The idea of decluttering as “taking things out” holds some level of truth, indeed. But it’s really the tail end of the story: in order to have stuff to remove, you have to accumulate it in the first place, and that is where decluttering really starts. It’s when your mind tells you “I need to have this” that your alarm bells should really go off and get you to consider the all-important question: “Is this true?”
Keeping yourself from adding things to whatever you already own is – to me – one of the main culprits why clutter accumulates in the first place, and often a small amount of thought will lead to the consideration that you don’t really need this thing after all. And by realising this you’ll be keeping one more thing from joining the cohorts of stuff you already own.
"When in doubt, keep it out!"
Now let’s consider the second statement: decluttering other people’s space. If we look at this from a purely “taking it out” point of view, this feels like a very odd thought, indeed. Why would you declutter someone else’s home or office or work space? (Let’s leave significant others and/or bosses out of the picture for now, in which case it could be part of your routine or simply your job!). Of course this sounds ridiculous and it is rarely what we would actually do.
However, the intake side of clutter is very much our domain, for sure. Just think about all the times that you have been invited somewhere and found yourself in a situation where you feel that a small token of your appreciation would be a good thing to take along. Traditionally, that would have been flowers or sweets for the lady of the manor, these days it often is a bottle of wine or a dessert or something related to the event. While that is fine, have you ever considered that some people might not be happy about any of those? I for one don’t normally drink and bottles of wine tend to turn very dusty over the years…
Those being rather normal events, we pretty much know what is expected of us, but what about birthdays, anniversaries, weddings or – help us all – Christmas? Of course you’ll have to bring a gift! And we all know how hard it is to find a gift that not only reflects the occasion, but is also priced just right and might just appeal to the person we give it to. Can you see the flaws here? The biggest one being the last one: “appeal to the person we give it to”!
More often than not, we have no clue what that person actually would like to get and so we often (if not most of the time) end up roaming the shopping centres for something we can’t quite name and often end up buying something that vaguely seems useful or interesting or fun. And most of the time the choice is based on our own predilections rather than the receiver’s since we don’t quite know them well enough and we are fast approaching desperation point.
This – in turn – leads to gifts that are nothing more than that: tokens of our appreciation of that person. While that is nice enough, what do you realistically expect to happen to a gift that – at best – is a good guess at what they might enjoy, and – worst case – they really, really hate?
Let’s start from the worst case scenario: they really, really hate it. If they are good hosts, they’ll fake joy (while cringing internally) and then discretely dispose of the gift. If the gift is a novelty item, they might even bring it out during the event and secretly hope it’ll break or lose battery power soon, so they can then discretely dispose of it. The trickiest gifts are probably the ones with intrinsic practical use, but that are simple not necessary or the recipient owns already. How can they tell you about that politely? They might just fake it and then discretely… (see above).
Can you discern a pattern here? A lot of gifts are nothing but that: tokens of appreciation that serve their purpose there and then, but are not necessarily tokens you want to keep for ever. Their purpose is to be given and received graciously, and then best forgotten about. If only it were that simple!
With a gift often comes the (perceived or real) obligation to keep those things for an extended period of time. Who hasn’t received something that had emotional value to the giver, with the understanding that they charge you with keeping this thing safe? Even though the original emotional value is limited to the giver and YOU only associate the gift emotionally with the giver, but not their original attachment to the object. Basically, they make you the “keeper of the sacred chalice”, right? And you’ll be stuck with it forever. If that is not clutter, what is?
To finish this off, let’s focus on a message to the giver (I’ve written a blog earlier that deals with the emotional fallout for the receiver, see here): maybe we should all be more considerate of the obligations and physical ballast we impose on others for the sake of social convention? Why not consider the receiver more and make sure we don’t burden them with useless or unwanted stuff? Why not ask them what they would like and take it from there? Personally, I’m hard put to even come up with anything if people ask me outright, and I have been telling people NOT to bring anything for a long time now without any negative responses. Why not stick to things that are temporary in nature like flowers, or a serenade, or any other kind of intangible experience that they can keep in their mind rather than on dusty shelves? Sharing such things will be much more of an emotional experience for both of you, and will limit the negative effects of gifts on the receiver.
Just think: wouldn’t it be wonderful to attend a party, give something meaningful to both the giver and the receiver, and share the memory without any remorse?
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.