Dejunking: The Book that Motivated Me

I’ve been dejunking my house.  It is all due to the book For Packrats Only: How to Clean Up, Clear Out, and Dejunk Your Life Forever (1998) by Don Aslett.  I heard about it from a high-school friend’s blog post, which you can see here.  She is a craft blogger and gave herself the challenge to dejunk her house in 30 days after reading Aslett’s book.  I decided to follow suit, especially since my housework has suffered since being in school for the last year.

packrat cover

Now that I’m on a break, I have plenty of time to clean and declutter.  However, finding energy to do so is another thing completely.  That is where Aslett’s book helped.  Yes, he had tips and tricks, but mostly it motivated me.  After reading a section or chapter, I would think, “I can do that!” and then I would jump up and do it.  Here are some of the motivating ideas that stuck out to me.

First, clutter is expensive.  Often, we think about holding onto our stuff because we paid good money for it, but he talks about how much it costs to store and maintain, especially if you have so much stuff that you need to rent a storage unit.  There is also a psychological cost.  We can become so connected to stuff, that people don’t matter or that we must give up time with family in order to move or rearrange our stuff.

Secondly, moving clutter around is what prevents us from cleaning our homes.  He has a professional cleaning business, and he found that homes with more stuff took longer to clean because of the amount of time it took to move the stuff before being able to get to the carpet or the windows.  This resonated with me because of the toy clutter we have.  I find that all of my cleaning energy is sapped after picking up the toys that get strewn about the house during the day.  I have no desire to then dust or vacuum.  The carpet looks pretty good once the toys are gone, even if there are bits of string or cereal still there!  As to decluttering these toys, I may have to wait a few more years.  Not all of it can be easily dispensed of with the children running around.  (Aslett suggests dejunking children’s things carefully, in deference to feelings, and perhaps when they aren’t at home.)

Third, don’t make excuses.  Aslett knows every excuse in the book.  Some of them include the claim that we are working on that project or that we will fix that someday.  He says that if “someday” hasn’t come and those scraps or broken appliances are still hanging around, just toss them.  He says it is actually less expensive to go out and buy that item, should you need it, since he knows that the excuse would be that you might need it someday.

There is much more motivation in this book.  He has techniques, such as using boxes rather than bags, and maybe storing a box full of stuff you think you can’t live without for six months and then revisiting the possibility of letting it go.  This technique works.  When we replaced the floors in our home several years ago, we boxed up a lot of stuff and put it in the shed.  When we were settled again, it was a year before I remembered that stuff was out there, and I hadn’t missed it at all!

He also talks about gifts, and how we feel like we must keep items that somebody gives to us.  He says this isn’t so.  We can thank them and then quietly give it away.  In this case, and in others, getting rid of the stuff can be easier if we know it is going to a good home.  He suggests holding a yard sale or giving to a thrift store or charity.  I find that this works well for me in getting over the psychological hurdle of giving away “important” items.

I recently did this with baby clothing and accessories.  I went through all of it, selling some at consignment stores, giving some to a neighbor, and donating the rest to a thrift store.  I felt good about it, rather than torn and conflicted that I was giving away memories of my children.

So my house is slowly becoming less cluttered and more comfortable (and clean-able).  I’ve gone through cupboards and drawers, just one day at a time.  I’ve given away games we haven’t played but once, thrown away old toiletries and perfumes, emended our DVD collection, trashed the millions of plastic children’s hangers that were stored in the backs of the closets, and parted with books that I will never read.

The best project has been getting rid of all of my old magazines, Martha Stewart Living and Real Simple.  I had marked pages in them that I planned to revisit, but I never had.  It has been years since I’ve looked at some of the issues, and I no longer subscribe to either one.  So I ripped out those pages, mostly recipes, put them in page protectors in a binder, and threw away the rest.  Now I have a beautiful cookbook that has led to renewed cooking efforts on my part and some delicious meals.  Here’s how that cookbook turned out.

packrat cookbook 1

packrat cookbook 2packrat cookbook 3

Nice, right?

I’ve also cleared some shelf space, both on my bookshelves and in my kitchen and laundry-room cupboards.  Aslett recommends getting rid of shelves and chests, as they are just clutter gatherers.  I’m not completely convinced of that, but I am convinced that my home will be happier, easier to clean, and more inviting for getting rid of things that I don’t need, use, or really even want.  It has been fun and liberating.  That freedom is the biggest promise of Aslett’s admonitions to declutter.  Free yourself of stuff and start living for people.

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59 thoughts on “Dejunking: The Book that Motivated Me

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  1. Emily, I can so relate to this post! I’m big on purging things and trying to keep the clutter down, but it can pile up now and again, in which case I need a motivator to set me back on track like this book. We have difficulties with family members who keep everything and I have seen how this presents HUGE challenges, particularly later in life. I have vowed that I won’t let that happen to me and I won’t impose the burden of forcing my child to help me manage my clutter when I’m older. Our society is very acquisitive — I applaud you for calling attention to the need to declutter and for emphasizing the psychological benefits.

    Your cookbook looks fabulous! Have fun with it! 🙂

    1. I love that you bring up the clutter issue as we age. The book covers that as well, and seriously, who wants to clean out their parents’ junky house after they die? Will anybody keep that “stuff” that was supposedly so precious? Probably not! I’m looking forward to getting to a place where I feel like this project is “done,” but it will never be done! And I think about it now when I’m shopping, too. I look at stuff in the stores as junk, rather than thinking, “That would look nice in my bedroom,” or “I really like that. I’m going to buy it right now!” Some of this can be prevented.

  2. I’m working on a large pile of clutter. Trouble is that once it’s clean I have to follow around behind the mister to keep it that way. Either he’s the absent-minded professor, or he’s got a really good scam going.

    1. LOL! I have that problem, too! Or he tries to help me and ends up getting rid of something that I didn’t approve of getting rid of. How funny. Maybe there should be a second book about sitting down with one’s family and formulating a plan for how to do this, but that would require getting everybody on the same page, which is hard to do when it comes to the psychological aspects of dejunking.

    1. I say read a few pages at a time (of any decluttering book) and that will be enough to get you up and moving. I also found that it gave me ideas of which areas were likely in need of help and which things were “okay” to get rid of.

  3. Thanks so much for sharing this. The idea of the cookbook is inspired, and I’m sure I could do the same with my favorite decorating or craft ideas. Three notebooks replacing 300 magazines! WooHoo! I’m on to Amazon to see if I can find a copy of the book. If this one idea helps so much, imagine what a whole book full of ideas can do!
    Thanks again, Vickie

  4. I have a three-ring binder for my recipes, too! Isn’t that the best idea?! Thanks for the dejunking pointers and the book review. I’m kind of a pack rat myself and could use the help. 😉

    1. It certainly makes the recipes more accessible! I wish I could do something like that with Pinterest, but I guess that would defeat the purpose of having it all electronically.

      1. I love pinterest, but I’m afraid one day the site may die or crash or whatever, so I am printing out and putting in a binder all my VERY favorite ideas and recipes so I can remember to actually try them and keep them till I do. ( I guess I’m not only a pack-rat, but a nervous, forgetful one! )

        1. What a fantastic idea! I’m a nervous packrat too, which is why I keep all of my DVDs and books even though we have Netflix and digital books. I’ve decided that I’m entertainment-prepared in case of an apocalypse! 😉

  5. I’m moving in July and just had this “Dejunking” conversation with my husband. It is not as easy as it sounds. But I’m going to do it! The thrift store idea was great! I rather give the things I don’t need to people who might need them.

  6. I have heard about this book! I need to read it. I am pretty good at dejunking, but I know I can do better. I love books that are motivational. My favorite author is Susan Spira. She has written some of my favorite motivational books. The one I am currently reading is called, “The Happy Tips Book.” It’s quick and easy to read with not a lot of fluff. Just the bottom lines leading to greater joy and understanding.
    Her other books include, “One-Liners For Life” and “Happy Shorts.” She has also written several Children’s books. Here is her website. http://susanspira.com/

    1. Spira’s books sound good! If you are already good at it, you might find this book redundant. The one thing I really liked about this book was that I realized that I’m really not that bad and I don’t have an extreme problem. I will never be on Hoarders!

  7. I completely agree with the point about moving clutter around. Many consider just picking up the clutter ‘cleaning’ even though they are simply rearranging. The easier it is to clean, the more likely, and more frequently, one is to do it.

  8. I love posts about clutter! It took me a long time to become a declutterer and now I’m constantly looking for things to purge and give away (even if it’s not always easy). Grant and I actually did a closet clean out yesterday and I’m always amazed at how readily he lets go of stuff. I have to sort of bribe and cajole myself whereas he seems to have very little emotional attachment to physical items. He gave away like 1/5 of his wardrobe without blinking. I wish! P.S. I also have cookbook binders just like that! Every time I get a magazine in the mail, I tear things out as I go and put them in plastic sleeves. I have binders for decor inspiration, essays I adore, practical tips, etc. I also purge recipes I didn’t like asap. Some might argue that binders are just more clutter but I love pulling them out for inspiration. For me, it works way better than bookmarking things online because I’m an out of sight, out of mind kind of gal. Cool post, Emily!

    1. Thanks, Rian. I like your idea to make binders for everything! There were a few essays and decorating tips that I just tossed because I felt like I didn’t have enough to make a “collection” but I should’ve kept them! I agree that it could be considered more clutter, but compared to how many magazines I had, one binder is a pretty good improvement. I have a hard time letting things go too, especially clothes. This book did help me to overcome some of that self talk in my head that makes excuses for keeping everything.

  9. I love flylady.com for motivating me to clean and to stop building clutter.But I need to declutter more.Might start a declutter blog to post before and after pics and motivate me!I’m with you on the magazine cull too.Used to be seriously addicted to marking pages for things to make and do someday.Now I think Someday is the eighth day of the week.

  10. I need this book! I’ve been trying to declutter for years but keep getting sidetracked. Have you ever looked at the Zero Waste Home blog? Although I don’t think I would go to the same extreme as that blogger I find it inspiring, too. It’s very freeing to let go of physical possessions. For awhile I was trying to do a 1000 Item Purge in my house and I think I need to take up that challenge again. We just moved and I want this new house not to be as cluttered as the last one.

      1. If we have a party or guests, we give the illusion of the latter, but on a day to day basis we are more the former. In other words, we dress up well, but otherwise we are a pair of jeans, casual shirt and optional comfy shoes crowd.

  11. I don’t need this book because I LOVE throwing things out. My family can attest to this as they will occasionally ask, “What happened to….?” Food, clothing, magazines, old dishes, you name it. If I can’t consign it, I donate it. If it’s not in good enough condition to donate, it gets tossed. My April 14 post, “Spring Cleaning” tells a tale. I can’t stand clutter and enjoy bringing bags to the curb on trash day.

    Meanwhile, I have a binder with recipes in page protectors just like you! Great idea.

  12. Last Saturday a friend referred to my home as minimalist, which at the time surprised me because I’m always thinking that there’s too much junk around and having a good clear out. But, perhaps that’s it. Maybe I am one of natures declutterers.

    1. That’s a great compliment. My friend says my house is “quiet.” I once read an article about “un-decorating” and remind myself of it whenever I go into HomeGoods.

  13. I wonder if that book has tips on how to de-clutter a house when married to an unrepentant and not bothered clutterer. If so, I would buy that book in a heartbeat.

  14. Great tips! Now if I could just get my elderly Mother to understand these techniques and get her to let me go through the stuff she never uses anymore, we’d be less cluttered too!

  15. I totally needed this! Thank you for linking to it in another post of yours (you always do that and it’s awesome!) . . . I think there are so many things in our house (I still live with my family) that need to be gone forever, but we sometimes have a hard time doing it because of the “we miiiiight need it in the next decade or so” feeling. I am going to look for this book, but your post motivated me anyways.
    Thank you!

    1. You are most welcome! I think any old book on dejunking would do the trick. You just need somebody (in print) to tell you why all of your excuses don’t hack it. It really does feel good to get rid of STUFF! 🙂

      1. I know that feeling! Some time ago, I pushed myself to think logically and get rid of something I held on to while knowing deep down I didn’t need. And it felt fabulous and freeing, like the things have been sitting on my chest.

        This actually gave me some ideas. Maybe I will write an article of my own about it.

        Thanks again! ^_^

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