Lifestyle,  Simple Living & Minimalism

7 Life-Changing 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:

1. Unworn clothes, unread books and unfinished projects bring guilt


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.

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 clean workspace boosts productivity


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 don’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.

Read What is Slow Living? for more on simplifying your life.

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  • 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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