Last week Anuschka published a great post on Into Mind about how to declutter your home for good.
In it she included some great advice that helped to realise why, despite being an aspiring minimalist for years, I still feel swamped by stuff.
1. She urges you to “forget ‘a little each day’ and declutter your house in one big swoop”.
Tidying a little each day, instead of all in one go is a pretty popular recommendation that seems sensible at first. When you divide up the huge task of decluttering an entire house into small bits, it makes it seem more manageable and you’re much more likely to actually get started. And that’s true. But the problem with the “a little each day” is this: Your house contains clutter for a reason, i.e. your everyday habits. And habits are ridiculously hard to break through. To change them you need to substantially shift your mind-set and to do that you need an effective trigger… like a completely transformed living space, that affects you on an emotional level and feels so irresistible, you won’t want to go back. “A little each day” just won’t make enough of a difference on an daily basis to keep you going. Choose the “big transformation” strategy instead and dedicate a longer stretch of time to decluttering your entire living space all in one go.
2. She tells you not to try to fix a clutter problem through clever storage.
Clever storage methods can create the illusion that your clutter problem is solved, when really all you did was arrange your clutter in a way that doesn’t quite take up as much space. But the clutter is still there, and the stress you get from living in a cluttered environment hasn’t vanished either.
3. Perhaps most usefully, she suggests that we “choose what to keep, not what to get rid of”
Instead of picking out the one or two things out of a big pile of junk that you can bear parting with the easiest, pick up each item one-by-one and ask yourself: Does it have a place in your life? Would you buy it again if you didn’t already own it? When is the next time you are going to use it?
Think of it this way: The things you own reflect the life you want to live. When you are decluttering your house, you are actively shaping your life by creating a space that makes you feel happy and relaxed, that energises you for all the things you want to do. By putting the focus on what things you want to keep instead of throw away, you are diverting your attention to the positive aspect of decluttering, which makes the whole thing a lot easier and more effective. Plus, it prevents you from keeping stuff for the wrong reasons, for example because you think you might still need it at some distant point in the future or simply because it’s still in good condition and after all you paid for it.
That last point is basically the reason I have so much stuff I never use. It took reading Anuschka’s post for me to realise it, but I hang on to things because I think they’re going to save me money.
I have two drawers full of toiletries that people have given me as gifts or were throwing out. I tell myself that I have to get through all of this before I can buy any more. This sounds sensible. But I do have sensitive skin, and using some No. 7 face cream rejected by my Grandma (who has even more sensitive skin) left me with a mixture of spots and dry esxma-like patches. I have also shower gel that makes me itch, moisturiser that makes my skin burn, and perfume that leaves me feeling nauseous.
These were the first things to go during my “big swoop”. It’s not going to break the bank to buy myself skin products that make me feel good.
I also hang onto things that I don’t use because I’ve already spent money on them. The most obvious example of this is my CD collection. I never even open these any more because I listen to all my music on spotify. And yet, I’m reluctance to give them away because the amount they’ve cost me (some full price and some second hand = probably about an average of £7 per CD). But keeping CDs I don’t listen to isn’t going to get me that money back. More importantly, keeping them are pointless because I don’t even own a CD player.
I’ve kept about twenty albums I really love so I can listen to them on road trips when we hire or borrow a car. The rest went to charity.
Thirdly, I hang onto things that people have given me as gifts, even if I don’t use them. This is because I love these people, I love that they like me enough to give me a gift, and I don’t want them to be offended by me donating it elsewhere. But I can’t wear more than one scarf or pair of earrings at once, and my tastes have changed a lot over the past few years. I have a whole drawer of scarves when I only wear a few of them.
So I kept four scarves and donated the rest. I figured people won’t know the difference between a gift that lies unused in a drawer and a gift that I’ve donated to charity. (Unless, of course, they read mp blog). In a way, I’m doing more good with an gift that’s surplus to my needs by using it to raise money for Oxfam, than I am keeping it unused in a drawer for fear of being ungrateful.
Finally… craft materials. This deserves it’s own post and it’s own decluttering swoop, but I have made a start. This is how many knitting needles I owned. I barely knit.
I didn’t count them, but I did get rid of all the duplicates so I only have one pair of each size. I got rid of the special bag I stored them in (no more clever storage) and put them on my shelf in jam jars so that they’re on display. I figure I’ll either knit more or get annoyed with seeing things surplus to my requirements and donate them.
I haven’t yet touched the yarn or fabric. Watch this space.