This week, I spent some time decluttering my mom's apartment. I admit she'd been asking for some time. It's just been hard over the past couple of years to find time and energy. While I see daily evidence of people decluttering their own homes, it feels like our collective capacity to reach out and do more is diminished. Regardless of your situation or stage in life, the upheaval is exhausting - school and daycare, work losses and changes, or crowded home offices, wanting to care for people at high risk around us and changing guidelines for COVID.
Regardless of the reasons (or excuses) I put it off for far too long. Now that I finally made it, and here's what I learned.
Clutter is stress, and can be dangerous
I asked my mom what she hoped to get from the declutter project because I think it's good to start by thinking about the reasons you are taking the time to do something. I was expecting her to say that she hoped it would look nicer and that she would feel better. The first thing that came to her lips was 'so I don't trip on stuff'. That was a surprise. The fact that it was happening shouldn't have been. She'd moved twice in the past few years into much smaller spaces, and everything just doesn't fit. She still had some boxes and some things never got properly organized, so there were things on the floor.
Plan more time than you need
Projects can easily expand beyond what you start out doing (and go off in random directions) so it is important to set a specific goal (and also have a good checklist). We started with 2 hours of time, and planned to focus on one bookcase. As it was, we spent 5 hours and cleared four spaces because the bookcase had to go somewhere else, but there was other stuff there that had to be moved first, and that needed to go where there was also already another pile of stuff.....you get the picture. Because it wasn't just a matter of aesthetics, it was important to get everything out of walking space, and we did what we needed to do for the original goal of the one bookshelf.
Stuff is stressful. Dealing with emotional attachment is hard. It's really important to have your mind in a good place before you start. I actually did some meditating and walking beforehand but do what feels right for you. Make sure you have eaten and are physically comfortable. Find a time when you are not coming right out of high-pressure work, or intensive caring for other people. Take a break and a breath before you start. Come with compassion for you and for the other person.
Take time for emotions, not just stuff
A book you once thought might be fun to read, a photo album you planned to fill, craft supplies for a gift you were going to make.... Why are things you haven't used and are unlikely to ever use so hard to part with? It's easier than we sometimes realize to attach ourselves to missed opportunities. Whether it is something we never used or have strong memories attached to, we may need to take a moment to mourn the loss of the thing before we can move on. It is important to recognize that the thing isn't memory, or loss of opportunity itself. It can be helpful to reflect on things we did accomplish or times we had with loved ones. Take a little time to talk about it, or even take a photo of or with it to honor the feelings and memory.
One can be enough
We also tend to hang onto things that are attached to memories. Sometimes is a whole group of something, like a whole collection DVD watched with a grandson, or holiday dishes with settings for 16. These things can bring back memories that we love and cherish. It can be helpful to realize it doesn't take 100 of them to do this, and perhaps one single example, displayed and uncluttered, actually allows us to enjoy the memory more.
Decluttering is a Gift of Love
Taking time to help a loved one is good.
Connecting with other people is good.
Simplifying the stuff around us is good.
Giving away what we no longer need is good.
There are so many reasons to carve out a little time for decluttering. When you do it with someone else, it can be a true gift of love. You give your time to create a safer, saner space, spend time together, and make new memories on top of old.
Author: Jennifer Victor-Larsen
Jennifer is the founder and Executive Director of Donate Good Stuff
Donate Good Stuff exists to help you find the best home for your donation items and we recognize it's just part of the challenge of having too much stuff. How do you declutter what you have, reduce the amount of stuff you bring into your home, and continue to move toward sustainable and environmentally kind living? We can help with that, too. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, or subscribe to our newsletter for regular tips and creative ideas for managing your stuff, reducing waste, sustainable living, and being part of a connected community.
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