Decluttering! The buzzword of the moment!
It seems you can’t turn around without tripping over magazine articles, blog posts, books and TV shows all dedicated to helping you take control of your life by getting rid of your possessions.
The concept of decluttering is not a new one, but the current popularity of minimalism and simple living shows no signs of slowing. So why the sudden rise in popularity of minimising now? What is it about decluttering which has struck such a chord in people?
I believe it stems from the breakneck speed at which we are all currently rushing through life. The desire to slow down and claim back a little space to call our own. The need to dig our way out of the mountain of stuff we believed we needed, but now find ourselves suffocating in…
House sizes have been getting steadily bigger over the decades, turning from what used to be simple shelter to vast, sprawling manors, which in turn needed to be filled with more. More furniture, more ornaments, more gadgets, just more and more STUFF!
It was seen as a symbol of status, wealth and success to have the big house, the flashy cars, the walk-in wardrobes filled with fashionable clothes…
I think it just had to break.
Not for everyone sure, and of course, there will always be those who crave the biggest and best, but for a growing number of us, we are seeing that less is most definitely more.
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Less is more
So, you want in.
You’ve seen the magic of Marie Kondo. You’ve seen the sleek, clean lines of modern and minimal decor in your Instagram feed – the carefully selected coffee table books, the geometric copper thingies, the obligatory succulent – you want that…
But you glance around your own home and see the mountains of mismatched mugs and crockery. The heaps of books piled in the corners and all over the floor, maybe your walls are covered in a mess of pictures, photos and posters which don’t sum you up at all – or maybe they are blank – the artwork you intended to hang still stuffed under the bed somewhere…
You open your wardrobe and quickly slam it shut again to prevent the avalanche of fabric from crushing you flat.
Where do you begin?
Even if you knew how to approach all the THINGS, you are sadly lacking in time – you need to do something with the 1,000,000 emails sitting unread in your inbox, you need to attend to all those pressing social interactions as your phone pings and beeps and generally calls to you like siren song, you have a to-do list as long as your arm, and on top of all that you have a huge and pressing feeling of guilt as you remember that you really need to call your mum and catch up.
You see, decluttering is about more than just folding your clothes neatly and arranging your sock drawer. It goes deep!
So let’s go through this one step at a time, and tidy up the lot. Physical, digital AND emotional clutter. The whole shebang.
Related reading: 10 Tiny Steps Towards a BIG Life
1) Physical Clutter
“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful”
Decluttering your Home
Pick one room at a time, or even one small area within a room – for example, maybe instead of tackling your entire kitchen, just start with one cupboard. This will help to ensure you don’t get overwhelmed by the process itself and give up. Go through it and decide what will stay and what will go. Approach the whole process this way, working through rooms or areas one at a time in small chunks.
What should I get rid of and what should I keep?
This is of course entirely up to you and the answer will be different for everyone.
For example, some people would argue that there is really no need to own shelves and shelves of books when you can fit an entire library in your pocket on a Kindle.
But on the other hand, many, many people find great joy in holding a book in their hands, the feel of the pages, the scent of the paper.
I’d say if you love books, if they bring you pleasure, then, by all means, keep them.
This isn’t a lesson in deprivation and the goal isn’t to get rid of things which make you happy – it’s to remove the things which distract you from this happiness! If you own so many books that you can’t actually see/get to the ones you love, then get rid of the less loved ones, or ones you know you’ll never read again. Donate them to a second-hand bookstore.
(or see if you can start your own village library!)
Be sensible. As you go through your home ask yourself what you really need VS what you are just used to having around. How many mugs do you actually need in your life – How many cups of tea can you actually drink at any one time?! Keep one mug for each member of your household and a couple of extras for when friends or family stop by. That’s plenty.
Apply this logic to your entire home and you’ll be surprised how quickly you get into it!
Other questions to consider as you go through your belongings:
- Why is this item in your home?
- When did you last wear/use it?
- Are you likely to wear/use it in the near future?
- Does it still fit/work?
- Can you mend it?
- What does it mean to you?
- Do you know anybody who could make better use of it?
Decluttering Your Clothes
I do like the Konmari approach for dealing with wardrobe clutter…
Take everything out and dump it in a huge pile on the bed (or floor..)
Take each item and decide whether or not “it sparks joy”. Do you love it? It stays.
Be ruthless. Feel a bit luke-warm about that jumper? Toss it in the charity pile. Done.
There will be items that confuse you. Either seasonal pieces which you don’t need right now, but may want later on, or just those items which you love, but for some reason you just never wear.
If you’re really struggling and space allows, put them away somewhere, and if you haven’t missed them in 6 months time, then out they go. If it’s the item-you-love-but-never-wear issue, then set yourself a challenge to wear it that week, however impractical. Wear and then decide if it needs to stay.
“Don’t save something for a special occasion. Every day of your life is a special occasion”
Thomas S. Monson
If you’re feeling especially ruthless, check out Project 333, the minimalist fashion challenge which invites you to dress with 33 items or less for 3 months!
Take Your Time
Depending on your current clutter level this may be a sloooooow process – it certainly was for us! Don’t expect it to be over and done within a day, or even a week! Take your time and bit by bit tackle these areas, going through your belongings and ridding yourself of anything you don’t absolutely love or know to be useful.
Decluttering with Kids
The question of decluttering kids stuff is a tricky one. Do you do it at all? Do you let them help? Do you do it without their knowledge and sneak everything out when they aren’t looking and hope they won’t notice?
Children love The Stuff. They will see things in shops which they will just DIE if they can’t have and life will never be the same without. But this seems to apply to every item they own. (Especially the ones they forgot they had and rediscover when you are decluttering with them…)
Thing 1 is particularly attached to his collection of random bits of paper and sweet wrappers – he assures me that each and every piece is pertinent and necessary to his happiness in life. To me, it looks like junk. But what do I know?
He also ADORES books. I mean, like, obsessively. We are a family of book nerds, and as such are loathe to say he has too many. But he has too many. They cover every square inch of his bedroom. You can’t even see most of them because his bookshelves are 3 layers deep.
In the end, we have reached a compromise. He has agreed to go through and reduce his book collection, getting rid of ones he has outgrown (Thing 2 will doubtless go through and take most of these, so it probably won’t really reduce the overall bookage in our home, but at least it’s spreading out?!) ones he won’t read again, didn’t like or has duplicates of (yes, this is a thing) then in return we will get him a few new books of his choice. He gets new reading material and much better access to his existing books. #result
You know your child/ren best, again I’d say use your best judgement.
Children need lots of stimulation so it’s probably not fair to get rid of all their things in your quest for simplicity in the home. A better solution might simply be to organise their toys, so they are easier to access/put away. If you have some storage you could keep some aside and have them in rotation, so they don’t have too many out in one go, and you can alternate them with “fresh” toys periodically to prevent them getting bored.
However, it’s also worth bearing in mind that children have fantastic imaginations and despite owning the flashiest of flashy, shiny new toys, will be equally excited about the box if it is a large one and they can fit inside it. Sometimes simple is best!
Gah! This is my unhappy place.
I don’t know why, but paperwork always gets the better of me. I get on top of it and promise myself that I will stay that way, but then somehow, there’s a pile of the stuff again. I don’t really understand where it all comes from, given that we have paperless billing for everything, but there we go…
That said, we are leaps and bounds ahead of when we didn’t have a system at all and just let it all pile up around us, so here is what I suggest:
Our filing system is simply a big wooden box and some paper files. You can look out for filing boxes in charity shops, repurpose an old crate or buy one new.
Assign a file to each area you might have paperwork for:
- Vehicles (tax/insurance etc)
- Household (home insurance, rent/mortgage details etc)
- Debt management/credit
- And one for each member of the family, for personal, medical, work & school related papers
Our goal is to regularly scan any paperwork we have accumulated so we have a digital copy and shred the original paperwork.
Some things need to stay physical for whatever reason, so they go in the designated files.
It really pretty simple, and even as I write this I’m wondering how I have let it slip. Again.
Anyhoo, the scanning of paperwork leads us nicely to part 2 of our decluttering debrief:
2) Digital Clutter
It isn’t just physical clutter which holds us back:
There is very little point in scanning your paperwork if your digital office is as messy as your real one! Make sure to keep your digital files organised and backed up.
There are lots of free Cloud storage options, as detailed in this article from the Money Saving Expert.
Go through your computer and tidy up your files and let it shine like a beacon of efficiency!
Again, in order to avoid overwhelm, don’t attempt to do this all in one go – set aside a small amount of time each week to clean up a different aspect of your digital filing and then try and keep on top of it as you go.
There are few things as satisfying and guaranteed to make you feel like a boss as an empty email inbox! Unsubscribe from all those companies who you signed up for while shopping so you could bag a discount or claim an offer but whose emails you have NEVER opened.
Chances are, just like physically decluttering leaves you room to appreciate the possessions you genuinely want to see, picking apart your email inbox and unsubscribing regularly will unearth some gems you subscribed to but don’t read, not because you don’t want to, but because you don’t have the time after wading through the weeds!
(Let me be one of those gems! Yes, I appreciate that asking you to subscribe to my mailing list while simultaneously suggesting you unsubscribe from others seems a bit backwards, but you can’t blame a girl for trying! It’s good stuff. Promise!)
“People are on average online for 24 hours a week, twice as long as 10 years ago, with one in five of all adults spending as much as 40 hours a week on the web.”
We are online more than ever. We can’t resist the lure of our smartphones. It has become the item we reach for first thing in the morning and the thing we check last thing at night.
Do yourself a favour and consider a digital detox. If you can’t go cold turkey, for example, you need to use digital devices for work, then pick a time at which you’ll unplug. Commit to switching off devices at 8 pm every night for example. Even just picking one day or evening a week to dedicate as your unplugged time can have a dramatic effect on your perception of how much you “need” to be using your devices, and improving your quality of sleep.
Use this time to connect with loved ones, play games, pursue hobbies – really immerse yourself in the real world!
3) Emotional Clutter
In some ways, this is the biggest and most important area to consider when making the decision to declutter your life.
We carry emotional clutter around with us which accumulates over the decades. Every time we succumb to doubt and negativity we add to it. Every time we let other people dictate our happiness we add to it. Guilt, fear, insecurities, anxiety – they all build up and drag us down.
You may well have decluttered your home from top to bottom, and that is going to feel GOOD, don’t get me wrong. But, as discussed previously, for my part I feel that the current trend towards decluttering and minimalism is indicative of a deeply felt need for less distraction and more connection. Less of the meaningless and more of the meaningful. It is about living life on your own terms, it’s about living intentionally.
And that just can’t happen if you stay locked in by your own self-doubt.
Related reading: Intentional Living – Live a Life that’s True to You!
Ridding yourself of all that emotional clutter by throwing out old patterns and worries is an essential part of the process. Don’t listen to anybody’s negative talk – least of all your own – too often we are our own worst enemies.
We get so used to believing everything we hear. Change your record and play a bit of positivity!
Rebecca over at LunanimaFox has a great piece on the 4 types of emotional clutter, which she identifies as:
- Toxic relationships
- Insecurities/negative self talk
Working on these areas could be the difference between living a life of mediocrity, and living the life of your dreams!
Hopefully, you are now feeling enthused and ready to take control of the things that are holding you back.
Yes, decluttering will leave you with a beautiful home filled with more of what you love, and less of what you don’t, but it is also about so much more than that:
Decluttering can really make your life better in a very real and all-encompassing way.
It isn’t just about looking good, it’s about feeling good, and carrying through a clearer and more simplified approach to all areas of your life.
This is the reason decluttering continues to be so popular.
Although minimal homes look beautiful in your social media feeds, it really shouldn’t be an exercise in vanity, and desiring the best-looking home (that is just an awesome side effect!). Done well, decluttering should provide you with a life that feels like you. And really, what else should we be striving for?
Let me know if you have found this helpful, or any tips you have found for decluttering, I’d love to know!