The One Golden Rule of Decluttering

I’m moving home in just over a week, and there’s nothing like a house move to flex that decluttering muscle and have a clear-out. All that stuff piled away in the corners of the flat that we’ve probably forgotten about?

It’s one thing to let it sit there, not bothering us; but it’s quite another to have to drag it out, dust them off, pack it into boxes, lug them somewhere else, unpack them at the other end and then find somewhere new to stash it all until they’re forgotten about once more.

As a natural hoarder, one of the hardest things for me to do is to let go of things that might be useful in the future. Which basically means, stuff that I don’t need now. Or probably more accurately, stuff I don’t need.

I can get rid of things that aren’t useful at all and I know won’t be useful in the future. I try to avoid getting these types of things in the first place, but it happens.

I can also get rid of things that are useful, but that I have no use for – especially if I know someone else who will be able to use it, or I know that we could sell it (so there’s a financial sweetener to counter the pain of getting rid of it).

However, things that might be useful in the future translates as things that are broken and need repairing. Cables for some kind of electronic device but which one exactly I’m not sure. Stuff for hobbies that I don’t even do but think I might try in the future. Half-used toiletries or jars of strange ingredients that I don’t really like but know I paid money for and can’t bring myself to throw away.

When we move, I’m going to have to challenge my resistance to getting rid of things that might be useful in the future. We’ve lived in this flat for almost two and a half years. If something hasn’t been useful in all that time, and I still can’t actually envisage when it will start becoming useful, then it needs to go.

Sounds easy enough, but will I be able to follow through? To help strengthen my resolve, I’ve been thinking about what I tell myself in order to convince myself to hang onto these things. If I can counter these arguments in a logical way, maybe I’ll be able to let these things go.

Here are the three top excuses, and my counter-arguments.

But I feel so guilty!

Most of this stuff is stuff that no-one else will want. Broken bits and pieces, scrap, textbooks, centuries-old cosmetics, random condiments that I wouldn’t trust to eat, unused kitchen tools… and so on. Why then, do I feel so guilty about throwing it away?

One reason, maybe, is that I paid for some of this stuff. It cost me money. To throw it away is to admit that I made a bad purchase. I like to think of myself as good at managing money, but these items make me feel like I was reckless – a spendthrift! I feel guilty. The paradox is that every time I see these items, I am reminded of my bad purchase.

If I got rid of these things, I wouldn’t think about them again, and I’d actually be free of these emotions!

Another reason is that these things may have some functionality left, but I don’t want to use them any more. This is the case with toiletries that I have since discovered contain toxic ingredients, or plastic cookware, or foodstuffs that I don’t like. Yet to get rid of something that still has some life left seems wasteful, so they remain, just in case. Yet if I don’t want to use them (and I don’t want anyone else to use them, either), then actually they don’t have any life left. It’s an illusion.

The guilt I have, I’ve realised, is misplaced. When I got these items, and started using them, I didn’t know they were toxic/unsafe/unpleasant. If I had, I’d never have bought them, or never have used them. We make decisions based on what we know at the time. I can’t feel guilty about what I didn’t know.

I’m saving it from landfill

If it’s something that I’m genuinely going to use, then yes, I’ve saved it from landfill. If it’s something that just sits in my house, gathering dust, then I haven’t actually saved it from landfill at all. I’ve just delayed the process. It’s still as useless as it was, and it will end up in landfill eventually (if not by my hand, by someone else’s).

I’ve picked up things from the verge (old carpet, reticulation tubing) that I’ve thought would be useful once I have a garden. I don’t have a garden, and I won’t have a garden when I move, so I still don’t need these things.

Maybe in the future I will have a garden and need these things. But that’s a maybe. (Actually, I don’t know that old carpets are good to use in gardens anyway, because of the chemicals that leach out of them.)

This wasn’t my waste, it was someone else’s. It’s waste that I tried to save. I failed. But we all fail sometimes. That’s how life works.

What if I do need it later?

You know what? If it so happens that I suddenly need that item that I finally got rid of, I’ll check with friends and family to see if they have one I can have, or borrow. I’ll check in the classifieds and see if there’s one for sale second-hand. If not, maybe, just maybe, I’ll have to buy another one. If I really genuinely need it, then the new one I buy will be a useful purchase!

I think the risks are pretty small, and I’m gonna take my chances.

 The Golden Rule of Decluttering

There’s a quote I see bandied round the internet a lot. A motto maybe, of minimalists everywhere. Words to live by or strive towards. When it comes to decluttering, I think it’s perfect.

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” ~William Morris

What I have come to realise is that I cannot feel guilt for things I purchased in the past, or for decisions I made before I started on this journey. I cannot feel guilty because I don’t find something useful or can’t make it useful. Just as there is no space for junk, there is no room in the tiny flat for guilt, and there’s no room in the new place either.

As we pack up this flat to move, this quote is our mantra. If it isn’t useful or beautiful, then it’s not coming with us.

How about you? What do you find easy to get rid of, and what things do you struggle with? Do you have a motto or rules that you live by when it comes to decluttering? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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The One Golden Rule of Decluttering
11 replies
  1. Lois Field
    Lois Field says:

    Lindsay, I struggle to get rid of anything when I don’t know one who wants it. To donate it I don’t know if it will end up in the trash bin so that makes it hard for me.

    On throwing things out you have a good point, if I’m never going to use something and it has no value to another person I’m not really saving it from the landfill, just delaying it. I will have to remember that. I struggle at throwing things away because I set a goal of zero waste. I’m not there yet, but oh so close.

    • treadingmyownpath
      treadingmyownpath says:

      It is a hard lesson. I don’t really like giving things to charity shops (not because I don’t like them! but because things get dropped off in bins, then taken to sorting warehouses, then…does it end up on a shelf in a store? More importantly, does someone then buy it?); I prefer to connect my old things with new owners directly.

      When I say throwing away, I also mean recycling. For example, I was keeping every single glass jar – a lot of glass isn’t recycled in Perth plus it’s far better to reuse than recycle. But there’s only so many I need! I nearly got rid of some jars a few weeks ago, but took them out of the recycling bin at the last minute. Then, a friend who makes honey (is that right – make honey?!) declared she needed jars! So I swapped them for honey – an awesome deal!

      Zero waste is the goal, yes. If it doesn’t enter my house in the first place there’s no dilemma! : )

      • Lois Field
        Lois Field says:

        Now you have me considering holding on to certain things in case I can trade them like you did. Honey for old jars is awesome. Make honey? I don’t know sounds good to me though. ;-)

        I have been holding on to glass jars because I recently learned that most of the glass collected with the recyclables ends up being grounded up and used as cover in the landfills. How crazy is that?

        My waste is pretty low, near zero except for the things which are brought into my home and left here. My daughter-in-law has this obsession with Tim Horton’s coffee and is forever leaving her cups behind.

        • treadingmyownpath
          treadingmyownpath says:

          It’s so difficult to let go! I’ve found listing things on free websites really helps. I’ve thought about that for glass jars too – people who preserve always need loads. I do see the ads from time to time.

          Glass recycling just isn’t a golden solution, is it? Here in Perth I was told only 20% of glass that is sorted for recycling gets recycled; the rest goes to landfill. The choice is a company pays to truck it to Adelaide (in the next state) – but if they find it’s contaminated it has to be trucked back again – very expensive for companies, so it’s cheaper to landfill. Otherwise, it’s turned into road base, Not what we were taught in school about recycling, is it?

          I don’t know what Tim Horton’s is – does that mean she uses disposable cups?!?! I would find that hard to deal with…I’m always trying to force my KeepCup on others if they want a coffee to save waste!

          • Lois Field
            Lois Field says:

            I recently read Garbage land and was shocked by the amount of wasted fuel for the trucks that haul our trash and recycling. I wish my area went to bi-weekly pickups instead of the weekly they do. Maybe it would help people to think about how much they are throwing out because it all has to fit in one can. It would save so much more though in greenhouse gases with the trucks on the road.

            No, I never thought items I put in recycling bin would end up in the landfill or like you said to pave roads. That’s not the reason I want to recycle. I want to recycle to keep new containers from needing to be made.

            Sorry, Tim Horton’s is a coffee shop (like Starbucks) and yes the cups are disposable. I can’t tell her how to live but the cost when she’s on a tight income is dumb in my opinion. After the cost for a daily cup (or two) of coffee there’s the waste often the cups stay here for me to have to dispose of.

  2. sarahn
    sarahn says:

    Hmm decluttering is so tough, I too have a lingering bag of stuff that I can’t work out where to take, but don’t want to add to landfill. Current examples are clothing that’s now see-through-ish, having been worn for many years and grown thin in places. They’re not suitable for someone to buy and wear, and I feel a little less than polished wearing it, but there’s only so many around the house things I need. Rags – maybe, but usually synthetic blends aren’t preferred. Then I have a flat magnet with branding on it – someone might use it for craft, but who/how and freecycle, it’s not worth the time for someone to come pick it up!

    Like Lois, I’m aiming for zero waste, but alas some things always catch me out. I keep all my glass jars for storing my own ‘stuff’ in around the house, and periodically take the excess to the food coop for ‘free’ use by others (rather than buying new ones).

    Perhaps Lois, the next gift giving occasion for your DIL could warrant a keep cup or similar? At least a kind hint? I know you do like to craft and upcycle, but just a thought.

    • treadingmyownpath
      treadingmyownpath says:

      I can so relate to your wardrobe dilemmas! I have exactly the same problem! Things that are too worn and thin and bobbly, yet are still (just about) intact! I also agree about feeling less than special wearing it! I think I will have to have a cull – but I’m just quite not ready!

      What are your plans?!

      That’s a great idea regarding the jars! I can return some back to suppliers but I have others that I can’t – but I hadn’t thought of food co-ops. I will look into that – I can think of a few places that might be keen : )

      Thanks so much for your comments!

  3. Veronika
    Veronika says:

    I started decluttering when I started trying to make less garbage = with less clutter, I can at least see what I have and won’t need to buy it again.

    It is NOT easy!

    I am looking forward to our move to Ireland. Just like you, to use a move as the ultimate decluttering tool. In my case it’s even more extreme; I will take what will fit in my Citroen Berlingo car. That makes me really think about what is really necessary and what is not.

    I’m looking forward to it. Starting over with less stuff, more air.

    • treadingmyownpath
      treadingmyownpath says:

      It is NOT easy Veronika, I agree! Realising how hard it is has really helped me stop accumulating things though.

      Your move to Ireland sounds fantastic – very freeing! Good luck – I’d love to hear how you go! : )

  4. Elaine
    Elaine says:

    Thanks for writing this. I am just starting on this journey. Living in an expensive city with two kids and a hubby, I find that I would like to have more space for things that matter.


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