Things You Must Know About Decluttering

Over the years there are many lessons I have learnt when it comes to decluttering, and it is these lessons I will share with you before going into decluttering specific rooms and furniture.  Without these small nuggets of wisdom, it is easy to lose motivation or even hamper your attempts to live a clutter-free life.

 Firstly, it’s counter-productive to buy more storage. Once-upon-a-time, whenever I ran out of storage space I would either buy one of those plastic under-the-bed boxes, or I would buy larger pieces of furniture.  At the time I didn’t realise that all that was doing was encouraging me to keep stuff that no longer served me. I was organising and re-organising my clutter again and again, whilst telling myself that more storage was the answer. It isn’t.

 Secondly, clutter is something that you need to keep on top of every single day, because clutter accumulates over the years as our tastes change, as Christmases, birthdays and other celebrations fly by, and as paperwork comes into the home. Once you become complacent and allow the odd piece of paperwork or the occasional old t-shirt to remain in storage, before you know it, the paperwork has become a mountain of overwhelm and the clothes are back overflowing the drawers.  You’re back living in Clutterville and all your hard work feels completely meaningless. I’ve watched people despair that they had an all-day tidying session, only for it to look ‘as if a tornado passed through the house’ days later.  To truly be in control of your environment, not only must you be mindful of what goes into your shopping bags and what you already own, you must continue to be in tune with your emotions, and the tendency to hold on to your possessions. As I discussed in my previous post, it is of utmost importance that you understand the relationship between you and your stuff.

Thirdly, it does get easier. The more you declutter, and the more of your true-self that emerges, the easier it will become to discern between what’s important to you and what can go to be loved by somebody else.

So how exactly does one go about decluttering so many years of stuff? You start off small, and with what is immediately in your line of sight.

For example; if you’re more like I was, and drawers and cupboards are hiding the mess, then start off by emptying one. Just one. By setting yourself that one small challenge to begin with, you’re much less likely to become overwhelmed and give up. Tasks are much more do-able and easier to stick to when they are chunked. However, if you feel the motivation to keep going, then definitely do so! Just focus on one small part of the room or on one piece of storage at a time.

If surfaces are an issue for you and are crowded with years old trinkets that have gone through many themes of decor in your home, it can feel almost impossible to get started. In that case you need to ask yourself some serious questions: How many of them do you really need? Do they add anything of value, or do they make you feel stressed and uncomfortable? Do they have memories attached? Were they just on sale at the time? Were they an unwanted gift? Go through each item and feel for which ones truly make you happy to display.

As you get into a flow of decluttering, you’ll naturally start to notice other objects that completely eluded your attention in the past. Perhaps you’ll discover handfuls of ballpoint pens and several pads of unused paper – I did. And what about those old books? Should you donate the ones you know you will never touch again so that somebody else may enjoy them? Why have you still got that old chipped mug?

With all this in mind, please remember that you don’t have to get rid of everything all in one go, even if you are just working on a small corner. If getting rid of one object a day is all you can manage to begin with, then go with that. Any progress is better than no progress at all. For many people, the path to minimalism is a challenge because of the deeply ingrained beliefs that come from marketers, a consumerist society, sentimentality, and guilt. If you struggle with letting go, it is a lengthy and emotional journey, and it is important to tackle large projects with a calm mind, in bite-size chunks.

Persist in the journey towards minimalism,and you will find that the long-term rewards will far outweigh the allure of material objects.

My upcoming content will be a series of ‘how to’ posts to declutter specific rooms, starting from when you enter your front door. Stay tuned for my next post about hallways and entrances.

So Much More Than Stuff – Finding Your Why Amidst The Clutter

Before we get into the details and all the nitty-gritty of decluttering, I want you to know that the process can seem very difficult at first. If you’ve been reading my posts up to this point, you’ve probably acknowledged that you have too much stuff, and maybe you can’t wait to get started – if so, that’s great – but know that at some point you’re likely to meet a wall of resistance and feel overwhelmed. Minimalism is a lifestyle choice, and it’s not just your clutter that you will be dealing with, but your whole mindset.

Once you feel the journey becoming difficult ,don’t despair. It will get easier, and it’s completely natural to experience those feelings. We’ve spent our whole lives being convinced by companies and advertisers that we need more,bigger, better, newer and shinier to be happy, when what we really crave, are satisfying moments, relationships, careers, and experiences. Most of society is sold on the idea of happiness and success being a bigger house and a posher car…all in the pursuit of storing and acquiring even more stuff. When does it stop?

It doesn’t.

Many years ago, I saw a TV program (that I can’t remember the name of) which was showing the lives of people who were rich enough to afford gold-encrusted toilets and gold-flecked perfumes. Some had priceless works of art. The kicker? Most of these people were more miserable than some of the poorest people I know.

As long as your belief remains grounded in material objects being the key to satisfaction, the mission won’t ever end. It’s like eating a slice of gooey chocolate cake: you’re satisfied for all of half an hour and then the lingering aftertaste has gone and you want more. There will always be a bigger house, a smarter phone, a better gadget, a shinier car, a new craze, a newer fashion trend, and a sale on ‘must have’ items. Always.

Let’s admit it, keeping up with all that is not only a permanent leak in the wallet, but exhausting to keep up with, which ultimately leads to feelings of emptiness and intense dissatisfaction in the long-run. Sometimes, it can even cause feelings of guilt which leads to you desperately trying to justify your latest purchases to others – I’ve been there. Chasing happiness through material goods is a vicious circle. A never-ending sprint up a backwards escalator. You see, happiness doesn’t start with what’s in your wardrobe, but what’s inside you.

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Because our possessions are so often entrenched in our emotions and core beliefs, before you start the decluttering process, I want you to clear your mind and think about your buying habits and the items you already own. What caused you to hold onto all your stuff in the first place? If you find yourself always buying more stuff, think about what it is and why? Do you really need it? How does it make you feel afterwards? And the most important question of all: Why do you want to change? I recommend writing it all down and letting your mind go as free as a butterfly. Nobody has to see it but you. Your ‘why’ is so important to understand in anything that you choose to pursue in life because without it, there’s no strong motivation and you will find yourself giving up before you’ve even started.

In upcoming posts I will finally get down to talking about the decluttering process itself, and you will learn how to let go, as well as how to cope with sentimental objects, and how to live with someone else’s clutter. I’ve been there, so I will be with you all the way.

Anchors of the Past : My Hoarding Story and How I Woke Up To My Mess

When I was a child I had a bit of a hoarding problem, as most kids do ;toys which I outgrew, and books which I no longer read yet insisted on keeping. I also kept old magazines and piles of school work. Whereas most children tend to outgrow their old belongings as they blossom into young adults: I didn’t. I continued to hoard well into adulthood.

I wasn’t the sort of hoarder where everything covers every corner of breathable space – I’ve always been incredibly meticulous about tidiness. Instead, every available surface was neatly lined up with soft toys; figurines; ornaments from seaside resorts; books I didn’t read; DVD’s I didn’t watch, mugs from the Disney store, and those mugs you get free with Easter eggs. What I couldn’t display on the sides I either stashed in the attic for the future or stored in my bedside drawers, which bowed under the weight and became a pain to open and close. Things would fall out of the insides and down the back because there was simply no room for the immense amount of junk I was keeping in them: Keyrings; dried-out pens; old party invitations; old cables; small ornaments; needles;old school crafts; unworn jewellery, and unused makeup, were rammed into any available storage space. I dreaded searching the mini-city of boxes atop my wardrobe because spiders often took refuge in the alleys between them. Even beneath my bed was edge-to-edge with plastic boxes full of clothes, games, cables,workout equipment, and everything else that didn’t have a home. Out of sight, out of mind – or so I thought.

I was in my late twenties and renting a two-bedroom house with my fiance and toddler son before I realised how much stuff I had accumulated, and it took some hard truths to finally make me see it. The day of truth started with an irate phone call from my mum, who’d just spent the day clearing her attic. Most of the stuff was mine and she was ‘not hanging on to it all anymore because she was getting too old to keep maneuvering around my stuff up there’.  Anyway, she loaded the car and drove it all over to my house. Anyone watching out of their windows at her bringing the stuff to my front door may have been mistaken for thinking that she was moving in, because there was a terrifying horde of bin liners and boxes. Part of me wanted to just store it in our shed and deal with it another time, but my fiance had threatened to bin the lot if I didn’t sort through them there and then. He and I had had a few rows about the amount of stuff I had, and now it was coming to head. There was no way that it could all go into our attic because even that was brimming with paraphernalia, so much so that I pictured the ceiling collapsing into one of the bedrooms and killing someone. A bit over-dramatic, I know, but it was a sure sign that something needed to be done, so I reluctantly started sorting through the bags, placing items into separate piles of things to keep and purge.

At first, the ‘keep’ pile far outgrew the ‘purge pile’, and as the clock ticked on I came to realise that all I was doing was moving stuff around the floor. I wasn’t making so much as a dent, and the living room looked like an obstacle course. With a small toddler running around, there was no way I could leave the room the way it was. Not only was I suddenly forced to confront all of my stuff, I had to dive deep into my psyche and find out exactly what was keeping me attached to items I knew I was never going to use again, or that were quite simply, rubbish. I had to become ruthless right on the spot, so I started evaluating the objects one by one, thinking deeply about why I wanted to keep them. If I really cared about it all so much, why was it that I didn’t even know I had them until just now? It was a slow and exhausting process, but eventually, all that was left was a single plastic box of some old school reports and pieces of school work that legitimately made me smile. As it turned out, there was no discernible reason I could think of to keep 90% of what was in those bags. As bags started going outside ready for the charity shop or the wheelie bin, I realised something that forever changed how I live my life: I felt free, as if a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders and a part of my mind had had years of grime removed.

I hadn’t realised just how stressed I had been from keeping all my stuff, even in places I couldn’t see. It wasn’t out of mind, it never had been. All I was doing was storing emotional anchors from my past. Almost all of what I had been keeping was nothing but emotional baggage; things that were anchoring me to parts of my life that I simply couldn’t let go of, or had never dealt with. In my childhood, fights were often repaired by the buying of gifts, so I clung to the items as if they were real feelings. I didn’t have many friends at school and was often bullied, so I kept presents that old friends had bought me in the past – even those I hadn’t spoke to for years and never would again.  I kept keyrings, soft toys, letters and postcards from people I no longer knew. I was so under-confident in my abilities that I’d kept all of my school work just to look back on the praise I had received for good pieces of work. Most of it was essays, stories, leaflets and any other writing assignments I had worked on in class. I’ve always dreamed of being a writer ever since I was a small child, so I would keep essays and stories with teachers praise written on, which reminded me that I could, in fact, write. I was an adult child, clutching onto the past rather than letting go and embracing the future. Simply put, I was substituting my lack of satisfying attachment to the people in my life, and my lack of self confidence, to things.

Aside from the more depressing reasons for my hoarding tendencies, I was addicted to the temporary excitement of buying new stuff, and therefore, terribly prone to buying things as soon as my wages went in the bank. I’d come up with convincing reasons as to why I needed to add to my DVD collection, or why I needed yet another snow globe to add to my window ledge. One day, I even bought a cheap CRT television, convincing myself I would find the space for it. I didn’t. More about my addiction to buying things in a future post.

An old picture of me with the clunky CRT TV I bought to play my old consoles on, knowing that we didn’t have the space. Just look at my guilty, caught-out expression.

I used to convince myself I was tidying and ‘decluttering’, when all I was really doing was moving stuff to another location. Rather than dealing with the problem, I would hide my past under the bed or buy more storage, which would inevitably get filled with more clutter. The more storage I bought, the more stuff I consumed, the more clutter I kept, and the more my space shrank. My true self was being crushed under the weight of material possessions, but it wasn’t until we finally bought a home that I realised my work was far from over.

Minimalism is about YOU!

If it’s the first time you’ve heard about minimalism, you’re probably feeling a little overwhelmed. If you’re anything like I was, the term, minimalism, might conjure images of empty rooms with surgically clean white walls and a single chair. You wouldn’t be wrong, but you might be surprised to learn that you can still be a minimalist whilst keeping all the things that you treasure. First of all, let me tell you what minimalism is and isn’t.

Minimalism isn’t about purging everything you own and love. Nor is it about white clothes, white walls and white furniture. Minimalism is about only keeping the objects which are important and meaningful to you. It’s about creating space and discovering who you really are beneath the clutter. It’s about prioritizing your life and making the most out of moments rather than things. It’s about you.

In the coming days I will be telling you my personal story of how I went from hoarding to minimalism, and, most importantly, what caused me to hoard in the first place.