live with less – a guide to decluttering

tips for minimalist living 1

It’s an endless struggle in our home; for every thing we let go of, a thousand new things call our name. I’m so easy to market to – despite an entire lifetime of buying and buying and nothing changing, I’m still full of hope that the right purchase will transform me into Advert Girl – y’know, the one with ever-shiny hair & a perfect work-to-cocktails wardrobe.

This week I visited a self-storage facility for work, and it made me feel a bit sick. The ultimate first world problem – having so many redundant possessions we don’t have enough space in our big expensive homes to store them all.

I’m fascinated by stories of people who lost all of their possessions and started again – the man whose removal company stole everything he owned, victims of floods or fires or even those fleeing domestic violence. Never do these people say they miss their stuff. They all continue to live with less, purge themselves periodically, and talk about the freedom it brings.

tips for minimalist living 1

So I work endlessly to get rid of stuff – and I’m getting quite good at it. Below are a few tricks and tips that I’ve discovered along the way – decluttering hacks, maybe.

  1. LOVE or USE is my mantra while decluttering. Picture a home with only the things you totally adore or really use, and keep that image in mind when you’re working to let go.
  2. Resist sentimentality. Don’t keep things just because so-and-so gave it to you/ it was a first birthday present/you’ve had it for years. People don’t give with the expectation you will keep things forever, and sentimentality can overlap heavily with guilt. Be wary of second-hand guilt – people who give you the crap from their own decluttering, because it feels easier than throwing it away. They didn’t want it, or they’d have kept it for themselves.
  3. Seize the moment. Sometimes a clear-headed and ruthless mood comes over me, and most of the time is does not. Get rid of things while your resolve is strong – pack the box and drive it to the charity shop/dump, so it’s really gone.
  4. Remember it’s about now. Sometimes I hold onto things because I used to love them, and haven’t stopped to re-evalute my feelings. If you wouldn’t buy it if you saw it now, let it go.
  5. Take a picture. Especially for sentimental things, we’re tempted to keep them for the memories. A photo can bring back just as many memories, and you can condense a whole wardrobe of baby clothes to a space the size of a slice of bread. (Added bonus: you suddenly realise how ridiculous it is to be sentimental about a whole wardrobe of baby clothes when you’re considering photographing each piece individually ‘just for the memories’).
  6. Price up your space. This really works for me – imagine a monetary value to every square foot of your home based on what you bought/rent it for. Now work out how much the clutter costs you in storage space every month. How many extra hours are you having to work to house all this crap? That’s before you add in the time you spend cleaning it, sorting it, searching through it.
  7. Make a list of things you’ve gotten rid of and then regretted. I got nothin’.
  8. Use it or lose it. The stuff we keep because it ‘might be useful one day’ is rarely actually useful, not least because we can never really find it again. Use up your miniature/leftover toiletries, or better yet condense them all into big bottles (realising this actually blew my mind: you can mix up remnants of hair conditioners and have one big bottle of conditioner! Largely because, despite what the labels claim, they’re all exactly the same!).
  9. Be honest about the life you really have. I did not really need 12 1950s prom dresses, not least because I had never been to even one occasion where I could wear one. I do not need 22 mugs in my cupboard, when having more than two people over for a cup of tea makes the introvert in need a nap to recover, and most sadly of all, it’s looking increasingly unlikely that I’m ever going to be a hula hooping superstar. Byebye stuff, hello space.
  10. If you haven’t touched it in a year, it isn’t useful. No exceptions. So many people have stories of finding a box a few years after moving that never got unpacked. Do not open the box.
    I’ve read about amazing minimalists who box up their entire life and unpack items only as they need them; a friend comes over, they unwrap a second cup to make them a drink. While this is probably too drastic for most of us, I love the concept. After a year, anything they haven’t unpacked is donated or discarded, and they’re free to live life with all that they need.

Where do you stand in relation to clutter and stuff? Does anyone have any tips or success stories to share with this wannabe-minimalist? Or perhaps to tell me why you don’t ever want to be minimal, and the importance your possessions hold in your life. No judgment from me – I’m genuinely interested in people’s opinions and lifestyles.

  • Sheona

    Too much stuff makes my head feel cluttered and unable to think clearly, especially when it comes to clear surfaces. I can’t deal with piles of stuff on show. Unfortunately that means I have boxes full of piles of stuff… So it’s not on show but I am very aware of needing to sort it out! I really do need to sort it out…

    Like a spring clean, I always feel a massive need to do a pre-festive season clean. I love a good sort out and an excuse to ebay and get some extra pennies is always beneficial too!

    • YES! I relate to this on absolutely every level. I feel like when I have piles (or boxes) of stuff, I semi-consciously keep track of it all, and it’s exhausting. Letting it go is such a relief in the end!
      Agree with pre-festive clear outs. And post! Generally just getting rid of stuff! x

  • Love your tips Sara, such good advice as always. I really hate clutter, but like most people I have collected ‘beautiful’ things over the years that I display. However, I recently pared back one room again, and it felt so good and I love how it looks now, I definitely want to do it more. There is just one thing, we have a huge very easily accessible loft which means things often get relegated there rather than leave the house! Clearing that out is on my to do list! X

    • Ahh that loft sounds so tempting and dangerous! Although you’ll probably just leave it all the until you move, so I guess it’s ok as long as you remember not to re-open those boxes! πŸ˜‰
      I think beautiful objects count as things you love – they do for me, anyway! Lots of old books and maps and plants that we don’t use, but do adore. I guess it’s about staying in tune with what you really love.
      We have some shelves that are currently empty. R talked about buying things to put on them, & I posed the radical notion of leaving them empty. No doubt out growing toy collection will fill them in time anyway – why not enjoy the space for now? πŸ™‚ x

  • Oh! This is all so true. I’ve always been a total bower bird, and super-sentimental to boot. I am getting better at getting rid of stuff but I have two main weaknesses – my children’s toys and their artwork. Why I’m so bad at getting rid of toys I have no idea, because they have SO MANY and with the upcoming holidays and two birthdays we are just going to get more! And the artwork…for my first son I started scanning it with the idea of printing it into a book…which worked well until his output increased and then his brother started bringing home reams of artwork also! I know I’m just trying to hold onto them as babies as they are growing up so fast, but I am slowly drowning beneath a collection of paste, glitter, and renditions of ninja turtles in various mediums….

    • Oh yes! Relate relate relate!
      Especially to toys. Actually, on toys I have a separate post in the works specifically about how to *not* fall into that trap and drown in a sea of plastic! It’s a total minefield.

      Orla’s at an early stage with her artwork, but I already know what you mean. We’ve laminated a few as placemats but I guess that doesn’t help you – only so many place mats you need and all! Do you have family members you could start sending them to? What did your parents do with your childhood artwork? Mine kept none of mine but I don’t really feel any resentment! xx

  • I find decluttering and clearing space incredibly cathartic, though that’s not to say that I don’t have a full house – the old adage of only things that are beautiful and practical works for me. I come from a family that keeps and collects everything – generations of furniture, books, art, things… It made for a beautifully eclectic and full home but I always found it a little stifling, all those things and no order. I think my neatness is my rebellion. But what I would say is that sometimes that need for order and renewal spreads into other aspects of my life; I’m quite good at clearing the decks of both things and people and wanting to start again. It used to really work for me but now I wonder about the longevity of always wanting everything to be perfect and fresh.

  • This whole notion has been on my mind for the past year and a bit (probably since I read the book Simplicity Parenting). I have made a lot of progress- I am very sentimental and nostalgic and lean naturally towards hoarding tendencies but I realised all the stuff was weighing me down. I even shipped an embarrassing amount of our stuff from the UK first to New Zealand, then Australia. Most of it wasn’t even great, or meaningful special things, just ‘stuff’ I thought we needed. It is a constant battle, made even harder with a growing family and I’m kind of glad we live in a small-ish house as that limits the amount we can have. I will say though that with each child you realise how little you do actually need for them. For our third baby, we have about a third of the stuff we mistakenly believed we needed for our first and she is doing just fine! Love all your tips, will be referring back to them to help keep me on the straight and narrow xx p.s About the children’s artwork conundrum, I keep meaning to take photos of it all and have it made into photo books so we can then get rid of the vast majority of the originals.

    • I read that book too! It appealed to me on so many levels.
      I am very similar to you, I think. I can over-sentimentalize anything if I let myself think about it too much, but it definitely doesn’t bring me any comfort or joy in the long term.
      Oh yes, all the things I was so sure we needed for Orla – the baby gym, the swing, the walkers, the door bouncer, the moses basket… If/when we have number 2, I’ll be happy with a sling and a few muslin squares!
      I love the idea of making kids artwork into a book but I know I would be rubbish at actually doing it. It would just morph into a big pile of unphotographed guilt. Maybe tacking them all to a wall and taking one photo a month of said artist stood in front of the wall would work better for me… Hopefully by the time Orla reaches this level of output I will have a plan! πŸ˜€ x

  • Louise

    Aww you should come to my house! Clutter central. Although I solved the old baby clothes that I couldn’t bare to part with issue with a handmade by
    Laura memory bear. 10 outfits-I tiny teddy. A minor victory I feel xx

    • OOOH I need to google that! Sounds brilliant! x

      • Sheona

        I have one of those bears too, from the same person – look it up on Facebook!

        • Sheona

          Although, mine is actually a rabbit I think… With towelling ears (obviously!)

          • Noo noo rabbit!

  • wonderful! I just wrote a piece yesterday about ‘quietening our home’ & how wonderfully it seems to improve not only the look, but equally importantly for us, the functionality of our home x happy de-cluttering!

    • Oh, ‘quietening’ is such a perfect & lovely word for it! It *does* make a difference to the functionality, you’re right! And not to sound too airy-fairy, but to the whole vibe of the space somehow. It’s more than an aesthetic thing, for sure! ❀️

  • Rebecca

    Oh, I’m terrible for hoarding books n clothes. Will go missing, one day, beneath the mountains.

    • Eep. Better start building your fat reserves… *hands you cake* x

  • you are so inspiring. i love the point of “if you wouldn’t buy it if you saw it now, let it go.” that is so true. i think i’ll go rethink my stuff now!

    • Thanks Samovaren – it’s easy to be inspiring on the internet, but you probably wouldn’t think so in real life! πŸ˜‰ That point really works for me too. Suddenly made it all a lot easier for me! Good luck with your rethink πŸ™‚ xx

  • Angela Otimo

    I loved your article!I’m a newbie minimalist too!It all started four months ago, when I wanted to paint my room’s walls!While removing things in order to start the process, I got overwhelmed by the bulk of the useless things I was storing in a place that was supposed to be clean and serene…A huge bookcase holding books and memes from every age and every occassion, heavy books from university, hundreds of craft supplies, things under my bed, beside my bed, old sentimental teddy bears, a closet with doors that couldn’t even close…Did I deserve to Live in this chaos?I donated the bookcase(!), most of the books that it was holding, some small furniture(clutter-traps!), craft supplies, old toys, and a lot of clothes!It was a long process…It took me so long to find the right person or place to donate each thing!Also, I donated my twin bed and got a queen size one!Less stuff, more place to Live!Now it’s really a bed-room, with just a bed, a vanity and a closet!I feel so Free living in a clean, crisp white room!Also, now when I’m having my day-off, I don’t have to clean the whole day!It takes me just 20-minutes, and I have the whole day to fill with creative activities!I recommend downsizing to everyone!There are a lot of good reasons to do this!Going through your old stuff is a lesson, you map out the NEW you in comparison to who you were…stuff that you don’t use may be needed by someone else.Also, if you find you owned a lot of useless stuff, it makes you stop being an impulse buyer.Owning less gives you freedom, you have more time and space to Live, with less materials and more experiences!
    Thank you for your inspiring article!And, oh, i really loved the “pricing up your space” tip, I had never thought about it like that! πŸ™‚

  • This is so interesting, I’m such a hoarder! I really want to clear the clutter from my life. I think it will help clear the clutter mentally too. I shall be taking on your tips, thank you.
    Lovely to discover you via Instagram πŸ™‚
    Georgie x

  • This post sums up exactly how I’m feeling right now. I’ve worked out that I feel very stressed by belongings, especially those that I don’t use (the china in the loft not yet unpacked from our house move 2 years ago, despite how pretty and gold it is). For me there are also strong feelings of guilt attached with these unused belongings. I have just returned from visiting a charity project in Northern Uganda where I met people who had lost everything to the LRA and still have relatively little in terms of physical possessions. Yet it’s only now that I’m home, I’ve had time to reflect on the people I met and things I saw. They suffered in ways that you and I can’t even imagine and now live very happily (and with so much pride!) in small mud huts with all their worldly possessions stacked on one shelf made of clay. I’m not saying we should all live like this, but they truly are spiritually rich. They have so much joy and happiness in their tight-knit communities and I can’t help but think the focus on people rather than “stuff” has a lot to do with it.

    I have felt so touched by these people and their outlook on life since coming back to the UK. Christmas is a time when we acquire a significant amount of extra belongings, so this year I’m buying charity gifts and echoing a quote I heard recently: “What do you buy someone who seems to have everything? Answer = Nothing. ” I’m also throwing out a LOT of my own belongings that I haven’t used/ worn / looked at for a while. It’s very therapeutic and I think I will adopt you’re idea to “live with less” as a resolution in 2015.

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