A Decluttering Credo: Constant Vigilance

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A while back, I wrote another look at decluttering, from the moving-on-after-loss standpoint, to which fellow BuildDirect blogger Anabelle Bernard Fournier asked me how one stays on top of cluttering after The Big Purge.

Well… it might seem like a Big Purge but it’s probably not a Total Purge, and you’re still alive and presumably to tick for longer, so we can assume it’s not a Final Purge, either.

Fact is, most of us don’t declutter as much as we could because we lack objectivity a professional organizer might have. We’re caught up in our things, and when we do declutter, we hold back a little.

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I remember when I did my first-ever all-grown-up-now de-cluttering in my mid-30s and a friend helped me. I assumed she did a spring-and-fall decluttering like I was always taught, a la “spring-cleaning.” I mean, you don’t hear about Summer Cleaning or Winter Cleaning, am I right?

She laughed at this naïveté and said she did it every six to eight weeks, otherwise she’d be swamped in New Crazy.

Decluttering: I’ve seen the light!

Back then, I scoffed and dismissed her as being as obsessive-compulsive as she claimed to be. Now, I’ve moved and staying organized is important to me in my new work-at-home life.  I’ve drunk the Kool-aid, realizing just how right she was.

Every couple of months, or even every few weeks, I find more things to discard, whether it’s saved jars and containers I’m being a little recession-Earth-Mama-clutchy about, or tossing old clothes that I’ve already replaced. I have less to get rid of every time, but there’s always something.

A lifestyle change

Decluttering is a lifestyle change. It’s like losing weight or fighting an addiction — it never, ever stops. If you’re always aware of it, it won’t become a problem, but it’s an ongoing process.

There are those who say the secret is, “For every one thing you bring in, get rid of two.” That likely works for a lot of people, but the math seems a little wonky to me. Besides, I have THINGS to do.

Me, I’m not your June Cleaver/Martha Stewart clean-house type. I don’t put things back where they belong, I don’t stay on top of the one-thing-in/one-thing-out Utopian clutter-management system they suggest. It’s a lovely ideal but, for many us, it ain’t gonna happen.

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Have a critical eye for clutter

A much more practical approach is just keeping an eye out for things to toss when you do your regular cleaning. Have a critical eye.

We’re not nomadic peoples. We stay put, and accumulation has become our way, for so many reasons — as questionable as this seems in my wiser age.

When Anabelle asked me how you stay on top of clutter, well, what can the answer be other than to just stay on top of it?

Like they teach in Harry Potter: Constant Vigilance!

There’s no fairy clears up your closets, there’s no magical way to make it happen. We be Muggles, people.

Take command of clutter

Taking command of clutter takes time, objectivity, and constant vigilance to fight clutter-creep. Know what you own, understand why, and get rid of anything that does not beautify your life, or simplify it via functionality.

One piece at a time, we gain clutter. One week at a time, we put things back in place “close enough” rather than the perfect spot it was in that wonderful day where we finished the cleanup.

Accept it, revisit it often, and ask yourself, “Is this still needed?” while you clean house, do laundry, or putter around on weekends. With honest answers, you’ll conquer clutter-creep.

The good news is, the more objective you are in donating or discarding those things that just take up space and add to your stress, the less work it is.

Constant vigilance pays off. One day you’ll notice you don’t need a sherpa to haul your mountain of cast-offs.

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And with the ongoing discipline, you’ll also realize how little impact the “loss” of purging things tends to be. If getting rid of your teddy bears didn’t need a therapy session, imagine what could lie ahead.

It’s realizing there’s life after decluttering that makes it easier and easier to do as time goes on.

And, like weight-loss and living a healthy life, it is a positive lifestyle change that takes awhile to get a handle on, but one day you’ll wonder how you ever lived any other way.

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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.