How to start decluttering
Why do we acquire clutter ?
Everyone has to deal with clutter: we collect, we shop, we consume, we lead busy lives and we have less time to make decisions about what to keep. And the longer we live in a place, the more stuff we keep. For some people, acquiring things is reassuring, it keeps their environment populated. But will come a time when decluttering will be required.
I am guilty of gathering stuff, “hoarding”, as they say, just like the next person. I come from a family of hoarders and it’s difficult habit to shake…
My “problem” is that I tend to see value in all things. I keep my clothes, my books, my shoes in good condition. Not a lot of my stuff gets damaged and I don’t like to waste things. So, sometimes, some things tend to pile up.
Also, I am not always in the mood to decide whether I am going to keep this or that. So I put it away somewhere. I find a spot in a closet and put it there… Quite normal really.
Why did I start decluttering ?
The problem with clutter, quite simply, is that it takes space. Things take space in your house, your closets, your garage and, strangely, they start taking space in your head. I remember the first time I felt bothered by clutter: I started obsessing about a pile of cardboard boxes in my basement. They were flat, resting against the wall. They weren’t in my apartment, and I didn’t need to look at them everyday. But they were there, I knew it. I had borrowed them from a friend when I moved house, so I couldn’t simply throw them out. One day, I couldn’t handle it anymore: I begged my husband to take them back to my friend’s house, with a bottle of wine, to say thank you. Just so that I could breathe again… Silly, isn’t it?
I recall a time when I was still living in Paris. A room in my Dad’s apartment had become a repository of “stuff”: furniture, knick-knacks, boxes, clothes, books, more books, all sorts of things… I could only access my own bedroom through a “corridor” between things… One day, my Dad and I decided to “get in there”. We spent the whole day throwing stuff out. At the end, we looked at the room in awe: we had achieved so much! And yet, there was still stuff in there… Looking back now, I realise we just “threw away” stuff we didn’t want anymore. We threw away stuff that was still in good condition, that could have been used by other people, and it went into landfill. Satisfying, but not completely.
Now, my decluttering is a little more organised.
How to go about decluttering ?
First, look at your rooms, one by one, and imagine them empty. Then add the essentials, like furniture. Then add the things you need the most, likes clothes, everyday items… Add layer after layer of essential things, before moving on to the less important stuff. The idea is to fill your rooms and decorate them, imagine them at their best, tidy, with nothing abandoned on the floor, in an ideal state. Then think about what’s left, and ask yourself what you actually intend to do with it.
You can play this little mental game with a room, a closet or a cupboard. In order to help you visualise the space is to make a drawing , or write a list. With rooms, keep in mind that windows should always be easily accessible and you should always leave a blank wall (no furniture on it).
A good way to start is to limit yourself to a small space, like a drawer, or a cupboard, so you don’t get overwhelmed. Then you can move to larger rooms, or even the garage. Also, you don’t necessarily want to do this alone. Enlist a friend, someone who doesn’t live with you. They will have a different view of the space, be less sentimental about the things in it, and will be able to point out the clutter you don’t see, or ask questions about a particular object.
Then you can use the box or pile technique: make a pile or box of things to keep, one for things to store, and one for things to get rid of (throw away, give away or sell). I am a big believer in selling things you no longer want. It does require a bit of an effort, but it’s satisfying. Remember, if someone else is using it, it doesn’t go into landfill. Well, not yet.
Depending on the type of things you are decluttering, there are some simple rules. Ask yourself: “Will I use/wear/read it again?” The possible answers are yes, no, maybe.
What to do with the stuff ?
So, now your have your three piles or boxes. For the things you keep, a lot of it comes down to how organised your space is. For closets and cupboards, you’d be amazed how you much you can store and keep without actually getting rid of anything. If it’s well organised, it usually fits.
The “store” pile is not a big one for me. I don’t have a lot of cupboard space in my apartment and it’s about using the hard to reach places. But, usually, if I decide to store something, it’s because I still think I will use it. But if you have storage space, that’s great. Just make sure it is organised, so you can easily find things when you need them.
Now, my favourite part: the pile to throw away, give away and sell… It’s the hardest part, what do you do with the things you no longer want ? What is a smart way to get rid of things, so they might be reused or optimized?
For the stuff really beyond hope, I usually rely on the council pick up. I’m lucky to live in an area where the council will pick up your stuff every two weeks, so long as you book it and remain within certain guidelines. This means stuff may be stored in the basement for a while.
There are other alternatives, like Reverse Garbage, but you’ll need to drive out there.
A great way to dispose of things you no longer want while doing a good deed is Facebook. Look for “free stuff” groups in your area and join them. You post a photo, indicate your suburb and the first person to comment “sold” or “yes please” wins. Some people don’t bother to pick up so make sure there is good communication happening. Also, I ask them to message me when they’re close by so I can give them the address. That way, you don’t give your address to a whole lot of people. I’ve had good success with plants, my old Ikea bookshelf, an old barbecue…
Now, selling… Depending on how much time you have, and how much effort you want to put in, it is completely possible to sell the stuff you no longer want. Facebook has plenty of groups for selling or swapping stuff, find some in your area, read the rules and you’re away.
Gumtree is a great place to start, especially for furniture, whitegoods, any large items. If you keep your prices low and are willing to negotiate, things can move pretty quickly.
A favourite of mine is good old eBay. I regret not keeping track of all the things I sold but here’s a list to give you an idea: clothes, shoes, handbags, accessories, posters, kitchen items, knick knacks of all types, there is a home for most things. However, I always have things for sale on eBay and I can usually be seen taking parcels to the post office several times a week. Over the years, I must be around 300 to 400 items sold. Selling on eBay does require time, you need to take photos and write descriptions. Then you need to wrap and post the items. But at least I know that items are getting a second life, which is important to me.
The effects of decluttering
Without going all psychologist on you, I’ll tell you what decluttering does for me: it makes me feel good, it’s calming and exciting at the same time. It gives me a sense of achievement, as small as it is. By getting rid of clutter, I make sure that my house stays clear, clean and welcoming. I use decluttering as a therapy, an ongoing way of staying in control. The key to good decluttering is to go at your own pace: set yourself goals for a closet, or a room, but make sure it makes you feel content. Be as ruthless as you want to be, take it in stages or only do one room/closet/drawer at a time. There is no need to put yourself under pressure, it will only aggravate the guilt and you want to be able to start “somewhere”…
How do I keep a reasonably clutter-free home ?
For me, decluttering is an ongoing pursuit. It’s quite natural to gather stuff and you need to revisit places and rooms on a regular basis. There are several ways to keep your hoarding or collecting under control, here are a few suggestions:
I never buy coat hangers, I stick to the amount I currently have. If I buy an item of clothing, I need to get rid of one, that’s the rule. Have I broken this rule before? Yes. But there are times, after a big clear out, where I have no problems finding an available coat hanger… and that’s nice…
I commit to a set number of pairs of shoes. Hard, I know, but I rotate mine. I have thirty boxes for shoes, found on Pink Lily. If I buy a pair, I have to get rid of a pair. As I keep my shoes in good condition, I can sell them. So I can renew my collection without too much guilt… And right now, I have a few empty boxes, if you see what I mean…
Review your habits
Question your shopping habits: do I really need/want this stuff? May I already have something similar? Am I really going to use it? Do I even like it?
If you identify areas of weakness, be honest and limit yourself. For example, I love going to food markets and trying new products. I used to buy all kinds of mustards, oils, chutneys, sauces… and never use them. They’d clutter my pantry and I felt awful for wasting food. So I stopped. I know I shouldn’t buy them and I am far less interested in them now.
Declutter small pockets at a time, all the time: sometimes I go through business shirts, or magazines, or the kitchen cupboard. It doesn’t take long and it’s a small but satisfying effort.
Everything has a home
Keep your home tidy. Find a place for everything, discipline yourself to 10-15 minutes of tidying up every day, not just on the weekend. Then you don’t see the pile growing throughout the week and you’re less exhausted by the time the weekend comes.
After all this, I still need to declutter some drawers, but now I know it’s easy to do, it’s both hard work and fun, and I’ll feel all the better for it.
Do you have any decluttering stories? And special techniques you want to share ?