I’m sure you’ve read about the benefits of decluttering before. The topic seems to be a popular one around the place with people writing about health benefits of both tangible and intangible decluttering regularly.
From a spiritual point of view, getting rid of the old allows you to also let go of the energy associated with it, giving you the opportunity to heal any trauma associated with the *things* you were holding on to. And, if you’re holding onto something you don’t love, there probably is a hurt associated with it. This allows new energy a way in, which is why you so often hear about new loves, new careers or new passions coming in to a person’s life after they declutter.
Following a method like KonMari, which says you should only keep the things that bring you joy, also automatically leads to better energy in your home, since everything left will be something that makes you happy when you look at it.
However, that’s not why I decluttered. I decluttered because I want to travel the world and needed to prepare my house to sell and didn’t want to store a heap of stuff when I left on my adventures.
This wasn’t so much ‘decluttering’ as ‘culling 90% of my possessions’.
It is still a work-in-progress, as some boxes are being stored at my parents house for me to go through over the next few months, but that’s mostly deciding how to get rid of the stuff, not whether to keep it or not. So I can safely say that I’m now 90% lighter, possessions-wise, and here’s what I learnt.
1) The right motivation makes things easier
I’d tried to declutter before. I cleared out my spare bedroom three times over the course of living in my apartment. Despite that, it was still impossible to walk in there because as soon as I cleared it, new junk took it’s place. And it was junk, because everything in there sat behind a closed door and was never looked at, so it couldn’t have been things I loved.
But then I ordered a dumpster and I had to fill it quickly, and suddenly getting rid of everything seemed easy. Over a week I went through everything in that spare bedroom and close to 95% of it went in piles ready for the dumpster. And then I moved on to the living room.
Two things allowed me to go through those rooms so quickly: 1) knowing the dumpster was on its way, and 2) knowing that this was one more step towards my goal to go travelling. It’s all about the right motivation.
2) You will be forced to confront things
You will be absolutely amazed at what you find lying around your space. I thought I’d gotten rid of all reminders of my ex-husband, but there were a pile of photographs, my old wedding dress and some letters, along with keepsakes from everyone I’d dated, no matter how briefly, since I was sixteen. In fact, the only man I didn’t have a memento of was the man where the relationship ended amicably and I had no hurt clinging to me over it.
As I went through every photograph I had, I thought about good memories I had of these people, as well as the bad. I questioned why I still had these things, and it was mostly because I didn’t feel like I should get rid of the memories, especially things like letters that people had written. Then, I threw the photos in the dumpster. I gave the clothes I’d been holding on to for twenty years to a charity shop. And I put the letters aside to be burnt at the next bonfire because it was time to let go.
3) Once you’ve started, momentum will carry you forward
I started with the hardest room – my spare bedroom – because I knew most of the things I had stored in there could be thrown out. I thought it would be exhausting, and it absolutely was, but I didn’t realise it would be like a shot of decluttering-specific adrenalin. From the spare bedroom I went pretty rapidly through the living room, even though that had way more stuff than I expected, then onto the clothes in my bedroom, which is where I think most people start. Gretchen Rubin talked a lot about decluttering in her book The Happiness Project and said that once she started she wanted to keep going, to the point of offering to help declutter her friends’ homes. And it is like that – there’s a pleasure in defying expectations and throwing out things in this culture where we’re taught to accumulate them. And once one room is done you’ll be itching to get to the next.
4) Memories live in your heart, not in things
I think one of the hardest things about de-cluttering is letting go of the things you want to remember. If something is unique, or truly sentimental to you, then by all means hang on to it, but what about the cheap magnet you bought in NYC that says I <3 NY? It’s cheap tourist fodder and there must be about a billion around the world, but remembering New York is something I want to do. The same goes for presents that were never something I’d use, but were from a friend so I’ve held onto them for years. The thing to remember is that a magnet isn’t my memory of New York, and a present isn’t my memory of my friend. Those memories live in me and the important parts of the trip, and the friendship, will stay in my heart and my mind as long as I need them.
5) You will feel lighter
It’s like you’re wearing one of those weight vests that really fit people wear while they jog, and you’ve been wearing it for years, maybe decades, and then you shrug it off. You’re so light it feels like you could fly.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with owning things – I myself still have about ten decks of oracle cards and am wondering how much space they’ll all take up in my suitcase – but if you’re holding on to something just to have something to hold on to, that’s going to hold you down. If you’re owning just to own, and not to serve a purpose or bring you joy, then that’s a weight on your spirit.
And if you’re keeping something because it’s a reminder of something you should be letting go, then I recommend you get rid of it – sell it on eBay, give it to charity, throw it in a bin. If you really want to be symbolic – and whatever it is isn’t made of something that will damage the environment or cause harm to local fauna – throw it in the sea or a river to get carried away. After you get rid of all your stuff, you’ll be amazed at the energy you have to bring in the new.
6) You’ll notice other people’s clutter
Did you know my mother owns two whole sets of crockery? Eight dinner plates, eight bread plates and eight bowls in each set? *Each set!* There’s only her and dad living there and I’m their only kid. If they ever have enough people over to use both sets they do a barbecue and serve on plastic anyway for ease of clean-up. When they came over to help me throw out my clutter both of them grabbed things I’d been storing to take to their house – just in case. Because it might come in handy.
So this is my warning to you: you will notice other people’s clutter. It might bug you a bit. It might bug you a lot. People will get to it in their own time, and any aggravation is something else for you – and definitely me! – to let go.