On ruthless de-cluttering

So lately I’ve been using as much of my ‘spare’ time as possible trying to address issues in my home: namely, ridiculous piles of clutter on every surface and in every corner. Ever since I realised that home décor does actually interest me and is something I get pleasure from, I have begun to take on chores which have been neglected for, literally, years. And for the first time I am seeing rooms which I have ‘dressed’ and really enjoy spending time in, and it makes me feel like a proper grown up at last; which is weird when you consider that I’m in my early 40s and I have two small children to my name.

I read Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project way back at the beginning of 2013 but every now and again parts of it come back to me and now I remember that she devotes a chapter to de-cluttering too, arguing that “outer order contributes to inner calm”. I’m a great believer in this simply because I have experienced it for myself on and off over the years and I recognise the feeling I get after clearing out bulging cupboards, sorting and shredding huge piles of paperwork or completing a successful trip to the nearest tip. If a bout of exercise releases feel-good endorphins then de-cluttering must be the lazy person’s route to a legal high.

I was also pointed in the direction of a programme about happiness over on Netflix recently and it transpires that some of the poorest people with the least amount of material possessions are amongst the happiest that the documentary makers encountered which speaks volumes.

I think the thing about clutter is that a lot of the things we choose to retain keep us firmly rooted in the past – things with sentimental value, clothes that remind of us when we were young/skinny/hip (delete as applicable). I am guilty of keeping hold of paperwork long out of date – MOT certificates from a decade ago, receipts/guarantees for computer equipment long since obsolete. There is a fear of loss, of letting go of something which *may* still have some use. But in the end you have to weigh the value psychologically.

I read an article recently which goes much more in to depth about the psychology of our relationship with clutter and I found it fascinating. The things we choose to keep are not just about who we were in the past, but can also be about who we were hoping to be in the future. As I may have mentioned, I have had many aspirations over the years – be it to create my own artwork or become a master baker – but eventually, you have to take an audit of your own life (another of Gretchen Rubin’s points too) and kind of just let go of those unrealised dreams, and in so doing, let go of some of the tools of those trades that you might have acquired as if to fool the world into believing that you actually are that person – accept that there are paths which you may never walk. Only recently I got rid of a big pile of old fading, out of date copies of ‘The Rough Guide to…’ that I picked up maybe 20 years ago. I had Switzerland, Costa Rica, Norway… I’m not saying I’ll never visit those places but I’m learning to accept that I’m never going to be that world traveller that lives in my mind. Heck I haven’t even left the UK since 2010. And it’s a wrench – which is probably why people find it so hard to get motivated to take on what should be a straightforward task of tidying and organising.

My brother in law on the hubster’s side is an army man and as a consequence they have led a relatively nomadic existence moving from one posting to the next. My sister in law has become an expert over the years at packing up and moving on and yet she is a huge fan of home décor and home styling and, in my opinion, a natural at it. I was speaking to her husband K, a few weeks ago and he said she is an expert at keeping things clutter-free. Despite being able to take pleasure in sourcing and buying various pieces of furniture and decorative items for their home, she has no problem changing things up and selling off unwanted items on ebay as soon as space is needed for another project or house move. Sometimes they also make a great profit in the process.

I think what my sister in law’s example really teaches me is that everything we own does not have to have some significance or necessity.

I have already drafted a list in my head of items I want to try and sell on ebay. This task and the sorting of years’ worth of paperwork are the ones I keep putting off but I know it will make the rest of the process easier as these are the main things I own with a potential ‘value’ – financial or otherwise.

Yes I think my new mantra has to be ‘less is more’ – I crave that sense of freedom that can only come through empty (or easily cleared) spaces. So wish me luck on my journey – I believe it will become possible only in small steps and stages but eventually I will reach that El Dorado – and maybe I’ll even achieve Gretchen Rubin’s golden ticket to headspace potential – “The Empty Shelf”.


And then the fun began...

39 thoughts on “On ruthless de-cluttering

    • That’s good Jocelyn. We both find it a bit hard to let go of things around here which makes it doubly hard to clear up. It is coming together little by little though! X

  1. I agree, I love a food clear out. It’s so random you have written this, as over the past few days I’ve been having a huge spring clean – must have decluttered about 5 bin bags of stuff from the house. It feels good to live in a more organised house – I just hope we can keep it up 🙂 xxx
    mylittledreamworld1 recently posted…It’s been a while.My Profile

    • It’s amazing how you can clear out bags and bags of stuff one day and just look at all of it in amazement at where it came from! I know for a fact that I have so much more stuff to get rid of but I’m currently focusing on storage solutions which isn’t really ruthless enough but it’s buying me time to let go with the heart as well as the head on some things.

    • I think for anyone like you who is properly into the way their home looks then clutter is anathema – you must get into that mind set of chucking stuff out before it’s even come through the door – for example, cardboard boxes. I’m forever hanging onto them in a “what if I need to return this product/’re-sell/sell something else and send it/do some crafting…” etc. Ad infinitum. Thanks so much for stopping by to comment X

  2. I love the less is more mantra. I struggle as my OH is a hoarder. I’d love to have as little around us as possible, but it’s hardwith the kids though too. We seem to constantly collect stuff for them! X

    • If you are the hoarder then it’s possible to change, if it’s your husband then that’s not so great. In our house we are probably as bad as each other! And the kids? Well as you say they bring with them a *lot* of detritus! 🙂 X

  3. I have been on a bit of a decluttering kick, too. We’re preparing to move into our first “real” home and I don’t want to drag a lot of stuff with us. I also believe that having a clean, clutter-free environment does wonders for one’s sense of happiness. I do agree that we hold onto things do to sentimental value (I know I do!) and because of what we thought we would be (also guilty!). I’m slowly working towards aligning all these things and wish you all the best!
    Brandyn Blaze recently posted…The Truth About…My Yoga PantsMy Profile

    • Moving house is probably the one huge motivational factor to decluttering – when I declutter now I go about it as if I am preparing for a house move. It is really difficult sometimes though isn’t it? We get so attached to stuff. X

  4. The psychology behind de-cluttering makes perfect sense to me. My kitchen island is a bit of a dumping ground and gets to the point where hubby can’t think straight so has to be be cleared! I’m really pleased to hear that you’re getting so much out of your interest in home interiors hon xxx
    Mummy Tries recently posted…What Kate Did NextMy Profile

    • It really can bog you down can’t it? I remember moving back in with my parents after divorce and being surrounded by bags and bags of everything that represented my life and just feeling physically and mentally repressed by all of it. X

  5. Decluttering is so satisfying and something I badly need to do and keep putting off. Your before and after photos of your kitchen are amazing – mine currently looks much like the before photos! So glad that you’ve discovered an interest in home decor which is helping you declutter – I agree with your points that we hold on to things and can get rooted too much in the past. Maybe I’ll get round to doing something about it this month! Thank you for sharing and for hosting #thetruthabout 🙂
    Louise recently posted…I’m going to BritMums Live 2015My Profile

    • I’m so glad someone mentioned my kitchen surface transformation Louise! It makes a huge difference to how you feel about your home I think – I definitely recommend that you carve out a couple of hours to tackle at least one corner – difficult I know! X

  6. This is a brilliant post, Sam. I love how you’ve added the insights of your reading to make it so much more than a piece about decluttering. I can’t bear clutter but it just builds up. Everything having a place is the key – but my paperwork is my downfall. Not bills and stuff, but letters from family and artwork by the boys. I just don’t want to throw it all out as I fear they will be the only reminder of my past when I am older. But then, do I need that reminder? Hmm. Thought-provoking stuff lovely. xx
    Jess Paterson recently posted…Potty Training: How To Make It Easier On YourselfMy Profile

    • Thanks for the lovely compliment Jess! The article I read suggested that it’s ok for memory’s sake to pick one piece of artwork or old birthday card – you just don’t need them all! It is hard to let go though. Xx

  7. I love this! I’m going to share it with my Facebook followers.

    Generally I’m quite good with clutter (as in I don’t have a lot) but even so, since the beginning of the year I’ve been really ruthless. It makes me feel really good to be streamlined but I was really interested in the psychological motivations for accumulating stuff too.

    Betty and the Bumps recently posted…Our trip to Center Parcs, Whinfell ForestMy Profile

    • Thanks so much for sharing! I think it’s such a compliment. I guess some of us are more sentimental than others when it comes to clinging on to old stuff! X

    • It’s fab isn’t it? I notice you say “we” – I think that is often key as I don’t feel comfortable making “ruthless” decisions about my husband’s stuff! X

    • I’m so pleased you enjoyed reading this – I really love exploring psychological aspects of everyday life – I think it’s fascinating. There is definitely a feeling of freedom and “space to breathe” after a good clear out. X

  8. I really enjoyed reading this Sam, you’re such a good writer. I totally agree with the way de-cluttering effects your mental well being. It really does with me. I try to keep on top of my ‘crap piles and sort them each week or fortnight. I get quite panicky if my house is all upside down too. It’s been like that a lot lately as we’re having work done and things have been chucked everywhere while we have carpets fitted and walls painted. I can feel myself getting anxious when it’s like that and when it’s all back tidy again I feel much more happy, content and productive. Fab post and I’ll have to look at that book you mention. I love books like that. xxx
    teacuptoria recently posted…50 Things That Make Me HappyMy Profile

    • I know that anxious feeling so well Tor! It totally stresses me out when building or house moving mess descends! Thanks for the compliment on my writing too – it’s nice to think that people appreciate style as well as content! Xx

  9. Really interesting Sam, I’m a bit of a mixture I think. I love a good declutter and absolutely feel better afterwards, and I don’t like to think of myself as being overly sentimental… But I do tend to keep things ‘just in case we need them” so the clutter does build up. I also hate throwing things away just because we don’t need them anymore, and am far too lazy for selling them on ebay etc. Loving the pics of your house, decluttering can change the look of a room so much! Xx
    Caroline (Becoming a SAHM) recently posted…Water Bead Play – 35 mths oldMy Profile

    • There’s always that feeling of “what if” or “maybe one day soon” about certain items. I’m currently considering getting rid of my slow cooker as I rarely use it and it does take up a lot of space… X

    • I don’t think you can ever “complete” a de-clutter or happiness project Suzanne – they are things that ebb and flow aren’t they? Having said that, you can definitely improve your starting post for tackling those goals on an on going basis. Time is definitely key but I’m a hopeless procrastinator so I’m trying to be more realistic and take it one small corner at a time. X

  10. My last proper de-clutter was just before my little one arrived when the nesting instinct kicked in (it made me a little less attached to everything I was hoarding), and now I’ve read this I’m desperate to start again – it’s such a rewarding feeling.

  11. Some of this post is almost like you’ve been looking in my head, Sam! I’m untidy and a hoarder, which is a bad combination. Every so often I have a big declutter and it feels so much better – quite liberating, actually. You’re right about ‘stuff’ – it’s not what makes us happy. I take bags of things I no longer need or use to the charity shop which helps me feel a bit better about helping others xxx #thetruthabout
    Leigh – Headspace Perspective recently posted…The Feigned Calmness of the Broken-Hearted MotherMy Profile

    • Oh I think maybe we are quite similar Leigh! I want to try and sell some stuff but I generally give loads to charity as it definitely makes sense and helps reduce the old carbon footprint too. Xx

    • If you’re not a hoarder then you probably don’t have clutter everywhere! I really do recommend that people take those difficult steps though – de-cluttering is quite empowering. X

    • Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting Susan. I think it is almost impossible not to be dealing with clutter on a regular basis. It’s like dust isn’t it? 🙂 X

  12. This was fascinating! I love that bit about letting go of things that represent dreams for the future. I studied art in Uni (19 years ago….eek!) and I kept hold of my painting gubbins for years and years thinking I would some day pick it up again when I had more time. In the end, i did just have to realise it needed to go. And now that I have, i feel so much less guilt for not ever doing but thinking I should! However….don’t give up hope about travelling….that’s a dream of mine I can’t let go of! I just need my kids to be teenagers and for us to suddenly become millionaires. That’s gonna happen, right?! Great piece!
    Jess Helicopter recently posted…Stop telling me I am lucky to have my husband!My Profile

    • Aw thanks so much Jess. You’ve just reminded me that I’m keeping hold of a load of old teaching materials from the Teaching English as a Foreign Language course I took about 15 years ago! Must bin that off now! I know what you mean about needing your children to age and uncovering a secret stash of gold bullion under the floorboards. I just hope I’m still ‘sprightly’ enough to do it by then (yes, we are talking about getting into that period of your life where people might describe you as being ‘sprightly’!!). 🙂 X

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