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Is Decluttering About Getting Rid of Stuff?

Is Decluttering About Getting Rid of Stuff?

What perspective do you take on decluttering? Is it about letting go of clutter or getting rid of stuff? Here are some thoughts around decluttering and why your approach is so important.

WHAT IS DECLUTTERING?

Decluttering is about removing from your home, schedule or life anything that doesn’t serve a purpose to you in some way. This is a really simple explanation of what can really be quite a challenging problem so I’m not belittling how hard it is to declutter, or underestimate the amazing benefits of decluttering!

And, of course, to ‘serve a purpose’, your stuff doesn’t just need to be useful, or used regularly. It could be practical, beautiful, sentimental, rewarding, reminding, unique, rare, personal.

We all have saucepans and clothes hangers that serve a purpose in the traditional sense, but I also have my daughter’s artwork on my walls and an old stuffed toy (a small lilac duck called Jemima) from when I was a little child. I can’t ‘use’ either of these things but I can look and touch them and feel something special.

HOW TO DECLUTTER

There are many decluttering strategies you can try. Some may work for you, some may not. It comes down to just getting started, learning from experience and if one method doesn’t clear your clutter, then keeping an open mind and trying another.

You could declutter:

  • Fast and go for some quick wins
  • Slow and peel back the clutter like layers of an onion
  • With a decluttering checklist and tick things off
  • By keeping a box handy and dropping one or more items into it every day
  • One room at a time to see and feel the benefits of decluttered, calm space
  • A cupboard that’s full to bursting
  • Your mugs so they fit on one shelf

Decluttering isn’t easy. It can be overwhelming if you have lots of stuff or not a lot of time, energy or motivation. Throw into the mix other challenges such as anxiety, ADHD, mobility or health problems then decluttering is even more confusing and complicated. And, that’s not even taking into account whether your family is on board with the idea too.

Phew – no wonder many of us get stuck!

DECLUTTERING PERSPECTIVE

Decluttering is about your stuff because clearing clutter by definition means you’re clearing stuff. But, decluttering is also about your mindset and approach to clearing that clutter.

It’s really helpful to have a clear vision of what you want to achieve, why you want to declutter and what your goals are for doing so. This certainly keeps us going when we hit a road-block.

However, sometimes, when we’re too rigid or narrow-minded with our approach then we don’t have the emotional flexibility to shift gears or change approach.

If the checklist approach doesn’t work, we might give up and feel bad that we can’t even follow a simple list. (There are many reasons why a list might not work for you so don’t feel bad!).

If the decluttering fast approach doesn’t work, because it stresses us out and makes us feel hurried and worried we’ll get rid of something we later regret, then we give up. However, decluttering slowly might not be the solution either. Perhaps it feels like too slow a rate of progress to make any substantial difference.

How you approach a problem (and clearing clutter can be a problem) often shapes how successful you are in solving that problem. So, keep an open mind and be flexible if one decluttering strategy doesn’t work.

Is decluttering letting go or getting rid of stuff

LETTING GO OR GETTING RID OF CLUTTER

One of the other perspectives that I think it’s really important to keep in mind about decluttering is the idea of letting go vs getting rid.

To put it another way, is decluttering about letting go or getting rid?

  • Letting go of clutter implies self-acceptance, awareness, compassion, moving on.
  • Getting rid of clutter implies action, control.

There’s a distinction also between the types of clutter that we let go of or get rid of.

For example,

I GET RID OF rubbish, of dead batteries, pens that don’t work, of socks with holes.

I LET GO OF books I thought I’d like to read but didn’t prioritise them highly enough to make time. I let go of dresses that I loved to wear but now have neither the time, lifestyle or body confidence to wear!

Whilst in all these situations I’m decluttering my stuff, the thought process that leads me to decide what to keep and what not to keep is different and requires a different approach.

“To let go does not mean to get rid of. To let go means to let be. When we let be with compassion, things come and go on their own.”

Jack Kornfield

WHEN DECLUTTERING IS ABOUT GETTING RID OF STUFF

In the examples I’ve suggested so far, getting rid of stuff seems to feel easier. Maybe because of how the term sounds. ‘Getting rid’ implies we’re clearing out clutter that doesn’t work or doesn’t function how we want it to. This sort of clutter is just taking up space, time and energy in our home, brain, schedule and life that we can easily do without. The stuff that we find easier to just get rid of is often very clearly not adding any meaningful value to our life.

Getting rid of clutter that takes up space and weighs us down is an act of regaining control over our clutter. We get rid of this sort of clutter much like we can also get rid of grime or something disagreeable.

Decluttering items that we can think of in terms of getting rid of is a great way to start decluttering if you’re not sure where or how to start. You’re more likely to make easy decisions on whether to keep an item or not.

There’s also likely to be little feeling behind those decisions. Getting rid of stuff is often more practical and logistical rather than emotional. As an example, you probably wouldn’t shed a tear of regret, sadness or guilt when decluttering your medicine cabinet.

Is decluttering letting go or getting rid of stuff

WHEN DECLUTTERING IS ABOUT LETTING GO

On the other hand, when decluttering is about letting go of stuff then this is much harder to do.

Yes it helps to keep in mind your ‘why’, your reason for decluttering, but emotions are powerful things. We make many of our decisions based on our emotions so when dealing with your clutter is also about dealing with your emotions then it’s a recipe for conflict!

Here are some tips to help you declutter and let go of your stuff:

1. Letting go encourages a shift in perspective

We’ve touched on this already. Clearing your clutter depends on what clutter you’re clearing. Decluttering is a skill that can be improved with practice and confidence but it definitely helps to decide whether you’re getting rid of that object in your hand, or whether you need to let it go instead. Letting go requires a different, more sensitive and searching approach.

2. Letting go encourages freedom and release

Once you can find ways to feel confident and comfortable with letting go then you might find the decluttering process liberating, empowering and cathartic. Clearing clutter releases tension and the burden of stuff from our shoulders and our tabletops! Decluttering feels good.

“Sometimes letting things go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on.”

Eckhart Tolle

3. Letting go is about forgiveness

Decluttering those dead batteries or remote controls that no longer work might not require much soul-searching but the items you learn to ‘let go of’ test us in different ways.

One of the most powerful of these is forgiveness. Forgiveness that our homes have become a hoarder’s haven, forgiveness for unwise spending, impulse buys to fill an emotional need, half-finished craft projects that make us feel bad or lazy, decisions we made once that no longer serve us. It’s ok to feel like that, you know. Forgive yourself for past choices and actions. Learn from experience and hope to be wiser next time.

“Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.”

Paul Boose

4. Letting go is about self-acceptance

Decluttering and self-acceptance go hand in hand for many reasons and it teaches us how closely connected we are to our stuff. There’s nothing inherently wrong with stuff. We need it in our lives. But, when it becomes a problem, and removes and distracts us from what matters, then it might be time to make some changes.

Getting rid of items doesn’t teach us much about ourselves, but learning to let go is a crash course in self-growth (as well as how to create a clutter-free home!).

5. Letting go is about living in the present

It’s coming up to a year since my mum died and I think about and miss her every day. Yet, with every day that passes that grief changes. It’s not easier. In fact, in many ways it’s more deep and profound since the initial shock subsided. Now it’s just grief for the long haul.

But, I’ve discovered that letting go of her stuff has helped me learn to live in the present more easily.

Holding on to the past was like fighting a battle I could never win. I wanted my mum back but holding on to her stuff made the pain so much greater to bear.

Letting go of her stuff was an acknowledgement that life doesn’t stay static but that I could bring the memory of her with me into the present and future. A positive and compassionate way of thinking instead of a hard and painful one.

“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

E. M. Forster

6. Letting go is about giving yourself permission

Our brains are complicated things and all sorts of thoughts pop into our heads. We acknowledge and act on some and choose to sideline or ignore the rest. Sometimes we hold onto thoughts and they eat away at us and bring us down. They make us feel sad, angry, frustrated, resentful.

Clutter can make us feel these things too, but learning to let go of clutter is a practical way of combating these negative thoughts as well.

As Carl Jung said, “whatever you resist, persists.” So letting go of stuff (in all its shapes and forms) helps us face up to and address our thought patterns and beliefs. Letting go is about giving ourselves permission to feel what we’re feeling and think what we’re thinking, without judgement.

“You don’t need strength to let go of something. What you really need is understanding.”

Guy Finley

HOW TO LET GO

There are many reasons why we might need to let go of clutter rather than get rid of it. Here are some links to articles you might find helpful:

As well as the tips in these articles, you might like to reframe your approach to decluttering.

Ask yourself some questions:

  • What makes this item more or less important to me than what I have already?
  • What could I use instead if I didn’t have this item?
  • What am I afraid will happen if I let go?
  • What might actually happen if I don’t let go?
Is decluttering letting go or getting rid of stuff

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS

There are many decluttering strategies and tips you can use to help clear your clutter. However, I think it’s helpful to sometimes look at decluttering in another way. Ask yourself whether you’re able to get rid of an item or do you need to let that item go? The process you might use to clear the clutter will depend on whether you’re getting rid of or letting go.

What’s your experience of decluttering? Have you found it easy to get rid of some items and harder to let go of others? Has changing your mindset and perspective helped clear your clutter if you (or your clutter) were resistant before?

I’d love to hear from you so please leave a comment below!

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I’m Antonia and on this blog I share practical inspiration to simplify your home, time and life. Follow me on InstagramFacebook and Pinterest! You can also subscribe to Balance Through Simplicity and receive regular simplicity tips straight to your inbox for free. Make sure you never miss an article plus you’ll get a copy of my free Declutter Starter Kit as a welcome gift!

Laura

Sunday 15th of October 2023

I really like the distinction you've made here, Antonia, and I completely agree with it. I feel like decluttering is an iterative process - first we do the easy things, the "get rid of" items. Then we begin letting go, first of the items that are simple to recognize as no longer fitting into our lives - the scratchy sweater, the impulse buy we never wear, the cooking tool we never use because it's too hard to clean. With each pass we make through our stuff, we learn to dig a little deeper. As you say, it's a skill we learn with time and practice. But "getting rid of" is a great place to start.

Balance Through Simplicity

Monday 16th of October 2023

Hi Laura, thank you for that. Yes, it's about practicing our decluttering skills and building confidence with the easy stuff before we move on to declutter the harder items.