Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:
“I really need to declutter. Everything’s weighing me down, I feel frustrated and on-edge. I just need a good clean-out.”
I know for certain that I have said those exact words more than once. In fact, I used to utter them approximately every six months.
Every six months I would reach breaking point, feeling overwhelmed by clutter. So I would have a “good clean-out” – toss old papers, clothes I never wore, all the crap that collects in the junk drawer and random toys the kids had accumulated. They all went.
Then they all came back. And I found myself repeating the process again. And again. And again.
Do you feel like you get on top of the clutter, only to have it reappear over the following weeks and months?
Why Does Clutter Keep Coming Back?
I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I do think I know why this happens to us.
When we talk about simplifying our lives, we often don’t get any further than decluttering. I’m as guilty as anyone of this, because decluttering is easier (and therefore preferable) to soul-searching.
But decluttering only deals with the surface issues – too many toys, the lack of space, too many clothes – it doesn’t look at why we have this recurring problem in the first place. It deals with the symptoms, which is fine, but not the underlying problems.
In searching for a simpler life, decluttering is a step in the right direction, but it shouldn’t be the final answer.
Decluttering Doesn’t Really Change Anything.
Well, it doesn’t change anything on a deeper level, anyway.
On its own, decluttering will not make you happier, healthier, more satisfied or content with your life. I believe you will feel less anxious and less weighed down, but unless more permanent changes take place the clutter will keep reappearing.
To be fair, part of this recurring clutter is simply life. Clothes, toys, sporting gear – they are so often part of our consumer-driven world. It’s almost inevitable that we will accumulate some of this stuff over time – via hand-me-downs and gifts if nothing else.
Part of it is also the result of redefining our needs. Things we kept six months ago are now given away or sold without a second thought. That’s simply about shifting our boundaries.
But if we don’t make real changes to how we value and deal with stuff, then nothing will change. And in order to make a real change, I think we need to work out why we keep acquiring in the first place.
Where Did All This Stuff Come From?
There might be very practical reasons for the stuff you own, and continue to accumulate:
- you come from a large family who gives boxes of hand-me-down toys and clothes regularly
- your partner is a pack-rat and has a reason to keep everything
- you are a crafter/artist/quilter and see artistic potential in everything
- you’ve just had a new baby and have been inundated with gifts
- you don’t have a system in place for papers, bills, filing and admin
- you shop for sport or because you’re bored
- you have kids – they attract stuff like magnets
Or there might be more emotional reasons:
- you’ve inherited the belongings of a deceased parent or relative and don’t know what to do with it
- you suffer from a hoarding mentality or live with someone who does
- you feel obligated to keep gifts, artworks, school work, old clothes and birthday cards
- your upbringing was one of scarcity and you hold on to things to feel safe
- you use shopping as an emotional crutch, gaining personal value and worth from the things you own
- you are holding on to things for a future that may never happen (another child, a goal weight, a new job)
If you’re like me, you will see a mix of both practical and emotional reasons behind your recurring clutter. One thing is certain though – everyone’s reasons are different. So I can’t provide a one-size-fits-all approach.
Look a Little Deeper.
I think we each need to ask ourselves questions that help define the reasons behind our stuff:
- What makes up the majority of this recurring clutter?
- Where is it coming from? (Artwork and projects from school? Toys from parties or fast food restaurants? Junk mail, catalogues, bills and paperwork from the mailbox? Study materials from university?)
- Is any of it useful, beautiful or meaningful?
- Is there anything we can do to stop the clutter coming inside in the first place?
And once we understand these reasons, it will be easier to deal with the clutter as it appears (or better yet, before it appears) rather than wait for breaking point to roll back around twice a year.
I’m currently writing a list of tips and techniques to keep your home clutter-free and will be posting it later in the week. If you have anything that works particularly well in your home, please leave a comment and I’ll add your suggestions to the post.
In the meantime, tell us, what are the main reasons behind your recurring clutter? For us it’s artwork (the kids), procrastination (mine) and just-in-case-itis (Sparky’s).