You just finished decluttering! Your house looks amazing, Instagram-ready, cleaner than when you moved in! You’re relaxing in a chair next to a table with exactly two things on it. Your creativity is on absolute fire because you can see all your supplies and materials and you know exactly what you want to do with them. Hell yeah!
Or, you’re right about to declutter. Definitely this time. Your house is going to look perfect after this and your head will feel clearer and you’ll be so productive! It’s gonna take a few days and a lot of physical and emotional effort, but you know you can do this!
Okay, bad news time. You’re going to have to do it again after this. And again after that. You’re never going to actually be done decluttering. You might be done for a few months, but eventually it’s going to creep back in.
How to Declutter AGAIN
The first step is to get rid of the shame, the feeling that you didn’t do it right the first time. You probably did! You did great! This is just how the world works. Leaves accumulate around a rock in a stream; dust falls from the atmosphere; your hair grows and you have to cut it; stuff shows up in your home and it piles up and suffocates you and you have to get rid of it. Eventually you have to go through it again.
The next step is to get rid of the overwhelm. It’s not going to end, but it’s going to get easier. Here are some ways to make the process lighter.
First: You don’t ever have to declutter your whole house at one time! It does help to make a clean break, and it’s amazing to see how different it is with everything gone all at once. You can in fact do it whatever way works for you. But you need to shift your mind first, and change your habits before you get rid of a single thing. Otherwise you’re just going to replace it with something else, and all the different methods will seem useless.
You can declutter gradually: always have a box or bag where you drop things when you notice you don’t need them anymore. When it’s full, it goes out.
Or you can declutter on a schedule: it can be part of your spring cleaning, or once a month you can go over a problematic area. You can make it a party! Every month, you and your friends get together at a different house, and you help each other clean up. You can swap the stuff you want to get rid of (but only if you actually want the stuff in your house!).
I am a big advocate for doing it all at once, maybe over a couple of days. That’s because that’s just how I work best–if I know a project will be gradual and take a long time, my executive dysfunction just says don’t do it at all. However, you may work better if you break the Whole Thing into many tiny areas, like one shelf, one closet, one cabinet at a time.
But here’s the other reason I don’t think you should do that: Have you ever heard about the painters on the Golden Gate Bridge? They never stop painting. By the time they have gone from one end to the other, the moment they’re done, it’s taken so long and natural processes are so unstoppable that they have to start over again at the first end.
That’s you with your gradual decluttering. The kitchen counter looks awesome, but by the time you’ve gotten the floor of your bedroom closet clear, the counter is covered with mail again. What happened?? You didn’t shift your mindset before you started, and your habits didn’t change. And now the whole task looks impossible and unending, and you want to stop altogether. Do it one more time, though. You can get it! And then in a few months, do it again. Entropy will always exist; the paint will always peel.
Get rid of the stuff you don’t want immediately! Get it out of your house!! Yes, right now (the 2020 pandemic) things are different; thrift stores are mostly closed. But for clothes and books, there are still donation bins; some thrift stores are in fact still receiving donations on certain days–call and ask! And if it’s totally insurmountable, you can get a storage locker for a couple of months or however long this thing lasts. Get creative; I know you are! Just get the stuff out of your house–it’s wrecking your feng shui.
This tip is for while you’re decluttering and afterward, when stuff starts coming in again. Put stuff away! Have storage systems! Organize–but never organize stuff you could get rid of.
Make your storage systems small: a small bookcase so that when you buy new books you need to get rid of some that you won’t read again. A closet organizer that only allows for so many pairs of shoes. When you notice that things are overflowing, that doesn’t mean you need a bigger container; it means it’s time to declutter again.
How to Not Have to Declutter AGAIN As Much
The next step is to examine why it keeps happening. It’s going to, but you can lessen it.
Stop buying things. Even after you threw stuff out the first time. You were supposed to keep the stuff you would need later, by the way. Declutter again, with this in mind. Notice what you had to buy again and keep it this time. Keep it until it’s completely unusable and then replace it with something of better quality, that will last longer. Notice what you’re buying and why. Pay attention, and it will become apparent where you need to make changes.
Think about Future You and be nice to her: don’t make her live with clutter and don’t give her a bunch of decisions about what to keep. Just don’t bring it in in the first place. Give Future You your ideal life.
Imagine packing everything in boxes. What would you want to take with you to a new house? What would you want to take to a new house if you move five years from now? Now what do you want to take with you into tomorrow?
Is shopping your hobby? Fix that. Shopping is actually more fun if you have a bunch of rules about what you “allow” yourself to buy; you spend more time figuring out the perfect thing and you end up bringing fewer things home and you spend less! Even if the thing you end up getting is more expensive than one other thing, you didn’t also buy five “cheap” things that added up to more money overall.
Or, on the other hand, just get a new hobby. Take it from a knitter: Don’t choose knitting. (Let knitting choose you.) Only half of knitting is the actual needles-and-yarn act; the other half is shopping and hoarding. God help you if you get into buying looms and weaving. I would go for something like an instrument or photography: there is equipment to buy, and yes, there are people who make collecting equipment the main part of the hobby. But it’s expensive and you don’t actually need much of it, so it’s easier to escape temptation.
And even better, the output of your hobby will not leave you with a bunch of stuff to store. (Please don’t talk to me about my six drawers of knitted and woven stuff. Even better, please buy some so I don’t have to store it any longer!) Photos are small and flat, unless you’re doing a big poster-size print, and music is all digital and sound now, and takes no space at all.
If you do choose a hobby that involves equipment and supplies, make this rule: Do not buy something unless you already know what you’re going to use it for. It has to already have a specific project attached. No OMG I love this hand-dyed sock yarn, no OMG these stickers are so cute, unless you know what socks you’re knitting and what journal you’re putting the stickers in. And if you’re anything like me, write the plan down somewhere. Make a note on card-stock and pin it to the yarn. Trust me. “I can use this for something” is the enemy.
On the subject of gifts: Tell people you’re having trouble storing things and you’d rather they give you experiences rather than items; or have them donate to charities in your name; or ask for ephemeral things that will get used up or don’t take storage space, like food or music. If they refuse to respect that and still give you things you don’t want, thank them very much because they love you and want to give you things, and then if you need to get rid of those things, you can. It’s okay. If you want to keep it to remind you of the person or the occasion, that’s also cool–as long as that’s making you happy.
Last tip, for right after you declutter the first time: Do not immediately buy a bunch of stuff to redecorate!! Don’t feel uncomfortable about the new empty spaces in your home. They’re allowed to be there. You’re allowed to relax into them, expand your senses into them, breathe the newly released air in those spots.
Decluttering doesn’t mean get rid of everything. It means get out from under an unlivable mess. It means live with only the things you love. If you love a lot of things, wonderful! You’re full of love! Enjoy your things! Forget your attachment to “clean lines” and “sleek” and looking like a magazine or a pin. Those houses are fake. They’re movie sets. They don’t have stuff in them to love; no one lives in them to love the stuff.
Love your stuff!
How many times have you decluttered already? Is it time to go again? Let’s talk in the comments!
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