Many people seem to have a problem with the idea of decluttering as it is often mixed up with the concept of ‘minimalism’. However, these are two completely different concepts.
Minimalism strikes fear into our collective hearts because it has become associated with the image of empty white living spaces that lack a certain, well…, comfy-factor; they feel like sterile showrooms and that puts most people off. Don’t get me wrong: this image is not what minimalism is all about at all, but it is the one that everybody seems to conjure up when minimalism is mentioned.
Minimalism has a huge impact on the way one lives, in terms of activities, living patterns, organisation and philosophy and it is, in fact, more about keeping life as “simple” as possible. Minimalism is not about having a huge empty space and scattering holy objects in strategic places, for sure, and it can be pretty hard to stay the course within the confines of what is possible with a minimal number of objects in your life. A minimalist will consider his possessions mainly from a practical point of view rather than an emotional one.
Decluttering, however, is an entirely different concept: rather than starting out from the idea “I want to live my life with a very small number of items”, it is about quality of life within the confines of what passes for “normal life” for the majority of people we encounter. Where minimalism is starting from zero and adds items that prove to be unmissable one at a time, decluttering starts out with a sometimes huge number of things and deals with ways of letting go of the ones that are no longer “necessary”. Thus, decluttering is about stemming the tide of accumulation over time and understanding why things accumulate in order to realise that they might not be “necessary” after all.
I have put quotation marks around the word “necessary” because this is exactly where the decluttering becomes very much about psychology: one person’s “superfluous” is another person’s “necessary”, my today’s “useless” might have been my last year’s “absolutely indispensable”. Things change, people change, perceptions change. Proper decluttering starts from the current perception and tries to untangle the “necessary” from the “habit”, the “obligation”, the “collection”, the “fear”, the “just-in-case”, and oh so many other reasons for keeping and accumulating things.
Decluttering done properly is not a one-off activity, but a process, because there is an emotional element to the stuff we own. Emptying a house from stuff that was in it when you bought it, or any other situation where the main idea is to get rid of things really is ‘removal’ rather than ‘decluttering’. There is no or very little emotional attachment present in these cases. Decluttering, on the other hand, has to be a process of elimination, a very careful (yet not slow!) approach of disentanglement from habits, obligations, and emotional attachments of all kinds. Decluttering involves a lot of mental and physical effort, and that explains why so many try to declutter and fail miserably without the benefit of an independent viewpoint.
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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.