A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Beth Underwood: With the new year right around the corner, it’s time for some much-needed tidying up

Dad has a cord for every occasion. Need an ethernet cable? He’s your man. Looking for an extension cord? Ask Dad. Phone charger on the fritz? Dad can slice and dice you a new one with pieces and parts. He saves up for opportunities like that, because one never knows when a spare electrical cord could come in handy.

I guess you could say I come by it honestly. Through the years, I’ve developed my own stash of cords. And cardboard boxes. And leftover screws and nails from do-it-yourself projects. Which reminds me, you may not want to put any extra weight on that bookcase. I had three screws and a dowel unused on that particular project. But I digress.

With the new year only days away, I decided this would be a good time to take stock and examine those cords and boxes and nails — to look at some of the things taking up valuable space, both physically and mentally, and get rid of them once and for all. Here is a short list of the worst offenders.

1. Wrapping paper scraps. Seriously, how can I possibly make a good argument for keeping those odd pieces of wrapping paper? Am I planning to wrap up a toothpick? Or a roll of quarters? Assuming I could find a gift to match the paper size, the paper would likely be a crumpled mess by the time I located it. Time to throw out the wrapping paper scraps.

2. Expired coupons. I have a little container in the kitchen that’s chock full of coupons. Every time I come across a good coupon, I cut it out and put in in the container where it never sees the light of day again. Coupon makers are nobody’s fool. Oh, sure. I guess I could spend all my time organizing coupons, scanning circulars for best prices and carrying one of those dreaded three-inch binders to the store, but don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen. My time is much more valuable than that. That’s right, I said it.

3. Shopping bags. If I have one plastic bag, I have a hundred. Who needs that many plastic bags? No one. The next time I go to the store, I’m dropping off every one of them in the recycling bin. Well, almost every one of them.

4. Subscription services. I recently heard another writer say that he tallied up all of his monthly subscriptions. As it turned out, he was spending $500 a month on various services. From movies and magazines to home cooked meals, just about anything can be bought with a monthly outlay of cash. Spending $10 each month for this or that sounds easier that handing over $100 one time. But subscribing to every service that comes down the pike can really add up. Time to re-evaluate.

5. Almost-empty products. This category is a lot like wrapping paper scraps and electrical cords. We all know we’ll never use the last of the liquid soap, especially when we’ve already bought a new bottle to replace it. The same goes for make-up, candles, and food products, among other things. Toss now. Ask questions later.

6. Mental to-do lists. Our brains weren’t made to store lists. They were made to create and reason and ponder. Now is the time to perform a brain dump — to write down everything that’s taking up space in my head and free up valuable mental real estate for all those creative projects waiting in the wings.

It’s amazing how much lighter and confident we can feel when we get rid of things that weigh us down physically and mentally — and we don’t need a whole house overhaul to feel the effects. Purging just one of the above items can make us feel like a new person.

Of course, there’s still the issue of all my drawers full of ink pens and pencils. But as I said, there’s no need to clear out everything at once. Not to mention that one never knows when a few hundred ink pens could come in handy.

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Beth Underwood is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines. She shares stories of everyday life that entertain, inspire, and encourage others. Her books include Gravity, a narrative nonfiction account of a small group of Tennessee National Guardsmen, and Talk Bourbon to Me, a lighthearted look at Kentucky’s native spirit. Drop her a line at beth@bethwrightunderwood.com, or visit her website at bethwrightunderwood.com.

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