How to declutter

Decluttering: How to Start

Don’t you find that you feel better when your home contains less rather than more ‘stuff’?

Owning a surplus of personal possessions may be considered a first world problem, but anyone feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff surrounding them would agree that it can affect their quality of life nonetheless.

Having an excess of personal possessions makes it difficult to contain things in their designated storage spaces and leads to a disorganised environment. See my recent post here on organising your home.

Not everyone has too much clutter

Incidentally, a large percentage of Europeans on the continent reside in modest apartments so tend to have to be more organised and selective about what they allow through their front door in the first place to enable their compact homes to stay feeling chic and comfortable. I certainly noticed that the homes of Italian friends I made whilst living there were pretty tidy and not overly cluttered.

Fortunately, I have never been much of a hoarder and find it relatively easy to let go of most unnecessary items. However, when I read about minimalist living, I realise I’m far away from living a minimalist life. I follow Joshua and Ryan known as ‘The Minimalists’ on their blog at theminimalists.com. It’s all very inspiring reading, if a little extreme for me- one family I read about decided to stop giving any Christmas gifts, even to their children. I know for certain that this would go down like a lead balloon in our household!

It’s amazing how the ‘stuff’ gradually invades our home though, slowly disordering the previously cleared cupboards, drawers and furniture tops. Once or twice a year I tend to treat decluttering and organisation as a project, setting aside time to work through the rooms in turn until I am satisfied that they are pared back to a level I am comfortable with.

How to get started on decluttering

It’s easy to become blind to certain hotspots of clutter that build up in our homes, simply because they are there so much of the time that we cease to notice them. I always remember a great tip that Fiona Ferris suggested in  in one of her wonderful blog posts  is to take a photo of the rooms in your house so that you can view it in an objective way. Trust me, you will soon spot the clutter hotspots in the photos and be motivated to sort them out!

When Marie Kondo’s book ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up’ launched in the UK, I couldn’t resist buying a copy and devoured it all practically in one sitting. Marie has a wonderful way of explaining why it is important to fight the clutter and describes in clear detail her recommended methods of decluttering. When I read it at the time, it did make perfect sense. Her approach is to gather all similar items from around the house together, eg books from all rooms should be brought to one location, then sorted individually by handling each one and asking whether it ‘sparks joy’. If the answer is negative, the object should be discarded.

Although this all made sense in theory, I found it just didn’t work for my family in practise. I found it overwhelming to have a huge pile of books, or clothes or whatever all taken from their usual storage area and felt pressure to get the job done as quickly as possible to restore the order and with young children there are fewer opportunities to get this done, as well as frequent interruptions. I prefer to concentrate on a room at a time and realistically this often means just one cupboard or drawer at a time. Doing it this way gives you an instant boost when you stand back and admire the perfectly organised drawer or cupboard (or is that just me…?). I don’t necessarily remove everything from an area either, but still try to touch each object and make a quick decision as to whether I should keep or discard it.

‘But it might come in useful one day…’

One of the most common stumbling blocks that makes us hang on to items is the thought that we might need them one day, even if we already have plenty of them already. I think it was in Marie’s book (though could be incorrect on this) that I read you can make the deciding rule be: if the item would cost £10 (or equivalent currency) to replace if you ran out, then let go of the excess items you hold. Bear in mind that you are unlikely to have to shell out up to £10 very often on these items in reality if you are contemplating getting rid of them at all- most likely you won’t ever even notice they’ve gone.

I used to have stacks of hand towels, some past their best or really not to my taste, but hung on to them ‘just in case’ I needed them one day. Well, after I read that rule it made it far easier to give myself permission go ahead and get rid of the extra hand towels- I only have five in total now, two of which will always be use in our two bathrooms. It sounds silly, but looking at the clear, uncluttered storage basket where I keep my hand towels gave me a great feeling after I decided to get rid of the extra ones.

Personally, I used to find it difficult to part with my children’s countless drawings and paintings and worried I might regret discarding them when they are grown up. This may strike a chord with other parents. I felt guilty getting rid of them, but trying to store them all was proving overwhelming. Then I read about a solution online: take a photo of each little masterpiece, store digitally with a separate folder per child and subdivided into years. Then you have access to them forever, without taking up precious physical space in your home.

Next issue: where to pass on items to be discarded?

Ever since travelling to Kenya a few years ago and witnessing abject poverty with my own eyes, I gained a fresh perspective on waste. It seems rather criminal to throw unwanted but usable items in the rubbish bin (and on to landfill) if someone else can make use of them. Here in the UK, there are several options to pass on unneeded belongings. Charity shops accept clothes, bags, shoes, often books and other items. There is also Freecycle, where you list most types of items up for grabs on a message board for your local area and folk who can make use of it get in touch. For food products with a reasonable shelf life, food banks located in most supermarkets are always glad of donations to pass on to people struggling to afford enough food. Alternatively, you could explore options to advertise items for sale- your local Gumtree website, Facebook selling sites or Ebay are good starting points. For overseas readers, I’m sure you have similar versions of these organisations that you can get in touch with.

Less really is more. Decluttering an area really does result in a great feeling of satisfaction. I hope this post has inspired you a little to embark on organising your own home if it needs doing?

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5 thoughts on “Decluttering: How to Start

  1. […] One of the most stressful aspects of Christmas for me personally is the influx of stuff into the house, especially kids’ toys. They already have so many toys but it’s understandable that relatives want to treat them to new toys for Christmas presents. I aim to have a decluttering session specifically for kids toys in early December, as this is a good opportunity to dispose of broken toys or donate toys they no longer play with to charity shops. It is also a chance to spot toys that need replacing and could prove good things to buy them as gifts. When relatives specifically ask for ideas of what the children would particularly need I can then mention ideas based on what I’ve noticed needs replacing for them or else I try to suggest days out or experiences as an alternative to toys. For example, my eldest daughter has been desperate to visit a climbing centre about 45 minutes drive from our house. So her grandmother is purchasing her a gift voucher to go to the climbing centre as her main gift. I know that she will be over the moon with that experience gift and on a selfish note I am relieved that it will be one less object to find a home for. See my post on decluttering here. […]

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