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Thursday, January 7, 2016

10 lessons learned from a year of decluttering

One year ago I decided to label 2015 as the year no clutter. While our house is not 100% free of clutter (and probably never will), I've managed to get rid of a lot of stuff. It took time and effort and, more importantly, it gave me a new dimension to the importance of material things.

To celebrate the end of my decluttering year and (maybe) to inspire others to follow my example, I decided to share here the main lessons I learned during the past twelve months.

1. Decluttering takes time

Since I started my journey I read a lot about decluttering. I read on how to declutter in a couple of hours, two days, a week, a month, etc. What I can tell you is that all of it amounts to superficial decluttering. Of course if I have someone over I pick up toys in the living room, fold and put away laundry and throw away all those magazines cluttering the kitchen counter. That's a quick clean up, not a true declutering.  Clutter is, by definition, something you hold on to but really don't need. It piles up but, unless you are a pathological hoarder, will be mostly hidden at the bottom of closets, on top of bookshelves, etc. Those are things that you saved for a reason, either because they represent memories or because you think they may be useful some day. To get rid of them you need to change your mindset, convince yourself to let them go. And that takes time. 

Take as an example my approach to books. My love of books was inherited from my parents and grandparents. In our house, books were sacred, no one ever threw away books, even those that were not to be re-read. It took a while for me to take the leap onto reading digital books, and it took even longer for me to accept that I should replace most of my library with digital books AND get rid of the paper ones. I sold a few, but mostly I ended up donating huge piles of books during 2015. I still managed to hold on to them, without the physical burden of overloaded bookshelves. To be able to develop these alternative strategies, again, you need time. 

2. It's an on-going effort

Even if you clean out your house entirely, there's no guarantee that clutter won't accumulate again. Of course there are strategies you can implement to avoid the piling up, but you still should go through your house on a regular basis. 

For example, I went through my clothes closet several times during the year. There are always items that you leave there on the first round because you think you may still wear them in the next season. And then seasons come and go and you never actually wear them, so you need to go back and discard those clothes.

3. It's a lot of work

It is. And you need to be prepared for it. You need to decide what, how and when to discard things. If you're donating them, you may need to contact the charity you're donating to, to check what they accept and sometimes set a time and place for delivery or pick-up. If you're selling used items, you may also need to wash, clean, iron, pack and take them to a second hand store, take pictures to post online or arrange for a garage sale.
And if you're like me, you have a hectic schedule already, but for decluttering to be effective you need to put aside time to complete each specific task otherwise you will either just spread the clutter around the house even more (when you take out things from closets to go through them and then never do) or you'll never actually complete what you set out to do because something else always comes up. 

4. Donating is easier than throwing away

Some things are easy to let go of. But others, those that you kept because you were holding on to memories or to something you thought you could still use, those are the worst. Finding a new home for those things may be a lot easier than just putting them in the trash. If you think someone else in your family or circle of friends will treasure them, it may be a good alternative. Otherwise, look for suitable charities in your area and go from there. 
Take photos of the items if you must, but convince yourself that the best way to treasure them is to make sure they are used and be loved by someone who really needs them. 

5. Reuse and upcycle

There are many amazing ways to reuse and upcycle things to make them useful again. If you're holding on to a certain item that you're not really using but can't seem to be able to let go, look for alternative ways to use or upcycle it or for a clever way to display it in your home A simple search on Google or Pinterest should provide you with lots of amazing  ideas. But beware, this does not work for everything you're holding on to. Some things really need to go.

6. Replace items, don't accumulate

If you buy something new for the house (or for you), try to replace an old item with the new one instead of keeping both. I had a tendency to buy new clothes because the old ones are getting too old to wear in the office, but then keep the old ones because I thought I could still wear them around the house or on weekends. Guess what? Odds are most of those older clothes are never going to be worn again. So now whenever I buy something new, I try to get rid of at least one older item.

7. If it has to go, send it out today

The worst thing you can do after setting aside items to put in the trash or to donate, is to let them sit in a corner of your house. This will not only create new clusters of clutter, it will also give you a chance to change your mind or have second thoughts about the things you decided to discard. So, if it is set to leave the house, make sure it leaves as soon as possible.

8. Don't bring more clutter home

Avoid bringing home things that are not keepers. This applies to everything from the advertising leaflets left in our mailboxes, to clothing catalogs you picked up in the mall, to those Happy Meal toys or party favors that kids love to get but that are not actually things they will play with. The less junk you bring home, the less decluttering you will have to burden yourself with later.

9.Your house will not be empty

No matter how much you declutter, your house will never be empty, especially if you have chindren. I'm still not sure if this is a plus or a minus of decluttering, but the truth is that, after a year of getting rid of things, I still have a lot of stuff around. And probably always will. The purpose of decluttering is not to get rid of everything, but to get a handle on the mess.

10. Decluttering makes you feel good

It may not seem so at the beginning, but once you get the gist of it, you'll feel good discarding things. Either because you're donating to someone who needs them more than you do, or because you start to realise that all that hard work is paying off and now you have less stuff scattered around, your house is easier to clean, your closets no longer seem like the aftermath of a nucelar disaster and nothing falls on your head when you open the kitchen cabinets.

How about you? Do you have any great ideas or sugestions on decluttering that you want to share? My decluttering journey isn't over by any means, and I always love to hear from you!

Happy Thursday!

keeping it real, craft blog


  1. Great advice - purging always makes me feel good!!

    1. So true...though it took me a while to get there...Thank you for stopping by and happy 2016!

  2. Great advice! I am in the midst of decluttering so found this at Friday Features Kinky Party--shared to Google+.

  3. After a year of some very serious decluttering I would have to totally agree with you on all of the above! It takes a lot more time and effort then I expected it would and I view things so differently now. I've still a long way to go and some days I just want to ditch everything and others I revert to older 'I want to keep it' thinking. But there is definitely progress!
    I actually feel a lot better knowing it's taken someone else at least a year to make a dent in their clutter.

    1. Yes, it takes a lot longer and it's a lot harder than I initially thought, but it's very gratifying. Hopefully I'll be able to continue decluttering in 2016! Happy new year!

  4. Hi Teresa - Thanks so much for sharing these lessons with the Let's Get Real party.

  5. These are all great tips!

    Thanks for joining Cooking and Crafting with J & J!

  6. Enjoyed your post. I can relate to just about all of it. I spent time a couple years ago going through my entire house, room by room to declutter. I loved it - my family on the other hand - not so much. Thank you so much for sharing with us at Snickerdoodle Sunday!

    1. My kids don't like it much too, but my husband is more of a minimalist so he's totally on board! Thank you for stopping by Laurie!

  7. Great Post and maybe a little inspiration too! I need to work on my craft room! Maybe this year!! Thanks for sharing on My 2 Favorite Things on Thursday! Pinned!

  8. Thanks for sharing this tips with us at Cooking and Crafting with J & J.

  9. I love these tips so much. My husband and I are moving in a couple months and I'm going to need to declutter because I don't want to bring all the clutter with us to our new home. I'm bookmarking this post for when I'm ready!

    Thanks for sharing with us at the Tips & Tricks party. That's how I found you. Hope to see you again on Monday!

    1. Thank you Lisa, and good luck with our move! Moving house is always the perfect opportunity for decluttering!


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