When I first started decluttering and sorting through everything I owned, I was a traditional hoarder. A lot of my stuff was easy to get rid of because I had a tendency to save things that might be useful – like old magazines, storage boxes, and old towels and clothes. The appreciation that decluttering time was just as important as decluttering space was a long way off.
In the beginning, clearing things out was easy and I made great progress.
But eventually, I got stuck.
I still had a lot of stuff – more stuff than I wanted – but I didn’t seem to be able to pare it down any further.
Reading decluttering books no longer helped me. They told me to ask questions like:
Is this useful or beautiful?
I found that if I followed their rules, everything in my house needed to stay. But I still had a house full of stuff.
Too much stuff.
I remember wandering aimlessly from room to room, wondering why I didn’t seem to be able to let anything else go. It all seemed so important, so useful.
It took me a lot of thinking to solve this problem, but eventually I realised that although I was no longer hoarding things that I never used, I was still hoarding.
I was hoarding projects and hobbies.
Hoarding things that take time, without the time to do them.
I had collections of things like scrapbooks, non-fiction books covering topics I was interested in, exercise equipment such as gym balls, boxes of craft materials, collections of computer stuff, and household items like shot glasses and cocktail shakers.
I did intermittently use most of it, but I didn’t use any of it all the time. The use of it all depended on something I was short on. Something that we all tend to be short on.
How many things can you really do each day?
In order to create scrapbooks, I needed time to sit and work on them.
To learn things from my books, I needed time to sit down and read.
To use the gym ball, I needed to set aside time to exercise in my house.
To use the shot glasses and shakers, I needed to hold some kind of drinks party (with two under-fives in the house!).
I realised that although all these things were practical items that occasionally got some use, there was no point in keeping them if I wasn’t using them regularly.
It simply isn’t possible to live a life where you own one of everything for every eventuality.
I realised that telling myself:
But, I might have more time in the future.
Was the time-equivalent of the often heard excuse:
But, I might need it some day.
Time is a factor that is often overlooked when it comes to sorting through your things. It is only mentioned with regards to commitments like meetings, talking on the phone and watching TV.
But the fact is, your possessions also take up your time. If something you own is not something that you use regularly and functionally (like the plates you eat your dinner from, or the shampoo in your bathroom), then that item requires a time investment from your pool of ‘free’ time.
A time investment that you could be putting to use in one of a million different ways.
What do you want to spend your time on?
So it turns out there is another question you should bear in mind when you are sorting through things in your life:
What do you want to spend your time on?
We only have a finite pool of free time. Hoarding 100 different hobbies and projects (and keeping the associated paraphernalia) means that:
a) you are unlikely to ever finish anything
b) you are unlikely to ever master anything
c) you have to spend more time from your time pool on storing, organising and deciding on what you are doing, thus limiting a and b even further.
I am not perfect – I still take too much on and have too many projects on the go at once. It’s something I’m gradually changing. But I am much better than I was, and I no longer have boxes of things in the garage and loft that I am going to build/create/research/craft one day.
- When you are decluttering and having trouble letting go of something, ask yourself if you are holding onto the item because you plan to set aside the time to actually use it.
- Be realistic about your time. Are you actually going to make time (in your already busy schedule), to do this project or activity? For example, are you really going to repaint and stencil the side table? Are you really going to read the complete works of Thomas Hardy? Be honest with yourself.
- Bear in mind that you should be spending your time on the things that bring you the most joy and the most personal satisfaction (from what you work on, to how you play). If you spread your time too thin, on too many different projects, you won’t get the best out of any of them.