A Simple Approach to Living With Less

Eat, Pray, Declutter

There are two things I remember from the movie Eat, Pray, Love. One is the gorgeous scenery. I found myself wondering if I would get to see that kind of epic beauty in my life. Two, the scene at the beginning where Elizabeth is packing up her boxes in a self storage unit. She is in awe of the fact that her entire life fits in such a small confined space. What is memorable about that scene to me, is the owner of the storage unit saying, “You would be surprised how many people never return for their life-filled boxes.” (Ok, that’s my paraphrase but I think it’s pretty close.)

The reason that scene stood out to me so much is because I would love to do exactly that. We have a large storage unit full of stuff that has been virtually untouched for nearly five years. For the most part, I have no idea what is in all those boxes. I would rather just walk away from it all. In my dream, we just stop paying for the unit and let the owners sell off our belongings to whatever kind of people buy things from abandoned storage units. However, dealing with our storage unit is this week’s chore so I’m trying to psyche myself up for the challenge ahead.

How to Avoid Recluttering

Although the task is daunting, I’m not actually afraid of the decluttering work. I may find some treasures that I had forgotten about. What I am fearful of is recluttering the spaces that I have worked so hard to clear out. Here are some guidelines I’ve put in place to help me avoid recluttering our home. Perhaps you’ll find them useful too.

  1. Don’t bring it inside unless you know it needs to stay. This is a good tip for new purchases too, but in this case I’m sorting boxes in the garage so I’m not tempted to bring something in and deal with it later. We all know what happens when we tell ourselves we’ll deal with something later.
  2. Leave the emotions at the door. This is my main goal. Most of the items in storage haven’t seen the light of day in years so the general conclusion is that they aren’t necessary. My biggest fear is being sucked into an emotional response of seeing a long lost item and wanting to hang onto it for sentimental reasons or because we just haven’t had it in a long time.
  3. Prioritize, don’t organize. I have found that picking out the things I know I want to keep first, makes it obvious what I need to throw out. If something isn’t worth keeping, then it’s simply not worth organizing. If I wouldn’t buy the item again, then more than likely I don’t like it enough to hang onto it now.
  4. Immediately sort where an item needs to go. Determine if the item will go in the give pile, sell pile, or in the rented dumpster. Since we’re waiting on renovations to be done there will be some things that need to return to the “store” pile as well. The goal is to have a much smaller amount of possessions in storage that we know we will be using.
  5. Plan an item’s purpose and give it a home. Anything that gets the green light to come in the house or go back in storage must have a purpose for being saved not just “because I like it.” Plus, it needs to be given an immediate home so it doesn’t just sit around and become clutter.

We saved way too much when we originally stored our items, but that was long before we knew what minimalism was and the freedom it could bring. I’ve really been dreading it, but I’m actually starting to get excited. I can’t wait for this task to be over because it’s the last major hurdle we have on our journey to minimalism.

What areas of your life that need decluttered have you been avoiding?


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Article originally published on 11/15/2010

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  1. Great post! And great tips you list.

    I have some old boxes in storage that I need to look at too. Fortunately, I don’t pay for a storage room. We have a storage room in the backyard. But I’ve also come to the conclusion that, if it’s been in storage this long, and I don’t remember what is there, I probably don’t need it. I’m still working on the inside of the house, so, this project will probably wait until next year. I’ve got other little projects going on right now that will fill up the remainder of the year.

    • That’s great that you don’t have to pay for storage. That really makes me upset at myself that I’ve been paying for the privilege of hanging onto junk. Best of luck with your cleaning out progress. It’s a great feeling isn’t it?

  2. Faith,

    Good luck cleaning out the storage. I know exactly how you feel about being emotionally sucked into your ‘stuff’ One of the tips that helped me declutter was to remember that I was finding new homes for these items where they would be better used. I didn’t just throw them out and forget about them. Can’t wait to read about how awesome it is when you finish.


  3. Eat, Pray, Giveaway
    I Love it. I just read The Joy of Less which has been helpful, but I like to read this kind of stuff for inspiration. I’ve discovered for myself that being thrilled with where the “giveaway” is going is a HUGE motivator for me. I just found out my bible class has a yard sale in the Spring to help pay for a retreat at the end of the program. Usually I do Salvation Army or a local consignment shop but something about the proceeds of my excess funding this retreat for ladies that couldn’t otherwise go is really motivating me to put more in the go away box. Also they’ve been blessed with a storage unit so I can get rid of it now – no waiting. They do a donation based yard sale so the items won’t even have to be priced later on – how cool is that?!

    • That is really cool! That’s really neat that the giving and decluttering has such a personalized feel. This is a great time of year to bless others too.

  4. First of all, I loved Eat, Pray Love. I was in a severe depression at that time and watched the movie twice and cried the whole way through!
    What am I avoiding? My desk/paperwork/junk drawers. My laundry room/pantry/utility room.
    I am going to work on them soon, I promise!

  5. So true.. I don’t have a storage unit but a storage room and one of my pre-holiday projects is to get it all cleared out and clutter-free.. I’m going to put some of your tips in practice (especially, leave the emotions at the door!) while I do that! Thanks!

    • Best of luck with your pre-holiday clear out project. I too am hoping for the holidays to be clutter free. I look forward to hearing your progress! Let us know how it goes in the forums. I’m going to post my own updates there.

  6. We decluttered to put our house on the market. It mostly went into storage and then into our garage when it was built a couple months later. Slowly but surely I’m working my way back through all those boxes! I had six boxes label “kitchen” and I couldn’t remember what was in them and knew I must not need them since I was doing just fine without them. I went through them this month. Happily only one box went back into the garage, two boxes sold, and the rest was given away! Feels good 🙂

    • Faith Janes says

      Way to go! Yes, all of our storage issues began with putting a house on the market and clearing it out like all the tips say. I wish someone had just told me to get rid of it instead of paying to keep it. Well, I’m headed to the garage to tackle more storage boxes. I hope to have great things to report soon. 🙂

  7. Just reading about clearing out your storage place made me tense. All that sorting and deciding can be so mentally draining. Going into it with a plan of attack will be so much more satisfying and, while maybe not easy, with your eye on the prize the journey will have purpose.

    We moved 6 months ago…before my minimalist epiphany….and seeing things I hadn’t in 5 years was hard. I hadn’t missed it, but it was a memory…hard for someone like me who can be so sentimentally attached to _things_. Fortunately some of it was deteriorated and I was forced to trash it. It was freeing!! 🙂

    I’ve likened decluttering to losing weight. Just as I feel better and lighter when I’ve lost weight (I’ve lost and kept off 50lbs!), I feel the same way when I declutter an area of my life that was out of hand. It can be hard to do but the end result is so worth it!!

    • Faith Janes says

      That’s a great analogy to compare getting rid of clutter to losing weight. I do feel lighter. So far the process of bringing home about a dozen boxes and then going thru them before bringing home more is working the best. It’s not as overwhelming that way.

      So far I haven’t found anything to be excited about other than some pictures I hadn’t seen in awhile. I have come across some sentimental things grandmothers and great aunts have given me. It didn’t trigger an “Oh, look how neat” kind of feeling. It triggered a “Oh crap, now I have to deal with this” kind of feeling. That’s when I know it’s guilt I’m feeling and I don’t really want to keep it…so out it went. (And no I’m not listing what it is in case any of them read this later on) 🙂

  8. Absolutely LOVE the title!!!!!!

  9. The extended family’s rule is that you have a year to unpack your boxes (gets you through all the seasons), anything not unpacked after a year has to go because you either don’t need it or don’t have space for it.

    We had the entire basement and garage that were an issue — we bought grandparents’ home about a year before one died and two before the other died (they went to an assisted living facility because of one’s dementia) but they didn’t really move out — they prioritized and left the rest for us. It was weird getting rid of their things while they were alive, so we didn’t do much beyond making room for our stuff, then there was a period after they died where we didn’t want to accidentally get rid of something that someone in the family wanted for sentimental value or that had real value and belonged to someone else (i.e., comic books), so the years ticked away with a basement and garage full of their stuff — they lived there 60 years and granddad was a saver, he had a stack of 34 detergent scoops, just in case, and then we added stuff on top of his because stuff attracts stuff.

    We are now moving and have had to tackle this in addition to all of the normal getting-ready-to-move. On the bright side, it has now been 2 years since the last death, we are confident if no one has asked for or mentioned something we are safe in getting rid of it.

    Several people have offered to store things that won’t fit into an apartment (our plan)… I (graciously, I hope) declined, explaining that anything that we can’t take to the apartment, we obviously don’t “need” and even if we do move back into a house at some point, I will not regret having gotten rid of the dining set that doesn’t work for a young family, the knick knacks and momentos, and the yard implements.

    Having lived with that much storage for several years, I appreciate it isn’t really free. It can be a headache and plus it is just a lot of stuff that someone could actually be putting to good use (like the set of pyrex mixing bowls I found stashed away) or should be thrown out or recycled (granddad’s detergent scoops).

  10. Loved that movie! It’s a movie on how to simplify your life 🙂

    I have started decluttering. One challenging thing I realized is holding on to mementos, or things that just have a distinct memory attached to it.

    Any thoughts on how to let go of such things?


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