April 12

The Journey to Simplicity: Five Lessons Learned from Decluttering

The art of decluttering is the art of letting go.

It’s all about the stuff

Now, I'll admit, this isn't my first post about decluttering and conquering the chaos of "stuff," and I'm pretty sure it won't be my last. If there's one aspect of my life that would get a barely-passing grade on a report card, it's my ability to conquer clutter. Writing about it not only brings the concept front and center but also guilt-trips me into action—I need to practice what I preach! So, here I am.

To be clear, I’m not much of a pack rat or a hoarder. Still, the amount of stuff that makes it through our doors and into our lives is, frankly, mind-boggling. What's even more astonishing is that these aren't hand-me-downs from generations past.  As immigrants, most of our possessions are what we’ve deliberately accumulated over the years. And boy, do they add up?!

There’s enough material on decluttering tips and techniques to fill up whole libraries. So, I won't dive into that abyss. But here are five insights (or, if I’m being honest, reminders) that can help turn us, if not into minimalists, at least keep us from becoming guest stars on the Hoarders show.

1. Always be Vigilant

Since 1907, the motto of the Scouts movement has been “Always be prepared.” Similarly, it is wise to adopt an "Always be Vigilant" approach before introducing anything new into our homes. Gatekeeping can be hard work, but like roaches that come in camouflaged through the doors or paneling, once stuff gets into the house, it is a Sisyphean task to get rid of it.

2. Two Out, One In

Try the two-out, one-in rule: for every new item brought in, bid farewell to two others. So, if a new handbag finds its way in, it's time for two other items, regardless of category—magazines, kitchen gadgets, clothes—to make their exit. It’s all clutter anyway.

Think of the Two-out, one-in rule like a hangover cure—when, despite your best intentions, you've had a bit too much fun the night before. It’s a remedy for those moments when your vigilance and discipline slip.

3. Trash or Treasure?

In my opinion, two tumblers are two too many, but then there are people who own 120 tumblers and take a lot of pleasure in their collection.

What one person considers trash could be someone else’s treasure, making decluttering all the more difficult in a household or other shared-living arrangements.

For instance, I could easily donate most of my husband's golf gear—to me, it is all the same anyway—clutter! Unfortunately, he treats his golf gear like his children and would probably report me to the authorities if I messed with it.

Living with differing philosophies of decluttering can be challenging. So, the sooner we accept we will own over 288 things and may never be featured on the Minimalists show, the easier our lives will be.

On a positive note, most of us aren't sentimentally attached to everything we own. While I might toss out a couple of worn tees without much fuss, other items—like my husband's golf gear—require a more delicate approach. As any parent knows, it's all about picking your battles wisely.

4. Beware of Decision Fatigue

Decluttering involves making countless decisions about what stays, goes, or gets donated. This process can be mentally draining, especially when tackling a mountain of belongings. Whenever I've embarked on lengthy decluttering sessions, I've often realized, in hindsight, that I should have stopped after a couple of hours. The extended sessions were mostly unproductive because I struggled to decide what to keep and discard, a classic case of decision fatigue!

5. Decluttering is a journey

Unfortunately, I've come to realize that decluttering isn't a one-off activity but an ongoing process that needs to be integrated into your routine regularly. No matter how vigilant I am, new stuff always manages to sneak its way in. That's why scheduling weekly or biweekly decluttering sessions is crucial—it’s the only way to stop the clutter in its tracks.

The goal

My goal is no longer to get more done but rather to have less to do. Francine Jay

The guiding principle of the decluttering world is to invest more energy in living and less in accumulating. This doesn't imply we must strip down to the bare essentials and sacrifice our well-deserved comforts. On the contrary, it's about liberating ourselves from the burden of excess. Clutter isn’t about the items on our shelves and in our closets. It’s what’s preventing us from pursuing our passions and enjoying our lives to the fullest.

It's not the daily increase but the daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.



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