Toting the line on clutter control


Call them bins, boxes, or totes but those plastic coffins designed to “out of sight / out of mind” our unused personal possessions are simply a way to fool oneself into thinking we are “cleaning” and “organizing.”

Really, all we are doing is carefully packing and stacking our trash.

I don’t care if it’s collectible worth hundreds on eBay or the hand-carved wooden roller skates your great-great-great-uncle Norbert used when he skated to the new world, the truth is that if you are not using it now, and don’t plan to use it within the year (this allows for holiday-related storage) then honey, you are a hoarder with slightly better stacking skills.


Hoarders are people who cling to virtually everything that comes into their possession — trash or treasure — and refuse to part with anything. Ever.

Hoarders have replaced the overweight and former stars with substance abuse problems as the darlings of reality TV. Cameras dutifully visit the homes of people buried alive in piles of “stuff.”

Viewers recoil in horror, roll their eyes and tsk-tsk themselves into a sense of righteous indignation. Then they go buy a few more storage totes so they can be hoarders too. When it comes to clearing out clutter I think “use it or lose it” is the rule.

Use it

Now, I am not advocating that you toss out your grandmother’s quilts, family photos or the favorite toy you had when you were young. Never. Perish the thought. I think sentimental items are lovely and what make a house a home. The thing is, I think those items are best enjoyed warm in the bosom of the family — not squirreled away in the far corners of your crawlspace.

My grandmother is the master of everyday memories through heirlooms. She has a house full of beautiful things. Many of them valuable, all of them routinely used.

I recall the holiday when my cousin and I were washing dishes and paying as little attention to the task at hand as humanly possible, as teens are prone to do.

As we manhandled a heavy red bowl that has, since time began, been known as “the applesauce bowl” an aunt who knows her way around an estate sale pointed out that the bowl was pretty valuable to risk in the soapy hands of a child. My grandmother just shrugged and noted that it held applesauce pretty well too.

Thus, my memories are not of a bowl tucked away “safe” from our hands, but of one that graced the table of every holiday — holding applesauce and memories too. Will your children have warm, loving memories of the mementos they enjoyed regularly, or the dusty relics in labeled boxes they saw only when they had to move them from one side of the attic to the other?

Picture this

When it come to parting with your own stored memories, I have simple advice: when you start sorting what to keep or pass on, keep your camera at hand. Sentimental items are the hardest to part with.

We see the collection of ceramic cats that always sat on Aunt Tizzy’s dresser and we think “but there are memories in these.” No, there are memories in YOU — those are just “things.” If an item holds memories, take a picture of it.

A picture truly will “last longer” and you can wax rhapsodic about the story behind the long-gone item as you flip through a photo album that takes up a few inches instead of a stack of boxes that takes up several hundred square feet.

Most of us are pack rats at heart. We live in abject fear that we ” might need this someday.” Sure, you might, but for most things the energy and economics we spend “storing” something is better spent.

Ask yourself if you’ve ever spent $8 on a big storage bin only to store $5 worth of stuff? Take the risk that you can enjoy your space today and may have to buy/borrow that “thing” again someday. Ninety-nine percent of the time you will never need it again.

Buy another

If, by chance, you do, you are unlikely to be stranded on a desert island at that time. We live in a society in which virtually anything is available to meet our needs.

If you truly love it, want it, need it and must have it then by all means use it, enjoy it, make new memories alongside the old. Otherwise, let it go. Maybe someone else can cherish it anew.

Not to mention that, if you miss it, I promise you, there’s probably two more just like it on eBay — or in a storage tote near you.

(Kymberly Foster Seabolt enjoys giving things away. Visit her online at or write or P.O. Box 38, Salem, Ohio 44460.)


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Warm, witty and just a wee bit warped, Kymberly Foster Seabolt is a native of Kent, Ohio, who survived childhood exposure to disco and grew up to marry and move to the country. Her column weaves her special brand of humor with poignant, entertaining, and honest portrayals of parenting, marriage, and real life. She currently lives in northeastern Ohio with her husband, two children, two dogs, two cats, and numerous dust bunnies who wish to remain nameless.


  1. This is so true. I have some dish towels that my great grandmother embroidered and if freaks people out when they see me using them every day. But I like thinking about her every time I pick one up.


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