Indeed, this is a common situation we will all face sooner or later, and getting to grips with this first encounter is very similar to how we generally treat all apparently insurmountable obstacles in our lives. Some of us will panic, some will get on with it no matter what, some will ask for help, some will make detailed plans and follow through,… but all of us will have to come to grips with the realisation that we have left things slide for too long! However, I believe there is reason for hope: with just a couple of small changes to your approach you can avoid having to do this gargantuan task over and over again. Here’s how: make decluttering a habit. Tada!
Sounds simple enough, but believe me it’s not easy to change habits. On the upside: once you have changed them and they are engrained into your being, they are as hard to break as the ones you are trying to getting rid of. I strongly believe that you can find a balance between letting things slide and being overly controlling of your environment. So, what are the main reasons for clutter to accumulate in the first place?
I’m not pointing fingers, just listing some typical reasons. Yours might be very different, but thinking about those is a good start to deal with your own demons.
Let’s take a closer look!
The practical reasons are usually based on an existing situation where clutter has started to take over the home. The only REAL solution in this instance is to do a proper decluttering session in order to get to a baseline and continue from something resembling a clean slate. The habits, however, are a different thing altogether: those are within your grasp, and while it may be difficult to change them, it is entirely possible that small changes will help you avoid a huge amount of grief by stopping the growth of clutter at the root.
This is where changing habits comes in: if you are used to dropping stuff in a place where it doesn’t belong, and then spending time sorting through it and taking it back to its original location, you are losing time and energy for something you can easily avoid by doing ‘the right thing’ in the first place: returning items to where they belong. Of course, there is an element of ‘lazy’ here, but that’s not all it is: in a household that has too many items it is sometimes hard to allocate spots for everything. As soon as you pile multiple items on top of each other, you create a small hot spot that might attract other things to be piled on top of the original pile, and so on. Can you guess where this leads?
Bringing too much stuff into the home touches on several key ideas: “shopaholic”, “hoarding”, “habitual stocking of items = buying just in case”, “not knowing what you own already because you cannot find it”… the list goes on. Think about it: having clutter makes it difficult to know what you own already, so the logical approach would be to get rid of the clutter, right? But then again, much depends on your routine behaviour and finding out why you buy more things. And without taking into account the obvious strain on your storage capabilities, it is expensive to buy things, especially if you don’t need or use them afterwards.
As mentioned above, having too much stuff will also create hot spots for more clutter. There is something to be said to keeping the amount of things you own to a minimum. Rest assured, I’m by no means advocating that you chuck everything out: a home should be comfortable, a haven from the world at large. However, you may wish to explore two basic questions: “how much do I need?” and “how much can my home afford to hold while still leaving space for me to live?”. That balance can be drastically different for each person who looks at a space, of course, but it helps to find out where your own balance should be.
Then there is the question of keeping items that do not serve you, that do not make you happy, that are not used, or that keep you from moving on. Those are often items kept out of a sense of obligation, maybe gifts from old friends, things you have inherited or that hold memories, etc. As hard as it is to acknowledge it: some of those things have to go! Not only do they take up physical space, they also seize space in your mind. They are a constant reminder of the obligation, the bad memory, the fact that it’s in the way,… and that is nearly worse than their physical presence.
Sadly, those items often masquerade as the next type of habit: things we have gotten used to. Once we have closed our minds to the presence of an item for whichever reason, we simply do not see it any more. That sounds like a good thing, doesn’t it? Well, it’s not, because your unconscious mind remains aware of its presence. That awareness can be a feeling of being closed in, of sadness, of being overwhelmed by stuff, going as far as generally feeling down, all the way to clinical depression.
What does all of this have to do with habits? Everything, really! Look closely at the reasons listed above: they are all habits. Not putting things away, buying too much, hanging on to things, not seeing stuff,… just imagine what you can do if you change those. Take away the superfluous stuff, the things you keep out of habit, or because you cannot take the decision to let go, the things you have gotten used to, and you’ll have enough space to find a spot for those things that remain and are actually helpful and meaningful to you RIGHT NOW rather than in the past. Having less will make it much easier to keep your home clutter-free, because everything you own will have its place, and that in turn will save you time and effort because you know exactly where things need to go, and because there IS a place where they belong.
Once you have minimised the amount of stuff you need and own, and everything has a place where it goes when not in use, it’s simply a matter of making it a habit to return things where they belong. That could be just a few minutes every day, but boy are those few minutes well spent! Not only will you quickly find everything because it’s in its place, but you’ll also be quicker to spot things that can be chucked out. The new habit here could be as simple as “look at things and if they don’t belong, either take them home or dump them”. Once this one new habit is engrained in your brain, everything else might just fall into place.
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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.