Decluttering is Hard - This is Harder


There’s a new show on Netflix and it’s having a major impact in homes across America.

Tidying Up stars Japanese best-selling author and decluttering expert Marie Kondo. Her show is said to be causing an increase in decluttering and subsequent donations to charities everywhere. 

Treasure hunters, eBay sellers, and junk pickers are ready to scoop up items discarded for not bringing their former owner enough "joy."

Families are purging their closets and many are breathing a sigh of relief at the ability to function in their homes again, or maybe for the first time ever.

This wave of decluttering is exactly what we need in order to transform interior spaces full of stuff into homes that are peaceful and filled with things we love. It could also result in positive impacts on our nation’s consumption patterns. That said, keeping the modern American home running smoothly and free of excess requires maintenance. 

Decluttering, I might argue, is the easy part. 

So what could be harder than the exhausting process of decluttering a lifetime of collections?

Before - Right After a Big Move into a New House

Before - Right After a Big Move into a New House

Harder than Decluttering: Questioning Consumption in the First Place

We've been hearing this for years. Conspiracy theorists prattle on about the structure of our government and economy, as well as marketing, product placement, distraction, and planned obsolescence. We are “marketed-to” non-stop, starting at a very young age. And we’re told that consumerism is a good thing

And yet, we are beginning to question why we buy what we buy. Is buying really so great?

Do we need it? Love it? Have a place to store it? 

How much use will we get out of it? 

How long will it last? 

Will it bring us joy? 

Would we buy it if it weren’t on sale? 

After we’ve gotten it home we might wonder: How will I dispose of it when I’m done with it? Will it hold any residual value? Can I sell it? Could I pass it along to my kids? Will they even want it? 

From clothing to houses, why do we buy - and in effect support - the products and production systems that we do? Questioning this in the first place is tough. 

Harder than Decluttering: Creating a Decluttering Habit

Our brains are wired to create less work whenever possible. 

A habit is simply a behavior that is repeated regularly and tends to occur subconsciously. 

According to the American Journal of Psychology, the formation of a habit requires the “previous repetition of a mental experience.” 

This means that to form any habit, you must make it a point to do it regularly until it becomes subconscious, natural, and automatic. 

Consider coffee. Nobody has to tell me to make a pot of coffee in the morning. I don’t need a reminder. It’s never been a New Year’s resolution. I just do it. Now tell me not to make a pot of coffee and that will take some mental effort. But if stop myself from making coffee for long enough, that will eventually become my new habit.

Developing a daily habit of decluttering or tidying works the same way.

At first it might not feel automatic to put your keys on the hook or tidy your house at the end of the day. But if make yourself do it regularly, eventually you won’t even think about it. 

Seriously though, if the creation of new habits were easy, we would all be fit, wealthy, and living our best lives, year after year after year. 

It’s not. It takes effort. 

Our brains are wired to make our lives easier, so if we want to change our behavior we have to make a conscious mental effort consistently and for an indeterminate amount of time. Every habit is going to be different. Sticking with something long enough to create a new habit is not easy.

Harder than Decluttering: Considering Short & Long Term Impacts

This is the hardest but most important part, and it’s something that we’re not really talking about yet. 

It's been said that women absorb the bulk of the work required to maintain a clean, functional, and beautiful home environment. 

This "invisible labor" is readily apparent when you consider how much of most women’s time goes into managing the stuff in their homes. Women, and in some cases men, are not getting paid for this. Adding more “stuff” to the load increases the short term impact on our time devoted to managing the household, and maybe causes impact to our mental health.

Don't we have better things to do? Perhaps spend some time in nature? Visit with a friend or a family member? Or hey, spend that time in nature with a friend or a loved one? 

Time spent managing your stuff is time you can't spend doing something else. 

When you’re shopping and considering a new purchase, whether it’s a vacation souvenir or a new outfit, consider the time it will take for you to manage that thing. 

Once purchased, you’ll need to bring the thing home, find a place for it, put it away now and every time you use it, then clean it, store it, eventually pack it up and move it, sell it, throw it away, donate it, or let your family will deal with it when you pass away. 

There is an incredible amount life energy invested into every single thing we buy or receive. 

Considering the short and long term impact of a purchase is difficult because it’s in the future, it can vary, and we’re not really taught how to do this. Our culture is filled with marketing and near constant messaging about instant gratification. 

I know I struggle with this. I want the gorgeous Pinterest kitchen NOW! I have to constantly remind myself to take a deep breath, step away from the kitchen planning app, and consider what I really (really) want in my life and if I really need it this very second. 

After All-Day Decluttering Session #1 - Boxes Full of Items Ready to Donate and Sell

After All-Day Decluttering Session #1 - Boxes Full of Items Ready to Donate and Sell

How to Declutter & Make it Last for Your Lifetime

TV magic can make anything seem like it happens in an instant. 

If a single decluttering session or a month of full- force decluttering were the answer and the end of the story, you would never have to do it again. 

That’s not how it works.

Decluttering an entire home can be physically and emotionally exhausting, plus incredibly time consuming. There are memories, emotions, time, sweat and years of dirt in a lot of basements and closets across the country.

This process is hard. No doubt.

Start with decluttering, absolutely. It’s eye-opening. 

You’ll face yourself and what your current habits are doing to your home, your pocketbook, your time, and the level of joy or stress you experience in your home.

Once you’re done decluttering, you’re up against some major behavior changes. 

You’ll need to question your shopping habits. 

You’ll need to use the new system you implemented, which will require regular maintenance. A complete reset at times. Changes will be necessary. You will change. Your kids will grow up and out of the storage solution that was perfected five years ago. You’ll need to find another better way.

You’ll need to manage the time spent on tidying and consider the future impacts. No one wants to live their lives cleaning, organizing, and otherwise managing the stuff we bought. We also don’t want to be a burden on our families because we didn’t deal with the stuff we bought in an honest way. 

If we can manage to do these things: question consumption, make decluttering a habit, and make choices based on short and long-term impacts, then I believe living a life decluttered is totally possible (and completely worth doing).

I love that decluttering is in the spotlight right now. 

I hope it sticks and changes our culture. 

I hope that we can collectively realize that it’s not as simple as cleaning out a closet and scheduling a donation pick-up. 

There’s just so much more to it than that.

Lina Chapman