A Tidy House; A Tidy Mind: The Art of Decluttering

“Look after your mind as well as your body. Relationships are where it’s at”, a friend said to me.

“I’ve lived with you.  I’ve seen your routine.  You have no time for yourself or [DH].  It’s no wonder you’re stressed,” said a second friend.

This blog is meant to be about my journey to becoming “the best version of myself” and, for those who might find this post a little out of place, allow me to explain.  Over the past few months I’ve discovered that being the best version of yourself is about so much more than taking care of what your body looks like on the outside – it’s about what’s inside.  No, I’m not talking about fat and cholesterol.  I’m talking about mind and spirit, as well as body.  This isn’t going to be a “mother-earth” post, but I think the importance of being mindful and taking care of yourself mentally as well as physically is vastly underrated.

The first friend’s comment led me to write “Renew Your Spirit” – something which has remained at the forefront of my mind and that can only be a good thing.  The second friend’s comment has led me to further take stock.

Since then, I’ve been on a bit of a mission that puts myself and DH at the centre of our own lives and I’d heartily recommend it.  It’s so easy to lose sight of what’s truly important, working long hours and being busy with “important stuff”.  But that’s just it…”stuff”.

What is “stuff”?

The dictionary has a couple of definitions of “stuff”:

1) The material out of which something is made or formed.

2) Unspecified material

3) Worthless objects

4) Woven material, especially woollens.

Stuff in our Lives

I’ve got to chuckle at #4.  A committed crafter, my wool stash is of slightly unhealthy proportions.  There’s a pretty basket of yarn in the corner of my living room but (out of sight, out of mind), is a huge stash of wool that takes up two small chests of drawers, several bags, and a vacuum bag.  However, couple this with “worthless objects”, I’ve had to take stock.  This actually happened a month ago, when I was clearing out my chests to make room for my friend’s belongings.

 I've a problem

Having to take my yarn out of its various hiding places forced me to evaluate my stash.  From this photo, I’ve donated three cross-stitches and three carrier-bags of yarn to loved ones.  My mum got the finer 4ply yarn; my grandma received a bag of  brightly coloured “odds and sods”, which she’ll use to crochet blankets for charity; and my friend received the two bears cross-stitches which she will complete for her son who is due to arrive in just a fortnight’s time.

It’s not just yarn, though.  I’ve been lucky enough to build quite the library.  I have 6 book-cases in my home, plus two bedside cabinets full of books.  Add to that a wardrobe bursting with clothes, a kitchen overflowing with kitchen paraphernalia and a collection of “treasures” and you’ve got one full house.  Living with my stash in my face (it had to live in the spare room with my DH and me while my friend slept in our room) has made me feel very stressed.

Clutter = Stressful

I’ve never been one for minimalism.  I dislike cold, unwelcoming rooms and much prefer the cosier, lived-in feel of a room with eclectic furniture, books, throws and soft-lighting.  However, I do sometimes lust after the clean, calming space of a minimalist home.  The feeling of pressure and being overwhelmed is one that many people experience when they have a lot of “clutter”.  Looking back, this shouldn’t be a revelation to me.  When my DH and I were dating and I visited at weekends, I used to drive him bananas by insisting his room was tidied before I could get down to concentrating on my marking and lesson planning.

Yes, it’s lovely to have treasures but ultimately you need to ask yourself, are these enhancing my life or causing me stress?

Clutter is defined as “mess”, or “covering or filling things with stuff” – that word again.  www.personalorganizing.about.com goes a bit further and provides definitions of the 6 main types of clutter:

1) Aspirational Clutter
2) Clutter without a storage space
3) Trash masquerading as clutter
4) Bargain Clutter
5) Abundance Clutter
6) Sentimental Clutter.

You Can’t Organise Clutter

I’ve tried and this little gem of wisdom from FLYLady has been proven time and again.  Yes, you can buy pretty storage boxes and baskets and bins to keep your stuff, but does it really help?  No.  At the end of the day, the stuff is still there.  Worse still, it’s out of sight and out of mind.  It sits there, unloved, unused, unwanted.  “Unwanted?” I hear you cry. “Yes it is!  That’s why I bought the pretty storage boxes.”

Is it really wanted, though?  If you’re happy to hide it away and feel the need to “store” it?  How often do you go to those pretty boxes and pull something out?  Be honest with yourself, if you picture your storage now, do you really know what’s in there?

“Yes,” the old me said, feeling smug. “Wool.”

Okay, but what wool?  Could I tell you exactly what yarn and what project it was earmarked for?  Nope.  What about the knitting magazines I had stockpiled – could I tell you (without looking) even one project I’d determined to try?  Nope.  What about the books on my shelf? GoodReads tells me that I’ve 95 books to read but could I name ten of them?  Nope again.

FLYLady has a game:  Pretend you’re moving.  What do you really want and need to take with you?  The thought of transferring all of my clutter to a new home makes me feel sad – why would I want to fill it up with stuff to trip over and not love?

Decluttering is Blessing Others

FLYLady (yes, you really should check her website out http://www.flylady.net ) gave me this little mantra.  Am I really doing those 95 books justice by holding onto them and not reading them?  Wouldn’t someone else love to read them?  Couldn’t they do some good?  Don’t sell your stuff – that makes more work.  Take control and bless others by donating your lovely things to good causes.  I support the British Heart Foundation and regularly take bags of items into their store in the local town centre.  Every few months I receive a lovely letter, telling me how much my goods have raised for research into heart disease.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “What goes around comes around”?  There have been times when I’ve been glad of a charity shop find.  When I started my teaching career and had to relocate, it left no money to upgrade my student wardrobe to something suited to a professional job.  The charity shops in the town I moved to had a lovely stock of tailored suits and blouses – perfect! When I took a job in a secondary school with no library, I purchased £150 worth of books to start one in a disused classroom.  For that £150 I bought books that would have cost me 7 times that much in a bookstore, or from a school supplies company.  My children adored the books and the BHF received a sizeable amount of money for its research.

Blessing others doesn’t just have to involve donating to charity shops.  My friend, who is heavily pregnant and facing life as a single mother, was thrilled with the beautiful curtains which my grandmother had made me for my room at my parents’ home.  She’s also been given two beautiful bedside lamps for her room and two white children’s bookcases for her unborn son.  Add to that the yarn for a blanket she’s trying to knit and two cross-stitches, she’s feeling blessed indeed.  These aren’t my old “castoffs” they’re beautiful things which I cannot use and, if I kept hold of them, would become clutter.  My own home is a mix of things DH and I have bought and things family have donated to get us going.  Our table and chairs?  From my aunt.  Our side-tables?  Grandma.  Our “curio cabinet”?  My aunt’s, which she has had for 5 years after her DH found it in a skip and restored it.  That cabinet has been saved from landfill, looks beautiful and displays our treasures perfectly.

My Decluttering Tips (Review)

I’ve spent the last 3 years, on and off, decluttering.  I’ve read countless blogs and tried countless tips.  Below are some of the ones I’ve found the most useful.

Decluttering Clothes

1) Three questions: a) does it fit? b) is it damaged? c) have I worn it in the past year?

2) Try to limit your hangers to 40.  I know – this sounds crazy, doesn’t it?  I didn’t manage 40 but I’ve got it down to 60.  How lucky am I?  Asking these questions made it easy to let them go and remembering my own charity-shop wardrobe as a new teacher reminded me of the importance of donating.

3) Try the backwards hanger technique.  Having decluttered my wardobe, I’ve turned all of my hangers backwards.  By Christmas (we’re in June so this takes in nearly three seasons), any hangers which are still backwards will have their garments donated.

4) Be realistic.  The frock I wore to my friends’ wedding doesn’t get worn every 6 months but I’ve worn it to two weddings and a prom – I love it, it fits beautifully and I have occasion to wear it every so often.  It wouldn’t fit the backwards hanger rule, but I need to keep hold of it.  I’m also not ready to get rid of my wedding dress. However, I’m not keeping hold of lots of clothes for sentimental reasons.

Decluttering Bookshelves

Now this is one which I found quite emotionally draining – just the thought of releasing books made me feel slightly faint.  I adore books – I always have.  However, after lots of trawling of the internet, I’ve found some tips to help.

1) Did I enjoy it?  Will I read it again?

2) Does it give me pleasure to see on the shelf?

3) Am I likely to read it within the next 6 months?

Using this has helped me to purge 20 books from my bookshelves.  I’ve released books which a friend gave me three years ago (they’d been destined for a charity shop but she thought I’d enjoy them first) and never read.  I’ve released books which I never intend to read again and books which I didn’t enjoy.  I’ve still got 5 book-cases full but I can see what I’ve got more easily now (I did have double-depth bookcases) and the books which give me joy to look at or to read again remain.  I could probably release more but I’m taking it one step at a time.

Decluttering Baby Steps

1) 15 minutes a day – this might seem like nothing but decluttering is very tiring, sometimes emotionally as well as physically.  Weighing up the value of your possessions versus their value to others, particularly when they’ve sentimental value can be tough.  With just 15 minutes a day, you can make a sizeable dent in your stuff and clutter.

2) Three boxes.  Lots of sites recommend this approach and I agree.  Have three boxes, or a box, a bag and a bin-bag.  One is for “put away”, another for “give away” and the bin-bag is for “throw away”.  Once your “put away” box is full, put everything in it where it should actually live.  Once the “give away” bag is full, put it into your car boot or by the front door ready to be donated at the next possible opportunity – don’t allow it to clutter up your home any longer.

Benefits of Decluttering

Decluttering is a lengthy process and, as I find more useful tips, I shall share and review them.  For now though, a note on the benefits of decluttering:

1)  I feel less stressed.  Tidy rooms do help to make you feel relaxed.

2) I feel less guilty.  View purchased items as sunk funds – you’re never going to get the money back so why cry over it?  Release your goods so they can be used and they’re no longer a waste or a visual reminder of a bad purchase.

3) I’m less distracted from DH.  We can hardly ever watch TV in the evenings without me leaping up without warning to do a little job I’ve just seen.  Having a tidier, decluttered home makes home feel more relaxing and welcoming.  Far from being a cold minimalist box, our home retains its cosiness but no longer makes us feel hemmed in.

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6 thoughts on “A Tidy House; A Tidy Mind: The Art of Decluttering

    1. I know! The irony is it was a new school with a community library on the ground floor that the public could use but we couldn’t take the students there because of ‘safeguarding’ as anyone could walk in. X

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    1. Thank you for your comment – it’s amazing how liberating a bit of a declutter can be! I’m reading this great book at the moment – The Happiness Project – and in it the author describes her friend’s habit of always keeping one shelf in her home empty.It might sound bizarre but it’s apparently a luxury and gives the impression of having room. I’m definitely going to give it a go in our new home. Good luck with the rest of your peeling! X

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