When you’re faced with packing a 3 bedroom house into a box trailer it brings certain things about your personality to light. I knew that I was a bit of a hoarder, but it was only when I unpacked a box to find Christmas cards from long forgotten senders and tax returns from 2002 that I knew it was going to be a long clearout ahead.
As our leaving date for our family trip around Australia comes closer I find myself still opening boxes in the garage and moving lots of items from one room to another without letting anything leave the house at all.
I’ve not read much of the literature surrounding decluterring your life but I know there’s some good stuff out there. Last year a friend of mine recommended reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up : The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo, but I never got round to buying it – partly due to the fact that I already had about 800 books to sort through and would be in a LOT of trouble if I brought any more into the house. The main point I remember being told about was the idea that you take an item in your hands and see what kind of feels you get from it. If you get a warm and fuzzy feeling inside it goes in the keep pile – any negative emotions and off it goes to the op-shop. I’m sure there’s a lot more to it (it would be a very short book if that was it) and it’s hit a few bestseller lists so it sounds like she knows what she’s talking about. If you want to check it out in more detail click on the photo below (free postage!)
The problem for me and the feely method was that eveything made me feel good. I had about 100 baby outfits that I didn’t want to part with as each and every one of them gave me the warm and fuzzies. I have signed shirts and books from school days that make me happy to reminisce about childhood friends. I have every Christmas card I’ve ever been given as I love reading the messages in them and being reminded of the amazing people I’ve been lucky to have in my life. I keep ticket stubs, postcards, programs, souvenirs, letters and keepsakes from every milestone and occasion and all of it makes me feel good inside. What doesn’t feel great is the amount of space this emotional memory map takes up and the fact that if I want to bring it all with us I’d probably have to sacrifice some other important stuff. Such as food and clothes.
But over the last few months I have trained myself in a few tricks that have made the whole process a bit easier. These are my top tips for stress less clutter attack.
Take it slow
The enemy of succesful sorting is speed. With a deadline looming you’ll go one of two ways – either chucking everything out and regretting it forever or deciding none of it can go and demanding to keep it all. When you’re rushed your emotions and common sense don’t have time to work properly – if you’re connected to things like I am you’ll need some time to end the relationship properly. Trying to sort through a whole attic in one day will be overwhelming and mentally draining – there is no quick fix to decluttering. It’s not like ripping off a band aid – you’ll cause yourself more grief if you try and rush yourself. Give yourself time to take a day off if needed, set yourself small goals each week and if you feel overwhelmed stop for the day and start again tomorrow.
If you don’t remember where the champagne cork came from….
….does it mean you shouldn’t throw it out? It’s been in this box for 20 years – surely it’s got huge sentimental value and is a connection to a time of huge celebration. If I throw it away am I somehow going to wreck my good luck karma? And isn’t there a cork shortage in the world anyways – shouldn’t I return it to a vineyard rather than the rubbish bin?
Sounds ridiculous right! But it’s not until you start sorting through your things that you start to really think about what you own, why you have it and what you are keeping it for. Honestly, if you can’t remember what it is or why it’s there it means you can get rid of it.
The cork was probably left over from the last time you tried to sort these boxes out and had to resort to wine to get through it – then gave up in a drunken haze half way through the task!
There IS such a thing as too many shoes
I never thought I’d hear myself say that but after recently clearing out my cupboard, I now realise it to be true. Especially when you live in North Qld and you’re either in flip flops or bare foot.
Stop buying more things!
This seems obvious but a really hard habit to break. I’m a sucker for a sale and would often be seen buying three pairs of shoes (see above) as they were half price. I recently learned that Australia sends 6000kg of textiles to landfill every 10 minutes and my love of a sale and need for new shoes every few months was definitely adding to this. (if living a less wasteful life interests you make sure you watch the ABC’s War On Waste series)
I came up with a new mantra for myself and repeat it whenever I’m tempted at the shops….
It’s only cheap if you need it and it’s only practical if you’ll use it.
The 12 month Rule
If you’ve not used it, worn it, played with it or thought about it in 12 months then off it goes. Stop thinking you’ll fit back into your 18 year old jeans again in a few months. If it’s not happened by now it’s not going to.
Sell sell sell!
There is nothing quite as motivating when decluttering as seeing some reward for your efforts. If you can sell some of your unused items you can do something that makes you feel even better. I recommend not using it to buy replacement stuff – but to spend your hard earned declutter dollars on an experience. Get a massage. Go and see a play or a movie. Have a pedicure. Buy a gym membership. All these things will make you feel great, add to your general wellbeing and self care, and not sit in a box ready to leap out at you and start asking confusing questions in 20 years time.
A word of warning though…it can become stressful if you feel your much loved possessions are going on to an undeserving home. This may sound as mad as me hoarding Christmas cards from 1998, but I always feel much happier when I know my things are going to a ‘good home’. We had a garage sale recently and I had already parted with a lot of my beloved possessions – when I noticed with horror that a lady had pulled out one of my ‘not for sale’ boxes, which contained a lot of my old cuddly toys. She seemed to really like a few of them and I had almost convinced myself to sell some of them to her when I heard her tell her friend how her dog went through about 5 cuddly toys a week and she needed some more. Needless to say I almost chased her out of my home like a crazy woman, but luckily I managed to hold it together long enough to mutter something incoherent and disappear inside to hide my treasured toys in a much safer place.
This might be just me, and you might find it easier with a support person to get you through your garage, but I prefer to declutter by myself. I like to not be rushed, not to have to explain my particularly crazy keepsakes (yes I want to keep a broken Egyptian cat ornament and no, I can’t explain why) and to not end up resenting my nearest and dearest for making me throw away a cute cat bookmark I’ve had since I was 6 years old.
Support your local op-shops. Selling stuff can be very draining and quite soul destroying sometimes (I’m still picturing my childhood companions in the maws of a wild dog), but donating things is a win, win for everyone. The important thing is that you’ve made the decision to part with something and it’s destination, despite being unknown to you, will be reached via a much greater cause. Your declutter could help fight cancer, put a roof over someones head or care for an animal in need – your cork disposing karma would be instantly healed!
Likewise – if you need some new clothes, books or toys go and check out your local op-shop. You can find a bargain, your dollars will be supporting an amazing cause and you will be reusing, recycling and helping reverse those outrageous waste statistics we just learned about.
The important stuff
Try and focus on the real deal – the stuff that gives you the most joy and that you couldn’t ever leave behind – your family, friends and pets. Make them your priority and if you’re feeling down about giving up your CD collection give your best mate a call for a catch up and listen to them instead of Tom Jones.
So these are my top tips for a clutter free life. If all else fails – hold it in your hands, see how it makes you feel then pack it in a box and get a good friend to store it in their house for you!
Do you have any great tips for decluttering? I’d love (and need) to hear them – comment below!