Do your possessions make you happier or are they clogging up your life’s vital arteries? In this overview with practical advice, we look at how your energy changes when you let go of ‘stuff’ and free up your home to breathe. By Marion Williamson.
From slightly creepy books singing the joys of extreme minimalism to TV programmes featuring unhappy pack rats swimming in their own tat, we all seem consumed with a fetish-like fascination with stuff and what we should be doing with it. We’re transfixed and confused as we watch the hoarders on TV cling to their clutter, while in the ad breaks we’re pressured to buy yet more alluring products that we just don’t need.
Buying into the dream
There’s a big part of us that really wants to believe that a super-powerful juicer or a shiny new toaster will make us as happy as the advertising suggests. Shopping’s an addictive distraction but perhaps we are surrounding ourselves with a shell of possessions that’s distracting us from asking important questions such as, “What do I really care about?”
Until you realise that the stuff you’re buying isn’t satisfying anyone but the companies that have your cash, you’ll keep on chasing the dream, accumulating more with money you could be using to do something that really does gives you joy.
Stuff the fear
How much of your stuff do you really need and use, and how much are you keeping out of fear that you’ll need it “one day?” If you’re clinging to a lifeboat of rubbish hoping it’s going to save your life, it’s time to swim ashore.
If an emergency happened, you’d cope – the same way you’d handle it if you were in a hotel room with only one suitcase. If you’ve been stockpiling your emergency kit in preparation for a mega tsunami or nuclear war, you are wasting your mental energy on a fear that probably won’t be realised. And if it did, your un-sticky plasters, out-of-date anitibiotics and four litres of water aren’t going to get you very far.
It’s only natural to feel uncomfortable about living with less – we’ve been told all our lives that we can never have enough of it!
Reasons to say goodbye
Still feeling clingy? Here are some more thoughts to help you see the light…
Less choice: less stress
Take clothes for example. If you own less clothes, you’ll find them quicker, have less laundry and the clothes you do wear will always be the things you really like.
Better for the environment
Buying less will reduce your carbon footprint. Buy food locally that you’re sure you’ll use up.
You’ll feel lighter
Whether you’re dealing with your own clutter or have inherited someone else’s stuff, keeping your possessions down to the essentials will lighten your load.
It’s pointless not to
What’s in the loft? If you can’t remember, then what’s the point of it being there at all? Just think how lovely it would be to clear your shed, attic or any over-stuffed room, and be able to see the sun steaming through a window onto an empty floor.
It’s good for your mind
Less chaos soothes the mind. Don’t turn your head into a bin!
Possessions attach you to the past
Keeping too many things that remind you of the past – hoards of old photos, furniture and inherited items can stop you from moving forwards, especially if there are any unhappy memories attached.
Display your lovely things
Removing the clutter lets you show off the things that make you happy.
Choose which method feels least intimidating and get stuck in. Edit ruthlessly and reuse things wisely. You don’t have to do it all on one day. Give yourself a month for a big clear out and only sort when you’re in the mood. Be kind to yourself, but be ruthless with your tut!
Don’t want, don’t need, don’t use
If you don’t want, need or use it, there’s no point in keeping it. Check out charity shop options, recycling or Freecycle before flinging it in the bin.
Label four large boxes with ‘Recycle’, ‘Donate’ ‘Sell’ and ‘’Trash’. Be sure your trash really isn’t recyclable or reusable. For example pretty broken crockery could be used to make an interesting garden mosaic.
One room method
Choose one room at a time. If you have outside space, lay everything outside on a tarpaulin, or move things to a different room. Clean the cleared space then bring back only the things you really value – your loveliest or most useful possessions.
Place all cosmetics in a pile, all books, all tools, all saucepans. This is when you discover you have three yellow handbags and six types of cheese-grater.
Some things are easier to remove from your home than others…
Sentimental or guilt items
Stuff you’ve inherited, or someone made for you – and gifts are all hard to part with because they reminds you of someone and their love for you. That person’s feelings towards you are not contained in that badly knitted jumper or twee tartan cushion. And they probably don’t remember half the things they gave you anyway. If you wouldn’t have chosen to buy it – let it go.
We all hang in to things we think might be valuable but unless it’s a real work of art, its value dropped the second you bought it. Ask yourself, ‘What would I pay for this now?’ Have a look on Ebay at similar items’ value – if it’s really worth the hassle then sell it as soon as you can. If not, donate to charity or give it to someone else who might appreciate it.There are oodles of places on the high street that will give you decent money for gold you don’t wear anymore – spend the cash on something will make you feel good. If you’re keeping things because they cost you a packet but you never liked or used them, forgive yourself. Your guilt will make you unlikely to make the same mistake again.
Books and records
First get rid of books you have had for over a year and not read, and records you’ve inherited or don’t have any real love for. Then work out why you’re keeping the rest. Ask yourself if they are worth lugging around every time you move house. Be harsh. Keep the ones that still make you happy. [Gary, our AV director, is hyper-ventilating being a massive vinyl hoarder.]
Cough medicines, painkillers, old prescription items and lotions all have sell-by dates so remove the stuff that’s been in there for years. Remove any unidentifiable medications or unravelled bandages.
Keeping it under control
Once you’ve broken the back of the clutter monster it’s easy to keep it housetrained…
Deal with your post immediately. It takes seconds to put junk mail in the recycling or to work out what needs action and what doesn’t.
One in one out
If you bring something home, make sure you liberate something else. If you store your bags, hats or scarves in a box or drawer – and it becomes too full – something has to go!
Stop buying crap!
The most effective way to reduce your clutter is not to spend money on it in the first place. If you really love or need something that’s fine, but if you’re shopping for shopping’s sake, stop and think what would actually make you feel better. A coffee? A hug? A heart-to-heart with a friend?
Keep it eco-friendly
For everything you decide no longer has a place in your house, think of how to recycle, sell reuse before putting it in the bin where it will end up in landfill.
Make space for yourself. Like a fish that’s moved to a bigger tank or a plant transported to a roomier pot, once the clutter is gone you’ll be able to stretch your wings, breathe more oxygen and feel more alive. The less possessions you own, the more time, freedom and energy you’ll have.
Spend the money and time you will save on real adventures, experiences and fun. Relinquishing your clutter isn’t necessarily about living a minimalist existence. It’s about making mindful choices that will make your life more meaningful.