes you happy. Instead my point is that shoes, or any other similar “collectibles,” have a tendency to come in the closet but never go out. As long as shoes are neatly organized, and pairs that are never used are thrown out, knock yourself out.

By picking up each and every pair of Kathleen’s shoes and asking her, “Do you use this?” she independently made the decision to throw out about half of them. About several pairs she replied that they went with just one particular dress, and that’s A-OK. But you get to that answer by asking yourself, not by believing that your shoes (or your gadgets or tools, men) are all off limits. Going item by item and asking yourself
if you really use it is a great exercise to do regularly with your shoes and all your possessions.

15 Comments for “Of uncluttering buddies and shoes”

  1. posted by Rhea on

    I help friends unclutter. Thanks for these tips. I do these.

  2. posted by Kris on

    I did the shoe thing about a year ago and gave most of them to my friends who don’t mind clutter. I’ve since needed one of the pairs as they went with one particular dress and I’d forgotten about that. It was very nice to call the friend who I’d given them to and ‘borrow’ them for the evening. Best of both worlds.

  3. posted by Christine on

    I recently went through my closet after having received a few bags of new clothes from my mother (she bought them only to find out later they didn’t fit her…). I took them home and realized that I wouldn’t have anywhere to put the new clothes with old ones still in my closet. Ended up donating about five boxes to Goodwill – everything from old prom dresses (why I hung onto them, I’ll never know – the fabric was beyond faded) to shoes that I only wore once.
    It was actually a big relief to do that and not only was I uncluttering my closet, but helping to get rid of some stress at the same time.

  4. posted by amanda lee on

    These are excellent suggestions. I’m into vintage collecting so I tend to pick up new clothing often even though it might not be something that I particularly need, but I go through every couple of months or so and follow a similar process. What I don’t want anymore gets passed along to a friend or donated. A guideline that I sometimes try to follow, also, is that for every new item that comes in, I put aside one similar item to be given away–ie, when I get a new-to-me dress, I give away a dress that I haven’t worn in the past couple of months.

  5. posted by Eric on

    The trick, it seems, to evaluate each item is to avoid burnout. If you find yourself not concentrating anymore then stop and come back to it or you may waste more time than you save.

    De-cluttering is just one step, the most important is not bringing in clutter to begin with!

  6. posted by Marieke on

    How do you handle expensive but unused items though? I’ve got a few dresses in my closet that cost over 500 euro each (bought for weddings and parties). They still fit, are still beautiful, but I have no weddings or (dress up) parties coming up this year or the next. They take up so much of my closet space that I wish they weren’t there. But tossing them out makes me feel ill.

    And then there’s shoes that once cost a small fortune, but I’ve never (or just once) worn them because they are too tight or the heels are too high. Just donating them… I can’t get over the 300 euro ++ amount I once paid for them. Sell them on Craigs list or whatever? Can you do that with shoes? Do I want strangers at my door asking to fit them?

    And what about all the photo frames I once bought to put up on the wall. I never moved to the house I intented to hang them, so now there’s a big stack of frames that I still love, but can’t use right now. I’m sure if I sell or donate them, the keys to a new house will fall in my lap the week after.

    And so on and so forth. I’m genetically handicapped anyway, because my parents NEVER throw away anything. They just buy a bigger house every time.

    I just want a house with some empty shelves. I dream of drawers with just two pairs of gloves in them. Sigh. I’ll keep reading here and enjoy other people’s experiences 🙂

  7. posted by Lana on

    Marieke, I feel you because I’m exactly the same way. I’ve been hanging onto stuff because it’s new (or nearly new) and so expensive that I simply hate the thought of selling it all so cheaply. Craigslist and eBay are more trouble than they’re worth, in my opinion. After itemizing, writing descriptions, and photographing everything, I’ve usually lost all motivation to sell! Not to mention dealing with non-paying bidders and other weirdos who just end up wasting my time.

    My solution has been to just ask around among my friends and acquaintences until I find someone who needs or wants what I’m trying to get rid of… I’d rather give my stuff away for free knowing that someone who loves and appreciates it is getting good use out of it, rather than to sell it for chump change on eBay.

    As for the picture frames, if you can’t use them now, give them away as well! By the time you do find your dream house, you’ll most likely want different frames anyway.

  8. posted by Andamom on

    The secret to the closet? Not buying the first place. If you buy classic items (sometimes spending a bit more for quality), items that can be mixed and matched, and embellishing with a few classic pieces of jewelry/accessories, you’ll have a nice selection and not need to purge so often.

  9. posted by LeAnn on

    I have another suggestion for the expensive clutter: find a consignment shop. These shops sell good quality second-hand clothing, take a percentage of the sale, and then you get to keep the rest. Money in your pocket, empty space in your closet!

  10. posted by Nat on

    I second the comment above. Sell the expensive stuff at a consignment shop. But beware, there were a few times when even that stuff didn’t go, and it would end up back at home.
    After years of holding on to stuff and calling it a “collection”, I finally decided that I had to let stuff go in order to allow room for other parts of my life to expand as well as allow for new clothes. I organize my clothes into the closet of stuff I wear (all seasons) and the collection of designer and stuff that makes me think happy memories (ie wedding dress, etc.) that fits in one trunk and nowhere else. An item has to be trunk worthy or closet worthy in order to be kept.
    When I was evaluating, I found that some of the expensive items had a lot of negative feelings attached to them. For instance if I bought something as a substitute for what I really wanted but was never happy with it or maybe something that I had to squeeze into but looked terrible on me, these articles of clothes would remind me of my wasteful folly. Do I really want to be reminded of my foolishness? Sure, I had to learn to be pickier and more careful about what I buy, but I don’t need to hold on to something that is useless to me to remind me. It’s not like the clothes are going to appreciate in value unless it’s something museum worthy (not even in my budget).
    My most recent purge ended with a “Naked Lady Party” AKA a clothing swap party with some friends. Letting go is much easier when you can see someone else enjoy your stuff. Think of it as a really nice gift to your friend. Even though I came home with a few things, we still gave away bags of stuff that I now know must have been really unflattering if nobody else wanted them. Ahh, but that’s in the past.

  11. posted by Nat on

    Forgot to mention–eBay is another place to sell. People sell designer stuff on there all the time, and clothing is usually easy to ship.

  12. posted by Marieke on

    Thanks for all the good advice guys. I’ll make an effort this weekend to rid myself of some the stuff that has been in my way for much too long now. Not too sure about the expensive things my mother bought me over the years: it will feel like I’m throwing HER away. Maybe I’ll do before and after pics and post them here as a reward for myself 🙂

  13. posted by Hope on

    If you love your girlfriend, don’t move in with her – marry her. There are so many studies that show that living together is detrimental to the ultimate success of a relationship. Would your grandmother rather hear that you are shacking up with a honey or marrying your beloved? Step up and do the right thing

  14. posted by eyeroller on

    ^ Oh, Christ.

  15. posted by Lisa on

    I lived with my now husband for six years before we got married a month ago and I think that living together first helped us build a much stronger relationship that will result in a much stronger marriage. And as far as what your grandmother thinks, whose happiness are we talking about here? Your grandmother’s or yours? (Sorry I just thought the above comment was rediculous.)

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