Clutter seems like such an insignificant part of life, doesn’t it? Does it really make a difference if there are clothes in your wardrobe that you just don’t wear? So what if there is a pile of travel magazines on the coffee table that you haven’t read for years?
It might surprise you to learn that, in fact, yes, clutter is kind of an issue! Not just because it’s unsightly, or because those magazines are gathering dust, though these are also not ideal.
Clutter, if you look into it a little deeper, tends to be symbolic of a cluttered mind. In the same way as your home or desk can become clogged up with piles of junk, so too can your mind, and eventually, the two mirror each other.
Living amongst clutter can sap your enthusiasm for doing anything and you waste so much time when just moving things around without actually tidying up.
The Buddhists have the ‘tidy house, tidy mind’ philosophy guiding their lives. Here in the ‘West’, we tend to be so acquisitional that excess stuff has just become a regular part of our day-to-day lives. Tidying it. Cleaning it. Paying for it. It’s all just part of the norm for a lot of us.
I have plenty of girlfriends who shop as their major pastime and fill their homes with stuff.
Stuff tends to become overbearing, the more you have of it, and increasingly irritating too. It’s an extra ‘thing’ to service in your day. If I’m honest, I’m not totally comfortable in my friends’ houses because there is just so much stuff everywhere, I almost can’t think straight. It distracts the eye. It becomes a never-ending source of busy work and tidying up. It also becomes the source of another type of shopping – for storage, in order to pack away all the stuff.
Some people even accumulate so much stuff that they have to pay for storage outside their home to keep these items once their own home gets too full.
Now don’t get me wrong, the maximalist movement is strong, and if that is truly your thing, no judgement. But there is quite a difference between being intentionally maximalist in your home decor, and just mindlessly adding to a collection of random items that contribute to stress.
Clutter can also be a real sinkhole for your finances. I think most of us have bought things on a whim, then months or years later, looked at it and thought: ‘what a waste of money’. If you have a lot of clutter, this could add up to a whole load of cash, just scattered around your place like fairy dust.
So what is clutter?
Clutter is defined as stuff you don’t really want, use, or need. If you have read that travel magazine, are you likely to read it again? Are you keeping it for one particular article? If you don’t really want, use or need it, it’s clogging up your home and your mind. Tear out that article and put it in a file, and throw away the rest.
What all this stuff you don’t need, use or want is doing, is signifying the need for a mental and physical tidy-up! And that is always a great opportunity, to be grabbed with both hands.
Usually, hanging onto stuff you aren’t using, needing or wanting is a sign of scarcity thinking. And trust me, I get it. You spent the money, you want the value. You might need it again in the future. What if it comes in useful one day?
If you have barns and outbuildings and lofts galore, and you have beautiful, good quality items, then I suggest storing them neatly and keeping a running list of all the stuff you have so you don’t replace it.
Most of us, though, live in normal houses or apartments with minimal storage. Hanging onto stuff we don’t need or use is not serving us at all. It is signalling to our brains that we need to decide on what to do with it. It is a constant reminder of the past, and not usually a good one.
So what can we do about it?
The usual advice is to do a massive declutter all in one weekend. The Marie Kondo method is pretty full on and for me, it doesn’t work. I attack all my belongings with such zeal that I end up with barely anything left to wear or read or do in my spare time! And guess what? I revert to filling my house with clutter soon enough because I haven’t taken the time to work on my cluttered mind.
My favoured approach is simple. Pick one tiny area per week to declutter, and allocate a particular time slot. If you allocate three hours, it will take that time, so be mindful of your planning. Prior to decluttering day and while you are away from the chosen area, decide on your parameters. Will you sell, donate, keep or throw away the decluttered items? Make sure you have bags or boxes ready for each of these eventualities. Label them accordingly.
Create a clear idea of what you want the area to look and feel like once you have finished. Will your decluttered underwear drawer only contain a scented drawer liner, 6 bras and 10 pairs of the best knickers you have? You decide what you want it to be, but make sure you write it down.
Once you have followed these steps, you have a rock-solid plan to follow. When the time comes to declutter your one area, you have a plan; you have a set time, and you are well prepared.
This should cut out all the dithering and the ‘what if I need this?’ scarcity thinking that has created the clutter in the first place.
It will still probably be hard to let go of items that cost a lot of money or have sentimental meaning. It’s perfectly ok to feel sad about getting rid of something that once meant a lot to you.
Try asking yourself if that item represents the you of today, tomorrow or yesterday. Ideally, only keep the items you can see fitting into the next steps in your ideal future.
Once you have decluttered your first tiny area, all you need to do is approach an area every week the same way, with any tweaks you prefer. Your mind will soon get into the rhythm of deciding what to keep and what to remove, based on the parameters you have set it. It might even become something you do more than once a week.
It’s important to remember that this is a process of training your mind to think in a more purposeful way about the possessions you have in your environment. This will most likely not be a one-shot deal whereby suddenly you are a minimalist living in a white cube with one teacup and a single set of linen pyjamas. Probably, this will be a life-long process of refining future goals and thus the possessions you want to take with you into that future.
However, if you bring the same planning strategy into your shopping, then your decluttering sessions will grow less and less and morph into general maintenance. You will then have more quality time to do what you want. You might decide that every season you will weed out clothes that are no longer right for you, or it might be every week you choose one item to add to your donate bag. Whatever works for you. But it will be continual, so try to grow to love the process.
Throughout it, all, remember that clutter serves no one. If you love something, need and use it, then keep it. But if you find yourself repacking the same unworn summer clothes away in autumn year after year, ask yourself if you couldn’t release some of that mental and physical clutter and feel a little freer.
This post was kindly written by Alexandra from alexandratozercoaching.com