Thursday, July 19, 2012


"By purging the excess from our homes, our schedules, and our minds, we empty our cups-giving us infinite capacity for life, love, hopes, dreams, and copious amounts of joy"
-Francine Jay

"What is clutter? Clutter is anything that you don't want, love, need, or use."
"Clutter is postponed decision-making"
-Cathleen McCandless

I've been making an effort to declutter my home the last couple of weeks. I find it challenging, but at the same time it is very rewarding to see the progress. When I came across the quote above; about clutter being postponed decision making, I realized that the clutter in my life has a lot to do with my reluctance to make decisions, so I feel like I am working on my "decision making muscle" at the same time as I am improving my surroundings.

Some people (like myself) easily get used to some level of clutter in their homes. However, while perhaps unnoticed, the clutter can still affect your energy, making you feel tired, lazy and lethargic. Our external world is a manifestation of our inner world. A cluttered home can both be a cause and a symptom of a cluttered mind. Decluttering is about creating breathing space, creating room for our ideas, thoughts and creativity - and the incremental improvements that I have been working on this month already make me feel better at home; happier and more relaxed.

The process that has been working best for me is based on something like this:

1. Controling the inflow & putting things back in place

This month I have been focusing on establishing the invaluable habit of putting things immediately back in place after use. Unfortunately this doesn't come very naturally to me, but without this habit my decluttering effort would be like trying to fill a leaking bucket. There is also a constant inflow of new clutter that need to be monitored; mail, gifts, artwork from the children, etc. New clutter can easily pile up faster than you get rid of your old stuff. Hence, the first step is essentially to control the inflow, to be a good gatekeeper to your home. I try to examine whatever comes in and immediately deal with it (find a place, throw it away, put it in the "outbox"). In his book Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan talks about the importance of having a good healthy filter at your front door: have a doormat to keep the dirt out, a coat hook or hanger to put your coat, bag, boots, etc., and a place where you can lay down your things (keys, wallet, etc.) and sort through your mail along with other things you bring with you into the apartment. Optimally I think that the entry should also have a chair or something you can sit on, while you take of your shoes and sort through your stuff.

2. Setting up some kind of a system

I could easily spend a lot of time and energy (and have definitely done so in the past) just moving the clutter around. It is important to decide what you are going to do with the stuff that you do not want in your home. Some of the clutter can easily and immediately be thrown out, but there is likely to be plenty of stuff that you want to sell and/or give away. Designate a box, a shelf, a closet, or a corner as your outbox, where all this stuff goes. Also put your "maybe stuff" in the outbox. Set a deadline for yourself to empty the outbox. As decluttering is a constant process, it may be a good idea to set dates e.g. every 3 months to empty your outbox.

3. Decluttering

My strategy has been to do a little bit each day, so I wont get overwhelmed. Each day I try to work on one drawer, one shelf, or one surface. When it comes to clutter, what you can't still there, sucking away your energy. That being said, it is nice to start with the surfaces. They are usually relatively easy to declutter, and at the same time it makes a huge difference in the way your home looks and feels. Surfaces should not be used for storage, they should be used to display the things you love, things that you find beautiful and/or inspiring.

When decluttering, I find it best to empty the surface (shelf, drawer, etc.), visualize for a couple of minutes how that space would optimally look like, and then examine each thing thinking: "do I love you, need you, use you, like you? are you more valuable to me than the space that you occupy?" I've also found it useful to look at my stuff and think about what I want to keep, instead of what do I want to get rid off.

I am not super-organized, and I try not to worry too much about it at this point. All your stuff should have its place, in a particular drawer, shelf, etc. But I am not alphabetizing my cd's, my books or dvd's. And in the end, the less stuff you have, the less need you have for being crazily organized. I'm rather aiming for arranging my things, e.g. my closet, to be visually pleasing.

4. Dealing with difficult clutter

There is some clutter that is difficult to deal with. On the top of my list are A. other people's stuff and B. gifts and sentimental clutter. With regards to A, I've kept the Ghandi quote in mind: "Be the change, you wish to see":) I think within reason of course, your spouse (or roommate) has to be allowed to deal with his/her own clutter. At this point my strategy is mostly to ignore it. With regards to B, I find it really difficult to get rid of gifts, even though it is something absolutely not my taste. I've put some of these in the outbox, hoping that when it comes to emptying the outbox I will be completely detached. And I bought a box for my "sentimental clutter" - I can keep whatever fits in that box, if the box is overflowing it is time for purging. At the end of the day I think it is important to remember that I am doing this for my own happiness. It is important to understand the reasons for why we tend to cling to our stuff, but if I feel bad about throwing something out, then it can wait.

5. Reflect on your progress and maintain your clutter-free spaces

This is super important! Take some time every day to look at your progress so far. Enjoy the peace, the beauty, the simplicity that comes with less cluttered surfaces, closets, etc. Make sure you maintain the areas you've decluttered so far.

If you are in the process of decluttering you might want to check out Franicine Jay's blog: miss minimalist and her book The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life.

If you have any advise that has worked well for you when it comes to simplifying and decluttering, I'd love to hear it.

cheers, D.

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