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Gretchen Rubin is the bestselling author of several books, such as Outer Order, Inner Calm and The Happiness Project, about how to be happier, healthier, and more productive, and she hosts the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast. For Oprah Daily, she’s weighing in on how we can all find a little bit of calm, even during a pandemic.
Spring is here, and if you're like most people, the fresh leaves, growing grass, and blooming flowers have probably inspired you to sweep through your home and office and tackle every dust bunny and stubborn stain—not to mention any cluttered nook, cranny, or closet. That's true in normal times, but perhaps even more so now.
After a year in which we spent more time than ever inside our homes amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the world is finally starting to open up again. Kids are returning to school, long-separated loved ones are having heartwarming reunions, and some remote workers are planning their return to the office. It feels like a much-needed fresh start, with many other aspects of pre-pandemic life (think: taking a vacation, going out with friends, and entertaining) finally on the horizon.
As you prepare to go back to your old routine or enter your new normal, this transition is the perfect time to sort through the items you don’t really use, need, or love. Not only because being cooped up at home has likely made your clutter clearer than ever, but also because chances are there are at least a few things you simply haven't touched in the past year, which now seem a bit unfamiliar.
For instance, your shoes. Be honest—even in ordinary times, do you own some pairs that you somehow never wore? Now that a year has gone by, you’re even less likely to wear them, which means it’s time to put them in the donation pile. Of the shoes that remain, are there some pairs that, really, you almost never wore and can’t imagine yourself ever wearing again? Again, donate. (Note: Because of the pandemic, some donation centers may not be accepting new items, so make sure to do your research before packing up your car and heading to your local Goodwill or Salvation Army location. You may also want to consider alternative solutions like Freecycle, Nextdoor, the Buy Nothing Project, or even Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace.)
Next, look for stockpiles. Sure, you’ll need some travel mugs when you start your commute again, but how many travel mugs can you possibly use? It’s easy to accidentally to stockpile more mugs—and for that matter, glass jars, tote bags, or baseball caps—than you need, especially if you have them scattered in different places. Start with one item you tend to collect (say, coffee cups), and gather them all in one spot. Donate what you don’t need to people who do need those things, then move onto another stockpile.
Along the same lines, if, out of pandemic panic, you bought more stores of certain food items than you’ll realistically consume (for example, I bought 24 cans of tuna, but we've somehow managed to eat most of it), donate them to a food bank, which have struggled to meet surging demand amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Need help finding a local food bank? The nonprofit Feeding America has a handy tool that allows you to search by zip code.
If you haven’t used an item over the past year and can’t imagine using it again, put it in a donation box, write the date on the box, and stash it in some out-of-the-way corner. Give yourself six months back in your old routine, and then donate whatever’s left in the box.
Remember, however, that the way you feel about some possessions now may change when you return to your old routine. You may think, “I’ll never wear heels again,” or “I only use a few cosmetic products in my new morning regimen,” or “I don’t need so many plastic containers for bringing my lunch to work,” or “I’ll never go back to the gym, because I love working out at home,” but your judgment is shaped by your experience during this last year. You may feel differently when circumstances change.
If you haven’t used an item over the past year and can’t imagine using it again, but you did use it regularly in the Before Times, don't give it away just yet. Instead, put it in a donation box, label it with a date, seal it, and stash it in some out-of-the-way corner. If you change your mind and decide to retrieve an office cardigan or a piece of Tupperware from the box, you can—you haven’t given those things away yet. Give yourself six months back in your old routine, and then donate whatever’s left in the box.
Research suggests that for many people, outer order contributes to inner calm. And when we get more control of the stuff in our lives, we feel more in control of our lives generally—which, let's be honest, is something we could all probably use.
As I mentioned earlier, spring is a fresh start, and our return to the new normal is an equally fresh start—so use spring-cleaning to start off on the right foot.
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