Once upon a time, like on Sept. 26, 2012, I came out as a minimalist. But I had been going down that road for a while, and it all started with decluttering my house.
Or attempting to.
Even while I was focused on getting stuff out, I was still bringing stuff in. I had piles of castoffs in Eric’s office downstairs, and I would look at that every single day and feel like I wasn’t really getting anywhere at all — I’d just moved stuff from one area of the house to another. I’d get depressed and find myself shopping. And then beat myself up.
Here’s what I didn’t know: It takes a long time to accumulate items, so it makes sense that it takes a long time to declutter. And going through that process is what solidifies the lifestyle change, whether the goal is to be a minimalist or just the house in workable order.
I say this because I’ve had four people come to me recently with tales of their decluttering experiences, and all of them start by saying, “It’s not where you’re at, but …” You guys, never measure yourselves by my yardstick. Because I’ve got five and a half years of this under my belt and I’m reaping the rewards at this point. But I was tearing my hair out too. I was reading blogs and thinking there was no way I could ever measure up. I wanted to quit many times. Actually, I did quit. But I always started again.
So in light of all this experience, I’m going to share a few nuggets of wisdom I’ve managed to collect, although I want everyone to keep in mind that this is in no way a map to success for anyone else. That’s the great thing about decluttering and minimalism — you can do what you want. However this looks for you, however you get there is absolutely the right way. Yay!
This is going to take a while. Again: It takes time to accumulate, so it’s going to take time to declutter. Just keep at it.
Pace yourself. Don’t try to do it all in one day (because you just can’t). Tackling one drawer or setting the timer for 10 minutes is enough, even a couple of times a week.
Write it down. What are the areas that are causing you the most stress? What do you want your space to ultimately look like? Get a notebook or something and jot it all down. And then when you forget why you’re doing this, reread that thing.
Don’t worry about converting anyone else. If you live with other people, you may find your goals do not mesh. I was lucky — Eric was totally on board from the beginning — but I started with my own stuff and my own areas. It’s okay if it’s only you. Actions, not words, my friends.
No comparisons. It’s your journey. There is no right way to get there.
Forgive yourself. You will have bad days. One lost battle does not mean a lost war.
It’s gonna take time to actually move stuff out. My piles in Eric’s office drove me crazy, but in retrospect, I needed to see how hard it was to get rid of stuff or else I’d never have learned how to say no to items I don’t need. Whether you sell it, donate it, or give it away to friends, it will take just as much time as the actual decluttering.
It’s gonna take time to get to the finish line. Actually, is there a finish line? It took me three passes through my house in as many years to get it where it is right now, and I’m thinking it’s probably time for a fourth.
It’s the journey, not the destination. You have to go through this in order to learn the lessons you need to learn. For me: That I only need kitchen tools for the way I cook, not the way I want to cook; that I don’t need an overflowing closet to be well dressed; that every single thing I bring in will eventually need to go out; that it’s okay to get rid of items people have gifted you or think you should keep; and that uncluttered surfaces are so much better for my mental state. Oh, and that you can’t organize clutter. And that I will never stop learning (looking at you, pantry!).
Appreciate how far you’ve come. When my cabinets et al were finally cleaned out, I would find great joy in opening up doors and admiring my work. I did that! It’s gorgeous! It’s not bragging if it’s true!
And if you want specifics: Then I suggest setting the timer on the days when you have time, opening a closet or a drawer, and making piles: Yes, no and maybe. The no pile goes directly into a box or bag and out of the room when the timer goes off. The yes goes back, as does the maybe — you can deal with those on your second pass. 😉 Start with the easy stuff.
Be realistic, incidentally, with your no pile. Some of that stuff might be worth taking to a secondhand shop, but some of it might be trash. Just accept this and move on: if you don’t throw your junk away, someone else will be burdened with it and have to do it for you. Save everyone the hassle. Forgive yourself the trash — you will do better next time because you will remember this lesson.
It may take months to get through your house with this method, but you won’t burn out.
I’m working on a post for Friday that will be links to my favorite blog posts from the beginning of my minimalist/decluttering journey, just in case you feel the need for additional reading, or enjoy reading my rants. I may be calm about it now, internet friends, but wow, that has not always been the case.