It’s been sitting in the hall cupboard for the past 10 years. Or the garden shed. Maybe it even made it into the attic. You haven’t used it for years. You’re not sure you ever will. You don’t even like it. But it was expensive. Or it belonged to your grandmother. Or it might just be useful. One day?
Sound familiar? Well you’re not alone. The UK uses five times more storage space per head than any other country in Europe according to research from comparethemarket.com. And more than half of us know we’re holding on to things for longer than we should. While the British post-war mentality of holding on to stuff ‘just in case’ is often blamed, as a Professional Organiser and Downsizing Specialist, I’ve found that sentimental attachment is usually the cause, with procrastination a close second.
So before you lug your stuff to storage and pay for it to stay there for years, here are some suggestions to help you make sensible decisions about your belongings. They’ll free up your home, your mind, your family and your wallet.
- Understand how your home got its muffin top
When you start sorting through your things try not to feel angry or overwhelmed. Ask yourself what your pattern of accumulation is. Do you buy dozens of cheap black trousers when two more expensive ones would do? Do you shop at sales or bulk buy? How often do you rebuy things you already have but just can’t find? Do you feel obliged to accept second hand things even if you don’t need them? How do you deal with unwanted gifts? Knowing how the build-up happened is the first step to a clutter-free life.
- The best way to break old habits is to start new ones
Professional declutterers often help clients form new habits to prevent old ones returning. Put a container by the front door to drop unsolicited mail into, take the family to the movies on Black Friday, switch to online bank statements, merge all the cleaning fluids into one cupboard, learn to say ‘no thank you’ to hand-me-downs. These small changes can bring long term health to your home.
- Try ‘conscious uncoupling’ with your things
Gwyneth Paltrow introduced this style of relationship separation to the world but it can apply to your belongings too, especially sentimental or valuable ones. Conscious uncoupling is all about giving generously as you let go – regifting large furniture you love but have no room for or selling valuables and donating the money to your favourite charity. The bigger the act of generosity on your part, the better you’ll feel about letting go.
- Curate your inherited belongings
It’s really difficult when someone dies and you receive all their things. The weight of responsibility can feel overwhelming. But when the time is right, look through your loved one’s possessions with a museum curator’s eye. Identify which things remind you of them most, what is of historical importance to family or society, and then what is beautiful that you’d like to display, like a vintage handbag or parchment title deed. Once you’ve picked out the beautiful and important things, you can let go of the rest.
- Talk to your children about their stuff
Hanging onto your own things for too long is one thing but storing your grown up children’s things for longer than a gap year isn’t helpful for anyone. I know one desperate mother who was moving overseas and had to dump 32 boxes of teenage books, collectables and memorabilia on her 22 year old son and his 3 unimpressed housemates, as he’d never taken responsibility for his stuff while there was space to store it at the family home.
- Accept that moving is about making a fresh start
When you’re moving out of your area, city or country, accept that the new life means a fresh start. No matter how much of your old home you take with you, you’ll never be able to recreate your old life in your new environment. Trust that you’ve made the right decision and accept that life is about experiences, not stuff.
- Avoid noise and distractions when you’re decluttering
Marie Kondo, who spearheaded a remarkable decluttering phenomenon with her 2014 debut book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying, suggests decluttering in silence. The idea is that without the distractions of music or chatter you become aware of the incredible number of decisions you’re making about your possessions and are better placed to question why you keep things.
- Know when to take a break
When we procrastinate it’s often because the responsible part of our brain in the frontal cortex is tired from the endless decisions we’re making throughout the day. The impulsive part of the cortex takes over and that’s when we start to become distracted and procrastinate. So watch for the signs – quick rash decisions, irritation, starting to read through everything you pick up – even heavy sighing. Learn when to take a break. It’s usually every 45 minutes but some clients really stretch this (with lots of water!) to 3 hours at a time.
Being aware of the relationship we have with our possessions is key to sensible decision making. It’s not about ‘use it or lose it’, it’s a mindful selection process which will result in you having a lot less stuff in your life. Once you understand this you’ll find that the decluttering process can be both uplifting and rewarding.
For further information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Sarah on 07792 298 595.