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3 (More) Assumptions You’re Making About Decluttering…And Why You’re Right

After writing last week’s post all about assumptions that we make about decluttering that are actually wrong (no, decluttering something that you never use, don’t need and don’t like is not a waste – you can read all about these assumptions here), I wanted to continue with this theme – but talk about some other assumptions we make that are actually right.

Yes, some of those assumptions we make about decluttering are most definitely right.

I want to talk you through three of the assumptions I made before I started my decluttering journey and that – now I’m out the other side – still hold true.

I also want to talk you through why they aren’t necessarily bad things, and give you some tips for staying on track.

4. Decluttering is hard.

I’m not going to lie or try to pretend otherwise: decluttering is hard. Yes there are people who find it easy to let go of things. (I’m not one of them.) The thing about decluttering is that it is the removal of clutter – and people who are good at letting things go tend not to have clutter in the first place.

The definition of clutter is “an untidy collection of things” and those people who find it easy to let things go do not amass collections of things.

The rest of us – well by the time we realise there are collections of things that bother us, those collections tend to be sizeable amounts. We need to declutter a lot, and it’s hard.

But hard is not impossible.

I think a lot of the “it’s so hard” feeling comes because by the time we notice that we have all this clutter and need to do something about it, it’s becoming a little overwhelming.

We realise it’s overwhelming and we want it gone – now!

But we forget that this stuff took us months and often years to accumulate, so wanting it gone in an afternoon is wishful thinking.

(Well, unless you order skip bin and toss the lot. I think, not only is that an incredible waste of useful stuff, but how can we possibly change our relationship with things if we don’t take the time to consider why we bought these things and why we’re letting go of them now? How will we ever learn the lessons that stop us just accumulating more stuff and having to repeat the whole process again?)

We think decluttering is hard when we think of it as a task, because we then become overwhelmed with the enormity of it. Really, we need to think of decluttering as a project.

We need to simplify into manageable steps.

Divide a Big Project into Manageable Tasks

Once we think of it as a project, we can start to split it down into manageable tasks.

First, we can prioritise our spaces and stuff according to what is difficult and what is easy, what will have a big impact and what will have less impact.

I talk about this in a lot more detail in my book ‘Less Stuff’, but the premise is this: start with the easy stuff that will make a big difference – either to the look or feel of a room, to the surface clutter, or simply for your sanity levels – and start there.

That way you’ll not find it too challenging and will see results quickly – and that keeps you motivated to do more!

The garage might be desperately in need of a clearout but if you know there are still boxes of stuff in there from when you last moved 20 years ago, it’s not going to be the best place to start.

Batch Your Tasks

Second, I’m a big fan of ‘batching’, which means do the same task a few times before moving on the the next thing.

For example, gather together items and sort them into how you’re going to deal with them, and once you’ve got a full box of things to sell or things to donate, move onto dealing with these.

Dealing with one item at a time is woefully inefficient. By the same token, waiting until you have 15 boxes of stuff you’d like to sell will become so overwhelming you won’t want to look at it.

Also, the longer we leave taking action, the more likely we are to convince ourselves that we did need things after all – and unpack those boxes.

So batch. Find a few things you no longer need, decide what to do with those items, deal with them, and then find the next few things.

Decluttering (the entire house) might seem hard, but listing a few books on the Buy Nothing group is easy. Donating some unwanted gift food items to the Food Bank is easy. Selling a couple of unworn dresses is easy.

Decluttering might seem hard, but it is also simple. Let things go, one at a time.

As a wise philosopher once said, a journey of 1000 miles starts with a single step.

5. Decluttering takes time.

Yes, decluttering takes time. Just as accumulating the clutter took time, letting it go takes time. I don’t believe anyone can (responsibly) declutter a whole house, or even a whole room, in a single afternoon.

I think it takes weeks, sometimes months, and maybe even years (depending on how much stuff we have when we start, and how much time we can dedicate to letting it go).

But taking time does not mean taking forever. There is an end. And you will get there.

The journey is just as important as the destination.

When we declutter, we aren’t just physically letting go of stuff, we’re de-owning it. To do that sometimes means letting go of the ideas we attach to the item. Whether that’s guilt or regret or fear, we attach a lot of emotions to our stuff. We have to let go of these as well as the actual object.

It’s about finding acceptance with who we are now (no, hot pink really doesn’t suit me; no, as much as I love the idea of playing the guitar I know I’ll never be disciplined enough to practice; no, I’ll never fit back into that dress I wore at that party in 1977).

We need the time to learn the lessons. We need the time to test our fears (because sometimes we really aren’t sure, and no-one wants to buy stuff they decluttered back again). We need to develop a new, better relationship with our stuff.

All that time we’re in the process of decluttering stuff but not yet finished, we’re learning.

So yes, decluttering takes time, but that is a good thing. All things that are truly rewarding and worthwhile take time.

6. Decluttering is oh-so worth it.

We know that those piles of things are driving us crazy. We know that “reorganising the linen cupboard – again” is not the best use of a long weekend or day off work. We know that madly panicking just before leaving the house because we’ve no idea where our stuff is, except that it is in one of the piles, isn’t helping our blood pressure levels.

We know that less stuff makes us less stressed. We know it gives us more time. We know it gives us more freedom. Research tells us that, and so do those people who’ve successfully decluttered. I’ve never ever come across an article or a person that said “I got read of all that stuff I didn’t need and was so overwhelmed by the calm and the clear space that I had to go and buy a bunch of pointless junk to fill it again”.

So yes, decluttering is immensely worthwhile. It can be hard, and it can take time, which is why it is so easy to talk ourselves out of it, or maybe justify not doing it at all.

Because ultimately, less clutter, less mess and less stress is worth it. More time, more freedom and more calm is worth it. The work might not be easy, but the results speak for themselves.

‘Less Stuff: Simple Zero-Waste Steps to a Joyful and Clutter-Free Life’ by Lindsay Miles is available to order now from all good bookstores and online.


Wardrobe Minimalism: Progress in Pictures

It’s no secret: I struggle with wardrobe decluttering. In my minimalism journey, this has been the hardest area for me to let go. I keep at it, because I know that practise makes perfect, and that decluttering gets easier with time (flexing those decluttering muscles is the only way to make them stronger). When I’m finally finished, the taste of success will be oh so sweet!

About this time last year I undertook a mammoth wardrobe decluttering session, and I photographed everything in my wardrobe. I say mammoth not because of the amount of items I discarded, but because owning so many things made it a big job! I removed every single item of clothing I owned from my wardrobe, shelves, those items hanging behind the door, languishing in the laundry basket and generally distributed about the flat, and made a big pile in the living room. Techinally, several piles.

I lay a sheet out on the floor and category by category, grouped together everything I owned, took a photograph and then considered what I could do without. Once those items were decluttered, I took another photo for prosperity.

I really recommend this process if you want to reduce your wardrobe. Of course, you’d think it would be easier to just look at everything hanging on a rail and make choices from there, but physically moving your things is so much better for a number of reasons:

  • You can be really clear about exactly what you own.
  • You can group things together so you can see exactly how many of every different type of item you own.
  • Physically moving everything makes you realise exactly how much you have. Clothing is surprisingly heavy, and actually lifting and feeling this is much more powerful than glancing at a rail of hanging items.
  • It’s harder to ignore something when it’s in your hands. You can’t miss it, or skim over it, so you consider every single item independently.

Originally, I took photos to write a blog post, but I found it very useful as a tool for helping me see what I owned. I think being able to visually see everything is actually far more helpful than a list. 10 skirts sounds like nothing, but when I see 10 skirts in an image, I see that is far too many! It’s also helpful in working out what goes with what, far more than a list will.

One year later I’ve repeated the process. These pictures show the journey from August 2014 (pre- and post-decluttering), and my progress in October 2015. Remember that my wardrobe decluttering journey actually began 2 years prior to the first pictures in 2014, and clearly I still have quite a way to go!

Smalls decluttering

Smalls Pre-Decluttering August 2014

Smalls decluttered

Smalls post-decluttering August 2014

Underwear Cull Wardrobe Minimalism October 2015

Smalls pre-decluttering in October 2015

Underwear Cull Take Two Wardrobe Minimalism October 2015

Smalls post-decluttering October 2015

Wardrobe Minimalism Marie Kondo Folding October 2015

And this… folded smalls Marie Kondo style! These boxes sit in the shelf in my wardrobe where the heaped pile of mess used to be, and in 2 months it has not got remotely untidy. Folding works!

More Tops Decluttering

Tops and shorts pre-declutting August 2015. I can’t believe looking at this that I used to own so many tops!

Tops decluttered

Tops and shorts post-decluttering August 2014.

Wardrobe Minimalism Tops and Shorts Casual October 2015

Tops and shorts pre-decluttering October 2015 – a new (second-hand) one has even snuck in! This was a concious purchase – I needed a green top to go with a skirt I own. I have worn it plenty of times. Unlike some of the other tops in this picture…

Wardrobe Minimalism Tops and Shorts Final Cull Casual October 2015

Tops and shorts after decluttering October 2015

Tops decluttering

Shirts, blouses and other tops pre-decluttering August 2014

More Tops Decluttered

Shirts, blouses and other tops post-decluttering August 2014

Other Tops Wardrobe Minimalism Pre Cull October 2015

Shirts, blouses and other tops pre-decluttering October 2015. The thick British shorts are gone, and the green top is a cycle top which helps avoid sunburn when out on my bike.

Other Tops Wardrobe Minimalism October 2015

Shirts, blouses and other tops after decluttering October 2015.

Skirts decluttering

Skirts August 2014. The pre- and post- images are exactly the same as I only got rid of one (the denim one at the front). How many did I wear between then and now? Honestly? Less than half.

Wardrobe Decluttering Minimalism Skirts October 2015

Skirts decluttering October 2015. One of the yellow skirts wore out, I donated the other denim skirt when I went back to the UK, and the coral skirt ended up in the charity shop pile before I took this picture.

Jumpers cardigans decluttering

Jumpers pre-decluttering August 2014. Woah, that is a lot of jumpers for someone who lives in a city which has 40 degree summers!

Jumpers decluttered

Post-decluttering August 2014. Well, I say post-decluttering, but there’s not much difference!

Jumpers Decluttering Wardrobe Minimalism October 2015

Jumpers Decluttered October 2015. The cream cardigan on the right is old and somehow escaped the August photos – it must have been in the laundry. I decided to donate the black cardigan right after taking this picture.

Dresses decluttering

Dresses pre-decluttering August 2014. Looking at this image now shocks me – how can I have owned so many dresses that I wore so little?!

Dresses decluttered

Dresses post-decluttering August 2014. Good effort, but a long way to go! Two of those dresses weren’t worn the entire summer in between 2014 and 2015.

Decluttering Wardrobe Minimalism Dresses October 2015

Dresses post-decluttering October 2015. Two gone, but two new ones have taken their place. Hopefully these will get the wear they deserve!

Trousers decluttering

Trousers August 2014

Wardrobe Decluttering Minimalism Trousers October 2015

Trousers October 2015

Final Bits and Pieces Wardrobe Decluttering Minimalism October 2015

Other bits and bobs October 2015…nothing new since 2014 though : )

Tops and Jumpers Underwear Tidying Marie Kondo KonMari Minimalism

I’ve taken Marie Kondo’s advice to fold jumpers and t-shirts. They are easier to find, don’t take up as much space and folding means I’m more aware of their condition (spills, rips etc). Love this approach!

Decluttered Wardrobe October 2015

My newly decluttered and Marie Kondo-ed (meaning folded neatly) wardrobe October 2015. I’ve also switched sides: I realized it made more sense to adopt the bigger half as I have the most stuff. For now! But the decluttering will continue…

Since taking these photos, and writing about my minimalist wardrobe struggle back in October, I’ve had a bit of a wardrobe minimalism breakthrough. Yes I have! A large part of it has to do with all the helpful comments that you left with advice and tips. They didn’t fall on deaf ears, quite the opposite, and I want to thank you all for providing well needed advice. Stay tuned, because I’m looking forward to sharing the next chapter with you shortly!

Now it’s your turn, and I want to hear from you! Now you’ve seen my wardrobe in all its, er, glory…I’d love to hear what you think! Any areas for improvement? Any glaringly obvious mistakes or inappropriate (mis-matching, for example) items? Anything I could add to make what I have much more usable? Any colours missing or over-represented? Any parallels with your own wardrobe minimalism struggle? Anything else you’d like to add?! Please keep the advice coming in the comments below!