Archived Story

Decluttering poses problems

Published 4:02am Monday, November 18, 2013 Updated 6:12am Monday, November 18, 2013

Due to an upcoming garage sale by one of my relatives, my spouse and I finally are doing something long overdue.

We are, once and for all, getting rid of junk.

We have tried to hide it as much as possible. We’ve kept some in a detached barn, other things in the loft of our garage, and even more stuff in the corner room of our basement.

But the time has come to make some decisions.

My boss once told me that every piece of paper on one’s desk, or message in one’s email inbox, represents a task. Sometimes, the task is simply to throw the message or note away, or file it. Other times, it represents work — a decision to be made, a meeting to set up. Thus, the theory is, those who can keep a clean desk can stay on top of things more, and ultimately, get more done.

I suppose the same holds true for one’s household. There are basically three options for your junk (besides leaving it sit where it is, of course): sell it, give it away or throw it away.

Making such a decision for each thing you own isn’t particularly easy.

For example, I have a very nice weight set that a friend “loaned” to me. It’s metal rather than plastic, and it looks like it should be at a health club.

My friend loaned it to me, I believe, because his wife was tired of it taking up space in their garage.

I had it in the basement for a few years, but my wife got tired of it taking up space.

The decision: Am I going to get back into weightlifting? But then again, if I do, I can always lift at the YMCA.

So then do I offend my friend if I sell it? I have to get around to asking him about it.

Or how about the weed trimmer? It’s a gas weed trimmer, and it looks new. But I bought it more than a decade ago, and it doesn’t start.

You know how those small gas engines work, or don’t, in this case. I have long since bought a new one. Do I really want to try to sell it if it doesn’t work? What if I put new gas in it, maybe a spark plug, and it magically starts up?

Then there’s the cat tents. Probably a decade ago, we acquired two miniature tents from one of the discount stores.

The mini tents were designed to give customers a model of what the real tents were going to look like. Someone in my circle (maybe it was me) had the bright idea that our cat might want to sit in it.

Our cat did — for about 10 minutes. Then he got bored and went on to something else.

So for the last nine years, 364 days, 23 hours and 50 minutes, those tents have been sitting in our garage. But they look so cool! And maybe our cat will get into it again.

And on and on we go. About every two years we buy a humidifier because it gets dry.

We don’t throw away the old one, and so now we have four or five of them in our garage loft.

They still work, so why would we throw it away? But who would really want an old humidifier?

Which brings me to another point: assigning fiscal value to something isn’t as easy as it sounds.

My wife put a table and chairs up for sale for $75, and got five offers within a day. Too cheap? Probably.

I took a miniature gas grill — unopened, mind you, since it was one I won in a drawing — to the local thrift shop to give away, and they didn’t want it. “Not in season,” I was told.

Clearly, the thrift store staff know their market better than I.

By the way, if you’re going to give away stuff to the local thrift shops, make sure a staff member approves of it. Otherwise, you are just giving the thrift shop your garbage.

After making many of these decisions that led us to throw an item away, I made a trip to the local garbage disposal site. I unfortunately ran into one of the staff members who questioned some of the things I was throwing away, contending, I assume, that they have value.

All I could think of at that point was the line from the Godfather III, “I thought I was out, and they pulled me back in!”

I paused, calmly acknowledged him, and ordered him to press on.

Cleaning one’s life of clutter is not about having organizational skills. It’s about having the courage to live up to one’s possessions, and acknowledge that you don’t need it, don’t really want it, and in many cases, simply need to throw it away.

By the way, does anyone want to buy a weight set?


Joel Myhre is The Journal’s publisher. Email him at

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