3 Common Decluttering Mistakes (And How To Get Over Each)

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image //  via

image // via

As a minimalist and a professional declutterer, I've seen firsthand how changing your space can change your life. I've seen just how powerful the transformation from a cluttered and overwhelming home to one that is simple, beautiful, and streamlined can be.

The process of creating these spaces is actually quite simple: Step one is to go through your stuff. Then, you keep the very best of it—the items that are your favorite, that inspire and delight you, and that are useful to you right now—and donate the rest.

 But just because it's simple doesn't mean it's easy. Our relationship with stuff can be complicated!

According to one new poll by Porch, a digital network of home professionals for hire, over 61 percent of us are ashamed of the extra stuff we hold onto. Let that sink in.

So why do we do it? Why do we hold onto stuff that makes us feel so bad? 

Imagine a baseball cap. An objective observer might note that the cap is worn out, ragged, and ill-fitting. But to the owner, this is the hat they got on their first date with their first love. It's the hat they were wearing when their team finally won. It's the hat they always grab when they go to the beach. Or it's a hat that works perfectly well and doesn't need to be replaced, thank you very much.

All of those reactions to the cap are actually about much larger forces: our relationships, our sense of self, our values. So maybe you know the hat is on the fritz, but it's still hard to let it go.

Porch also detailed three "reasons" or mental blocks that we most frequently use to convince ourselves to hold onto items. Their findings aligned completely with my experience and the archetypes I detailed in the book I co-authored with my business partner, New Minimalism: Decluttering and Design for Sustainable, Intentional Living.

The good news is that these blocks can be fairly easily worked through. With self-awareness and self-kindness, you can release these shame-inducing items and create the home you've always dreamed of.

Here are the three main reasons people give for holding onto clutter, and how to overcome them:

Reason No. 1: "I might need it someday."

Archetype: Practical

Practical people are mind-driven, tend to be logical, strategic and pragmatic; they see potential use in all objects.

The key for the Practical personality is to reframe what exactly makes something useful and to elevate your standards accordingly.

So rather than asking yourself if a third box of paper clips is potentially useful, ask yourself if those items are useful to you right now. Consider not just the costs of perhaps needing to replace something someday but also the costs of keeping items that you don't need. How much space do all of these items take up? How much time do you waste hunting for things you do need or wondering what you have around?

Reason No. 2: "It was expensive."

Archetype: Frugal

Frugal types tend to be very self-aware and clear on their priorities. They are intentional about where they spend their precious resources. They don't like the idea of wasting, whether that be money, time, or energy. This gets tricky when Frugal folks come up against items that aren't useful or wanted but for which they've invested precious resources.

The most important lesson for the Frugal archetype is self-forgiveness.

It can be frustrating to have made a purchasing "mistake." While you can't go back in time and undo that action, you do get to choose how you feel about it moving forward. You can keep items you regret and feel a pang of guilt and shame each time you see them. Or you can acknowledge the sunk cost, internalize the bigger reason this investment didn't pan out, and let the item—and your negative feelings—go and vow to do better next time.

Reason No. 3: "It brings back good memories."

Archetype: Connected

Connected folks are heart-led; they value relationships and shared memories above all else. In general, if objects elicit positive feelings, this is a good thing. But homes oriented toward memories can quickly become museums of the past that don't allow space for new experiences and relationships.

Allow one to stand for many.

Don't feel like you need to part with everything from your beloved grandmother or treasured travels. Instead, select an item or two to represent the relationship or experiences you want to recall. Rather than sticking all of these items in a closet, choose to display and interact with those couple of items and then graciously let go of the rest.

How Your Busy Schedule Is Hurting You

This article was originally written for and posted on mindbodygreen. Click here to check out the original!

image // Leandro Crespi

image // Leandro Crespi

In our culture, the answer of "I’m so busy" to the question of "How are you?" is respected, even revered. We admire people who cram as much as possible into their days—and this glorification of busy-ness can also contribute to an unhealthy obsession with "stuff."

While most of our at New Minimalism involves dealing with people’s physical possessions, we’ve learned that it's impossible to thoroughly declutter someone’s space without first getting them to slow down. And we don’t just mean pausing on emails or online shopping for the day but making a habit of clearing up space in their days.

Busyness happens when we stop saying no to things.

From where we're standing, busyness is one of the most pervasive and relentless diseases in modern culture. While it may give us a fleeting sense of accomplishment and importance, in the long run, frenetic busyness leads to a profound lack of clarity.

Busyness happens when we stop saying no to things: actual physical items as well as relationships and commitments. It arises when we lose track (or have never clearly uncovered) what is most important in our lives.

Why busyness and clutter are inextricably linked.

Clutter is the result of busyness because it's the result of deferred decisions. Mess accumulates when we put off dealing with objects because we simply don’t have the time or energy. Clutter, in that sense, is physical manifestation of all the things we need to do (aka busywork).

Likewise, clutter is the cause of busyness. Having so much stuff for your space requires constant maintenance. Whether that maintenance is direct (managing things, searching for items, storing and maintaining them, purchasing new objects, working hard to afford more stuff) or indirect (distracting yourself with other forms of busyness instead of dealing with them), it fills our time.

The whole point of decluttering is freeing up time and energy to spend doing the things you actually want to do.

that the time and energy you save not managing and dealing with stuff is time and energy you can spend actually living life. You know, taking photos, being in nature, laughing with your favorite people, and making the world a better place by just being pleasantly not-busy.

So how can you end the cycle of busyness and all the clutter that comes with it?

1. Build in negative space.

We’ve all become so accustomed to "accomplishing things" that even previously relaxing periods of time (the moments before bed, the first light of the morning) are now used to Get Stuff Done. Instead, practice intentionally building in space. Walk your dog without a podcast blaring in your ears. Drive the car without talking on the phone.

2. Automate basic tasks.

Making decisions requires lots of time and energy. One of the simplest ways to create space and remove unnecessary busyness in the day is to automate your life, or remove active decision-making. Some great places to start? Eat the same smoothie or omelet for breakfast every morning. Create a work uniform that you feel great in so dressing each morning becomes effortless.

3. Take the time to figure out what you love.

It's hard saying no to things when you don't know what you want to shout YES to. But when you know how you want to feel, you'll know immediately, at your core, if that shirt or work commitment or relationship is serving you. Marie Kondo uses the standard of "spark joy," which is a great place to begin. Even more powerful? Taking the time to choose those feelings you personally desire most.

4. Say no to things that do not support your best life.

Clarity turns the process of decluttering, which can otherwise feel like a painful parting with things you used to love and items you might need someday, into an empowering—dare I say enjoyable?—exercise in shedding the things that are not adding to the life you want to create. When you know how you want to feel, you can easily identify the things that help you feel that way. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy that will allow you to live with more clarity.

So. Much. Stuff.

The iconic Golden Gate Bridge framed by our street (and our moving truck).  I loved that this view welcomed us home each night.

The iconic Golden Gate Bridge framed by our street (and our moving truck).  I loved that this view welcomed us home each night.

Big announcement: Cam and I moved!  

Not very far -- as the crow flies it's only about 12 miles north of our (now previous) apartment.  But it still feels like a big move; from San Francisco, with a population of 825,000, across the Golden Gate Bridge to a pastoral valley town of about 12,000.  

We made this move for a host of reasons, but the main motivation was to be closer to nature and to have more space now that we both work from home with frequent conference calls (I took more than one call from our bedroom closet last month). 

The little bungalow we found to rent fit all our needs: sunshine, outdoor space, LAUNDRY (I don't when I'll get used to how awesome this is), and a garden for our beloved plants and now, to grow vegetables!

I'll tell you more about this awesome space (with photos) soon, but for now I need to get something off my chest.  

There is never a time when we are more aware of the psychic burden and physical weight of our stuff than when we have to literally move it.  

Pack it.  Label it.  Stack it.  Lift it.  Carry it.  

Worry about it breaking.  (Secretly hope it all breaks.)  

Bring it up stairs.  Haul it down the hallway.  Unpack it.  Find a new home for it.

And I cannot tell you how many times in the past week I have said in total exasperation,

"We have so much stuff."

All our possessions in the world (bed and plants still to come).  At this point, I was almost hoping the moving truck would lose our address so we could start fresh.

All our possessions in the world (bed and plants still to come).  At this point, I was almost hoping the moving truck would lose our address so we could start fresh.

Wait a second, I thought you were a minimalist?  Aka: How did you and Cam get here, to this place of "so much?"  

My journey to minimalism uncoincidentally coincided with my move before this one (I say "I" because Cam's own venture into minimalism has it's own timeline).  Six years ago, almost to the day, Cam and I moved  into our first shared apartment together.  We were 26 and 25 respectively, just getting a sense of who we wanted to be in the world.  I didn't know it at the time, but I was entering a deep, challenging, amazing period of transformation in my life.

With the two of us moving in together as partners, finally roommate-free for the first time, we were able to define what "home" meant to us.  What values from our homes growing up we wanted to bring, what we wanted to adapt, what we wanted to invent together. 

Our almost empty apartment.  Seeing the space like this reminded me of the day in 2010 when we first saw it -- and immediately fell in love.

Our almost empty apartment.  Seeing the space like this reminded me of the day in 2010 when we first saw it -- and immediately fell in love.

 Bucking our maximalist lifestyle.

Through my mid-20s I hadn't really questioned my consumer-centric way of being.  I never got rid of anything that could potentially be used or worn.  I was dragging around clothing I'd had since junior high, for goodness sakes.  I admit, I was a maximalist, believing that more was obviously  better than less.

Yet now with two people's stuff combined into one home, we were forced to start making decisions lest we suffer bruised shins from running into one of our THREE dressers (yes, we had three dressers despite our new walk-in closet).  

Did we want to live in a stuffed-to-the-brim, filled space, or could we find a way to combine our stuff into one?  Was this stuff worth fighting over?  Worth cramming into a drawer?  With this opportunity for a blank slate, was this the way we wanted to have our first home feel?

From these original discussions (and arguments) two budding minimalists were born.

Over the subsequent 2,000 days from first moving in together, we have completely changed the way we act in our space.  I'd estimate that we've sold or donated 60-70% of our stuff from that time.  In my heart and mind, I'd embraced minimalism as the type of lifestyle that best serves me, my goals, my dreams.  

Cam on moving morning in front of our silly little light blue and blonde brick building.

Cam on moving morning in front of our silly little light blue and blonde brick building.

Enter current day: For the past several years I've operated under the assumption that our possessions were thoroughly minimized (heck, at one point I only owned 100 personal items!).  Our bathroom closet was almost humorously empty.  I had so much space in our pantry that I used it as another room, placing artful branches and family photos on the mostly sparse shelves.

And yet.  And yet...

When it came time to pack up a few weeks ago, I was blown away by how much stuff we had.  Totally floored.  

I think in moving, we were forced to take in the sum total of what we do still own.  And given my desire to be free from clutter and excess and unwanted items, it meant that every single thing I packed had to be evaluated and deemed worthy... or not.  

While it was certainly tiring (draining might be more accurate), it resulted in a big car's worth of donations and several items being given to friends (note: those whom specifically requested them:) and 5 additional bags of donations since we've gotten settled.

Lesson: We expand to fit our containers.  

Kyle and I have learned this a hundred times over with our clients, but at last I realized it happened to me as well. Essentially, it's the Parkinson's Law of space: as much space as we are given, we will fill.  

But the intentional minimalist can right-size or shrink into any chosen container (like a small backpack for a month or two carry-on bags for an entire wardrobe).  

Right-sizing into our new space.

Sneak peak of our new (rental) home: no new furniture, but fun, new feel.  Also a  fireplace !

Sneak peak of our new (rental) home: no new furniture, but fun, new feel.  Also a fireplace!

Not only did the act of moving encourage us to pare down, we've actually found that in our new, larger space we have way less storage.  (Bless the wise and practical folks of the 1930's who hadn't yet discovered walk-in closets.) 

Everything we own is no longer tucked neatly into a cavernous closet.  Nope, now almost all our stuff is out in the open, fully exposed.  So for each item we keep, we have to either effortfully and thoughtfully give it a home in our sparse storage or decide that we're ready to let it go. 

To be honest, it's the perfect spot for an I-thought-I-was-a-minimalist to put her values to the test. I will be reporting on the final product. Wish us luck!

The 1 Reason We All Have Clutter + How to Painlessly Let It Go

What is clutter?  
Why do we all seem to have it?
And once we know it's there, how can we feel good letting it go?

As silly (yet unsurprising) as it may be, these are the questions that keep me up at night.  They're the questions that keep me elbow deep in books on procrastination, positive psychology, decision making, and vulnerability.

These questions are also the main motivation behind Kyle and I and the work we do.  

We don't want to go into the home of a client for one day and force someone to get rid of clutter.  Sure, their house will look lovely for a day or a week.  But that underlying sense of anxiety will never be cured and the clutter will simply grow back with a vengeance.  

What we want is to change the way people relate to their things and help them prevent clutter from ever creeping back in.  And a huge part of that was learning how to help our clients shift their own mindset, to help them feel joyful and free once we pulled away with a carload of things they don't need or love. 

But before we could do that, we needed to know the answers to those big questions.  

Below are the keys to the clutter-free castle.  Everything we've learned about what clutter is, why it shows up, and how we can let it go for good. 

Me (top left corner:) helping a lovely client let her clutter go.

1. What is Clutter?

My favorite definition of clutter comes from Oprah's simplification guru Peter Walsh who says, "Clutter is anything that stands between you and the vision you have for your best life."   

I like to think of clutter as being anything that does not make me feel the way I desire to.  For example, if I want to feel vibrant, a drab and pilly black sweater is clutter.  If I want to feel natural, an overly scented candle or cleaners that make me cough are clutter.  If I want to feel powerful, clothing from a past job that I hated and got let go from are clutter.  If I want to feel cherished, a necklace from an ex who did me wrong is... clutter.

In either of these definitions, clutter is not universally defined.  There is no certain amount of anything that is clutter or isn't, it's personal.

2. Why do we all have clutter?

From all my research and nerding out on clutter I've arrived at this for my answer: we have clutter because we are trying to protect ourselves.  

There is a part of our brain that developed millennia ago whose sole job was to recognize threats and keep us safe (referred to by psychologists as "the lizard brain"). 

  • Spot a tiger?  Run for the hills.  
  • See a bush of fresh berries?  Stuff your face to store energy in case a drought is ahead.  

This lizard brain was super useful back in the caveman and cavelady days.  However in modern times where we spend most of our time in temperature controlled rooms and have thousands of products at our disposal every minute it's a huge detriment.  

  • See clothing on sale?  Buy a ton in case you're broke later.
  • Have extra hammers/batteries/cell phone cords?  Hold onto that shit in case it all runs out someday.
  • Have a bunch of shoes that don't fit and make your heel bleed?  Put them in the basement for some indeterminate time in the future when you "need" them.
To have clutter is to be human.
Which is what makes decluttering a deeply spiritual act.

3. And once we know what Clutter is, how can we feel good letting it go?

To have clutter is simply to be human (see lizard brain above), so let go of any guilt or shame you might feel. 

For many of us, we were taught growing up to nurture that lizard brain.  We're told that this is a dog-eat-dog world.  That the more someone else has, the less you have.  That no one is looking out for you but yourself and you must do everything you can to protect yourself.  And if the world is a place of lack and scarcity, whatever you have you need to keep because you will not get it back, sister.

Which is what makes decluttering is a deeply spiritual act.

In order to feel good about letting go, you must have in place the belief that in the future you will be able to obtain anything you might need.  This does not mean that you need to be an enlightened Buddha before you can experience the joy of release.  

ACTION: Start off small and DONATE.  

For those of us who find the "abundance mindset" tough to fully embrace, it's good to ease into it.  Try giving a pair of scissors and some markers that your child no longer uses to a local school.  Imagine how happy those items are in some student's hand (versus sitting unused and clogging up your kitchen drawers).  

Try out little bits of letting go, feeling the items you release enriching the world around you.  Imagine yourself as the person receiving what they need, no strings attached.  Imagine how loving and abundant the world must seem to someone who is getting what they need exactly when they need it.  Now imagine that person receiving is you...  Yummy, isn't it?

Do you agree that an "abundance mindset" is important for decluttering?  
Do you have any tricks that work well for you when you are letting go?
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