decluttering
Slow Living

7 Lessons Learned From Decluttering

Decluttering is more than just getting rid of unwanted items. It benefits your life in unexpected ways. Here are the lessons I’ve learned from decluttering.

It began over Christmas break, when my mom and I watched Tidying Up with Marie Kondo on Netflix in the evenings. Seeing Kondo sort through piles of clutter in her calm, soft-spoken voice was a relaxing end to a long day – and even better with a glass of red.

When I came back to Cairo, I took a few days off for spring cleaning. I tossed out some cardigans I’ve never worn, and moved on to the kitchen to store away any appliances that weren’t being used. Lastly I cleared out my desk and got rid of any paperwork that I wasn’t referencing.

My home wasn’t a mess to begin with. There were no piles of junk in abandoned rooms that would have shocked television cameras on a decluttering reality show. I’ve always hated shopping for clothes and my problem was never a bursting wardrobe. Quite the opposite. A lifetime of travel and years as an expat have taught me to stay organized and never accumulate more than you can easily pack.

But while sorting through my belongings, I was surprised that my home wasn’t as streamlined as I thought. And I underestimated the impact of clearing out even a few items.

Here’s what I’ve learned from decluttering:

7 Lessons Learned From Decluttering

1. Unworn clothes, unread books and unfinished projects act like guilt trips.

Every time you look at these items, they call out: Why haven’t you read me? You watch too much TV. Why did you spend all that money on me, and you’ve never worn me? You always wear the same things. When are you going to finally take up knitting?

And although such thoughts pass quickly, they are nevertheless exhausting when you’re facing piles of useless items every single day. They’ll have an impact whether you’re fully aware of it or not.

Have you ever felt calmer in a simple hotel room where you only have a few essentials packed with you? Are you able to work better on a laptop in a hotel suite when you don’t have piles of files across your workspace?

2. Clutter isn’t cozy.

After a lifetime of moving, I’ve settled down and thought I can finally have piles of books without worrying about moving them later. I don’t have to toss out clothes that don’t fit because I’ve got plenty of space. I need to fill my shelves with something because bare shelves look like an empty flat.

But it takes time (and some simple design hacks) to make a new place feel like home. Filling it with clutter won’t do it. And it won’t give the illusion that you’ve been living there awhile, either.

minimalism

Items like plants, throws and textiles, photos and a few meaningful possessions will make a space feel like home. But they won’t transform a space overnight. Ultimately what makes a space feel homely is the time you’ve spent there.

3. You’re not throwing items away. You’re making sure they’ll be used.

Decluttering can feel like you’re losing money. You’ve spent good money on an item that you’re now clearing out. But if the item is donated to someone who’ll actually use it, then you’re putting that money to better use by passing it on.

4. You have more than you realize.

You’ll discover colorful scarves that you forgot you owned. Books you didn’t know you’d love to read.

This will not only cut down on your shopping, but it will prove you’ve already got a personal style – it was just buried in piles of unwanted clutter. Once that clutter is cleared away, you’ll better understand exactly what makes you happy.

5. You have more space than you know.

Tossing out unused items will create some blank space. And then you’ll ask yourself: how can this space be used for something better?

I had shelves with a few boxes that lined almost an entire wall, but when I cleaned up the space I discovered I’ve got plenty of room for a sunny reading corner.

6. A cleaner workspace will boost your productivity.

decluttering and minimalism

This also applies to digital space and to-do lists. Cleaning up a physical space will teach you the value of prioritizing and making room for what’s most important. It will also make you realize how much space unwanted items really take up. Once they’re gone, you’ll notice the difference and you’ll see how distracting they really were.

7. The benefits won’t end at decluttering.

You’ll “declutter” everything else once you know the benefits of a streamlined home. That means your calendar, your to-do list, your to-read pile of books. You’ll know yourself better and you’ll understand it’s not about getting rid of what’s unwanted.

It’s about making space for what’s important.

For more simple living inspiration, read my post on What is Slow Living?

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7 Lessons Learned From Decluttering

22 Comments

  • Ana

    I’ve read Marie Kondo’s book about 3 or 4 years ago, but I can’t remember when my first decluttering happened.

    Since my apartment is pretty small and optimization is kind of my second nature, I used to declutter per category once a year.

    I’ve been living here for 16 years, so lots of things pile up slowly but surely. Documents are the ones you can’t throw away, even if you want to.

    Decluttering is certainly a habit and not a one time thing.

    Interests change or evolve and new objects pile up, even when you try to give away one item for each new item that gets into your home.

    Now I stick to doing decluttering once a year for clothes, books, and kitchen items, but there are some categories like cosmetics where decluttering happens every 6 months.

    I found that decluttering works better with other habits like analyzing expense reports and sticking to a capsule wardrobe.

    On the financial side, a book I read before Marie Kondo’s suggested that an entire home decluttering should come with price tagging every item because that’s when the real magic happens.

    I replaced that with a monthly expense report that gets filled in every day with each item we buy, for 6 years now. One of the best decision I ever made.

    Capsule wardrobe also helps because it limits the no. of clothing items while expanding the no. of possibilities of wearing them.

    These are my experiences with decluttering, but I guess these tips tend to help people who have a wardrobe issue or live in the same place for long periods of time.

    A habit I try to build up now is listening to some books on my phone by using an Audible subscription instead of buying the hard-cover version. On the long-term, this might make decluttering books easier.

    I guess decluttering is less of a problem when moving around every few years since only certain items make it into a suitcase. Hope I get to experience it at some point. ?

    • Dee

      A small flat really does help, and that motivated me for years to keep myself organized. It’s a bit more difficult in a larger home, but I think I’m similar to you in that way: it’s just second nature for me to declutter and I get antsy when my space gets too cluttered and busy.

      Decluttering clothes, books and kitchen items once a year is such a good idea. Spring seems like a great time to do a general inventory, and tastes do change so our living spaces always have to be re-evaluated to make sure they’re still working for us.

      I don’t really have a capsule wardrobe yet, but I’m working on it! So far I’ve been pretty good about getting rid of unworn clothes but shopping is the hard part for me.. It’s such a pain to get through those crowds and then spend hours in the fitting rooms trying to find something you really love 😀

  • Suzy Darke

    Oh I so need to do some serious decluttering in every aspect of my home. Unfortunately, I feel like I’m drowning in everyone else’s stuff – I have two young kids and a mum who is addicted to buying plastic tat for them ?

    I fantasize about a mimimal space with only beautiful, useful things around me. I think the closest I’ll get at the moment will be Marie Kondo-ing my office – keeping it as a sacred (tat-free) zone x

    • Dee

      Decluttering with kids or other reluctant family members is a whole other story 😀 Though the office is a great place to start, and the space is completely your own to clear out.. A clean desk and a more organized planning system have made such a huge difference for me.

  • Beth

    This is brilliant Dee. It makes me so happy when people realise, that decluttering is about so much more than the actual things we are decluttering!

    • Dee

      Thanks so much, Beth! I think it’s so underestimated, and it can really work wonders if it’s done consistently and if we pay attention to its impact.

  • Rosalee

    Great post – you can see the philosophy in your website design too, its so clean and calm.

    I once read that you use 10% of your things 80% of the time. That really resonated with me. I have really restricted the purchasing of items and if something comes in, at least 2 things go out. A long way to go yet though.

    When we returned from our year on the road, I simply could not believe we had so much stuff. It was very confronting. But I also found divesting myself of things confronting in another way, it was like a 100 little goodbyes to the person I wasn’t any longer.

    • Dee

      Thanks so much, Rosalee! One of my pet peeves is a slow loading website, so I try to make mine fast for everyone whatever their internet speed.

      Being on the road definitely makes you more aware of how little you actually need in your daily life, and how most of our possessions just take up storage space.. What’s helped me is realizing how most people don’t really pay much attention to what people wear, so nobody even notices if I wear the same few capsule wardrobe items repeatedly 😀

  • Tracey Bacic

    Another great list Dee. As I travel with just a rucksack, I don’t have any need to declutter, but I’m really aware that less is more. As you say, it’s all about the energy of ‘stuff’ – the space it takes up is not only physical, and once you cut down, you have so much more freedom.

    • Dee

      Thank you, Tracey! I haven’t been with just a rucksack in quite awhile, but that’s one of the things I love about travel – you only have what you absolutely need with you, and you’re not burdened with the everyday clutter of life either..

  • Giulia

    Decluttering taught me how to see things in a new light. I really started to be way more mindful about what I brought into my home and how I keep it there. Things still pile up occasionally but it’s far less than before, and I do think of it as a lifelong process of learning!

    • Dee

      It really is, Giulia! I think each item that eventually goes unused teaches us something about ourselves and our tastes, lifestyles and habits. It teaches us who we are, versus who we think we should be.. And I guess that’s why Kondo always says thank you to each item before she lets it go..

  • Lux G.

    It is very therapeutic for me to declutter. It’s like I’m in the zone that my husband leaves me alone. Lol But I’m so guilty with books. It’s so hard for me to give them away even when I don’t read them. Everything still sparks joy. 😀

    • Dee

      I don’t think books should really count as clutter 😀 I got rid of a few that I had no desire to read, ever, but the rest are there to stay. And like you say, they spark joy every time I look at my book shelves.

  • Dianna Prather

    I just found your site. It is enlightening. I am ashamed of all the “Stuff” accumulated by us that overwhelms every single cupboard and the garage. My mate is a pack-rat, and he is refusing to purge anything. I appreciate learning what works for others.

    • Dee

      Thank you, Dianna! I know that feeling.. I had some family ask for help in cleaning up, and then they refused to even get rid of their old phone books! I think it’s best to clear out your own space and then lead by example.. Sometimes when others see how decluttering can have positive effects, they want to try it as well.

  • Gaelle

    It’s a beautiful way to call people’s attention to clutter. I enjoyed reading it, and I’m going to share it in my humble Minimagazine. I especially love the part about making an apartment feel like home: it’s not about buying some new objects, it’s about the time you spend there!

    • Dee

      Thank you! I’m so happy that you’ve found it useful. And I was just reading your Minimagazine the other day.. I’m really flattered that you’ll be including my post in the next one.

  • Rachel

    I love this post! I’m someone that needs my immediate area to be clutter free (although when I open the wardrobe that’s a different story!).
    I’ve so far avoided Marie Kondo as I know it’ll take over my life – hoping on that band wagon is on my to do list!
    I think your third point is the most resonating, I hoard so many thing that I don’t use and they could have much better lives if I donated them or gave them away.

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Dee

      Thank you, Rachel! I’ve found it’s a great way to think about clutter and especially clothes.. we’re giving them a second life when we donate them, instead of having them waste away in a pile somewhere in our closet 😀

  • Alice

    I’m a bit embarrassed to say that I firmly avoided Marie Kondo’s book and method because I thought it was just a trend. Then, I watched her show on Netflix and I immediately liked her and her personality and I’ve finally read the book. It was incredibly helpful for me, I also read it at the perfect time because, after getting my master thesis approved, I spent a whole week decluttering my bedroom. Emptying my IKEA dressers all in one place on the floor has been quite an experience! But it helped a lot to see what I actually own and I even managed to clear an entire drawer that now is dangerously empty, haha. Really enjoyed your post!

    • Dee

      Thank you. Yes I was just reading your blog post about your spring cleaning! 🙂 I haven’t read the book either yet, but I really like her show on Netflix and she’s got such a calming and non-abrasive way about her that’s really inspiring as well. I love that method of emptying everything out on the floor – it really makes you realise how much you’ve accumulated.

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