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  • Sarah OConnor


Updated: Dec 7, 2021

A 3 Stage Process Sept 2020

A topic I know many people want to embrace at the beginning of every year, but for many reasons don't seem to get around to it.

As we head into 2021, a very different year to others, we again make some new resolutions. I think this year will see us making different ones to the ones we normally make (get fitter, work harder and put 120% into everything we do) because after the year we have just had, I think most of us have re-assessed what is important in our lives and what is not.

I would like to think and hope that most of us are focusing on family time and health over and above material possessions.

We want to spend as much time with loved ones more so now than ever before as we now appreciate that we cannot take anything for granted.

I am sure over the years you have considered a de-clutter of your home but for whatever reason, it just didn't happen, it wasn't a priority, you didn't have time etc.

Well by making some time now, you can save time in the coming weeks, months and years if you vow to sustain it.

De-cluttering our homes can improve many things in our life such as

1. Frees up space in our homes - we can live in a smaller spaces or less cluttered spaces more easily.

2. Frees up money - we don't buy more unnecessary stuff.

3. Improves our health - we stop stressing about having to take care or maintain the amount of stuff we own.

4. Increases our free time - we don't spend time taking care of or maintaining the stuff we own.

I embarked on this journey about 12 years ago when we were moving from a larger space into a nicer area but a smaller space. It meant we needed to store our belongings in a rented storage facility until we bought the house we wanted - it would only be for 6 months maybe 8 max! Fast forward 8 years later - we loved where we were living and we certainly didn't miss the things we had in storage, let alone remember what we had in there. This showed us we really didn't need all the stuff we had accumulated over the years, whilst some lovely reminders of holidays we had and places we had travelled to (Photos do this nicely and are kept on a hard drive) but owning multiple of similar items or simply things we just didn't use! We also learned that our tastes had changed so much over this time, that we really didn't like much of the stuff we had in that container, nor was much of it of any real use.

This as you can imagine costs a small fortune to store offsite - just to give it all away in the end. We donated to charity, to family and friends, and re-cycled the rest - thankfully 80% of it was donated going to a home where it would actually be used.

Following this I changed my attitude to everything I purchase and ask myself some hard questions before I fork out for yet another salad bowl, lamp or cookbook etc. Do I really love it? do I really need it?

Now, if I buy something new, I get rid of what it is replacing. I don't keep things "just in case". Anytime, something new comes into the house, it has to replace something else. This is my mantra.

We live in a smaller home now by the sea if we wanted a larger home it wouldn't overlook the sea and I would rather be beside the sea than have a larger house, to house the stuff I don't need nor have time for.

We have saved so much money, time and energy by owning less. We have spent this money on much more useful things in life, like travelling and other "experiences. A trip to Australia will be etched in my memory far more so than the beautiful jacket I had from Tommy Hilfiger, Zara or wherever.

I have committed to buying more sustainably and buy less but of better quality that will last longer. It enables me to buy cashmere over wool, leather over fake leather jackets or a quality brand over a cheaper one. By owning less, I care for less stuff, freeing up my time to take that nice long walk on the beach or a hike up the Wicklow mountains more often.

Getting started.

My advice is to start small! See this as an ongoing exercise as opposed getting it done now and not having to do it ever again. It’s a process.

Ø Start with one area at a time - leaving sentimental items to the very last as they are the hardest to deal with.

Ø Remove all items from the house ASAP - give to charity, family, friends or lastly re-cycle / bin - once they are gone they are gone.

This is not just about de-cluttering, its also about understanding what is important to you and your family by finding more time and joy in what you own and owning less.

Stage 1

Next, the crucial question now is where to start. To think about this can be overwhelming and daunting and sometimes really put people off.

Some people just say "I am going to de-clutter" and start anywhere they see things they don't really want - they put it into a room and leave it there for months. With this "non strategy" these items generally end up back in the house at some point.

My first suggestion is to take a deep breath and think strategically about this. Rome was not built in a day nor will this project - tackle it bit by bit and look on it as a long-term exercise - a bit like getting fit or eating more healthy.

Firstly, you will want to get 3 bins marking each of them as follows

1. Donate

2. Keep

3. Bin

Secondly, you will need to break it down into chunks and don't think about anything other than the phase you are on – It’s important to finish this phase fully before moving onto the next one. I have broken it up like this as it gets harder along the way but mentally you will be so much more ready to do it. You will also see huge success along the way which will motivate you further. You also need to remove these items from the house before you move to the next phase. When it’s gone, it’s gone and yes sometimes you do say "Doh" why did I throw that out. Do you really need it again?

Ideally break it up like this.

1. Books, CDs/DVD's, Magazines, Games and Technology

2. Kitchen stuff.

3. Clothes, Bedlinens, Towels

4. Kids Stuff - Toys, Clothes and Books

5. Sentimental Items

Books, CDs/DVD's, Magazines

Ok, I know a lot of people love books, and this can be a hard one, but once you've read them do you really think you will read it again. Charities, hospitals, dental practices and the library are always looking for these items.

Go through each room where you have all these items along with some other related and really ask yourself do I need this.

How many of us really ever watch our DVD collection anymore - I bet you have a Netflix or Sky Atlantic Subscription. Do you actually listen to physical CD’s anymore or do you have Spotify?

Do you still have games kicking around that just don't get used or have missing pieces or were once a thing - like Trivial Pursuit - when did you last use it?

We continuously buy new technology to replace older tech but yet we hold onto the old ones "just in case" this new one breaks - why? you will just replace the new one you bought when it breaks as it’s a reason to buy newer technology. Recycle it! Old cables are kicking around also and you have no idea which item they actually belong to. Get rid of them, chance’s are the phone it was suppose to charge is already in the bin or lost.

Think about all of these things and really ask yourself these questions. Do I need this - really? Why do I need it and when am I likely to use it, if I haven't in the last 3 years.

Stage 2

Now, let’s move on to the next part.

1. Kitchen items

2. Clothes, bedlinens, towels

3. Kid’s stuff, toys, clothes and books

The same principle applies here.

Kitchen - Look at all the items in your kitchen (including your food and spice items) and get rid of anything you haven't used or even remembered you had for the last 6-12 months. If you haven't used it in this time, then chances are that you will not use it. We all went through phases of having items that supposedly saved us time - egg cookers, waffle makers, bread makers and honestly, all of this is simply done in an oven, so if you haven't used it, donate it elsewhere. Anything you have also replaced with a better model, why keep the old version "just in case". It's taking up space and will never be used.

Food items and spices that are out of date, I bet you still have items with a “£” as opposed to “€” still on there - that in Ireland, goes back a long time - 1999 to be exact.

Clothes - This is again similar in principle. Ask yourself what really is "your style" and do these items fit in with it. Your likes and style do change over time and if you have not worn an item in the last 12 months then chances are you won't wear it again. Donate it if it's still wearable. Ask yourself "Do I love it" - you only have room for so many loves.

Bedlinen - This is something we tend to have way more of than we need, as we buy new ones but rarely get rid of the old ones in the press. Again, if you buy new, ask which ones are they replacing - use the "one in, one out" rule. Towels and bedlinen get old, musty and can smell after a time. They often turn yellow, if white in colour and from a hygiene perspective are not designed to be kept for many years - a bit like underwear.

Generally speaking there should be 2 sets of bedlinen for each bed in the home and only 1 for the guest bedroom. Also, try to keep towels that "go" with the bathroom colour and bedlinen that "works" with the decor in the bedroom. We so often see any old bedlinen used on a bed that doesn’t match anything else in the room, and think about it, it's the biggest piece of furniture on view in the room, so aesthetically it just doesn't work. We need to get this right and only buy colours that work in the overall scheme. White works with everything.

When you adopt this principal you won't have such a struggle when you go to organise the hot press any longer. Anything you are getting rid of, the best option here is to donate to the RSPCA or any animal rescue center as they are always looking for towels, duvets and other bedlinens.

Kids clothes and toys - Children move on very quickly but many parents hate to throw anything out that is theirs. Again, I am not suggesting to throw it in the bin, but many children out there can benefit from the joy of a new toy or book and your child will hardly remember they even had it.

Get them on board by telling them you would like to help other children not as fortunate as them and make room for new toys/books in their life. You will be surprised how much they will gladly do this as a goodwill gesture.

Children's clothes are something that we like to use as reminders of their childhood. They grow up so quickly and others can benefit from your donations especially as they have most likely not been worn much.

This is certainly a process and as you will now see, starting to get easier, I bet you will find at this point you are in a much better position to handle it. So lets continue with ease and keep reminding yourself why you are doing this.

You are saving time, money and stress and living more sustainably.

Stage 3

So, for the final stage we are going to look at how we can tackle de-cluttering those hardest "Sentimental Items"

You should, at this stage be happy with your progress and find that you are motivated and happier with the whole process and now feel this is one you should be able to tackle.

While there is no doubt sentimental items are really hard to let go of, we often find that we are keeping several things of the same memory, e.g. you may have 5 or 6 things you are holding onto from the one memory, when in fact the best memory is most likely a photo. We can certainly have maybe 2 things as opposed to 6 things and then you will have some room to be able to display these items rather than storing them in a box. The fact that they are on display will make you feel even better.

We sometimes hang on to school or college books, notes and reports to remind us of our days there. All we really need here is 1 book of interest but again photographs of your friends at this time are much better.

Souvenirs from holidays are a big one for most people, again we often buy too many of them and spend too much money when a photograph is the best memory and maybe one thing you really love from that holiday.

Gifts - we often hold onto gifts that people have given to us even if we don't like them. It's the thought that counts here and honestly, they are never going to ask you after 6 months where you have put it or if you still like it. Chances are, they won't even recall what they gave you. I hardly remember what I give to people and I certainly don't look around their houses to see if it's been used, so maybe think of it that way. Someone else could be getting use from it when you are not, so feel better about giving it to charity or to another family member. Don't feel guilty about de-cluttering these items.

Children's clothing and toys - It is always hard to let go of your first baby's very tiny clothing, of course you want to remember them as a baby but I believe a photo, which no doubt you have many of, is a much better memory. Maybe keep their christening robes or such like, but not several items - this is unnecessary. One idea is to put a scrapbook of photos or some very small items together as they have grown through the ages to help with this process.

Memories live in our minds, not in physical items, but it's also important to know, that if this item serves you, then keep it, but it's important to think about it intentionally and ask yourself if you really need to hold on to it.

So now that you have concluded the full process, you need to keep it up and do this on an ongoing basis, but the best way to do it is (where possible) use the 1 in 1 out rule and this will help you to keep the same amount of items in the house.

Before you buy something, think "what is it replacing" then go and take that item out and get rid of it.

If you have to replace something, ideally you want to use the place where that item was stored for the new item - this is how you will manage your space going forward.

Once you continue to do this, you will automatically find yourself wanting to get rid of a few more items here and there. It's very rewarding and as I mentioned in the 1st part, remember why you are doing this.

Live more sustainably

Live more intentionally

Save money

Free up more space in your home

Reduce stress associated with clutter and lack of space

Increase free time.

Good luck with your Journey!

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