It requires more than decluttering

There’s always a lot of talk about decluttering as the Solver of All Woes.
 
We’re told that if we throw out a lot of stuff, we’ll be happy.
 
That’s not incorrect per se; I truly believe that with less stuff comes less complexity and stress, but decluttering is a medium-term benefit, not long-term (and organising is short term!).
 
By decluttering, we are ridding ourselves of all the things that weigh us down and complicate our lives. But if that’s the only thing we do, then we’ll have to keep decluttering forever, and we’ll still have big impact on our environment and culture.
 
What is better, is a change in acquisition habits over the long term.
 
What we don’t buy today, what we don’t get given as gifts, what we don’t grab on sale, what we don’t “save” from kerbside waste, will not need to be decluttered later.
 
The items we choose to repair instead of discard, to purchase from ethical and sustainable suppliers, to buy based on the material’s end-of-life destination, to buy second-hand, will not end up in landfill at the same rate it will for lesser quality goods.
 
So yes, declutter, but also please, put into action some new habits and lifestyle changes so that in five years time, you’re not still decluttering madly nor sending a lot of unnecessary items to landfill.
 
Some habits to try could be;
* only buying what you need
* avoiding sales
* saving up for things instead of using a credit card
* largely ignoring clothing and decor trends (they’re just there to make you consume more and then you produce more waste)
* buying fewer items that are higher quality, repairable, and are produced ethically and sustainably
* giving experiences as gifts
* not accepting “free stuff”
* buying second-hand when you do need something
* showing your love with presence instead of presents
* avoiding the “disposable” mentality
* keep things until they fall apart or are no longer serving you, not just because there’s a “newer” version
 
You don’t need to be “perfect”, and do all these things (I certainly don’t always) but any small attempts you make now will reward you and our planet significantly in the future.

There’s nothing wrong with who you are right now

You know, I don’t subscribe to the “achievement” agenda. The “be your best” and “overcome mediocrity” war-cries.

I’m tired of all the “You can do better, you can have better, you can be better” motivational lines.

I am sick of everyone feeling like a failure because they aren’t the best. When did just living a mediocre or modest life become disdainful? My Dad didn’t climb the corporate ladder. He pretty much had the same job for 30 years. Others rose above him, and he kept working in his lab or in the field, quietly, brilliantly and unassumedly. And one day someone named a building after him (much to his embarrassment!).  You don’t need to appear to be the best to have an impact on the world (you also don’t need a building named after you either, it was just an example of people admiring and appreciating you even if you aren’t “out there” or rich or famous).

You don’t need an Instagram face or body. You don’t need to look 20 years younger than you actually are (as one of my friends put it, if there’s nothing wrong with being 40, why is there so much ‘wrong’ with looking 40?). Your loved-ones won’t look back on their photos and see your Mummy Tummy or bald spot. They’ll just be happy to be setting eyes on someone they love.

The only thing I think we should be more of is compassionate and kind. And even then, if you don’t want to be, that’s noone’s business but yours.

You’re good enough. You’re loved already. You’re part of something wonderful already.

You don’t need to set lofty goals, be the best, be the first, be the only. You don’t need wealth, just some security. You don’t need to be extra fit or have an extreme approach to life.

Just stand outside with your face to the sun and try to argue that you need to be, do or have more. You have so much already.

7 reasons why paying full price is a good thing

I openly advocate paying full price and avoiding “bargain hunting”. Of course, people ask me why on earth I would possibly want to do such a crazy thing, so here’s why!

1) It makes you stop and think before you buy. It puts in that little delay that gives your mind a chance to catch up with your heart. We buy on emotion and justify later with logic. We need to short-circuit that. We need to think “Do I really NEED this?” before “Oooh! 40% off! How could I NOT buy this? I’m sure I’ll find a use for it”.

2) You value the item more. You aren’t going to spend a lot of money on something you don’t value, and you don’t value something you don’t spend a lot of money on. You will care for it, repair it instead of discard it, love it, nurture it. It will last longer.

3) The item will be used. You are far more likely to use something if you have paid full price, because you are less likely to compromise. Shoes are half a size too small and not in your colour? Well that’s okay because it’s 40% off and therefore only $35. Then they never get worn because they hurt your feet and don’t match anything you own. But if you’re spending $140 on a pair of shoes, you’re not going to walk out unless they are absolutely bloody perfect.

4) You buy less items because you are spending more on each one. Your home is therefore less cluttered. Less clutter equals less maintenance, equals more time for rest/play.

5) You can’t use the bargain to justify the purchase. You have to use something else to justify it. It makes you more accountable. It makes you think hard about the item, its value, its usefulness, its versatility, its quality.

6) You become more discerning about ‘cheaper’ items. You question discounts, you question manufacturing ethics and the environment. You become a more responsible consumer and when we have more responsible consumers, we have more responsible suppliers.

7) You buy intentionally. You don’t only buy on Black Friday (or if you do, it’s something you placed on your “want to buy when it’s on sale because I’ve thought long and hard about it and don’t have to rush to get it” list months before). Your trigger to purchase isn’t a sale, or a rack, or a sign out the front, or a catalogue. Your trigger to buy is a NEED.

The need for a “good home” – is it holding you back?

Why do we tend to NEED our unwanted belongings to “go to a good home”? What is the rationale behind that?

I think this is something we need to unpack, because it holds us back from achieving our goals.

Why does it matter what happens to belongings that we no longer need or want? What is it that makes us care? Is it something to do with our sense of self? That by discarding something in a “careless” way challenges our sense of who we are?

Or is it because we project our history into items? Or because we personalise our belongings and treat them as though they have feelings?

All of the above?

Are these valid beliefs? Are they truths or are they fabrications? Are we creating an obstacle?

Just think. If you didn’t care what happened to your stuff once it left your house, how much more free would you feel? If you didn’t need it to go to a “good home” (what does that mean anyway?), then how much clearer would your home be?

I’m not saying it’s a wrong belief or feeling (there are no such things – we feel what we feel), but I’m saying it’s well worth unpacking and looking at it from a different perspective. Because although it might not be wrong, it certainly can be unhelpful.

Oh, and on the “good home” thing. Is it currently IN a “good home”? Is it being lovingly stored, used, admired? Or is it shoved in the back of a cupboard or under a pile of clothes? So if you don’t give it a good home, why is it so important that it goes to one?

All that remains

When we strip away everything we own, what is left? When we have nothing to do, nothing to look at, no distractions?

We have our own thoughts.

And as anyone who’s been awake at 3:30am before will know, our thoughts can often be incredibly unwelcome.

Experimenting with quiet, with no devices, screens, stuff or sounds to distract me, my mind starts to wander into dangerous territory. I start worrying about things I should have done but haven’t. I worry about my children, my parenting skills, my work skills, my unfulfilled goals, my clients, my marriage, my health, my appearance. I think of the times I spoke tactlessly before thinking, or re-live those times I was humiliated in public or bullied at high school. You name it, it will pop up.

I want to run away from those thoughts. I want to hide from them with Instagram or a word game. With Netflix or chocolate. With going through my stationery draw and reorganising it. With buying a new pair of shoes. With reading a blog.

What if you consider the idea that you might be collecting or keeping stuff to protect you from these worries – that you may busy yourself shopping, tidying or organising so that you aren’t alone with your thoughts?

What if you consider the idea that you fill your schedule with busy-ness, spend time staring at your phone and volunteer to do stuff for others, so that you aren’t worrying about your life?

I don’t have the antidote to worrying – I’m doing it myself and am wondering how to turn it off. But I do know that hiding from it doesn’t help. The thoughts are still there, no matter what we do to try to cover them up.

Maybe, if we strip everything away and we sit with all that remains, we can find another way to quiet our mind that doesn’t involve running away from it.

Letting go without context

Some people struggle to declutter because they need context. Without it, they feel they can’t let go.

By context I mean that someone is decluttering their study and they find an egg-flip. The person doesn’t know if they have any other egg-flips, or how many they have, so they can’t make a decision to discard that egg-flip. They keep it, and then weeks later have the same dilemma when they find another egg-flip somewhere else. Was it the same one? Do I only have one? Or do I h…ave more, and can I safely donate this one? Usually the uncertainty is too high so they choose to keep it.

There is one obvious solution to this – declutter by category. Grab all your egg-flips, put them in one place and then declutter. Marie Kondo has borrowed this method for her book and it can be very helpful.

Unfortunately, it’s only helpful for people with low-to-medium levels of clutter or for relatively organised homes (ie, all your items are contained to one to three rooms per category, like clothes or toys). It’s completely useless for people with high or hoarding levels. I mean, how on earth do you find all of your batteries in the whole house when you can’t even open the cupboards or see the floor?

So my poor clients are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They can’t discard because they fear discarding too many or the wrong ones, and they can’t find the rest to help facilitate the decision-making.

The solution I recommend (understanding how hard it is) is to just forget the context. Forget the others, forget the maybes, just declutter as much as you possibly can, knowing that if you make a mistake, you’ll still be okay and your main goal of being in control of your belongings is more important than trying to avoid having to buy a $3 egg-flip from KMart.

That’s the key – knowing you’ll still be okay no matter what choice you make. Because you will, I promise.

Decluttering affirmations

Some decluttering affirmations for you to use when things get tough:

 

I am enough. I don’t need stuff to define me.

I have enough. I am blessed with all I have.

If I make a mistake and cull something I regret, I’ll still be okay.

I am safe.

People are more important than stuff.

Culling is not wasteful. Keeping things without using them is wasteful.

I’ll be okay. Everything will be okay, no matter what I do.

 

These are useful things to remind yourself of when you’re trying to reduce your belonging and finding it a bit difficult.

We all hoard stuff. Yes, even you.

We all hoard to a certain degree. That’s “hoard” with a lower-case h. I’m not talking about Hoarding Disorder (another post, another day!).

I have a friend who has a well-organised, substantial hoard of travel toiletries. I have more staples than I’ll use in the next 5 years. And I have amassed quite a collection of iPhone cables.

We do our hoarding either passively or actively. If we actively hoard, we are aware of the volume of stuff we have, and we continue to acquire them and choose to not discard any (shoes, notebooks, pets, furniture, craft supplies and books come to mind).

When we passively hoard, we accumulate relatively mindlessly (as part of everyday life) and don’t have the corresponding habit of discarding established. And so we gather a little collection without realising. My friend recently went through her junk drawers and found several boxes of staples and no stapler. I think they’d also accumulated several rolls of tape. She was surprised – she had no idea they had that many.

First Aid, anyone?

First Aid, anyone?

That’s passive hoarding and you’ll see it manifesting in things like pens, tape, broken things you intend to fix, cassette tapes and VHS tapes, cords and cables, placemats, old paperwork, coffee mugs, plasticware, water bottles, stubbie-holders, vases and platters.

You don’t realise until you go to declutter just how much you’ve accidentally kept!

If you’re passively hoarding stuff, it’s a good idea to establish the habit of regularly going through those areas and having a quick cull to keep the volume at bay. Another good habit is to have a quick review whenever you bring a new item into the house and see if anything needs to go to make room for it or to maintain the current volume.

What do you find that you passively hoard?

Practice makes perfect

Many people who struggle with clutter have difficulty “de-owning” their stuff. They get anxious at the thought of parting with it because all the fears crowd their mind with a billion “What if..?” scenarios.

If you are one of those, you’ll be pleased to know that your first goal is not to part with items. Your first goal is to reduce your anxiety around letting go. It’s not about the item, it’s about the discomfort. It doesn’t matter WHY you want to keep it, it’s about anxiety itself.

If you can expose yourself every single day to the behaviour of letting go (starting with really easy things) then your brain starts to back off. You will realise that your anxiety isn’t as high anymore.

Initially, for the first thing you let go of, it will hurt. You’ll feel very anxious. Don’t give up – the pain doesn’t last as long as you’re anticipating. The next one will hurt too, but the one after, and the one after that will all hurt less. This is proven.

You’ve built up your “letting go” muscles and the workout won’t hurt as much anymore.

Be careful – if you cave to the pressure and practice the avoidance behaviour (the keeping) instead of the behaviour you’re trying to encourage (the letting go), it reinforces your brain and takes you straight back to the beginning. A psychologist once told me that if you give in just one time, it will undo a fortnight’s worth of letting go practice.

That’s why it’s important to focus on an easy category of items – so that you are more capable of pushing through the anxiety. After you’re no longer uncomfortable with one category, you can work your way up the line to the harder ones.

Consistency is the key – if you don’t do it EVERY SINGLE DAY you’ll be wasting your time because your brain will revert very quickly and you’ll undo all your good work.

Keeping up with the @joneses

When you’re trying to get your life under control it’s very important not to compare yourself with others. Especially with others on social media.

There’s so much “perfection” out there. On Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook.

It’s easy to get sucked into the idea that your life would be better if you looked like them, or your house did. If you could afford new furnishings or a Professional Organiser, if you could take the kids to interesting places every weekend and everyone smiled and looked like the perfect family.

You can’t see the struggles behind that “perfection” but don’t assume they aren’t there. Don’t assume that the picture of the perfect living room wasn’t taken by a woman in tears whose teenage daughter had just ripped shreds off her, or by a person in severe debt that kept them awake all night worrying. You don’t see the tantrums, the fights, the tension. You don’t see the anxiety, the throwing things and the coldness. You don’t see the overdue bills, the migraines, the depression.

And that’s fine – no one likes to show off the ugly and unhappy sides of life that inevitably affect all of us, no matter who, no matter how. No one wants to see it all the time, either.

But what’s not okay is to let yourself be dissatisfied with your life because you want it to be perfect.

Perfect doesn’t exist.

You can have a perfectly organised pantry with all glass containers full of organic whatever and you will still just hide in it and sob as you eat chocolate while the toddler screams blue murder for cutting their toast in squares instead of triangles, despite asking for squares in the first place.

A perfect home does not equal a perfect life. You’ll still have life’s struggles, you’ll just be doing it all in white with pastel, hanging planters and elk horns, with a toddler in a hand-knitted outfit.

A home under control does help you and that should be what you’re aiming for.

Just make sure it’s YOUR version of “under control”, not Instagram’s.

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