Organising vs Decluttering

My husband Rob and I are both very organised, tidy people.A few years ago, if you walked into our home, you would think we were living a very modest, unassuming life, and that we didn’t actually have a lot at all. All you saw was our furniture and perhaps a few selected items to bring some homely touches.When we embarked on our journey to live a simpler and more soulful life, we realised that all of these years we had been organised hoarders. It wasn’t obvious that we had alot of stuff, but our home was full of things we didn’t use. Rooms we didn’t use. Trinkets, Gifts and Keepsakes that we accepted gracefully from others and kept on display so when people came to visit, they could see we had kept the items they had given us.Without knowing it, we were putting on a facade to please everyone else.The facade was very different to our reality. And the final straw came when we decided to downsize into smaller home. When we finally took off the mask and forced ourselves to stare our life in the face, it became clear that being tidy and organised was not the answer. We had to get rid of our stuff.And so began the decluttering project. Here’s how we did it:

  1. We faced the ugly truth – the first crucial step was to pull everything out of their protective, organised shelters and bring it all into the ugly light. Depending on how much time I had, I would sometimes do one drawer at a time, or one shelf at a time. Even one item at a time. Once, I did attempt one room at a time, but that was an ugly sight and I put it all back again. But forcing yourself to face the volume of stuff head on, leaves you with no option but to either put it all back, or acknowledge that you need to get rid of it. A word of warning – if you decide you need to get rid of it, DON’T PUT IT BACK! And to quote something I’ve read several times throughout this journey: if you have to buy stuff to store you stuff, you probably have too much stuff.
  2. We sold everything we could – being an active user of social media, I used Facebook to help me advertise everything in our home that we felt had some kind of monetary value, so we could recoup some of the money we had spent over the years. We sold most of our furniture and larger items this way. With a little effort and patience, we eventually recovered enough money to cover the cost of our move, and purchase some more appropriate furniture that would suit our simpler lifestyle.
  3. We donated what we couldn’t sell – I took a trip to our local charity depot, and asked them what kinds of things they were looking for, explaining that we were decluttering our home and would like to donate anything that may be of value. They were able to accept clothing, trinkets, kitchen utensils, smaller household furniture items, outdoor furniture, linen, and decorative items such as wall hangings and photo frames. So off they all went. And that part was done.
  4. We had a garage sale – with what we had left, we decided to put it all into our garage, and have an open house garage sale. We posted advertisements online and hung posters around the local area. At this point we weren’t so concerned about recovering cash, so we put everything out with ‘make an offer’ signs, and let people pay what they felt each item was worth. We were able to get rid of electrical items, computers, smaller IT consumables, broken items, and old CD’s / DVD’s / Cassettes and alot of our garden tools and chemicals that we didn’t want to take with us.
  5. We offered things for free – when all of the other steps had been completed, and we were left with a handful of things that we simply couldn’t get rid of, we offered them for free to whoever could come and pick them up. This was time consuming because when people don’t have to pay for something, there is no incentive for them to make an effort to come and collect it. We had countless people organise times with us and then not show up, or we had them pull out at the last minute. We even had people show up and then change their minds and not take it anyway. But eventually we moved quite a few things simply by giving them away.

Before we knew it, we had managed to let go of 80% of our stuff.Was it difficult? …. Hell, yes!Physically removing the clutter from our lives, gave us so much perspective. Going through the process of evaluating each item we had, and deciding whether we really need it, revealed to us that we had actually been living a very wasteful existence.One night, we sat own and calculated roughly how much we had spent on things we didn’t use, and were astounded to find that that money could have made a heavy dent in our mortgage, or paid for an overseas holiday, or given us so much more joy in so many other ways. Instead it sat on a shelf – lifeless and neglected – until we eventually threw it away.Throughout our process, we were very mindful of the environmental impact of our decluttering. I felt extremely guilty when I thought of the amount of stuff we could potentially be sending to landfill. So we did alot of research into local council pick ups, various recycling facilities, and spoke to locals who made a hobby out of repurposing other people’s junk. Thankfully, we feel that almost everything we have parted with, has been moved on in a responsible and sustainable way. But in times of frustration and exhaustion, there were certainly things we just threw in the bin, and that is definitely something we would re-think in future.In March 2014, Rob and I (and our little fur-child Roxy) moved into our current home.We had to start again, because we had parted with everything we had. But this time we made a commitment to make better, more deliberate decisions, and to ensure that everything we brought into our new home had at least one purpose and brought us joy.This time we took our time making decisions. We didn’t rush in and buy the first thing we saw. And in some instances, we stretched our budget to buy better quality and more responsibly sourced items, to continue our efforts to minimise our impact on the environment.In 2018, we still have empty shelves, blank walls and empty spaces that we haven’t filled. And we are ok with that. I think Rob would love to see some more photos and homely touches around the place, but to be honest I think our previous experience has left me a little scarred, and this time I want to feel the empty space and embrace the minimal approach we have taken. To only have what we use, and not fill the space simply because there is space to be filled. These days, even a small amount of clutter gives me heart palpitations.We are still very organised, but we have moved our organisation to the cloud. We are now in the process of scanning all of our documents, photos, personal records, and other important information that we need to keep, into the cloud. Over the years we have lost so much paper because of our numerous moves, that we wanted to come up with a safer way to retain the information we need. So I invested in a new laptop and a multi-functional printer / scanner / copier which has replaced all of our filing cabinets, book shelves, and boxes full of documents and photos.We also contacted all of our utility and service providers and asked them to email us our receipts and bills, instead of sending them in the mail or giving us hard copies. Even our vet emails us our receipts and vaccination certificates!It’s now July 2018, and this week, Rob and I took a moment to look back on our progress. What we have noticed is that while we still have a small journey remaining ahead of us before we are exactly where we want to be, we have achieved some remarkable things.Here’s what decluttering has taught us:

  • Organisation is just another way of hiding the stuff we don’t ever or rarely use
  • Physically removing clutter is like physically losing weight – you feel lighter
  • Living with less material possessions cuts down cleaning and maintenance time
  • We have become responsible consumers, taking time to make purchasing decisions
  • Buying less enables us to buy better quality, which has actually saved us money
  • Having less to take care of has given us more time for the things that matter
  • Wants and needs are two very different things. We actually need very little
  • The less you give in to what you want, the more you open up to what you need
  • Decluttering is free therapy. Detachment therapy. Try it – it works!
  • Gratitude is the art of loving what you have, instead of having what you want
  • In future, the earth we walk upon will be made up of our junk. Be responsible!
  • Understanding why we have things and why we should let go of them has taught us so much about our values and beliefs, and forced us to challenge them in all the right ways
  • For the first time, people are asking me ‘Why the hell are you so happy!’
  • I am now totally ok with not going shopping. A miracle has occurred!
  • My husband is so confused by my transformation, he’s still looking for his wife!
  • My husband is now on board, and he is slowly decluttering his own stuff
  • Having more time on my hands, I’m now able to explore my creativity again.

Whilst we are still on our decluttering journey, I can say that what started as an overwhelming headache turned into a truly life changing experience that I would go through again in a heart beat if I knew I was going to realise the benefits we have seen.So let me finish by saying this:You don’t have to be great to start. but you have to start to be great.We didn’t achieve this overnight. We picked up one item at a time, and slowly made our way through everything we own.My one piece of advice would be – next time you find yourself going to re-organise a drawer or a cupboard, ask yourself:

  • Do I actually need this?
  • What purpose does it serve?
  • Do I like it? does it bring me joy?
  • Am I keeping this for me, or for someone else?

If you don’t like the answers you give to these questions, maybe it’s time to let it go.You may even feel a little lighter for it 🙂

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