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Confessions of a Former Pack Rat

About this time 8 years ago, I was sitting in my house going through all of my life's belongings...and feeling very overwhelmed. My husband and I were getting read to move from a 3500 square foot house to an 1800 square foot apartment. Although I was really looking forward to the move, I couldn't imagine how all of the things I had collected over the years could possibly come with us. By no means was I a "hoarder", but once I started looking through our home, I realized how much stuff I had accumulated while living there.

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My pack-rate tendencies were the only think my husband and I ever argued about. I found it very difficult to part with things that had a sentimental value where he couldn't stand clutter. I wanted more than anything to have a "minimalist" lifestyle and a fresh start - to surround myself with only the things I loved and that were useful - and nothing more. Where everything would have a place and could be found at a moment's notice. So I said goodbye forever to eighty percent of my belongings. And it was one of the best decisions I've ever made.

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I realized I was holding on to a lot of things because when I looked at them, they reminded me of a certain time in my life. Separating the "thing" from the "memory" was the key to my success in moving forward. I was watching a show on HGTV and a concept they were discussing really hit home: when you look at an item, the happy memories of that time in your life come flooding back, so you have difficulty parting with the item even though you may have it stuffed in a box collecting dust. They suggested that if you take a photo of the item every time you look at that photo, you'll feel the same nostalgia. A photo doesn't take up space, so you can eliminate those sentimental items piling up around your house.

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Another thing that really helped was imagining the item with a new owner that valued it and got use out of it. I had a massive library of books, CDs, and DVDs. Although they looked nice displayed on the shelf, they were ultimately just taking up space. Although my intentions were to always re-read or re-watch, I never ever did. By giving these items away, the enjoyment I had was passed along to the next person. This especially holds true for things that have an expiration date; CDs and DVDs will soon go the way of the VHS and cassette tapes and become obsolete (if they haven't already). It feels much better giving these away when they are still useful as opposed to discovering them in our basement years later when they've become junk.

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Try not to fall into the trap I did of trying to organize before you purge. I went out and purchased multiple storage containers and organizational tools only to discover that I was only rearranging my belongings instead of evaluating whether or not these items were still useful to me. Ruthlessly de-clutter first, then organize what's left.

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My new minimalist lifestyle and mindset have afforded me so much time to do the things I love. Keeping my house clean and organized takes minutes in comparison to when my home was laden with clutter. I don't have to spend valuable time searching for things because everything is where it should be. The best part is, when friends and family drop by our house unexpectedly, I no longer have to embarrassingly say "don't mind the mess" because the house is always in order. After a busy day at work, it feels so good to come home to a clean clutter-free home. I have vowed never to go back to my pack rat ways. I now collect moments instead of things. I spread my minimalist enthusiasm by only giving gifts that people can use such as a bottle of wine, theatre tickets, or a gift certificate to their favourite restaurant.

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The new year is all about new beginnings. If you are thinking about tackling your clutter, start small and consider one item at a time. Dedicate tiny pockets of your day to look at each of your belongings with a critical eye. You will become motivated once you see how functional that space has become and will be inspired to tackle other larger areas, like the attic or basement. Changing my pack-rat mindset to a minimalist lifestyle was one of the best things I have ever done, my only regret is that I should have done it sooner.

A year after apartment life, we moved back into a 3000 square foot house, but kept our minimalist ways all these years (originally posted in G! magazine 2015 and has been updated and modified.)

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If you want to do your own decluttering and eliminating any pack rat tendencies, check out my article "KonMari method + Trello = a perfect combination".

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