I had no idea how to declutter when I first started. I read a lot about it, but what I really needed was something deeper than methods of sorting through my possessions.
This isn’t a guide that tells you to use boxes labelled donate, recycle and rubbish. It’s not even a step-by-step checklist. Instead it’s what I have found to be the guiding principles of how to reduce the excess in your life – for good.
If you’re really in this journey for the long haul, know your reasons why.
1 Know yourself
This is probably THE biggest, most overlooked, yet most important point of all.
Knowing who you are, what you stand for, and what your values are, will make your journey so much easier.
Conversely, it is easier to have less, and increase your focus, when you truly know yourself. This can be really tricky when you first start out. How can you truly know yourself without so much distraction?
Make a start, no matter how small. Keep a journal, or take photographs of your progress. Question what you like and what you don’t like. Do you do things out of habit? Out of pressure? Because someone told you to?
Knowing yourself (and liking yourself – see point 5) is the key to reducing what you do not need in your life.
2 Take it slowly
Change overnight is hard. Some people do it. Occasionally it follows trauma or illness. But for most of us, change creeps.
Think of it like a glacier. It’s always moving, you just can’t see it from where you’re standing.
Change is all about shifting our habits, because the habits we fall back on every day (both physical and emotional) make up the fabric of our existence.
Take a deep breath and take it slowly. You can do it.
3 Reduce exposure
What you are exposed to defines how you think about the world.
If you spend your time reading glossy magazines about the rich and famous, and regularly march around the shops wishing you could afford all the latest fashions, you are setting yourself up for feelings of discontent. There will always be someone richer, handsomer, more stylish, more anything, than you.
You probably already know that we are exposed to thousands of adverts every day. Limiting this input can help you regain a sense of perspective on the good things you have in your life.
You can do this in endless ways – watch less TV, record TV and skip the ad breaks, read less magazines, be choosier about their subject and quality, use internet ad blockers, spend less time at the shops. Believe it or not, doing all these things will still leave you exposed to enough adverts that you’re not going to miss out on anything.
4 Be grateful
This is the other side of the coin to number three.
Try thinking about the amazing things you do have in your life. There ARE amazing things in your life, no matter how small. Focus on them. Smile about them. Sit back and think what a lucky SOB you are for having these things.
Never take anything for granted.
Everything you have can disappear in an instant. Life can be volatile. The happier you are for what you have, the more good things you notice.
Gratitude diaries are not just a gimmick.
5 Realise clutter can be physical and emotional
Probably the lesson it took me the longest to learn.
What goes on and around in our thoughts is probably more important that the way we deal with our physical environment.
Sometimes you need to remove a large amount of physical clutter before you can understand the emotional baggage. This was true in my case.
Maybe for someone else, they might need to start with what’s in their head and then move on to their stuff. Either way, letting physical possessions go can leave us feeling exposed and uncomfortable.
Books about decluttering never talk about this feeling. Don’t fight it, just know that letting go emotionally can be harder than parting with things you’ve owned for 20 years.
Forgiveness, acceptance and love are good places to start.
6 Understand that possessions are tidal
There will be times in your life when you need more, and times in your life when you need less.
These changes don’t mean you have strayed from your beliefs or that you aren’t living true to your values. You shouldn’t feel bad about taking things on after paring things down (as long as you aren’t re-filling the void because you haven’t dealt with your emotions!).
Also, things have a way of coming into our lives ALL THE TIME. Celebrations, gifts, holidays, moving house, changing jobs, changing or taking up exercise, overhauling your eating habits… there are so many situations that will change the ebb and flow of stuff.
There is no end to this journey, just a greater confidence in knowing what you need and how to deal with what you don’t.