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Decluttering and making decisions

A plastic model bends over a big container of plastic bits

Decluttering and making decisions go hand in hand. The process of sorting, tidying and culling household items involves making constant decisions about go or stay.
– Do want it?
– Do I need it?
– What is the definition of need, anyway?
– And what if I need it later?
Decluttering and making decisions about what to keep is exhausting. Marie Kondo boiled it down to one sentence. “Does it spark joy?” But joy wanes as we become tired and overwhelmed with all our stuff. It’s all very meta, but the very act of evaluating joy can quickly erode it.

So I decided I need to create some policies around keep or cull. Criteria to meet for each item in question. Boxes to tick. Something to rely on before decision fatigue kicks in. If you tick yes to most of these, the item can probably stay.

Decluttering and making decisions – policies

  1. Have you used the item in the last 12 months? Unused items are not paying their way and need to be evicted.
  2. Does the item save you more than an hour of time each year? Again, is it earning its keep?
  3. Is it in good working order? Ready to go with no repairs? (this can also be a tick for selling)
  4. Is it indispensable? Or is it easily replaced with a tech based version or a bevy of multiples you also have lurking in the house? If there other ways of achieving its goal, it’s on thin ice. Your 10 pairs of short black boots might be slightly different to each other, but if they all pair with the same outfits, you are over-subscribed.
  5. Back to the philosophies of Marie Kondo, do you actually like it? Does it spark joy?
  6. If the item was broken or lost, would you replace it? Studies have shown that the simple act of owning something creates a psychological connection with it. Try and overcome this by pretending you have to start from scratch.
  7. In short, is the item worth the space it is occupying? Keep in mind how valuable the real estate in your house is. Depending where you live, commercial rent in Melbourne is as high as $700 per year per square metre. Everything in your house is just a tenant.

Decluttering and making decisions – general rules

Start small
Upturning every drawer in your house right out of the starting blocks is bound to cause overwhelm. And a big mess! Do a room, cupboard or drawer at a time. Get some flow happening and the rest will follow.

Start with a vision
What do you want the room or cupboard to be used for? Once you have decided that, your decisions are easier. Generally, kitchens are for food prep and bedrooms are for sleeping. But some people have no choice but to use the kitchen as their office, so need all their chargers handy there. Others like to read in bed and switch between books a lot, so a bookshelf in their bedroom might make sense.

The container concept is often cited by A Slob Come’s Clean‘s Dana K. White. It entails deciding how much space and what container to assign to each category, and sticking to that. The person with the bookshelf next to their bed would only fill the bookshelf to capacity. Once it starts spilling over, they would need to stop acquiring books, or remove one for every new acquisition. One in, one out. This is a great concept to use with kids, as it’s easy to grasp, and reinforces the notion that space is a finite resource.

Start early
It is estimated that the average adult makes around 35,000 conscious decisions each day. It starts as soon as we wake up. Breakfast, clothes, transport, and the minutiae within those categories. Studies show that clarity declines as the day wears on. Since decluttering and making decisions are already enmeshed, it’s unwise to commence when weary.

Clear as you go
Sorting into keep/discard/donate is standard decluttering practice. But allowing them to pile up and topple over can increase feelings of overwhelm and decluttering decision fatigue. Put the rubbish outside in the bin and even pop your op shop bags in the car as you go. Clear space = clear mind.

Get help
Another pair of hands is useful, as is an impartial assistant to keep you on track. A declutter coach is a great idea, or a willing friend.

Decluttering and making decisions – clothes

Clothes can be more difficult to declutter because it’s fun to have different options and play dress-ups. The fashion industry relies on us changing our look regularly. And clothing is heavily marketed to women in particular, as something transformative and linked to beauty and sex appeal.

But decluttering our wardrobe is very rewarding. Here are some clothing-specific tips for decluttering and making decisions.

Decide your look
Are you a lover of black or brights? A lean silhouette or baggies? Do you actually spend a lot of time in active wear? (c’mon, be honest) A bit of leniency is allowed here for Covid-inspired changes of habits. (Maybe don’t throw away all of your corporate gear just yet.)

Decide your parameters
If you hate doing dry cleaning, get rid of dry-clean-only items. If heels give you bunions, cull those weapons of torture.

Be realistic
If you haven’t been a size 10 for a decade, let it go for now. It’s just another stick to beat yourself with. Reduce mental clutter along with physical. You don’t need a constant reminder of unmet goals, and can always buy more clothes later if you need to.

Decluttering and making decisions – memorabilia

It’s okay to keep some memories, but you don’t need to keep it all. Go back to the container theory and limit keepsakes to a box. Remember that memories don’t reside in the item but in your mind. If you do need a memory prompt, a photo works just as well and takes up much less space.

And remember

There is no right and wrong. It’s about priorities. You have a finite amount of space and potentially unlimited items. That’s why decluttering and decision making have a strong relationship.

If everything is important, nothing is important. Curate your things to make better use of the good stuff.

Inanimate objects don’t have feelings. So don’t feel guilty.

Address your fears. What’s the worst case scenario of getting rid of some of your shoes? A tinge of regret, and that’s probably all. Most things are replaceable. The Minimalists came up with the 20/20 rule for just-in-case items. Can you replace it for less than $20 in less than 20 minutes from your current location? If so, don’t hang onto it for the remote possibility you may find it useful.

What sort of person do you want to be? Instead of worrying about which pair of boots to keep, you can decide to be the kind of person who throws on any pair of shoes and heads out for adventure.

If you spent good money on an item so don’t want to remove it, question that. You can’t get the money back, it’s spent. Maybe you learned something from the experience. That you hate treadmills, that red is not your colour, that you won’t get around to learning the piano. Take that lesson and cut ties with the item.

If the item was a gift, remember that the true purpose of a gift is the joy of giving. That has been ticked off. Underneath that goal, the giver wanted you to be happy. If the item is not bringing you joy, you can honour that intention by letting go.

If you are still tortured by a decision, put aside a maybe box and shove it in the garage or something. Put a reminder in your calendar to discard it in one year. It’s the death row of decluttering, and anything proven useful in that time gets a reprieve. If you want to be really tough, chuck the box without reviewing the contents.

Remember there are some terrific donation streams in every city and area. Your item is not wasted if it’s going to a worthy cause.

Decluttering has loads of benefits. Real estate is expensive, including that which resides in cupboards. Time to ditch the freeloaders. If you need help, get in touch.

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