Readers ask for help with storage and more

Recently, we received a pair of emails from readers who find themselves in unenviable circumstances. Both are dealing with financial and health difficulties that are making it very difficult to maintain and afford a storage space that’s full of precious, sentimental items. It’s not a good situation, and again, one I imagine many readers can relate to. While I don’t have the perfect answer (and I really wish I did), I’ll share my thoughts here, and I encourage you, fellow unclutterers, to do the same in the comments. Hopefully the readers who sparked this post will find something in my words or yours that helps. Let’s start with very small steps.

A thing a day

A few years ago, we wrote about a technique called “A thing a day,” which first came to our attention via the Unclutterer forums. The premise is simple: eliminate one item per day until you reach a manageable cache of stuff.

Of course, it needn’t be a single item. You could do five items per day, or ten. You could wait for the weekend and pick a dozen items to part with on a Sunday. I mention it here for a few reasons. First, it’s not emotionally overwhelming or especially physically demanding. These two readers are dealing with a lot right now, including an urgent need to get on top of some items in storage. Also, the methodical elimination of several items could get you to a place where the storage facility is no longer needed, thus saving you some money. Of course, it’s not always that easy.

Sentimental clutter

Both readers expressed that there are many sentimental items among their stuff. Parting with sentimental clutter can be very difficult. Sentimental items usually don’t fall into the category of “If I haven’t used it in [x] amount of time, I can throw it out.” That’s because utility has very little to do with why you’re keeping that object. So how do we part with these things? I’ll refer you to a post we published in 2011:

Remember that clutter is anything that distracts you from pursuing the life of your dreams. If you have so much sentimental stuff that it is causing a stressful mess or taking up room in your home for things that matter more to you, you will want to cull the clutter. But, you don’t have to get rid of all your sentimental stuff. At least for me, some of the things I keep for sentimental reasons are objects that reflect what I value most. My grandmother is one of my most favorite people on the planet, and having her rocking chair makes me smile and remember all the wonderful times we have shared. So, I keep that exact chair. However, I don’t keep every card she ever sent me or every gift she ever gave me because I don’t have room to keep everything and the chair elicits the happiest of all the memories.

When deciding on sentimental keepsakes, aim for quality over quantity. I loved my grandfather dearly. He was a tremendous artist. Today, I have a pencil sketch that he did hanging on my wall. The same picture hung in his living room when I was a kid, and I always admired it. Today, it’s the perfect — and only — physical thing I have to remind me of my grandfather, and it’s all I need.

Lastly, see if you can employ help from family, friends, neighbors, or co-workers. A person who’s empathetic to your situation could help with reducing the need for a storage facility, the labor of going through a lot of stuff, and the anxiety of keeping it all in line. Even cataloging what you own by writing it all down can help reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed.

I hope this was helpful. Now I turn it over to you, fellow unclutterers. What advice would you give these readers? We welcome your comments below.

8 Comments for “Readers ask for help with storage and more”

  1. posted by Lisa on

    Start with the “low-hanging fruit”. Get rid of the easy stuff first, it will give you momentum, and clear some space for sorting the rest of the stuff. Making lots of easy decisions will progress to being able to make the hard decisions. Getting rid of stuff is a learned skill, and it takes practice.
    Donating things is easier than throwing things away, because you can imagine someone else enjoying the things you have enjoyed for many years.
    Keep a box or make a spot for all the items that you are donating, and when you come across an item to donate, put it in the box right away.
    Think about what will happen if you still have all your “too much stuff” and you pass away unexpectedly. Someone else will be dealing with it, and chances are they will not have the time or energy to find suitable homes for all your stuff, and lots of things of value will be thrown out. What a burden to leave for others, who will be grieving as well.

  2. posted by Northshore on

    Good ideas from Lisa, above.
    Don’t worry too much about finding the perfect home for things. It’s gratifying when you are able to give a treasured item to someone who wants it, but keep your eye on your goal–to divest yourself of possessions that don’t fit in your home.

  3. posted by Karen Schaeffer on

    If you are sick or in a generally-weakened condition, you must have a trusted friend or loved one help you. If there is no one, then you must hire someone, an organizer, or someone who has experience.

    Perhaps the storage facility manager has the names of people you could hire. If you have no money for this, call your church or a school and see if someone will help or use some of the things for a fund-raiser. Let someone conduct a major sale on your behalf and keep the proceeds for your well-being.

    If none of those actions appeals to you, realize that your things will be handled by random workers after you have passed away. Take control now, while you can, or resign yourself to the inevitable. Personally, I would rather call friends and family to come and take my things, reserving a few for myself, and then be done with it.

    Those precious things are in your life to help you. They represent money for your old age, a kind of savings, if you will. In this regard you were smart to put things away. But now the time has come to release them so that you have money, just like taking savings from the bank in your time of need.

    Even though it seems scary, with good people with you, it can be done. The truth is, it’s going to happen, with you, or without you. Why not control the outcome by making decisions today?

    Ask your doctor, if he/she has ideas on who to call. Call the county social worker for more thoughts. Call consignment shops, but call someone. You will feel better, once you get started.

    There is no doubt that this will be difficult, but, you have been through difficulties before and you survived. You can do this, with help. Good luck as you embark on this next stage of your life.

  4. posted by Pat W. on

    My mother gave me my Oma’s table and kitchen linens. She was devastated to discover I actually use them; she thought I would store them away! I pointed out that every time I see them out I think of Oma and am happy. Sure, some day the item might get torn or worn out but I’ve enjoyed it. If your “sentimental” items have a real use, use them for that and enjoy them!

  5. posted by Megan on

    If you are just storing sentimental items in boxes you are not honouring them. Stuff tucked into boxes in a storage unit will still be in boxes when you die. Have someone help you sort through the stuff (whether friend or professional), choose a few items you love and display or use them, giving you pleasure every day. You can photograph the rest but then get rid – big stack of boxes are not sentimental.

  6. posted by Joyce on

    I find that taking a picture of something makes it easier to give away. It’s there if I want to “see” it, and doesn’t take up space.

  7. posted by Carol Mac on

    If there is a sentimental or emotional attachment to the things in storage, they might be valued by people who love and care for the owner. Perhaps organizing a “give away” day where s/he could invite dear friends and family over to the storage unit to chose an item (or five) to take home would work. Knowing that the things are going to good homes might make it easier to part with them.

  8. posted by Catherine on

    Hi all,
    I’m from Australia (irrelevant but may explain any unusual quirks in my remarks). I find this blog entry and it’s reponses incredibly useful. My mum died aged 56 and I as her only child received all of her stuff. As a mother of two I live with my husband and kids in a small two bedroom flat. My mother’s things have created an enormous emotional burden on me and take up very valuable space. I know that mum’s stuff including some of the things she made were not there to be kept forever but to be useful or beautiful at the time. It’s ok for me to keep several of her things but to let go of the other hundreds of things. Keeping all of her things will not bring her back and creates suffering in my mind and an unworkable situation in our household. This was never the intention of my mother. Thank you all for helping me come to these realisations.

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