You have probably already heard that decluttering was good for you, that it could increase the Qi (life energy) of your home, that it would invite change into your life. Yes, it is all correct. In my experience, I have witnessed the biggest life changes in people's lives when they got rid of clutter.
However, as much as we know this intellectually, we also know that throwing stuff out is stress-inducing. Therefore, because we imagine a painful process, we keep putting it off. Another obstacle to decluttering is that most of us do not know how to go about it. We struggle because we do not have a system. In other words, we do not know the rules of what works and what doesn't when it comes to throwing stuff out.
For example, I used to struggle a lot when it came down to throwing things during a move. (I have moved to at least 7 different places in the last 10 years either temporarily or more "permanently"). I would basically have debilitating anxiety starting 3-4 months before the move. On top of that, given the fact that I knew I did not have a system, and given the fact that I had had bad experiences with moving in the past, the stress increased each time I moved. And finally I was drained and stressed after the move because I realized that I had kept the wrong things and lost other things. I was a mess for a while afterwards.
I had always known something had to change in the way I organized my belongings. But with my first child on the way, I really had to hurry to get myself together. I knew things would get even more complicated. And they did. Soon after the birth, my husband got a job in New Orleans, so all of a sudden, I was having to pack all our belongings into a SUV to move cross country with our first born and put the rest in storage. We had one week. I had no choice, I had to break through. I forced myself to endure a crash course in decluttering. I googled, I read and I tried everything from labeling to buying plastic containers, to renting a storage space.
However, the solution that kept intuitively coming to me was: "You have to own much less stuff in the first place!"
And although I resisted that intuition, having been conditioned my whole life to buy, store, reshuffle, and pack, I finally gave into it.
I realized that the key was to know everything you own at all times. No more surprises in the garage or opening up a suitcase or in your parents' basement. And for that, you just need to reduce the amount of stuff you own and follow a few simple steps.
Now I practice my system like it's second nature. I want to share this system with you because I think it can help you as much as it has helped me.
I encourage my clients to implement them before I come for a consultation so we can have more time to implement actual remedies. And I can tell you as a Feng Shui practitioner (who was not the most organized person), it works.
The system I use for myself and my clients is:
- Look around and see what you can throw right now. Pick a garbage bag and fill it up. Then write "Donate" on it (makes you feel better than throwing in the garbage). If the next day you keep thinking about an item you packed and cannot let go, go get it. The rest should go to a donation bank the day after. (You can also ask your friends if they want to go through your donated clothes bag. But they should not delay more than two-three days, otherwise you will not experience the immediate benefits of decluttering and/ or you might get cold feet altogether and hoard).
- Ask yourself if you really love that painting, that object in any room at any time. When you have your breakfast at the dining table, just look around. If you see something that either is out of place, or that you bought "because it was on sale" or someone gave it to you but you do not truly like, it is time to question if you still want to own it. If you answer NO to this question, the item should go in your donation bag. Repeat in every room.
- Do not keep art, photos, gifts, furniture that have bad (or less than excellent) memories attached to it. We unintentionally keep memories that are bad memories, so pay attention to that. For example, you have a photo on the wall of your graduation day with your grandmother whom you adore. But every time you look at it, you remember that your mom couldn't make it that day because of poor planning on her part. Do not keep that photo! Even if your grandmother is a positive person in your life, you do not have to relive that painful day each time you spend time in your living room! We become our thoughts... So let's pay attention to bad thoughts associated with the objects that surround us.
- Every corner of your home should feel welcoming and positive to you. Nagging objects, photos and furniture should be removed. For example, an exercise bike in your living room that you have rarely used, a huge tool box in your kitchen cabinet that your dad got you so you could become handy, a pressure cooker that takes up all your counter space but you never cook. Ask yourself what these objects say to you, If not used they might subtly convey to you that you are in a less than excellent shape, that you will never please your dad or be handy like him, that you will never be able to make your mother's holiday meals, etc. No more nagging needed in our lives, get rid of these objects ! We have social media nagging us enough, don't we?
- Make it fun! Do it with your family members! Your kids art/toys are taking up a ton of space? Help them determine what they truly love and what they don't. Put everything in the middle of their room and help them ask themselves if they really want to keep them. I recently did that that with my 3 year old, I just assumed he would be upset. I was surprised to find out that he was happy to have thrown away half of his toys! They were gifts for the most part that he wasn't taking to, or toys he had outgrown. He said that "the mess" was always keeping him from finding the ones he truly liked! Wow. Kids have the knowledge!
- Objects should be used, or their energy becomes unnecessary weight on your Qi (Chi). For example, if you have been pregnant and have a bag of pregnancy clothes and you know of a pregnant woman who needs them, donate/ lend them now! If you know you want to be pregnant again, ask the person to give the clothes back. Belongings should be in use or should not be in your home! Same goes for sports gear, kids toys, instruments, etc.
- Do a spring cleaning and a fall cleaning (in order to refresh your wardrobe, change your bedding and re-assess your belongings) and impromptu throw away/ give away days throughout the year. This way, you check your clutter-meter periodically.
- Avoid the just in case shopping or hoarding. For example, your kitchen always feels cluttered because you have 3 or 4 identical bulky pantry items. While we might think buying in bulk saves time and that we will avoid the discomfort of "missing", we really take up way more space than is necessary to achieve those goals. We just end up spending our "saved" time and effort shuffling articles around to find what we are looking for... And the visual clutter is an aggression that is hard to quantify, but it is real.
All I am asking of you is that you try some of these techniques for 3 days. If nothing changes, you can stop. But in my experience, when people start they really cannot stop. It feels too good!
If you want to go further...
If you're looking for a radical change, use the much-praised Marie Kondo method. If you do it well, you will probably end up keeping 40-50% of what you currently own. That's right, she's radical. If you are on the hoarder spectrum, it is probably not for you as it will scare you. But if your goal is to have a minimalist home, this is for you!
Disclaimer: She is not a fan of donating possessions, as she claims it will burden someone else. She suggests throwing into the garbage. I disagree with that part. Too much is wasted everyday! Make an effort to donate to the right person/ cause or make a clothes donation to Habitat, Goodwill or the Salvation Army .
Please help yourself and help the planet stay lean!