Entertainment, Health and Lifestyle

How and When to Let Go of Household Clutter

Now and then I hear from readers who are facing a dilemma that strikes a chord with me personally. I’ve been there, I know what they’re facing, and I’ve discovered solutions that just might help.

Dear Mary: As a fellow cheapskate, I have a question for you: When and how do you decide whether something that is still functional can be discarded or donated?

For example, I have old bedsheets that are perfectly functional and comfortable, but time has taken its toll, and they’re just not “nice” anymore.

Another: I recall as a teen that my grandmother had a perfectly functional avocado green fridge that she tolerated for many years because it worked. But no one, including grandma, enjoyed it because it didn’t go with anything, it was so unlovely to be ugly.

I am often torn between my desire to be frugal and not wasteful with my desire for nice and updated things. Thank you for your insight. — Camille

Dear Camille: Many years ago I adopted a personal rule of thumb to which I aspire, from William Morris, the 19th-century British author and textile artist: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” If I don’t use it or it brings beauty to my life, I have to consider it clutter, which means I do everything in my power to sell, donate or otherwise get rid of it. If it is not beautiful but we need it and cannot afford to replace it without going into debt, I try to come up with some way to disguise it, i.e., deep clean, wash, wax, refinish, etc. (It’s amazing what that kind of effort can accomplish.)

So, how might that apply to your sheets as well as other bedding and household linens? They have ceased to be useful in your home, and from what you describe, you no longer find them to be beautiful. However, there are places and people in your community who will find them very useful, if not also beautiful, because they will fill a crucial need — such as your local homeless shelters.

The National Homelessness Law Center estimates that 2.5 to 3.5 million Americans sleep in shelters, transitional housing or public places not meant for habitation each year. Another 7.4 million have lost their homes and are staying with others out of economic necessity. Given the high demand for shelter, it’s crucial for communities to contribute donations to ensure these shelters can adequately support homeless individuals.

Another option would be local animal shelters or veterinarian offices. Most gladly accept donations of towels, blankets, sheets, some even scraps of fabric in any condition provided they are clean. Call around to find out what your local organizations are accepting.

You might consider repurposing the sheets (old towels, too) into cleaning cloths and dishcloths to give them a second life. Cut these items into small pieces and use them to dust, mop, wash your car, clean tools, etc. It will be easier to get rid of them once they’re worn, stained and well beyond their useful life.

Regarding that functional avocado green fridge example, while not beautiful, it still worked. I guess one would need to determine if the level of functionality outweighs its lack of beauty. While certainly sellable, if funds were not available to replace it, I believe I’d paint it to make it somewhat more beautiful or move it to the garage or basement where its appearance wouldn’t matter.

I have a theory that most of us would be more than willing to let go of the stuff that’s cluttering our homes if we knew these things would serve a worthwhile cause or help someone else — the good things, kitchen items, clothing, furniture, the highly useful possessions that we just don’t use or display because we find them not to be beautiful.

I’d love for you to visit me at EverydayCheapskate.com/commonclutter, where I have written more specifically on worthwhile solutions for most households’ seven biggest clutter problems.

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Mary Hunt

Mary invites you to visit her at EverydayCheapskate.com, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at https://www.everydaycheapskate.com/contact/, "Ask Mary." Tips can be submitted at tips.everydaycheapskate.com/ . This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living."

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