Declutter Your Space

A few years ago my husband and I decided we wanted our house to be more organized. We were tired of the mess and clutter. So what did we do? We went out and bought a bunch of storage containers of various sizes with the grand idea that better organization is what we needed to get ourselves neat and on top of things. We went through our closets and living spaces and divided our stuff into categories and filled containers…and more containers. We put them all back on the shelves and were temporarily very satisfied with our achievements.

But that didn’t last long. We soon found ourselves reorganizing our stuff. And then reorganizing some more. We would try to organize the mountain of stuff a little better each time. Even though our stuff was organized, there was still a lot of it to keep clean, put away, and take care of. It wasn’t making our lives any less stressful or more manageable at all. We still dealt with a lot of STUFF after all.

One day, when I was fed up after I reorganized the entry way closet for the twentieth time, it finally dawned on me. If we want a clean, neat, decluttered house, the solution would have to be to simply own less. We needed to stop organizing our things and get rid of the clutter once and for all! That’s when I came up with my decluttered house concept:

I want to live daily as if we could pick up and move tomorrow.

In other words, if we were to have to move suddenly, I want to be at a place where I would not be faced with the enormous task of sorting through tons and tons of stuff. I would know that what I have in my house are all items that we would take with us. Everything would pack up and go because I no longer keep stuff around the house that I don’t want or have a purpose for. Wouldn’t that feel nice? Here’s a practical way to start the process.

TO DO: Read the top reasons why we hold onto our stuff laid out below and ask yourself if any/all of these apply to why your house may be cluttered.

Reasons we hold onto our stuff: 

The Big “What if?”

The first big reason we keep clutter in our homes is we ask ourselves the “what if?” question way too much. “What if this fits me again some day?”, “What if we have a big crowd over and I need all these extra plates that we never use?”, “What if we move and we have extra windows and I could use these curtains again some day?” So we hold on to a whole lot of “what if” items. What happens is that we lower our quality of life NOW with items that only serve possibilities in our unknown future. To think and plan ahead is wise, but to clutter our lives with stuff for a future that might not ever be reality is not. Make a cleaner, neater, healthier environment for the now, and don’t worry about all the possible paths your life may take in the future.

Keepsakes

A second reason we hold on to our things is that they are special to us in some way. Generally speaking, the reason they have significance in our lives is that they remind us of a memory in our past. Special memories are important to who we are as individuals. However, even though the item may trigger or help us remember the memory, it is NOT the memory itself. Those are stored in our minds. The item itself does not make up who we are. I have a few suggestions of what to do with these items:

Use it or display it. If it’s something usable, then take it out of where ever it has been stored and celebrate the memory by using the item that reminds you of it! Or, frame it or shadow box it and display it with pride on your wall!

Take a picture of it and then give it away. Since the item itself really only serves as a reminder of past experience, take a picture of it so you have that reminder but it no longer crams your space. And then give the item away.

Store it in Keepsakes. There are those items that are just too special to give away. We decided that each family member can have one keepsake tub for only the very most special items.

Impress Others

Yet another reason we may hold on to things and keep ourselves from experiencing the freedom of less is that we wish to impress others with the stuff we own. Somehow, with all the commercials and advertising in our lives, our culture has become one that tries to impress others with what we own instead of with who we are. Let’s get back to what really matters and stop trying to impress people with our stuff. If you hang on to things only to make an impression on others, now is a good time to get rid of it. Impress them with your smile instead, with the peace and freedom you have by living a simpler life.

TO DO: Now that you have an idea as to why stuff sticks around your house, it’s time to start removing the excess! I believe the best way to tackle clutter in the house is to go at an entire room or closet at one time. Pull everything out, and then only put back the items you know you use often.

Note: With those items you keep, contemplate ways to simplify them down even further. I will have suggestions on specific ways to do this in future posts. You can refer to my post on the Minimalist Wardrobe for help pair down your clothes!

If you have two of the same item, strongly consider getting rid of one! When I decluttered my kitchen, I found out that I had THREE veggie peelers. Two of those I didn’t even know I owned. Do you have more pots than burners? Maybe you don’t need the fifth, sixth, or seventh one.

TO DO: With the items you don’t keep, separate them into piles to go to one of these places:

-Donate

-Toss in the trash

-Sell

-Add it to your Keepsake Box

TO DO: Once you have thought through the reasons you hold on to things and gone through your house and gotten rid of the excess, do it all over again! I have gone through my entire house, including all closets and drawers and cupboards, at least 4-5 times now. Each time I declutter with more empowerment and ruthlessness because every time I do it, I enjoy the benefits immensely. I enjoy the time I don’t spend cleaning up, taking care of, and organizing stuff. It lifts my mood to live in a clean space. And I assure you, I’ve never missed a single item that I got rid of!

Lastly, a note on storage units. My suggestion: Don’t go there! By the very definition, if you are STORING the stuff somewhere away from your home, you most likely don’t use that stuff often and surely not on a daily basis. If it’s full of items you MAY use someday or even WILL use someday, consider this: What if, instead of storing all your things and paying rent on it month after month, you get rid of it all. Then, with the money you save NOT renting a unit, you buy anew those items you need in the future when the time comes. This might not only be a wise choice financially, but also mentally and emotionally as you no longer have the worry and time spent keeping up with that stuff.

Consumerism promises much, but fails to deliver. We buy and experience a temporary “high” but our excess stuff only causes worry and stress. Keep the things you need, get rid of the rest!

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15 comments

  1. Very nice post, great explanations and thoughts. It’s tough to get started, but you highlight good reasons why it’s difficult and great reasons why it’s a good thing to do. I look forward to reading more about your decluttering and minimalist lifestyle. If you ever get the chance check out my blog as well, MinimalistGuy.com.

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  2. My daughter and I are preparing for a rummage sale this summer. She’s been amazing going through toys. I seen my Barbie cake pan and think… Hmm, probably not going to make one of those again… But what if someone needs one! It’s going in the rummage pile. Hopefully it will bring some other baker happy memories. At times it is hard to accept those parenting days are no more.

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  3. Good post, very insightful. It made me think…. My whole house has been de-cluttered, or it never got cluttered in the first place. However, I do have this one room… I don’t know where to start. I will post pics in upcoming posts. Big challenge for me. It’s the only thing that keeps me from being 100% clutter free.

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  4. I’ve just started living minimally for the last few months, for the same reasons as you. All is going well… Except for kids toys/clothes.
    I have two kids. 3 years old and two months. Can you do a post on how do deal with all their stuff?

    Glad I found your blog!

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  5. I am on the third round of boxing “things”. When I think I am done I feel the ability to let go of more! I have a few boxes and I will grab one and start walking through the house and putting items in it. My Mama called all the “what nots and doo dads” dust collectors and she is so right! The more I let go of the less I have to move to dust! I also feel out house may float away as all that “stuff” is gone so it can breathe better as well as us!

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  6. Thanks for sharing. We are getting ready to move back home to GA after spending 3 yrs in NM due to my employment. I have finally decided that it is time to start really taking a long hard look at all the stuff I have allowed to stay for the reasons you listed that block living with less and being happier. It has been difficult at times especially when you are feeling that maybe I will need this or the memories that the item has for me. But the thought of having to load a U Haul truck and make a 15oo mile trip and then unload is one major motivation to say enough is enough.

    Again thanks for sharing and giving some of the points that you should consider and that the ultimate outcome is well worth the effort to tackle this project.

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  7. The picture at the beginning of your post is so lovely and inspiring. I personally get motivated the most by images. I would love more pictures of your decluttered house if you’re willing to share with the world. Thanks for this wonderful, practical blog!

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  8. I love your idea of living as if you were going to move tomorrow. I’ve been on a major decluttering mission for the past several months and want to live like that too. We have a long way to go but the accountability of blogging actually helps me a lot!

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  9. Any advice you could provide on how to deal with all those Gladware and Ziploc food containers would be MOST appreciated! How many do you really need in a home and why are they so hard to get rid of?

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    • Ah yes, we use to have mountains of food containers of every size and shape that would fall on our heads every time we opened our cabinet. 🙂 I recommend buying a set of glass storage containers (they are much healthier and greener and last longer… as long as you don’t break them) that stack inside each other. We personally have one set of stacking rectangles with lids and one stack of circular containers with lids. We threw away everything else! My husband uses the smaller ones to take his lunch to work in and I use the larger ones for storing leftovers. We also use them to take along snacks for the kids or hiking or what not and have stopped buying zip lock bags. If you don’t know how many to buy, I recommend that you start with few, see how you do, and then add only if what you have is absolutely not working out.

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