My first decluttering project was the linen cupboard. It was full to overflowing. I mainly used what was on the top. Putting stuff away was a delicate game of linen Jenga. One day, I took the plunge and pulled everything out. Over a couple of nap times I went through the lot. There was stuff in there I didn’t realise I had, stuff I’d never use, stuff it was time to pass along.
The result was fantastic. I knew what I had and could actually get to it all. Linen Jenga was no longer required. It was life-changing. Well, maybe not quite, but I loved the result. I wanted to do this to my whole house – now!
And then something happened. A tragedy that eventually befalls all parents of young children – my son, then two and a half, ceased napping. My child, who’d reliably slept a solid 90 minutes in the middle of the day (even during the neighbours building work), gave up napping cold turkey. Stuck in the house, during naps was the ideal opportunity to declutter. Without it, what was I going to do?
Almost 20 years ago, a 21-year-old me turned up to live in a house with strangers. A friend had told me the university let vacancies in their student flats for cheap over the summer. The only catch was you were randomly allocated a place – sight unseen, flatmates unmet. I had a fulltime job with a two-hour round trip commute and was about to start part-time study. The flats were walking distance to work and school, and the rent wasn’t much more than the cost of my commute. It was a no-brainer. I signed up.
Much more gungho in those days, I still remember how incredibly nervous I was meeting my new flatmates for the first time. I needn’t have worried – we went on to spend years living and travelling together and they’re still some of my closest friends. Years later they confessed they had some reservations about me when I first moved in. To start with they assumed I was just unpacking, but after eight weeks they realised having piles of stuff all around more room was just the way I lived. While they’d never have guessed from looking at me, I was the messiest person they’d ever known.
Fast forward twenty years and I have a new normal. A few months ago, some relatives were in town. We went out for lunch at a local bar and had a great time. They had some time to fill in afterwards, so I invited them back to our place. I simply gave the toilet a quick scrub and chucked a new hand towel on the rail while my husband got started making the coffee. Six guests, zero warning, no problem.
At high school, I wore a uniform. It was hideous. An itchy brown jersey, yellow polo shirt and a brown box-pleat skirt. Maybe it was the height of style in the 70s when the school opened, but definitely not in the 90s when I wore it. At least we all looked hideous together. I remember my glee on the last day of school as I dumped the old thing on a desk in the school office and told them to pass it on to someone else. Finally free.
Back then, I didn’t appreciate the freedom that a school uniform gave me. Four years of freedom from deciding what to wear to school, trying to keep up with trends, arguing with my parents over what was appropriate, and spending my babysitting money on an extensive wardrobe. While my school uniform was terribly ugly, it was also beautifully simple. Twenty years on, I’m grateful to that gaudy uniform for making my teenage years simpler.
Each day, we face so many decisions. The vast majority of them are inconsequential, yet they add to our mental load. Simplifying everyday activities, like dressing, is easy, with a great payback in terms of reducing your mental load.
Whether you just want to free up some space in your home or you’ve decided to adopt a minimalist lifestyle, you have to get rid of some stuff.
Selling your excess stuff has probably come to mind. Maybe you already tried selling a few things and it hasn’t gone quite as you’d hoped. Dreams of stuffing your pockets with wads of cash as your stuff disappears out the door can quickly turn into a nightmare. However, with some smart thinking, you can take the hassle out of the process and declutter your home, without losing your mind.
I have decluttered thousands of items from my home over the last few years. I can count the number of items I sold on one hand. Selling things is not my go-to method of getting rid of my excess stuff and I don’t think it should be yours either.
When I started decluttering, the first thing to go was my Nintendo Wii. It had been sitting there, still in its box from when we’d moved into the house -two years ago! I loved that Wii; I managed to complete an entire 12-week fitness programme on that thing (something I’d never done before and haven’t managed since). But my life had changed, so it just sat there.
Just because I didn’t use it, didn’t mean I didn’t think about it. I’d catch a glimpse of the box under the coffee table and feel guilty – what a waste.
“I must set that up.”
“Ick, I can’t be bothered with setting that up. All those cords.”
“Hmm, I should sell it. I’m never going to use it now, I can get some of the money back.”
“Right, I’m going to sell it. Better set it up to check it’s all there.”
“Well, if I can set it up, I might as well keep it. If it’s set up, I’ll use it.”
“Ick, I can’t be bothering setting that up now, all those cords. I’ll do it later.”
Ahhh, the joy of a child playing quietly in his room. I pop my head around the door, only to see tufts of white stuffing poking out from under my son’s bed. Hmmm, it turns out that ‘playing quietly’ was actually disembowelling the large, handmade red velvet bear his aunt had given him.
With my less-than-impressed-mum face, I admonished him for 1) using scissors on anything other than paper, 2) not caring for his toys. On the inside, however, I was beaming. The sweet relief of getting rid of an over-sized, slightly creepy toy your child loves, without having to be the bad guy!
The thing in my home I feel the most torn about decluttering is toys. Fewer toys to trip over and tidy, that’d be fantastic. Plus, too many toys isn’t great for kids, I get that. But, the toys aren’t mine, nearly all of them were gifts, and they all seem so beloved.
Mum guilt about too many toys vs mum guilt over taking toys away – wow, which great option should I choose!
Decluttering toys, a great idea, but in practice, just another emotional minefield for the modern parent. It doesn’t have to be that way. You can make a lot of progress on the toy situation quickly and easily, without having to play the bad guy. Here’s how.
There I was, staring at my 2017 in 2017 decluttering chart, pondering how my progress had stagnated. In January, I decluttered 200 items. Six months later, I’ve only managed a further 500ish items. Telling myself, “I must try harder”, I racked my brain for the ultimate idea to inspire me and reignite my motivation.
Then something struck me. Less than two weeks into June, I’d already decluttered as much as in all of May. Without even trying, I’d already solved my own problem! How?
Something is better than nothing
This stealthy surge in momentum coincided with reading Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck[i]. Manson discusses what he calls the “Do Something Principle”. Rather than waiting for the inspiration to do something, just start. The principle is based on the premise that action (doing something, anything) is both the cause of motivation, as well as the effect of motivation.
This resonated with me. Manson gave a name to a principle that I apply in different facets of my life to overcome procrastination. Despite having pretty much zero motivation for decluttering, Manson spurred me to re-engage with some of my tried and true strategies for overcoming inertia. I picked up the pace, got back on track with my goal, and it was painless.
In turn, that inspired me to share my top tips for overcoming your own inertia.