Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Extreme Decluttering 101: Everything I Learned From Tackling My Messy House

Confession: I've always liked throwing stuff away, and I've always been quick to get rid of stuff that served no purpose. At least I thought I was.

But this spring I discovered a YouTuber called The Minimal Mom and long story short, ended up getting rid of 50% of our belongings. 

During an intense two months of attic-to-basement decluttering, here are some invaluable lessons I learned about figuring out how to live with less.

1. Invest in a "Maybe" Bin

When I first embarked on my decluttering journey, I kept the things I couldn't live without and put everything else in a temporary "maybe" bin. I was really aggressive about putting things in the "maybe" bin because nothing was permanent: if I regretted not having something, I could always take it back out and forget it ever happened.

I planned to keep things in the bin for 6 months as a test run of minimalism, but I was surprised to find that most of the time it only took about 10 minutes. The act of physically separating an item from the collection of "my stuff," then stepping back to look at my decluttered closet/shelf/cupboard and seeing that I still felt good about it, made letting go of things shockingly easy. 

After decluttering the entire house and garage from top to bottom, I think I ultimately took about five things back out of the "maybe" bin.

2. Consider a Tattoo that Says "Do I Use This?"

I'd done my fair share of decluttering before, but now that I was serious about it I approached each item we owned with the question "Do we use this?" instead of "Could we use this?" (It's super-important to note that these are two completely different questions.)

Honestly answering the question "Do we use this?" helped me part with items I've kept for years but could've been stolen by a burglar in the night and I most likely never would've known the difference.

If I got stuck on any item, I'd ask a follow-up question: "Would my life be any different without this?" It helped to acknowledge that getting rid of many things wouldn't negatively impact my life, it would only make the house less cluttered and easier to clean.

3. If You Won't Regret It, Get Rid of It

I encountered plenty of items that passed the "do we use this?" test, but I still got rid of them because they weren't adding very much value to my life. These two questions helped me identify those items:
  • "Will I miss this?" 
  • "What would happen if this item was gone?"

"Will I miss this?" helped me part with clothes I still wore but didn't particularly like. If I had other clothes I liked better, was I ever going to regret getting rid of that cream-colored sweater that shrunk a little in the dryer?

"What would happen if this was gone?" helped when I came across a cache of thermoses in my kitchen. If I didn't have the large size, I'd feel annoyed for less than a second and make do with the medium one, so I decided to donate it. 

Everything is a trade-off, and I decided that for me, the convenience of keeping an item has to justify the inconvenience of having to clean, maintain, organize, and store it.

4. We Become Immune to Our Stuff

Everything in our home multiplies, including furniture, decor on the walls and tabletops, and the contents of every cupboard, closet, and drawer. I think this is because we keep adding stuff, only "seeing" the new pieces and not the ones that were already there. 

Less than two years ago, I bought a storage cabinet because our family's scriptures and church books were scattered all over the house and we desperately needed a place for them. But once I purged the bookshelf we already had, it turned out there was plenty of room for them in there. 

I moved our church stuff into the bookshelf, sold the cabinet we'd apparently never needed, and learned a valuable lesson: don't add anything new to your house until you look around at what's already there. 

5. We Don't Have Time for All the Things... and That's Okay

For me, the kids' stuff was the hardest to declutter. We had a large craft cabinet, game cupboard, activity shelf, and a bunch of toys that rotated in and out of the attic. They were all perfectly good things that the kids played with. 

Well, when they remembered those things were there, anyway.

Eventually, I came to the realization that my kids don't have time to play with every good toy in existence (just like I don't have time to read every good book or visit every exciting place in the world) ...and that's okay. 

Decluttering is, at the heart of it, acknowledging that we have limitations on our time. In the end, I made peace with the fact that the kids will play with whatever we have, and they won't play with whatever we don't have, and either way they'll be just fine. (And, by the way, I didn't get rid of anything without their knowledge.)

6. Get Rid of Duplicate Items

We are a family of eight people who eat virtually every meal at home, so I honestly thought we needed two cheese graters, six spatulas, two sets of measuring cups, and eight mixing bowls... because we used all of them!

But I realized the duplicates were actually part of the problem with my messy kitchen. If something was dirty, we'd just grab the second (or third) duplicate instead of washing it, and so it would go, and by the end of every day the dirty dishes were stacked sky-high.

Once we got rid of the duplicates, we could no longer make that enormous stack if we tried. With fewer dishes, we end up washing the same number of things in a 24-hour period  but now the counter stays clean in between loads. 

I've known for a long time that a perpetually messy kid's room is a sign of having too many toys, but I guess the same principles also applies to kitchens, too.

7. You'll Feel Relieved

Did you know our stuff can make us feel bad? Me, neither. But as I decluttered, some very strange things happened.

For example, I got rid of a dress I love and a wave of relief washed over me. Why? Because years ago, the undershirt that goes with it went missing, and I'd been hanging onto the dress ever since in the hopes of finding a new shirt that could work. It wasn't until I finally decided to donate the dress that I realized I'd been feeling bad every time I saw it hanging in the closet, unable to be worn.

Later that same week, my daughter told me she was glad we pared down the craft supplies. She'd grown into other interests, but the presence of those unused craft supplies made her feel guilty about not using them. Meanwhile, I had no idea she even remembered they were even there.

It's kind of hard to describe the contented feeling of looking around a room and knowing that everything in it is something you use and love, but that's what I love most about decluttering. I'm more likely to fix broken things or deal with paperwork now instead of putting it off, and more motivated to clean up because it doesn't take all day to make a difference. 

And that's really saying something, because I hate cleaning.

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Diana Dye said...

Oh my goodness I agree with every single one of these things, especially about knowing everything in your house is loved or used.

I've come to realize how much I love empty spaces on walls, on surfaces, on shelves. I ask myself would I rather have this thing or would I rather have more space.

I also have to remind myself that stuff doesn't have feelings and doesnt care if it gets thrown away. Dang Disney movies.

Unknown said...

I've identified my first space im going to tackle. Its a kitchen cupboard. Ill send you before and after. I'm hoping if I start with things I'm not emotionally attached to it will get me on a roll I can keep up through harder things.

PurpleSlob said...

So much- ALL the things! You know I've been decluttering for 7 years now- AND still feel like I live in a dump! Mostly because we move, and have to get new stuff to fit the new space, but no old goes out.... Then DD1 and PP, and CC move out, I get it looking good, fairly again, and here they come back again!! sigh
Maybe when I'm 90-and in a home, and they don't allow anything except my false teeth???

Ellen said...

I also discovered minimal mom this year and have found her gentle, non-pushy approach just the right amount of encouragement. I have a sentimental attachment to so many things in my house, but she has helped me slowly detach. I love her question of "do i want to manage this item, or do something else with my time?" Thanks for sharing your experience. It's very heartening to hear of a large family doing this