Lessons In Decluttering
We are finalizing the details of HOPEFULLY buying a house (location is PERFECT, it just hasn’t been updated in 60 years so there’s lots of repairs needed) and I find that discussing decluttering and downsizing is one of my favorite topics. We’ve learned a lot in the 3’ish years to get us to the point where we’re trying to buy a 1500 sq ft house after selling a 4100 sq ft home. The most important takeaway so far is that there are TWO reactions to decluttering. One negative, and one positive, and how you (and the people who share your home) fall on the spectrums of those two reactions will determine your success from day 01.
Let’s say you’ve gotten rid of a bunch of clothes. Or maybe books. Or maybe you cleaned out that cupboard. And now? NOW YOU HAVE SPACE. There is space where there wasn’t space before and whenever you see it or think about it you are overcome by a feeling of calm. Suddenly – the absence of clutter in that one location, and the addition of empty space – you feel peace. You feel like you can breathe again.
Let’s think about that same space in your closet. Or that empty book shelf. Now, think about how your friend wants to read that book you gave away…You could have given it to her if you still had it! Or maybe you finally lost the weight you had been struggling to lose for a few years and you have a wedding coming up and Why did you give away that one dress? That dress would have been perfect! And now you can’t stop thinking about that one book or that dress and you are MAD. You are feeling regret and frustration. YOU HAD THE STUFF. And now your friend has to deal with buying that book or you have to buy a dress. WHY DID YOU GET RID OF THAT STUFF?
Weighing The Two Reactions
We are all going to experience both if we take a big step to declutter. Now, the trick is, you have to weigh the two against each other. I still, after 3 years of decluttering, feel the peace and the calm of the freedom and the space WAY MORE than I feel the negative reaction to not having that thing I needed that one time. That negative reaction in my mind…that regret and frustration…it fades quickly because it is nothing compared to the peaceful feeling of not feeling burdened by ALL OF THAT CRAP.
HOWEVER – I’m not sure Donnie feels the same way. He still has the most stuff to go through in storage because he can’t quite embrace the peace the space brings as he knows the regret will hang so heavy in his heart. He’s been able to weigh in favor of “decluttering” most of the time as he was excited about lessening the burden of the home we would own. But when it comes to specific items, and realizing they’re gone? He does experience regret much more than I do, so the majority of the final stage of “decluttering” will be on his shoulders as he’s had the harder time letting go of things.
This is a very important balance to understand if you have a person you’re sharing a home with. Because we all know how regret works, it eats at you and burdens your soul. We don’t want to push anyone into the “regret” zone simply because our feeling of peace in decluttering is so strong. You have to find a balance. Luckily, Donnie also feels incredible peace with the lack of clutter, so he often leans more to that side and even understands the appeal of things like “tiny houses” – if he didn’t experience any of the positive benefit of decluttering, we’d have bigger problems.
Consider The Generations After You
This is also something to think about when deciding what to keep of your children’s, or for your children. Because everything you store for them “when they have kids” becomes a burden for them in adulthood. Now, maybe it won’t be too big of a burden, BUT THAT IS UP TO YOU. When we sold my Dad’s house I left with two boxes of stuff from my childhood – AND THAT WAS PLENTY. Especially since he was gone, I’m not sure I would have let myself get rid of things. I’m very VERY happy he got rid of things for me over the years so that I did not have to deal with the burden.
We have to really consider how “value” translates over generations. This little dress is special to me because I remember Nikki wearing it. But will it be special to her? No. Probably not.
UNLESS – there are pictures of her in it. Then she might want to do the mother/daughter photo thing and that is a fun little homage to an article of clothing. So I keep clothes I have photos of my kids in. Of course, it also works for sibling photos too:
A friend of mine joked one time that he and his wife were going through boxes of their son’s stuff, “To help their future daughter-in-law.” Oh, man. Do I get that. Because it is hard as a kid to have a burden of stuff from your childhood you might not even remember, but that you don’t want to get rid of because your parents saved it for you. But it’s really hard to be the spouse of that person because all you have is the clutter and NO SENTIMENTALITY. I kept a lot of stuff of Dads for no real reason and – luckily – Donnie knew he only had to be patient and I would eventually see there was no purpose and would get rid of it. He trusts my purging skills to win out in the end. He wishes I wasn’t so good a purging most days.
But often he had to gently remind me the stuff was still in the garage. And when it came time to finally move out? He was patient with me as I went through the inner turmoil and he was sitting there thinking, “OH MY GOD, JUST GET RID OF IT, WOMAN.”
So, yeah. For the future spouses of your children – don’t keep stuff that your child won’t also appreciate. Are there photos of them with the item? Did they use it to a point where they actually have memories of it? Be aware that you are putting that burden on them with everything you keep. I still have weird dishes of Dads I’m not sure why I’m keeping. I don’t even remember him having them! But they are weirdly sentimental because they were mysterious. And they go on the walls so I can justify they won’t take up space anywhere!
Just don’t lose sight of the cycle of burden you could be starting, or perpetuating. You have memories with the dishes that belonged to your grandmother because you ate Christmas at her house ON THOSE DISHES every year. But will your daughter have the same affection for those dishes? Probably not if you never used them with her. But she will feel obligated to keep them because they were special to you. Do you see what happens in that moment? She is burdened by your sentimentality. And then her daughter won’t even have that and she’ll probably ditch the dishes.
It’s something we’re trying to do – consider future generations – when deciding what is important to us. We don’t want to burden them. And hopefully we won’t, now. If we successfully move into this home we will have to do one final purge and then it will be time to enforce the rule: NOTHING COMES IN UNLESS SOMETHING GOES OUT. And nothing comes in unless we can really justify it by NEED or WANT. We aren’t giving up consumerism, we’re not that brave. We still like stuff. New stuff especially. But we’re trying to weigh that.
EXAMPLE: We don’t have a full set of dishes and sometimes I consider ditching the ones we have and starting over with a new full set. But why? Why can’t I just buy some to replace the missing pieces? Because there’s a weird pressure to have 8 matching place settings? WHY? It doesn’t make sense. So when it comes time? I’ll just buy a few more plates. That’s it. And they won’t match and that will be part of our charm. Instead of burdening some thrift store with my incomplete set of dishes just so I can fulfill some weird burden society has imposed on me.
Anyway – these are lessons we’ve learned in the last 3 years and things we consider every step of the way. Do you have anything useful to share?