“Have nothing in your house that you don’t believe is useful or beautiful“, they say. I started my simplify journey with that advice in mind. And soon, it wasn’t enough. There is a difference in information and wisdom. The advice was too broad and easy. Too many beautiful things can lead to unappreciation and anxiety. And I needed to define the term ‘useful’. If I use a certain gadget once a year, is it useful ? Should I keep it ? I created my own guide.
*Its not the empty space but what remains that matters!
There are so many decluttering guides out there. Marie Kondo is practically a rockstar ! The latest trend in fashion is to throw clothes away. And feel good about ‘donating’. I have been at it for the last year. Slowly at first, then all in at once and then slowly again. I want to emphasize : each person’s situation is unique and a one solution fits all is a bad approach to this problem of clutter. I have leant some do’s and dont’s that are applicable to me. Hopefully anyone reading this will ponder and find a way that works for them – not blindly follow the advice on the internet.
WHAT AND WHY ?
I made a mistake. I had lived in a big apartment by myself for 3 years. I had acquired whatever I could without really thinking too much about if it contributes to my closet, home & life. With it, came a certain guilt that is experienced by folks who want a simple life but are surrounded by excess. Yes, I could have held on to it all, forced myself to use it or stored it away to lessen the guilt. But I decided to declutter. It was a year long process.
WHAT IT’S NOT :
When ever i read “Declutter to make space for the new” or “cleanse and find holes for closet completion” or “items you need in your capsule closet now”, its usually bad advice. They treat decluttering as a sport : throw, perform similar actions, refresh, declutter on repeat. French 5 challenge lets you buy 5 items a season – another kind of sport. “Throw, throw, throw” is the gist of so many guides. I think we need to declutter responsibly. Think and evaluate better.
*Be mindful of becoming a source of pollution
FIRST THINGS FIRST :
Disposable fashion/goods/attitude is killing the planet. Know that even when decluttering for the right reasons, you are being a part of the problem that treats resources as disposable. Some call it donating. Some call it decluttering. So call it use-and-throw. I did a big round of decluttering. I want this to be a one time mistake rectification with big lessons learnt. Having items that do not live their full life cycle serving their purpose can be classified as waste making me a source of of pollution. I understand that.
I am assuming nobody is drowning in excess in every category. My problem areas – sleep clothes, jackets, shoes, socks, scarves, having more bottoms than tops, kitchen props, exotic condiments, never-to-be-read books, skin care samples given to me by my dad and Sephora, … to name a few. Florie from The Nife en l’Air writes about identifying the reasons behind the problem – fantastic read !
ORGANIZE Vs DECLUTTER :
Moving into a bigger space, building a bigger closet, storing half of my closet in a box under the stairs, … will lighten the guilt and create the illusion of empty space. If I shove those 2 pairs of heels that I never wear into a nice box, it doesn’t make it less wasteful. I rather give it to someone who will use them. This was my intention.
1. Anything that hasn’t been used for an extended period of time.
They recommend a “t” = 1 year as the cut off. Instead of some arbitrary time “t”, my cut off – was it used at least 5 times in the last six months. This excludes seasonal items of course. I think it’s too much of a luxury to own things that may get used once a year.
2. Sentimental items that positively will never get used.
For me, it’s all in paper. My sentimental keepsakes are maps and love letters. I dont keep toys, unworn clothing, inherited home goods, presents, etc if they dont suit my needs. I have always been ruthless about it. I did size down my map collection – and I regret it.
3. Things that do not fit current lifestyle.
I had a phase when I lived with girl roommates and we would go out dancing on Friday nights. Or make trips to Vegas. Not anymore. Cutoff denim shorts – inherited by a friend. Sparkly heels – inherited by a friend. Studded chiffon “Vegas” dress – sold. One little black dress is enough. I have the confidence that I can style it in multiple ways and never be bored of wearing it.
4. Things that don’t get used because of their upkeep.
Wool, suede and silk. I got comfortable with washing silk and wool. But suede, no. I have sold some shoes and am ready to sell more. Cast iron and wood. I have learnt to season my pans and wooden boards finally ! No more fear of the rust/mould.
*peace after a sunset
5. Repair > replace
If it needs repair, please do not throw or give to charity shops. The sorters at donation centers have so much stuff that they make mark the less than perfect item to a landfill or textile dump. For me, if the price of repair is half the price of the item, I would get it repaired. I am serious when I say I want my shoes to last me a decade. High quality worn in items do not look shabby and sometimes become beautiful as they age.
6. Anything that you dislike and are keeping out of guilt
Polyester/Acrylic clothing from my years of shopping in Zara. Legging-jeans ( My father was the one who finally told me I can’t wear them unless I was working in the clubs. I agree! ). Pointed toe shoes that also double as skin peeler. White sneakers because I am a fashion victim….
7. Things I paid money for and am forcing myself to use just for that reason.
This rule was hard for me to implement. Fast fashion and low quality items – yes. I could let them go. But the well made items that I could not sell, I found ways to use them. I have a Steven Alan chambray shirt that I bought on sale. I do not like the fit and they did not allow returns on sale items. I force myself to wear it from time to time because I spent the money. And its fine. I dont think I am that important that I throw well made items on a whim or dislike of little detail. Perfection is overrated. ( And I am from a third world country. ) I can use it and will use it. If everyone was so whimsical, the planet will have no chance.
8. Anything that I could use x5 times a year out of guilt but could be used x100 times by someone else out of necessity
In the previous rule, I talked about a certain shirt that I wear because it’s expensive. I do use it more than 10 times a year. I had a pair of blue Ralph Lauren jeans that got donated because I couldn’t even meet my 5 times a year threshold. I wear black denim and kept these ones for years because everyone told me I need blue denim. No I don’t ! I don’t miss them at all.
9. Know what to store and what to let go – the 5%
I have this beautiful thin strapped blue dress that doesn’t get a lot of wear. But every time I do, it turns heads and makes me carry myself differently. My girlfriends ask me if they can borrow it. My husband remembers it. I have a very small percentage of my closet space/home dedicated to some not-so-everyday-items that make my heart sing. Too many of such items dilutes the appreciation. Balance is the key and I have just the right amount.
10. Stop shopping
This should be the number one rule for anyone doing a round of decluttering. Use what you have. Commit to what is yours. Get out of the cycle of cull and shop. It’s not a sport. No decluttering guide makes sense if there is a large volume of incoming goods. I see Youtube “Haul” girls make decluttering videos followed by haul videos. They made the whole thing a joke. I am working on taming my purchases.
Coming Next : Declutter: Mistakes & Decluttering: Side Effects. I have reached a sort of happy place. I feel like I can move on and not spent the vast amount of energy I once spent downsizing. I am writing this three part Declutter series as a conclusion of sorts to my last years efforts. I would like to write about other topics but strongly felt that I need to get this out of the way before I talk about anything else. It’s not about what you don’t have but about what remains, right ?