This post is part of the 21 Days to a Manlier Green series
I find it difficult to do work when I am surrounded by a mess. I either get distracted by the mess itself or use cleaning and straightening as another excuse to keep me from doing work. Right now actually, as I am writing this post, I am surrounded by clutter. That clutter, however, is a result of decluttering.
I’m looking at piles of clothing and household items that I am getting rid of. I’m taking steps to cut ties to these items and pass them on to someone else. I’m one step closer to decluttering my home and living a simpler, happier life.
Maybe then, I’ll get more work done. Just maybe.
Your Clutter Is Crushing You
If you are living with clutter, your life isn’t as full as it can be. Your junk drawer / closet / room might be overflowing, but your happiness likely isn’t.
“Don’t own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire.” – Wendell Berry, Farming: A Handbook
It is time for you to dig yourself out from all your clutter.
Or maybe you don’t think you have clutter. “I use all these things. This isn’t clutter. I just own a lot of things.”
I own a lot of things. Yet, those things are not a sign of my success, world travels, and adventures. All my stuff is a sign of my dependence on things to be happy. You can’t blame a guy for wanting to be happy.
There are a wealth of studies, however, that show experiences rather than stuff make you happier.
One of the reasons, at least for me, that I find greater happiness in an experience is the fact that no one else can have the same exact experience as me.
Many people buy things to set themselves apart from others. Experiences, however, are custom-made for you. No one else can inhabit your body and have the same sensory experience as you. Now, sharing an experience with someone else will only serve to heighten the experience, but you each will have slightly different experiences. No one can take that away from you. No one can replicate it. It is your experience, to have and to hold. A lot of people can buy a nice TV, no one else can have a vacation for you.
Other reasons people find more happiness in experiences than in stuff are:
- We tend to think and reflect more before purchasing an item rather than an experience, and then have a greater deal of seconded guessing or buyer’s remorse as a result.
- Possession are temporary and they must be taken care of, maintained, and will eventually break. Experiences, once had, are there.
- For people trying to keep up with the newest trends or have the most expensive toys, you’ll always experience short-term success and long-term let down.
Clutter Is A Time Suck
The more you own, the more time you will need to take care of and maintain all the stuff you own. Or, at least you should be taking care of what you own.
I own far too many clothes. Because of all my clothing, I then have a tendency to wait until I have run out of clean clothes, usually underwear, before doing laundry. This usually means 4 to 5 loads of laundry. If I had less clothes, I would be forced do laundry more often but I wouldn’t find myself trapped folding clothes for the better half a beautiful, sunny, Sunday afternoon – like I spent the last weekend.
My overall time spent doing laundry for the month would be the same, but I’d end up freeing more blocks of time to enjoy experiences.
Clutter Sucks Your Happiness
I write a lot of to do lists. Cleaning is always one of the items on my list that I dread doing. I love a clean and organized environment but I dislike the process necessary to get there.
Less stuff means faster cleaning and greater happiness.
Think of your current to-do lists. How much of your to-do lists revolves around “things.” The need to clean, fix, repair, and replace items is unavoidable. Even if you were a traveling artist with nothing more than some clothes and a guitar, you’d still want to take care of those clothes and that guitar. All the things I need to clean, fix, repair, and replace suck my happiness.
I’d rather be hanging out with friends. Experiencing life. Yet, I have a to-do list nagging me at the back my conscience, reminding me of all the work that needs to eventually get done.
Clutter just sucks. If you invite someone over to your house and you have to say, “Sorry the place is a bit messy,” that sucks. I don’t want to be the messy guy. Sometimes, I am though.
“He is so rich, he has no room to shit.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Mr. Aurelius, former Roman Emperor, nailed it. You want the things you own to make your life better, not to be a vampire sucking your life away. If clutter is keeping you from living, get rid of it!
Steps to Declutter Your Home
I think this is the 3rd post in the past few months that I have referenced my struggle to declutter. You’d think I’d be done by now, yet I foresee this being a long term struggle, an ebb and flow of crap in and out of my life. Here are some of tactics, however, I’ve used to declutter my life.
1. Don’t Tackle The Whole Beast
Don’t set out to declutter your entire life. That’s a recipe for failure. A better way is to break up your house into smaller more manageable sections. For you, this may be just a well-packed junk draw or an entire room, but try to divide the task small enough to start and finish in one hour.
If decluttering takes more than an hour, you are likely to start running out of steam or get sidetracked.
For me, I usually end up bouncing from room to room pretending that I am cleaning out my house but really I’m just shifting my junk around and lying to myself.
Pick a reasonably sized space in your house, and dive in. Then, set a timer. Your mission is to clean out the clutter, not stopping until you are done and to also finish before the time runs out. Ready. Set. Go.
2. Use It Or Lose It
If you haven’t used it in the past year, lose it. The things you own are meant to be enjoyed, to be used to make your life better. If something has been sitting unused, collecting dust, you don’t need it.
“Just because I haven’t used it recently, doesn’t mean I won’t.”
“I have been meaning to use it, but I haven’t had the time.”
These are excuses. If you get rid of something and you truly end up regretting it, then buy it again or borrow one from a friend – I’m betting you won’t mess whatever you are worrying about giving up.
Seven years ago, I bought a saw. I was building a set of catapults and needed a way to cut the wood. I could have sought out a saw to borrow or rented a saw, but it seemed like a good investment. I haven’t used that saw since… “Bye, Saw.”
3. Gift, Donate, and Sell
What should you do with the things you are letting go? Gift, donate, and sell the stuff you don’t have a need for.
That saw I own? I have not had a need for it over the past seven years. I don’t see my lifestyle changing much in the next few years and having the sudden need to regularly use a saw. My brother, however, owns a house and could probably use a saw.
Kyle, I’m giving you my saw as a gift.
If, eventually, I need the saw back, I’ll ask to borrow it. If it breaks in the mean time, at least it was used rather than sitting in the back of my closet. What better way to pass on the things you no longer need, than to a friend or family member?
In the past 5 months, I have worn two different pairs of jeans. One pair, almost exclusively, nearly everyday. They stay clean and every few days I toss them in the freezer to freshen them up (Freeze Wash Your Jeans).
I, however, own 9 pairs of jeans… 7 of which will be headed to Goodwill. Donate the things you don’t need.
Lastly, you can sell your clutter. I have a nice collection of trinkets that I feel I can get some money for. $10 – $40 dollars each, not a lot of money but enough to justify my time in placing an ad on Craigslist or Ebay. This money can then be put towards your next experience.
When To Add Clutter
I am not against buying things. That is clear from my clutter. Yet, even as I declutter my life, I am still not opposed to buying new items to add to my life. These purchases, do in fact, need to add to my life.
I recommend buying things that allow you to have experiences. Do you love to cook? Buy a nice chef’s knife, hone your knife skills, learn a new recipe, and then invite your friends over for a dinner party. The things we own should enrich our lives and facilitate new experiences.
It is not knowledge, but the act of learning, not possession but the act of getting there, which grants the greatest enjoyment. – Carl Friedrich Gauss