10/15/2014 04:55 pm ET Updated Dec 15, 2014

My Clutter Breakup

Peter Cade via Getty Images

I've lived in my apartment for over 10 years now and as such, I have accumulated lots of stuff: books, magazines I haven't read but intend to, stacks of newspaper articles, bills, receipts, ever-expanding files, various odds and ends -- just stuff. Without the incentive of a move, I'd never fully taken stock of my stuff and whittled it down to less stuff. And, truth be told, I had grown accustomed to my clutter. It tolerated me, and I tolerated it. Plus, it was a neat sort of clutter. I'm very good at organizing my mess into neat little piles strategically scattered throughout my apartment. But beneath the veneer of tidiness, I had to admit my place wasn't what I wanted it to be. It wasn't a reflection of my best self. And lately, I'd started to feel a bit stifled by all my stuff.

With the help of an amazingly supportive and patient friend, I set out to sift through the muck and mire of my mess and literally clean house. We first raided my kitchen, tossing out items of food that had outlived their expiration dates. I was slightly mortified to discover just how many items in my cabinets had passed their prime. In my defense, when I moved to Los Angeles, I loaded up on packaged and canned goods in preparation for an earthquake, and all my supplies had expired. Reluctant to part with something that still might be edible though, I opened a pack of peanut butter crackers that expired in 2007 and bit into one. It tasted like rotten cardboard. So from then on, I was more than willing to sever ties with stale food.

We then moved onto my living room; my friend removed all the neat little piles from their hiding places and placed them smack-dab in the middle of the room, so I'd have no choice but to face them. Daunted, I stared at the piles, walked around them, stepped over them, even tripped on them a few times but couldn't bring myself to deal with them. Everywhere I went in my apartment, I felt as though the piles were following me, breathing down my neck. My distaste for these piles grew to the point where I couldn't help but sit down on the floor and start going through them, recycling or shredding what I don't currently use or need. Slowly but surely, the piles started to dwindle until they disappeared altogether, though I did hold onto a handful of articles for reference purposes... just in case.

For our next phase, we targeted my overflowing bookcases. I dreaded the book purge, as I'm very attached to my books, even the ones I don't love and probably won't ever read again. Parting with a book literally causes me pain. I refused point-blank to part with any book that fell under one of my favorite genres (the classics, spirituality, psychology, biography or anything to do with filmmaking or writing). Whenever I managed to place a book in the give-away pile, my friend would cheer me on. I felt like a little kid, but I think I needed the encouragement. Somehow, I scraped together four bags worth of books to give away. Hallelujah.

We then moved upstairs and infiltrated my closet. I tried on everything, including pieces of clothing that hadn't seen the light of day in many, many years, and discovered that about 15 percent of my wardrobe was too tight, 15 percent was too loose and 15 percent was severely out of style, with some overlap amongst the categories. Another five percent consisted of random articles that somehow made their way into my closet, such as a corset that once belonged to my grandmother. My greatest finds included five leotards (both long and short sleeved), a pair of parachute pants, neon pink spandex leggings and a few pairs of deliberately frayed jean shorts. Ah the 80s. I felt much better about giving away clothes than I did books, excited to make room for new clothes I feel good about wearing. I did manage to sell some of my cast-offs to a used clothing store. The storeowner complimented me on my "eclectic" style and said she'd display my grandma's corset in her window come Halloween. Nice. She also commented that women tend to be gatherers, which is why we're loath to throw stuff away. We might not need something in the moment, but what if we need it in the future, and if we don't have it when we need it, then where would we be? I think she has a point.

After a string of additional phases, a profuse amount of shredding and multiple trips to Goodwill, I noticed that my apartment had started to feel lighter, more spacious and generally more welcoming. There had been a heaviness I wasn't even aware of until it was gone. I, in turn, felt more peaceful, grounded, and capable of thinking clearly. There's something invigorating about clearing out space and creating room for the new. I didn't miss anything I had gotten rid of and actually felt relieved to have lightened my load. Despite my initial resistance, I'm grateful to have gone through the de-cluttering process. Discarding stuff from the past that's no longer relevant to the present leaves the future wide open. And that's very exciting.