I used to put a lot of meaning into my things. As a young adult, I told myself that the stuff I had acquired meant that I was interesting. And that I was worthy of attention and love.
Oh, that clock? I got it in Barcelona.
This leather coat? It’s from Paris. And this puffy winter coat? It’s from Copenhagen.
Those shoes? I had them hand-made in a tiny town in Vietnam.
Toward the end of my 20-year corporate career, I made the act of buying mean that I was productive and helpful in moving my young family forward.
There were long drama-filled work days without much to do. To distract myself from boredom I got on Amazon and bought things that I thought would make us happy.
Honey! I wasn’t busy at work today (again) so I bought us a bunch of things the kids need!
It’s no wonder that we ended up with a house full of stuff. Stuff that felt necessary and exciting at first, but after a few days, rarely got noticed…unless it was time to clean up. Overwhelmed, I’d watch our messiness spread from room to room, and yet I continued to buy, buy, buy while groaning about all our clutter.
Fast forward to today and things have changed because I’ve changed. I’m now much more intentional about what comes into our house and the things we chose to keep versus discard.
One of the epiphanies I had over the last 5+ years is that downsizing doesn’t have to be hard and that I can make decluttering as complicated or as simple as I want.
Making it complicated looks like indulging in overwhelm, uncertainty and excuses for months, years, and sometimes decades. It sounds like:
Decluttering is too hard. I can’t get rid of gifts. I don’t know where to start.
Do you recognize any of these thoughts?
If you do, to break free from their paralyzing grasp, consider a writing exercise that personally changed my life. Pull out a journal and write yourself a short letter from all your clutter.
My letter to myself started in the following way, ‘Dear Heather, I am Clutter and this is what I want you to know…’
What I learned from this exercise is mostly that I don’t need all the things! That they serve as a distraction blocking me from what I truly want. At the end of the day they don’t deliver on long-lasting peace, calm and connection. That the ‘one thing in, one thing out’ rule wasn’t going to make much of a difference until I reached ‘maintenance’ (and that I wasn’t there yet.)
In my letter, I was finally able to sever the hold that my clutter had had on me.
What about you?
If you’d like to live with less here are 3 simple questions to ask yourself as you begin to go through your items:
1. Does it add to your life?
If you have to think about it for a while, I promise you it doesn’t. And if it doesn’t, it’s time to subtract it from your home.
Think of all those cords and cables you have in a tangled mess. Because of a business strategy called ‘planned obsolesce’ the likelihood of you ever needing those is very low. It’s okay to let them go.
2. What’s the expiration date?
When it comes to lotions or food, ask yourself whether or not you want expired energy on and in your body. We have one body that houses all of our potential and possibilities.
Decide to give it the type of fuel that will help it run cleanly and efficiently.
3. Does it feel light or heavy?
This is for all of the sentimental stuff. Often we keep gifts for decades with the intent of keeping others happy. But would the gift-giver want you to feel weighed down, or perhaps, would they prefer it if you passed the item along so that it can have a second life with someone who would like it?
Trust your intuition. If the item feels light, it’s right and you keep it. However, if it feels heavy, that’s permission to let it go.
This question of light or heavy can be used in other helpful ways: Does it feel light or heavy that you can’t use your dining room table as it is intended to be used because there is so much stuff on it? Does it feel light or heavy that your entry table is overflowing?
Decluttering is a series of decisions.
Decide what matters most to you. Look for guidance in your letter from Clutter. Let go of any overwhelm, doubt and excuses. And then start.
To maintain your momentum, think about what you’ll gain as you move through your items. Consider believing that ‘less’ can be ‘more.’ A lighter home will create peace of mind, calm, and an abundance of the things that matter most.
Instead of trying to buy happiness like I used to do, you’ll create it in your home.
Hemming and hawing about where to start?
My suggestion is that you begin with the low-hanging fruit. Decide how many bathroom towels or toothbrushes you want and go from there. It doesn’t have to be more difficult than that.
You’ve got this!
About the Author: Heather Aardema is an optimistic build-er-upper, momma of two boys, mountain biker, and fan of homemade and not-perfect. She’s the founder of School of Living Lighter—where she helps women tackle their clutter, uncomplicate their lives, and lose weight for good—read more of her essays at School of Living Lighter.