Lightening The Load

When I tell people what a FREEING experience moving is, they usually look at me like I'm crazy. "What do you mean freeing? It's the most stressful thing I've ever been through!" While there are stresses associated with relocating, each move offers you the opportunity to lighten the load. When I was in college, I moved at least once a year, and sometimes once a semester. You had better believe that I only took the bare essentials with me - because I didn't want to spend all of my time packing boxes and hauling a lot of junk with me from residence to residence. If I didn't use it regularly, it was either sold in a garage sale, given to charity, or tossed in the trash.

Unfortunately, once we become more settled we tend to accumulate things that we don't use or need. It's easier, sometimes, to just stick it in the closet and say, "I'll deal with that later," than make a decision. But when we move, we are forced to pull all of those dark demons out of the shadows and confront them face on. So as you handle and contemplate and pack each of your favorite treasures, ask yourself a few of the following questions.

DOES IT BELONG TO YOU?

You've had your neighbor's hedge trimmer for 3 years -- or your sister's favorite casserole dish since the last church social 3 months ago. Why take someone else's clutter with you to your new home? Since you are going to be touching everything that you own as you pack it up, this is the perfect time to weed out some of those borrowed items that seem to have moved in permanently with you. And while you're at it, hunt down any library books or video rentals that you tossed into a corner and never took back. Returning items that don't belong to you is incredibly cathartic -- it's like tying up a loose end and saying, "At least that part of my life is in order." And even if you have to face late fees or a bit of teasing from the other person about "stealing" their stuff, it's a great way to achieve CLOSURE with your old environment before you move on to the new.

By the way, if you want to avoid this problem in the future, set up a receptacle (crate, basket, box) in your new home for borrowed items. When you are finished using something that you borrowed, put it in this "out box" rather than storing it away in your cabinets or closet. Put a label on each item reminding you who it belongs to, and make a date to return that item to its rightful owner. All this borrowed "stuff" is more likely to end up back with its original owner, and this offers you a great opportunity to schedule coffee or dinner with a friend!

WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU USED IT?

If you haven't touched something in the past 12 months, chances are that you're not going to use it in the next 12. Clothes and sporting goods seem to be some of the worst offenders! It's natural for people to have a hard time letting go of the past. And if an old outfit or a bowling ball really means that much to you, then put it away with your keepsakes. If you feel like you need to hang onto ancient financial paperwork, send it to offsite document storage.

If you can't seem to make a decision, ask yourself when you would ever need it again. Be honest and realistic about this one! At what point will a green shag toilet-seat cover be crucial to your survival? If you can picture a specific, concrete instance when you will need it in the foreseeable future, then by all means keep it. "I might need it someday" isn't a good enough rationale. Just don't take up valuable space on your moving truck or in your new home with junk you never use.

IS IT EASILY REPLACEABLE?

You simply may not have enough room on the truck to take everything with you -- but this isn't always the end of the world. Think about all of the things you own that are relatively inexpensive, plentiful, and easy to replace -- plants, canned goods, cleaning supplies, etc. When push comes to shove, it's not particularly painful to leave these items behind -- you can always get more when you reach your new location. And sometimes it's healthier to leave certain items behind. Volatile chemicals - such as paint, gasoline, and certain cleaning fluids - can become a real hazard when packed on a moving truck and it's best to just let them go. And trying to empty your freezer into a bunch of coolers for a long journey is just asking for food poisoning!

Of course, if we are talking about an expensive or hard-to-find item, you are certainly justified in thinking twice before ditching it. But even with items you think you couldn't live without, you always have to consider cost versus benefit. How much will it cost to transport to your new home? How much does it weigh and will it be difficult to carry? Is it bulky -- will it require extra movers or helpers to get it into your new home? How much space does it take up on the truck and how does that break down into dollars per square foot? Will you have to buy extra insurance to cover any potential loss or damage? Will you have to put it in rented storage when you reach your destination? It may cost you more (in time, space, energy, or money) to keep the item than to replace it IF and WHEN you ever need it.

DOES IT FIT WITH YOUR NEW LIFESTYLE?

When I finished my Masters degree and moved to Atlanta, I decided that I was not doing to take a single piece of crappy "college furniture" with me. I wanted to begin my life as a professional with a professional image. So I got rid of everything that didn't match this new persona, and hit the road -- taking only a bed, two dressers, and an entertainment center. Because I had created the space for re-inventing myself, I was able to discover a completely different side to my personal tastes. I settled into my professional life quickly and easily. And I really feel that -- had I kept the temporary furniture around -- I would still be partially stuck in college mode. This might sound like a superficial change, but it has aided me tremendously in seeing myself as successful and achieving my professional goals.

One of the nicest things about moving is that sense of STARTING FRESH. Of course, you are still the same person that you were in your old neighborhood -- but in some ways, you get a chance to do things differently. You might take a job in a different industry, get involved in community activities you have never tried before, or decorate your home in a new style. So why would you want to bring along a lot of excess "paraphernalia" from your old lifestyle? If you are going to make a change, go on ahead and do it without remnants from the past hanging on. If you are no longer interested in macrame, don't even think about packing your macrame supplies on the truck! If you are giving up the corporate job to be a stay-at home mom, consign your suits or donate your work clothes to a women's charity.

Take a minute to think about who you want to be and what kind of environment you desire before you start packing up -- it will not only lighten your load but also get the creative juices flowing!

WHAT IS THE WORST THING THAT WOULD HAPPEN IF I GOT RID OF IT?

When my clients are anxious about discarding an item, they are really saying, "I'm afraid of what might happen if I got rid of it." This is simply fear of the UNKNOWN -- uncertainty about the consequences of their actions. So I ask my clients to let their apprehensions run wild, and to imagine the absolute WORST-CASE scenario. Quite often, the worst-case scenario is not that bad. Will the world end if you toss out that ring binder you haven't used since college? Probably not. This knowledge helps dissipate the fear and makes letting go a little easier.

So let your imagination run wild as you clean out. Picture the craziest, most unlikely scenario that you can. For example -- if you tossed out your old tax returns and the IRS decided to audit you and you couldn't prove you had paid your taxes, the IRS might take everything you own and leave you living in a box under the freeway. So that's an important item to keep. But if you tossed out an old Southern Living magazine from 1985 and there was a recipe for cherry cheesecake in there that you wanted later, you could simply go to the library or look it up on the internet. Not quite as critical to your existence on this planet!

Ramona Creel is a Professional Organizer and the founder of OnlineOrganizing.com -- a web-based one-stop shop offering everything that you need to get organized at home or at work. At OnlineOrganizing.com, you may get a referral to an organizer near you, shop for the latest organizing products, get tons of free tips, and even learn how to become a professional organizer or build your existing organizing business. And if you would like to read more articles about organizing your life or building your business, get a free subscription to the "Get Organized" and "Organized For A Living" newsletters. Please visit http://www.OnlineOrganizing.com or contact Ramona directly at [email protected] for more information.

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