Monday, September 3, 2012

Decluttering Lessons I've Learned

There are several bazillion articles on "decluttering" floating around the interwebs (trust me, I think I've read most all of them), but I'm going to go ahead and throw out my two cents.

I'm a young university student, and I chose a school not far from home, so I never really moved out, even when I was living elsewhere. Aside from the few necessary-but-infrequent huge cleaning sprees, I've almost never really scrutinized all of my objects and gauged their worthiness. This, plus my whole family's tendency to accumulate and keep like packrats, means I've got a lot of stuff from my childhood and teenage years.

However, now that my plans are to move to Australia and/or travel for a while (and only taking with me carry-on luggage!), I have two very good motivation to reduce my things:
  1. I don't want to burden my parents with my stuff. If something happens while I am away -evacuation, house damage, a simple need for more indoor space- I want my things to be easy to move. 
  2. I want to protect my stuff. Not only from normal entropy (dust, pet hair, insects, grime, moths, mice, the list is endless), but also from my family messing with my things! If they need to move my stuff for whatever reason, I want it to be organized and modular so nothing gets lost or broken. 
Thus, I've been slowly tackling my overwhelming piles of stuff since last December. Only quite recently have I finally felt like I've made some actual headway toward my reduction goals. Here are some of the lessons I've learned in the past 10 months:
  • With limited space, work on one (very) small area at a time. Most of the time, I could only manage to clear a single shelf at a time. And that was totally fine.
  • With limited time, do a teensy bit each day. Whenever I need a ten minute break from homework or need a few minutes of alone time after a long day, I try to do one small task. For example, I might look through my closet and try to find one item of clothing that I don't wear anymore and throw it into the give away boxes. I find small satisfactions can have a big impact for me.
  • If you're working over a long period of time, have a space for the "in transition" items. I currently have an extra table in my room. I don't like the way it restricts my space, underneath I stash the Donate boxes and on top I place the stuff which either needs to be taken elsewhere in the house or is in the dreaded "Indecision Pile."
  • Sometimes an Indecision Pile is necessary. I've also heard it called the Out Box, and it is the single most useful tip I've come across for my decluttering needs. I am definitely a Sentimental Clutterer and a Maybe-This-Will-Be-Useful-Horder, so the Outbox gives me a chance to let things go without accidentally burning any bridges. I've also found that my tastes and needs have already changed a bit over the past ten months, so some things which would have been cut in December are now making the grade. Yes, I pull things back out of the Outbox, but my overall trend is definitely towards less, which means the decluttering and the Outbox are working. 
  • Some areas will need to be "cleaned" over and over and over again. This is most true for my closet (every time I look I find another garment I've never worn and wonder how it got there), but I've also gone through and re-purposed shelves and drawers multiple times since I started this process. Reducing clutter means I finally have a chance to give beloved items a better home, which can mean moving everything again to give it that proper space. 
  • Group like items together, particularly in the closet. I am still stunned at how many belts and dresses I own but hardly wear. Seeing them all in the same place lets me figure out which ones are worth keeping. 
  • Make room for sentiment. I have a great love of costume-type clothing, perhaps because my every day attire is almost always jeans-and-a-tee. I used to have a pang of guilt whenever I found another article of clothing I never wear but just couldn't stand to part with; the sequined tube top that used to be my mothers, the elbow-length black satin gloves, the slutty mini-skirts, the neon-orange tights, they were all just too much fun! I also have a few serious handmade Halloween/comic convention costumes I refuse to get rid of (I might wear them to next years con). So finally I dedicated a box on the floor of my closet to costumes (those roll-under-the-bed tupperware types). I can keep any "dress up" clothes I want, as long as I can make them all fit in there.
  • Give yourself time to enjoy things one last time. This is related to the Outbox idea, but instead of stashing something in the box (for the "out of sight out of mind" trick to detachment) take it out and USE it. I read through a huge stack of childhood books over the summer to decide which ones were worth keeping, and ended up giving away 99% of them (victory!). If I'm not sure about a piece of clothing, I put it at the top of my pile or the front of my closet, so every day I'm forced to consider wearing it. If I don't wear it after a few considerations, into the Donate box it goes. If I do wear it, then I have a chance to decide whether it's worth keeping (and updating my personal style) or ditching (and making room for the things which suit me better).
  • Lastly, obviously, don't add to the problem. Don't bring home any more stuff. I've got so much stuff because I acquired it over the years. I bought things, I was gifted things, and I picked up free things (SO many of my books I got for free from other people decluttering their whole personal libraries). I have bought things since I started this process, but I've done my best to be carefully mindful and only do so if I really need/want the item (hellooooo sexy fleece jacket....).

I'm sure I'll be working on this decluttering of my room and childhood mementos right up until I leave, but I do feel like I've developed some good practices which will carry me through to achieving my goal. Even though this semester of classes will be stressful and time consuming, I'll be able to feel like I'm making progress even if I only spend 10 minutes every other day on reducing my stuff.

1 comment:

  1. This is awesome. I have had the same desire for less stuff. This will help me!