Musings on decluttering

Musings on decluttering

I have been thinking a lot recently about decluttering. Why we declutter, how we declutter and especially about what happens after we declutter.

Why declutter?

Having a lot of stuff takes time and energy. Taking care of it. Tidying, cleaning, organising. It all takes time. And keeping track of your stuff takes energy. What do you need? What do you already have? And where is it? 

Having a lot of stuff is also expensive. Of course you spend money acquiring all that stuff but you also spend money on keeping it. Companies make a fortune selling shelving, clever storage solutions, even external storage units to help you deal with all your stuff! I have spent a small fortune on IKEA boxes and baskets that I am convinced will make everything look tidy and organised at home! Spoiler alert: it doesn't!

Even if having a lot of stuff doesn't bother you now, think about what will happen to it later. Someone is going to have to deal with all your stuff sooner or later, when you are no longer around. It might feel a bit morbid to think about it but if you hold onto things that you don't need, someone someday will need to deal with it 😞

So... the main reason for decluttering is to get rid of things that you are not using, that don't make you happy, and that you don't absolutely need to keep. So that you will find yourself with more time, energy and calm in your life.


How to declutter

There is a lot of great advice online about why to declutterhow to declutter, and how to get started. But I think a lot of people get stuck with what to do with their decluttered stuff. Whether they should sell, donate, swap or whatever. There is no point in going through the hard work of decluttering just to keep the stuff sitting around because you don't know what to do with it. 

You can think of your stuff like a business thinks about its stock. When it is no longer useful, a business will have a sale. Stock will be sold at a loss because it it is better to release the equity than to hold onto it indefinitely trying to sell it for full price. The equity in your clutter might also be financial (Blocket, the Swedish classifieds website estimates that there is unused stuff worth almost 19 thousand kronor in the average Swedish home). However, I think it is tempting to overestimate the value of your clutter and to get bogged down with the idea of selling it for a good price. The real equity released by getting rid of your clutter is in the feeling of being free of unnecessary stuff. It is in the extra time and energy you have to take care of yourself because you are no longer taking care of your stuff.


So here's what I (try to) do with my decluttered stuff:


Shpock ad.jpeg

Smaller items like kids toys
I list smaller items like kids toys or household goods on free classified websites or apps (such as Shpock). But I try not to leave them there too long. After a few weeks I remove the ad and donate them instead. There is a huge risk that my son will rediscover them if they are still hanging around or that I will start looking at them sentimentally and thinking that maybe it's not so bad to keep just a few more cuddly toys! And then we are right back where we started.


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Bigger items, like furniture
I typically list these on classified websites (like Blocket or Gumtree). I sell better when I use sites where I have to pay a small amount for the ad. I can't explain why but I get more serious buyers and I rarely have trouble selling. If you can't sell something large, you can offer it for free or check whether charity stores like Erikshjälp will collect it for you.

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Clothes and shoes
If you have some nice designer clothes or shoes, it might be worth taking them to a speciality second hand clothing store who can buy them from you. If not, I think swapping is the best strategy. I don't personally find they sell well on classified websites or forums. The amount that people are willing to pay makes it hardly worth the effort of answering messages and arranging to meet people to exchange the goods. So I swap instead!

I'm lucky enough to live close to the fabulous Swop Shop in Malmö but if you don't have something similar near you then why not organise a swap meet for your friends or colleagues. Everyone brings clothes, shoes or accessories that they no longer need and take home something new. Nominate a volunteer to take the leftovers to a charity shop directly afterwards. 

For me the most important thing is to get decluttered things out of my home quickly. Otherwise, they just become more clutter. And even though it's tempting to think that your old stuff is worth a lot, making money is not really the point of decluttering. If you can afford to, just donate things and get rid of them as quickly as possible. Remember, the reward for decluttering lies in the freedom of being rid of your unnecessary stuff. 


What happens after we declutter?

There is a darker side to decluttering. When we donate our unwanted stuff, we tend to assume that it is going to people and places where it is needed and where it will be loved and used. However, it is becoming clear that we can't get rid of our stuff that easily after all. Clothes, especially, do not always end up where we think they will when we donate them or send them for recycling. 

The second hand clothing system is on the bring of collapse, according to a report from Greenpeace. We are consuming and discarding clothes at such a rate that charity shops cannot always use the donations they receive. That sometimes means that they throw them away and they end up in landfill. Even clothing that is supposed to be recycled cannot always be. Because of the mixed fibres typically used in fast fashion garments, it is often not economically viable to recycle them. They might get used as rags for a while but they too will ultimately end up in landfill.

Nothing we buy every really goes away. It usually just goes somewhere else. Out of sight is not gone!

So declutter, by all means, but do it only once! Don’t use your new-found closet or kitchen space as an excuse to buy more. And remember, the absolute best and most effective way to declutter is to not acquire things in the first place. Think long and hard about letting new things into your home and consider what you have given up in order to make your life less cluttered.

'No man's land' by Christian Boltanski  | Photo credit:  Pablo Galaz Esquivel

'No man's land' by Christian Boltanski  | Photo credit: Pablo Galaz Esquivel

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