It seems 2018 has been the year of decluttering, and I’m not sad about it one little bit. You might have seen on instagram over @lowtoxlife that my living room has stayed free from clutter for over 2 months now since we moved and we are LOVING it. The start of this year saw me completely uproot my life when I moved my family from a water damaged building which had unfortunately resulted in me getting CIRS (Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome) – you would have heard me discuss it on the podcast with Dr Sandeep Gupta show #55 and also on the solo show #77 where I shared how we moved house / what I cleaned with and what we had to leave behind.
With this big change came an opportunity to remove all of the ‘stuff’ we’d accumulated from living in one place for seven years. I’m talking books, photos, postcards, TOYS – so many toys, cookbooks, pots, pans, jars, furniture, old records, pillows, beauty products and everything in between! Because of the dampness and water damage we’d experienced, this move wasn’t just about clearing out useless trinkets and bits and bobs. No, this move was about going through every single item from a piece of lego to an old photo album and determining whether it brought me enough joy to keep AND whether I could justify bringing it into a new CIRS-friendly home.
That whole experience led me to research some of the best decluttering thought leaders in the world in order to determine which approach to take. Truth is, I ended up taking on a bunch of ideas and creating my own decluttering technique, because sometimes spending 45 minutes rolling your undies identically in order to fit them in your closet, isn’t worth the effort! But I’ll let you be the judge of that 😉
Thought Leaders #1 The Minimalists
The minimalist, Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus are exactly as they sound. The brand started out with two guys both approaching age 30 who were super successful in their given fields yet felt like something was missing.
They were living the American dream, with great six-figure jobs, luxury cars, oversized houses, and all the stuff to clutter every corner of their consumer-driven lifestyles. It all sounded good until it wasn’t. The two young guys decided to strip their lives right back to basics – not just through getting rid of all of the ‘stuff’ but also by focusing on making room for more: more time, more passion, more experiences, more growth, more contribution, more contentment. More freedom. It’s an interesting theme you’ll start to notice with all of these thought leaders. Less really is more.
The minimalists have a range of products to help you do as they do.
- Their 21-day journey to minimalism saw them totally overhaul their lives. You can read about that here.
- Their bestselling books include – Minimalism, Live a Meaningful Life, Everything That Remains, Essential: Essays by The Minimalists.
- I first stumbled across them through their podcast here.
- Here’s a link to their Minimalism documentary.
- And if you want to see how they live… check out their home. For me, it feels super basic and a little bit uni student/bachelor-pad esque. But you can tell they really live by their message!
These guys are championing the way forward with minimalism and they are amassing a huge following in the US. It’s so great that consumerism is becoming topical. It’s time we start really delving into this constant striving for more things. While I haven’t stripped back as severely as them I do strongly support the principle that they live by; cut back on things to allow for more love, happiness, freedom, and creativity. Now that’s something I can definitely get on board with!
Thought Leader #2 Marie Kondo, founder of the KonMari Method.
There’s a high chance you’ve already come across Marie Kondo’s work through a friend or family member whose been totally converted to the KonMari method. In essence, Marie Kondo teaches that when decluttering, belongings should be acknowledged for their service and thanked before being let go of. The way to decide whether to let go of them? Determine whether they spark joy.
The reason this method has been so successful is that it places great importance on being mindful, introspective, and optimistic. Kondo claims that many people have used her method, only to realise that they no longer need to be in that hopeless job or they could finally have people visit their home. Through her method, decluttering of the home translates to decluttering of the mind.
Steps in The Marie Kondo Method:
- Commit yourself to tidying up. This one is pretty self-explanatory. This method doesn’t allow for you to back out halfway. You really want to make sure you have mentally prepared for the task at hand and you’re fully committed to seeing it through. A deadline like moving house is always a GREAT incentive.
- Imagine your ideal lifestyle. Visualise, journal or simply daydream about how you envision your life and home environment to be. This simple act will not only motivate you but it’ll help you to set some clear goals and intentions.
- Finish discarding first. Yep, this takes focus and stamina but it’s super important. You want to make sure you’re chucking all the excess stuff before you go in and start organising and sorting.
- Tidy by category; not by location. Makes sense right? But so often we just whip open a cupboard and start working our way through, only to reach halfway and collapse in frustration. Instead, Kondo advises that you group your possessions and then start clearing. So groups would be conference pens, books, cookbooks, bed linen, makeup, etc.
- Follow the right order. Ever gone to do a clean only to find yourself four hours later tearing up over old photo albums, then you make a call to a friend to tell them you love them and before you know it, it’s dinner time. I’m guessing I’m not the only one… ? The trick here is to start with non-emotional items like clothes, cutlery or stationary as they can be sorted fairly quickly. Leave your sentimental items until last.
- Ask yourself if it sparks joy. Now this one is tricky. Let’s be real. You can’t be expected to chuck out a fork if you need a fork. When I was decluttering, I ran a lot of items through my checklist. Is it necessary? Is it useful? Do I Love it? Is it free from water damage? If it didn’t fall under any of these categories then I felt ok giving it away to a better home or discarding it.
If you want to learn more about the KonMari method and how to apply it to your life you should definitely check out my podcast with Sally Flower, a KonMari Consultant.
This Aussie guy is Oprah Winfrey-level famous. He labels himself the “Clutter Organiser” and was dubbed by Oprah diehards as the “Get Your Life Organized Guy” which led to his own series, “Extreme Clutter”. So as I’m sure you can tell – he specialises in CLUTTER.
His main focus is not on extreme minimalism like some of the other thought leaders but rather on creating and reorganising what is already in your home. So yes, there’s plenty of clearing out happening but also loads of practical steps to help avoid clutter and make your home as functional as possible.
Once again, another decluttering expert believes that getting rid of unnecessary ‘stuff’ really is the way to finding happiness and clarity.
What I know for sure is that when you declutter – whether it’s on your home, your head, or your heart – it is astounding what will flow into that space that will enrich you, your life, and your family.”
― Peter Walsh
Some thoughts from Gretchen Rubin
I wanted to include Gretchen Rubin in this list because her focus isn’t just on decluttering ‘stuff’ but more so on identifying the patterns, practices and habits that we humans develop in search of happiness. She’s got some amazing best selling books including, The Happiness Project, The Four Tendencies and Better Than Before – to name a few!
In the light of Marie Kondo’s hugely successful book, Gretchen Rubin weighed in with her opinions. In her article ‘7 Reasons I Disagree with Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.’ she shares her thoughts. The message, there really is no magic, one-size-fits-all solution. And to be honest, I really have to agree. While I am hugely inspired by the decluttering thought leaders in this list, I’m also super wary of making anyone a guru. Yes, these people are experts in their field, but it’s important for us to take what is relevant and leave anything behind that doesn’t resonate. If a fork doesn’t bring you joy but you kinda just need a few spares for when you have people around, then that’s cool. Keep it and know that you’re not failing at the decluttering game. Like all things Low Tox, go slow and make things work for you.
My top tips on decluttering
Look, I’m no Marie Kondo expert but I can confidently say that I have mastered the art of decluttering! My team can attest to this… They were around when I lived in my old home and their reaction when they stepped into my new place was sheer delight! One stated, ‘everything feels… lighter’! And she’s right, the weight of owning so much ‘stuff’ has just dropped away and there’s space to actually live and move. Anyhoo, I figured I could share some of my little nuggets of low tox decluttering wisdom with you, so here goes.
- When decluttering allow time. The whole process of decluttering and clearing out my house took about 4 weeks. While some of the decluttering experts recommend you go hell for leather, I took my time making sure that I didn’t burn out and give the whole thing up.
- Get the kids involved. When it came to clearing out my son’s toys, I was a little apprehensive about how he would take it. I had no desire to get rid of toys that he still loved and played with – those I was sure to clean thoroughly. But there were a few old soft toys that had seen better days. I sat with my son, Seb, and we talked about why he loved each toy, the memories he had, why it was time to throw it away or pass it on to another child and then we took a photo. This was enough for him to feel closure and be ok with the whole process.
- Make digital copies. I went through all of my albums, turfed the hundreds of touristy pics of buildings and kept the ones that really mattered. Then, I scanned them into the computer. The whole process was lovely albeit a little time-consuming. The best bit: I was able to appreciate the moments captured in the photos and really choose the ones I wanted to keep.
- Pass it on. Yes, you may be done with something, but if an item of clothing or some mismatched mugs are no longer floating your boat, don’t chuck them straight away. Ask around and see if anyone could use them. If not, drop them at your local St Vincent De Paul, Salvation Army store or another local charity bin. Being able to throw out possessions really is a privilege and by giving away items you no longer need, you’re at least trying to keep them out of landfill for a little longer!
- Check out one of my video interviews with Brook McAlary from the Slow Home Podcast. This one from the archives delves into the Slow Home movement and is the kind of bonus video you can expect when you join the Patreon powered Low Tox Club and our private chat space. It’s a great source of inspiration for anyone looking to cut back on consumption.
- Clean at the end. If like me, you’re looking to move house due to mould or damp issues, then do the disinfecting and cleaning at the end of the decluttering process. It’s an arduous job and one you don’t want to have to repeat. Right before we moved I started taking clothing to the dry cleaners or lego bits to my mum’s house to dry on her balcony in full sun. Then I left them there until we moved. Bringing things back into a mould or damp affected house means you’ll need to repeat the process all over again. No thank you!
So that’s my list. Have you heard of these ‘less stuff’ ninjas? I’d love to hear your biggest takeaway?
Low Tox. Happy Bodies. Happy Planet.
I love this so much, Alexx!! Decluttering has had such a huge benefit for me, mostly time spent dusting and the mental space it creates, and The Minimalists played such a huge role in initiating my process. My favourite trick of theirs is the just-in-case “20/20 Rule”. So much of my stuff was/is kept “just in case” I need it some day. But if you can replace it for less than $20 in less than 20 minutes from your current location then get rid of it! They claim it works 99% of the time for 99% of all the items and I haven’t had to replace anything yet 🙂