A couple of days ago I met with two lovely ladies who had attended one of my talks and were interested in learning more. They were on a mission to pick my brain about something that troubled them in their quest to start out decluttering their home. And they did have a whopper of a clutter issue, indeed.
They started out explaining that their attic was full of things relating to the subject of ‘railways’, including pictures from the early days of the last century, train models, tracks, books, complete collections of specialised magazines, posters, etc. My mind went into ‘collection’ mode right away and imagined an avid model railway person – most likely a father or husband – and I was partly right.
Last Saturday I had the opportunity to deliver a 15 minute talk on the subject of ‘decluttering your life’. To get things started I asked a simple question: “What do you think clutter actually is?” The replies were quite astute: ‘things that are in the way’, ‘broken stuff’, ‘too many books’ were amongst the options.
In order to help clear up some of the misconceptions, I had looked up “clutter” in couple of dictionaries:
We’ve all been there: that wardrobe is full to the brim and we try to decide what to let go. After hours of shifting clothing we end up with pretty much everything back in place, and a very small number of items ready to throw out. It always comes as a surprise just how many items we keep.
I guess one of the reasons is that we often base the decision on a faulty feeling of time: “when am I likely to use this again?” or “how long has it been since I last used this?
If you have been diligent in keeping only things that bring about a positive emotional response, be it a memory, a good feeling, comfort, etc, your home should be free of clutter. How is it that it still feels full, sometimes too full of things?
Objects that hold an emotional value of sorts come in different types: they might have been passed down from our parents, or we associate them with certain events in our lives, or we might have valued them in the past and now only hang on to them out of habit or a vague feeling of obligation. Or else there could be any other kind of emotion attached to something. Those feelings of obligation can be difficult to deal with.
We all lose a lot of time looking for things, but that might be a different set of things for every single one of you. So much is obvious, because we are different people and we all lead different lives with different challenges.
I’d invite you to identify the top three things you end up searching regularly. That might be the car keys, your phone, an agenda, that favourite knife in your kitchen, your business card holder, your kid’s favourite toy, … anything really. Once you have identified those three items, find a ‘home’ for them.
Do you have a room in your home with an area that is totally dedicated to a collection of [fill in blank]? You rarely look at your collection these days, and while each item might hold a certain interest to you, as a whole the collection is really just ‘there’, but does not really bring you a lot of excitement.
Let’s be clear about this: even if you might not think of yourself as a collector, I think you’ll find that you are. And if you look closely at your belongings, you might even discover more collections that you would have thought possible!
I often wonder why we think of clutter in terms of a storage space issue rather than getting the idea that there might just be too much of it. I have to admit that I sometimes have thought along the same lines. When exactly that stance has changed I cannot tell, but I am guessing that moving house three times in five years had something to do with it. Again and again I found that there were things I had completely forgotten about. In one memorable occasion I threw out a box of stuff that I had moved two times and never actually unpacked, I simply put the box away for later investigation and never got that far.
Some of the things in our homes are worth very little, yet some may be worth a lot of money. While this has no effect on the emotional value of your possessions, having paid money to acquire something may just be the reason why it’s so difficult to get rid of it once and for all. We simply hang on to it because we believe it’s worth its weight in gold.
Most people view decluttering merely as the physical action of getting things out of the way. And while there is truth in that notion, the cornerstone of decluttering is more likely to be the mind than it is the brawn. Let me explain:
There are a lot of reasons why things accumulate in our homes and work spaces. All of them seem like good reasons and make perfect sense … until we start cluttering up the space. And believe you me, this will happen without fail in a very sneaky way: out of sight!
One of the main reasons someone would consider decluttering is simply because they are running out of space. There is something to be said for reorganising objects and improving storage options, maybe adding some storage space in previously unused areas, of course. But there is a difference between simple “reshuffling” and actually “decluttering”.
Ask the ClutterMeister
Ideas to help clear away the mess in our homes and in our minds.
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Hi, my name is Tilo Flache. My current mission: help my clients declutter mind and space.
This blog contains pointers for your journey towards a happier living experience.