Do you watch those programs about hoarders and feel a tiny ghost hand of terror gripping at your throat?
Sure, you’re not THAT bad. No one is going to call a camera crew or men in Hazmat suits on you. You probably won’t die surrounded by so many piles of yellowed newspapers that emergency workers can’t even get to you.
But deep down, you have a niggling feeling that you just might hang on to too much stuff. You’re paying for a storage unit so you can hang onto stuff you never use. You never have anything to wear, because your closet is a storage space for other people’s hand-me-downs. And heaven forbid anyone ever opens your linen cupboard door or asks to borrow something that lives in the maze under your kitchen sink.
Maybe, just maybe, you think to yourself when you see another preview for Hoarders, you might just be the littlest bit of a h-o-a-r-d-e-r yourself.
I’ve been there. I’ve lived and worked in five different countries, yet somehow here I was in country number five, with a garage stuffed with cardboard boxes filled with notebooks from university, friendship letters from high school and dolls from my childhood. Inside, my cupboards were filled with every gift and hand-me-down I’d ever been given.
Because people like you and me, we’re sentimental. And no decluttering advice will ever work if we don’t accept and embrace that important and beautiful quality about ourselves. So I’m not gonna beat up on you. You get to have your feelings. You get to embrace them. You get to work with them.
1. Go on, give yourself what you’ve always wanted
First things first: Treat yourself. That’s right, go out and buy yourself a few things you’ve always wanted.
But doesn’t that defeat the purpose of decluttering?
Hear me out.
Once you start decluttering, you’ll probably find a hundred ill-fitting tops you bought because they were on sale, and 37 pairs of uncomfortable shoes.
There will probably be very few items you bought because they absolutely work on you and you absolutely adore them.
Are there one, two or five things you’ve always wanted? A sweater that falls in just the right way, kick-ass, comfy boots that go with everything — heck, even that porcelain doll you never had as a child.
I’m not saying go crazy with your credit card. But once you have a few staples — especially in the wardrobe apartment — that you absolutely love wearing, it will be a lot easier to part with less-than-perfect items.
You’ll also learn the first lesson of decluttering — that a few carefully-chosen items that are SO YOU are better than a house filled with things you rarely use.
2. Don’t just start — do it this way so you only need to do it once
Ever stumbled upon a drawer filled with stationery, and then two days later, found more stationery in a second drawer?
Most of us have made some attempt at creating an organizational system for our home. It’s just that most systems are kinda crap.
I’ve tried every system in the book, and the only one that worked for me is the ‘pile’ or ‘category’ system — made famous by decluttering guru Marie Kondo — she calls her system the KonMari method.
Think one big pile per category. So, if you’re organizing stationery, remove every last bit stationery from every nook and cranny in your house. Put it all in a big pile in the middle of the floor. Now declutter that.
You don’t even have to find a storage space for it yet — you can do that once all you’ve decluttered and know how much space you have to work with.
But always declutter one category at a time. Doing one drawer at a time will lead to the scenario above, where you have sticky tape kept in three different drawers but can never find any of it when you have to wrap a last-minute gift.
Once I started using the category method, I managed to declutter and organize my whole house in less than a month. The best part? You need only do it once.
3. Think back for a moment
Go ahead, sit down.
Remember: You’re not a freak of nature.
All of us have reasons for hoarding. Maybe you moved around a lot as a child and wanted some tangible ‘stuff’ around you to call your own. Maybe you’re afraid letting go of items will mean letting go of the memories associated with them.
Take time to acknowledge those feelings. Remind yourself that you’re safe, and that you’re ready to let go of things that no longer serve you.
4. It’s OK to be emotional
Allow yourself to let go the way you need to — in your emotional way.
Feel the emotion that each item stirs up.
I like Marie Kondo’s idea of thanking each object for its service before getting rid of it. You might want to embrace a different ritual, like physically patting yourself on the back every time you send something on its way, or giving yourself a break after every five items you’ve discarded.
This is an item that’s served you well in some way, often for a very long time, and you can take your time letting it go.
5. Who says you have to keep ALL your grandmother’s doilies?
You don’t have to keep everything every loved one ever gave you.
It’s OK to just keep one or two things to remember each loved one by. Make sure they’re things you absolutely love and that go with the style of your home.
Don’t guilt yourself into keeping everything those people ever gave you — you still have the memories And absolutely don’t hang onto anything if all thoughts of that person make you feel ‘blegh’. Your home is your haven. Your belongings should reflect that.
6. Find a new home for your favorite soft toy (hint: it’s not the thrift store)
Sometimes there are random things like cards or soft toys we love and want to keep, but they just don’t fit in with our home décor — they might be too overly feminine or too childish — but we still love them and want to keep them.
If you have a she shed, home office or hobby room, this is a great place to keep these, as that room is all about you. Marie Kondo suggests moving these items into your closet — that way you can create a truly personal space that’s just yours to enjoy every morning and evening when you open it up.
7. You did WHAT with your father’s ties?!
Chances are that if you’re sentimental, you’ll want to keep a whole bunch of photos and mementos.
These can take up a lot of space, so get creative. Think about how you can save these without having boxes filled with stuff.
Frame your favorite photos, make a quilt or cushion from sentimental bits of fabric like your dad’s ties — or have it made by a professional if you’re not craftily inclined.
Scrapbooks were my saving grace. They’re a great and compact way to combine photos and keepsakes. And I love cutting and pasting. It’s therapeutic for me, similar to meditation.
It’s best to sort items and photos into separate folders beforehand, so everything you need for one particular scrapbook or project is on hand.
Anything that’s left after your creative projects gets tossed.
Scanning in photos to create digital albums is another great idea, and these could be published several times for family members who’ll appreciate that sort of gift. With all the effort you put in, these can totally double as birthday AND Christmas presents.
8. Take it easy, especially when it comes to your childhood security blanket
If you’re not ready to let go of something, keep it.
Decluttering is a process and the longer you live in this decluttered state, the more things you’ll want to get rid of.
In a year’s time, you’ll be amazed how much your mindset has changed and how much easier it is to get rid of stuff that don’t fit into your life.
Imagine automatically reaching for the right drawer when you need those rarely-used fabric scissors because everything is in its place.
Picture never having to hunt for your keys or wade through a drawer stuffed full of stuff to find your favorite cashmere sweater.
Imagine walking into a clean, tidy house every day. Imagine only being surrounded by the things you find beautiful and useful, and a few carefully-picked sentimental items that always give you the warm fuzzies.
With the right skills in place you only need declutter your house once to reap permanent rewards. And, once your house is in order, the sky’s the limit.