Spring is traditionally the time for decluttering, when many of us feel very virtuous as we dutifully divest ourselves of old, unused possessions. However, in the midst of all our sorting and selling, donating, or recycling, do we ever stop to take a good long look at what we’re doing? If we did, we just might find out there is actually an easier, softer approach to organizing our stuff and, ultimately, our lives.
Drop the old approach to decluttering
The problem with our old way of decluttering is that it focuses on the negative. We tend to associate reorganizing with guilt, shame, and struggle. Even the descriptions can be daunting. “Fighting clutter,” “taming the monster,” “paring down,” “purging,” “carving out space” – all these terms make it sound as if we’re about to go to war … or at least to a gruelling session of calisthenics. Neither of these prospects appeals as a way to spend a sweet spring Sunday afternoon. And this psychological browbeating is not the most efficient approach to our ultimate goal: a smoother-flowing, more harmonious life.
Take inspiration from successful self-improvement projects
Instead, take inspiration from successful self-improvement projects. If you’re interested in improving your diet, for instance, when snack time rolls around, it’s much more motivating to focus on what you can eat (an apple or handful of almonds, say) rather than eliminating the long list of what you’d rather avoid (a hunk of chocolate cake, a juicy burger … help!). Simpler, too. Same goes for tasks like stocking your flower garden. How absurd would it be to stand in the plant nursery, pondering, “I don’t like marigolds, I don’t have space for peonies, and freesia make me sneeze”? Of course you’ll zero in on the seedlings you love, that suit your environment, and that will bring more joy to your life.
Find the solution
The solution to the “how to get yourself organized” dilemma is becoming clearer. Don’t begin by getting rid of the “bad.” In fact, don’t begin by making any harsh judgements about your belongings. Do a 180-degree turnaround and start with what you consider meaningful, pleasurable, precious. What adds to your life? Establish a sort of inner circle of objects that enrich you, as diverse as Baby’s hospital bracelet, the shawl that makes you feel warm and beautiful, and your first DIY carpentry project, perhaps. They may not have much monetary value, but assess only their worth to you.
Expand the circle
Next you can turn to possessions of lesser importance. At this point, beyond their practical and/or emotional appeal, consider the amount of room you have at your disposal. In a recent major house move, I limited myself to shipping 140 cubic feet of belongings, the volume of about 4 refrigerators. It was an excellent exercise in determining what items really mattered to me. Other folks will use other criteria, such as the size of their current or future home, or the storage space available.
Be smart about storage
A word about storage: Just as we don’t recommend rushing to get rid of things, neither do we advocate rushing out to buy the latest and greatest storage solutions. Sometimes that set of baskets or see-through containers just doesn’t seem quite right once you take it home from the store. Take a good long look at the collection of objects you’ve chosen and find the right spot for each of them. Intersperse the volumes in your bookcases with treasured objets from your travels. Display your favorite scarves as wall art. You may want to hang some shelves or custom build cabinets that work for both your belongings and your home.
Decide what to dispose of
Now working backward, so to speak, you’ve finally arrived at the point where you will decide what to dispose of. But let’s warn you, the most vital thing to let go of could well be not an object, but an attitude … the idea that old is ugly or that “seldom-used” means the same as “useless.” Should you ditch that worn-out jacket that is just perfect to wear when you walk the dog on chilly mornings or the macaroni necklace your grandchild lovingly crafted just for you? It’s entirely up to you.