(I originally wrote this post about decluttering for my old blog. But, I’ve decided to delete that blog and focus on this one instead, so I thought I’d publish it again here!)
Once upon a time I found myself stood in the middle of a room. A very messy room. Penned in at the eye of the storm of junk, I was looking at a chaos of entirely my own making. That day, I set about decluttering almost everything: every drawer in my bedroom, every item in my wardrobe, every knick-knack on a shelf was tipped upside down and shaken out, and piled onto the floor. A sea of things to be decided upon.Three empty bin bags. Bag number 1: keep. Bag number 2: dump. Bag number 3: charity. And so I began, from the beginning of the day until the end, picking my way through the room, one item a time. Holding a t-shirt, I asked myself “keep it, dump it or give it away to charity?”. And here’s the crucial part: if it wasn’t an instant keep – a feeling in my gut that the sky would fall in if I parted with this item – then it wasn’t going into bag number 1. It just couldn’t stay. Then it became a simple decision between whether or not it was in good enough condition to make it to charity, and if not, it was going in the bin.
Said t-shirt ended up in the bin bag. As did what I estimate to be around 70% of things, including photographs, letters, jewelry, underwear, tights, shoes, makeup, toiletries, brushes – all but the kitchen sink, so to speak. Another 15% made its way to charity; I donated two bin liners full of books from my childhood, a whole bag containing clothes I’d either grown too fat for, had never worn, or would probably never wear. The final 15% remained, occupying a blissfully empty space in my bedroom.
But what drove me to declutter so much of my space, and how was I able to be so ruthless? Why didn’t I angst over throwing out those ‘just in case’ jeans or photographs from festivals I attended ten years ago with friends I’ve long since lost touch with? In all honesty, I’m not really sure. I know that not everyone has an easy time decluttering, or as little attachment to objects as I do. I just tend to feel a bit weighed down by owning things. Not because I don’t value them, but because for me, ownership equals responsibility. Do I enjoy the responsibility of 947 unopened emails? Do I feel happy about owning 4 almost-empty shampoo bottles? Is my life improved by the availability 26 hair bobbles? No, not really! None of these things are really adding any value to my life, are they? If anything, they become more things to respond to, to recycle or to tidy away. And for me, that makes them more of a burden than a benefit.
I suspect that I lean towards a tendency to declutter. To be spartan, rather than hoard. In all honesty, perhaps I’m a little too inclined to part ways with belongings. What I consider to be ‘unnecessary’ possessions tend to make me feel as though I’m suffocating a little, and so I wear the same four pairs of shoes on rotation, the same three pairs of jeans, and the same few t-shirts over and over again. Once I’ve read a book, I tend to shove it in the direction of a friend, and I rarely ever watch the same film twice.
I also suspect that I find it so easy to declutter because I don’t attach much sentiment to objects. Now, before you think I must have something wrong with me, I’ll admit that it’s not true for everything I own. I’m not above the usual attachments: I have a childhood toy rabbit that I’d hate to part with, a piano I’ve played almost daily for two decades, and a collection of cards and letters from my boyfriend that mean the world to me.
However, I believe in limiting the number of things we invest emotional value to. If my home burned to the ground today (with all of my loved ones safely out of harm’s way, though touch wood it doesn’t happen at all!), those are the only things I’d feel particularly sad about losing. But, ultimately, I’d move on and replace those items over time. How? And why?! Well, I believe that life goes on regardless. Happiness is a feeling from within – not something you can add to from without. (Unless of course, those things are people, stories, conversations, art, music or ideas).
The point I’m trying to make is this: if you don’t know what’s in a drawer, what’s in your wardrobe, or what’s hidden beneath your bed, perhaps you don’t really need it. If it doesn’t represent something truly significant or hold a particularly useful function, perhaps it should be gently let go of. Why? Well, it’s freeing. To place less emphasis on ownership and accumulation of stuff, you free up more space in your home. Suddenly, your surroundings are easier to clean. Your interior is simpler to style. You learn to love the things you’ve got and really appreciate what you have, because you have a little less than you did before. Decluttering brings about such a myriad of benefits.
And finally, I think that learning to declutter – if you’re doing it right – teaches us to want less in future. Which makes sense, right? When we’re able to part with belongings because we recognise that our happiness and memories aren’t in objects, we suddenly lose our motivation to acquire more items. It’s amazing how much more money I have, and how much more content I feel, since starting to desire fewer belongings.
What about you? Where do you fall on the spectrum between hoarding and culling? Do you have any objects that mean a lot to you? How would you handle items that are particularly sentimental because they belonged to someone who’s passed away, for example? I’m curious to hear what you think about decluttering, and whether or not I’m seeing decluttering a bit too simplistically!