Getting Rid of Stuff

How to declutter quickly.

By Melissa Kirsch

Welcome. Before weekdays and weekends were indistinguishable, we left the house. Now, we’re inside, many of us, most of time. With the same people and pets, or on our own; the same routines and rooms; and, everywhere we turn, the same stuff, so much stuff. What used to be décor is now clutter. What once was cozy is now claustrophobic. This is when I turn to The Annoying Bag.

The Annoying Bag is any paper or plastic bag I have lying around, or — when disposable shopping bags are scarce, as they have been in my apartment lately — a clear produce bag or threadbare reusable tote. Annoying Bag in hand, I prowl my apartment, dropping anything I deem “annoying” at that moment into it. I collect half-burned candles and stray socks; broken sunglasses, old magazines, jars of condiments that have been squatting in the fridge so long I forgot they’re not on the lease.

The Annoying Bag is an exercise to be performed quickly, impulsively. This is not a closet overhaul or cupboard clean-out. You don’t hold an item close and ask if it sparks joy before it goes in the Annoying Bag. The KonMari Method, spring cleaning — those are thoughtful, sustainable processes in which clothes get donated and yogurt containers get recycled. The Annoying Bag is all remorseless id: You might throw away the T-shirt you’re wearing because it’s annoying you. Three pennies that have been gathering dust on the counter, waiting to be put into a coin jar? A set of cake-decorating tips that you’ve used once but are taking up half a drawer? Don’t think about it. Throw them in.

After about ten minutes of snatch-and-toss, I knot the Annoying Bag and take it to the trash — not my trash can, but the trash on the curb, permanently out of the house. I have never once missed anything that left the house in the Annoying Bag. The impulses for disposal that occur in these feverish bursts of decluttering are always correct. The relief is instant and exhilarating.

Online shopping has been tempting during the pandemic. My usual thinking goes something like, “Stores are risky, distractions are limited, I’m feeling blue, better buy this teakettle.” A friend told me once that everything you buy makes each thing you own a little less valuable. I’m trying to keep that in mind, trying to buy less and keep annoying stuff out of the house in the first place. “Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers,” wrote Wordsworth, exhorting us to dispense with materialism and get back to nature, which seems like a worthy pursuit right now.

Or, if you’re not feeling outdoorsy, consider Marie Kondo’s advice: “Use this time at home to take inventory of your possessions — and to re-evaluate your relationship with them. Cultivate an awareness of what you have. On a practical level, this will prevent overbuying things, but I hope it will also bring a renewed appreciation for all that you do have.”

Instead of stress shopping this weekend, check out “The Essential Octavia Butler,” our guide to getting started with the science-fiction writer.

The Hold Steady has a new single, “Heavy Covenant,” and it’s a good one for nostalgia. When Craig Finn sings, “It seems a single body is a couple different people in this one life,” it’s nearly impossible not to be transported to 2006.

And the community Ask MetaFilter has some excellent ideas for dealing with pandemic fatigue.

Tell us.

How do you contain your clutter? What are your best strategies for keeping your home tidy and organized? Write to us: [email protected] Include your name, age and location and we might publish your response in a forthcoming newsletter. We’re At Home. We’ll read every letter sent. More ideas for how to spend your time this weekend appear below. See you next week.

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