It will be no secret to my regular readers that during 2017 and 2018, I decluttered every single area of my life. It was life-changing, and I can recommend it if you are starting to feel you need to minimise a little. The way I did it would not work for anyone – in fact I didn’t even know I had a method until afterwards.
In April 2017, Stockholm had a terror attack which hit very very close to home for me. I have probably never been closer to death, and it changed everything for me. I was locked in the building realising that if I had entered ten minutes earlier I could have been dead. I had no next of kin and I did not have a will. If I had died, I -and everything about me – would belong to the Swedish state (just as I had been a ward of the South African state when my parents died when I was a teenager). No one knew where I was. My cats were home alone, and, being a Friday, no one would have missed me until I failed to show up for work on Monday. In addition, I thought of the strangers who would have had to go through my apartment sorting through my things. The piles of work papers. My old ratty underwear. My personal journals.
From that day I got things in order. I drew up a will, started carrying cards in my wallet stating that my pets were home alone and who to contact in an emergency.
and then I started the decluttering, bit by bit.
- Three (and often four) of us used to live in the apartment before the children grew up and moved out, and before I divorced. There were many things they left behind (computers, cables, old phones, music, books, clothes) which they no longer wanted.
- I had way too much cutlery and crockery and I had enough coffee mugs for about 15 people!
- I had clothes that did not fit, clothes I did not wear, clothes that needed to be tossed. I had THIRTY bras, all of which had seen better days…
- I had books, DVDs, CDs gathering dust which could all be downloaded in electronic form.
- There were piles of teaching materials, textbooks etc in my office – and I did not use any of it.
- I use very little makeup but I had boxes of makeup I never used.
- I often had multiples of things – how many toothbrush mugs can one person need?
- I kept all paperwork, tax declarations, cards, letters, invoices, guarantees – for years and years.
- I did not give away or sell anything that was a gift. Those are all special to me and will be with me until the day I kick the bucket!
So each day I would tackle something small – a shelf, a drawer, a pile. And things would be thrown out, recycled, donated, or sold.
I cannot emphasise enough that, for me, going slowly was the key to success. For me, hauling ALL my clothes onto the bed and trying on/sorting/rehanging over an afternoon is frustrating and self-defeating. I end up sweaty, irritable and frustrated a third of the way through, and I just give up. But a shelf or two a day – that’s doable. You don’t notice how much you have done until one day you look around you and realise you have done what seemed to be an insurmountable task – you just did it a small bit at a time.
I kept four paper bags next to the front door – one each for throwing away, recycling, donating and selling. And each day I would deal with the throwing away and recycling bags – either on my way to work, or when I got home. Once a week over the weekend I would donate things, take stuff into to consignment stores, put items up for auction, or sell them in groups on Facebook.
It was so nice going into the charity shop for Stockholm’s homeless people and seeing things I had donated up for sale. The money would go to help others, and the person who bought it would have found a bargain.
I had a paper organiser which recorded what went out and kept a record of when auctions were, when listings started and ended, and when I shipped items. Luckily, nothing went wrong and everyone was really happy with their items. Each week I would make a list of what I had to do and where, so that I could slot it into quiet times between lessons. I also made lists of things I needed to buy – for example I threw out my 30 old bras and bought four really fancy new ones. I threw out my worn t shirts and bought new.
As the decluttering progressed I started to feel lighter, and freer. The clutter had weighed on me for a long time but the task of getting rid of it had seemed so daunting that I just could not see where or how to start.
It was really easy in the beginning but as time went on, I was starting to deal with things that meant a lot to me, or had once meant a lot to me. I never ‘released’ something I was unsure of – seller’s remorse is a terrible thing. I knew that when it was time I could let it go. For me, there was no time limit on how long things could take. For example I never sold rare or beloved handbags, jewellery, or Filofaxes. I never forced myself to make a decision about myself until I was 100% sure.
I never embraced the miminalism trend, Marie Kondo, or any other kind of method. Looking back and reading about them, I was doing a combination of Death Cleaning and the Pomodoro method. I never set out to do it, it just worked out that way. I think it is important to declutter in a way that suits you.
The results manifested themselves in different ways.
- I found clothes and accessories I had forgotten about
- I saw a pattern of buying things I liked to look at but didn’t like to wear
- I ended up with loads of free space in my life and myself
- I got rid of loads of things I didn’t use or like, and made room for fewer things that I need and love
- I now operate a one in one out policy.
At the same time as I was decluttering, I started re-nourishing ties with my Swedish and South African family and friends, planning a visit to see South Africa and my family for the first time in seven years. I said yes to a date with a man who had been asking me out for a long time, and ended up falling totally and utterly in love for the first time in my life. I was easily able to move in with him when the time came, and we are getting married in July of this year. I started showing and telling people how much they mean to me. I became much more open about my feelings. I started spoiling myself and stopped saving things for a special occasion. I started wearing dresses again, after years in jeans and trousers. After my divorce and when work became really busy, I had neglected important personal relationships – and myself – over time, and never even realised it until that day in that shop with the truck halfway through the window.