Despite being a big fan of self-improvement, I never quite received the minimalism memo. A sterile-looking interior? Capsule wardrobes? I’ve never been someone to buy beyond my means, but I never felt I had to skimp on materialism either. Combine this trait with a healthy feeling for nostalgia and plenty of storage space, and you quickly end up with a three-story home filled with a lot of stuff I neither use, need – or when I’m completely honest with myself, even really want. This is the story about how I decluttered the house from top to bottom, my solutions to re-purpose various items in a sustainable way, and the mental effect of the process.
How did we get here?
I was in my mid-twenties when me and the Mister moved in together. Despite having gone steady since our teens we had our studies in our home-towns to complete (not to mention room to enjoy being financially under our parent’s wings during). And as a student I lovingly took my time to collect and purchase my “trousseau”; odds and ends that would come handy in my grown-up household. The boxes I stored on top of my linen closet were filled with items like old cutlery, dish cloths and various coffee cups, ready to be taken into use as soon as the time arrived.
Almost 15 years later I found one of these boxes in my attic when I was looking for my old christmas decorations. It contained a set of old cutlery which we didn’t particularly like, so it ended up unused. Also a couple of dish towels with a hysterical post-modern pattern which I couldn’t hang in my kitchen with a straight face. And a heap of coffee cups. Because yeah, despite finally having grown up, we never quite adopted the habit of drinking coffee.
This is only one example of how perfectly usable, once cherished yet never (prominently) used stuff ended up being dragged to the attic. We also have a bordering hallway where we store various stuff that simply doesn’t fit our attic space anymore, two home offices, a large storage pantry under the stairs, a scullery/utility-room and a garden shed.
Just imagine the stuff that has accumulated in those rooms over the years*.
* Allow me to give your mind a nudge with some examples: A brand new fondue set we never got to use (because I simply forgot we had it in the first place). Heaps of decorative pillows that don’t match my interior now, but might later. Wicker baskets (the vice of everyone who helped us move house; I feel I always have too few wicker baskets). Numerous sports accessories we don’t use often, including four sets of ice-skates which have been replaced with new pairs through the years. Furniture we stored to make the living room more “baby friendly”. A couple of boxes exploding with old computer cables. Several boxes with clothes I stored for winter and summer, and simply forgot all about. A couple of duvets which are of such a good quality, they’re simply too warm to sleep under. Five piles of heavily dated study books which used to be so expensive it still makes me cringe today (but are pretty much useless now). A vintage set of crockery which I got cheap and planned to sell with a profit after use (needless to say, I haven’t used it even once). Tons of second-hand baby things our kid has either outgrown, or still has to grow into. A set of Chinese lacquered boxes my mum gave me “because they’re too pretty to toss, too damaged to sell and you’ll probably find a space for them somewhere in that big house of yours, right honey?” and of course several boxes with assorted emotional keepsakes, childhood memories and photo albums.
The decision to declutter the house
So that’s me. Not quite a hoarder and not quite a shopaholic – yet someone who’s more than a little nostalgic, with a nose for a bargain, and plenty of storage space. But as you might guess, even storage space has it’s limits. With boxes that have been moved between three houses over the span of 15 years (their contents all this time untouched) and the additions a regular household procures, it started to become a little much.
But I started to realize it really became too much when I became pregnant.
Don’t get me wrong; the numerous items that were gifted to us and which we received second hand are downright a blessing. They saved me a lot of head sore (being too sick by pregnancy complications to work or even arrange the nursery by myself, let alone go shopping for all the items a newborn requires), not to mention they saved us a lot of money. But boy, do babies own a lot of baby-crap (pardon me; “baby-related products”). A baby requires specific towels and washcloths, fitted sheets, special care products, a stroller, a carrier, a car seat, a playpen, baby clothes, baby bibs, baby food, baby bottles, baby cups, baby spoons… And these are only what many consider the essentials.
Additionally, we received heaps of toys. Chewies, rattlers, balls, plushies, books, blocks and puzzles. I soon found out that leaving too many out at once was too stimulating for my daughter. This is why I decided to throw in a little toy-management: I leave out a selection for her to play with (changing it up every other week), and we barely purchase anything new ourselves. Because when she has too many toys to choose from at once she has trouble focusing, and sometimes even ignores or forgets about them all together.
And this is where things start to sound familiar. It reminds me a little too much of that crockery set I got and never used. Or those boxes of clothing I stored with the changing of the seasons, which I simply forgot all about.
Like a child owning too many toys, I realized I probably own a little too much stuff.
The declutter system that works for me
Flexible or pragmatic decluttering
So after acknowledging the problem, it was time to take some action. And I got to tell you, the process is still in motion, with full force. Unfortunately decluttering takes time, and with a baby on my hands I need to be flexible. This is why I don’t go about the house, tackling the clutter one room at a time: I have several projects in progress, picking them up according to my weekly schedule, mood, and even my baby’s nap-times. It’s a slow – and with a little dedication, steady process. But if you prefer a more hands-on approach I would definitely advise you to tackle the clutter-problem room by room, cabinet by cabinet, shelf by shelf and drawer by drawer.
The questions to ask yourself while decluttering
I do ask myself a couple of questions while I’m decluttering. It heavily contributes to whether I either want to keep or toss something. When I’m not immediately sure whether I want to keep an item, I wonder the following:
1: When did I last use it?
When the answer is “longer than a year ago”, the item gets more likely to get rid of.
2: Will I be using it next year?
A “No” increases the odds of losing the item.
3: How easily can it be replaced?
When the item is easy or cheap to replace, it gets more likely to go.
4: Is it worth holding on to, emotionally?
This is the question that usually brings me most food for thought, nostalgic and sentimental as I can be. A negative answer does move the item closer to the toss-pile.
5: Does it spark joy?
I never fully read Marie Kondo’s book about decluttering but this question really stuck. When in doubt, finally allow yourself to wonder if holding on to the item will make you feel happy. If not, it’s time to get rid of it.
What to do with items you want to keep
This choice speaks for itself, but when you want to be thorough in your decluttering-quest, don’t stop by carelessly putting everything back where you’ve found it. Make sure you put the items you want to keep in designated spots, so you can easily find them and put them to good use. Also put some effort into storing important keepsakes safely. These are a couple of specific storage examples from my own decluttering-quest:
- I stored my photo albums in plastic storage boxes and put them at a spot I can still easily reach when I want to look into them
- I moved the fondue set from the attic to the kitchen, so I’ll be reminded to actually use it
- I packed my spare duvets for guests in my empty suitcases to keep them free of dust and dirt and to optimally make use of the unused space
What to do with your clutter
There are several things you can do with the items you decided to get rid of. The most obvious and easiest way is to toss it in the bin. But let’s be honest; this isn’t very environmentally friendly. Give your things a good look-over before you decide what to do with them. While decluttering my home, I pretty much sorted everything I wanted to lose into five categories:
Want to get rid of (quality) items and earn a buck while you’re at it? Selling is the way to go. Obvious choices for selling are eBay or other online marketplaces. But you could also consider having a yard-sale or attending a flea-market.
2: Repurpose with family and friends
Does your friend share your shoe size, and do you have plenty of footwear to go around? Has your cousin ever mentioned he would love to own an old game computer, while you just managed to dig up your old gameboy? Or does your mom love baking as much as you do, while you’re practically drowning in pie tins? Make sure to give these items away to the people around you who could actually use them. They’ll be grateful you thought of them!
3: Repurpose with strangers
A whole new world opened up to me when I realized I could give useable stuff away to people I don’t know, but who could put it to very good use. Check your local newspaper or church to see if people are currently in need for clothes, furniture or household items. Hang a post-it on your supermarket’s bulletin board, or ask around if there are people around you in need. I myself found a local group on facebook for people in the area who offer things they want to get rid of for free. Usually the items need to go quickly, didn’t get sold online or are offered there for the sake of community spirit. Just look up groups on facebook who revolve around your home town, or simply start your own!
4: Repurpose by recycling
Although I try to be environmentally conscious, I have to admit I am kinda forced into this one. The town where I live is very forward about recycling, and even offers (mandatory) recycling options for paper, plastic and biodegradables. But I would advise you to put in a little effort when you notice you have a lot of plastic, paper or cardboard items you want to get rid of. Inform locally if there is a designated recycling station you can visit; consider it a good deed to the planet! Green brownie-points all around.
5: Throwing away
Are you left with items you can’t repurpose or recycle? Then there’s nothing left to do than to toss it in ye olde trash can.
The mental benefits of decluttering the house
I’ll be the last to admit that a project on a scale like this takes time. And effort. Some well-placed frustration, and maybe a broken nail or two. But I got to tell you; living with less clutter is great. These are some of the benefits I’m already reaping:
- Your house feels more orderly and clean
- You will know where to find your favorite items
- You will find things you thought you lost, or thought you didn’t even own in the first place
- You will find out what is missing in your household
- Owning fewer (and only your favorite) things will limit your options, making life easier
And if you follow the decluttering system I’ve used, you’ll end up making everyone around you happy. Including the environment.
This article contains one or more affiliate links.
Do you feel your house could use some decluttering? And what approach do you use to get the task done?