Decluttering 101. How To Let It Go and Get On With It.

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Decluttering 101: How to let it go and get on with it.

If you understand why you’ve got clutter, it’s a lot easier to tame it. Let me show you how!

A Job Half Done

Would you like a clean and organized home that makes it easy to get on with living the life you want?

Two years ago, when we thought we might have to move, I started seriously decluttering many years of accumulation. I went room by room, weeding things out, and then weeding some more. Midway through the process we suddenly sold the house and had to move. I never quite finished the decluttering and many boxes of the unfinished business moved along with us.

Since then I’ve come up with a balanced, functional happy medium that works for us. It’s not going to be the same for any two families, but I think the information here will help you determine how you want to approach your own decluttering.

Organizing Is Big Business But It Doesn’t Have To Cost You A Thing

The goal is to create a comfortable, fully functioning home that let’s you do what you want and need to do.

At one end of the spectrum there’s the uber-organized trap, where every item is sorted, folded, labelled, indexed and requires effort to access or put away.

At the other extreme is a minimalism so sparse that one is without the comforts that make life enjoyable.

What I aim for is the moderate approach. Stuff I use all the time (or enjoy having on display) needs to be easy to access, and the rest is either stored or purged.

Family Matters

I have one of those odd families that neither notices mess or clutter or care whether it’s there or not. Though, when presented with the idea of reducing clutter, they lean heavily toward ‘Ah, just leave it for now.’ Which translates as ‘forever’. I, however, was one of those freaky little kids who found cleaning my room to be tremendously therapeutic. Still do.

Today, as the Chief Domestic Engineer in our household, I need the house organized in a way that makes sense to me, and is easy to clean and find things. I love a tidy-looking home along with the pursuit of lots of creative endeavors. For many years this was not within my grasp but now, as the kids are older, I finally get to have my cake and eat it too. Clean, comfortable, and fun.

Some product links go to my affiliate account at Amazon.com. I always recommend you look for used supplies at thrift shops and yard sales first.

 

How To Get There

For starters, aim for:

  • having just what you need (not more)
  • everything has a logical place (everyone knows where to find stuff)
  • each room is easy to keep clean and performs the intended function.

Emotionally-Charged Stuff Is Highly Overrated

As I worked through my own decluttering I realized that I clearly left the hardest decisions to last. At the old house I got rid of the easy, low-hanging fruit. Now it’s down to the nitty gritty. Everyone will find certain aspects of decluttering straight forward and later stumble upon their own emotional hotspots.

I had an epiphany as I got rid of stuff at our old house one day when I asked my husband about something and realized that the stuff I was hanging onto had zero meaning for him, and the stuff that he hangs onto has no meaning for me. I know I can’t change what he keeps, but that objectivity from him enabled me to let go of whole bunch of things that were really just my own emotional clutter in a bunch of tidy looking bins. You can save stuff from the past and try to give it to future generations but really, for the most part, they want to come up with their own treasures.

Reasons We Keep Stuff

Beyond the items we use and enjoy each day, most of us own a lot of stuff that rarely gets used. The reasons for hanging onto it generally falls into these categories:

  • Sentimental (memorabilia)
  • Bargains (didn’t need it but it was a good deal)
  • Technology (there’s always something shiny and new to behold)
  • Knowledge (books)
  • Hidden Clutter (easier to stuff into spaces than deal with)
  • I (Or Someone Else) Might Need That One Day (and caring too much about where stuff ends up)

While I have lived through all of these reasons and have gradually shed them one by one, my last holdout seems to be I (Or Someone Else) Might Need That One Day which left me with a lot of tools and hardware to sort, some fancy old sewing machines, and some what-if piles of riff raff.

The I Might Need That One Day excuse is growing old for me. Yes, I might need that widget or wadget, and yes, stuff costs money and why waste it?, but really, if you measure the stress of keeping, maintaining, organizing, cleaning, storing, and moving many items, their value wears thin. Easier to borrow or obtain what’s needed later if the need really truly arises. Or just do without and go do something fun instead. I mean, we are burning daylight here.

That said, I do think it’s wise to engage in some emergency preparedness but the stuff we all hoard rarely falls into the category of useful during times of woe.

Ways To Declutter and Get Organized

If I had it to do over when my kids were little, I would organize the rooms by purpose, centralizing all books, art supplies, games, toys, and other items used by everyone. This would clear a lot of bedroom clutter and make sure good supplies do not get overlooked or repurchased.

I like this idea of centralized resources for neighborhoods as well: think of all the items we each purchase but rarely use (specialized garden tools, ladders, etc.). In a better world we could be sharing these things and saving a lot of money. Hippy dreams forever.

Peter Walsh has excellent advice on decluttering and home organization. My favourite is the audio version of his book, Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat?  The name comes from the rather intriguing relationship between excess, clutter, overconsuming, debt, and overeating. Booya!

Peter poses these questions when decluttering:

  • What do you want from your life?
  • What is the purpose of each space in your home?

Useful Decluttering Tips

  • Instead of tidying up and trying to make everything fit in neat, labelled bins, try assessing the real purpose and function of each room. Empty the room and then just return that which supports its purpose. If it doesn’t fit the space or function, get rid of it.
  • If you enjoy a tidy look, keep all flat surfaces clear.
  • When you give everything a place, make sure your choices are realistic. Is it easy to get to frequently used items? Will I be able to maintain this?
  • When decluttering, start small. For me, getting the fridge clean and nicely sorted provided an excellent start. Others find cleaning out their clothes closet a fresh, new beginning.
  • Never acquire any new shelves or containers until you have completely sorted, reduced, and organized the items so you can see what you actually need. If you’re like me, you may not need anything to make it work.
  • Stop shopping. Take a month off from buying anything but food. This is a great way to become aware of your habits, step back, and see what you really want and need and discover how much of your current stuff you actually use. Again, the connection between clutter, overconsumption, debt, and overeating may come into focus.

Solutions For Typical Clutter Excuses

  • Sentimental (memorabilia) – Emotional Clutter – keep one or two items and display them prominently. Take photos of the rest and let it go.
  • Bargains (didn’t need it but it was a good deal) – Adrenalin Clutter – Stop shopping. Donate the surplus to charities. There’s always another sale….
  • Technology (so much easier to buy electronics than responsibly dispose of them) – Trend Clutter – Consider using things up until they have worn out.
  • Knowledge (books) – Ego Clutter – Allow one bookshelf of favourites you will read again and let the rest go. You really don’t have to prove your worth.
  • Hidden Clutter (easier to stuff into spaces than deal with) – Emotional Clutter – You can run but you can’t hide. Get it all out in the open, do inventory, assess your needs, and let the rest go.
  • I (Or Someone Else) Might Need That One Day – Fear-based Clutter – trust that will be able to get what you need when you need it and not have to stockpile for every eventuality. And, when getting rid of stuff, it’s truly not worth the time and energy to stress over who gets what. Just let it go and get on with it.

And here’s the one question that will really get you on your way to a decluttered life.

If you can answer this one honestly—and act on it—you will not have any further problems with clutter.

Are you ready?

Ask: Can I live without this?

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Comments

  1. says

    Great post, thank you!
    I’m surprised getting rid of unwanted clutter is a problem – is there no Freecycle (or similar) group in your area? http://www.freecycle.org/group/CA/ or http://www.fullcircles.org/
    I have enjoyed meeting the various people who have come to collect my junk and the occasional drive out through our lovely countryside to pick up other folks’ cast-offs.
    OK there is still a little effort in sending an email and sorting replies and the annoyance when folk don’t turn up when expected but mostly it works well. Our semi-rural group offer excess plants and livestock as well as top soil and building materials alongside the more usual furniture etc. Some of the things people ask for are intriguing too!

    • says

      Hi Penny, Yes, I use freecycle and fullcircles and kijiji etc but it can be very slow going in my little town. I’ve had good experiences and really frustrating experiences with all of them. But, the stuff has to go so I’ll be doing it again. :-)

  2. says

    When you’re done with your house, could you come to my office and de-clutter my desk? Actually, our house needs help, too. I think the two biggest problems for us are first, sentimental attachments – we have boxes and boxes of kids’ toys and books. Our kids are now 22 and 25. This is more my spouse’s issue – she says we can give the stuff to our future grandchildren. (I think they are several years away, our kids aren’t even married.)

    The second obstacle is more my issue. I just always feel that there is something more important (fun) to do than clean up clutter.

    Anyhow, excellent post. I’ll follow your progress and try to put some of the very good advice into practice.

  3. Janice says

    Melissa An excellent, informative post! Only recently have I come to realize that only I know the “stories” behind so many of my treasures. Now I look at items as I’m decluttering & ask myself “will this have meaning and/or memories for anyone else?” So often, the answer is no. I’ve been trying to pass those items on to someone else now so that I know they are being enjoyed & used instead of waiting for me to travel along with them down Memory Lane during the next decluttering adventure. Thank you for confirming that the “I might need it someday” is actually living in fear. So true!
    Have a great day!

  4. says

    I loved this post, but it also leaves a dull pull in my gut. And a bit of anxiety.

    You see, I have to do this too. And I want to do it. And I believe that when my sprained wrist is healed, I will start.

    The challenge I expect to face is getting support from my partner. He is a worse hoarder than I am.

    But at least I can do my stuff. And maybe that will motivate him. :-)

    Thanks for the boost. You have helped to motivate me.

  5. says

    It does get tricky when our partners are not keen to declutter too. But, as you said, just deal with your own stuff and hope that the joy of it inspires others around you.

  6. says

    I know this is an older article, but that’s why I love the internet! Just came across this and holy cr*p. You explained things in MY terms. I think this is the first article that finally clicked with me. congrats and good luck on your endeavors. I am inspired and I must say so relieved that there seems to be a way out :) Thank you!!

  7. Andrea says

    HI,

    After living in CA for a very long time (since 1979) I have decided to move back east again, to the upstate NY region of the Catskills. I was so happy to stumble on your website. Going to use all your garden ideas and when I move I will be decluttered.

    Thank you,

    Andrea

  8. moonvine says

    I was glad to see this, but my main problem is hurricane season. I NEED (yes, really) a battery operated generator, flashlights and candles, batteries, at least a 2 week store of canned food plus manual can opener, and also animal food to last 2 weeks. A generator would be great but we don’t have one yet. Do you have some suggestions as to what to do with all this?

  9. Tillymintball says

    I ask myself:

    Do I use it?
    Do I need it?
    Do I love it?

    If the answer is no to all of them, it’s donated to a charity shop, sold on EBay, recycled or thrown away.

  10. says

    I have discovered that I keep things that have unhappy sentimental attachments to them. So now I ask myself, “What’s the emotional connection? Are you keeping this just BECAUSE there’s an emotional connection or is it not a happy one?” If the answer is “unhappy,” out it goes.

    My biggest triumph though is the development of a method of weeding out the wheat from the chaff. I take the things that are being called clutter and I put them next to the door. I find that over the next few days one or two things will keep catching my eye. I take those items out to keep. Then, somehow, all the rest can leave without my ever regretting their disappearance. This way I avoid tossing the baby out with the bath water and yet the bath water does get tossed. :)

  11. says

    Can I live without this? That final question really is the key. I save, recycle and do give items to the local goodwill shops BUT I find myself keeping way too much because Susie might need or want it, it costs too much to just give away, and finally, I might need it someday. I have clothes with the “bargain” tags on them that are 10 years old just stored in containers. I have struggled to declutter with minimal success but if I ask “{Can I live without this?” I believe I will have success. I’m excited. Thanks

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