Friday, 18 January 2013

clutter, clutter, clutter


  • Our clutter awakening
  • Why extra possessions take up valuable time
  • The clutter journey continues

I want to tell the story of our original de-cluttering experience, now a number of years ago.  The reason I am revisiting history is that Life has moved on and we are again ‘cluttered up’, despite a ‘one in, one out’ policy for all our possessions. 
In other words, for every thing that enters our lives, something was supposed to go out.  A cunning plan to ensure the clutter does not build up and the cupboard doors still close.  Well it would have been if it had worked.
So, by writing the story of our original de-clutter, I am reminding myself why I need to do it again and why we moved to this lovely, simple, energy efficient house in the first place. 

Life changes but belongings, habits and routines do not always change with it.  So getting rid of clutter is one way to move into the present.
Once upon a time, 12 years ago, our previous house got too small for the five of us.  We were going to have to move...
Then, a book called ‘Freedom From Clutter’ by Don Aslett changed all that. 
When I first read that book (given to me by my sister, who ironically still has two of everything), I laughed until I cried.  He has a real knack of using humour to make a point.  (See fun quiz on clutter).
I loaned the book to a friend.  Actually I left it in her front porch and wondered if she would guess who it was from.  She did of course and phoned a couple of days later to say she and her husband had sat reading it to each other in bed and giggled throughout.  Both households then rolled up their sleeves and began to clear out.  It was fun doing it at the same time, as we could share our clutter horror stories.

Clutter is anything you no longer need, have not used for a long time, do not have room for (yes even if it could be useful!) or anything that is broken and is waiting to be fixed (but never will be).  It can be clothes that are out of date or do not fit, unfinished craft projects, empty containers that may come in handy (if you can find them), extra dishes that don’t match and anything else that is surplus to requirements.
And before you get holier than thou and think you do not have clutter, let me ask whether you have any empty margarine tubs, old flower pots in the garage, enough used Jiffy bags to last you till the next millennium, spare parts for a car you no longer own, some of those nifty carpet sample squares, or paint to touch up the bedroom from before you changed the colour.  Oh and yes – what exactly is in your loft?
Many of us end up buying bigger houses or garages to put it all in, or even pay for storage facilities. So the extra belongings actually cost money.  Yet we convince ourselves we are saving money and being frugal by hanging onto things.  But the money has gone.  You already spent it on the stuff.
Getting rid of the excess makes cleaning easier.  There is more space in the cupboards so they stay tidy.  It is easier to find things.  Stuff does not get broken or crushed and you do not end up buying another one by mistake because you forgot you had it (heaven forbid).

Only you can say what you want to get rid of but there are usually hidden benefits that only become obvious once some clutter has gone as you will see… 
In the beginning, we threw away some things that just needed throwing away, such as old paperwork.  With rare exceptions, like a passport or birth certificate, there is little paperwork that needs to be kept for longer than seven years.
Having saved every bank statement and pay slip for our entire adult lives just in case, plus lots of old correspondence, catalogues and other things that might come in handy, the filing cabinets were filled to bursting.  Everything was filed neatly, there was just too much of it.  With business as well as personal paperwork to look after, we had three bulging cabinets. 

After burning several bin bags full of papers (great fun outside on a winter’s day) we got rid of a whole filing cabinet.  There was now plenty of space in the remaining cabinets, so it was easier to find things.   I was no longer damaging my cuticles on the hanging file pockets.
Without the third cabinet, there was more room in the office, so we added an easy chair.  The office looked much better and was nicer to work in.  With the addition of the comfy chair, we began to use it as a quiet retreat as well as an office.  So the unexpected bonus was being able to use the room more flexibly, effectively expanding our living space.   

So that was three results that improved our lifestyle, just from cleaning out the filing cabinets. 
  • It was easier to find things
  • No more damaged cuticles
  • Having a quiet retreat and more living space

Now I try and throw something out every time I open the cabinet.  The paperwork still builds up, so in addition I have a New Year purge.
The garage was next.  There was much more room in the garage without the tins of old paint, car spares, and extra plant pots.  Hubby bought metal shelving and re-organised the remaining stuff. 
Wonder of wonders, THE CAR FITTED IN THE GARAGE.  So on frosty mornings, life just got easier. Again, a massive result from a relatively small action. There was no need to spend money on a shed, which had been the original plan.  So we just saved the price of a shed – our first financial result from de-cluttering.

So that’s two improvements in our lifestyle just from cleaning out the garage.
·         The car fitted in the garage.
·         We did not need a shed.

The kids, enthused by our efforts, relegated three bin bags full of cuddly toys to the loft.  The idea was to bring a few out at a time on rotation but once they realised how much easier it was to find their toys and how much more space there was to play, they were happy to leave them there.  Whoever invented the giant teddy bear should be locked away…

After that first de-clutter, we went through the whole process again a few months later.  It turned out to be a three stage process.  (And we have been re-visiting it ever since!)
Stage one involved getting rid of rubbish such as old paperwork, cuddly toys, old jam jars and garage junk.

Stage two was getting rid of stuff that still had some life in it but was not worth much, such as clothes that did not fit, surplus plastic food containers and mis-matched crockery.  This all went to charity.

 Stage three was awesome! This was good stuff but we no longer needed it due to lifestyle changes and kids growing up. 
It had stayed before because, although it was never used, it had cost quite a bit of money.  Then, whilst at a car boot sale with my sister, I realised that almost everything we had ever bought new was at the boot sale for a fraction of the cost.  A sobering thought.

That meant that we could earn money for our unwanted stuff but it also meant that if ever we regretted getting rid of something, it could be bought again for the same price we would get by selling it!

 With that safety net, on we went with the de-cluttering.  In fact there are only two things we have ever bought again and both cost LESS than we had sold the original one for.  In other words we made a profit.

Selling the stuff raised over £1,000 and that money paid off some of the mortgage.  We also bought a few new things that we really wanted, for instance we got African drums and went off to drumming camp – a really cheap and totally excellent holiday.
Now, if we buy something then find it is not useful after all, out it goes.  Remember the mantra – the money’s gone. It really helps if you bought it second hand to start with of course.

After a whole year of organising and getting rid of stuff, the truth was revealed. 
We did not need a bigger house at all.  It was the STUFF that had been taking up all the space. 
In fact, a smaller house would do just fine and we moved to a house that cost us a lot less money.  The remaining money went to pay off some of the mortgage.
The de-cluttering has therefore saved us many thousands of pounds.  It was a major factor in enabling us to pay off the mortgage early. 

It is now 12 years since we paid that mortgage off. In fact, it would have finally been paid off in December 2012 if we had allowed it to go full term.  Paying it off early meant we have never had to work full time again.  That is a big financial result, and a lot of it was due to de-cluttering.

After we moved, guess what? There was more.  ‘Why did we take that with us’ we wondered and sighed at the thought of all those boxes we had carried.
The table was just a little too big for the kitchen, so we sold it and bought a new (second hand) one that cost less money than we got for the old one.
The bookcases Hubby had made for the old house looked too big in the new, light and airy sitting room.  This was hard.  But we did not want our living room to be dominated by stuff and we liked that airy spacious feeling. 

So I went to the library armed with a list.  If a book was in the library, we sold our copy or sent it to charity.  Out went all those ‘high brow’ ones I meant to read one day, such as James Joyce (never got past chapter one), and Dickens (gave up when I was 12).  The library has them all, if ever I do want to read them.  And I never have.  Interestingly I then felt freed up to get some nice new books.   
And yes, you COULD get in the front door of our house before all this began.  It is amazing just how much stuff a house will hold before it begins to groan at the seams.

Pre de-clutter our home was reasonably tidy and actually looked quite normal. 
In part two of this article there will be more information on how to go about de-cluttering. For the time being, try making a small pile of things to get rid of.  Start with one drawer or cupboard.

1 comment:

  1. What an inspiring read. I'm quaking at the thought of disposing of 'good', still useful if only I used it, stuff. I think I'll use 'the money's gone' as a mantra, to help myself let go.