Sarah DeVries
old shoes Is the bottom of your clothes closet looking like this? deposit photos

Toss out your lockdown junk and make room for better things to come

A guide to decluttering and tuning into your optimism to fight pandemic fatigue

As I mentioned in my column last week, I love cleaning.

Not the dreary day-to-day tasks like doing dishes and laundry (though I honestly don’t mind them if I have the time) but the big, dramatic purges of stuff that’s been taking up entirely too much physical and, by extension, mental space.

It’s been a rough couple of years. And with so much time spent at home, chances are you’ve accumulated quite a bit of junk. Today, I’d like to make a proposal: get rid of it.

Getting rid of the stale objects taking up your physical space is really an act of hope: it’s making room for things to come; it’s daring to pick some of those anchors up off the seafloor and risk either floating around or hanging out somewhere else for a while.

It’s especially an act of hope now when we’re still being dragged through wave after wave of the pandemic.

Someday, things will be better. Someday, it will be safe to have people over again. I’m an optimist and think that day will come sooner rather than later. Now’s the time to get ready for it!

I know that some people have a lot of trouble letting go of physical objects that wind up in their homes. This is understandable: after all, one’s past is something that we know for sure existed. Even if the items represent things that weren’t that great, the past is, at the very least, familiar. The things from it can make us feel anchored and stable; they can tell us who we are.

The future — and even the present — is not familiar, so actively welcoming it in is something that makes quite a few people stop in their tracks, refusing to budge lest they end up in spooky territory.

If you’re an expat, you’re probably already well-versed in the art of doing away with what no longer serves you so that you can make room for new adventures. Especially in Mexico, where ample storage space is more of a luxury than a given, it can be extra important to make sure that one’s physical environment doesn’t suddenly turn into something resembling a dragon’s lair with mountains of “treasure” piled up all around.

If you aren’t an expat, or if you’re one who’s a little rusty at this skill, then I propose that now is the time! Adventures are coming.

So, without further ado, my spring cleaning tips – expat edition!

Divide and conquer

How you do this is up to you: you can do it Marie Kondo-style, in which you separate things into categories and only focus on those categories; I’m partial to this method for big projects.

You can have categories for things like clothes, books and papers or toiletries. Alternatively, you can go a bit smaller-scale and just focus on one room or area of your home at a time.

Whatever you do, remember that trying to clean up everything at once is a recipe for frustration and overwhelm: it’s staring at one of those 3-D posters with no idea of what’s what. Give yourself some grace, and stick to one category per day, with the scope depending on how much time you have.

If you’ve got time for your entire kitchen, reserve several hours and go for it. If you’ve only got an hour, focus on just one goal, like clearing out your refrigerator or the area where you keep your pots and pans.

If you’ve fully adapted to Mexican kitchen storage styles, haul out all the items stored in your oven — I know you know what I’m talking about — and see what you can throw out and/or rehome!

Divide your stuff into three piles: keep, donate, trash

First, of course, you’ve got to decide what you really want to keep. Marie Kondo’s advice is to hold each item in your hand and ask yourself if it “sparks joy.” This has always seemed a little hokey to me, and I’ve just never been able to bring myself to do it like that.

However, physical objects do carry an energy with them, so if something’s got obviously bad juju, err toward not keeping it in your space. Questions I find to be much more helpful than the “spark joy” one are:

  • Have I used or enjoyed this item in any way in the past year? If it’s a no, it’s a good candidate to go.
  • Does it have deep sentimental value to me? If you’re wondering really hard, then no, it doesn’t.
  • Could another person make good use of this item and/or be happy to have it? If the answer to this question is a “yes” and you don’t want it, then it goes in the donate pile; otherwise, it goes to the trash.

If you’re in Mexico, what to do with the “donate” pile can be a little tricky as there aren’t any Goodwill stores in every city where you can simply drop your stuff off. Whenever I want to donate things like clothes, shoes or toys, I put them (neatly and cleaned) into categorized plastic bags. The lady who helps me with my housework has grandchildren slightly younger than my daughter, so she usually hauls away those clothes and toys and distributes them to her kids.

Chances are you know someone personally who might like them; sometimes asking around is a good way to get them donated.

If you happen to live in a place where people sometimes come by your door asking for help — and you have the room to store stuff neatly out of the way for a while — then these bags can be saved for them. You can also research where in your city you might donate items. Lastly, you can hand them over with the rest of your trash with a note on the bag or box about what’s inside.

While the trash service in every Mexican municipality is different, the thing they have in common is that people go through it fairly quickly. Keeping those things you want to donate clean and separate will ensure someone receives them in a good state.

Make what’s left beautiful!

This is always my favorite stage of spring cleaning: tidying everything up and designating spaces for every item that is in your home because you want it to be in your home. Put your things where you will most enjoy them and where they will be of most service to you.

If you want to go really wild — and I do love to go really wild — try a new wall color or maybe some new throw pillows, plants and lamps. Having the junk out of your space will let your personal style shine through!

I enjoy minimalism when it comes to organization (I do not want useless stuff taking up my precious tiny space!), but I’m a maximalist when it comes to décor: I like most of my spaces to be artfully covered.

So let’s get on it, people. Things are about to get better — I can feel it — and you’ll want to be ready to have others in your home once again.

And if you do decide to try this, please indulge my nosiness: let me know in the comments what you’ll be starting with, or what you want the end product to look like!

Sarah DeVries is a writer and translator based in Xalapa, Veracruz. She can be reached through her website, sdevrieswritingandtranslating.com and her Patreon page.

Reader forum

The forum is available to logged-in subscribers only.