Enough is enough: decluttering our house

“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then,
is an empty desk a sign?”

Albert Einstein

I fell for this one for a long time. I laughed about the clutter filling our house, I analysed it, theorised it and it has been annoying me to distraction. There is no gentle way to break it to you, my friends, but on this one Einstein was a bit remiss because…

…the opposite to ‘cluttered’ is not ’empty’ but ‘organised’.

Having figured this one out, after talking about de-cluttering our house for couple of months now it was finally time to tackle it. And just a reminder that you are on The Money Principle after all, I’ll tell you first about the four barriers to decluttering – selection, negotiation, time and disposal – and my way to overcome these.

Selection

One of the main reasons I have a problem with decluttering, although a hoarder I am not, is that I have a problem with selection. I look at my running t-shirts, for instance, and think:

‘No, I really don’t need 33 running t-shirts. But I can’t throw away the one from Brighton marathon; or the one from my first ever five mile race. Oh, and this one…’

I am off with my memories of races past and the t-shirts are folded and put back in the drawer.

Being able to select when decluttering is vital; and no, keeping everything may be a conscious  decision but it is not a selection.

Thinking about it, there are two principal ways to select – by starting from what you have or by starting with what you want in the future. When starting from what you have you need to do an inventory of your stuff by

  • how old;
  • how worn out;
  • when did you last use it; and
  • aesthetic preference; and
  • emotional attachment.

Here is my problem: I am emotionally attached to my stuff and were I to use this method to select nothing will ever get disposed of irrespective of whether it works or not.

A way around this is to start with what you want in the future. So

  • imagine it;
  • desire it; and
  • be holistic and see all of your life not only parts of it.

And the main thing: work out the rules for selection before you start. The rules ought to suite you; I decided to go with

  • number (e.g. no more than 8th running t-shirts);
  • type of item (e.g. ‘and five pairs of running shorts’);
  • colour (no pink, please); and
  • fit (none of this ‘oh, I’ll lose 100 pounds and will get back in this little black dress’ rubbish).

Negotiation

Did I mention that I am no hoarder? Well, I keep stuff out of neglect and attachment but the real clutter problem in the house is because John and our son are real, honest to God hoarders. Let’s put it this way: last time I managed to convince John to declutter his clothes he did go with the selection but could not bring himself to get rid of anything; so it all found its way back in his wardrobe. As to our son, he has toys from when he was ten months old (a car) and there is no way to get rid of it.

Now you see what I mean by ‘negotiation’!

But this is not all; I find that I have to negotiate with myself as well and the way to simplify it is to have three piles for stuff:

  • heaven (keep);
  • purgatory (keep till decided); and
  • hell (dispose of).

Time

I always say that time can’t be a problem since it is our way to measure the speed with which life goes by. In practice, I do find that the speed of some aspects of life prevents others to happen. And usually the things that don’t happen are the things I don’t like doing – like decluttering, for instance.

There are two ways to cope with this: chunk it up, or chunk it down. In other words, you can either decide to do it till finished with a particular space (longer period) or to do a little but often (like do five minutes every day).

I am a ‘chunk it up’ kind of person; so yesterday spent about two hours decluttering. There will be a repeat during this week.

The rules change about maintenance. To keep your house decluttered

  • do small chunks;
  • do these regularly; and
  • move from ‘accumulation’ to ‘substitution’.

The last point means that the total number of items in a category shouldn’t increase.

Disposal

This, I find, is a major barrier; this is how I end up keeping (just in a different place in the house) items from the ‘purgatory’ and ‘hell’ piles for a very long time. Yesterday, these items went in four different groups:

  • throw away (dispose of responsibly like with electronics);
  • offer to other people (mainly clothes from our son who is growing out of them very fast at the moment);
  • take to charity shops (an awesome way to re-distribute wealth); and
  • sell (I am not very good at this one but these days one can sell clothes for cash; there are also vintage shops that pay good money for more up-market clothes, shoes and other stuff).

But enough with theory; let me show you what I did – and it took about an hour and a half.

I decided to go for some ‘quick wins’ and de-clutter our bedroom; these are the ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures.

Before
Before
After
After
Before
Before

 

After
After

Not much, you may think! But it feels great and I am sure I slept better.

How do you declutter?

13 thoughts on “Enough is enough: decluttering our house”

  1. Are we related? We are de-cluttering as well. I have bags all over the house ready for the next phase. Usually we donate things but honestly Salvation Army is becoming a boutique for the rich over here in NYC. The donation place has to be very specific. For example after Super Storm Sandy hit we donate furniture to a family who had been displaced for some time.

    1. @Jai: You know, I’ve always wanted to have a blond younger brother; my wish may be coming true :).And good tip about the donation – I tried and nothing. So charity shop it is.

  2. In terms of clothes, I will discard if I have not worn it for a couple of years. I have some Tee shirts I use for work outs only. Those are the ones I do not care about. If I discard them, I will end up wearing out the good ones. It is sort of a catch 22.

    1. @Krant: Two years! This is very good; I have stuff that is ten years old here (I do buy classic, mind) and needs shifting. Next stage!

  3. As a new runner, I have 3 race tshirts already and I can already tell this will be a problem. I have plans to have a quilt made out of them once I have enough, It’s a grear way too save the memory without the clutter. If the material can’t be made into a quilt, then I will take pictures of them and hang them on my race wall where I have my medals and bibs!

    1. @Jules: Now making a quilt is a great idea; if I could only saw (I learned to bake, true; but sawing is a whole new dimension). Thanks for the tip – a race wall! How cool is that.

  4. De-cluttering, unless the whole household is minimalist by nature ~ unlikely in my experience ~ is very difficult. Given that minimalists are rarer than hen’s teeth, that would be headline news.

    Our main problem is that Mr Justin Case resides chez nous and can come up with a dozen different ideas of why nothing should go.

    He then cajoles, screams in torment, weeps salt tears and stamps his foot like a toddler.

    Then, when we (rarely) need something we have disposed of, he struts up and down uttering the immortal phrase

    “I told you so.”

  5. Hello Maria, I love your post. These are really big barriers for de-cluttering. Last time I will de-clutter my basement I found so much clutter and that time I don’t know what can I do with that clutter. So I found the online site which buy that clutter and reuse it. Thanks for this wonderful post.

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