Friday, March 29, 2019

Declutter Your Fantasy Self

You are not what you own.

Photo by Kirk Thornton on Unsplash

"Imagination will take you everywhere," said Albert Einstein, and he was right.  As humans, we're limited in what we know and understand, but imagination transcends all of that.

Unfortunately, we tend to bolster our fantasies by buying the props that go with them.  Francine Jay, author of The Joy of Less and Lightly, calls this "aspirational stuff."  These are the things we buy to project a certain image, to impress others, or to help ourselves believe we're a certain type of person.

I once imagined I was a great home cook, so I decided I needed a shelf full of celebrity cookbooks and drawers full of specialty gadgets.  With a little more imagination I might have decided I needed a professional six burner stove and a Sub-Zero refrigerator too.

In reality, I don't enjoy multi-step cooking day after day.  I fix crock pot and one skillet meals, I use certain recipes often, and I've decided I don't have to impress anyone.  I have a binder that holds all my recipes, I find new recipes online, and I need only basic utensils.

I sing opera, so I used to imagine I needed a closet full of formal gowns.  The reality is that I sing opera, but the director puts me in a costume and a wig.  I need only one elegant black gown to be appropriately dressed for the occasional solo or recital gig.  Sparkly earrings or a silk wrap of any color can be added for variety.

It took me a while to notice that my fantasies tended to require a lot of stuff while the reality could be satisfied by a minimalist approach.  Did I buy all that stuff just to bolster my sense of self worth?  Or to combat boredom?  Does it really take courage to admit that I don't own a citrus zester or a full set of Le Creuset cookware?  Is it my gown that people come to see, or is it my voice they come to hear?  It's not that hard to decide I want to be known for my voice!  I'm not going to perform a Mozart aria in jeans and a tee shirt, but elegance and professionalism don't require a closet full of one-time-use formals.  And if my voice isn't top-notch, the extensive wardrobe won't fool anyone.

It's what I do, not what I have, that really matters.

A friend of mine uses one pattern over and over, purchases different fabrics as needed, and has given away dozens of well-loved heirloom baby quilts.  Another keeps adding to a large, expensive, and hard-to-store fabric stash, but hasn't finished a quilting project in several years.

Recognize that you are not the same person you were ten years ago.  Your interests, tastes, and life circumstances have changed.  Maybe it's time for you to declutter your attachment to the title "Quilter" because that's no longer who you are.  Make a decision to keep only those things that support who you are today.

Do you own top-of-the-line backpacking gear you haven't used in a while?  Maybe you're nearing 60, and you have a bad knee, so the most you can handle is a not-too-strenuous day hike, but you hang on to all the paraphernalia because you once planned to traverse the entire Muir Trail.  Why don't you keep that photo of yourself looking fit and handsome on a long-ago hike in Yosemite, but donate or sell the equipment?  Then start imagining the challenge you might like to try now.

Fantasies are fun, and they can be useful for identifying what you care about and where your interests lie.

But beware of trying to purchase the fantasy.  Invest your limited time, energy, and money actually doing what you like rather than buying stuff, since things will never make you something you are not.

  • High-end clubs won't make you a championship golfer, only years of hard work and practice will do that.
  • Designer shoes won't make you a supermodel; it takes genes, confidence, hard work, and luck.
  • A new vacation home won't guarantee quality time and happy family memories.  You need to actually spend the time playing with, talking to, and listening to your kids.  And you can do that anywhere.

Stop shopping so you can spend more time learning, creating, and enjoying the people and the beauty around you.

Please share in the comments if you're finally ready to declutter the props for someone you used to be or once thought you'd like to be.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Spring Cleaning

The days are longer, the birds are busy, the first buds and leaves have appeared.  Everything is energized and ready to begin, and you notice how heavy, tired, and even grubby your home is.

Courtesy of Jon Trefzger

Now, you can do deep cleaning and reorganization like your mother and grandmother did, or you can use this opportunity to do several other great things by decluttering.

  • Learn about yourself.  Cleaning and rearranging may cause you to look at each of your possessions, but they don't require that you evaluate them, especially if you're just putting them in boxes and closing the lids.  In contrast, actually removing stuff from your home forces you to decide what is truly important to you. 
  • Control your urge to shop.  A fresh start is wonderful, but do you really need to greet the new season with a trip to the big box décor store?  Maybe paring down will provide the lighter look you crave.
  • Benefit others.  The possessions you rarely use sit on shelves or tables, or in a garage or closet or drawer, gathering dust.  Before you buy even one more storage container, consider donating your excess.
  • Inspire gratitude.  Cleaning and organizing provide a temporary lift to your mood.  They tidy a room, but rarely lead to a new outlook on life.  You may still feel your house is too small and your income too little.  But clutter is evidence that you have more than you need.  When you start to remove excess possessions, you realize how prosperous you actually are.

Decluttering is an essential step on the road to satisfaction and self-discovery.

As you decide what to keep and what to release, you can be thankful for, yet move on from, past versions of yourself (the mother of young children, for example, or the college athlete).  You can begin to see who you are now.

You decide what is right for you.  Your uncluttered home will welcome you, your family, and guests.  It will hold some treasured items and memories, but nothing bought on a whim, or just to fill an empty space, or merely because it was trendy or on sale.  It will be simple, but beautiful.  It will be a haven than supports you.  It won't steal your time, money, or energy.

Why not try a different method of spring cleaning this year?  Choose any room, and try this:

  • Clear everything from flat surfaces, including magazines, plants, lamps, candles, photos, figurines, dirty dishes, junk mail....
  • Clear everything from the floor, including furniture, rugs, baskets, clothing, backpacks, cases of whatever bought on sale and shoved into corners....
  • Clear everything from the windows and walls.

Use white vinegar and baking soda to clean carpets and windows, then sweep or vacuum.  Now you have a clean, fresh, empty space, and you can decide exactly what you want to put into it.  Return items slowly, one at a time, as you ponder the answers to these questions:

  • What is the purpose of this room?  This will help you decide which furniture is necessary.
  • Would I like to have more empty space?  Do you want room to do yoga?  For your kids to play?  To set up a music stand and practice an instrument?
  • How can I arrange furniture to best use this space?  You might decide to add or leave out some pieces.
  • How do I want to feel in this room?  This will help you decide to add or leave out rugs, curtains, pillows, throws, lamps, color, electronics.
  • What do I already own that could be used regularly rather than stored?  The things we store in the back of a closet are stagnant, but the things we use every day are alive with character.  Why not use your nice stoneware and declutter the plastic dishes?  Or your grandmother's quilt and donate the Walmart comforter?  (Or, if you've only kept Grandma's bedding out of guilt, find another family member who wants it, or sell it to a collector.)
  • What do I already own that can personalize this room?  Examples include the hand-painted vase you bought on your honeymoon in Mexico, your kids' art, a photograph or painting of your favorite place, or the dresser you creatively refurbished.  Display just a few items to give them the spotlight they deserve.
  • How can I bring a bit of nature into this room?  Maybe you have a couple of favorite potted plants, or you'd like to have a vase of daffodils or flowering branches, a tray of seashells you've collected over time, or even a prism to hang in a sunny window.  What do you love about our beautiful world?

Look at everything else you removed from the room that you did not choose to return.  Why was it there in the first place?  Does it belong in another room, or can you declutter it?

Once you're ready, enjoy being in your space.  Use it according to its purpose, or simply relax with a hot or cool drink.  Don't you feel lighter, energized, and ready for spring?

Please share in the comments if there's something you've been storing that you've decided to use regularly instead, the biggest item you've decluttered to make your home feel brighter or more spacious, or your favorite way to bring nature inside.

Friday, March 22, 2019

7 Questions to Ask When Decluttering

Decluttering is a process, one step on the path toward a simpler, more intentional life.

Courtesy of

Less stuff means less maintenance, less cleaning, and less stress.  Removing excess brings you more space, more time, and more energy.

Brooke McAlary, author of Slow: Simple Living For a Frantic World, calls clutter "deferred decisions" and "the physical manifestation of procrastination."  But the process of decluttering builds your decision-making ability as you choose what to hold on to and what to remove.  Over time you gain more clarity and confidence about what is important to you.

Asking these questions may help:

1.  Have you used this item in the past year?  Do you anticipate a specific use for it in the future (NOT "just in case")?  If not, why are you keeping it?

2.  Is this item something you've kept out of guilt or obligation?  Even if it was a gift, it was your grandmother's, or you spent a lot of money on it, you have permission to let it go.

3.  Is the item itself important to you, or is it the memory attached to it that you value?  Realize that the place, event, person, or relationship does not exist in the item.  Would you still feel the emotion without the physical item?  If yes, do you actually need to keep it?

4.  Is this item something you bought because you thought you should own it, or because you thought it seemed interesting, but now it sits unused?  Release that carpet cleaner, exercise equipment, sewing machine, or pasta maker, and free up time and space for activities you actually do.

5.  Did you buy this item to keep up or fit in with a trend?  Do you want others to decide how you spend your time, money, and energy?  If it's not right for the life you want to live, let it go.

6.  If you were moving, would the item in question be worth packing, hauling, unpacking, and finding space for?  If not, why are you keeping it?

7.  Is it more important to you to keep this item, or to have the space it occupies?

Monday, March 18, 2019

6 Ways to Start Decluttering

Don't panic!  There is no one "right way" to declutter.  Try one of these six entry points:

1.  Start with the most visible.

Tackle stuff on counter tops or the floor, for example.  Leave closets and drawers for later.  You'll see obvious results from your decluttering efforts, which will make you feel more confident, energized, and inspired to continue.

2.  Start with one thing that will make your life easier.

  • Are you always searching for your keys?  Put a hook for them near the door, or clear out your purse and designate one pocket for keys.
  • Is the TV remote always buried?  Declutter some throw pillows, clear out a drawer to give it a "home," or clear off the coffee table and place a basket for it there.
  • Do coats, backpacks, and shoes always end up on the kitchen table or strewn across the floor?  Declutter the front closet so there's plenty of room to hang coats, and put up some heavy-duty hooks for backpacks.  Place a basket on the floor of the closet for outdoor shoes.
  • Are your sink and counter always full of dirty dishes?  Take three minutes each morning to empty the dishwasher, and help everyone start the habit of putting dirty dishes into it.  Is there no room to put clean dishes away?  Sort and declutter the 27 plates, 23 bowls, 18 mugs, 9 cooking pots, and piles of utensils.

3.  Start with the biggest items.

Do you need a couch and a love seat and three chairs?  Can you mount the TV on the wall and remove the entertainment center?  Do you need four bookcases?  Declutter unloved books and trinkets, and maybe you can remove one or more.  Do you need a hutch and a sideboard?  Declutter unused china, linens, and miscellany at the back of the cupboard, and maybe you can delete one piece of furniture.

4.  Start small.

Choose a drawer, a shelf in a closet or pantry, or the cupboard under a sink.  Empty it completely.  Sort stuff into three categories:  keep, donate, or toss.

5.  Do it all at once.

Take the next several weekends, or a week's vacation, and declutter all at once.  Work room by room or category by category.  Stay hydrated.  Take a short break every couple of hours to eat, read, stretch, or simply close your eyes.  Stop each evening and do something fun and relaxing, such as going out for dinner or a movie, taking a bike ride, or having a soak in the tub and an early bedtime.

6.  Do it little by little.

Think you have no time to declutter?  Do you have 10 minutes?  10 minutes a day times 7 days a week times 52 weeks equals 3,640 minutes.  That's more than 60 hours.  You can do a lot in 60 hours!    


Friday, March 15, 2019

Declutter Fearlessly

When someone lives with large amounts of clutter it is often the result of fear.

My mother's clutter was organized.  It was neatly packed away in storage containers, all clearly labeled and precisely arranged in every drawer, cupboard, closet, garage rafter area, and shed.  She could always find what she was looking for, even if piles and bins had to be shifted in order to get to it.

Mama would never have called herself a hoarder.  Her house was extremely clean and didn't look cluttered.  There were dozens of magazines in the family room, but they were in a magazine rack.  The books were on shelves.  The games were stowed in cupboards.

Three sets of "everyday" dishes were stacked on clever racks in the kitchen cupboards, and the "good" china had its own cabinet, with bowls, platters, and pitchers carefully displayed.  Yet we had dinner guests only a few times a year.

The linen closet held perfect piles of sheets and color-coordinated towels, enough for a dozen people.  Yet we almost never had overnight guests.

We had several desks.  The tops were dusted and cleared of all but a lamp and maybe one photo, plant, or figurine, but the drawers were packed tight with neatly labeled file folders, boxes of greeting cards, packages of binder paper, pens, staples, paper clips....

My mother often complained that we needed more storage space.  Those cases of tuna and Kleenex, extra sleeping bags, and six-packs of typewriter ribbon took room.  She also often complained about credit card bills, and how hard it was to keep anything in a savings account.  She shopped a lot.

Mama was born during the Great Depression, and also experienced World War II rationing, blackout regulations, and the deportation (and eventual return) of her Japanese-American classmates.

It's likely that early scarcity fueled her desire to always have more than enough.

It's possible she had an unrecognized phobia, and that those carefully hoarded and organized piles were a form of self-protection.

Can't we all relate to this, at least a little?  We all have possessions that strike an emotional chord, either in a positive or a negative way.

I have two scrapbook photo albums that are precious to me.  I began creating them as I raised and home schooled our two daughters.

Then one day our younger daughter told us that she had known from the age of 4 or 5 that she was male.  Her body was female, but she felt in her mind and soul that she was male.  She had decided to reveal her secret struggle, and planned to transition in order to live a full, true life.

That brave but shocking and heart-breaking revelation led our family on a journey we never expected.  My husband and I couldn't understand what our child was going through, and we had to educate ourselves and manage our own intensely emotional transition.

Five years later, I think of myself as the mother of a daughter and a son.  We've supported our child's transition, but this experience has tested our faith and our marriage, and has permanently changed relationships with some relatives and friends.  It is an understatement to say it has not been easy.

My son made his legal transition a few years ago.  His male identity is recognized by the government in the form of a new birth certificate, Social Security card, and driver's license.  In a legal sense, his birth name has been erased.  But I have a copy of the original birth certificate, which recorded one of my most significant life events.  I have twenty-two years' worth of pictures.

I do not mourn for my child, because I'm very blessed to have my son!  But I can't forget the daughter I raised, and sometimes I miss her.  Sometimes I feel like I failed her, since I didn't recognize her pain and despair.  

The scrapbooks commemorate the life we lived.  That's why I keep them.  They feel essential to me.

Minimalism is not about owning nothing.  It's not about living a nomadic life with one change of clothes and a bowl, unless that's what gives your life meaning.

It's probably a good idea to keep an extra blanket, an extra package of toilet paper, or extra batteries for the flashlight.  And just as there's nothing wrong with eating your favorite comfort food, there's nothing wrong with keeping your parents' wedding photo, or your child's favorite stuffed animal that went everywhere, or the first valentine your husband ever gave you.

But what if one serving of "comfort food" becomes 5, or 10, or 50?  

At some point, comfort becomes sabotage.

My mother's hoarding was a mechanism to help her deal with her childhood fear that in the future she wouldn't have enough of what she needed.  Does your clutter represent fear?

If you're keeping stuff you never use because you "might need it someday" (or worse, you think your kids might need or want it someday), then you might be trying to build security against your fear of the future.  If you're storing all of your children's toys, or all of your parents' furniture, or all of your high school trophies, then maybe you're afraid to let go of the past.  You're afraid those memories will disappear if you don't have tangible reminders.

We all experience uneasiness about an unknown future.  We all have emotions that make us cling to the past.  Let's admit it, and turn our focus to all that we have and feel and experience today.

Sure, keep an extra box of cereal, a few canned foods, and some frozen chicken breasts.  Keep a tube of toothpaste and a bar of soap for when you run out.  Display some family photos, use Grandma's favorite quilt, or play your dad's guitar.  But don't be a hostage to fear.  Declutter, and find lightness and hope today.


Monday, March 11, 2019

9 Ways to Stop Buying So Much

Want to reduce clutter and gain financial freedom?  Stop buying so much.

Copyright CORBIS

Spend less than you earn.

That's it.  The most important financial advice you'll ever receive.

If you cut back on spending, you'll be able to pay off debt, build an emergency fund, start saving for college or retirement, give more generously.  Spending less could reduce your stress levels and improve your sleep.  It might even improve your marriage.

Spend less enables us to do all of that.  But in a country where 78% of us live paycheck-to-paycheck and the average American has $6,929 of credit card debt, the message to spend less is clearly not getting through.

Maybe it's a difficult step to take because the idea sounds unattractive to so many.  Buying less sounds like taking a step backward in life.  In a culture where success is often measured in terms of material possessions, spending less sounds boring, old-fashioned, and destined for ridicule.

I own a lot less than I used to.  I have more time and money available to me than ever before.  Because I own fewer things, I spend less energy cleaning, managing, and organizing.  I spend less time shopping.  I have more opportunity to pursue my greatest passions in life, however I decide to define them.

But there are some areas where I still struggle with spending too much.  I can't pass up a book store, and my husband and I eat way too often in restaurants.

My weaknesses may be different from yours, but maybe there are some strategies that can help all of us.

9 Ways to Stop Buying So Much

  1. Track your spending.  Many people make this suggestion, and I've tried it several times, only to become bogged down and give it up after a few weeks.  What finally made it a useful strategy was to track spending only in one problem area (for us it was eating out).  This is much easier, and I've done it for four months now.  Seeing in black and white how often we eat out (five or more times every week at the beginning) and how much we spend (over $1,000 the first month) gives us all the motivation we need to practice some self control.
  2. Don't look for ways to save money on items you don't really need to buy in the first place.  When I get a coupon for 25% off any item at my favorite book store, I suddenly feel a compulsion to buy, even if I don't have a particular book in mind.  (Of course, that's why the store gives coupons in the first place!)  Instead of looking for deals, rewards, or other ways to "save," just don't shop in the first place.  Stick with the couch you already have, the clothes you already own, and the car you just paid off.
  3. Eliminate cues that trigger the habit of shopping.  Unsubscribe from store emails.  Unlike brands on Facebook.  Change your route home if you drive by a store or restaurant you tend to visit (that's something I need to do).  You get the idea.  Out of sight, out of mind.  By not having the visual reminder, you can change your routine and break your habit.
  4. Redirect the time you spend shopping.  Minimalism isn't just about having less stuff and clutter and spending less.  It's also about having more time to do things that add value to your life.  So instead of spending time shopping, take the time to learn something new, to connect with a friend, to get more exercise, or to pursue a hobby.  Spend time riding your motorcycle rather than buying accessories for it.  Spend time creating art rather than shopping for the latest décor.  In my case, I could read the unread books I already own before buying more.
  5. Use the "three day rule."  Impulse buying will always blow your budget.  Notice what you see and want to buy, and tell yourself that if you still want it in three days you can come back and buy it guilt-free.  Do you even remember it three days later?  Or does your sudden "need" dissipate during that time?
  6. Start with a fixed amount of cash each week.  Pay bills online or with a check.  The cash is for groceries and other food, gas, and incidentals.  Challenge yourself to make it last.
  7. Don't carry a credit card.  This is a corollary to #6.  Keep your credit card at home where it can't be whipped out on impulse.  (I seal mine in an envelope and file it with my credit card statements.)  You can always retrieve it for a true emergency.
  8. Plan ahead.  My husband and I eat out less if I have dinner planned.  It's just the two of us, so when I cook I make dishes that serve four or six, since we'll be more likely to eat at home if dinner is just reheating plus making a fresh salad and thawing some frozen berries to eat over plain Greek yogurt drizzled with honey.  To curb spending on clothes, for example, take time before each new season to look at what you already own, and plan to purchase only what you need to fill in gaps, such as new sandals, a handful of tank tops, and navy capris to replace your faded, stretched-out pair.
  9. Say no to lifestyle inflation.  Lifestyle inflation is the tendency we all have to increase our spending when income goes up.  When we do this, it remains impossible to get out of debt, save, invest, contemplate changing careers, or work less.  It forces you to keep working just to pay the bills.  A lot of people justify spending by saying, "I work hard, so I deserve this."  Don't be one of those people!  What you deserve is less debt, less clutter, less stress, more time, and more long-lasting satisfaction.  What you deserve is financial freedom.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Don't Kondo Your Home

Earlier this week, I wrote that Marie Kondo had a brilliant insight when she realized that if we declutter by category, rather than by location, we're able to grasp the overall volume of our belongings.  I wrote that, generally speaking, we'd be astounded by how much we own, a realization that would make it far easier for us to declutter what is no longer useful or appropriate.  I agreed with her that recognizing what truly adds value to our lives is an essential perception.

But I think that Kondo's method has a flaw.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up has sold millions of copies, yet it seems many people are just as engulfed by clutter as ever.  People are still buying tons of stuff they don't need, and lots of "storage solutions" to try and organize all of it.  People talk about decluttering, but how many are getting decluttered and staying that way?

Maybe the problem is the question she suggests you ask of each possession.

Asking "Does it spark joy?" may not help you solve your clutter problem.

When we ask this question, we ignore three truths:

  1. We're continuing to define our happiness in terms of possessions.  Is it really the stuff we own that brings us joy?  We'd probably all agree that money can't buy happiness.  It can provide a certain level of security, but once our basic needs are met, more money can be a mixed blessing.  The same is true of stuff.  A certain level of possessions allows for a comfortable life, but more possessions can lead to clutter, stress, and dissatisfaction.
  2. We're continuing to focus on consumerism.  I can stand in the middle of certain stores and pick up plenty of items that might "spark joy."  I'll bet you can too.  Looking for joy in our belongings does little to help us question our role as consumers.  But being a consumer can be a curse.  You keep buying more.  You always need the thrill of something new.  Contentment is short-lived, because the next desirable item beckons.  Then you need more space to store stuff, more time to take care of stuff, and more stuff to keep you interested once you've tired of the "old stuff."
  3. We don't get to the root of the problem.  When we only ask "Does it spark joy?" we fail to ask a few other important questions:
  • What caused this clutter in the first place?    
  • Why do I keep buying clothes, or furniture, or sports equipment, or cloth for my fabric stash (when I haven't finished a quilt in three years)?
  • How can I keep this clutter cycle from repeating itself?

Wait!  I'm starting to think we're trying to buy happiness after all!  And of course that's not possible, so as each purchase fails to give us more than short-term pleasure, we go back out and try again.  It's not very smart, but that doesn't seem to matter.

If you want a different result, you're going to have to do things differently.

The things you did yesterday and all the days before have created the life you have today.  If you want things to be different, you have to act differently.  You have to think differently.  You have to start paying attention to what really makes you happy.

If we pay enough attention to notice "Hey, this is just what I wanted," whether it's a delicious latte, the right pair of jeans, a job well done, or a sunny morning, then we are happy.  Attention is the key.  It's what allows us to see all of the great things that are already part of our lives.

Joy doesn't come from things.

Joy comes from the people we love, the experiences we've relished, the exercise of our talents and creativity, and all the many details that are worth our attention.  I'm thinking of my grandson's giggle, a concert my husband and I attended, the process of writing a blog post, and the clean-washed blue sky after a day of rain.  What comes to your mind?

P.S.  I recommend Joshua Becker's decluttering method detailed in The Minimalist Home.  Request it from your library.

Monday, March 4, 2019

One Way to Tidy Up

Storage experts are hoarders.

Marie Kondo's book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, is intended to help people do more than clean and organize.  Declaring that "storage experts are hoarders," she advocates a one-time process of mindful decluttering.  Her clients end up surrounded entirely by things that enhance their lives, unburdened by stuff that is unwanted or unused.  Even her book, she says, should be passed along when it's no longer needed.

Instead of decluttering room by room, Kondo tackles belongings by category, beginning with what she believes is easiest to part with.  Clothes, then books, documents, miscellany (including kitchen items, linens, and décor), and last and most difficult, photos and mementos.  The process of making a decision about each item gets easier with all this practice.

Your mindset during this process is important.  Kondo explains:

Focusing solely on throwing things away can only bring unhappiness.  Why?  Because we should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of....  After all what is the point in tidying?  If it's not so that our space and the things in it can bring us happiness, then I think there is no point at all....  Keep only those things that speak to your heart.  Then take the plunge and discard all the rest.
Tidying must start with discarding. 

Organizing stuff creates the illusion that there is no clutter.  But sooner or later, all the storage units are full, and your house once again overflows with things.  Kondo wants to solve that problem.

You begin by putting every piece of clothing you own on the floor in the middle of the room.  Every piece.  Make piles of pants, blouses, skirts, tees, dresses, jeans, sweaters, jackets, coats, socks, undies, pjs, workout wear, bathing suits, sandals, boots, athletic shoes, high heels, scarves, handbags....  Check every closet, every drawer, every bin where clothing might lurk, because if you come across clothing later in the process, you must automatically discard it, since you obviously don't need or care about something you don't even remember owning!

For most of us, this is an eye-opening exercise, because we own so much.  I thought my wardrobe was fairly small until I brought everything out into the open, and then I couldn't ignore the reality.  I had piles of clothing.  I had stuff in several sizes, in colors and styles I didn't like, duplicate items, off-season items I didn't want to wear again, shoes that I knew gave me blisters.

Kondo's brilliant insight is that when we tidy by category, not by location, we're able to grasp the overall volume of our belongings.

And we are staggered by it!  At that point, we're able to choose to keep only what is useful, beautiful, and appropriate.  We can see quite clearly what we need and what we don't, what lifts our spirits and what weighs us down.

For the next category, books, I pulled every single volume off all of the book shelves, and books and magazines from under the coffee table and my bedside table.  There were piles of books.  I love books, and I love to read.  Many of the books had ideas I had absorbed, that have become part of me, but many more had ideas, stories, and characters I couldn't even remember.  A few might be read or referred to again, but many could be passed on to benefit someone else.  The ones I couldn't even remember...why was I keeping them?  To prove I had read them?  To prove that I'm "smart" and educated?  To avoid having empty shelves?  Silly reasons, every one.

I handled (and dusted) every book, and it was easy to choose some beautiful editions of Jane Austen and The Lord of the Rings, plus a few of my childhood favorites.  I kept some novels and non-fiction books that I love to re-read, a few spiritual texts, and about a dozen newer unread books that still look interesting to me.  I got rid of almost 70% of my books and two bookcases.  My house is less crowded, and every book I own is a treasure.

Was it hard to give away things that once meant something to me?  Was it a waste of money?  I've learned a lot from books, and I've enjoyed them, but Kondo pointed out that I don't need to keep them if they've fulfilled their purpose.  And I've become the person I am through reading those books, so they were never a waste.

Discarding something doesn't mean you give up past experiences or your identity.

While decluttering, I could acknowledge the books' contributions, be thankful, and keep only what is important to me now, with no need for guilt or sadness.

Marie Kondo teaches that "your real life begins after putting your house in order."  She wants her clients and readers to neither cling to the past nor hoard for the future, but to confidently choose what is truly important to their lives today.  I'd say that's a worthy goal.

P. S. Please subscribe to receive Maximum Gratitude Minimal Stuff in your email inbox!  Additionally, use the Contact Form at the bottom of this page, and I'll be happy to send you "100 Items to Declutter for a Simpler Home," bonus content I've created just for subscribers.

Friday, March 1, 2019

The Truth About Clutter

Clutter isn't cute.

Clutter is something we laugh about, like our coffee or sugar addictions, our over-use of social media, or our binge-watching habits.  But none of those are actually funny, and for many of us clutter is much more serious than a couple of piles on the kitchen counter.

Clutter lies to you.  Clutter tells you "It's not that big a deal" and "You'll get to it later."  But the piles grow.  And so many people just accept defeat in their homes and in how they live and enjoy life.

We make excuses like "I'm just so busy" or "I'm just not organized."  But excuses aren't solutions.  Trying to make it cute, saying "I'm such a clutterbug," just lets you live with defeat.

As a kid, I got used to having a lot of clutter neatly packed away in beautiful storage containers, nicely labeled, so it was clear which bin held which objects.  I would regularly go through my closets and drawers, sorting, deciding, tossing, and organizing my clutter.

In my 20s and 30s, I'd have a big yard sale a few times a year.  I'd sell my unwanted stuff for pennies on the dollar and then go out and buy more.  Usually at least some of what I was selling I was still paying for via credit card debt, but I still kept buying stuff.

It was a harmful pattern that I needed to overcome.

While most of us don't live like we belong on an episode of Hoarders, we still have too much stuff crammed into our homes.  We may complain we lack space or storage, but there are other effects of clutter.

  1. Clutter is sticky.  A little bit of clutter, left untended, will attract more.  If you drop the mail and your purse on the kitchen table, before long the kids' backpacks and snack detritus will join them, along with your husband's keys and a couple of cat toys.  On a larger scale, this is how garages and basements become stacked-to-the-ceiling fire traps.  When you clear the clutter, and create a habit of putting things away properly, these hot spots will gradually die out.
  2. Clutter makes you feel exhausted.  A cluttered home drains your energy.  The chaos of a cluttered environment is stressful and fatiguing, which makes it even harder to change.  But when you clear the clutter you'll gain a sense of peace and calm.
  3. Clutter makes you feel hopeless.  A cluttered home drains you emotionally.  Too much stuff is overwhelming, which makes you feel hopeless.  You resign yourself to the clutter because you don't know where to start to clean it up.  You feel stuck and out of control.  When you clear the clutter, order appears.  You can find things, and that feeling of being overwhelmed is gone. 
  4. Clutter can make you sick in body and mind.  Some people suffer from allergies and asthma when they live in a cluttered home.  Once the clutter is removed, and the house cleaned, their symptoms may disappear.  Additionally, clutter creates a significant mental load, and has been linked to depression.  UCLA researchers found that women who live in cluttered homes have elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
  5. Clutter makes you poor.  A cluttered home demonstrates a spending problem.  This is true even if the items come from thrift stores and yard sales.  Once the clutter is gone, and you're not spending money on things you don't need, your bank account may grow.
  6. Clutter creates huge amounts of waste, even if it's donated.  If the above isn't reason enough to limit your consumption, how about this:  "By one estimate, used clothing is now the United States' number one export by volume...."  Or this:  "African textile industries are closing their factories and laying people off because they cannot make clothes as cheaply as those [used] American items...."
  7. Clutter is often the result of fear.  For some people, clutter is a form of protection.  They either hoard items because of fears for the future, or they hang onto stuff because they're afraid of losing the past.  Either way, clutter is causing stress, exhaustion, hopelessness, and perhaps financial and health problems, which steal vitality from their lives today.
  8. Clutter hijacks time and energy.  Time is precious because it's finite.  Would you rather spend all day cleaning and organizing, or cycling mountains of laundry through the washer and dryer, or making another trip to the store to re-buy something you know you have hidden away somewhere...or would you rather have a life? 
  9. Clutter will eventually have to be dealt with.  Whether it's you or one of your loved ones, every non-consumable item you own will eventually be handled, sorted, and kept, sold, donated, or trashed.  Everything you buy increases this burden, and if you don't deal with it, you will pass it on to someone else.
  10. Clutter gets in the way of the best stuff.  These truths are pretty scary.  So here's a little hope.  Imagine what it would feel like to walk into your home and see belongings you use and love, and nothing more.  Imagine what you could do with your life if you spent less of it managing your stuff.  Wouldn't that be great? 

If you want to live a fulfilling life with space, contentment, peace, and beauty, you can.  If you spend a little time thinking about what you truly want, you can make it happen, regardless of how you've done things in the past.

I'm not saying change is easy.  Change is hard and it takes commitment.  But you can start small.  There's more than one way to declutter, and you can do it in baby steps if you need to.

Start by reducing what you bring in.

Give yourself a head start toward a freer lifestyle.  As you declutter, buy less.

P. S.  Please subscribe to receive Maximum Gratitude Minimal Stuff in your email inbox!  Additionally, use the Contact Form at the bottom of this page, and I'll be happy to send you "100 Items to Declutter for a Simpler Home," bonus content I've created just for subscribers.