In a tiny apartment or otherwise, let’s all agree that the excess of the holiday season followed by the promise of a new year creates perhaps the perfect incentive for paring down, reevaluating our homes, and kicking bad habits to the curb. Clear out the pine needles, sure, but then I say, take a look at the other things that have also fluttered into your space in the last year and decide whether they’re deserving of the space they’re taking up.
Decluttering, a term that I’m fairly certain my grandmother would ask for a definition of, is all the rage; thank goodness and no surprise. Faced with a near endless opportunity to fill our homes with ever more, there’s been a shift in the zeitgeist and people are beginning to yearn for less.
For me, true decluttering doesn’t mean finding new spaces to store old things; it means giving all of your spaces—visible and hidden—a bit of breathing room free from anything at all.
I have a chapter devoted to the subject in Simple Matters, but since we’ve got a few days yet ’til that makes its debut, here are four quick resolutions for embracing right away:
1. Use up what you have.
Doesn’t matter if it’s peanut butter in the jar, shampoo in a bottle, milk in a jug, notecards in a desk drawer, or pens in your pocketbook, use up what you have before buying anything new. One of the biggest sources of clutter that I notice in people’s homes comes from an impulse to stockpile. It stems from an urge to buy something—anything—new, or forgetfulness about what we already have, or reluctance to rustle up what we’ve stashed into hiding, but whether it’s undrunk tea or unworn sweaters, or duplicate moisturizers, I’ve got a hunch that making a commitment to use what we already have before adding anything new to the mix could be the biggest game changer in the quest for a clutter-free home. I’m embracing this with particular gusto this year. Hunk of beeswax waiting to be made into candles? Melted and poured. Notecards not yet sent? Written and mailed. Sea salt hair mist in the cabinet? Used with enthusiasm every morning.
Where to start? Your bathroom. Finish the last drop of your shampoo, use your soap until the last sliver slips down the drain, resist the urge to buy the new face mask until you’ve used the one you already heave. If there’s something lurking in the cabinet that’s so heinous that you can’t use it up. Let it go. As I write in my book, it’s gone already. Once everything is finished, start fresh. Buy things one at a time. If you’re like me, it will mean reveling in the newness when you need to restock and enjoying a clutter-free bathroom (fridge, cabinet, stationery drawer, etc.) the rest of the time.
2. Clear your surfaces.
It’s the clutter, perhaps, that comes to mind when you think of the term: The trinkets and baubles and tchotchkes that can make a space feel cramped and crowded when allowed to run roughshod over otherwise smooth dresser tops and counters and kitchen tables.
Where to start? Your bedroom. Take every solitary thing off your dresser (or desk or night table). When you’ve got the pile in front of you, decide what you want to put back in those places. Chances are it won’t be the pile of mail or the spare car keys or the coffee cup you came home with on your morning walk with the dog. Only put back what you really want to look at all the time. Then decide whether what’s left is worth making a space for elsewhere, or whether it’s time to send it on out, never to return.
3. Throw away your trash.
Or recycle it. Or donate it. The point is that many of us keep things in our homes that we were never meant to hang onto in the first place: junk mail and packaging and freebies that are better left behind. I’ll have more to say on the subject later in the week, but these things create visual clutter and take up precious real estate.
Where to start? With five minutes. Take five minutes to scan a room. Gather anything visible that you see that looks like trash: cereal boxes left out on the counter, catalogs that came in yesterday’s mail, advertising stickers still stuck on your stereo, receipts and warranties and brochures left lingering. Make three piles: one for things that can be immediately recycled, one for things that could be decanted or unpacked or otherwise made to feel more like a part of your home and less like a part of the corner store, and one for things that need to be dealt with. Then deal. Not tomorrow, today. We’ve taken to hanging a large clip on the wall next to our door. We use it as a place to leave each other notes, hang up out-going mail, or pin up things that need to be dealt with before they spiral out of control. The relatively small size keeps us from creating an ever-growing pile, and the visual reminder near the door means we’re more likely to take care of what we put there.
4. Pick and choose.
I understand that not everyone is in the mood or mindset for a wholesale rejection of material goods. No need to strip the place bare, I suppose. But if you’re finding yourself overwhelmed in your space—or not enjoying what you have—try, at least, to pack some things away for awhile. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from living in even very tiny spaces, it’s that there’s almost always a place to stash something. So if the pile of books on your nightstand is making you feel crazy, but you find that you’re unable to part with any for good, pile up the ones you’re not reading and tuck them into a place for safe-keeping.
Where to start? Seasonally. I have a collection of small books—poetry and essays mostly—that I realized I was keeping tucked into the crate I use for my nightstand, but never really reading. This fall, I decided I’d leave just one book out at a time—I replaced David Sedaris’s Holidays on Ice with Oliver Sack’s Gratitude for January and that will be swapped out for Pablo Neruda’s Love Poems in February, and so on and so forth. This doesn’t just work for books. I have a small collection of antique glass bottles that I love, but I’d feel claustrophobic if I left them displayed all the time. Instead, I bring them in and out of rotation depending on the particular twig or flower stem I’m in the spirit to display.
What about you guys? On a decluttering kick or very much pleased with your clutter thankyouverymuch?