No Longer Paralyzed to Declutter

When I realized I was going to be moving into a smaller home, I looked around at my rooms full of things and felt overwhelmed.  I’ve lived in this house for more than fifteen years.  A variety of people have come and gone, leaving behind things that I never knew what to do with.

Looking at my houseful of stuff, I’d sometimes felt paralyzed and even guilty.  I’d thought that I “should” have kept from accumulating so many things.  I “should” have been better at letting things go.  Shame.  Embarrassment.  Frozen.

But now, instead of just feeling general embarrassment and overwhelm, preparing for the new home and the new life it would bring became something that somehow freed me from the guilt and shame.  It’s just stuff.  Now I just need to sort through it all and figure out what is going to make the move with me, and what’s going to go to a donation bin to make someone else happy.

I don’t want to be weighted down with junk.  In my home, I want the freedom and space to create.  I want a home that is welcoming and that I share with visitors without shame.  I want to be nurtured by my home.  I want it to be livable and clean.  I want to be content with where I am, and content with what I have.

I’d read an article about Swedish Death Cleaning, and had decided, in many ways, that was what I was preparing to do.  Paring my things down so that those people who come after me won’t have a huge task of going through my belongings after I’m gone.  Not only will things be lighter for me now, my collection of “stuff” will be lighter for others later.

Since I had a year to prepare for the move, I felt the freedom to take my time, go slow, and do it well.  We’re two months into that year and I’ve accomplished quite a bit in three rooms of the house.  No room is finished yet, but they’re getting closer.

Part of me wants to dive in and go crazy and get it done quickly, but I know myself.  I would just end up burned out and then find myself not wanting to finish.  And because there is a set time frame for moving, this is a job that has to be finished.  I don’t have the option to get burned out and save it for another day.

I think it’s important when undertaking a decluttering job of this magnitude, to keep in mind your own personality type.  Some people need a big project that they can dive into and get done quickly.  Others need to bite off bits and pieces of the project so as not to get overwhelmed.  One of the things I try to tell myself when I work a little bit on this big project is, “Whatever I do — right now, today — is an improvement, and a step in the right direction.”

I also find it’s helpful to try to do away with the sense that I need to do this the “right” way.  I just need to get on with it.  Muddle my way through.  There are so many books out there on decluttering and homemaking, that it can get easy to get locked into thinking there’s only one way to accomplish this process, and every other way is “wrong.”  For example, I’ve learned a lot from people like FlyLady and Marie Kondo.  I use many of their techniques and find them helpful.  BUT I also know that I need to adapt their ideas to fit with me and my own tendencies and personality in order to bring about lasting change and success.

I took some time out from decluttering this week to read a book called Declutter by Debora Robertson.  I found it inspiring in the sections on actual decluttering, but a big part of the book was about homemaking and how to keep your house clean.  Which really didn’t apply to my undertaking.  I realized that my project of downsizing is a different sort of project than just choosing to declutter the house and keep it from getting overwhelmed.  My experience really is more of a Swedish Death Cleaning type of project.

If you’re wanting to declutter, do you think you’d do better by doing a little at a time, or doing one big push to accomplish a lot at once?  Are you looking to pare things down a little bit, or are you preparing for a complete overhaul, or a move to a smaller home?

Clutter-Clearing “Container”

In the book Clearing Clutter as a Sacred Act, the author Carolyn Koehnline says, “creating order can be messy.”  That’s certainly the truth.  I’m in the stage with my decluttering where some areas look worse now than they did before I started the process.  But I just try to keep my eye focused on the end result I’m hoping for, and just keep plugging away.

In her book, Koehnline suggests putting together what she calls a clutter-clearing container, a place to hold all your clutter-clearing process materials and a way to make sense of the mess that comes from decluttering.  She suggests something like:

  • a 3-ring binder
  • a file box
  • a digital folder

The container is basically a place to store and access notes and writings related to decluttering.  She says to skip this step if it seems too overwhelming for you.  At first, it did sound too overwhelming, but when I found myself reaching for a small steno notebook, I realized having a place to write about the process was a good idea for me.

I don’t feel the need to decorate my journal/container like she suggests at one point.  But I can see how that could be inspiring for some people.  I’m afraid I might get lost in the details of beautifying the journal and lose sight of the process of decluttering.  I think I just need to keep it all very plain and simple.

I also decided that updating my blog and Facebook page with thoughts and observations would give me another place to keep ideas and to keep track of my progress.  When notes from my steno notebook gel into something somewhat cohesive, I’ll share them here for safekeeping.

Things that Koehnline suggests keeping in the clutter-clearing container include:

  • helpful resources
  • details about projects
  • questions for self or others
  • process writing
  • inspirational quotes
  • poems
  • song lyrics
  • scriptures
  • pieces of own writing

I personally am just keeping notes on thoughts that come to me while reading Koehnline’s book, and the pieces of writing that are inspired by her book’s writing prompts, or by the process itself of clearing clutter.

Another idea she shares in her book for including in the container is photographs of “before and after.”  I haven’t included photos in my container(s), but I can see how that could be a valuable part of the decluttering journey.  Since I’ve already completed a few areas of my house, I might take a few “after” photos.  An empty bookcase.  Empty dresser drawers.  Neatly stacked boxes with carefully sorted Christmas decorations.

When I first read about her idea of keeping a clutter-clearing container, it didn’t resonate with me.  But as I found ways of adapting the idea to the way I work and the things that inspire me, it’s become the backbone of my decluttering project.  And also allows me to share my journey with others.

What sort of container do you think you would find helpful?

Decluttering Focus

I’m planning on moving in a year and downsizing in the process.  I hope to declutter enough that I’ll only be moving things with me that matter.  Right now, I have things in my home that I never use, so I’ve been asking myself if these unused items are things I want to haul with me to my next home.  The answer is frequently no.

I took a few minutes to make lists of the areas I need to focus on.

Big Picture Questions

What sorts of clutter do I have?

  • books
  • decorations
  • office supplies
  • clothing
  • bedding
  • games and puzzles
  • art supplies
  • kitchen gadgets and dishes

Which places are the most cluttered?

  • bedrooms
  • kitchen
  • office

How big of an endeavor is this project?

  • an entire house
  • a year’s time frame
  • a little bit at a time

I heard someone talk one time about how sometimes having a meandering focus can be helpful for people like me who can get overwhelmed with firm lists and agendas.  A meandering focus would be keeping the end result in sight, but allowing your time and attention to move organically through the project at hand.

For example, with my decluttering project I can keep the end goal (having things cleared out in a year) in my mind, but allow myself to move throughout the house fluidly as things come to the forefront.  I have most of my bedroom and its assorted closet space and drawers pretty much finished, I started working in the spare bedroom during and after the holidays, because I store much of my Christmas stuff in the closet there.  I’m going to move my focus into my office.  It might seem haphazard to other people, but it helps me to have the freedom to meander around my house as it seems appropriate.

A meandering focus is also like steering a sailboat.  You move around with the wind and waves but keep the destination always in sight.

Decluttering Fears

The book I’m reading, Clearing Clutter as a Sacred Act, had us think about fears we might have that relate to decluttering.

Possible fears:

  • Not completing the process
  • Getting overwhelmed
  • Stirring up emotions; finding triggering objects
  • Regrets over things I part with

What should I do with those fears?

  • Acknowledge them gently.  All of them are real possibilities, so denying them isn’t helpful.
  • Not completing the process is an error in thinking because the process is a process, an on-going process.  There’s not a “finish,” but just a “doing.”  As long as I keep doing, it’s victory.  Even taking pauses in the process isn’t failure.
  • Triggering objects are everywhere in my house, so it’s just a matter of course that I’ll stumble upon them.  The last time I did, I sat quietly, breathed slowly and deeply, and practiced being mindful of my immediate surroundings.  I also talked with someone about it.
  • I might regret some things I’ll part with.  In fact, I already do.  So, I gently acknowledge the regret, I don’t beat myself up about it, and I move forward.

There are probably more fears than this, but these are the ones that came to my mind the first time I thought about it.  I’d actually never thought about ways that fears could potentially interfere with success with clearing clutter.