The “zone” method of decluttering

When we help clients downsize their homes, or help with an estate clearance, one method we advocate of cluttering and sorting the home is to use zones.

When it’s us that’s clearing the home, we help the client create an “unwanted” zone, where they put everything they don’t want.  Given that we are experienced at knowing what is sell-able, donate-able or just recyclable, we encourage them to not throw anything away, but just to put it in the Unwanted Zone. Then we go through it and sort it into where it will ultimately end up.

But you don’t need us to do this. If you have a large clearance to do, you, too, can also use the zone method. When your Unwanted Zone is full, you then ferry things off to the charities, or the auction house, or other family members and then you go back and start filling it again.

If you work systematically through each room in the home, leaving the wanted items where they are and putting the unwanted items into the Unwanted Zone, you also eliminate a lot of double-handling that can come from shifting items from room to room, or re-sorting something you’ve already gone through.

 

 

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?

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?

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.

5 Clutter-Enablers to Keep Your Eye On

I was with a  client recently and I was holding a catalogue that she asked me to toss in the recycling. I looked down as I tossed it in the bin and I saw a product on the back and my first thought was “Oh! That looks handy!” and started to think about where I’d put it and who’d use it in the house and where.  My next thought, thankfully,  was “For goodness sake, Rebecca, you don’t need a jigsaw-puzzle mat”.

But still, I was sucked into creating a need in my mind based on seeing a picture of something. I didn’t need nor want a jigsaw mat until I saw it. Sucked in, Mezzino!

So it got me thinking about ways we accidentally allow need to be created in our minds where it didn’t exist before. Here’s some of them that might be familiar:

1) Home shopping networks and catalogues – the culprit that got me.  There’s one here in Australia that is particularly enticing because it has clever gadgets that spark your imagination. The issue is that they are very specific products, made for narrow purposes, which means you have a lot of products doing just one thing each. There are common things like avocado slicers (which slice nothing but an avocado) or garlic crushers (again, just for garlic) or more unusual items like an egg cuber (makes a square egg, of course). They create need where there is no real need (got a knife? There’s your avo slicer and garlic crusher in one!).

2) Sales. Marketers know very well that when we shop we buy stuff based on emotion and we justify the purchase with logic (after the fact most shoe saleof the time). And when we shop in sales, the weight of emotion is stronger. We get a kick out of getting something for nothing. For getting something for less than what someone else may have paid. Then after the purchase, there’s more logic to back up the decision – “But I got $200 shoes for only $100!”. Nope. Discounts are not a real thing. They are something that masks the fact that you spent $100 on something you probably didn’t need. Something you won’t really use and will eventually have to discard (which can hurt for some). So you didn’t save $100, you wasted $100. Of course, you can buy stuff on sale, and you can save money, but only if you intended to buy that item before you saw it, and you were prepared to pay full price. That’s the only time you actually save money on a sale.

3) Charity auctions. You can accidentally spend money on things you don’t need because you can justify it by the thought that the money is going somewhere good, or that you were going to buy something like that anyway. Be careful; if you have clutter issues, it’s best you just make a donation.

4) “Clubs”, party plan and purchasing schemes. I had a client that was part of a scrap-booking group. There were three tiers to membership, each involving a compulsory purchase of materials each month. She felt like she’d be letting down the organiser if she dropped down a tier or two, but didn’t want the stuff and it was literally filling up her house. Any time you’re required to make a purchase in order to fulfil a commitment, run away!

5) Shopping as entertainment. When you shop for the fun of it, you are more likely to impulse-purchase. You are more likely to buy things just because they’re on sale or cheap, or they’re pretty. Shopping is a helpful activity when it’s done mindfully – when you know what you want and you don’t buy anything that’s not on your list (mental or otherwise – I always have a mental list of things I need, and sometimes write a specific one for that particular shopping excursion).  If you deviate from the list, you’re probably collecting clutter.

Do you know of any other sneaky clutter-enablers?

 

Post-Declutter Stress Disorder

Okay, I made that title up. But it isn’t too far from reality!

Most people get a sense of euphoria after decluttering. Some, however, do not. In fact, they feel horrible. They are anxious and miserable, dwelling on decisions made and wondering if they made mistakes. If you’re one of those people, you may be wondering why you don’t get as excited by the results as others do.

Here’s a few reasons why you might feel that way after decluttering:

1) Attachment happens in your mind. Physically removing something does just that; it’s physically gone. If you are still attached in your mind, the fact that it’s gone is not a relief.

2) You haven’t trained your brain to stop panicking yet. Every time our brain gets a reinforcement, it is told to continue that behaviour. So when you try to throw something away, then panic, then keep the item to make the panic go away, you’re telling your brain that panic is the appropriate response when attempting to discard something.

3) The future is more unknown with less stuff. No longer can you safely predict what might happen (ie right now you can predict you will have 2 spare can-openers to grab should you lose your favourite one). Instead, if you only have one can opener, you can’t predict the outcome of losing or breaking it. Unknown stuff can be scary if we allow ourselves to think of the negative consequences.

4) You worry that you’ve made a mistake. Your brain predicts a total catastrophe should it become apparent you’ve thrown out something that later becomes needed. This fear of the catastrophe has you dwelling on what mistakes you may have made when culling.

5) You feel you are losing a part of your identity or your past. Your past and your stuff are related. We store patterns in our neo-cortex of things we see, hear, smell and feel. Our brain cross-references these patterns and therefore creates an association. If you part with one of those “pointers” and it’s outside of your control and exists only in your mind, perhaps you’ll end up with memories in your brain that can’t ever be retrieved again.

6) You’re grieving lost opportunities. There are now things you may never see again, do again, think about again.

7) You did it for someone else. When you declutter to keep someone else happy, you’re less likely to enjoy the results. It’s not unlikely, just a little less likely.

8) You’ve forgotten about your goals. You’re thinking about what you’ve “lost”, not what you’ve gained. You have either not focused on your goals, or you have forgotten about them.

9) You just love your stuff too much. Whether you have hoarding disorder, or another mental health condition that fosters a very strong bond with physical belongings, your brain simply won’t let you let go.

This is why there is so much more to decluttering than just getting rid of stuff. It actually requires changes in mindset that without them, you won’t be able to be completely happy with the result.

Declutter your fears first, then your stuff.

Five habits of clutter-free people

Here are five things that clutter-free people make a habit of:

1. They acquire mindfully; only buying something if they know they need it and have identified a specific use for it. They happily pay full price because they know it’s of value to them (unless they find it’s conveniently on sale when they go to buy it) and avoid sales and being enticed by discounts. They only acquire something if they know where they’re going to put it, and that it fits there easily.

2. They have hobbies that either don’t require a lot of stuff, they set boundaries around how much of the hobby stuff they can have, or they limit their hobbies to a small number (like one or two). Or all of the above! They are satisfied without trying to do everything all at once.

3. They are okay with letting things go. They put themselves first and don’t keep things out of guilt or obligation. They don’t take everyone else’s problems on as their own. They have their emotional needs met by a small selection of sentimental possessions only, rather than keeping them all.

4. They don’t have a fear of missing out. They know that they’re always missing out on something, so why fight it? They are comfortable in the knowledge that they can’t have and do everything, and that if they tried, it wouldn’t result in happiness.

5. They base their self-worth around things other than their belongings. They know that even without all their stuff, they’ll still be okay.  Their happiness does not depend on having things. They trust that if culling something means one day forgetting something, that they’ll still be okay. They trust that even if they one day regret culling something, they’ll still be okay.

Perhaps you can see ways you might be able to create some clutter-free habits, too?

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