When I made the decision to declutter my house, it was a big goal. I imagined that when I had finished, everything would be wonderful. In reality it turned out to be a long time before I learnt that actually, decluttering is habit.
Unexperienced in keeping things to a minimum, I assumed that one great purge in every room would leave me with the clear and calm environment I craved. Decluttering commenced with a huge amount of passion and motivation, fuelled by a vision of how life would be when it was done. I sorted through every drawer, every cupboard, and tackled every surface.
It took months, and I learned some important lessons. Like how decluttering sometimes makes more mess than the clutter in the first place. And that getting the sorted clutter out of the house requires a lot of work. I also learnt that decision fatigue sets in after an hour or two. All-day sessions are not as productive as short intense bursts.
However, as I approached the end of my first mammoth round of sorting out the house, I was surprised to discover that things did not look the way I had imagined they would.
Back to square one
In fact, when I finally finished the last room, the first room I had started in only looked slightly less chaotic than it had before I’d begun.
There were two reasons for this:
- As I worked through each room, I stuck to a strict policy of keeping like with like. This enabled me to see how much of something I had that was related (e.g. exercise equipment, clothing, pencils). Before the first big sort out these things tended to be spread around the house stored in whatever available nooks and crannies I could find. Now rooms were full of collections of things, and some of those collections were large and took up a lot of space.
- In the months of decluttering (it was probably over a year in total to do the first big purge), there had been a constant influx of other stuff into the house.
All the time I had been working to reduce what I owned, more of it had been creeping in without me noticing.
I’d never learnt, or been taught, to pay attention what came into the house.
Being mindful of what you bring home
Reason 2 was, and continues to be, a thorny problem. I am a mum of three and it is very difficult indeed to stem the flow of things into the house. The main sources of this are:
- Things from school – crafts, school work, drawing, books from book sales, tombola prizes and toys from school fairs that raise money for the school*
- Birthday presents from friends and family
- Ad hoc gifts that family like to give the children
- Children spending their pocket money or money that relatives might give them
- Useful things passed on to you from others
- My own spending habits – I am not immune to buying the kids a magazine or some other item now and again, especially during holidays. I am also not immune to spending on myself, even though sometimes I may not need it!
- Spending on new clothes and other consumables that the children do need as they grow out of and use up their things (unless you have a strict one-in-one-out policy, the older stuff never quite seems to go down as quick as the newer stuff comes in)
Over time this influx of stuff trickles into the house and fills it up stealthily without you even noticing.
Decluttering is a habit
There are as many solutions to things coming into the house as there are reasons for it in the first place. Some of the things we have done include:
- Donating to a charity we care about instead of buying each other gifts
- Requesting small contributions to a single wanted item for birthdays/Christmas
- Regularly clearing out clothing that is too small/worn (we send all ours to textile recycling)
- Passing things on for others to use instead of keeping them (films, books, toys)
However, the most important thing is to have an awareness of what is coming into the house.
When you start to take note of all the things that come into your house it gives you a whole new perspective on how much you actually own.
You begin to see that things flow into your life all the time.
And being aware of this is the first step in reducing it.
Habitual decluttering – action items
Habits take time to form, so don’t give up. Just keep on doing what you can, when you remember. If your goal is to live a simpler life, you will get there eventually. It has taken me years and I’m still facing new challenges, but it honestly gets much easier with practise.
- Recycle all paperwork as soon as possible. Junk mail should go straight in the recycle bin. Read magazines and recycle them. If you aren’t reading them, or reading them becomes a todo you avoid doing, don’t buy them.
- Keep a textile bag in a cupboard and whenever an item goes through the wash that is too small, stained or broken beyond repair, add it to the bag. When the bag is full, take it to the recycling point.
- Donate toys that the children have outgrown (I like to do this in stages, so I’ll often have a box in the loft for a few months to be sure they really aren’t super attached to the toys I have tided away)
- Pass on books and films when you have read/watched them unless you a certain you would love to read/watch them again (even if you are – libraries are a great and under-utilised resource!)
- Revisit areas regularly. Clearing out a drawer or shelf doesn’t take long. It also reminds you what you own and whether you still need it.
Decluttering and living with less isn’t a one-time job. It’s a bit like housework (although not quite as time-consuming in the long run!). If you can become aware of what comes in and what goes out, you’ll be halfway to always keeping your house free of things that you really don’t need.
Eventually it will become a habit you don’t even think about – honestly!
*Interestingly, it was mentioned in our newsletter recently that several parents have expressed an interest in making a single large donation once a year rather than constantly having to fund events, donate toys/books/prizes to events, and have their children bring home mountains of sweets and cheap plastic toys. Hurrah!