Post written by Leo Babauta.
Today I’m going to share the stories (and photos) of two people who tackled their clutter and lived to tell the tale.
Not only did they survive, they can serve as inspiration for anyone else who feels hopeless and helpless in the face of mountains of clutter. It’s possible, and we have the proof.
What follows are stories from Sarah and Rick, two amazing students in the Clutterfree Course. Read about two more transformations on Be More With Less by Courtney Carver, my partner in the Clutterfree Course.
|Sarah’s Clutterfree Transformation|
In Sarah’s words:
De-cluttering has taught me a lot about myself:
- As a child we were in a financial difficult situation (parents divorced and my mum on her own with three children). So being able to buy stuff was not that much about the stuff itself but rather about the ability to do so.
- That I shop when I am emotionally stressed and addressed this issue.
- That I do not want to spend valuable time with my partner making spending decisions so I’d rather stop buying and have quality time.
- That I can embrace free space and that it is beautiful – before I had the urge to fill space so it feels more comfy and homey.
- That de-cluttering makes me happy.
Decluttering is tightly linked to reduced shopping and saving money: I actually started with decluttering because I thought that this is the most fun way of saving money and I was very right. The more I declutter, the more I diminish my desire to buy stuff and realise that it is very satisfying and freeing to own less.
Decluttering makes you more creative – I chose so many gifts for friends from my de-cluttered items that made people very happy. I like this. So rather than going shopping I look into my shelves I have reserved for de-cluttered items that are nice presents to give away. Similarly, if I feel that I need something I first look around my flat if I can repurpose something I already have to serve the need I have. I was quite surprised with what I came up with.
De-cluttering makes cleaning so much easier and fun and I feel so much more in control now and do not have this underlying feeling of the weighing down of stuff and I spent less and less time with household chores! I did not believe before that visual clutter is such a stressor.
I declutter every day for 8 minutes as an established habit according to Leo’s simple method for habit creation – but I sometimes mix it up and do a number goal decluttering. For example if I focus on the bathroom – each time I go to the bathroom I will choose three items that will leave the bathroom with me.
It’s good to have an idea of what to do with the won space – so my motivation to get rid of the chest of drawer was to be able to put a nice reading chair there instead. Or for the shed – I want to put the bikes there. That helps so much to get rid of a lot of things and knowing why I am doing it.
Colour code your wardrobe – I heard this tip from Peter Walsh and arranged my wardrobe that way. Also have same type of hangers now and it looks so neat indeed.
- I still have to tackle how to deal with some items that I attach a lot of memory to and learn how I can let go of it.
- Not patronise and preach to other about de-cluttering, especially my partner. Just being an example of a happy de-clutter is enough and will have some consequences on people around me and if not that is fine too – I can learn from that!
- How best deal with valuable items that you are willing to declutter but reluctant to donate. But then the hassle of selling stuff should not be underestimated. Maybe donating for a good cause?
Clutterfat challenge – what worked best?
- Being part of a group: for me it is important to be able to exchange on ideas, experience and to motivate each other to declutter and being accountable to get the work done each day.
- Taking before and after photos: I could not face the thought of having to count my stuff, so I took photos and it really motivated me to see how far I got and what transformations are possible in such a short time – this is important for the days I do not feel like doing my decluttering habit.
- Using the month of January to focus on my decluttering habit: I established decluttering as a daily habit of 8 minutes every day following Leo’s simple method – tiny steps every day can get you far, it is amazing!
- Choosing specific areas to declutter: For example I choose my desk, two shelfs and the shed and did not tackle the whole flat at once and I had an aim with the space that I could free of clutter – e.g. put a nice reading chair for the space I gained from getting rid of the chest of drawers next to my desk.
Clutterfat challenge – how does it feel?
If someone would have told me a couple of months ago that I would enjoy decluttering and that it is a life changing habit, I would not have believed it. But it is true for me. Decluttering is fun and feels very liberating. It brings order into my physical world but I also learn so much about myself and feel more in control – definetly a habit to keep for life. So I will continue to free myself of my clutterfat!
In Rick’s words:
Thoughts on the Process
- You need to be ready for it. What is the old saying? When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. That was certainly the case here. When Leo wrote about the Clutterfree book and course, the message really struck a chord with me. I knew I was ready to make some changes in my life. I can’t say that I was anticipating everything that was about to unfold. But the Clutterfree course came to me right at the time I was ready to receive it. There is no way I would have been able to do this work five/ten years ago. I just wasn’t ready for it.
- Doing it together helps. I started talking about the course with my significant other, Amy. One of the things we decided to do was to limit the number of physical Christmas presents we would exchange. Amy agreed that one of the “gifts” she would give me this year was to share the experience of going through the course with me. Having my partner on board with this undertaking made things so much easier. I seriously doubt if either of us would have made the progress we have made so far without the support of each other. Just having someone to talk to – about the concepts in the class, the emotional issues that arise during the process, the things with which you are struggling – is so very helpful.
- Set ground rules. Since we were both going to be dealing with issues that arose as we let things go, we decided it was important to set some ground rules. Our most important rule – each of us had to deal with our own stuff. I would not force or press her to get rid of anything that was “hers”. And she would not press me to get rid of anything that was “mine”. For the many things that are joint property, whoever had the stronger emotional attachment to the item got to decide what to do with it. We promised each other that the most we would ever do to question the decision to keep any particular item is to pick it up, look at the other person and say, “Seriously?!?” then walk away. We’ve kept to these rules pretty well so far.
- Set your goals. Before this class, I was only vaguely aware of the whole minimalism movement. Early on in the process, we talked about what we wanted out of the course. We realized we have no desire to live in a tiny home, or to dress using only 33 items. I have been describing my goal for the course like this… I do not desire to create the perfectly empty “zen” home. However, I would like to use any random horizontal surface in my house without first having to move a bunch of stuff. You need to decide what living “clutter free” means for you.
- Things will get messier before it gets better. Both literally and figuratively. Half way through the process, everything will be pulled out and dumped in the center of the room. You will create additional clutter as you set aside items to sell, or fill boxes of items to donate. Be ready for it.
- Get ready to deal with emotional issues. Things will probably get emotionally “messy” as well. One of the big reasons we hold onto items we no longer need or use is that we have imbued the items with emotional meaning. Perhaps we have tied certain objects to our sense of identity. Identifying those emotional issues and then dealing with them is a huge part of the process. I read the Clutterfree book pretty quickly over the holidays. But the course forced me to actually implement the ideas and make real changes. It is one thing to understand the concepts on an intellectual level. It is quite another to dive in and deal with your crap (both physical and emotional).
What Worked Best
The course materials Courtney & Leo provided each week were great! I particularly enjoyed the audio interviews, video lessons, and the weekly webinars & live chats.
The ideas that worked best for me:
- Taking “before” pictures. In the first week of the class, Leo gave us the assignment to count everything in our home. The idea was to record where we were at the beginning so we could look back at the end and see how far we had come. I found this assignment totally daunting. So I modified it. Rather than counting, I took pictures. These “before” pictures were very helpful. They forced me to actually see many things I had slowly taught myself to not notice. The pictures helped to remove my mental blinders and notice the things I didn’t want to see.
- Every thing needs a “home” where it needs to “live” when not in use. And no object “lives” on the floor (other than carpets or furniture). If you can’t find a home for an object, you don’t have space for it in your life.
- Focus on clearing one area at a time. One item at a time.
- Make conscious decisions. For me this included consciously deciding to not focus on particular areas – at least not yet. For example, I knew I was nowhere near ready to tackle clearing my music CDs or movie DVDs. These areas got a “weeding”, but not the full de-clutter treatment. Maybe someday I’ll tackle these areas. But not today.
- Identify the the “why”. For each item in your house, ask yourself, “Do you love it? Do you use it?” If the answer is no, then why do you still have it? Really delve into that “why” for each item. Are you keeping it “just in case?” Are you putting emotions into that item? What does that item represent for you? Why? Why? Why?
- Share the ideas. You only really understand something if you can teach it to someone else. I talked a lot about the ideas in the course – with Amy, with friends, with co-workers, with the other people in the class. The more I shared these ideas, the more I owned them myself. Sharing ideas via the class message board also helped me greatly. The message boards helped me work through some of the emotions I had attached to things.
- Be kind with yourself. This process will take longer than you think it will. Don’t worry about it. It is about making progress. Each person will progress at his or her own rate. Focus on the progress you are making. Do not be concerned about how fast or slow things are going.
How it Feels
How does it feel? It feels great!
Being in these rooms is so much nicer now. They feel much more calm, much more inviting. They are now places I actually want to spend my time.
I find that I am much more content to spend time at home. One night we were sitting in the living room and Amy turned to me and said, “Just look at this place! It looks like grown-ups live here.” We shared a good laugh at that!
Not that we are “done” – or that we will ever be “done.”
We still have lots to do as we work to finish this first big de-clutter.
It is also a challenge to keep the rooms we have cleared from backsliding. It is easy to let things accumulate. Especially as we move everything out of a new area to de-clutter that.
But we are making progress. We’ve started saying things like, “I know this thing doesn’t live here. But I just need to leave it here until ___.”
We’re not perfect. (Whatever that means.) But we are making more conscious decisions about our stuff and about how we live.
From Leo: Thanks for the inspiration, Sarah and Rick! Courtney and I wrote the Clutterfree book to help you understand the emotion behind holding onto clutter and to give you the motivation and momentum to let it go and live without it forever. Read the book and share your challenges and success in the Clutterfree Forum.