Questions to ask before you acquire

One of the reasons we get cluttered is because we acquire a fair bit of stuff rather unintentionally. We let bargains and marketing and the need for “newer” or “better” get the upper hand over us.

Instead of asking yourself “Can I afford it?” and “Do I wanted it?” when shopping – ask these questions.

And answer honestly!

  1. Am I just buying this to feel better about my life? You could have the urge to purchase because you feel bad. You might feel anxious, stressed, tired. You might need a dopamine hit or some cheering up and you’ve gone looking for it at the shopping centre. Think hard – is there another way you can feel good without buying? Perhaps going fora walk in nature, watching funny bloopers on YouTube, cuddling a puppy or having a massage might do the trick instead.
  2. Where is this going to live? Do I have space for it? Buying stuff when your home is already full or overflowing is just buying problems. If you can’t think of a helpful home for the item, it would definitely be worth re-thinking the acquisition.
  3. Do I have this on my “to buy” or “need” list? If you’ve previously identified a need for this item (like last week when your kettle shorted out and refused to work) then it can be justified as a need. But if you see a fancy kettle and you think “Ooh, this is nice and it’s 60% off!” and your kettle at home hasn’t bothered you at all until now, then you are simply responding to marketing and don’t actually need it.
  4. Is the price the most enticing thing about this object? This is where you decide whether you actually want the item itself, or you want the thrill of the discount. If you had to pay full price, would you? That’s the test of true need.
  5. How does this item “die”? What happens when you’re finished with it? Does it go into landfill? Wash into the sea? Sometimes by thinking about the whole life cycle of the item, we can be encouraged to leave it on the shelf so that we aren’t contributing to landfill or other environmental issues.
  6. Is this item going to make my life better, and for the long term? Very frequently we buy based on the excitement of something new. A new top, the latest magazine, the new kitchen gadget, the exercise thingy. We buy because we think it will make our lives better. And sometimes in the short term it does, but long term it ends up in the back of a cupboard and ignored. We want to buy things that KEEP paying the rent on the space they take up, not just the deposit!
  7. Do I really need it? Or do I just want it? Perhaps you’re self-soothing and don’t really need the item at all. Usually we buy things we don’t actually need, they’re just for temporary highs. If you can spot this happening, you can avoid it.
  8. Do I already have a similar thing? Often we buy something we already have at home that does most of the job already. We might buy a food processor because the blender doesn’t grate (but we have a grater in the drawer) or we might buy an avocado slicer when we have perfectly adequate knives and spoons that can do the job. Think first – how have you survived so far without it and can you keep on surviving without it?

Your excuses to yourself aren’t helpful

You know what I hear a fair bit of? Excuses.

It’s understandable, and I empathise (after all, most of our behaviour does have a reasonable justification!), but the reality is that excuses are incredibly unhelpful.  They are normal, and expected, and we do it instinctively, but they are still unhelpful in helping us achieve all our goals.

Therefore, it’s vital that we catch them when they show up, and that we challenge them.

If you don’t like your life as it is now, you can’t expect it to change if your behaviour doesn’t. You can’t say “I don’t want to always be in a rush” and then keep adding to your schedule because you “have to do the thing”. You can’t say “I need to declutter” and then be unwilling to stop shopping “but I collect pink glass” or let go because you “plan to make something with it one day”.

Even if it’s unpleasant, the only way things change is if things change.

That means putting up with unpleasant decisions, making difficult choices, making sacrifices and putting in the hard emotional work. This means catching yourself in an excuse (“But I need to keep it for if I ever have grandkids”) and challenging that.

When people invite me into their homes, I don’t, I can’t, just wave a magic wand and solve their issues for them. THEY have to do the hard yards. I’m only there to show them the path, walk it alongside them and to put my hands on their back and gently push should they begin to slide back down the mountain.

You can expect miracles, but only if you work at them and be honest with yourself.

No more excuses, okay? You’ve got this x

A few reasons why you have too many clothes

For those of us that have more clothes than space (and I count myself in that right now because when I unpacked my summer clothes out of rotation last month, I got a shock at how full my wardrobe suddenly was!), then it’s helpful to understand WHY, so that after a declutter, it doesn’t fill back up again.

So here we go – here are some reasons you have more clothes than space:

  1. You don’t have a style guide or curated colour palette. This means you buy things that don’t suit you or “feel like” you (they’re probably on special though, so enticed you anyway), OR they aren’t consistent with other styles in your wardrobe so you find them hard to match up and then don’t wear them. You need more clothes when things don’t match.
  2. You refuse to pay full price. When you shop with a discount in mind, that discount becomes the main reason for buying something. It is so enticing that regardless of the item and its suitability, you buy it anyway. By paying full price for something, however, you are more intentional and deliberate. You don’t compromise at all. You don’t think “well it’s a bit tight under the arms but I’m sure it will be okay” or “This will do for now”. You think “This has to match with several of my other clothes, shoes and accessories, fit perfectly and last me a long time”. And so you only buy it when it promises just that. Paying full price means ultimately buying less items overall.
  3. You don’t shop with a list. When you go shopping without a list, it’s easy to impulse-purchase. It’s easy to buy things you want, instead of things you need. Keep a list at all times (in your head, your phone, in a notebook, wherever!) so that when you’re shopping, you can refer to it when the impulse strikes. Update it regularly (when you are standing in front of your wardrobe thinking “I really need a black singlet for under these tops” or when something gets a hole in it that you can’t repair). Then make a rule for yourself – Only buy things that are on the list.
  4. You can’t let go. Hanging on to clothes we don’t wear anymore is a common behaviour. There are a lot of reasons we stop wearing clothes – we don’t fit into them anymore, they go out of fashion (as I’m getting older I am ignoring fashion more and more though!), they get “tatty” or worn and not suitable for public display. However a lot of the time, we keep them anyway. If you can’t let go, and you keep buying more, it’s only going to get more and more cramped in there.
  5. You follow fast fashion. In the fast fashion industry there are over 50 seasons in a year. That’s a new collection every week. If you strive to keep up with these seasons, you will invariably end up with an over-full wardrobe. The antidote is to be comfortable wearing clothes for many years, and creating a style for yourself that does not depend on trends. Also being selective on what trends you follow can help, too – that will reduce the influx a little.
  6. You haven’t set any boundaries. You buy what you want, when you want it. Your space expands (or compresses!) to fit the clothes, instead of the other way around. Your shoes are in five different locations, your clothes span more than one wardrobe, or have spilled over into tubs in the garage or spare rooms. Set some boundaries on how much space your clothes can take up, then stick to it.

So these are a few areas for you to address if you want to ultimately have a “just right” volume of clothing in your life – give them a go and see how well it works!

Sell or donate? Here’s how to decide.

You’ve done it. You’ve decided to de-own an item and say goodbye to it. What next?

Well, it’s another decision – sorry! You need to decide next on what you’re actually going to do with the stuff. There are a few options that can be simplified into:

  1. Sell
  2. Donate
  3. Recycle or landfill

If you’ve decided it’s too good to toss, you’re down to two options – give away or sell. Sometimes it’s an easy decision. If the item is worth thousands then yeah, you don’t have to agonise too much. But what if it’s maybe worth something but you aren’t completely sure and need to figure it out?

There are two things to consider when deciding whether to sell or donate. The first is how much time you have, the second is how much money you have (or need).

  1. If you have time but no money

    Selling stuff takes a lot of time and effort. There is research to be done, people to call, photographs to take, things to upload, people to message, space to find to put the stuff in the meantime … it’s a fair amount of work.

    However, if you have the time and need the money, selling privately via Facebook groups, special interest groups, specialty dealers etc WILL be worth it financially. You could also try a Garage Sale or a car-boot sale too.

  2. If you have money but no time

    Honestly – just donate it all. Call a charity and have them come and collect it in one go. It’s fast and it’s easy. Not to mention good for the charity that receives it!

  3. If you have money and time.

    Donate it, but go the extra mile and find small, specialty charities that the stuff goes directly to those in need. It’s very satisfying to know your stuff is going to be well used and appreciated. Ask your friends for their favourites and curate a list that suits you and your passions (and the stuff you have!).

  4. If you have no money and no time

    Try an auction house – you just have to pack it all up and get it there, and they do the rest (they take commission for their trouble but you still get around 75% into your bank account). Or you could hire someone (a student, family member, someone on Airtasker) to sell the items on your behalf for a cut.

If you’re still on the fence, ask yourself if the stress is worth it. Is losing $50 of potential sales worth it for the shorter to-do list on the weekend? Look at it like it’s an investment in your mental health. That’s like spending $50 on therapy!

How to avoid this downsizing mistake

Downsizing is very different to a regular move. There are additional things to consider, the biggest being decluttering your belongings so that they fit in the smaller space.

Many people discover only after they have moved, that they can’t comfortably fit all of the stuff they brought with them into the new home. One client recently had well over a dozen boxes of stuff that would not fit in their new apartment.

There are a few impacts that this has:

  • Things cannot be unpacked into the most convenient or effective home and things get “stashed” where they fit, which means later things are hard to find
  • There are unpacked boxes often left for a long time in the living areas, getting in the way
  • Alternative storage may need to be arranged, which has a high monthly cost.
  • The new home feels cluttered and isn’t quite the “fresh start” that is anticipated

The main solution to this is planning. Plan, plan and plan some more.

Many clients remember to plan out their large furniture, and measure up their spaces to ensure that it will fit, or to buy new items if the need be.

What people often fail to do, however, is think of the “stuff”. The spare dinner sets, all the vases, their photos, craft supplies, shoes, stashes (spares of things, extras and duplicates for “just in case”), memorabilia, paperwork, travel supplies, books, tools and electrical stuff, outdoor gear and more.

We recommend you spend some time doing a full inventory of the belongings that you’re taking with you. Write down EVERYTHING, and then, thinking about the space available in the new home, allocate every single item (or at very least, each category) a home. Where your volume is higher than the space you have available, you need to cull down to size.

This planning ahead will help you be a bit more accurate in the amount of belongings you declutter and help you get the fit into the new home just right.

“I might need it someday”

This is a really common thought that occurs to people when they are trying to declutter.

It pops up when they come across an item that they haven’t been using, either for a very long time, or not yet at all so far. It’s something like a box a phone came in, or a length of ribbon, or a spare screwdriver, or an umbrella, a jar, or a piece of wood.

It’s been languishing under a pile of stuff for who-know-how-long. Now they know that they haven’t been using it, they might not have even known they had it n the first place. So, because they are trying to declutter and a goal is to make more space, the logical part of them says “I should cull this”.

As soon as that happens, the emotional side of them jumps in and interrupts with “But I might need it some day!” or “But it could be really handy!”.

So then immediately, there are two teams fighting against each other in your brain. Logic and Emotion.

Usually when there’s an argument between our logical side and our emotional side, emotion wins in the first instance. It’s not really a fair fight, to be honest.

Emotion has a huge advantage over the logical side. Two advantages actually. One is that is gives instant gratification – keeping something you like gives you an immediate sense of comfort and security. Logic’s rewards are more long-term, and so are harder to see.

The second is that Emotion can evoke a physical response in you that is incredibly hard to ignore. It can raise your heart-rate, and make you feel nauseated as it diverts essential activities away from your intestines. It can make you sweat, make you jumpy, make you want to cry. It can make it harder to breath, or you may even hyperventilate. It can make you twitchy and very very intent on removing yourself from the situation, or angry and wanting to lash out.

Poor Logic doesn’t really have a hope against that, does it? And so to make all that go away, Emotion wins and you keep the item.

But every time you let Emotion win in these cases, it gets stronger. Then next time it pops up faster, more intensely. It feeds off your validation of it.

So how do we fight this?

We practice building up Logic so that it has a fairer fight. It still might not always win, but we give it a better chance.

  1. We stop and acknowledge the anxiety that Emotion has brought up. We temper it with facts and truths (for example, it’s true that jars do keep coming in the house, and that most friends will have a jar if you need one, and they are not at all hard to come by and are often free). We allow Logic to have its say, to tell its truths.
  2. We pick fairer fights, one where we know Emotion doesn’t have quite the strong stake in it. If Emotion gets repulsed at the thought of eating foods past their used-by-date, do some decluttering at the back of the pantry because Emotion won’t have quite as much to say about it when Logic suggests something needs to go. Go for the “easy” stuff to help build up that Logic muscle.
  3. We ask ourselves questions. Questions like “If I didn’t have this when I needed it, what would happen?”. Would you be able to borrow it? Use something else? Make an alternative?Be creative with something you already have?
  4. We extend the story. What we’re saying when we say “I might need it someday” is actually “I’m afraid of the consequences of not having this when I need it”. We’re telling ourselves a story that stops at the worse part. So extend the story – what ARE those consequences? What would happen if you didn’t have a spare screwdriver when you needed it? What would happen to you? And then what would you do? And then what? What’s at the end of the story? And is it so bad as you initially thought?
  5. We use our powers of creativity and ingenuity. Tell yourself stories about how resourceful you are and how you will be just fine without The Thing. Tell yourself about how smart you are at making do without, and how strong you are when things don’t go your way. Tell yourself how a little inconvenience won’t derail you, and that it’s unlikely to even happen at all. Back yourself, you can do it.

So next time you find yourself thinking “But I might need it someday”, stop and see if you can give Logic a fighting chance. And the more you do it, the better you and Logic will get at fighting off that pesky Emotion who keeps telling you that you aren’t strong enough.

My thoughts on Marie Kondo and “Tidying Up”

I’ve been asked my opinion on Marie Kondo’s show and her method a lot lately. So I have gathered my thoughts in this post (and also recorded two podcast episodes on it!). I’m not really a huge KonMari advocate, but I’m definitely not a complete detractor either. I think it has merit, but with a few warnings.

I have tried to watch her show both as a person who owns stuff and lives in a house, as well as from the perspective of a professional who has been doing what she does for close to 15 years now.

As a regular person, I was profoundly affected by the respect for the home, the greeting of the home as a spiritual practice, and the respect for the belongings. I have an uncluttered home, but I don’t have the reverence for my belongings that she promotes and I was inspired to change that. I actually cried when she greeted the first home, and get emotional every time. I think I’m in the minority among POs with this opinion – many of my colleagues found my admission rather amusing! But I think we could all do with more gratitude and respect for our homes and our belongings. Perhaps it would translate into more respect for each other and our environment; I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all.

I was inspired by her calm manner and the deliberate way she speaks, moves and touches things. She seems very sweet and genuine – I couldn’t help but like her. I know some don’t like it, but the cute jumping and smiling didn’t bother me at all, it was endearing to me. I’d happily allow her in my home and let her walk on my counter tops.

Conversely, I felt that if I wanted to do her method, I could, but I felt there wasn’t enough information on how to make decisions. I know how to myself as I do it for a living, but if I didn’t, I think I would have had MANY questions that weren’t answered. At one point when a woman who had insisted on keeping everything at the start of the show then later said “I don’t need to keep everything” I shouted at the television “HOW? How did you come to that conclusion? I want to know!!!”. Decluttering is ALL ABOUT DECISION-MAKING and it was not covered thoroughly enough.

I found the show a little boring at times. I was interested in the psychology but it was glossed over a bit and there was more time spent on the people on their own than with Kondo and her insights. And some processes were repeated in every episode at the expense of others.

Her paperwork system lacked a LOT in the way of detail – it definitely wouldn’t work for me. Pending, Important (what’s not important and if it’s not, why is it kept?) and Miscellaneous (shudder) as categories just don’t cut it.

There should also have been more focus on not acquiring. How to make decisions when shopping, how to talk to family members about gift giving, why we shop etc.

As professional, I like how the whole family is included – this is something I promote too as much as possible. It didn’t promote perfection as much as I’d expected and I loved how the homes were still real (and not “furniture catalogue”) when they were “finished”. I like how the people were made responsible for doing it, not anyone else. They have homework and are held accountable.

There are steps to follow, which is really helpful for viewers overall. After the first three categories it gets very vague, however, and they get left with little guidance. But steps are a good start.

It’s inspiring, even if not quite instructional enough. I got up and immediately cleaned out my bin drawer that I’d been putting off! I apologised to my house for letting it get so grotty (I’m uncluttered, but I can be rather lazy!).

Now for my professional doubts. Firstly, as mentioned previously, you can’t see them getting help making decisions. “Does it spark joy?” can’t be the only question they ask themselves as it won’t work for all items. I did see her asking some different questions but it was very brief and vague and glossed over. The most challenging part of decluttering is decision-making and it’s not done justice.

The participants are shown to be left alone when overwhelmed and distressed. This can be quite detrimental if it happens in real life.

They are working on it every day, all day for a month. This is not explained properly and some viewers desperate to overcome their clutter might think it’s a manageable time-frame. If you work and have young children, there’s no way the whole house can get done in a month, especially things like paperwork, garages and photographs.

There’s few tips on where things can go or how to dispose of them, that’s a bit thin.

It’s not very practical to put all the clothes on the bed in one big pile, or every book in the house on the living room floor. Psychologically it’s often helpful to see the volume (although for some it would just be overwhelming), but it’s not practical. Most people don’t have all day to clear it off, and then it ends up on the floor and in a mess again to be re-sorted. Also, many people who need help have no space to put all their stuff together in one spot (if you can’t see the floor or the bed, what do you do?) AND they have their stuff stashed in several places and many they don’t know about. Getting all their books together is virtually impossible. Hopefully viewers understand there are definitely other ways to declutter than the “all together” method.

It won’t work for everyone, and I wish that was communicated more. She seems so confident in her method that she doesn’t really cater for the differences in people, and the extremely high prevalence of mental illness in cluttered homes.

The charities all were happy to receive their goods. This is NOT my experience and I do many many charity runs – a few a week. Charities are overloaded and picky and often rude and ungrateful. Getting rid of the stuff is a LOT harder than it is portrayed. This will result in many homes full of things “to go”.

Again, there isn’t enough talk about acquiring. Why did they have those items? Why did they feel they were important? How did they arrive and why did they get purchased and never used? How can they stop the influx?

There is no investigation into the WHY – why they have so much stuff, why they have trouble parting with it, why they keep acquiring.

In the show’s defense, I feel many that write off the show or Kondo’s method don’t look at it through any lens other than their own. They find it silly, so it’s silly. They find it too easy, or too hard, or too boring, or too shallow, so they tell everyone that’s what it is.

Many opinions are formed without watching the show properly, or reading the book. Many opinions are formed based on a misunderstanding of the literally translated terms and the differences in culture. There area a lot of opinions that are based on thinly veiled racism.

“Spark joy” is ridiculed by many (and I’m not immune – I’ve been known to say that for many people, everything “sparks joy”) but perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to ridicule it because what we are hearing is not exactly what she means. She doesn’t really mean joy in the sense we mean it, she means a sense of excitement, of “throb”. It’s not “does this make me happy?”, it’s more like “does it promote a strong feeling, bordering on urge or excitement, of wanting to use it?”. We still may disagree if we could translate it properly, but we should at least be aware of this issue.

I definitely do not think this show is a bad thing, and I think it can properly inspire people to live more intentionally. Of course, it won’t be for some, but as with everything else, there is never one thing to suit everyone. I love watching The Walking Dead on TV but I’d never insist that everyone should watch it, and the show itself doesn’t come under criticism for not being a show everyone would love. Why then, is Kondo’s? I think in part it’s because of her fans – they are VERY loyal and some people find that annoying. What Konverts need to understand is that what works for them shouldn’t be shoved down everyone else’s throats – it worked for you, that’s really awesome, just don’t insist it will change everyone else’s lives as well.

For people for whom this method doesn’t work on you, don’t worry, you’re definitely not alone, and there are loads of other methods of decluttering you can try. I have written a whole book just for people who find that “Does it spark joy?” is no help at all, and there are hundreds more out there, as well as professionals that can come to your home and help you in a way that works for you.

So take it as it is – a show you can choose to watch, or a show you can choose to not watch. And take from it what you will, and don’t worry if there’s only a few things, or even nothing, you can take from it.

I’ll take from it a need for more respect for my home, which compliments my existing philosophies of intentional living. I think that’s a good thing.

When Adult Children Clutter Your Life

A lot of our clients that are trying to downsize have stuff in their homes that belong to their adult children.  The stuff has been kept for various reasons. Sometimes the offspring have asked for it to be kept for them, and other times the parent has chosen to keep them to pass on one day.

The first category is the most difficult one to deal with because it’s not often voluntary on the part of the parent. I find that my clients have a conundrum – do they store the stuff for their child even though it impacts on their life, or do they risk upsetting or inconveniencing their child by asking for it to be removed?

A lot of parents will feel guilty for requesting that the stuff be taken away. I hear things like “they don’t have much space” or “it will cost a lot to ship it”. They are still looking after their kids, and I can understand that. It’s not helpful though!

I notice that the parents assume responsibility for the items rather than assigning responsibility to the owners of the items. They forget that they are grown-ups who are quite capable of looking after themselves. I love it when the children are helpful and immediately help by removing the items, but I do get disappointed when others unhelpfully drag their feet, refuse to act and make their parents feel guilty. I want to say “They have sacrificed so much for you! Help them live a clutter-free retirement, please!”.

My advice is always pretty consistent – ship it out! If the adult children can’t afford to transport it, they need to choose to de-own it. If they can’t fit it in their homes, they choose to de-own it or pay for storage. They are the ones that need to be making the decisions but either way, it needs to leave their parent’s house.

 

 

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.

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.