I have a thing for decluttering. Maybe it’s because I grew up with my mother, or because I had a bad dream once about a mountain of stuff collapsing on me. Or maybe it’s because I see room for improvement wherever I look, and it pleases me to open my closet door and see everything organized.
Whenever I’m bored (which happens far too often, my father tells me), I prowl the internet for books to read, then check them out at the library. This time it was Decluttering at the Speed of Life, by Dana K. White. I’ve read a lot of books on getting rid of stuff, from Marie Kondo (don’t keep it unless you love it) to books left over from garage sales without a single crease in their spine. (A gift from a relative hoping they would not have to deal with that person’s stuff one day?) But this is the first decluttering book I’ve read from an actual former hoarder.
Most people are pack rats. Some of them are hoarders. Hoarders are the people who have so much stuff, they have to walk between piles of it to reach the bathroom. There’s lots of them on YouTube, where you can spend hours watching clean-freaks tackle the houses of compulsive hoarders. (What? You watch otter videos instead? Shame on you!) Some hoarders keep “every- thing” (like plastic lids, full trash bags, stacks of newspapers, etc), but more common are “selective” hoarders, who just have too much stuff because they never, ever downsize or throw stuff out.
Dana was one of the latter. She talks about picking up clothes off a pile on the floor, because she had so much stuff in her drawers, she never folded her laundry. She talks about the ton of ironwork in her backyard because she was “going to weld any day now.” She talks about stuffed kitchen cabinets and bathroom closets.
The biggest, most mind-blowing thing I learned from her book is containers are to limit what you have, not something you buy to organize more stuff. Her bottom line is simple: if it doesn’t fit, don’t keep it. If it won’t fit in the pantry, either eat or throw out old food (cans have expiration dates, you know!). If it won’t fit in the closet, either it can’t stay or give away something else so it will fit. She says the things you love most or use the most get top priority; any space left, you fill with “lesser” items of personal value, and give away or throw away what’s left.
She talks about releasing yourself from guilt, by giving away things you don’t want or have never liked—if it’s not hanging in your closet, you don’t have to feel guilty for spending so much money on something you’ve never worn. If your uncle gave it to you and you hate it, put it in the donate box. Someone else can love it, instead. She also said to “declutter” your dreams regularly, meaning get rid of hobby materials you haven’t touched in years (and aren’t likely to take up again) and all the “someday…” Someday, she wanted to learn to weld. But not enough to go out into the garage and weld. 15 years later, after hauling a ton of tools to several houses, she finally got rid of it.
She talked about visible surfaces in your house and home, but I’d take it a step further and say, “Declutter your life.” Do you need a thousand digital photos from your vacation or 30 of the best ones? Do you need to keep emails from five years ago or just the last six months? Have you emptied your computer’s trash folder lately? And deleted old documents?
I like my life best when it’s uncluttered. When I can see the few precious items on my shelf rather than having them hide behind other things. When I can see what I have in my closet, and wear it, rather than forgetting that little black dress. When I don’t have to dig around in a drawer for my make-up, because I only have one mascara. When I can find things on my computer, and it runs faster because all the old documents and files are gone. When I fill up my life with the people and hobbies I love most and fill my free time with other things.
For me, part of an uncluttered life means not being in such a rush. I like to sit out on my porch with my family over a cold soda and talk for a half hour about… whatever we want, while my cats eat grass so they can later barf on my rug.
I hauled six bags of stuff and a bunch of old, heavy furniture out this week. I think my house just breathed a sigh of relief. She appreciates her new weight-loss plan.
Here’s a few super simple ways to Declutter.
Dump out your make-up. Did you know most make-up you should use within six months? If it’s so old, you can’t remember when you bought it, throw it in the trash. Your skin will thank you. If you have not used that mascara for ages, and even bought a different one to avoid using it, trash it.
Clear off a shelf. Put back the things you love most, first. Then, the stuff you like. Do you need the rest? If not, put it in a give-away box.
Put all “like” things together. You don’t know how much you have of something, until you gather it all up. You may find out you own 14 of the same size Philips head screwdrivers. Keep the best, give away the rest.
Prioritize space for what matters most. I like to host teas for my friends at least four times a year. Therefore, I can justify having space for several different-colored tablecloths, napkin sets, and plate chargers. I may have to clear out a space to keep it, so other “less important” hobbies must go.
Keep less, use it more. When you only have a few things, you notice and use them more. Yes, they wear out, but it’ll be from a life of love.