MONDAY MUSINGS: Dear Stuff, We're Breaking Up

The last time I did a good purge was after college. It was the day before graduation and one look down the block yielded anthills of flimsy plastic drawers, torn sofas, and perfectly good kitchen tables. It was clear I was not the only one. The pure excess my colleagues and I inherited over those four years amounted to more than would fit in mom's minivan, and thus in a frenzy to pack up and get out, we hauled it to the curb. At the time I wasn't one to be overly eco-conscious, but this stuck with me. I was horrified at the shear mass of it, perhaps my first realization of the term 'consumerism' our society is so often blanketed with. I've had a hard time parting with things since then, always with the reasoning that I'll find another use down the road. 

It's difficult to believe four years have passed, but a glance around my apartment and it's certainly more apparent. During that time I've moved to NYC, first to Manhattan then to Brooklyn, and become accustomed to living in a small space in a way I never thought I would. I have storage in closets and dividers in drawers, but the problem remains the amount of things I've accumulated. Clothes are no different. I've become a runner, a term I've only recently become comfortable using to describe myself. This has amounted to about two dress sizes smaller than I have ever been in my adult life. Holding on to clothes that don't fit seems like mental insurance that I won't ever be that size again.

As I continue to come into my own as we do in our mid-to-late twenties, I've continued to develop a sense of personal style and evolving values. I know what things are worth, I'm mindful of what I can afford, and I budget in a way that would make any mother proud. Recently I've made a conscious effort to buy timeless pieces for both my apartment and wardrobe. It isn't easy but I try to think hard about each and every purchase. However, when it comes to out with the old..that's when it gets sticky. Below are a few thoughts I've had as I continue to pair down the clutter. After all, a clean home is a clear mind.

Keep things that mean something. Like really mean something. "I have a whole drawer full of it's the thought that counts," my boyfriend declares during one of our many conversations on the topic of gift-giving. It happens to all of us — we feel compelled to keep what others give us. Unsure what to do with said item, we let it sit somewhere out of sight, as if its void would lessen our appreciation or add a thick layer of guilt. It's time to give yourself permission to keep only what has function and meaning. Chances are if you haven't touched it in a year, you probably won't miss it. (And shhh…no one will be any wiser.) 

Eliminate the hassle. For me, it was mismatching closet handles that I looked at every day for over a year before I finally got around to replacing them. Each day I woke up to a reminder of something that I disliked and a to-do I had yet to accomplish. Sometimes what we already have functions perfectly fine, but we sacrifice our general well-being in other ways. Jennifer Hunter of Apartment Therapy describes her experience with a sticky drawer in her nightstand: "The truth is, holding onto something that wasn't working for me not only wasted the money I initially paid, it also wasted my time and my day-to-day happiness at home."

Look at what you already have. One flip through Instagram and it's so tempting to go out and buy the newest vase or the trendiest pillow cover. However, I find much more value in the pieces I stumble upon during my travels or the curb finds I put my heart and soul into cleaning up. It's important to remember that styling a home, at its root, is a reflection of you. Kate Arends of Wit & Delight recently put together a beautiful post on the topic of minimalism. She speaks on styling her apartment for both her and her partner: "We had to let style follow function, and what we needed was a place to live together as equals. We created an expression of our life together that is all our own. The process is everything. It is where the learning is had. Everything else is extra."

Value your time. I was late to the eBay bandwagon, but I have had a lot of success uploading items with their app. Nonetheless, when sorting through things it's important to remember what your time is worth. Is the half hour it will take to photograph and write an accurate description worth the mere $5 you'll get in return? I recommend evaluating items based on three piles: save, sell, and donate. Then sit down and post your items all at the same time. Not only will you save time because you're already in the groove, but you'll also save yourself a few trips to the post office.

By all means, get that tax deduction. This LearnVest article is a great starting point to decide if it makes sense to go with the standard deduction or itemize. If you're still unsure, it doesn't hurt to get a receipt for any donations you make. My local farmers' market collects clothes every week through GrowNYC and they're always happy to provide me with a receipt. Apps like TurboTax's ItsDeductible, make it easy to keep track of fair market value — more on this from the IRS. Note that any noncash donations greater than $500 require completing and attaching Form 8283 to your return.

Be patient. I recently spent time trying on old clothing and found that after an hour, I had only filled one trash bag worth of clothes to donate. It takes time, and often cleaning looks worse before it gets better. Be patient with yourself and realize that there isn't always a quick fix, but the satisfaction is worth the effort.