The Art of Decluttering

Everything has to belong to a place.

My Mom’s perennial complain about me is that I didn’t contribute much towards household work. When we were growing up, we had some terrible habits. The worst one was not putting our things back in their place after using it.

Result – the house was strewn about.

But my older sister was more of the householder in comparison. She and I used to spend a lot of time tidying the house. And it brightened our vibe immediately.

I realized that when we tidied our home, it was mainly about finding a place to tuck things in.

Removing it from our line of sight.

But here’s the thing – a tidy home, to me is just a superficial neatness.

It is the absence of mess. And yes, it does brighten the house and it feels mighty good.

That concept was flawed. Just because it is not in line of sight, it doesn’t mean it is not there. It is lying in some box or hidden compartment.

If I had a messy home now and things weren’t in their right place, I would’ve had a concussion.

No, I wouldn’t! But I would pick it up and put it in its designated place.

In my college and office going days, I used to buy handbags. Expensive designer leather totes. High quality and durable, ergo expensive. I had collected some 10-15 of them over time. Within a few months of using them, I would switch to a new one, and the old one used to be forgotten.

Somewhere along the way, it used to go away from the line of sight.

It used to go in the box storage compartment of our double-bed.

My Mom used to unearth that compartment every 6 months and I used to find these treasures there.

Tucked away and forgotten.

Get the point? Result of tidying – a bit too efficiently I suppose!

What was surprising was that the underbed storage compartment was not just full of my bags – they contained old bed sheets and bed covers, piles of old sarees of Mom, old vessels, sweaters and jackets which are useless in Bombay and so on.

And there were things that we didn’t use for years. She was storing them because we might need them someday.

The famous ‘just-in’case’ excuse I’ve heard several times in my life – and I really don’t understand that logic.

I have fallen prey to it too. We believe that one day that old item will be of use. And we start hoarding the most meaningless of things. It’s called a “Hoarding Disorder’.

I started reusing some of my old bags but there were too many. I distributed them between friends and family.

How I started my decluttering journey?

Every action or every bit of change that we want to bring about in our life is triggered by something – something personal or some influence. For me, that influence was my Dad when one day he said to me ‘Simplify your life. Remove the complications’.

That kinda stuck. And made me take a few steps. But without sounding preachy and pedantic, I am sharing a few pointers/principles that helped me declutter my life – physically and mentally!

Everything is got to belong somewhere

Everything has a place. Anything that does not have a place is clutter – unnecessary and unwanted.

I never quite liked the ‘just-in-case’ approach. What if we need it someday!

Don’t we all want to be ready for emergencies.  

So, I have assigned a drawer in my dresser for these things – a designated place for all JIC items. It contains a needle-work box, a box of medicines and ointments – again hardly ever used, some favourite DVDs, photo albums and so on. Yes, it’s gathered some junk in the process, but they stay confined to that space. I almost never neaten that drawer. Only I know how to rummage through it.  

My own decluttering journey was quite sporadic – triggered by multiple situations and at various life stages. But this blog is about how you can start your de-cluttering journey.

The fact that you are reading this blog means that the trigger is already there, and you just need a bit of guidance.

Decluttering is an internal journey. One has got to ask oneself a few questions before going into execution mode: 

It is the beginning of making long-terms changes in your life.

  1. Does this add value to my life?

This is a powerful question I ask before everything. And not just when it comes to decluttering. It saves time, energy and money. A valuable item will build a long-term impact on your life. It sharpens the vision of the future you want to build for yourself.

2. Do I use this often?

Define often. Quantify it. To me often is at least once a month. In our country, shopping for festivals and weddings usually means it will have limited usage. I especially shudder when I hear people spend lakhs on a lehenga only to wear it once. I understand if you are the bride, but then again, it is still a huge expense to drown your own or your parent’s money.

3. Do I have more than one?

When it comes to undergarments, you got to have more than one.

But having multiple versions of the same thing – like Tan leather totes? ( I am guilty of it)It also happens a lot in skin care. Day cream, night cream, serum and moisturisers. They are all versions of each other with different nomenclatures. Same product. Same usage.

I got to confess that I consider the aforementioned totes a colossal waste of money.

4. Do I really need this?

In most cases, the answer would be a resounding no. If it can be lived without, it can be avoided.

Research says that 33% of all shopping is impulsive. I’ve said this before here, that if you want something bad, delay the decision to purchase by a day. The answer will come.

5. Does my current lifestyle warrant this?

I mostly wear flat shoes and block heels on special occasions. Had visited a branded shoe showroom a few years ago with a friend and in the flow of things, I spent my top dollar on an expensive block heel shoe.

I wore it all of twice in the last 5 years. In fact, just today, I gave it away to someone. I got carried away in that moment thinking that yes, I’ll wear it even if there weren’t enough occasions to wear them.

Just a thought I wanted to share with you, though I don’t know this is the right context for it.

I have always wanted to be that disciplined person who gets up early and goes for a walk or run or gym. I have attempted it many times in my life. Failed more times than succeeded.

While I am an early riser, I am not that person to wear keds or trainers to go for a run. I have done it for a week, month, and 6 months even, but could never stick to it long term. I realized that I am just kidding myself. I started exercising at home, without gym wear and shoes. I stuck to this habit for 4 years and counting.

The thing is that we tend to build in our heads an ideal version of ourselves – a little fantasy land where we see our ideal self. But the reality is very different. We got to accept our basic innate self.  

The decluttering journey is about making a meaningful change. But the change happens when you nip it in the bud.

Clutter occurs when we stock our home with things, we believe we will use.

It helps to ask – Will I use this at least once every month? – before making a purchase.

I know we can always donate our things to someone who probably will use it better. But, haven’t we then bought the thing for that person? Because we did not end up using it, right?

Out of all of Marie Kondo’s principle of decluttering, the one I like the most practical is decluttering as per category. For example, books, toys, personal care etc. And not room wise.

Now, I haven’t read her book but I realized that I had unwittingly adopted it and it’s the most logical approach to decluttering.

I had fist attacked my kitchen. Then bags, then skin care and then jewellery.

I gave up a lot of extra dinner and quarter plates, which were mainly wedding presents. Bags on which I spent a fortune. Earrings which were impulse purchases.

So, if you are evaluating a category-wise approach too, that’s great.

Although I would just warn that one cannot always follow a singular approach towards everything:

You might want to sub-categorise them into:

  1. Donate
  2. Relocate
  3. Use
  4. Repurpose

There are lots of NGOs who accept old toys, old clothes etc.

Marie Kondo talks about discarding before figuring out what to store. I would recommend otherwise – instead of discarding, I would say, repurpose.

The reason is that if you bought it, it mustn’t be all that bad. There must be something good in it. Can you break it into parts and find a utility in it? 

For example, a certain dress – can you repurpose it into a top or a blouse? I love undertaking these tiny creative projects upon myself. It’s always fun. I have even made wall-art out of my sarees.

Decluttering has its many benefits:

One – it is oddly therapeutic.

Two – you have fewer things to clean and organize

Three – it improves the vibe at home. More space. More room for creativity.

Four – It saves money. You work hard, but that doesn’t mean you spend it on things you don’t need. Instead, spend that money towards a holiday or just keep it in the bank. Money in bank is power.

I hope I have helped you channel some of your thoughts.

Start decluttering and start it with excitement.

It’ll be fun that way.