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Declutter like a pro, not like a zealot!

May 17, 2010

image by Tobo

[tweetmeme source=”living_minimal” only_single=false] For most people decluttering is one of the first things they try out when it comes to minimalism. My declutter journey began a few months before I even heard of minimalism. So let’s go back to September last year, the beginning of my last year as a student. Being a student I have one room to my disposal: my dorm room. As I wrote in April a dorm room is a dormant health hazard on its own. My room, not a code red or anything, still needed some serious decluttering. In those days I gave myself the goal to create a good study environment. So I emptied my desk and got rid of much of my old clothes. The argumentation went as follows:

  • I need to study so…
  • I need less distractions…
  • I need less crap in my room so I can concentrate better…
  • I need more empty spaces…
  • I need to search for spaces with too much junk…

FOUND THEM!

There they were: one desk with filled with papers and one couch with a lot of unwashed clothes (remember this is a dorm room!). It felt good to clean up those spaces and I didn’t even need a guide for it!

Alas, this happiness wasn’t meant forever. Studying meant new piles of paper and the couch became the resting place for other stuff. So I search even further. So I looked for help in the largest library I knew: the internet! Through a series of good and bad advises found on the subject of self management I found Leo Babauta’s website and got acquainted with the ways of simplicity and minimalism. It was a revelation for me!

And of course, as most people, the first thing I tried out was decluttering my entire room. I did and my room hasn’t been as much of a health hazard ever since. So let’s go through the steps Leo suggests in his article “How to Declutter“:

  1. Do it in small chunks
    • Amen to that! Don’t try to do everything at once. It’s seriously mind-numbing,  probably overwhelming and for when you have dust-allergies like me not as rewarding since you feel like crap after a day of rummaging through dust catchers.
  2. Set aside a couple of hours
    • Plan it in your agenda. When you are trying do it as something on the side you are probably checking everything twice.
  3. A complete shelf/drawer at once and sort out the pile quickly and decisively.
    • Best idea ever! Batch your decluttering and pull your attachments away like band-aids!
  4. Be merciless (but be careful with important papers)
    • Whoa, wait… Merciless, pull like band-aids? We are talking about stuff with a lot of memories! What if I miss them? What if I’m too enthusiastic? What happens if the high of throwing stuff away is gone and I realize I threw stuff out that I won’t forgive myself for? This is something I only realized after a while. Most bloggers write posts about decluttering for those who have big problems with throwing stuff away. But what if you are too enthusiastic like me?
  5. Create a maybe box, if you need one.
    • If you are as enthusiastic like me, you need a maybe box. Not to put off the hard choices but to create a buffer between you and the trash can. Use the 30 days rule of shopping (wait 30 days before doing large stuff) also for throwing stuff away!
  6. Create a system to stop clutter.
    • Remember that bloody couch of mine? Pause yourself after that whirlwind of decluttering a shelf or drawer. In that moment of peace give everything in your house (or in my situation dorm-room) a place of its own. This way the stuff you have can’t clutter.
  7. Celebrate when you’re done!
    • Grab a beer,  plunge into your couch and admire the result. Use this feeling as a reminder how awesome a clean and uncluttered room feels like.

So after all this decluttering, should your room as empty as the picture above? No, an empty house is not necessary for becoming a minimalist. Your life doesn’t have to contain only 100 items. Unless you want to… Living minimally is not about emptying your life but living with what you consider essential. As my brother asked me on Facebook can a minimalist have a big ass tv? Of course! Especially if that minimalist (me) is also a big movie fan.

So those are my experiences when it comes to decluttering according à la Leo. The most important thing you need to remember is that minimalism, and decluttering alike, are about improving your life, not diminishing it.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. je zus permalink
    May 21, 2010 16:19

    well done, big brother of mine!

  2. May 21, 2010 20:35

    Great article on decluttering. One thing I would definitely add to anyone trying to declutter is that once you’ve decided to get rid of something, get rid of it as soon as possible! When I first attempted large-scale decluttering, I made the mistake of leaving my box of things I was giving away in the basement for several weeks. Every time I walked by it, I was tempted to start taking junk out that I really didn’t need to keep. Best advice is to get rid of it before your resolve fails!

    I like your blog, keep up the good work!

    • May 22, 2010 12:22

      Thanks for your comment. Love your work by the way. I think the time that it takes from deciding to throw something away and the actual throwing away depends on what kind of person you are. When you are very attached to your belongings you should try to minimize that time. Like you said, you might be tempted to take stuff back. However if you are someone who could throw away an entire wardrobe because you are a bit “overenthusiastic” you need a buffer. I’ve set my own buffer to 30 days (just an arbitrary number of course). But it helps when you are a bit overzealous. :)

  3. rinadiputri permalink
    May 25, 2010 21:25

    Another declutterer…. yay, am not alone. I found tip number 6 to be the truest tip of all, and the most diddicult for myself to keep up. But I’m working on it. I don’t keep a maybe box, if unsure, then it stays where it is untill i find a better home for it. My past experience has shown that maybe boxes become clutter because I’m crazy like that – I miss my deadlines and leave the box to rot – find them a year latter and dump everything away anyway. Nice blog! hope to read some more tips.

    • May 25, 2010 22:12

      Maintenance is usually the biggest problem of any system. The most important thing is that you use a system that works for you. Work that system and enjoy the result!

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