“If you have clutter in your real life, your tangible life, then it really adds to the emotional clutter in your mind.” – Giuliana Rancic
Early in our marriage, my wife and I dropped by to see my mum’s cousin. Her daughter was a reporter with the local paper and it seems like our visit was something that didn’t happen too often in their part of the country.
When we entered the house, I was first overcome with a smell that was something between the staleness of old, mouldy newspaper and the stench of one who hasn’t used soap for a while.
Both were probably true.
The second thing that hit us as we made our way through the kitchen was the sheer amount of clutter: picture every bench, cupboard and table piled high with dirty/clean dishes, magazines, appliances and leftover snacks. As we moved into the ‘living area’ we mused how that one could exist in this room, but certainly not live: piles of newspapers and magazines, boxes filled with who-knows-what, clothing and blankets thrown around haphazardly, and a narrow aisle through it all to get to the furniture . . . which we had to clear off before we dared to be seated . . . if we didn’t mind the dust.
Before we were able to escape outside for the obligatory photo, we both made mental notes of this disconcerting state of intense clutter, hoarding and filth, and silently pledged our home would never, ever become like this.
Thank God, our house has always been clean. We have never had to struggle to find a pathway anywhere on our home. We were pretty good at this ‘uncluttered’ life.
So we thought.
When I first came upon The Minimalists, I thought we had our stuff under control. We didn’t have boxes of unused clothing in the spare room, our bookshelves were filled with books we loved, and our wardrobes contained clothing that we wore somewhat regularly …at least that was what we thought.
Until we decided to test how much of a hoard we had and hired a skip bin. We logged on to Skip Bins Online and, the next day, a huge Jim’s Skip Bins truck dropped off an empty container in the driveway. Over the following week, we went through our shed, our spare room, our wardrobes and drawers, our cupboards and our yard and hardly found anything to throw out filled the bin to bursting with all sorts of rubbish and useless stuff … plus 12 huge garbage bags full of clothing, bric-a-brac, Manchester and kitchen gear to drop by the Salvos, plus several boxes of books to pass on to friends who read!
In the process I relieved myself of thousands of old photos (scanned them), yearbooks (took photos of memorable pages), music books (haven’t sung those songs for decades!) and ‘just in case’ clutter (you know what this is—the two kitchen drawers full of buttons, ribbons, shoe strings, nuts, screws, that old hinge from the previous kitchen door which you might need one day, golf pencils, promotional pens, various ointments and bottles of who-knows-what …)
We were gob-smacked at how much stuff—rubbish and donate-able goods—we could find in our average 3-bedroom home. Surprisingly, it didn’t stop there. For the next 3 or 4 weeks, our kerbside wheelie bin was chokka with the remnants of the clear out. And, just when I thought we had left only the essentials, I did another run-through the house and gathered enough gear together for a car boot sale (which happened last week and I made over $200) as well as several more bags for a friend who is starting up a charity shop.
Did we need to declutter? Definitely ‘Yes.’ As Francine Jay (Miss Minimalist) is known for saying, “Your home is a living space, not a storage space”–and this enormous pile of stuff was simply making our house a beautiful storage locker. There were things in that skip bin that (first) long ago ceased to have any meaning to us or (second) no longer added value to our life. Getting rid of it was the best decision we’ve made.
Is this the end of it all? No. Living with a minimalist mentality means we are always evaluating what we own using the twin questions of meaning and adding value.
As The Minimalists say, it’s not about the what? but the why? Decluttering is not the end result, just the first step.
You don’t become instantly happy and content by just getting rid of your stuff—at least not in the long run. Decluttering doesn’t work like that. If you simply embrace the what without the why, then you’ll get nowhere (slowly and painfully, by the way, repeatedly making the same mistakes). It is possible to get rid of everything you own and still be utterly miserable, to come home to your empty house and sulk after removing all your pacifiers. I believe we are seeing the value of less more each day and we have come to a point where clutter will not enter our home again. (Blogpost: Decluttering Doesn’t Work. Read it here.)
Strangely enough, one of our favourite programs to watch together on TV is Hoarders. It takes us back to my second cousin’s house and an unfortunately unforgettable day.
Perhaps we know we always need a reminder.
5 Tips for Decluttering (short video)