About a year ago, I was in a local town hall, with friends, watching a live band perform on a Saturday night. I was enjoying the music, and the company, but in the back of my mind I was distracted, thinking about other stuff. Or more specifically, I was thinking about stuff. My stuff.
I’d spent the day trying to declutter. I was planning to continue the following day. I was wondering whether I should get rid of something (I don’t remember what – maybe an item of clothing), or if I needed it, and what the best way to dispose of it would be… and then I caught myself. I noticed what I was doing, and realised how absurd it was.
I was letting my stuff spoil the moment. I was letting my stuff take up valuable space in my mind, as well as in my home. I was letting the process of decluttering take over my free time and my thoughts.
I’d been slowly decluttering over the past three years. I’d got rid of a heap of things I didn’t need and didn’t use, but the process had been slow. Here and now, at the gig, I realised that the longer I took, the more I was taking time and energy away from doing what I really wanted to be doing. (Which was not rearranging my wardrobe – again.)
The longer I took, the more I’d miss out on living my best life. “My best life” didn’t mean anything profound – it was as simple as this one evening.
Being able to spend time with my friends, or relax on a Saturday night. I could carry on decluttering the way I’d been going, and I’d still get there, but it would be long and drawn-out. How many moments like this would I miss in the process? I didn’t want to waste any more time. And so I didn’t. I made a plan.
I was clear what I wanted: a life with less stuff. I knew why in general terms: more time, more freedom, more connections and experiences. Yet I’d never really thought about what this actually looked like or felt like for me. The concert seemed to connect those dots. It really drilled down to my “why”.
What did more time look like? What did it feel like? What did I personally mean by freedom? What kind of experiences was I searching for? Was it about the big, soul-searching experiences, or was it being able to enjoy the simple things on a Sunday afternoon, undistracted by chores and clutter?
Why did I want a life with less stuff? There were many reasons.
I wanted more time.
I didn’t want to spend hours cleaning my home, or sorting, or dusting and vacuuming and putting stuff away.
I didn’t want to spend time rearranging ornaments or shopping for accessories.
I didn’t want to waste time looking for stuff amidst the clutter, or rummaging through overflowing drawers or cupboards.
I didn’t want to open my wardrobe to find a stuffed closet yet nothing to wear, trying on endless outfits before just wearing the same thing I always wore.
I didn’t want to be preoccupied thinking about my stuff.
What did I want to do instead? I wanted to spend my free time exploring, learning, and spending time with the people I care about. Visiting National Parks, reading, and leisurely breakfasts with family.
I wanted to spend my free time experiencing new things, being outdoors, and getting involved with my local community. I wanted to spend time with my friends, in a local town hall on a Saturday night, watching a band – not distracted by old jumpers and other stuff.
I wanted the stuff I owned to be useful and make my life easier – not distract me and take time away from the truly important things.
I wanted more freedom.
For me, freedom simply means having options. It’s not about being able to pack everything I own into a suitcase and heading off into the sunset. For me it’s about being able to make choices about how I spend my time. Not having to work extra long hours to pay for stuff I don’t need, or feeling burdened by a house full of possessions that need maintaining.
For me, freedom comes from having less stuff. Not owning more than I think is necessary (what I call my “enough”). The less I own, the more freedom I create for myself because the more choices I have. My husband and I can live comfortably in a small space with little storage. In Perth, this means we can live in a central location in a neighbourhood we like, close to amenities and transport. If we needed to move, or to pack up, we have the choice to do so – and owning less makes it easier.
My family live on the other side of the world, and part of this freedom means having enough savings in our bank account that if I needed to make a trip home, I could. It is far more important to me to have the money saved for that than to own a brand new dining suite, or the latest mobile phone.
Owning less also means less debt. The only debt we have is our mortgage. We saved up a sizable deposit to reduce the amount of debt we took on, and we made sure we could comfortably afford the repayments. Taking on a mortgage was a big decision, and we would love to be debt-free, but we don’t feel like our mortgage is stopping us doing the things we want to do – and for us, that is important. Previously we rented, and we loved the freedom that gave us. We don’t really see one as being better than the other: both offer different freedoms to us.
I wanted more connections and experiences.
I want to spend time with friends and family, I want to learn and to travel and to experience new things, and I want to have time to get involved in and contribute to my local community. I used to feel embarrassed about inviting friends over because I always felt that my home was a mess. As I began decluttering, a lot of the mess seemed to go away – and what was left was easier to deal with. I can’t believe I let my stuff get in the way of those relationships!
I also found that by breaking the cycle of working and shopping, I could use the money saved to go out for dinner with family, or take a short break down south to get amongst the trees and reconnect with nature. I created space in my evenings and weekends to take part in community events and contribute in a way that added value to my life and allows me to give something back to my local community.
I wanted less guilt, and less waste.
Every time I was faced with something in my home that I didn’t need, didn’t use or didn’t like, I would feel a wave of guilt. I’d feel guilty that I’d bought something that I hadn’t used, feel guilty that I’d got sucked in by some clever marketing campaign, maybe feel guilty that I wasn’t quite how I wanted to be. (If you have anything hanging in your wardrobe that doesn’t fit, you will know this feeling!) I don’t enjoy feeling guilty, so why didn’t I do something about it?
Somehow I’d justify keeping all these things because I hated the waste. Except, I’d failed to see that by keeping things that I didn’t want, didn’t use and didn’t like, I was creating waste. I was wasting good resources by not using them. If I wasn’t going to use them (and I mean by this, if I wasn’t going to use them properly, or regularly – if I wasn’t going to love them and get the best use out of them) then they were already being wasted.
Rather than feeling guilty about getting rid of perfectly good stuff, I began to realise that it was far worse and less ethical to keep perfectly good things for myself when I knew deep down that I wasn’t going to use them. It would be far better to pass them on for someone else to love them and get maximum use from them. Not only that, but all this worrying and contemplating was wasting my time…time I could spend doing other, better things.
There’s nothing wrong with taking time to declutter and make space in our lives. These things do take time. Decluttering is not something that is finished in a single weekend. But time is valuable, and the longer we take, the more we miss out on doing the important things.
I have no doubt that in the three years that it took me to get to this point, I missed out on great opportunities and experiences. After the concert, I was determined not to allow another three years to slip by. I wasn’t putting my dreams on hold for three more years. I didn’t want to ever be at another concert worrying about how many things were in my wardrobe.
More time and more freedom – we all want that. (“I really wish there were less hours in the day”, said no-one, ever.) What was a game-changer for me, what really made me see results, was actually drilling down into the specifics of what more time and more freedom actually looked like in my life, and what benefits they would bring to me, personally. What was it that I really wanted? How would I use this extra time? What did “freedom” actually mean to me? Then the biggest question – how was the stuff I owned preventing me from achieving this? How could decluttering, and letting stuff go, help me get closer to these goals?
Once I was really, truly clear on my goals, everything began to change. Joining the dots shifted my perspective: I was no longer somebody who simply liked the idea of a life with less stuff, and who slowly chipped away at decluttering the excess. The task at hand now had meaning and purpose, and a sense of urgency that hadn’t existed before. Even my decluttering nemesis, the wardrobe, finally came within my grasp. (In next week’s blog I’m going to share some “before” and “after” pictures so stay tuned.)
It’s not enough to simply want to make changes in our lives. We have to know why. We have to be clear on the benefits, and what they mean to us. Change can be hard, and there will be setbacks and wrong turns along the way. Being really clear as to why we’re doing it, and what we truly want, is what enables us to get up after these missteps, dust ourselves off, and try again.
Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you tried to make changes in your life? Have you considered your “why”? Have you thought about what success will look like, and feel like, for you? What are your main reasons for wanting to change? Have you struggled with change in the past, and did you manage to overcome those struggles? o you have any insights or tips to share? Have you embraced the idea of decluttering – and has that embrace transformed into action? Are you stuck at the planning stage? Have you had success – and what were your secrets? Do you have anything else you’d like to share! I can’t wait to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment below!