Note: This is a guest post from Colleen Madsen of 365 Less Things.
I have never considered myself a natural organizer. But in 2007, my family moved to Australia from the USA. Because we were moving into a smaller home, I found myself needing to unclutter a large number of items. Fortunately, we were able to accomplish the task…but mostly, because I had no other choice.
Shortly after the move, a new stage of life surfaced. My husband was about to begin semi-retirement. And to prepare for our new life together, I set a personal goal to again reduce our possessions. Coincidentally, on January 3rd, a segment aired on morning television about people abandoning their New Year resolutions. Turns out, on average, most people only stick to their resolution for three days. Even though I had never been one to take on resolutions, I found great motivation in beating those narrow odds… in fact, the challenge was nearly irresistible to me
I decided at that moment to set a new resolution to minimize our possessions. I determined to remove one item each day for the next 365 days. I started with three items to make up for the missed days, and promptly began removing one thing a day for the rest of the year. I am happy to say I not only completed my resolution successfully but it was so simple and satisfying that I continued uncluttering in my slow and steady pace (an average of five items per week) for an additional two years!
Over these last three years of clearing clutter, I have removed over a thousand things from our home. Also, through the process and through my writing, I have had the opportunity to help many people realize their own goals as well. These conversations have sharpened my desire for simplicity and taught me important insight about uncluttering. I have learned that understanding just a few key principles can help anyone just learning how to declutter.
The 10 Most Important Principles I Have Learned to Help Anyone Unclutter:
1. Stop the Flow of Stuff Coming In. Uncluttering is a waste of time if you simply replace the old stuff with new. You’ll need to begin by slowing the flow of things entering your home. Determine today to buy less. Trust me, you won’t regret it. The freedom from desire to acquire is a beautiful thing.
2. Remove at Least One Item a Day. The process does not have to be a mad frenzy that disrupts your entire household. Over the years, my home has become quite minimalist by simply choosing one item a day to get rid of. This gradual process began to change the way I think about stuff. Eventually, it became a way of life rather than just a crash diet of stuff.
3. Get Rid of the Easy Stuff First. There is no need to make things difficult by trying to get rid of the hardest things first. Most likely, it will simply deter you from the task altogether. Instead, start with the easy stuff and then as you strengthen your will to reduce, the harder decisions will become easier.
4. Put a Disposal Plan in Place. Before you begin, investigate selling, recycling, donating and give away options for the items you choose to remove. The more prepared you are for the task, the simpler it will be… and the more likely you will be to follow through. Ebay, Freecycle, and our local thrift store became my favorite disposal options. However there are endless others to explore.
5. Decide to Not Keep Things out of Guilt or Obligation. Your home should only contain the things you love or use. Don’t let incorrect thinking or other people dictate what you should keep or give away. Remember, if the items are yours, it is your choice to decide what to do with them.
6. Do Not Be Afraid to Let Go. The urge to hold on to items you think you might need someday can be eliminated simply by being realistic about what need really is. Many items in our homes may be useful, but they are not particularly necessary to our happiness, well-being, or the functionality of our homes. Seek to understand the difference.
7. Gifts Do Not Have to be Material. There are so many ways to honor loved ones without giving gifts that end up as clutter. Encourage people to follow this concept when buying gifts for you. Some alternative gifts are gifts of experience or adventure, a gift of time spent together, even cash gifts are appropriate in some instances. I have two clutter-free gift guides at my blog if you are looking for ideas.
8. Do Not Over-Equip Your Home. A home does not need enough linen, crockery, cutlery, or pantry supplies to serve as a hotel. Be realistic about your true needs. In the rare event an unusually large number of guests arrive on your doorstep, you can always borrow from friends, family or neighbors.
9. Do Not Throw Out Things that are not Yours Without the Owner’s Permission. Everyone should have a choice about their own belongings, even small children. Honor them by allowing them to choose. You can encourage hoarding tendencies in others by ripping things away from them before they are ready to let go.
10. Do Not Waste Your Life on Clutter. Every item you own takes time out of your life: time to manage it, clean it, repair it, and maintain it; time to choose between objects of a similar category; time spent shopping for it… and that doesn’t even mention the time spent earning the money to pay for it in the first space. Decide to sacrifice less of your precious life on the pursuit and ownership of stuff.
These ten principles have kept me resolute for the past three years. I had no idea when I began this mission how much stuff I would relinquish over the next three years. What I originally thought was going to be an arduous task quickly became a way of life… so much so, we have just put a deposit on a beautiful, even smaller, apartment with fabulous views of our coastal city, a swimming pool, and gym all within walking distance of everything we want. Semi-retirement is becoming a beautiful thing. Uncluttering made it possible.