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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’).
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.
Make a list of things you’ve gotten rid of and then regretted. I got nothin’.
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!).
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.
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.
H is for Hawk is a book about madness. Not the institutional kind, but the madness of grief, and the long, slow process of recovery that follows. It's a process millions of people undertake every [...]