Oh, hey. I’m talking about simplifying or decluttering again. But, this time I’m not talking about decluttering that I’ve done, instead, I want to talk about the process.
I’ve been thinking a lot about all the different times I decluttered and thought “Aha, this is it – I’m finally finished!” Like a lot of things in life, we’re led to believe that this one magic things will change everything – this exercise routine will make us fit, this diet will make us thin, this decluttering book will fix our home, this minimalism book will make us minimalists, etc. But, it’s not true. Often, we need to try a couple times or even a couple options before we find something that works for us, that’s sustainable and that helps us see what and where the problem really was.
For me, my decluttering journey was a bit like the oft used image of peeling onion layers: The first couple of times I decluttered, I really only removed the surface junk and re-organized everything. Seeing that it hadn’t help in the long run, I decided to be more ruthless and (because I still thought I could solve problems with better storage) to buy “better” furniture options (shelves that I thought would be more useful, etc.). It wasn’t until a couple months after this that I started to think that the problem was deeper. Maybe I actually needed to do a proper purge and than simplify my life.
I started to think about moving to a smaller space, something that I had resisted for a long time because “real adults” don’t live in bachelor apartments! Wanting to move made me do a little experiment – I forced myself to live in my living room only. My bedroom became a sort of storage unit for all the things that didn’t fit in the livingroom. The experiment taught me two things: living in a smaller space is awesome (for me, anyway) and I didn’t actually want a lot of the stuff I had.
I think that it was at this point that I finally did my first real declutter. I tried to channel Marie Kondo, and I was pretty ruthless. But, even after several weekends, I still knew that more had to go – not because I had too much to fit in a space, but because I had too many “I dunnos” and “I’m not readys.” I worked on selling and donating what I had decided to get rid of and planned to revisit everything in a few months.
Then things got a bit derailed because my neighbour had bed bugs. I can tell you, you will be willing to throw away anything and everything to avoid or get rid of bed bugs. Also, living out of plastic bags and containers for several weeks makes you realize just how awful it can be to have a lot of stuff. It was nearly 2 months from the day I had to pack everything up to the day that I was finally able to put everything back on shelves and such without worrying about bed bugs. I’d gotten rid of a lot of things in those 2 months – mostly things that couldn’t be washed or dried in high heat and things that were ruined by being washed or dried in high heat.
Immediately after that, I was offered a bachelor unit that I loved. I was still tired and stressed from the bed bugs, but I really wanted to new space, so I found myself selling/donating furniture and things in a mad fury, trying to get down to a reasonable amount of stuff for the new apartment, which was half the size on my one bedroom (and, yes, I was bed bug free then, so I didn’t put other people at risk). It was exhausting and I knew that I would need to rethink pretty much everything I kept because my new space simply didn’t have enough room, despite getting rid of so much before I moved. It felt like I’d gone back to having that too full apartment I’d started with – there were piles of things that didn’t have a home, boxes with detailed inventories so I could find things, and all my closets were crammed full.
At the time, I decided to just leave things and allow myself to live in the space for a while. I wanted to get a feel for what I wanted the space to look like and for how I used the space. Also, I wanted a break from decluttering, selling, and donating.
I did do a couple purposeful reviews, but as pleased as I was with my work, weeks later I would realize that I’d only skimmed the surface. By then, I’d decluttered so often, I think I was starting to feel burnt out from the efforts. So, I put off any big work for several months.
I don’t know what spurred it, but this past Christmas, I finally did a really big job that took several days. It was huge for me. It was when I finally realized that I had to do something about my unread book collection (175-ish at the time – way too many for a slow reader) and when I realized that I was going to have to go back to my craft and sewing supplies to be really ruthless when I had the energy. Even though I hadn’t tackled the craft supplies, things finally started to fall into place. Someone asked me if I was moving, and it occurred to me that for the first time since my mom died, the idea of moving didn’t terrify me: I could afford it and I didn’t have too much stuff.
That realization was so liberating. Suddenly, my space didn’t just look better and more organized, it actually felt better. I no longer felt shackled in place by my stuff. This gave me the energy to tackle those last few areas (my craft supplies) with renewed commitment to only keep what I would use and what I truly loved. I only kept about a quarter of everything, and I don’t regret a single decision.
At long last, I think that I’ve finally hit that magic spot. After all these years of peeling back layers and layers, I finally feel like I’ve reached a point of equilibrium – I have what I need, I use what I have and nothing owns me. For the first time, I can list specific items that I still need to make a decision about (before, it was whole categories):
- I have a duvet cover that I bought to use as a summer “blanket”. It was an impulse purchase, but I want to wait and see if I’ll use it this summer before making a decision about it.
- I have a few items in a “maybe” box, but already know that I only want to keep 2 of them (a couple books), so I’ll clear that out later today.
- I’m still on the fence about my slow cooker. I used it weekly when I first bought it, but I prefer my stove top recipes.
- I have a large Ikea tray that’s beautiful but fairly useless in my space. I used to use it when I was working on projects on my bed (as a flat surface to hold things), but I’m trying to avoid using my bed for anything but sleep, so the tray can go.
- I have my unread shelf, but I’m working on that as part of a separate project.
The reason I’m writing about this is because I want you to know that it you’re trying to declutter, simplify, or minimize – do it, but don’t expect miracles. Most people probably won’t have the long journey I had, but some will. Be patient, both with yourself and with the process. Keep working and have the courage to be ruthless. Find inspiration (books, videos, podcasts, friends and family, etc.). Finally, be aware that you may need to repeat the process a couple times – getting rid of some things may result in the realization that you don’t need other things.