Why donating your clothes is not the first thing you should do to keep clutter at bay

Until recently, I didn’t know how scared my clients were to purge. They are afraid not for obvious reasons. I mean, everyone feels a little scared to purge. You are letting go, and in letting go you sometimes feel like you are losing a part of yourself. Or losing a part of your life that at one time had meaning. You have that feeling often because you, like many others, attach feelings to actual physical things. Instead of thinking of the experience and remembering the laughs, the conversations, the good time, you keep the shirt you wore that doesn’t fit any longer, or the oversized and mismatched plastic cup you used to toast the occasion that you have absolutely no use for now.

We keep things as a way to remember. When, in fact, the things don’t remind us. They clutter us.

That clutter weighs heavy on you. It doesn’t make you feel good. And it weighs heavy in part because the “things” you keep that you associate with a past good time aren’t often used, even liked, definitely not needed.  You know this.  So on top of keeping it and feeling weighted, you also feel a little conflicted, maybe even guilty  – for keeping it and for letting it go.

It’s a vicious cycle.

I have learned however that there is another fear and it is of letting go and not knowing where to donate items. When you put these two fears together what you have is a desire to both lighten your load of things that no longer inform your life positively, and a need to make sure someone else gets the chance to love your items the way you once did. The things you were comforted by or that reminded you of a time when you felt good or happy need another home and you want a say in it.

Places like Savers who partner with the Epilepsy Foundation, and other donation places that connect to charities are excellent ways to let go and feel good about where your things will go.

But donating to a great place isn’t all it is cracked up to be.

I don’t want to burst your purging bubble. And I don’t mean to discourage you from doing the necessary work to lighten your load so you can live a life that has meaning. I say it to give you pause.

Yes, letting go of the unnecessary is one very well-paved path to freedom in your space and with your life. And yes, passing it along to others who need it more is the right thing to do. But then what? What will you do to assure you aren’t continuing the cycle of purchase-keep-donate-when-you-feel-stuffed?

When will you stop the actions that stuff you in the first place?

Many of us think buying things will make us feel good. It becomes more like therapy. But what about trying the opposite and seeing what it feels like to lighten the load, free the space, clear your head and then stay that way? What if that, in fact, was exactly what you needed to start to feel good?

There is a whole lotta stuff in our homes and therefore taxing our lives. And we need to stop the bleeding.

Here are three ways you do that:

1. Question.

Always question why you are buying anything. Do you need it? Is it really serving a purpose? If you just got into an argument with your partner and shopping makes you feel better, maybe take a long walk first to blow off steam and get your head straight. It might just save you from consuming when it isn’t necessary.

2. Buy things that will last.

Not many things are built to last, clothing especially. And it can be easy to get pulled into the consumer game of buying because something is so inexpensive. The two-for-one deals add more than you need. They aren’t built to last. And often, because they are a “deal” you don’t think much about whether you really like the item at all. Companies bank on that fact. That you will be pulled in by price and not actually need. Buy things that will last longer than a week-long fashion trend. And spend money for quality. It will force you to question whether you really need it and like it. And prevent the non-compostable from ending up in a landfill.

3. Slow social media (and tune out your television).

There is so much information available these days on television and on the internet. It is hard to not be pulled into the consumerism vortex and be swayed by the latest thing.  Social media promoting certain fashions and looks can pull on your insecurity strings leaving you trying hard to keep up with everyone else. Often, people look to social media and television to tell you what you need to buy, or how you need to look. With it you “lose [your] ability to process and make sense of [your] emotions, or reflect on who [you] are and what really matters…” (Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism). When you lose sight of that it makes it easy to buy more than you need, spend more than you have, and try to store more than you have space for. (Which makes a good case to limit your time on both).

It’s time to think for yourself and for what you really do need. And to do so before you decide to buy.

Decluttering is something of which I am a huge fan. I want you to experience the joy and freedom and opportunity to create and grow that is on the other side of that clutter. So by all means, continue to purge. Continue to donate.

And please also consider stopping the behaviors that leave you needing to do those things in the first place.

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