The books caused the biggest problem.
When Kathy Ridge resolved to de-clutter her home in 2012 by letting go of at least 10 items each week, she got stuck on the books.
She has shelves lined with some of her favorites – she has no problem with those. But she had accumulated boxes and boxes of books, which she tucked away throughout her three-bedroom home and two-car garage in Charlotte’s Cotswold neighborhood.
Typically, she gives away dozens of books each year. (She’s not a hoarder and her home wasn’t a wreck, she promises.) But, opening those boxes during her 10-each-week challenge, she got more nostalgic than she dreamed she would.
“There’d be memories associated with them, or they’d be books from a job that I no longer had,” she said. “I could pry five books a week out, and then I’d have to take a break.”
Ridge hadn’t intended to make this project a formal resolution, but some changes in her life over the past three or four years paved the way to start in 2012.
She began working as a consultant to nonprofits with her own company, Levridge Resources, so she had to stock a home office.
She sold a beach condo, but not all of the stuff it contained.
Her parents moved out of her childhood home and into progressive care, distilling their lifetimes into what could be contained in one room each.
She closed her father’s office, and had to cull through its contents.
“I was informally becoming the Ridge Family Museum,” she said. “If you have room for stuff, that’s the main reason you start accumulating stuff … and not making decisions about it.”
She felt burdened by all of those possessions.
So she decided to get rid of what she didn’t really need.
Ten items at a time.
For a whole year.
Tiny tasks, big impact
By New Year’s Day 2013, Ridge had unloaded at least 520 items. Some things, like jewelry and furniture, she sold. Others, she gave to family, friends and charities.
What’s impressive is Ridge imposed a high standard. A 36-piece set of dishes counted as one item. Early on, she decided, “This can’t be about outsmarting myself.”
She did break down her ex-husband’s backup golf clubs (she kept them thinking she should take up golf): the golf bag counted as one, as did the set of irons, the set of woods and the travel bag. The golf balls and tees didn’t count for anything.
The project started pretty easily, she said. She began in the kitchen and then moved on to clothes, the garage and the trunk of her car. She’d start collecting the week’s 10 items on a Sunday – and try to do it as quickly as possible.
The first thing she chose to get rid of was a wine glass, no longer part of a set. That started a flood of unused kitchen items – mismatched glassware, dinnerware meant for entertaining, extra chairs.
“I’m not a hermit or anything, but if you came through my kitchen, you’d think, ‘She must entertain a lot,’ ” she said. “I don’t.”
Nor does she know how to replace a broken car fan belt. She had extra fan belts piled in her trunk – some for cars she no longer owned – because her father said she should always keep an extra with her.
Ten a week, 10 a week, 10 a week – no problem. Then the attachments grew a little more difficult to break.
“Those first three or four months … you’re giving away stuff just kind of gleefully … then I got to my books,” she said. “I love books.”
She started a journal to help work through some decisions. She took photos to remind her of the more sentimental things she gave away.
Like the clothes she bought on sale. She let a clerk talk her into buying a red-sequined dress because she’d never get it at that price again. She never wore it.
Like the old boyfriend gifts – including a set of corn-on-the-cob holders that looked like little people. She never used them.
Like her copy of “The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All,” by Allan Gurganus. She didn’t think she’d re-read it.
But she retrieved it from the giveaway pile anyway and put it on the bookshelf – the only item of all 520 she remembers taking back.
“Not because I’d read it again,” she said, “but because I loved it so much and liked the character so much I wanted her still on my shelves and in my house.”
Just in case
The key to Ridge’s success is she reduced a big goal into a series of tasks she could cross off her to-do list once a week, said Laurie Martin, owner of Charlotte’s Simplicity Organizers.
“With any New Year’s resolution, people start off strong, and then they sort of drop off towards the end,” she said. “She (Ridge) set the goal. She set the big picture – de-clutter. She took it down a level – here’s what I’m going to do monthly, and here’s what I’m going to do weekly.
“… Projects don’t seem to be as overwhelming when the tasks are small.”
That’s only one of the lessons Ridge said she learned.
Dictionaries no longer make good graduation gifts.
“In the last batch of 10, there was a brand-new Merriam-Webster’s still in its shrink wrap,” she said. “I had bought that for somebody’s graduation gift and discovered that the rest of the world does not use dictionaries.”
Shopping used to make her feel better.
“When I made a lot of money, I would sort of think that I’m having a really hard week, I just need to go shopping,” she said. “It’s completely changed me on buying clothes and looking at sales racks. I just don’t.”
Keeping things “just in case” can also be considered selfish and privileged.
She asks: “Who am I to hold onto this stuff when there are people out there who need it right now?”
That’s why she gave up the two printers she received for free with other purchases and was keeping for parts. Crisis Assistance Ministries got those. (Like she could ever fix her own printer, she noted.)
“Ridge celebrated reaching her goal with a post on Facebook – and received dozens of responses. At the New Year’s parties, her friends started taking notes because they want to try it. She started a blog, “10 a Week!” ( teneachweek.blogspot.com), to explain herself.
This year, she’s thinking of tackling paper clutter.
Her journal is the only place where you can learn about her grandmother’s biscuit cutter, misshapen and well used, but not by Kathy Ridge.
It took her weeks to deliberate this item. She decided to pass it on, despite the memories. “When I started to think about the connection I still have to my grandmother,” she said, “I realized I didn’t need it.”