I have always been someone who loves my stuff. I have lived in the same home for 30 years and have many books, plants, tea cups, purses, multiple craft hobbies and collections.
Years ago I began a downsizing/rightsizing journey. With some gentle nudging from my husband I realized every drawer and closet was full. They were jam packed then closed off so I’d find another space to squirrel things away. I kept the main parts of the house functional, but cluttered. My husband would declare some spaces a ‘sacred flat space’ to remain empty. To my eye those empty spaces needed something. But with every flat surface filled, I saw his point. Then we moved bedrooms and he asked that I keep my treasures to one large bookshelf. With a separate closet and my stuff confined, the bedroom was immediately much calmer and cleaner. I love waking up in a beautiful space.
My motivation is to have a calm, clean house with functional storage and to find a middle ground between my and my husband’s comfort level. I highly value peace of mind, and a calm house. I work full time, so my non-work time is precious, not for cleaning and organizing stuff.
My lessons learned include:
1. A collection needs to have a designated display space
Once the collection has outgrown its display space, it’s on the slippery slope to hoarding. Evaluate and decide what is the optimal number. Then sell or give-away your least favorite pieces. Your favorite ones will shine again, and be visible and valued. If you continue collecting, follow the one in, one out rule. Only keep the best.
2. How to manage sentimental items
This is challenging for me, I’ve kept every card, gift and letter I’ve ever received. I remind myself I am not being disloyal to the memory, by getting rid of the thing. In the past I’ve believed the memory prompt is important, that I will lose the great memory. But I know the love is not in the thing.
If it’s a card or small item, I tuck it away in a memory box. A larger item that has a memory, but I don’t use, I pass along. Knowing someone else needs it more or can make better use of it, is the ticket to letting it go. Taking a photo can ease the fear of losing the memory. Yet the time and attention thinking about, cleaning it, gifting or selling it, usually cements the good memory.
3. Age adds false importance
The longer you have something, the more it feels like an old friend. I have items kept as a connection to the younger me, a reminder of who I was then. The longer I have it, the harder it is to let go off. A small item, like the first Christmas ornament I bought when I was 18, I cherish and put in a place of pride every year. However, the sunk cost of time or how many times you moved it doesn’t add to its value. Evaluate its relevance right now, and if low, let it go.
4. Let go of things bought for a future you
I’d buy something for a future self and hope to grow into it, like a fancy jacket that did become my everyday jacket. But most things I bought for the future me, the one who would wear cool clothes for a cool city job, didn’t pan out. That’s okay, I made choices that felt more right for me, yet I still have the reminders of the path not chosen. Any clothes for a job you didn’t get or don’t want now, let them go. It might be someone else’s perfect thing for the life they are leading.
Maybe you aren’t destined to be a great whatever, that’s okay, you invested your time and energy elsewhere. It can be hard to let go of the dream, but when you do, it frees you. If you ever thought, I can’t do this because I haven’t finished that other thing, free yourself.
I’ve heard that doing a hobby and collecting items for that hobby are two separate hobbies and I’m definitely guilty of that. Collecting supplies for a hobby is fun and easy, yet taking the time to acquire the skill to create to your satisfaction is more challenging. So look at your supplies and honestly answer whether you will invest the time, if not, let it go.
5. Time and energy is more valuable than money
This lesson becomes clearer with age, each significant birthday prompts musing about how much time do I likely have left and what are my priorities for that time? Money is a means to an end and can be fun to make, collect and spend, but it is renewable, whereas time is not.
My time and energy are sometimes frittered away, yet I’ve made conscious choices not to watch TV or shop for fun. Having time to daydream, travel, read and write, be with friends and family, to pursue creative passions is super valuable.
6. There is joy in letting go and joy in buying a quality item
The pleasure I get giving items away or selling them is much greater than having something that I’m not using. I am curating my home, drawer by drawer, closet by closet, room by room.
The cash I made from selling items allowed me to splurge on an expensive mattress. I felt it to be a luxury purchase that was beyond my comfort zone of spending. Having grown up working poor, I have many rules of how much you can spend on a given item. When something tips over that arbitrary unspoken rule, I feel conflicted, even when I can afford the item. So selling some unwanted possessions, frees me to buy something that feels wildly extravagant.
7. My number one practice for a calm home
“If it takes less than one minute, do it now.” This simple rule has changed my life; how I cook, I clean as I go. My morning routine includes one minute of tidying the bathroom; towels hung, toiletries away, dirty clothes in hamper, closet door closed. Boom, easy reset. One minute in any room or during any complex task is a total game changer. Now my house is not getting progressively messier until I find hours for a big clean up, it stays reasonably tidy most of the time.
Rightsize your belongings, pruning some things to spotlight the things you love. Align your home with your values and life will be richer. You will gain calmness and time, both immeasurably valuable.
About the Author: Ellie’s labels include social worker, parent, dog lover, wife, educator and writer. She lives on a small island in British Columbia, Canada.