A few years ago a close friend's mother died. It was pretty unexpected. She received a diagnosis and 4 months later she was gone. In addition to the grief my friend felt he was left sifting through her life. It was extremely painful for him. This experience helped me realize the things I so desperately want are just weighing me down. I made a commitment to pare down. I am sentimental so this was difficult for me but I've been paring down, and helping family members pare down, for a couple of years. I have picked up a few tips along the way.
Use it. Then give it to someone else.
I love books and they are not very practical to keep around the house. I look at a computer screen so much during the day that I feel like I am really getting a chance to relax when I read a book. Going to the library rarely works for me so I often find myself buying books at airports, gas stations or random bookstores while on a trip. After I have finished the book I give it to a friend (and tell them to give it to someone else to read when they are finished).
Not used in a year? Get rid of it.
This applies to clothes, shoes, books, hobbies, projects, entertaining supplies, collections, gifts for others, electronics and cooking supplies (really anything in your home).
If everything is special, then nothing is special.
I keep a handful of notes and letters from family members. Not all of them. I take photos of things I like and then get rid of them. When cleaning out something I'll read all the notes and letters I find. Perhaps this is the moment I was saving it for? Once I've re-read it, it is time to let go.
Don't be afraid to dump, give away or sell.
If your loved ones don't know why something is special, you need to tell them or they have every right to throw it away. One day you're not going to be there to tell the significance of an item to your loved ones. If they don't know the story, they are going to dump it, give it away or sell it. If it is important to you, say something - and keep it organized. Don't burden the people you love with your mess.
When you move you evaluate how much you really like your stuff. Pare down before *and* after each move.
Help someone else deal with a mess.
I guarantee you will want to dump, give away or sell some stuff after you help someone else deal with a mess. Bonus: if you help them they'll likely help you. :)
Talk about it.
In your annual meeting with your family talk about what you plan to give away (and then give it away).
Buy and release.
When you bring in something new to your home, find something in your home to give away. If you buy a shirt pick another one to donate or throw away.
Tips when buying gifts.
If I can't wear it, spend it or eat it, I probably don't want it. I try to remember that gifts I give to friends that don't fall in those category might end up getting re-gifted. If you re-gift something from me it won't hurt my feelings at all.
Don't get discouraged.
Though I've been actively paring down I still find I need to work to make more progress every year.
An updated version of this article was posted on Medium in January 2014.