Despite paring down my possessions once or twice a year for at least the past eight years, including through six moves, I still often look around my house and feel like it is just too cluttered. Too many knick-knacks means more to dust, too many surfaces to collect things means more time tidying when preparing for company, and all of this adds up to unnecessary stress. I sometimes look at the white, bright, semi-sparse home decor photos trending on Pinterest or in magazine articles and think about how relaxing it would be to live in a more simply furnished, emptier space.
I’ve written before about my struggles with decluttering and owning too much stuff, and guest poster Courtney has shared her journey toward living with less, along with some great tips and inspiration. The mood to declutter tends to strike me around January, both because of the symbolic fresh start of the new year and because I spend more time at home in the winter months. So when I was invited to join a decluttering Facebook group and shortly thereafter heard of a 30-day decluttering challenge originally proposed by the Minimalists, I was motivated to once again assess my belongings and get rid of what wasn’t serving me.
The basic premise of the challenge is that for one month, you get rid of a number of items each day that matches the day of the month. In other words, you remove from your life one item on the 1st, two items on the 2nd, three items on the 3rd, and so on. The Minimalists suggest enlisting a friend or family member to do the challenge with you and treating it as a competitive game, with the winner being the person who keeps going the longest. I decided to go it alone, however, and just challenge myself to make it through the full 30 days. I succeeded, and truthfully, I could probably keep going for another full month without ever really feeling deprived (though this is largely due to purging large amounts of needless paperwork). The Minimalists also recommend physically removing the items from your home each day, but I found that to be impractical and inefficient. Rather than making daily trips to a thrift store, I collected the things that I plan to donate or sell in boxes for disposal at the end of the month. As for the things that had no real value, I threw those away as I went.
For a little added motivation throughout the process, I downloaded the audio version of The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own by Joshua Becker of becomingminimalist.com. This short book resonated with me more than I expected it would, and I recommend it to anyone who needs a little push to simplify their life. Right after completing the 30-day challenge, I came across this article on the psychology of clutter, which raises some important points that can help us understand why we hold onto things. I’m a big believer in the idea that knowing why we do things is the first step to making lasting changes, and I’ve realized with the help of these two sources that there are psychological underpinnings to why I sometimes struggle to let go of material possessions.
Now that I’ve completed the 30-day purge, here are my thoughts:
- Having a finite daily target makes the process of decluttering less overwhelming. I didn’t feel like I had to take on the whole garage, basement, or junk-filled closet all at once. In anywhere from a few minutes to half an hour a day, I could feel satisfied that I was gradually making progress without adding another big project to my to-do list.
- Starting small eliminated all barriers to getting started. On day one, you only have to select one item to dispose. Who can’t come up with a single item they don’t need? Once I got started, slowly increasing the daily number was pretty easy.
- Things I passed over early in the month became fair game a few weeks later, when I revisited areas of my house I’d already gone through. The more I got rid of, the easier it was to part with additional things. The challenge gave me some nice momentum and encouraged me to reflect on whether items truly added value to my life.
- It’s slightly less satisfying and more difficult to declutter when you live with someone else. I’m happy with how much stuff I’ve eliminated, but I can only remove my own belongings. My husband didn’t do the challenge with me, and a lot of the stuff I see when I look around our house belongs to him. To his credit, he did donate and sell a number of books during the month. He also took some items out of my own donation boxes to keep for himself or to list on eBay, which was a little counterproductive. I definitely still feel like the challenge was a net win, and there are plenty more of my own belongings I can purge, but there are limits to how far I can go when a large portion of the stuff in my house belongs to someone other than me.
- Having decluttered year after year and still finding myself with too much, I think it’s time to pay more attention to the things that are coming into my home. Right now, I’m doing a great job of pausing before buying and asking myself if I really need that new thing, but I can’t guarantee that the sentiment will last long-term. I know I have a bit of a tendency toward impulsive online shopping, and I’m considering instituting a 1 In, 1 Out rule for myself — I won’t let myself buy any new non-consumable item unless I get rid of something else. Maybe at some point I’ll up the ante and make it a 1 In, 2 Out rule. I think I’ll also start tracking my purchases of non-consumables in a spreadsheet so that I have to face exactly how much I’m buying and how much these small purchases are costing me. Little items here and there really add up in terms of both storage space and money.
- For some reason that I haven’t quite figured out yet, I have a really hard time getting rid of things that I “might use someday, for something.” I hate to throw away any item that could be repurposed or that still has some useful life left in it, even if it’s doing nothing but gathering dust on a shelf. One thing that helps is to ask myself whether someone else could get more use out of the item than I do. Sure, I could keep those extra old towels and sheets I never use “just in case,” but would they do more good if I gave them to an animal shelter or some other charity? How are they really helping me at all if I never use them? I’m finding this to be a useful way to put things into perspective.
- Even after the challenge has ended, I find myself looking for things around the house that I no longer need. I expect this shift in my mindset will pay dividends for a while. It’s kind of a fun game to ask myself, what can I remove from my life today? Reminding myself that I’m freeing up space (literally and figuratively) and time for more important, meaningful things makes the process more fulfilling.
- I’m finding that there are spillover effects in other areas of my life. Continually asking “do I really need this item?” has also encouraged me to ask things like, “do I really need to check Facebook right now?” or “do I really need to say yes to this new commitment?” Being more intentional in terms of the things I own is helping me to be more intentional in other aspects of my life.
Have you done some decluttering lately? If so, what have you learned from the process, and how do you plan to simplify your life going forward?
If you enjoyed this post, please share, and stay tuned for an upcoming piece on my experience of sorting through a big box of stuff from my childhood that my mom gave me, along with my own “memory box” from my college years and twenties. Reviewing and purging pieces of our past adds a layer of complexity that I feel deserves a post all its own!
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