Long before it was trendy, I harbored the secret desire to adopt a minimalist lifestyle. I’m fascinated by the idea of living in a Tiny House, and I devoured Tidying Up—Marie Kondo’s new show on Netflix. As a writer and avid reader, however, trying to tidy my bookshelves ground my own KonMari attempt to a screeching halt.
I could have resigned myself to the clutter, but then I discovered that our excess stuff does more than just weigh us down.
Nowadays, clutter isn’t just a physical hazard to trip over. An over-abundance of possessions can have profound effects on our mental and emotional health. Do any of the following situations sound familiar?
The panic or frustration when we can’t find what we need, spend countless hours searching for it, and waste money replacing what we already own…but can’t find. Or the constant mental nagging we inflict upon ourselves every time we walk by a messy spot.
Feeling like a disorganized slob and watching your self-esteem plummet when you compare your experience to the staged lives depicted on social media.
Being unable to focus on tasks or important relationships while we try to keep up with organizing and maintaining our stuff.
Grappling with an inability to reach goals or get things done, because a cluttered environment makes it more difficult to concentrate on our deeper work.
If you’re tired of coping with these experiences, consider how a little Spring Cleaning might open up room in your life outside of the home or office.
It’s natural to want to escape these types of reactions to clutter. Back when I collected organizational tools like baskets, boxes, and dividers, I began to wonder if holding on so tightly was really the answer. I flirted with the idea of learning to let go instead. After reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up a few years ago, I decided to give it a try one rainy summer.
Those few months were a time of massive change, both in our household, and in my life. I released several years’ worth of hoarded trinkets and papers, and realized that I wanted more for my time than just keeping up with stuff.
What I discovered is that decluttering your physical environment doesn’t only open up room in your house, it also attracts a myriad of other changes. Here are a couple of examples…
Visual clutter is stressful—an in-your-face judgment over things left undone. Tidying a small corner of your personal space allows you room to breathe without the constant reminder of a mess hanging over your head. When I decluttered my home office, clearing out the closet meant that things weren’t falling on me every time I open the doors. Even better, removing the stacks of papers on my desk created the mental space for creativity whenever I sat down to work.
There are many systems for evaluating what to keep and what to let go…The one I started with, popularized by Marie Kondo, advocates surrounding yourself with possessions that “spark joy.” I was confused by this concept when I first read her book, but after a lot of practice, I learned how to discern what held meaning versus what was simply taking up space.
Now my office is filled with objects that bring a smile to my face and have a purpose for being there. The room delights me with a cozy reading chair, a beautiful art print that inspired my first story, and a framed sketch from my daughter.
Decluttering opens up space so that you have room in your life to actually work, play, and live. When you’re no longer tripping over your things or busy shuffling them from one room to another, you can finally focus on your life. After my first round of tidying, I created a place where I wanted to write, and so I accomplished more in a few months than I had in the previous year.
Everything you own owns a little piece of you…
Your time and energy that is. Our possessions use up more of our resources than the initial cash we spend to acquire them. Most stuff requires regular cleaning, maintaining, fixing, or storing after we bring it into our homes. At the time of purchase, how often do you evaluate and accept these hidden costs of ownership?
Organizing a home is less extensive when there are fewer things collecting dust on our shelves or taking up storage space in our closets. For example, I’ve donated a ton of one-use, specialty kitchen tools and gone back to the basics. I found it’s easier to clean and store a pan than a quesadilla maker. Plus, I can find what I’m looking for faster with less equipment stuffed into the cabinets and drawers.
I also eliminated most of the dry-clean only items from my closet. In addition to saving the time and expense of running to the cleaners, I discovered professional, stylish clothes that are simple to care for and comfortable to wear.
What hidden costs does your clutter cause you?
The process of decluttering isn’t always easy. Sure, tossing junk mail and out-of-fashion clothes might be straightforward, but other decisions are more challenging…
How many of your kids’ grade-school projects do you save? Vacation souvenirs? Old books and photographs?
Decluttering requires you to take time to reflect on how all these things wound their way into your living space and why it’s time to let some of them go. Having a sense of your core values and priorities makes it easier to measure which items meet the cut.
If you like the idea of decluttering, but aren’t sure if you’re up to the task or willing to part with your stuff, give the following inquiries some thought…
The simple truth is Less Stuff = Less Maintenance.
Decluttering can free up huge swaths of time. And that can seem scary. All the hours you once spent cleaning, organizing, and putting away your things is now wide open. Which leaves the lingering question:
What am I going to do now?
There’s a lot of freedom to choose when you’re not tied down by so much stuff. You could further your professional goals, try a new hobby, or decide to rest and enjoy the moment.
Some folks may have the time and ability to KonMari their entire living space all at once. It’s a huge undertaking, though, and might not be right for everyone. I’m a big proponent of taking Small Steps so that you can celebrate each success and evaluate your next action.
Decluttering even a small area can make a difference. So I invite you to create change on a manageable level by following these four steps:
Knowing how your excess stuff is adversely affecting your life provides the incentive to clear it out once and for all.
Don’t try to tackle an entire room, or your whole closet. Simply find a tiny area that would be improved by a little more simplicity. Perhaps the surface of your desk, your nightstand, or a coffee table.
Sit somewhere nearby and take a few minutes to evaluate the benefits of creating a bit more space…
This may sound like a counter-intuitive piece of advice, but I’m asking you NOT to declutter anything else yet. Focus entirely on keeping that one area clear and tidy to your standards. If you feel the urge to keep going, visit this initial spot and savor the SPACE. Reflect on what you want to invite into your life. At the end of the week, see what’s changed…your stress level, your energy, and maybe your attitude towards your home.
I started my decluttering journey with the realization that I’m hugely distracted by visual clutter. Coincidentally, I live in a family of “paper pilers,” which makes it a challenge not to be constantly stressed about managing the ever-expanding mess.
After my girls outgrew their playroom, I repurposed the tiny room as my writing study. This space has become a sanctuary where my things can be as ordered as I’d like, and I can shut the door on the rest of our household clutter.
I know the benefits from a massive decluttering effort…an incredible lightness and sense of peace. With my KonMari attempt that summer, I rented and filled an entire dumpster with items that weren’t recyclable and didn’t spark joy. However, going all out does require a strong commitment and a lot of time (as well as a willingness to make an even bigger mess before you’re done).
Recently, I’ve gone back to small projects—specifically the cubbies and surface of my desk. I’d been holding on to things that I didn’t need or that could be filed away instead of stacked within view. The result? I spend more time working there and have been far more productive. I’m also enjoying my writing to a greater extent…because I’m not distracted or thinking about unnecessary clutter.
I still have to go over the room occasionally to clear out the little messes that creep in. But as I do, I’m encouraging new opportunities by protecting the space, as well as freeing up energy to pursue my passions.
This isn’t to say that a clean desk will necessarily revamp your life. Yet making significant progress requires a start…and sometimes it takes a physical change to allow our minds and emotions the chance to get on board. One small corner of simplicity in your home or office can foster creativity, relaxation, and a peaceful place to set aside your worries for a while.
From there, repeat the process, one area at at time, and watch your sense of serenity grow. As more and more space opens up, you can then decide what new thing or activity is worth inviting in.
And in the meantime, you’ll feel a lot more calm and centered by not having quite so much to clean up!
What area of your living environment would you like to declutter first?
Do you know what growth you’re making space for?