Clutter

“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.

Explore Further

5 Tips for Decluttering (short video)

10 Creative Ways to Declutter Your Home

18 Five-Minute Decluttering Tips to Start Conquering Your Mess

Minimalism

I’ve been attracted, lately, to the concept-movement of Minimalism. This began about 9 months ago when I came across, quite accidentally, the website theminimalists.com curated by Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus. I was drawn in by their story and their journey together from the dog-eat-dog corporate world to a simple, minimalist life. I immediately bought their book Everything That Remains and devoured their story. What attracted me to the lifestyle they presented was the freedom of owning less and the contentment that came from needing less.

Now it’s not all about living in a house where the Living Room consists of a rug, a lamp and a chair and your refrigerator’s contents would fit in a handbag. It’s about being intentional in your possession of things: only owning what you need and what brings you joy (and these can be the same things).

I have been studying this phenomenon for several months now through books, podcasts, blogs, and videos. My curiosity has taken me into the Tiny House movement which sprang up in opposition to the bigger-is-better mentality that pervades the real estate industry. I have been bemused by the journeys of Colin Wright who asks readers of his blog where he should travel next, and then makes his home there for three months before, once again, moving on to another democratically-decided destination. I really enjoy reading the Zen Habits blog which is not just about minimalism, but about simplifying life in every aspect.  Joshua Becker is another who has written and spoken extensively about minimalism, through the lens of his family’s ‘conversion’ to this life and his most recent book The More of Less is on my current reading list.

I’d have to say that choosing to live as a minimalist forces a person to be incredibly intentional regarding possessions and the use of money.

In his post 10 Reasons to Escape Excessive Consumerism, Becker lists several reasons I find compelling:

Less time spent caring for possessions. “The never-ending need to care for the things we own is draining our time and energy. Whether we are maintaining property, fixing vehicles, replacing goods, or cleaning things made of plastic, metal, or glass, our life is being emotionally and physically drained by the care of things that we don’t need—and in most cases, don’t enjoy either. We are far better off owning less.”

Less need to keep up with evolving trends. “A culture built on consumption must produce an ever-changing target to keep its participants spending money. And our culture has nearly perfected that practice. As a result, nearly every year, a new line of fashion is released as the newest trend. And the only way to keep up is to purchase the latest fashions and trends when they are released… or remove yourself from the pursuit altogether.”

More contentment. As Fields-Millburn and Nicodemus often say, releasing one’s grip on possessions is like dumping a heavy load of anxiety, clutter and wasted energy. We enjoy what we have more when we actually have less.

More generosity. “Rejecting excessive consumerism always frees up energy, time, and finances. Those resources can then be brought back into alignment with our deepest heart values.”

Greater ability to see through empty claims. “Fulfilment is not on sale at your local department store—neither is happiness. It never has been. And never will be. We all know this to be true. We all know that more things won’t make us happier. It’s just that we’ve bought into the subtle message of millions upon millions of advertisements that have told us otherwise. Intentionally stepping back for an extended period of time helps us get a broader view of their empty claims.”

As Joshua Becker concludes, “Escaping excessive consumption is not an easy battle. If it were, it would be done more often… myself included. But it is a battle worth fighting because it robs us of life far more than we realise.”

I’m not a minimalist in the sense that I haven’t arrived at a place where I could say my life is now lived in its simplest, most pure form. Yet I am becoming more intentional about this area of my life each day and am happy to say, in small ways, I have proven true the vast majority of what are preached to be the benefits of Minimalism (and, in this space, I hope you’ll see how this develops over the next few weeks and months.) What I have enjoyed so far makes me want less. Sounds wrong, doesn’t it? But it is true.