It happens to us all when we have children. That lovely unit, yeah, isn’t quite as lovely when you can’t get a child lock on it and your toddler empties it daily. The sofa you loved is now covered with numerous throws to hide the stains (which if you’re me includes afterbirth, what the hell). Then there’s the fact that the floorboards we pretty much bought the house for can’t now be seen for the sheer volume of plastic toys.
The whole decluttering thing is everywhere at the moment and I’m sold on the concept, it totally makes sense but I’ll be honest I struggle with the reality.
With three little people in tow I start with a few boxes but within half an hour it is total carnage. “It’s a baby toy” I attempt as my 4yr old insists she now loves and needs to keep a pull-along telephone.
Then I try it alone, find old photos and 3 hours later am still reminiscing about how young I looked on holiday pre children.
When I hear ‘the life changing magic of tidying up’, I think Mary Poppins not Marie Kondo. I need someone to come in with a terrifyingly large bag and sort everything out in a jiffy. Only I can’t have someone else do it because a) I can’t afford it and b) I am far too much of a control freak.
All that aside I know something needs to change. The book Stuffocation is a great reminder of why, describing the damaging effects of consumer culture and predicting a major move to experientialism in the future (worth a read). I can see the benefits of more minimal living too, I know I will feel calmer and happier with less stuff. I know our littles don’t play with half the toys in their toy box (to be fair they’d need an industrial machine to get to the bottom) and I want to teach them the value of objects and take responsibility for clearing up after themselves (I envisage low down coat pegs, personalised drawers for school stuff etc). So we started our self-titled ‘Stuffocation project’.
Basically, a major attempt at decluttering & reorganising our house and lives.
I won’t lie it’s not been pretty or remotely magical and actually it’s not finished. However, there are a few things I am learning along the way…
Make a plan:
Sit down and write an actual plan of what you want to achieve. We started thinking we would just do it gradually over time but this didn’t work. After a few months we had to refocus. We made up a plan of each room of the house, looked at what we had on in the month ahead, allocated time and set ourselves deadlines. Admittedly we missed half of them and it is an ongoing saga but we definitely did more than when we had no plan at all.
Prioritise the end goal if not the process. We have cleared our loft, turning it from unusable to a home office. I wish we had done it earlier but the process didn’t seem like a priority. The end result however (calm, productivity during work hours meaning more time with family) really was. Be realistic but also committed.
Find out where to get rid of stuff you don’t need:
Make a list of charities & organisations that will take it. Some will come and collect furniture but also bags of clothes etc if you have enough. We found that if we had a date booked in for collection then it makes you do it.
Freecycle and eBay are great. Plan ahead so things aren’t knocking around for weeks.
Get creative with storage solutions:
Ah who doesn’t like a bit of Pinterest for finding the sort of solution that turns your cramped utility cupboard into an actual room which resembles a Cath Kidston shop. Think creatively though, remember storing is not the end goal. Do you really need anymore of that Ikea unit which is the parenting equivalent of Converse? Yes I know they are cheap and handy but the more storage you have, the more stuff you find to store.
Organise the actual process:
Things got worse for us before they got better. We started from top down which meant that for a while our bedroom became a kind of holding bay. To help with this we set up 3 boxes: one for items leaving for charity, one for giving away to friends, one for items needing the right home. The last one was a bit dodgy actually, it became like the upstairs version of the kitchen table (how does so much unowned crap just seem to congregate in a single place?)
Have a way to decide what stays:
So you have a plan but how do you ensure this isn’t just a mass exercise in reorganising?
The main thing I took from Kondo’s best selling book was this single piece of advice. With every single item ask yourself, “does this bring me joy?” Or my own version, “why the hell am I keeping this?”
This is particularly useful when decluttering your wardrobe. We all have those clothes that were pre-baby and have no chance of ever fitting again, rather than joy they pretty much make me joy-less every time I look at them. All of these went in the charity bag.
I also asked, “When did I last use it?” and “Could someone else benefit from it more?” This last one appealed to my altruistic side and actually helped more than any other. When I see something and think, “argh I really like this, but it is hidden away in a box and I don’t need it, but someone else might love it / make money for a good charity” the last bit kicks in and I put it in the leave box.
Be really ruthless. As a rule we have a double check. If I am unsure if something stays then GBK gets to give his view and vice versa. Often if you are unsure it probably means that it should go but you don’t want to admit it!
Other suggestions from Stuffocation are that as a couple you take it in turns to hide something for 2 weeks and if the other person hasn’t used it or noticed it goes. Wow how risky is that? On the one hand I am thinking those God-awful Adidas joggers from Uni days would be well gone. On the other I would be left with 2 pairs of leggings and a chunky knit.
You could set yourself a number and try and get down to it e.g I will own 5 pairs of shoes, there can be no more. I think this might be good used in conjunction with another technique, or in an area of the house where you are struggling with volume.
Finally, manage your expectations
Everything takes a bit longer with children, that’s just how life is (unless you are a serious hoarder in which case I’m not sure I am the girl to help). Apparently there are declutter experts and people that will come and help with the process. Could be worth a look?
The thing is though, when the choice is a lovely family walk on a cold sunny day or another few hours on clearing the former is going to win every time and I think that’s right.
We’ll get there and it will feel so much calmer and easier when we do. The whole process has been amazingly positive and refreshing. In the meantime I think the key is not to take it all too seriously. After all it is just stuff!