Quit The Nonsense and Throw Away Your Junk

Sean Kernan

As my hands pushed the ceiling hatch upward, the ladder beneath me suddenly wobbled. My heart caught in my throat as I reached down to stabilize it. Thankfully, there wouldn’t be an early trip to the ER that day, but it was a reminder that gravity is real, and watching.

Trying again, I pushed the wooden hatch upwards, and to the side. A barely-visible string dangled from above. After poking my head up and pulling it, a floating lightbulb revealed my attic’s treasures and I groaned.

“More junk,” I thought. Four boxes, none of which I owned, sat and waited for inspection. It felt like bad karma to leave mystery boxes for the new owners as the old ones had for me. One box was filled with random papers. Another had erotic magazines from the 80s, which felt like a troll move to leave behind. Two boxes had children’s clothes and had been chewed up by some unseen rodent.

A month earlier, my partner surveyed my house and said, “You’re move will only be more expensive, and difficult, if you bring all this stuff.” I was initially defensive, but as she made her points, she initiated one of my most prized reforms:a quest of decluttering, which brought about self-discovery, a new lifestyle, and revealed the strange relationship we develop with everyday objects.

Every “thing” has a story

Standing vertical in my closet, was an acoustic guitar with only four working strings, a dent, and tons of dust. I learned to play guitar on it a decade prior and it somehow became an important artifact— despite me being one of the world’s worst musicians.

Ancient homework assignments sat in scribbled piles. I didn’t even like school (compared to my partner, who is a professor, and saved much of her cherished homework like they are family photos). A box for my X-box, which was stolen years prior, sat empty on one shelf. I looked back, and remembered admiring the shape of this box and being certain I’d store cool things in it— despite having rows of empty shelves already. A pile of broken black and white keyboards sat on top of each other, like kissing jigsaw puzzles with missing pieces. Half my clothes were unworn and many didn’t fit, being collateral damage from botched Christmas presents.

Waves of junk haulers came to wash away my stuff in the ensuing weeks.I marveled as wheeled castles of clutter pulled out of my driveway, leaving me wondering how things had gotten this bad. Then, I resumed patrolling my house, feeling like a Roman emperor, deciding each gladiator’s fate. Some were given a second chance while others, like my uncomfortable couch and wobbly side table, were carried on stretchers to an early retirement at the Hillsborough County Waste Department.

There was an unanticipated and welcome consequence of this exodus. I began feeling more clear headed and less stressed. As it turns out, this is precisely what happens per Dr. Stephanie McMains. When your home is cluttered, it creates visual competition between stimuli, adding to your brain’s workload. Your eyes are always surveying your surroundings, identifying points of focus and potential threats. With the presence of more distractions, it increases stress. Clutter and disarray are even proven to cause avoidance strategies (procrastination), and lead to eating more junk food.

Objects matter. They aren’t nothing. Each tells a story, and some of those stories are worth preserving. For example, I keep items that remind me of those I’ve lost:

Via Author

Which is why clutter is a subjective term. Some stuff makes your home your home. But generally, through small omissions of convenience, things tend to pile up beyond their due.

The storytelling part of my brain is the one that creates my clutter problems. There’s this minority-party voice in my head which, if risen to power, could surely turn me into a hoarder. It whispers, “Oh, but remember these index cards? You could use those 5,000 cards for XYZ.” That voice must be silenced.Or I go down a path that leads to sleeping on mountains of junk and my house smelling of cats.

I made $500 selling things on Facebook Marketplace and could have made more. But I eventually got impatient with the process. As new buyers showed up, I threw in various objects to sweeten the deal. One man showed up to buy my ladder and left with a free lawnmower, weedwhacker, and various lawn pesticides, free of charge (my new HOA includes lawn care).

I grew to enjoy the process of decluttering, and today, my home is minimalist and easy to navigate. My lifestyle has improved immensely. For example, I was once famous for losing my keys and wallet. It felt like I knew all the DMV employees and their life stories. Today, it never happens. Everything has a purpose and place and I’m no longer at the mercy of my distractedness.

There were tactical steps, including removing crutch-behaviors. For example, I have a no-floor-stuff rule, and minimized how many dressers are kept in rooms, because they are often refugee camps for junk:

Photo byauthor

It’s a crying shame that it took me so long to make this change, because I knew better. My family moved 13 times before I turned 18. It was prohibitively expensive and, even after throwing stuff away constantly, my mom still joked, “Your dad and I can’t get divorced because we have too much stuff to split.”

I began leveraging the six month rule, which I learned from my parents. If you haven’t used something in six months, ask the question, “Should we get rid of it?” Exceptions will abound. But I’ve found that, quite often, if you haven’t used something in the prior six months, it won’t be used in the subsequent six years.

Here’s another thought exercise that helps: imagine all your belongings must be sent into space and with every object, there’s a cost per pound on your stuff. I did this today, and realized that my shanty laptop that didn’t even work, and a bunch of comics that were never going to become rare — could not go to space with me.

A functional, non-cluttered house feels breezy and easy. It’s efficient and relaxing. It almost like weight loss. You feel lighter on your feet. It’s easier to remember where that one really important thing is, because you aren’t subconsciously tracking eleven other things you don’t even need.

Beware of the storytelling in your brain about objects, and why they might be important or useful. Be disciplined. Embrace an intentional lifestyle with lighter mental loads. Throw it away. Be free.

What are you thoughts? Do you throw away your clutter? Leave them below ⬇️

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