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5 Things I Learned From Tidying Up

The other day I dropped by my neighbor’s house to pick up some Girl Scout cookies I had ordered. Her living room floor was covered in small piles of objects. “So, when did you finish watching Marie Kondo’s Netflix show?” I asked with a smile.

We chatted about our favorite moments from the show and she told me about all the random things she had found in the hall closet that she didn’t even know they owned. While I usually avoid fads, the decluttering craze sweeping America is one where I don’t mind jumping on the bandwagon.

Until recently, I had never completely finished a clutter-clearing project to the point where I got the buzz. In previous attempts I usually just gave up or ended the attempt out of exhaustion from all the decision making.

In a recent podcast conversation with Tsh about My Good List I talked about how I had a light-bulb realization while watching Tidying Up that decluttering was a skill I could learn.

Since then, I’ve been slowly working on trying to improve this skill. I’ve been reading multiple books on the subject because that’s my style: I like to gather lots of ideas on a topic and see which ones work for me.

For tackling my closet, I began with Marie Kondo’s suggestion to remove everything from your closet and put it in a pile so you can put back only the pieces you want to keep.

I used the checklist for a closet from Gretchen Rubin’s Outer Order, Inner Calm. And I also read through the chapter about clothes in Joshua Becker’s book The Minimalist Home for even more ideas and inspiration.

Here are a few things I learned about myself in the process of clearing out my closet:

1. This is the first time in my adult life that I’ve focused on learning how to declutter and maintain a clutter-free home.

To be clear, I feel no guilt about the fact it hasn’t been a focus. My point is that acknowledging to myself that I am a beginner at this was helpful. In some ways, it’s fun to be a beginner.

There are other areas of life where I was a beginner and now I feel experienced and competent. Instead of feeling hopeless like “I should have this figured out by now,” I’m approaching it with the sense of discovery and learning required of being a beginner.

2. I need to verbally process while I declutter.

My patient husband not only kept the kids from jumping on my pile of clothes that were on the bed so I could focus for a few hours, but he also came into our bedroom every time I said: “I need to tell you the story about this shirt before I get rid of it,” or “I feel like giving up. Help!”

I don’t know why I thought I should be able to do this on my own or for some reason judged myself for needing this kind of support, but now I’m just glad to have that information about what works for me. I do better when I have a good listener and clutter-clearing cheerleader to join me.

3. I place a high value on not wasting resources but this sometimes gets out of hand.

You know what really sparks joy for me? Having a bin of baby clothes that I received secondhand, used for my first daughter, shared with a friend, then got back for my second daughter, and know I’ll pass it on to someone else. I get a thrill when possessions get used as many times as possible and then ideally get recycled so they never actually make it to a landfill.

But sometimes this ideal about not wanting to waste somehow becomes the rationale for keeping things I don’t want—even if I barely use them and they mostly just take up physical and mental space in my closet.

I’m working on a mindset shift to remind myself that it’s actually more wasteful to keep it in my closet when I don’t really wear it and someone else could be getting value out of it. And the longer I wait to let it go, the less likely someone else will be able to enjoy it.

4. One of my biggest struggles with clothing is that I “save” my favorite items and repeatedly wear stuff I don’t like.

I’m in what I affectionately call “the season of pooch and vomit” aka postpartum season. I don’t currently fit into all my prepregnancy clothing, and I spend most of my time holding an adorable small person who spits up or vomits all over me a few times a day. And I work at home so I have no pressure to look nice.

But at the same time, even before this season, I have had a long-term habit of “saving” my favorite clothes to the point where I actually never wear them. Instead of following most clutter advice to get rid of clothes I don’t wear, I got rid of the clothes I wear often (but actually don’t like very much) in order to force myself to enjoy the clothes I have and like—even if they get spit-up on them. So far, this has been a great improvement.

5. Clothes just don’t really spark joy for me in general.

Books spark joy. Art supplies spark joy. My espresso machine sparks a lot of joy. But clothing, meh. Whatever. I have mixed feelings about this. Am I not excited about the clothes in my closet because I’ve never taken the time to really figure out what I like and how to express myself with clothing?

Is it this season of life with young kids and constant messes? Is it because my sisters made fun of me in 7th grade the first time I experimented with stylish clothing? Is it because my father’s frugality seeped deep into my bones and I cannot even imagine what it would be like to spend money on clothes just because I like them?

Or maybe it is just part of my personality and preferences that I don’t care much about what I wear. I’m creative, but I have never bothered to try to express that visually in my clothing. I’m not sure, but I’m curious to explore this more.

How about you? Do you have a decluttering lesson to share?

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  1. Joan S.

    I haven’t had much trouble with letting go of things because we moved often when I was a child (not military – it was just what my parents did). That meant that a lot of things didn’t follow us from place to place, probably because my Mom didn’t want to pack them up 🙂

    My kids had a harder time of letting go of things until I learned the reframing phrase from FlyLady of putting things in our Blessing Basket so they could go bless someone else who needed them. They are grown now (27, 24 & 19) and still use that terminology 🙂

  2. Barbara Miller

    I am the “save my favorite clothes” type person also. I have made an effort lately to wear the clothes I’ve been saving and to also purchase a couple that I really like and would fall into the “save” category. I have to admit that wearing those clothes have made me feel great about myself. I find this reaction strange but at retirement age, I need all the little perk-me-ups I can get and wearing these clothes does it. Yahoo.

  3. Laura Gaskill

    I’ve learned that clearing clutter is a mental and emotional process — one that begins with being really honest with ourselves. It can be so hard to untangle the stories we tell ourselves about our stuff! And I’m with you 100% that we need support in this journey, whether from loving family members (although admittedly sometimes they can be more of a hindrance…) or books.

    After going through a major whole-house decluttering process before moving cross-country for the 2nd time, I created a course to help other women create space in their homes and lives — I host weekly check-ins where we share about our progress (or sometimes, admittedly, lack thereof – and what might be stopping us) and create encouraging podcasts to listen to while you declutter. It actually sounds like it might be your cup of tea:

  4. Anna

    My biggest way to keep from having a lot of clutter is to stop it from coming into my house in the first place. I can always see potential in things, and I used to do more impulse buying. Now, I can look at something, see the potential, and know that it’s not necessary in my life right now. The fact that we’ve moved around a lot, including internationally has forced me to learn to do that!

    The other tricks that I use are to ask myself, “Would I buy this item, in this condition, if I saw it at the store right now?” and the “container” limit. If I only have a certain amount of space to work with, I have to start with my favorite things. Once that is full, there may be things that I still like, but unless I’m willing to take something out to fit those things in, they have to go.

  5. Amy | More Time Than Money

    I’m with you on not wanting to waste things as a source of clutter. I did a big declutter about three years ago and this issue became apparent immediately. I had to face up to the reality that a lot of this stuff wasn’t any less waste if it was sitting in my house unused than if it was in a landfill. I had a bag of takeout cutlery that I have moved house with twice! I made a good effort of rehoming and recycling things, but a lot of it just had to be chucked away. However, seeing it altogether like that gave me new resolve. I redirected my good intentions to reducing waste at the source bu refusing excess stuff. It’s working. I’m making better decisions at the front-end. I’m even leading a small group as we adopt a new micro action each month to lessen our environmental impact.

  6. Linda

    I want to comment on the “save the clothes” part of your post. WEAR THOSE DAMN CLOTHES IF YOU LIKE THEM!!!! DON’T WEAR THEM IF YOU DON’T LIKE THEM!!!! I know I seemed to yell that information, but I didn’t. I just spoke loud. Now that I have your attention (lol!), I’ll make my point. Sad truth is we never know if tomorrow will come. Fact. So, why keep clothes, china, good silver, jewelry, etc. (you get it) under wrap and key or hanging in a closet where they get no exposure or give any enjoyment of life enhancement? Live like it’s your last day. Wear those clothes spit up and all! Use Grandma’s dishes even if it is only on Sunday! Go girl! All the spit up, tantrums, etc. don’t seem like such a big deal if you will “spoil” yourself and enhance your existence just because you can. You will be amazed at the difference you will come to recognize! Sorry I wrote so much. I just had to tell you this stuff because I saw myself in you. P.S. I’m a “creative” and book lover too.

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