Key Post: Decluttering

Celebrating 1,000 posts, we’re running key posts from the past, revised. In January, it seems helpful to repost some of the best advice on decluttering.

The Internet is itself cluttered with Professional Declutterers –  with videos of fiercely energetic bright-eyed professional Organisers who produce rigid programmes of Decluttering which suit their own list-driven, cool and emotionless Purges.  They are usually shown on video solo, in their strictly minimalist homes (with the emphasis on ‘list’) and have barely concealed contempt and pity for anyone who has clutter.  

Whereas this kind, calm, efficient and humorous presenter (Laura from Clutter Clarity) is shown in a roomful of real people, interacting and approachable, giving general principles to work gently through decluttering and downsizing, in a clear-eyed way without being overwhelmed by negative emotions.  She is a tonic.

There are a whole series of her talks on Youtube – this is a useful one to begin with.  The video is shot through like a blunderbuss with myriads of wise insights.  As I played through short parts of the video to find pithy quotations, I would stumble upon several others.

Humane decluttering

Here are what I think make her outstanding:

she’s sympathetic – she says most people she works with have good, well-organised homes, they have just got swamped with a sudden tsunami of boxes from divorces, bereavements, house moves, changes of life.

Some of her guiding principles:

  1. Make the switch from “I’m a victim of this other person who stored up this stuff so now I have the problem of disposing of it.”  Find some positive in it.  e.g. “This is normal for the next generation to do, thank goodness it’s not a vast house to clear”.
  2. She helps you see if you’re ready to go through the process
  3. She advocates very small amounts of tidying regularly, but at a pace where you can consider things
  4. She’s firm on prioritising your time and energy levels through it – if something is to be moved on, finding a simple way to move stuff to where it will be used – but NOT spending days washing, sorting, fixing or finding multiple different places to move one type of clutter to
  5. take time to think it through first
  6. how to make decisions
  7. instead of mentally getting stuck and freezing “I don’t know what I’m going to do” she goes straight to “I wonder how I’m going to figure this out”
  8. forming good habits – decluttering frequency and repetition are important.

“Don’t underestimate the force of a habit”

Screen shot 2020-01-21 at 12.58.16
“Stay engaged in the decision-making: the work is in the decisions, not in the doing”

More detail

“putter through your clutter” – it’s important to slow down to be able to approach the sorting, whereas if you take it all on as a Big Project you feel overwhelmed, resentful and make rush decisions.  “You don’t want to attack your clutter, you want to putter through your clutter”.  (One attendee likened it to gradual weeding in her garden)  You want to visit and attend to your stuff.

she answers real questions from real people – at 2 minutes 5 seconds into this video, she answers a key question, instantly and in 5 seconds – it is masterful:

  • Question: “What if you have to force yourself to do this?”
  • Answer: “You’re not ready to do it, then.  You don’t force yourself.  Do 15 minutes…. Think ‘How can I do this in a way that feels relatively good?’

don’t force yourself because if you do, you’re creating resistance and resentment in yourself, which you then have as a further obstacle to tackle

find what works for you – e.g. she gives example of deciding that she didn’t want to put away her clothes every day, so decided on her own time and space to sort weekly

set small goals – “Two hours a week is a good place to start – but two hours at once may be overwhelming”

“The physical work is one thing: you also need to make time to think”

be aware of your time and energy levels – if you’re not keeping stuff, don’t go through a laborious process of preparing it for another range of locations/people – find an instant way to move it somewhere it’s wanted  e.g. in another video, she spoke of choosing to spend time with her deceased parents’ letters to each other, keeping a sample, but giving them all to the college her mum was attending when she wrote them, as a historical collection (which the college was happy to accept).  Another example – a mum whose children had grown up, had 2 huge boxes of toys – chose about 7 to keep, and was able to give 200, unwashed, to a counselling service who gratefully took them as is and they cleaned and repaired them, and chose clients to deliver them to.  (How much time and emotional energy did that save the donor, compared to washing and mending them all herself?).

she helps the mental shift to positive and enjoyable  – getting from “I don’t know what to do” and “I resent that elderly relative collecting this junk which I have to now get rid of” to a decision and positive attitude “this is normal, it’s what every generation does for the previous one, and thankfully, it’s just a one-room flat and not a huge house”.

 

Further reading – her website http://www.clutterclarity.com/

As you can see from the video, behind the speaker are screens of diagrams and worked examples – which show how much more material there is when working directly with her.

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