I should start by saying that I am no decluttering expert, but over the years I have gone through quite a few spates of getting rid, so I thought I would share a few tips I’ve picked up along the way, in case it’s useful.
For me decluttering came before minimalism. Whilst I love beautiful things, I think it’s slightly ingrained in me to be picky about my possessions, and to strive for an uncluttered environment. Over the years, when I’ve felt my wardrobe get chaotic or found myself tidying a certain spot too often I’ve had a little clear out, but it was only when we began moving house every year that the regular decluttering began. As I packed boxes I would asses each item for its relevance in our new home, but to be honest many things slipped through the net. Last year, however, when we bought our first house, the decluttering got serious, and my interest in minimalism more widely was piqued.
With everything that was going on when we moved into our new house, I didn’t complete my usual packing audit (it was more like lug a large box into the kitchen and sweep everything off the counter)! After a year spent renovating the house, when January came I was ready to take on the ultimate declutter, once and for all. With all the work that we’d put into redoing the space the thought of having it buried beneath unnecessary clutter seemed too much of a shame. Six months later we are pretty much at the point of having cut the fat, so to speak, and the below are a few bits of wisdom I’ve picked up:
Do it all at once
This is the ultimate KomMari Method rule (although I haven’t read her book, I read enough lifestyle magazines and Sunday supplements in 2014 to get the gist) and I must admit I really think it makes a difference. Doing it all at once is a relative term and will depend on what is possible in your lifestyle, but I found that it’s only when I’ve committed to not leaving a room until the job is done that I’ve had real success. The trouble with leaving the job half done is you invariably have to start all over again when you pick back up. Plus, I definitely find the satisfaction I get from completing the process in one whole room propels me forward to the next. To be clear, I didn’t declutter my whole house in one day or even one week. I would just suggest setting aside a realistic amount of time for one room, or even one closet and get it finished.
This sounds totally obvious but approach each room armed and ready. I usually head into each room with a box for charity/donating and a bin bag for those things that are totally unsalvageable. You could also have a box or bag for items you want to sell but I’ve found most of the stuff I’m getting rid of is not valuable enough to make the hassle of selling items worth it. Aside from being able to go around each room and directly deposit items in the donation box/bin, the other bonus of this is that at the end of the day you can put the donation box straight in the car or by the front door to go out. Don’t revisit this box. Just take it out!
Start with the easy stuff
There is no doubt that decluttering can be most difficult when it comes to emotional items so I would recommend starting with things that you cannot possibly care that much about (I’m looking at you 3 extra corkscrews)! Junk mail, paperwork that you no longer need, duplicate items (often found in the kitchen) and functional items that you never use (in 2013 I bought a juicer and I think I spent more time cleaning it than juicing with it). These things are not hard to get rid of. If it’s an item you spent money on but never use I find it helpful to remember that the money is gone and you did not pay to have that item take up useful space. Next up are the things you were bought and only keep out of duty. Don’t keep things out of duty. It really is the thought that counts. The ultimate grateful act is to send it on it’s way to someone who will use it and love it.
Do you love it or use it?
The KonMari method is all about ‘does it bring you joy?’ and whilst I’m all for having the most beautiful version of a functional item that I can afford, I’m not sure a spatula will ever bring me joy. If you love something, keep it (I personally don’t believe that people get rid of things that they truly love) but be super honest with yourself about whether you love it or whether you keep it out of guilt to yourself for the wasted money/guilt to others/because you might regret it (if you love it you won’t get rid of it and if you don’t love it you won’t regret it). There is, in my opinion, another important category beyond love: things you use (* see spatula). If you use it all the time, keep it (don’t keep duplicates), but if you haven’t used it in 6 months what is going to happen in the next six months that will cause you to need it? Caveats to this are things such as maternity wear (I haven’t worn mine in the last year but am keeping my maternity wardrobe in the event I do need it again). You get the point.
It feels harder than it is
This final tip is courtesy of Dan and I must admit I totally agree with him. It seems like a time-consuming undertaking but once done, the space, both physical and mental you gain will be well worth the time and effort. Dan told me that he genuinely never misses the things we have cleared out and in fact doesn’t even remember them. I feel exactly the same. If you really love it you will keep it and if you don’t love it or use it you won’t notice that it’s gone. All that you will notice is the sense of freedom and lightness you feel having less stuff to tidy, clean, worry about and cart about if you do move.
A final note: I do think the actual decluttering is the hardest part. It takes mental and emotional energy and, of course, time, but don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s over when you’ve dropped the bag off at the charity shop. There is little point in decluttering if you have no intention of really considering what you bring into your house in the future. Without a different approach to acquiring things you will be back in the same position with a year or two (soul destroying). This approach is totally personal; only you know how much you want to own and what is important to you, but whatever you do, think about it. Be intentional about what you buy, acquire and keep. I guarantee you will notice the difference in your home and maybe also your bank balance.
I would love to hear the things that have helped you when it comes to decluttering. I am a serious tidy freak, so let me know what hacks you’ve discovered for keeping a clutter free home.