Don’t Get Organised. Get Less.

One of the things I noticed when we returned from holidays is how cluttered our home is becoming. Having spent 10 days with just a handful of possessions that could pack neatly into the boot of the car, it was somewhat of a shock to be back amongst the midst of the disorder that is our home.

It sounds strange, but walking back through the front door, I could physically feel the presence of all these things in the room. A literal weight on my shoulders.

It’s not that we have a lot of stuff, but over time we do accumulate things. We also have very little storage, which makes it hard to tidy the things we do have away, because sometimes they just don’t have places to go.

You hear about minimalists who can fit their entire belongings into a single duffel bag. That will never be me. My zero-waste / plastic-free lifestyle means I need possessions to make it work: glass jars, a reusable coffee cup, storage containers, a stainless steel water bottle, produce bags etc.

I also get a lot of joy from spending time in the kitchen and I consider my various pots and pans all to be necessities.

However, for all those things that I consider necessities, there are plenty more things that are not. Just as we accumulate things as we need them, items that we already own become redundant, taking up space and causing stress.

There are two major lessons I’ve learned about minimalism and decluttering. The first is that you are never finished. I love the idea of the decluttering muscle, and the more we work (at) it the stronger it gets, and the easier it becomes to let go of things we no longer need.

However, I really don’t think there’s an end point. The things that we need and the things we no longer need are always changing. We accumulate things not just by purchasing, but via gifts from friends and family, through work, events we go to and items in the mail. We can make our decluttering muscle really strong, but there will never be a point where we can say, “that’s it, the decluttering is finished forever, and now I can sit back.”

The second is that having too much clutter doesn’t mean you need to get organized. It means you need to get less. It’s very easy to pop your items into storage, and because they are out of sight, feel like you are in control of your possessions. But are you really?

I’m not just talking about external storage either, but putting things in cupboards, boxes, the attic, the shed, the spare room, drawers, files, etc. Do you really know what stuff you have in each of those places? Could you make an inventory? Can you find things when you’re in a hurry? Probably not.

I’m not suggesting that people don’t need some level of organisation, or that drawers and cupboard aren’t useful! It’s more that when we start to feel overwhelmed with our clutter, we think “I need to get organized”. We then head to the nearest shopping centre to arm ourselves with new folders, bigger cupboards, or extra storage cabinets…which is more stuff and clutter!

In reality we probably have too much stuff, and need to let some of it go.

Whenever I’ve tidied and organised, the stuff has eventually resorted back to its pre-organised chaotic state. Keeping things continually tidy and organised is a lot of work! There is far less energy required to simply get rid of things.

With this in mind, when I arrived home from holidays, I resisted the urge to find a big box and stuff everything in the spare room. I gritted my teeth, and I flexed my decluttering muscle… and I let…things…go.

I listed a few things on Gumtree. I returned some borrowed items to a friend. I took a huge box to the charity shop. I recycled a pile of unnecessary papers. I donated some old towels to the local dogs’ refuge. Of course, there’s more work to be done, but our home (and my shoulders!) feel lighter already.

Fed up with battling the never-ending need to tidy up? Want to feel more in control of your space and your possessions? Don’t get organised. Get rid of them.

Now I want to hear from you! Do you wish you could be tidier, or think that you have too much clutter? Have you tried just getting rid of things rather than trying to organize them? Do you still cling to the hope that this time, you will be able to make things tidy and keep them that way?! Or maybe organization has worked for you – in which case I’d really like some tips! Please leave a comment and join the conversation below!

Don\'t Get Organised. Get Less.
17 replies
  1. SarahN
    SarahN says:

    I just packed up my office – with the same two – three boxes I moved in with 6 month ago. Admittedly, there’s all the hardware and peripherals to move back to another location, and the (never diminised) scrap paper – though I have made three books bound from single side printed paper. People were surprised how quickly I was ‘done’ – but it’s cause I constantly thin, and sort and, in fact, organise, so that things that I do keep are easy to find!

    I have 11 Pyrex dishes, so they need space. But having only three types, and two types in larger quantities (5 and 6) means it’s easy to store, organise, but there is a need for space. But I do like to take time to ‘declutter’ – to list things on freecycle (which no one wants :(), check wanteds on freecycle and offer up what I can, donate and recycle (such as batteries and light globes thoughtfully) and of course, returning things from others. It feels great when the stuff is OUT of the house!

    • treadingmyownpath
      treadingmyownpath says:

      6 months is quite a while to accumulate stuff, so good work! We don’t have a binder where I work now but a previous work colleague taught me that – binding books out of scrap paper (and reusing the bind once the book was full). Such a great idea! Now I use a wad of paper and a bulldog clip. Not quite the same, but it works!

      Pyrex dishes – yes, they are bulky, and you can’t just stack them haphazardly like you can with plastic ones – oh, but they are so worth it! Probably a good example of zero waste winning over extreme minimalism!

      I find taking time to declutter quite frustrating – especially as I want to dispose of everything responsibly – I wish it would all just be gone already! But I find it so satisfying afterwards, that I want to do more! It does indeed feel great!

  2. Sandy
    Sandy says:

    So true!! When I read your comment about how we go to the store and get folders and new containers for things to get organized I see myself doing that every spring. An inspiring article you wrote. I will try a different way this spring thanks to you!


    • treadingmyownpath
      treadingmyownpath says:

      ; ) We have such little storage here that it can make our place look quite messy, but it means we are immediately confronted with the mess and have to do something about it! Resisting the temptation to buy better storage works wonders in the long-term!

      Good luck, and thanks!

  3. ali
    ali says:

    Read the magic art of tidying up by Marie Kondo! She talks about only keeping things that give you joy in your house. It finally gave me permission to throw out all the things I was keeping ‘just in case’ and that I didn’t really like/use. A great step towards minimalism and helped me to reduce my belongings (and hopefully my enviro impact).

    • treadingmyownpath
      treadingmyownpath says:

      I haven’t read it but I’ve seen references to it everywhere! My library doesn’t seem to have it (yet). I really struggle with “just in case” items, especially as I hate waste so much! But they do tend to sit there, taking up space and making me cross!

      I’ll keep an eye out! : )

  4. Plastic-Free Tuesday - Annemieke
    Plastic-Free Tuesday - Annemieke says:

    Get less! I totally agree with that. Due to studies/work/relationship I have moved house/country at least once every year during the last ten years. I learned that moving is so much easier and cheaper with less stuff. I am still in the process of getting rid of some more stuff. I have sold quite some books in the last couple of months. Right now I am contemplating what to do with some things that may be useful in the future, but that I do not need or use now (a 300 euro sustainably made duvet, a cast iron pan that we got from a family member, and a hardly used nice bed sheet made of organic cotton). What would you do with these? Keep or sell?

    • treadingmyownpath
      treadingmyownpath says:

      Moving makes such a difference! Before I lived in Australia I lived in Bristol for 10 years, and I lived in 11 different homes during that time – and yes, moving does help stop you accumulating! The big overseas move was the biggest for letting go of things for me, and probably where my minimalism journey really took hold.

      I have a few things like that – I have some heavy winter walking boots that are still at my parents’ house that would be no use in Australia, and also a large cast iron pan! I don’t know the answer. I think a minimalist would tell you to let them go. My mum is happy to keep these things of mine at her place so for now they stay. It’s the battle of minimalism vs zero waste… Linen particularly is hard sell / donate, so I would keep!

  5. Sheila Scorziello
    Sheila Scorziello says:

    Just thought I’d let you that I linked to this post. Your blog is my go-to place for sustainability tips & info. So, thanks, Lindsay!

  6. Lois
    Lois says:

    I’ve already mentioned to you my struggle to get rid of things that might be useful. I’m doing better but it’s always a struggle. So yes, get rid of it don’t organize stuff you don’t need.

    Don’t you hate coming back home and things aren’t the way you wish they were? My kids used to laugh at me because before going to bed or leaving the house I used to make sure the house was the way I would want to see it when I woke or returned. If I saw a mess, even a small one, I didn’t enjoy coming home. My one insistence was that the kitchen be spotless before bed so I would wake to a clean kitchen and not have another item for my mental to-do list Of course once my boys were teens they and their friends would get up late for a drink or a snack and I would find the remains in the morning. Never a good way to start the day.

    • treadingmyownpath
      treadingmyownpath says:

      Things that might be useful…it is so hard to let them go! I agree, I think it will always be a struggle for us zero-wasters… : /

      Yes I do, although I don’t always have the motivation to do the tidying / clearing up right before bed. I can’t stand having to do it the following morning though, so I’m getting better. I get up early to write before work, and if there’s a mess to clear up it eats into my writing time. And I don’t like writing too late at night because I get tired, so I need to ensure I do the boring chores! Habits take time to build, but slowly slowly!

      i figure the less stuff I own, the easier it is! : )

  7. Kimberley
    Kimberley says:

    I just wanted to say that I really enjoy reading your blog – I only discovered it recently and I have been making my way through the archives. After a couple of years of solid decluttering (not made easier by the addition of two children – I feel constantly in ‘maintenance mode’!), I am now embarking on a quest to be as waste free as possible. I made my own toothpaste last night (I never really enjoyed the burning sensation of regular toothpaste anyway) and have been using up all my bathroom items with no intention of buying any more items in plastic containers. I was also very proud of myself for remembering to take my own dish to the fish shop on the weekend (although I was still asked if I wanted a plastic bag for it!). Cheers!

    • treadingmyownpath
      treadingmyownpath says:

      Hi Kimberley, thank you so much for your kind words and lovely to meet you : ) I can’t even begin to imagine how much harder it must be with kids! Sounds like you’re making heaps of progress, though! Great work on the toothpaste – what do you think?

      Haha, sometimes when I go to the deli they happily take my container, fill it up, stick the price label on…and then try to shrink wrap it in plastic glad wrap/cling film stuff to stop it leaking! I have to be so vigilant! It’s a proper container, it’s got a seal-able lid and anyway, what do they think I’m gonna do with it?!

      Keep up the great work!

  8. Maya H.
    Maya H. says:

    Great advice! So many times we had clients who have never decluttered their houses! It is really horrible! I personally don’t like to have to many things! My house is quite small and I don’t feel good when the house is filled with many things! Lovely post! Thanks for sharing!


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