Have you heard this expression before “Outer order contributes to inner calm”? When I read Gretchen Rubin’s mantra some years ago, I didn’t blink. These four magic words summarize the solution to a struggle many of us face on a daily basis. Whether it is at home, at our studio or work place, being surrounded by clutter takes its toll on our energy, harmony and productivity.
For a decade now, I have been regularly getting rid of clothes, books, shoes, magazines, electronics, ornaments, bags, linen, cutlery, homeware, accessories and anything one could possibly accumulate at home. Often times when I buy clothes, I make sure to give away similar items from my closet, that same day.
The feeling is always great: you’ve freed yourself of things you no longer need or want; you’ve helped others by passing those items along; you’ve made more space in your shelves and closets and you have reached a sense of accomplishment.
So how is it possible then, that you find yourself in the same situation every year (or every season) again and again? To me, the answer can be that we have a predisposition to accumulation, impulsive shopping, falling into sale traps, as well as a legitimate need to acquire things at a specific time and holding on to them.
In recent months, the topic of decluttering and owning less has sparked some interesting conversations amongst friends and acquaintances. During my recent trip to Nepal, a friend and I were talking about buying beautiful home décor items at one of the popular fair trade shops in Kathmandu. She mentioned that for her, it is more gratifying to invest in experiences rather than in things. And even though her work could potentially ship her goods wherever she goes next, she insists on owning less to experience life more fully. I was surprised on how her comments stayed with me for days. And although I am not a big shopper, it is true that I am a confessed interior décor fanatic (and a #teahoarder) and that I have, like millions of people, a lot of things I don’t need.
To my friend, buying things not only takes space, but also time away from other things she rather be doing. This got me thinking: buying things does not only limit your space, it limits your time. In his New York Times best selling book, Essentialism, Greg McKeown states that there will always be a trade-off for every single decision we make. When we see simple decisions as trade-offs, we are more assertive in what we chose: by getting something we are also giving away something. For example, going out with friends for the third time this week will take time away from sending that email or writing that article. The same goes for acquiring things.
Here’s why decluttering is so important to promote our wellbeing: our home, our office space, our studio or any of the spaces where we spend time creating, recharging or making things happen create energy. This energy is positive if it is uplifting, motivating, renovating. But this energy can also be negative if it dims our inner light, makes us irritable, forces us to walk away from our environment or makes us procrastinate our tasks. Clutter then becomes not just a visual matter, but also a mental one. Mess is distracting. It is paralyzing.
After recently decluttering my closet à la Marie Kondo, I want to share seven ways it has promoted a sense of wellbeing so far. The task is not finished, but here’s what I have experienced.
Order is a friend of productivity - If there’s one thing you’ll take away from this blog today is this. Our mindset shifts and so does our energy when our surroundings are tidy, organized and in order. As a result, our productivity increases. We become more efficient and less consumed in feelings of overwhelm or frustration. It is easier to find our working tools. It takes less time.
Creating an inviting atmosphere around us boosts harmony - At home, we unwind, we recharge, we disconnect. At work, we connect, we thrive, we create. At our studios we make magic happen. No matter where we spend most of our time, by creating an inviting atmosphere, even in places where we’re likely to feel stressed, we are able to navigate life more smoothly as we have built a pleasant environment around us.
Owning less makes life simpler - Every time we change countries, we are given a very simple kit to help us get through the months before we get our big shipment arrives. During those months, we have less things to clean, less mess to organize, less house chores to take care of because life has been simplified. When you own less, you have more time to do other things because there’s less work! Imagine having more time for all those books you’d been wanting to read, or more hours you could dedicate to that animal charity you want to connect with or even catching up with the new episodes of Queer Eye. So many possibilities!
Regifting is [also] a thoughtful act - Regifting when it is done kindly and thoughtfully is an act of kindness that serves two purposes: delight/help/cheer the receiver and relieve/help/benefit the giver. It is a win-win situation. For years, I kept gifts that were given to me, many which I didn’t like/wear/use/display. Some others I did like but just wouldn’t see myself using/wearing/displaying. The more I kept them the more it felt that they added to my existing stock of unwanted items that I so urgently wanted to declutter/give away. Now, whenever I receive a gift that I won’t keep, I choose the best time and the best person to give them to. Sometimes it takes a few months before I find the chance, but it is worth it as I am intentional and thoughtful when I gift them. Here are some tips from Reader’s Digest on the topic.
Mindful shopping is enjoyable - Sales are wonderful, but they are also a trap. When we see items with the 20% 30, % 50% off labels we feel like we would be missing out if we don’t purchase them and take advantage of the discount. In reality, many times we won’t need most of the items on sale. Impulsive shopping ends up costing us more of our free time and limited space at home. When we’re mindful and strategic about what we buy, we realize we don’t need as much. Then each item we acquire is more special because there is a special place or need for it.
Minimalism is attainable - It will look different to everyone but, as I understand it, one of the core values of being a minimalist is owning less material possessions in order to free yourself to do more of what you love. How? Owning less means spending less time taking care of what you own. Here’s a quick five-minute video that explains the benefits of minimalism and a 30 Days to Minimalism guide by Sadia Badei from Pick Up Limes. From what I gather, becoming a minimalist takes a while but it is certainly attainable when you start seeing how much more freedom and time you have in your hands. Some also add that you have more money because you spend less in trivial things. If you want to watch a documentary on the topic, I highly recommend Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things.
Less is more - This is connected to number six. Having less items in our house helps us appreciate more the ones we have. Before tidying up my closet à la Marie Kondo, I thought I didn’t have enough to wear. Now, with 75% of my clothes gone, I realize I have more options and I get to wear those clothes I usually left for nice outings. I have more but I own less. This Psychology Today article talks about the mental cost of clutter.
My friend’s opinion was accurate. Looking back, I did spend a lot of time getting to places to obtain things, that I later needed to pack and try to make fit into my suitcase and now that I’m back home, I need to spend further time trying to place them somewhere. Hypothetically speaking, if I made a pact with myself that for every single new item I bring home, I give away a couple, I would still be in the same situation because there would still be a shortage of space and limited time to make room for the old and the new. The anxiety and frustration wouldn’t disappear. This is why decluttering and owning less makes so much sense.
During our last move I realized how easy life can be when you own less. I am not a minimalist, but I am very tempted to start owning less. These past months I have realized (once again) that owning a lot of beautiful/not-so-beautiful/sentimental/non-essential items does not make me feel happier. In fact, I have felt more overwhelmed than in past years. This is not how I want to spend my life overseas. I am ready to make the shift.
In an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald Gretchen Rubin shared: "One way to bring down the noise in your head is to bring down the noise in your environment and to make your life easier and calmer.” Do you agree? What are some ways in which decluttering has given you mental benefits?
Thank you for being here! Would love to hear your thoughts.
-♥ - Resources - ♥ -
The Minimalists - Documentary
Marie Kondo - Author and organizing guru
Gretchen Rubin - Author and happiness researcher
Greg McKeown - Author and professor on essentialism