Sunday, January 19, 2014

De-cluttering - What about the old philosophies? - #3

Old Philosophy #3: "If it is worn out, you should give it to Goodwill."

This one goes way back to my childhood. 

When I was a young girl, I cleaned my closet one day, and I set aside games, which I no longer played with, to give them to Goodwill. My dad complained that I was trying to give away all my good games...and, consequently, he built each of us shelves in the basement to store the things we were not currently using. 

In some ways, I haven't changed much since I was a little girl. Here's my 'thing' about Goodwill. On the one hand, it doesn't have to be perfect for you to give it to Goodwill. Goodwill not only provides people with various products more cheaply than they can get them at the department store, but it is an organization which also trains people and gives people jobs. As a good friend recently pointed out, even sorting through the donated items is a job for someone. 

On the other hand, I don't feel comfortable thinking of Goodwill principally as a place for my worn-out items. I myself shop at Goodwill to find the "treasures". So, I like to help re-stock the place with treasures for others to find, also. I like to pass along some things I no longer want which are still very nice (shh, don't tell my dad). 

Of course, Goodwill is not the only option. In my area, we have a St. Vincent de Paul bin with a sign on it, saying that donations go to help the homeless in our local area. So, nowadays, that's where my clothing goes (and some other things go to Goodwill...or our church's flea market in the summer). 

When I had blindness materials to distribute, I went to the Blindhomeschooler Yahoo group. When I had homeschooling materials to give away, I wrote to the local homeschool group we had participated in until my youngest went to college. The last two or three summers, I've had the opportunity to give religious and educational books to a visiting priest who was sending them back to his mission in Africa. 

I've given household items to local residents through Freecycle, and I've given old blankets to an animal shelter. Of course, all of this takes time, and sometimes it's easier to just pick it all up and take everything to two places, a thrift shop and the garbage. 

As far as worn out items, if it's really and truly worn out - not just in need of a minor repair - I throw it in the garbage. But if it's clothing, and it's at least partly cotton, I make it into a rag. I cut it open, so it won't sneak it's way back into someone's drawer. But first, I take off any buttons. Yes, I save buttons. Usually, when I need buttons for a project, I find myself buying them...still, I save buttons. But remember, recycle sewing is my hobby. I figure that saving stuff is okay if it's small and it's part of your hobby, right? 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

De-cluttering - What about the old philosophies? - #2

Old philosophy #2: If it is broken, you should keep it until you can find a way to fix it.

I once read something like this, "Throw away all the broken toys and other broken items in your home." Do what??  I thought it was heresy or something. (I've since changed my mind a bit.) 

My husband and I were both brought up with the philosophy that "if it's broken, you fix it". If you don't have the skills to fix it, you pay someone else to fix it. Or, you save it until you can learn how to fix it, or until you can get the parts you need to fix it. Or you keep it until it magically fixes itself. (Yes, I added that last part just this moment, tongue in cheek.)

I once splurged and bought a really nice watch. It wasn't overly expensive, but it cost me more than I usually spent for a watch. It stopped working, so I took it to the jewelry shop where I had bought it. When I came back to pick it up, they said, "That will be $$." I don't remember the amount, but I was in shock! If I remember right, it was considerably more than I had paid for the watch.  I asked them why they hadn't given me an estimate, and they said that if they went into the watch to find out what was wrong with it, that was about as much labor as fixing it, and that my bringing it in was my permission for them to fix it. That day I learned a lesson in communication. I also learned that sometimes, it's cheaper not to fix something. 

I no longer think you should fix everything. I think what we repair - or pay someone else to repair - is different for each of us. My husband and I pay someone to fix our cars. My current car is 11 years old. My former car, an American minivan, made almost 200,000 miles before it finally became irreparable. My husband's Jeep has way over 200,000 miles. We have other places we would rather put our money than newer cars; but that's not a decision for everyone.

How do we know whether to keep something, so we can fix it, or whether to just give it up?  I think the best way to figure that out is to consider value, enjoyment, and "likelihood".  

How much money and/or time will it cost to repair it? How long will it last after it's been repaired? Is it worth it? During our last move, a piece of wood near the bottom of my china cabinet broke, making it unusable. I thought it was all over (the cabinet, not my life, but I was pretty sad). But my husband found a strong glue, and he glued the piece back together, and it's been good ever since. 

Another question related to value might be, is it something essential, and we can't afford to get a new one right now? Would it be cheaper to have it repaired than to replace it? 

Or, does it have strong sentimental value?...which brings me to my next criteria. How much enjoyment will we get from the item if we repair it?  Is it something that brings us joy? Will it continue to bring us joy in its repaired state? 

And lastly, what is the likelihood that we really will get it repaired? If we haven't fixed something for months, or perhaps years, when do we think we are going to begin? Is there something that will help us to get started, or it it time to be honest with ourselves? 

If you know me, you might know that I like "fixing" clothing items...repairing, re-purposing, changing out the buttons, etc. I enjoy figuring out how to save something, and I enjoy hand-sewing, so together they constitute a hobby that brings me a lot of enjoyment. My dad once got free lumber and nails in exchange for taking down a building, and he used them to build a house. Cheap housing was a necessity for him at the time; but building was also his hobby. 

If it's our hobby, by all means, let's fix it. If not, we might want to consider whether it's worth it, how much we will enjoy it, and the likelihood that we will actually get around to it. Otherwise, we might want to get it - whatever it might be - out of the house. 

Is there anything special that you've "saved" that was worth it, or that you really enjoyed fixing? 

Thursday, January 09, 2014

De-cluttering - What about the old philosophies? - #1

Old philosophy #1: "If you spent good money for it, or it was a gift, so someone else spent good money for it, you should keep it."

This is a hard one. No one wants to waste their money. No one wants to think of crumpling up a twenty dollar bill (or more) and putting it into the trash can...or through the shredder...or, as people used to say, down the toilet.

But let's look at some of the ways we spend our money, other than buying "things"...just to dig a little deeper  into why we do what we do.

Perhaps you travel somewhere by airplane. You don't bring the plane home with you (not unless you own the plane, which most of us don't). If you travel by plane, perhaps you rent a car. You don't take the rental car home with you. If you aren't visiting relatives or friends (and, sometimes, if you are), you might stay in a motel. But you don't bring the motel home with you, nor the sheets and towels. But, generally speaking, we don't say, "I threw my money away."  What do we say? Hopefully, it's something along the lines of, "I had a wonderful time!"

We pay for a certain value.

If we go out to eat, we nourish our bodies and we enjoy time with our family or friends. If someone likes to golf, they get a feeling of accomplishment and perhaps camaraderie. If someone goes to a concert, they enjoy the music. At the end of the day, we have nothing to show for the money spent. Perhaps a carton of leftovers for tomorrow's lunch; maybe a scorecard or a program. Maybe some pictures. And that's all. But it's really not all, because what he have are the things of the mind and heart. And we can't put those in a box, or on a shelf, or away in a closet.

Now, I'm not suggesting we don't buy any "things", and I'm not suggesting we don't keep any "things".  But I am wondering if we could apply a similar value rule to the things we buy as we do to our experiences.

Years ago, my dad gave us a bread machine. We used it so much, I bought another one, so we could make two loaves at a time. Later, with less people living at home and a busier life outside the home, I wasn't making bread anymore, so I gave up the bread machines. Although both my father and my husband had worked hard to pay for those bread machines, we had already gotten our value from them, many times over.

If we have gotten our value from something, and we don't use it anymore, maybe someone else could get value from it now. And maybe we could use that space for something else that might bring value to our lives in the present - perhaps that something might be an item we have stored away, or perhaps just more space.

But what if we spent good money for something, but we have never used it? Shouldn't we keep it because we spent all that money to buy it?  Shouldn't we keep it, in case we want to use it some day?  But wait. If we haven't used it, what are the chances we will use it in the future? Maybe we need to own our mistake and move on. Maybe we need to move it on out, so we will stop seeing it and regretting that purchase.

If you are reading this post and you don't know me, you might think I advocate not keeping much of anything. If you knew me, you would know that's not true, as I drive an old car, and I like to give new life to old clothing.  And that's what I plan to write my next post about: should we keep it, so we can fix it some day?

Read De-cluttering - What about the old philosophies? - #2.
         and the previous post, Why is it so hard to dig out of the packrat den?

Friday, January 03, 2014

Why is it so hard to dig out of the packrat den?

"You're a packrat," one of my sons told me recently, and I looked at him in disbelief. When we relocated, a few years ago, from a huge house in the country, in Kentucky, to an apartment, in Baltimore, I'm the one who - after the initial yard sale - used Craigslist and Freecycle to whittle our stuff down, again and again. I'm the one who has sold and given away dozens (perhaps hundreds?) of books.

But I looked around our apartment, and I thought about what he said, and I realized he's right. My husband and I are both packrats, just in different areas of life and perhaps for both some different reasons, as well as some intersecting reasons.

I'm slowly working toward minimalism - toward reducing "stuff" - without giving up the second two parts of "reduce, reuse, recycle". But in the meantime, I've been exploring 'how we got this way'. So, this morning I made a list (of course). It's a list of what we learned, mostly from our parents, who - just for the record - grew up during the Depression. Not all of these items apply to us...although many of them apply to one or the other of us...but I've gotten them all from observing ourselves, our parents, and our siblings.

Please do not take these and run with them, so to speak. Many of them are better "re-thought" entirely, and others at least modified. Most of them bog us down in life. But until we see where we're coming from, I figure it might be harder to figure out where we're going.

Old Philosophies about “Stuff”:
1.       If you spent good money for it, or it was a gift, so someone else spent good money for it, you should keep it.
2.       If it is broken, you should keep it until you can find a way to fix it.
3.       If it is worn out, you should give it to Goodwill.
4.       But if you can remake it, or you might be able to re-use it in another way some day, you should keep it for when you have time to do that.
5.       You should keep old things, like holey socks, because you might need them in an emergency or in an economic downturn.
6.       You should save your college textbooks, other books, your childhood toys & games, and clothing that no longer fits you, for your children and your grandchildren to use some day.
7.       If you have items that are no longer in general use, for example, vinyl records, you should keep them until you can have them converted or until you can buy the equipment to convert them yourself, or better yet, buy the re-manufactured retro equipment to play them on.
8.       If an item – large or small – has sentimental value, you should keep it.
9.       If you have items or equipment from a former hobby, or from a former lifestyle (for example, you now live in an apartment but have yard tools from a house with a yard), you should keep them, in case you, once again, pursue that hobby or, once again, live in a house with a yard.
10.   If you have family or friends visiting you, and they need something, you should have it at hand for them, be it a notebook, jacket, or an extra car to drive. 

I kid you not (as we used to say). My Dad always had two cars, even though he was single in later years. And when we were at my Dad's house after his stroke, my brother-in-law and I were able to find everything we needed - some parts in the garage, some parts in the basement - to put together a coffee maker, even though my Dad had made nothing but instant coffee for decades. At that point he didn't understand that we were at his house making coffee, but I'm sure he would have been pleased.

I'm open to your comments and ideas...but please remember that, although I don't recommend wasting resources, neither do I recommend the above philosophies.

And now, back to my de-cluttering. 

P.S. I intend to write a follow-up (or two or ten) about some of these philosophies in particular.
Here is the first one: De-cluttering: What about the old philosophies? -  #1