“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” – Leonardo da Vinci
I have always considered myself to be an organised person. However, over the past few years, I became incredibly aware of the amount of stuff I was accumulating. One honest look at my environment and I knew that my life was becoming far too overcrowded with unnecessary clutter. Many of these things I acquired by my own free will (I’m looking at you online sales). Nonetheless, it made me question – Do I really need all of this?
Rather than adding to my life or making me happy, these things wound up having the opposite effect. In truth, when it came down to it, I didn’t really need or like half of the things I owned. I felt weighed down by it all. My cupboards were bursting at the seams with ill-fitting clothing, toiletries, old pots and pans, books and gifts that served no purpose, but to collect dust. Although my home remained organised, I was running out of physical space. It was time to ask some hard questions about my lifestyle.
Over the last year, I have cleared out each room in my house. This has allowed me to decrease the clutter in my life by nearly half. Believe me, there is still plenty of room for improvement, but I have made a solid effort to get rid of the excess – clearing room in my life for better, non-material things. I have started to embrace living a more simple and sustainable life. And to be honest, having less actually makes me appreciate what I do have more.
This is part one in a series about organising your living space. In this article, I will discuss how to pair down your life. In part two, I will talk about how to keep clutter to a minimum and clamping down on the amount of things you acquire.
Choose where to start
Clearing out your home is a daunting task. So, I would suggest that you approach it in baby steps. Make a list of the areas you want to tackle (e.g. closet) and subdivide each area into its smaller components (e.g. tops, trousers, coats, shoes, etc.). Approaching it in this manner will help to alleviate some of the stress of taking on such a huge project. Honestly, some days I only got as far as one small task, but it all adds up over time! I promise!
Lay it all out
You need to see what you actually own. Lay it all out there! So, for instance, take all of your tops from the closet and lay them on the floor. You might want to do this by category such as: work tops, casual tops, etc. Just take stock of what is there. This can be very enlightening!
Disengage from sentimentality
You may need to give yourself a huge pep talk for this. If you attach too much meaning to your things, you will never be free of clutter. Just remember, it’s only stuff. The meaning comes from you, not the object itself!
I’m not trying to encourage you to chuck away family heirlooms. I am just saying that you don’t have to keep a closet full of unwanted gifts out of sheer guilt. One way of getting around this is to think of these objects going to a better place where they are needed. It may help to choose a charity in advance, so you can visualise this when decisions become difficult.
Before I get started, I always have four bags on hand: one for trash, one for recycling, one for charity and one for hand-me-downs. If I decide not to keep an item, I will allocate it to the appropriate bag.
When deciding what to keep and what to discard, consider:
• Do I really need this item?
• When was the last time I used this item?
• How likely am I to actually use this item in the near future?
• Why haven’t I used this item yet?
• How easily could this item be replaced if I were to need it in the future?
• Does this item add to my life or is it just collecting dust?
• Would this item be more useful to somebody else?
Concentrate on keeping only the things you love and which make you happy.
A word on sustainability
Tons and tons of household items, like clothing and furniture, are discarded into landfills each year. Why not give these items another lease on life? By doing so, you’ll be reducing waste, making a valuable impact on the environment and other people’s lives. I have outlined a few ideas to get you started, but you may want to narrow your search by googling places in your area.
There are both clothing stores and charities that accept old clothing and textiles, which they then repurpose, reuse or recycle. These include:
H&M: In exchange for a bag of unwanted clothing or textiles, H&M will give you a voucher for use at any of their stores (UK: £5 off a £20 purchase: USA: 15% off coupon). – http://goo.gl/5cDIcu
Levi Strauss & Co: Similar to H&M, Levi Strauss & Co. also accepts used clothing and textiles. U.S. shoppers are rewarded with a 20% off discount in store. – http://goo.gl/vxQuka
Traid: Traid is a UK-based charity, which works to increase clothing reuse to reduce the environmental and social impact of our clothes. – http://goo.gl/b4j3C1
Charities put the money earned from your unwanted items towards things like support for vulnerable individuals or vital scientific research. Select a few charities that you believe in and donate your unwanted goods! Most accept clothing, textiles, books, knick-knacks and furniture, amongst other things.
Ladies – you can also donate your unwanted bras. There are several charities, which donate the proceeds to women’s causes such as breast cancer and vulnerable women in Africa (who are at higher risk of sexual violence without them). I suggest googling bra donation to find a suitable charity in your location.
If you are looking to make a bit of extra money, you can:
- Host a yard sale or boot sale – give your items a new home and earn some spare change in the process.
- Ebay it – remember the good old saying ‘One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.’ – www.ebay.com
You may want to consider taking nearly new or branded clothing and accessories to a clothing exchange or consignment shop. These shops allow you to exchange unwanted items towards cash or in-store credit.
Organise like with like
Now that you have sorted through all of your clutter, it’s time to put it away. My best tip for reorganising your things is to place like with like. When I was clearing out my own space, I noticed that I had items, such as books, scattered all over the house. It may seem silly, but the only way to continually quantify how much you own is to give these items their own unique place. Plus, now, you’ll always know where to find them!
Don’t hide things away
In the great words of The Minimalists (http://www.theminimalists.com), at a certain point, “organising is nothing more than well-planned hoarding.” I won’t lie, I’m weird and I love me some containers. However, I have found that if you keep things packed away, piled up or totally out of sight, you will forget that you own them! Rather than lose track of your possessions, display what you can. Label any boxes that you must pack away and set a particular place for items that you will remember to check before repurchasing.
A lifelong habit
Let’s be honest, it is impossible to go the rest of your life without accumulating at least some stuff. You will need to stay on top of it. Consider this a lifelong habit. If you are mindful about what you own, what you buy and what you really need, the rest will fall into place.
I am still continuing to pair down my life. It’s not an exact science. However, overall, it feels really good to gain a bit of control over my environment, and, I dare say, life does feel lighter!
Have you recently decluttered your life? We’d love to hear your experience. Please let us know in the comment section below.