For an Easier Packing, Unclutter Your Life

A family squeezes its belongings into 50 bulging boxes for a big move, but the moving company tells them to pick the 10 boxes they will need most, and then promises to send along the other 40 shortly.

The remaining boxes get lost in the move and when they arrive -- a year later -- it’s like opening presents at Christmas, because the stuff had such little utility that no one can recall what the boxes contained.

Don Aslett, author of Clutter's Last Stand: It's Time To De-junk Your Life!, has heard countless stories like this one, of people who choose to move their junk instead of just getting rid of it. “A move is a reminder, a temporary snapshot of denial," he says.
Yes, moving is always messy and chaotic, but “a snapshot of denial"?
Then I think about my collection of empty cigar boxes, broken cameras, and six winter coats -- and I realize I’d make room for them in the moving van, if not in a storage facility.

Whether or not we admit it, most of us tend to be “junkers," says Aslett. A move can be a great wake-up call as long as we don’t make the costly and time-consuming mistake of taking our junk with us.

Here’s his strategy for a junk-less move:
1. If making a do-it-yourself move, rent a smaller moving truck. Space limitation is a great decision-maker for junkers: If there's no room, it has to stay behind.

2. Give each item the immediacy test. “How long you had it, who gave it to you, how much it cost, are all irrelevant," says Aslett.

A client of Aslett’s kept a single hiking boot because it was worth $300 – ignoring the fact that a boot without its partner is useless.

The only question that should matter: “Does this enhance my life right now?"

3. Remember where and why you’re moving and pack accordingly.

If you’re moving into a retirement condo, for example, it would be wise to dump half your stuff. If you’re going to Hawaii, get rid of your coats -- yes, even the $1,000 one.

4. Let your kids decide. Often, over half of the junk that parents keep is “for the kids." But parents are surprised how often kids don’t want the things they save.

Line up your kids’ toys and let them choose what they want to keep.

5. Leave behind notorious clutter items: unread books, unfinished projects (if you haven’t finished it yet, you probably won’t when you move), furniture that doesn’t fit into your new environment, anything half-empty (paint cans, cleaning products, etc.), plants, and food.

6. Tell everyone you’re paring down your possessions. People will think you’re insane for giving away many of your nicest stuff, and will take full advantage of your “impaired judgment," says Aslett.

But there’s no better way than your packrat neighbors to cheaply and quickly get rid of stuff -- you won’t even need to have a garage sale. Make an announcement months before you start packing or put a sign on your lawn.

You’ll feel better – and it’ll be easier -- relinquishing that expensive couch if you know a good friend will enjoy it.

7. What’s one thing you can’t leave behind? A vacuum cleaner. It should be the last thing you pack, says Aslett, because it’s probably the first thing you'll need in your new home.

Besides making a move easier on your budget and sanity, de-junking may even be therapeutic, says Aslett. “When you start throwing tangible stuff out … you’ll find you don’t need accumulation to be happy."

Annika Mengisen is a freelance writer who edits the Freakonomics Blog for The New York Times.

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