I declutter several times a year. It is a necessary exercise because having too many things at home makes housekeeping difficult. The logic is simple : if you have less things, you have less things to clean. If you have less things around the house, you have less things to move around when you clean.
Decluttering, to me, is more than getting rid of stuff every now and then. I like to keep my life simple and having less possession is part and parcel of simplifying my life. Having too many material possessions is like having too much fat – it makes me feel heavy, lethargic and irritable.
William Morris, an 18th Century architect said, ” Have nothing in your homes that you do not believe to be beautiful or know to be useful.” I go one step further : Have nothing in your homes that you do not believe to be beautiful and useful. I meet too many people who collect so much stuff that are beautiful to them but serve no useful purpose that they clutter up their homes and have no ability or will power to remove those material possessions. MacDonald’s Happy Meals collectibles, for instance. Ring a bell? If you love to be surrounded by things, that is perfectly fine. But most people I know would love to cut back on what they have at home but don’t know how to do it.
The Mantra for Decluttering is this : You cannot organise clutter away.
One reason why people fail to declutter is they bought into the fallacy of ‘organised clutter’. Buying all kind of storage containers, cabinets and even making physical room to organise clutter will not downsize your possessions. Organised clutter is still clutter, albeit in a neater form. What is the difference between jumping over a pile of dunno-whats to get into the back of the store room vs jumping over crates and cartons containing dunno-whats? Nothing. No difference. The aim of decluttering is to get rid of the pile of stuff so that you don’t have to jump or crawl over them anymore.
The only way to solve the clutter problem is to get the clutter out of your house.
The question that follows is then “How do you decide what to get rid of?” The beginning part of decluttering is very easy. Everyone has things that are broken, old and unloved at home at any point in time so going through the house to pick these things out is really easy. Most people don’t have a problem with this part of the exercise.
It gets hard after you have picked out all your broken, old and unloved stuff and still face a massive pile of accumulations that you don’t know how to reduce. Most of these things are either :
1. Still in good, usable condition
2. In not-so-good but still usable condition
3. Unloved, unused gifts that you feel guilty if you get rid of them
4. Things with sentimental values
5. Things you collect, e.g. toy figurines, Swarovsky crystals, stamps, perfume miniatures, liquor miniatures, books and so on.
I will tackle No. 5 first. Here’s the thing : I do not collect things as a hobby. I don’t feel the need to possess a collection of the same kind of things. I don’t have a solution for you if you are an avid collector of something. I hope it is nothing huge that will take up lots of space, like sculptures. I understand that collector’s items are prized and loved. I do have a suggestion for you : if your collections are things that you display, perhaps you can limit the number that you put on display at any one time and put the rest in cold storage somewhere. Having something on display means you need to clean your display and also means your display cases and shelves take up a lot of real estate at home. This means cleaning could be tough. Let’s say you only put 3 to 5 pieces of item in your display cabinet. Every 3 months, you rotate your ‘exhibit’ and change to something else. This will keep your display ‘fresh’ and reduce the amount of clutter that is actually out there. You will also spend less money buying display cabinets.
For the rest of the items, remember this : Everything is useful, but we don’t have to keep every one of them.
If we keep everything that we think is (still) useful, we will be like a department store. But we are not a department store. We are not going to use everything that we find useful in the house. Chances are, a huge number of useful stuff are sitting idle for ages in your homes. These things are usually kept at home because we feel that it would be a waste to chuck them. Hence, you need to change your mindset and tell yourself : Keeping useful things at home but not use them is as wasteful as throwing perfectly good things into the trash. Things are meant to be used. They should be put to use. Otherwise they become valueless. This is just like people. If you are full of talent, but your boss put you in a position where your talent cannot be utilised, you will feel unhappy and dissatisfied. You will feel that your talents are wasted in this job. So, do the good and useful stuff a favour. Give them away to other people who can make better use of them. If you can’t find friends and relatives who want to adopt these items, give them to charity. Give them to Salvation Army, for instance.
My kids get a lot of stationery in goody bags and gifts. Much more than they can ever use. I know a lot of parents like to keep them thinking that eventually, their kids will get to use them. Kids can’t have too much stationery, right? The fact is that I have been keeping these things for a long time now and I know the boys don’t get around to using them. So recently, I packed them up and sent them off to an overseas orphanage. Hopefully, the cartoony stationary can bring some smiles to the orphans there.
Speaking of goody bag stationery, normally, I confiscate them from the kids. (>.<) Sounds cruel of me but after seeing how the boys wasted perfectly good stuff, I had to do it. For instance, they may already possess a perfectly good sharpener. But when they saw a new one, they abandoned the perfectly good old one and started using the new one. Same for those little notepads. They may already have notepads. But they just had to draw on just a few pages of the new one and then abandon it. We ended up with many half used items. Now that is what I would consider wasteful! So I started confiscating the items. I tell them I will safe-keep the items until they really need a new one. And I do keep for a while. But honestly, the kids don’t even miss them! They get new ones all the time and the old ones get forgotten. Out of sight, out of mind.
Another scenario is keeping useful things you think you are going to use. I know of organisation rule that says to get rid of whatever things that you have not touched for the past 12 months and/or not going to use for the next 12 months. There are exceptions to this rule. E.g. baby items. If you are planning to have another bb in the near future, then it makes sense to keep the baby items for the time being even though they are not in use at the moment. They can be in storage for quite a few years. Of course, you can always loan them to a friend in the mean time. That would be even better. If not, it still makes perfect sense to keep in storage unless you are very sure you are not going to have another baby.
However, the more common scenario is keeping the things thinking that you can use it in the future without any concrete plan in mind. E.g. someone gave you a juicer for Christmas. You are not in a habit of juicing. But you think one of these days you might just want to start using it. 2 years go by….then 5 years….the juicer is still sitting in the cabinet, unused, unloved. Despite being brand new, it is looking a bit aged now. The motor may not even work well after being idle for so long. Now you can’t really give it away because the condition isn’t really reliable anymore. This is a waste of a perfectly good juicer.
The other question you have to ask yourself is : Do you really need so many of the same things? Or do your children need so many books and toys, for instance? We also need to address the reason why one feels the need to hoard.
For books, I am now moving to eBook version so that I don’t actually have to buy the physical book. I refuse to add shelf space so the only other way is to cut the number of books I own. The public library is great because I can borrow instead of own a book. This is the same for children’s books. I do own quite a bit of children’s books. However, I also put a limit to things. Most of the time, I rely on the library as well. It is really convenient. If I have a book in mind, I do an online search of the library’s catalogue, put in a reservation if necessary, and pick up the book when it arrives. It helps cut down the trouble of actually searching for the book on the shelves. You not only can reserve books online, you can also renew books online. How convenient is that! The National Library website is http://www.nlb.gov.sg.
For children’s books, do not keep more than one of the same kind. You really don’t need more than 1 alphabet book for your baby, or more than 1 touch-and-feel book. The books that I keep are mainly classic children literature. Still, if there are books your children can read but are not reading, perhaps the books will be better loved by other people. Liberate them. The same can be said for toys. E.g. how many puzzles do you actually need? 1? 2? How many train sets? Whatever the kid hasn’t touched for a while, extend the toy’s useful life by giving them to someone who will actually play with them. Remember Toy Story? *wink* I personally think that by giving the kids too many toys, it does not help with their attention span as they constantly need new toys or a wide selection to keep their interest going. If there are just a few toys, the child will have to spend more time on each toy and that improvess the attention span and creativity as they learn to create all kinds of play with just a few items.
Next, you have things that came as gifts that you feel really bad if you get rid of them. You really don’t want to hurt the feelings of people who have given you those gifts. Unless you are very sure the person will remember, chances are most people forget what they gave who for Christmas or Birthdays. Instead of keeping every gift, perhaps only keep gifts from certain people who play more significant roles in our lives. Still, there should be some kind of expiry date on the gifts, unless they are timeless things like jewelry. Don’t keep them forever.
I also think that it is perfectly ok to re-gift things that you do not think you will use, provided they are still in pristine condition and they are not something that you would not buy as gift. I know that during the holiday seasons, we sometimes do get things that really can’t go anywhere except to the trash or charity, e.g. a really ugly pair of socks. If you are the sort who gets offended if you received a re-gift, please don’t. It does not necessarily mean that the person who gave you the gift don’t care for you or could not be bothered to think what to give you. Think of the person holding up that item thinking ” this really does not suit me but I think it will be perfect for so-and-so (you)”. Gift-giving is not so much getting new things. Gift-giving is about giving things you think the recipient will like. Better a recycled something that is useful for the recipient than a brand new something else that you just buy for the sake of buying something new.
Now, for things with sentimental value. Usually, the culprit is kids-related stuff. Old baby blanket, wobbly craft work, the first picture they drew, etc. The more problematic ones are the crafts. They do take up lots of space. What I do is to keep them for a while, take picture, then throw them away. I don’t think I can tell anyone to throw away their kids’ baby stuff to make space. Those are really special, I understand. If you think you can do it, go ahead. But if you think you can’t, then work on all the non-baby-related stuff. If you get rid of those, you will have space to keep the more precious stuff!