I spent an entire year decluttering our home – what did I learn? The decluttering process showed me three things that have stuck with me and helped me prevent an overwhelming amount of clutter to accumulate again.
Back in 2016 I realized we had a huge issue in our home. The problem wasn’t trying to make seven people fit in an 1800 square foot home. It was trying to fit seven people and way too much stuff in an 1800 square foot home. Our house could work, but only with significantly less stuff or less people. Getting rid of people clearly wasn’t an option, so the stuff had to go.
I created a challenge for myself (and the few readers I had at the time) to go through our homes at a pace that wasn’t overwhelming but would still show noticeable results. Over the 52 week challenge I learned quite a bit about the role clutter plays in our home and what can cause us to keep clutter around. Hopefully by sharing these with you I can inspire you to tackle the clutter in your own home and avoid issues that we have faced.
What is clutter?
Clutter appears in two forms: excessive items and undealt with items. It often presents as disorganized but even an organized home can still contain clutter – it only appears to have a way to contain it.
Why does clutter happen?
- Excessive clutter is plain and simple – too much stuff. Even an extremely organized person can have clutter of the excessive form. Yes, your pens are all neatly stored in that container, but is it necessary to have 52 pens for a four person home? And how about towels? Even our family of seven does not need twenty towels. We have this thing called a washing machine that allows us to keep our towels clean in a timely manner. This was our biggest issue a few years ago. WAY too much stuff.
- Undealt with items is the procrastinators style of clutter. While we definitely had excessive clutter (and still do in some areas, although less than before my Clutter Buster Challenge) undealt with items continues to be the thorn in our side. A kid brings us a paper or a broken toy and we can’t deal with it at that exact moment so we set it aside to take care of later. Later turns into days which turns into weeks and more papers or toys or whatever get added and suddenly we have a pile of undealt with items that we’ve been cleaning around because we just can’t deal at that moment.
3 Things I learned after decluttering our whole home
Clutter can happen to anyone. Even the most organized people have to deal with the reality of clutter, they simply have learned what works best for them so it doesn’t become an overwhelming problem. Others have different skills and personalities (hey, that’s me!) where clutter can creep in take over if we aren’t careful.
These lessons face me every day and while some days are better than others, our lives as a whole have become significantly better since learning them. We are finding freedom in letting go and only keeping what helps us have the life we want.
Lesson 1: There will always be items that could become clutter
- Because clutter is the accumulation of what hasn’t been dealt with or excessive items, clutter can always happen.
- Those who don’t accumulate clutter have learned to deal with potential clutter items before they become an issue.
- Putting things back immediately where they belong rather than setting them aside to deal with later will help eliminate clutter piling up. *cough, listen to yourself, Katie, cough, cough*
- Buying or keeping only what is needed can help keep excessive clutter at bay. Use up what you have before buying more or use the 1-in-1-out rule where you get rid of an item anytime you purchase a new item in the same category.
Lesson 2: There are different reasons we hold on to items
- You see it every time you walk in the room and every time you feel bad that so-and-so gifted you the item but you don’t enjoy it. They thought of you, and it isn’t a bad item, it just isn’t something you need or doesn’t work in your life. But you hang on to it because you feel a sense of obligation. You are keeping it to ease your guilt.
- Those shoes you fell in love with at the store and you were certain you’d wear over and over again are now sitting at the bottom of your closet. They aren’t as comfortable as you thought when you first tried them on or you find yourself going for other shoes instead. You keep them because you feel guilty for spending the money.
Do those sound familiar? I’ve definitely done both and still have times when I realize I’m hanging on to something due to the money we spent or because it was a gift. But letting those feelings cause chaos in my home isn’t going to help anything. The guilt that leads to clutter will then lead to a home that causes extra stress for all of us. Not a feeling we need!
- You haven’t used an item in a significant period of time and you can’t see yourself using it again any time soon, but you continue to hold on to it “just in case” because that time may come and you want to be prepared.
- You stockpile items in the off chance you won’t find them again or because you think you might need them some day in the future.
I have kept so many things due to scarcity over the years. I know that I probably won’t ever use my college notebooks again (especially because I haven’t used them in the last fifteen) but there could be that really rare time when I want to look at notes I took during my psychology class, right? WRONG. In the recycling bin they went.
Most of the time the things we hang on to “just in case” are easily replaceable should we discover, at some point down the road, we did actually need the item. Letting go of my blender and roaster during the challenge were definitely scarcity purges. I rarely used them. Maybe once per year, at most. Since donating them I’ve never missed them.
- Emotional Attachments
- You have boxes of pictures from high school, a tub of baby clothes (even though your youngest is in elementary school and you know you’re done), and several items from your own childhood that you aren’t sure what to do with, but you keep because of memories.
- The cards from every wedding shower, baby shower, and birthday you’ve ever had are all kept in a box because you plan on making a scrapbook with them, even though you’ve never done it in 15+ years.
- The shirt you wore on your first date and the mix cd you made after are still in your closet even though you can’t wear the shirt anymore and don’t own a cd player – but they stay because you feel warm fuzzies when you stumble across them once every few years.
Memories that we attach to items makes decluttering incredibly difficult. Yes, they may be from very special times in our lives but does holding on to the items help us and will they be useful? I ditched my entire cd collection that I built during high school and college because I never listened to them anymore. There were still some I enjoyed but if I wanted to hear them, I use Spotify, never a cd. It felt like I was letting go of friends but guess how many times I’ve wanted one since donating them? ZERO.
Lesson 3: The thought of starting is always worse than actually doing the job
- Each time we take on a decluttering job my mind wants to build it up into some difficult and major time consuming task. In reality, once we actually dig in and get to work, it gets done in a significantly shorter period of time than I anticipated.
- Take my ledge for instance. This is our worst clutter spot because it’s an easy place to set things when we want them out of the way but still accessible.
- I set my blogging notebooks down after spending time brain dumping.
- We set aside broken toys until we are ready to try and fix them.
- We stash library books and movies on it so they don’t get mixed in with our own items.
But there is hope!
Whether you have excessive clutter or procrastination clutter I want you to remember two things: You are not alone and it’s never too late to start. You can reclaim your space and find freedom from the weight of clutter in your home. You don’t need to keep avoiding that closet, those drawers, or that entire room due to the clutter you have let accumulate.
Start with an obvious place and work through the items, one by one, and step back to notice your progress. Little by little you will begin to see the difference.
Listen to me share my decluttering journey on the Sustainable Minimalist Podcast. I had so much fun chatting with Stephanie and sharing my best decluttering tips!