Today is Pack Rat Day. I did not make this up. I heard it on the news. I also found it on the internet. Impeachable sources, clearly.
Note: this is an update of a post I originally wrote in 2011. I’ve added a few new resources to help you become an anti-pack-rat and keep the clutter at bay.
Allegedly, Pack Rat Day means you should take the day off from doing anything about the clutter.
But I am anti-pack-rat. I am in purge mode, getting re-organized, getting all my ducks in a row and getting prepared for the busy summer season, where I will not have time to deal with junk or want to spend time cleaning the basement and the garage and the closets when I could be out enjoying the summer sunshine.
When I first wrote this post I had just finished purging and cleaning out my CD archive. Photographers tend to accumulate large archives. In my film days, I managed to amass 17 storage boxes of negatives from various client photography sessions over the years. When we moved from California, I decided (ok, my hubby decided) that we weren’t moving and storing that many boxes of old client stuff. It really was a lot of stuff once I’d pulled all the boxes and put them in one place. So, I went through it, ditched all the wedding negatives from divorced couples and sold off everything that wasn’t personal. It paid for our moving truck (we used one of those companies that bring you a truck and then drive it for you). It also freed up some great space.
When I made the switch to digital a few years later, my storage requirements diminished considerably. But it’s still too much when you have multiple discs from the same job from a client who isn’t ever going to re-order. So, I purged down my file boxes from nine to just five–and then put those in CD boxes, which take up a lot less space & are easier to find my CD’s in. Side benefit: I won’t be buying any more CD sleeves for a really long time. Since I originally wrote this, I’ve purged again, and it is something I now do periodically to make sure I’m not storing image files I’m never going to need again and to make my life easier for the ones I do need to find. Now that I no longer actively photograph weddings and portraits, I’m able to purge again, and now my files take up a fraction of the space.
And in case you’re wondering, I do still archive my image files to CD and DVD. I have a cloud back-up service that takes care of my active computer drives. But once I have done what I’m going to do with the files (printing, designing, uploading for sales, etc.), they get archived onto a disc and removed from my active drives. I use the discs because my data security adviser tells me they are still the most reliable form of storage–and so far, I’ve had no problems retrieving files from them, even ones I put there 15 years ago or more.
But back to Pack Rat Day– or in my case, Anti-Pack Rat Day.
In honor of the occasion, here are my five simple steps for staying on top of the clutter.
Declutter with the “Moving Rule”
When purging that stuff you’re storing in the basement, garage or attic because “someday you might need it”, use the Moving Rule: Would you pay someone to move it across country so you could continue to store it? If the answer is no, it needs to go. (If you’ve priced movers lately, you’ll know why we use this rule–the cheapest quote we got for a “full-service” mover to move our 1800 s.f. household from New Mexico to Colorado in 2010–with US packing and unpacking the boxes was $10,000. I’m sure it’s not any less now). If you are, in fact, moving, check out this post, with a free downloadable moving checklist.
Let Go of Your Food Mistakes
Is your pantry scary? Do you have canned goods in there older than your children? It’s time to take it all out and arrange it on the counter. Sort through for the scary expired foods. Safety rule: any canned item that bulges or shows rust needs to go in the garbage. If it’s old and still good, figure out how to use it up this week. If it was a purchase mistake and no one is ever going to eat it, get rid of it. Those “expiration dates” on food don’t mean they’re not safe. In the interest of time, you can go here and here to find out more. Need some ideas for preventing this in the future? Check out this post on rotating your food supply.
Clear Out the Closet
Do you suffer from overstuffed closets? When the closets get too full, it’s too hard and too frustrating to find anything and we usually end up buying more because we “have nothing to wear.” How we justify that when we can’t even squeeze in another hanger remains one of the great mysteries of the universe.
So, here’s how to start taking back control of your closet. Hang everything backward. When you wear something, turn the hanger back around. After your specified amount of time–3 months, 6 months, you choose–everything that still has the hanger turned backwards is something you haven’t worn and can probably be purged (there are a few exceptions). We do have seasonal clothing here, but we don’t keep everything in the closet all year, so that doesn’t become an issue. I have to admit, I was amazed the first time I did this. I had so many things that I was ignoring in my closet. Most of them went away, and some of them I started wearing again. For more help on reclaiming your closet, check out this post with 10 easy steps for organizing your closet.
Corral the School Treasures
Being as this week is the end of the school year here, that also means it’s time for the “school treasures” purge. Each of my kids has one Rubbermaid Rough Tote (18-gallon–I have my limits–and yes, I love Rubbermaid. If they saw my basement, they’d hire me in a heartbeat). The house rule is they can keep any “treasure” they can fit in the bin. That’s one bin per child, NOT one per school year. So, each year at the end of school, we pull the bins out and they go through them. Some old things get purged, some new things get added. They get virtually no feedback from me once they get past elementary school. The bins belong to my children and they get to choose what’s important to them, not what I think should be important to them. Learn more about our school paper system in this post.
Love it or Leave It
If you don’t love it or don’t use it, let it go. You do not have to keep things because they are important to someone who doesn’t live at your house. Did you inherit great-grandma’s glove collection? Did you get the velvet Elvis that hung in Uncle Ralph’s den? Did a “dear friend” give you a door wreath that you would sooner die than display? So, why are you keeping them? Shop those priceless “heirlooms” around the family. If you don’t love them, someone else might. If no one loves them, you can safely get rid of them. You are not required to keep anything just because it’s important to someone who does not live at your house. Let me repeat that for you, so you can ditch the guilt:
YOU ARE NOT REQUIRED TO KEEP ANYTHING JUST BECAUSE IT’S IMPORTANT TO SOMEONE WHO DOES NOT LIVE AT YOUR HOUSE.
After schlepping stuff through several moves I finally realized the folly of keeping “gifts” to avoid offending the givers. If it has some meaning to US (meaning the people who live in my house), if it has some use to us, we keep it. Otherwise, we do our best to find someone for whom it will have use and meaning and save the space in our home for things that have use and meaning for us.
Finally, lighten up. It’s only stuff. Choose and treasure the things that are most important to you and let the rest go. If everything is important, then nothing is important. And remember, in the priority scheme of things, people and relationships are always more important than stuff.
And now, if you’d like more help getting organized, and figuring out what to keep and watch to let go of, download my free copy of “20 Tips for a More Organized Life” here.
Need some one-on-one help? Comment on this post, send me a message, contact me through social media. I am available for individual help and consultations, for both home and business.
By the way, Tomorrow is International Museum Day. So reward today’s efforts with a day out tomorrow. And it’s also I love Reese’s Day. Chocolate is always a good reward for organizing, right?