Getting rid of clutter. Everybody’s doing it. But would you believe me if I told you to stop wasting your time decluttering?
Why? Because when you’re chronically ill, you can’t afford to part with your energy. Also, you’re probably doing it wrong.
Stuff. You’ve got a LOT of it. We all do. And it’s hard enough to keep up with when we’re feeling good (physically and mentally). But add in a pandemic-induced lockdown and all of that “stuff” is suddenly front and center. Every day.
It was easier to ignore when you weren’t spending quite so much time at home. And even if you were spending lots of time at home, the conditions were different: you didn’t have the stress of trying to cope with the economic and emotional devastation of a new virus. After all, when you’re chronically ill, you’re already living with uncertainty.
There are so many things outside of our control. When we’re faced with increasing unpredictability it’s natural to try to right our proverbial ship by taking control over something that we can influence.
So maybe you’ve tried simplifying and decluttering before. If you’re like me you were probably doing it wrong. The result? You wasted a lot of time and energy and got very little return on your investment.
If you want to stop wasting your time decluttering there are at least five mistakes you need to avoid.
Are you making these five mistakes?
Confusing organizing with decluttering
Rearranging all of your excess stuff so that it fits nicely into the closet, cabinet, or worse yet, the box you’ll never look in again is NOT decluttering! Sure, it may look better and not take up as much space, but be honest: you haven’t decluttered a thing.
Spending a few hours cleaning out a closet – but getting rid of just a few things
If you’ve done this, ask yourself why. Is it because you may have paid a lot for a certain piece of clothing? Or because you’ve only worn it once and it would be wasteful to get rid of it? Maybe you’re waiting for it come back in style. Guilty as charged, on all three counts. I’ve done all of these things and I can tell you this: I’ve never regretted any item of clothing I’ve let go of.
Keeping something because you might need it in the future
A couple of years ago I bought a case of mason jars. If you think it’s because I can home-grown tomatoes, you’re wrong. I don’t have a garden and I’ve never canned a thing in my life. I used the jars to hold flowers as table centerpieces for my daughter’s graduation party. Will I use them again? No. Might someone else want them? Absolutely.
Failing to recognize that you may have perfectly good items that you just don’t like anymore
What have you outgrown? What did you use to like that you just don’t like anymore? In the early 90s I went through a Victorian decor phase. At the time, I felt it was lovely. Our home is more than 100 years old and I loved the warmth and opulence of the Victorian style. Not anymore. It was finally time to get rid of the lace and the art work in gilded frames.
Feeling so overwhelmed with the massive task of decluttering that you don’t do anything… except for shaming yourself for not doing anything
Oh, if only I could reclaim the time I’ve lost feeling so overwhelmed by the notion of decluttering that I literally did nothing. I’d look around the house wondering where to begin. And then I’d stop. I felt lazy, guilty and incapacitated.
I finally figured out how to stop wasting time decluttering… and how to get started
Disclaimer: My approach is NOT a rehash of Marie Kondo’s method. If you’re not familiar with Kondo, she wrote “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” I just loved the hope-inspiring title of the book. But the book itself? Not so much.
Kondo’s method (known as the KonMari Method), is pretty straightforward: declutter by category (not by room); keep only the things that “spark joy” (insert eye roll here); and (this is the best part!) do it all at one time! If only I had that kind of energy – there are days when making dinner wears me out, and there used to be days when climbing stairs felt like an attempt to climb Everest.
As for keeping only what “sparks joy”, I have lots of things that don’t spark joy (my underwear, for instance, the extra set of ear buds for my phone, or the large roasting pan that may only get used twice a year). But these all serve a purpose, and dammit, Marie, I’m keeping them!
To be fair, I didn’t read the entire book. It wasn’t sparking joy.
Like most things in life, one size does NOT fit all (although for whatever reason, hospitals are still under the ridiculous impression that those horrendous patient gowns do).
So I decided that the only approach that was going to work for me was a more customized one. Each of us knows our own motivations, preferences and limitations. Admittedly, when we’re chronically ill we have more limited reserves of energy, and it’s rarely consistent.
We’re “spoonies“ after all. So do yourself a favor and set yourself up for success by being honest about the challenges you’ll face – and the potential pitfalls.
Six questions you should ask yourself before you start decluttering
The first step to making sure that you stop wasting your time decluttering is to plan for your goal while acknowledging the “tools” that you have to work with.
Whether you articulate your answers on paper or have a long, honest conversation with yourself, here’s what you need to identify:
1. What is my goal? How far do I want to take this?
Do I want to focus on one room? The whole house? Or just one specific category (for example, getting rid of clothes and toys that the kids have outgrown).
2. How will my physical capability and the amount of energy I have to expend influence how much I can do?
How much time can I realistically spend at once before I’ve pushed myself to the limit? (Tip: don’t push yourself so hard that it will take you two days to recover. We’ve all been there – it’s not worth it.)
3. How much of my free time am I willing to spend on decluttering?
Do I want to devote half an hour a day or plan to spend most of the day on Saturday or Sunday? How much progress will I need to see to keep me motivated to continue?
4. How will I manage my tendency to hold onto nostalgic items?
What kinds of items am I going to have the most difficulty parting with? What will be an acceptable compromise or criteria for what I should keep? Is there another way of preserving the memories without saving all of the items?
5. Is there anyone who can help me?
Will I need help lifting or packing up boxes? Will I need moral support? Who do I know that can help me?
6. How do I want to feel when I’m done?
What are my expectations? Do I want for my home to be simpler and easier to maintain because I’ll have less “stuff”? Will I feel better just knowing that I’ve gotten rid of items that I just don’t need anymore, and that they may be appreciated by others?
Granted, this is just the first step – but it’s the most important step you’ll take to make sure that you stop wasting your time decluttering – until you have an honest and realistic custom plan for moving forward.
Come back next week for my tried and true tips for getting it done! Hint: My approach is the antidote to the KonMarie method. The stuff you keep doesn’t have to “spark joy” – it just has to give you peace.
Caz / InvisiblyMe says
Hahah I love this! Such a refreshing perspective to take on something that I’m a bit (very) guilty of. I also do the decluttering that’s not decluttering at all, just rearranging things from one place to another. I seem to be doing it all the time. The house is too small and any plans of moving went out the window when Covid came along. At the same time, OCD came back into the picture niggling at me and it was a recipe for disaster. All I ever do is anti-bac the hell out of everything, declutter, organise, ‘declutter’ as I move things from one hidey hole to another, and get frustrated that everything’s still a mess. I think for me it’s become a distraction and coping mechanism but you’re absolutely right, with chronic illness it’s not the most valuable use of our time if we’re forever doing it!
I had become the master of shuffling stuff around and reorganizing. I finally got rid of so much stuff… and yet, I still have more than I really need and I’m sure in a year or so I’ll make my way around the house and do a bit more. It does feel good to lighten the load. Even a little a time is better than nothing!
Katie Clark says
Oh, boy! Maria Kundo’s book didn’t “spark joy” for me either. I’ve been accused by my family for “decluttering” too much; however, I also keep a lot of sentimental things. The hard part for me when I truly have decluttered is getting say the whole closet, pulled out and sorted and then totally losing my steam. It’s too much in one push. You have a great set of questions and guidance to make it less impactful on my energy. Thank you!
The sentimental stuff is my downfall, too – but that’s the stuff that “sparks joy” because it sparks warm memories. As for doing things all in one push, I applaud anyone who can. For me, what worked best was to approach it based on how much time and energy I could realistically expect to invest at one time. It was much more successful that way!
Michelle Markling says
I found a way that works for me and my family. Going on two years I keep a giant box in our home office. When one of us comes across something we want to donate we have a quick place to drop it before we think about it to long and we trash what is trash. Often times we will fill 3 or 4 boxes a week between four people. The more we donate the easier it gets to part with things. My house has much less furniture and stuff making it a peaceful place to be. Peace is especially important for us with rare diseases.
Michelle – That’s a great idea! There are so many time when I look in my closet and notice things I haven’t worn in a long time – and I think to myself “the next time I declutter I’ll get rid of this.” Having the box handy makes it a no brainer!