FACT: As of 5 minutes ago when I tried this, if you search the word ‘declutter’ on the amazon.co.uk book department you get almost 1500 results. Clearly you can write whole books on this subject – and people do! – so this single post is not going to be a definitive breakdown of how to declutter your home, every different technique you can use, or even every stage that I myself went through while decluttering. Instead I will just tell you about why I did it, the general approach I took, and what I have personally found some of the benefits to be.
I have always been extremely messy, and while for a long time I was fine living like that, once I had my own home and it spread beyond my bedroom, I was really keen to get to a point where I could invite friends over at the drop of a hat without having to do a massive clean-up. Every time I had friends or family over my partner and I would end up snapping at each other as we scurried around trying to make the place presentable – me cleaning in a blind panic while angry at myself for letting it get like that, him reading my anger as blame directed his way – what fun! Something needed to change so that I could actually enjoy my hard-earned time off with others or by myself, in a home that was calm and welcoming.
I started browsing Apartment Therapy for some inspiration and motivation to get me started and it really worked; I couldn’t wait to have a home full of stuff that I loved and that was organised to perfection. I started with miniscule projects like trying to methodically use up duplicate toiletries so that my bathroom cabinet didn’t overspill onto the sink and other shelves. The satisfaction I got from a small win like being able to put my hairbrush in the cabinet without shoving everything around helped motivate me to tackle larger areas, like my desk (can it be called a desk when there is literally not an inch of actual workspace?!). Then slightly larger projects like trying to completely clear my kitchen countertops, which meant making more space in the cupboards. Soon I was gripped in organisational fever and started browsing more often for tips and tricks to make the most out of the space in your home.
During one of these researchathons I started reading the blogs of self-professed ‘minimalists’. Although I’d never have called myself materialistic (being relatively uninterested in brand names or particularly expensive items), from a young age I did always have lots of stuff; from bundles of pretty stationery to multiples of every toiletry you could imagine, there was barely a category of my possessions that didn’t contain duplicate items. The blogs and articles I read at this time all espoused the philosophy of having less and the wider picture of sustainability and simple living, all of which did strike a chord. However I have to admit that the more selfless sides of simplicity were not what drew me to it initially, rather I was overcome by the joy and relief that people seemed to experience when they just had less stuff cramming every space within their home. At some point a switch flipped – I didn’t need to organise better, I first needed to reduce some of the unnecessary stuff I owned – and so the mass clear out began in earnest.
I never counted my possessions or the number of items I was getting rid of, I didn’t pack everything in a box and only take out only what I needed as I needed it, I didn’t turn my hangers in the opposite direction to find out after six months what I did and didn’t wear. Every person may find a different system that works for them but mine was simply hitting the one-woman-whirlwind setting and never looking back! I started blitzing through every area of my flat and looking with a critical eye at every possession. Suddenly a whole load of the things I owned seemed faintly ridiculous; why did I own four cheese graters? Was I anticipating some kind of cheese-grating emergency? Or hundreds (literally, HUNDREDS) of pens? Clothes that I knew I had never really felt right wearing so never quite made it into rotation? It all had to go. I went room by room, section by section through my whole house.
The initial phase of doing this took around six months. While some areas were quick – wardrobes are quite easy to pare down at least a little and the items you get rid of are easy to rehome – others took a long time and could only be handled in small bursts. For me the areas that took longest were photos and paperwork; between the sorting, scanning and becoming regularly distracted by some long-distant memory that a picture or document dislodged, sometimes I could work for hours and hardly see any difference. Slowly, however, the overall progress became apparent. Friends and family started commenting on the changes in my home, I started feeling the difference when I opened a cupboard door or went to put something away, and the trips to the charity shop and recycling centre started to finally slow from the initial frenzied flood to a calmer trickle.
I wouldn’t say I’m finished now, I still occasionally find things that I can’t believe have survived through all previous phases of clearing, but the difference is immense. I’ve re-homed literally thousands of items to charity shops, via eBay, giving them away online and offering items to friends. The space I’ve gained has allowed me to reorganise rooms in ways I prefer based on what I want in them rather than what needs to fit somewhere, and the reduction in stuff has made cleaning and tidying my home exponentially easier (more on that later). However the biggest change was that going through so many items that I once thought were a must-have, only to be recognising them as the unused and/or unloved things they were in my home, made me realise that I wanted to make bigger changes: to my job, to my relationships, to my finances. Making my home a place I loved and made me feel calm made me further realise that I needed to make my life a place I loved and felt calm too. I’ve always known that small actions can lead to big changes, and yet somehow when I wanted to change anything I didn’t start small then allow it to grow bigger. Instead I’d convince myself that I needed to make the big change but then I’d find myself paralysed by the sheer volume and immensity of the decisions required and end up doing jack. By starting smaller I’d say my life and happiness are still a work in progress, but at least now there’s progress, right?
Thanks for reading,