Struggling with clutter – The Decluttering Experiment Chronicles

We thought the last room of the house, the office, would be the most difficult to declutter, but that was not the case. We trashed a ton of cables and various knick-knacks, sold a few things on eBay (the trick: always set a low starting price!), and put a few others in the “basement bin”. We’ll deal with the balconies and the terrace in the spring, so I feel I can rightly say we actually finish this, and it’s time to draw some conclusions and see what are the results of our decluttering experiment.

If you want details, you can find them starting from here (sorry, in Italian only); to sum it up, we did a general decluttering of the entire house, room by room, sorting everything out in four categories: Keep, Trash, Sell (mainly on eBay), Give away. This last one is definitely the more crowded: the basement is now full of boxes, from garments to kitchen appliances; obviously, our challenge for 2011 is emptying that too!
General rule: if you haven’t been using something for 6 months (1 year for seasonal items), you can do without. The amount of stuff we removed is astonishing. To be honest, the more we proceeded, the more we felt a) stupid and b) exhilarated.

Some final considerations, which I hope will be useful for anyone curious enough to try and do the same:

No need to plan ahead: decluttering a flat of about 120 sqm (1290 sqft), plus garage and basement, required a few afternoons’ work of two people, during a couple of months. We didn’t set any deadline but it worked anyway, for a very simple reason: decluttering is addictive. The more you realize how much clutter you collected, how cumbersome it is, physically and psychologically, e how liberating is to get rid of it, the more (inevitably) you’ll want to go on. Could be a drawer or a shelf a day, your closet or an entire room: the feeling is always the same, and after a while you really can’t stop.
Often we keep something because we mind the waste, or we feel trashing it would be disrespectful or rude towards its giver, or because it’s a memento of an event or a person; too often the related memory is not a happy one, and yet we drag from house to house exes’ pictures (whom we came to hate dearly) or high school diaries (and high school years were NOT so happy actually). You can’t heal 20 years of scars trashing an old diary, but I can guarantee that it helps: to move on and leave behind something that is called “past” for a reason. We learned our lesson: there’s no need to keep hanging on to objects which have the only purpose of bringing back the bad choices we made and all the hurt and pain that followed.

You wouldn’t stop, ever – it’s liberating in itself, but also has liberating consequences. Tiny example: we have two bathrooms, in one of which we managed to completely empty the surface around the sink. Everytime I clean the bathrooms, I get upset because I have one empty surface (easy and quick to clean up) and another which seems more crowded every time I look at it. I felt compelled to remove a few more objects from the 2nd bathroom, and the same applies to the rest of the house: I find myself slyly removing one more item here and there – it’s not that useful after all…

The “white space” that began peeping here and there seemed strange at the beginning, and I felt the urge to stuff it again with something else. I resisted: now it feels wonderful (maybe too much!), and gives me a great feeling of peacefulness and fulfillment, as it’s the tangible result of our work.

Decluttering is forever – another long-term consequence: after you find yourself struggling with removing all the clutter, you’re not so tempted to start hoarding stuff again. I simply don’t feel like buying CDs or DVDs, clothes or shoes; and even less anything to decorate the house. I surrendered to the iPad (which wasn’t necessary, but a) I could afford it without getting into debt and b) gives me the opportunity to ditch the paper books, saving space and money). I am perfectly aware I’ll always have a soft spot for electronic gadgets (and handbags!), and I have no intention to becoming (too) frugal – but now my very first instinct is asking “Do I really need it or will it be trashed the next round of decluttering? Is it worth its price for me?”. The answer is almost always no, and often I don’t even ask the question: I simply pass by ignoring the thing altogether.
We didn’t plan or envision this, but another consequence is we spend (much) less, almost 2/3 less every month in average. It’s money we can save for a rainy day (considering we are both independent workers, it’s a wise thing to do), and/or use to buy experiences instead of things. It’s really a good feeling.

In a word, here’s my advice: “Do try this at home“. Start small: a kitchen drawer. A shelf on the bookshelf or in the pantry. That bathroom cabinet that gives you the chills every time you open it. Sort its contents between things to keep, trash, give away sell. I can guarantee you won’t be stopping… ever again.
Happy decluttering everybody… and let me know how it goes!

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