Lightening the Load: The Relief of Springtime Decluttering Projects

For many people, spring is an ideal time to catch up on cleaning (hence the term “spring cleaning”). In my case, I don’t necessarily catch up on cleaning and household chores, since I do both year-round (and, well, when I feel like it…). Rather, I’m bitten by a desire to “lighten the load,” better known as the decluttering and organizing bug.

This year, that bug struck big-time. By that, I mean that I’m still getting rid of what I no longer want or need, even though summer is near. And as a result, this extended spring-cleaning has made me consider my personal habits and what it means to feel “lighter.” It might sound like a strange topic to wax philosophical about, but when the decluttering bug sticks around as long as this one has and leaves you refreshed in the process, it really gives you a lot to think about.

Confessions of a Recovering Pack Rat

Let me begin with a confession: I’m a pack rat. In other words, I have a bad habit of accumulating stuff and then hanging on to it for longer than I should. Or, worse, accumulating more when I shouldn’t. Having more books than room on my bookshelves, more clothes than closet space, enough tea that some will likely go stale before I finish them – these are some of the problems I’ve created for myself over the years. Some are under better control now. Others are works-in-progress, more or less. 

The worst example of them all happened in April. I was about to put some bill-related paperwork in the two-drawer, wooden lateral file cabinet in my living room. As I opened the bottom drawer , it made a louder-than-usual rubbing sound underneath, and resisted. Minutes later, once I had removed the hanging file folders (many of which were overstuffed with 5+ years of paid bills, receipts, user’s manuals, statements, etc.), I discovered what was causing the noise and friction.

The drawer’s veneer bottom, which isn’t as strong as real wood, had collapsed in the back. Luckily, nothing had slipped through and fallen under the cabinet, but from what I could tell, the drawer was broken. I could have avoided the problem had I remembered to get rid of many of those documents I’d filed away. But I hadn’t, and I knew my pack-rat habit (and a degree of laziness) was to blame.

How much did the drawer’s bottom buckle? See for yourself…

Why Springtime? Good Question

This hasn’t been the first spring of organizing or decluttering projects, though. Last year I tackled two big purges. First, I went through my closet and bureau drawers and donated clothes I no longer wore to local churches. Then I dug through my CD collection (a massive one, thanks to 5 years as a freelance music journalist) and threw out ones that were broken or that I’d lost interest in. And let’s not discount the “ongoing projects,” like donating books to my local library every few months and  letting my tea stash dwindle until it absolutely needs restocking.

But why do the biggest projects happen in the spring? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s because spring is a season of rebirth and renewal. It’s fresh, colorful, and bright, and maybe my subconscious craves those qualities indoors as well as outside.

But I don’t purposely save my organization projects for this season, either. So maybe its recurrence is a coincidence. Or, maybe after a winter of “hibernation,” when I’m worn out from the end-of-year holidays and want to relax indoors as the cold and snow take hold outside, I get restless. I spend enough time inside that I realize what I have too much of in my home; and come vernal equinox, I grow sick enough of that “too much” and decide that enough is enough.

Now that I think about it, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the latter.

Just In Case It’s “Out of Sight, Out of Mind”

What’s funny is that I’ve always thought of myself as simplistic and not materialistic. I don’t feel the need to have the latest gadgets or technology. I don’t care to stay on top of fashion or beauty trends. My two most “extravagant” possessions are my car (a 2008 Ford Fusion I paid off years ago) and my 800 sq ft condo. In other words, I try not to own or buy in excess because I’m limited on space and budget, and… well, I don’t need a lot to make myself happy. A cup of tea and a good novel, a journal and pen, a mandala coloring book and colored pencils, a conversation with close friends – that’s all I need to put a smile on my face.

Where, then, does that packrat tendency come from?

Part of it might be a learned habit from my family. Even when I was little, I was taught to value the sentimentality and potential usefulness of things. “Hang onto [insert item], you never know when you might need it” was advice I heard frequently then. And there’s nothing wrong with that advice. Those old-fashioned board games could entertain your guests next week. That faded set of bath linens could protect your floors the next time you move. Or the fire ladder under your bed… OK, that’s a bit drastic. But the point is, some things are worth hanging onto, just in case.

The other part of it, however, might be the idea of “out of sight, out of mind.” If I put something in a closet, bureau, or anywhere where it won’t be seen once the door or drawer is shut, I forget about it. Plus, the frequently used excuse that I’m “too busy to take care of that right now,” along with the desire to focus on creative writing when I’m home, doesn’t help. That recipe of forgetfulness, the off-and-on willingness to let responsibility slide, and trying to keep pace with the speed of life… Maybe it’s no wonder I let things accumulate over time.

The Good Fortune of Having a Handyman Father, and the Surprise “Happy Ending” He Fashioned

That realization flashed through my head when I discovered the “broken” filing cabinet drawer. I had ignored the growing weight of the hanging folders for so long that they created a more serious problem, one that eventually wrecked the drawer they sat in. And since I’m not good with tools, and the one handyman I know (my retired father) now lives 1 1/2 hours away, the only option I thought of then was, “I better get a new filing cabinet.”

So I went ahead with that plan. I ordered a new filing cabinet that was similar to the old one, and arranged to have it dropped off at my parents’ house so that, on a night that was convenient for them, they could bring it to my place and help me assemble it. I also combed through my folders, kept any documents that were still necessary, and began the slow process of shredding a few pages each night from the overwhelming sizable “not-needed” pile. I even cleaned out the cabinet’s top drawer, decided which office supplies I’d keep, and threw out the rest.

But here’s what I had forgotten: If you give my father something that’s broken, damaged, or not working properly, he’ll find a way to fix it.

I didn’t need a new filing cabinet in the end. Instead, my dad was able to remove the old cabinet’s “broken” drawer, reshape the collapsed bottom, and “popped” it back into place. No more apparent warping, no more rubbing or resistance on the bottom; the drawer moved in and out effortlessly, as if nothing had ever happened.

I felt like the luckiest adult daughter in the world that evening. In fact, I was so thrilled and grateful for my father’s help – and so ready to get two boxes’ worth of hanging folders out of my bedroom – that I put the folders back into their proper place that evening.

And when I was done, I couldn’t believe how much lighter the drawer was because of its culled contents – and how much lighter felt as well.

The Relief of Having “Lightened the Load”

There really is some truth to the idea of “lightening the load.” Sure, it’s easy to ignore the unwanted and wanted items piling up throughout one’s home. But after a while, it becomes overwhelming, physically and emotionally. Taking the time and effort to remove that which we no longer need is therefore good not only for one’s living space and furniture, but also for the soul. At first we might feel a void or sense of loss. But if our act of purging is both thorough and careful, and if we don’t regret getting rid of those items afterward, it can lift a literal weight from our shoulders.

No wonder I felt like how the repaired drawer moved that night. With one smooth motion, I breathed more easily. I had finally gotten rid of the documents I didn’t need anymore. The drawer’s warped bottom may have forced the issue, but in hindsight I’m grateful it did. If it hadn’t, who knows how much longer I would have let those folders sit? Or how much worse the drawer problem might have become?

I was also equally thankful that the drawer was fixed, and that my father was able to figure that out. It saved me money (once I returned the new, unassembled filing cabinet); and it taught me to ask for help before assuming something must be replaced, and that Dad is always willing to lend a hand, regardless of the 90-minute drive separating us.

I have two more decluttering projects to tackle now. The storage tote in my bedroom is swollen with issues of Writer’s Digest, Poets & Writers, and other writing-related magazines I’ve collected. (So far, the oldest magazine dates back to 2013.) Both of my nightstand’s shelves are also full, with half-used journals and years of birthday and holiday cards I’ve kept (once again) for sentimental reasons.

But I’m not delaying these projects for next spring. Instead, I’ll start chipping away at them over the summer. I want to keep both pieces of furniture for as long as I can. And, now that the feeling is fresh in my mind, I know the desire to experience that lightness of consciously choosing to have less will motivate me to finish those projects sooner rather than later.

Do you have a habit of accumulating things over time? Or postponing organization or decluttering projects at home? If so, what typically motivates you to finally start them, and how do you feel once they’re done? Do you have your own stories of “lightening the load”? 

14 thoughts on “Lightening the Load: The Relief of Springtime Decluttering Projects

  1. I love that your father came and fixed your cabinet for you! Dads are great that way.

    And yes, there’s no greater feeling that having organized clean drawers. It’s (almost) like getting new furniture. I’m quite the hoarder as well for paperwork… but there’s been too many times they’ve come in handy. Okay, maybe a handful. Okay, maybe once or twice. Funny thing is, I know that most of this information is all now online, but I just feel better when it’s in my hands. Or exploding out of their respective folders under my desk, in any case.

    But you’ve inspired me to go through all this old paperwork — it’ll be my weekend project! “Out of sight, out of mind” can also be interpreted to “always seen, now ignored.” I’ve gotten so used to the clutter that I don’t even see it anymore. And that’s a sin!

    Liked by 1 person

    • 🙂 It really was a surprise. I honestly didn’t expect the drawer to be repairable, so I’m grateful that Dad gave it a shot before assembling the new cabinet.

      *lol* See, when I was writing this post, I thought a few times, “I must be old-school, keeping all these paper copies!” So your answer makes me feel less alone. 🙂

      And yes, the paperwork we hang onto CAN be helpful at times. The question is, how long should we hold onto those printed copies? And how much room do we have for storing them? Some things should definitely be filed for several years (I think I’ve heard that federal and state tax forms should be kept for 5 to 7 years?). But do we really need a credit card bill from 4 years ago? Or a mortgage payment we took care of 3 years ago? Most likely not.

      “But you’ve inspired me to go through all this old paperwork — it’ll be my weekend project!”

      Yay! I hope it goes well. Also, I haven’t heard the phrase “always seen, now ignored” before, but it makes so much sense. *lol*

      Btw I should have added an appendix to this post. Because that shredder I bought for the big shredding project? It broke a couple weeks ago. XD :S

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think we’re around the same age, so perhaps this paper-hoarding trait is a generational thing?

        You brought up a good point of what to save and throw out. I have so many internet and phone bills and credit card statements and etc. and ugh, I probably can throw out 90% of it. But… I so hate to throw those things out. And you brought up another good point — I don’t have a shredder! But my father does…lol! Sorry about your shredder though, that’s one of those annoying things in life that shouldn’t happen. I mean, how hard is it for a machine to rotate two gears?

        Well, I kind of came up with “always seen, now ignored” statement, but it’s a predicament I find myself in every few months every year. The clutter just builds and you never realize it until someone else notices (usually a family member lol!). And then the fear of being a packrat sets in and you want to throw everything out, but you just end up hiding it in old shoeboxes. It’s a hard mindset to break!

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      • Maybe. One of my friends who’s a couple years older than me has gone totally paperless with her filing. I’m not sure what or how much she keeps, but… I don’t know if I trust electronics or “the cloud” enough to make that transition.

        “Sorry about your shredder though, that’s one of those annoying things in life that shouldn’t happen. I mean, how hard is it for a machine to rotate two gears?”

        Very difficult, apparently, when bits of paper get stuck between the metal teeth. Shredders should seriously learn how to floss. XD But around the time that happened with my shredder, my parents told me about a paper-shredding business in the town next door to me. You give them a boxload of stuff to shred, and for $10 they’ll feed it to the massive industrial shredder as you watch. So guess where I went recently with a boxload of that “to-shred” pile? 😀

        “Well, I kind of came up with “always seen, now ignored” statement…”

        But it’s so true! You put something somewhere and think, “Oh, I’ll put this away later,” and then forget. And then the cycle continues for days, maybe weeks, maybe months… *lol* I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people can relate to that statement.

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  2. I agree, decluttering makes me feel lighter both physically and emotionally. I need to do some decluttering but I keep putting it off for a tomorrow that has yet to come.
    And gosh, knowing someone who is handy is so helpful and cheaper on the pockets too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Procrastinating tends to be my problem, too, when it comes to decluttering. But after the filing cabinet episode, I think I’ve learned my lesson. I want to keep my furniture for as long as I can! *lol*

      Like

  3. Pingback: Writing Links 6/19/17 – Where Genres Collide

  4. I do have a habit of accumulating things. I used to save items, because like you I grew up hearing that I should save things in case I needed them later. Of course that later rarely ever came. Now, I ask myself if I really need that item before I buy it or save it for later. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a good point, E. We should look at how we accumulate things not only after the fact (when we’re trying to get rid of what we no longer need), but also before we actually get more of those items, too. Taking a proactive approach by asking ourselves whether we actually need something (or more of it) can then help us prevent having to do decluttering or culling projects in the future. I’ve been able to do that with my tea collection… But books? (*half-heartedly chuckles in embarrassment*)

      Thanks for commenting, E.!

      Like

  5. I definitely have this problem. XD I recently had to clean out my drawers cause I was having a clogging problem. It’s so much better now that I can open and close them easily and I found several things I was looking for, including a spare pair of earbuds!

    storitorigrace.blogspot.com

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  6. I can relate to you. Because of my childhood (communistic country where there was hardly anything available, so you collected everything just in case), I’m a pack rat too.
    Thankfully, living in Ireland made me lighten the load on several occasions. Moving from place to place encouraged _some_ cleaning, and then I gradually worked on getting rid of things I didn’t need. I used to have magazines too (both writing and craft ones): I spent several evenings tearing out pages that I thought could be useful in the future, and then dumping the rest.
    The biggest challenge was when Inq was living with me and he urged me to downsize my crafts stack. I went down from 5 or 6 boxes to one. And then, when I was moving over to the US and shipping many of my belongings via mail (expensive! 😦 ), I had to make a lot of choices on what was _really_ important to me. In a way, it’s a great lesson.
    Now, Inq keeps me somewhat clutterless (and being on a budget helps), but I’m sure some collections are bound to grow again (like my book collection: I might have switched to ebooks mostly, but I still collect some hardbacks, etc.).
    Good luck with your decluttering plans: they usually give both the feeling of achievement and help to finish other projects (also, to learn how to prioritize and make choices).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Funny you mention moving. I don’t remember what I had to get rid of before I moved into my condo (in 2011, I think?). But I remember my parents and my brother going through their stuff when they were preparing to move at the end of 2015… and they had SO much stuff. Even after a garage sale, they still had furniture, home decor, and other things that they wouldn’t have room to bring with them to the Cape. And they, especially my mother, had a difficult time parting with some of those things. I might not have moved with them, but simply witnessing their experience and grappling with all their “stuff” was a bit overwhelming… and it probably had a bigger effect on me that I first thought.

      I can’t begin to imagine what your moving experience to the U.S., and the choices you had to make about your crafts and other belongings, must have been like. How do you feel about those choices in hindsight?

      I actually finished my latest decluttering project (the magazine collection) a few days ago. Yay! 🙂 I have a couple others in mind, but at this point I’m going to wait until after I’m home from NYC before I start anything else.

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