In today’s episode of The Simply + Fiercely Show, I’m sharing three things missing from most mainstream discussions about decluttering. Tune in if you’re interested in a more heart-centred, compassionate approach to simplifying.
In This Episode:
- Why decluttering is for everyone and the importance of inclusion
- An important benefit of decluttering that you may not have considered
- The difference between decluttering and letting go
Featured In This Episode:
- Get your free Mindful Decluttering guide: simplyfiercely.com/freeguide
- Read the blog: simplyfiercely.com/blog
- Connect on Instagram: @simplyfiercely
- Clear Your Clutter opens in Jan 2024–get on the waitlist: simplyfiercely.com/clearyourclutter
Subscribe to The Simply + Fiercely Show
Note: this is not an exact transcript and has been edited for clarity.
3 Decluttering Truths That No One is Talking About
Hey, everybody, it’s Jen here, and welcome to the Simply and Fiercely Show.
Today’s episode is one where I’d like to get a few things off my chest.
For a little background, I am in this small business group and the other day they were sharing these prompts, which are basically like ideas for topics that you could talk about on social media or your podcast.
One of them was, ‘What do you wish people were saying in your industry that no one is saying?’
When I saw that prompt, it was like this little light bulb or lightbulb going off in my mind.
I was really excited because I feel like there are definitely some things that I want to talk about that I just don’t feel are being talked about enough.
So that’s what we’re going to dive into on this podcast.
Why is it important to acknowledge that decluttering can be harder for some people?
First and foremost, one thing that I wish people were saying more often is acknowledging that decluttering is harder for some people than others.
And that’s because of lived experience.
I’m going to share some of those reasons why decluttering is harder for some people than others. But what I want to say first is that it’s so important to talk about this because I know from my own experience, when I first started decluttering, my expectations for how it would go were very different from what happened.
I thought that decluttering was going to be the equivalent of spring cleaning my house.
If I just put my head down, and you know, used a little elbow grease, I would be able to get it done in a reasonable amount of time.
Where if you’ve heard my story before, or if you’ve been following the podcast for a while, you’ll know that was anything but the truth.
What I experienced instead was that it took me several years, I usually say around three years. But honestly, if I think about it, it took longer to really make any significant progress with my home.
I know I have heard from so many people I’ve talked to who said the same thing, they felt that it was so much harder than they expected.
The fallout of that was that it made them one of several things. The one that I can relate to the most is feeling like something was wrong with me.
I felt that I must have had some kind of fundamental flaw in my personality that made it harder for me to declutter because I was overly sensitive. I was overly materialistic.
I told myself all sorts of stories about how I must be such a horrible person because I couldn’t declutter.
If we don’t acknowledge that sometimes it’s just harder for certain people, for various reasons, we risk putting people in this place where they’re blaming themselves for it being a challenge.
But honestly, I think that that’s a small part of the problem. The bigger part of the problem is where we talk about this concept of privilege. Where you make people feel like ‘Well, that’s not for me’. It’s like bothering people, and they don’t feel welcome in that community, or they don’t feel like they can sit in.
The reasons why decluttering is harder for some people
No. 1 reason – Your childhood or your lived experiences
This is a good point to talk about some of the reasons why decluttering is harder for some people.
The first one that comes to mind is your childhood or your lived experience.
If you are perhaps the child of immigrants or maybe you went through a lot of financial hardship as a child.
For example, my mom moved to America with my grandparents when she was seven and they could only bring something like a suitcase each. They didn’t have a lot of stuff.
I’m very confident that is the reason that my grandparents were maybe like borderline hoarders most of my life because they had the experience of giving everything up.
If you have that background, or if maybe you grew up in a household with parents who lived through the Depression or lived through some kind of serious financial insecurity, of course, you’re going to be raised to look at things differently.
And that doesn’t make you a bad person or that you have any kind of character flaw. It’s just a fact you have a different lived experience.
If we talk about health, either physical or mental, because like some of you, if you’ve been following along will know that I had a lot of health issues over the past few years and that was very humbling.
It taught me how ignorant I was about what is true for so many people in the world. How frustrating it is to not be able to do things that you want to do, but you physically can’t.
I know a lot of people feel that way about decluttering. They could probably declutter a little bit, but they’re not going to be able to do what they see other people doing as quickly or as easily.
The same goes for mental health. I don’t have ADHD, but I’ve had many conversations with people who do. And decluttering is more challenging for them, because of the way that their brain functions.
Or even if we’re talking about things like depression or anxiety, you’ve probably heard there are a lot of conversations out there about how good decluttering is for your mental health, and how it can help alleviate some of the symptoms.
But the flip side, which I don’t think people talk about nearly enough, is that if you are struggling with mental health, it’s harder to declutter, right? I mean, if you think about someone who’s depressed or, I’ve dealt with anxiety in my life.
If you’re having trouble just doing the basics sometimes and functioning, of course, it’s going to be even harder to do an emotionally draining task like decluttering.
No. 2 reason – Lack of support
That’s the tip of the iceberg.
Another thing that I see come up a lot is a lack of support.
As some of you know, I used to be a shopaholic and again, I’ve worked with lots of people who have struggled with that, as well.
Often, shopping is something that people do, because they are going through a difficult period in their lives, and they don’t have any support. They don’t have any tools, they don’t have family, they don’t have friends, or they don’t have access to professional help.
They’re going through something really difficult, and they need something to help them get through it. So, what happens is, maybe they shop a lot or some people eat a lot or whatever it is.
Those things are the result of your lived experience.
All of this to say that if you have some of these challenges, I believe that you can still declutter. It might take you longer, it might not look like what other people have done. Like when you look on Instagram and you see these picture perfect homes.
But it’s still possible.
On the flip side, when I see comments, especially on social media, where I post things about decluttering, a few of you are like, ‘Oh, you know, that’s great for people who can do it, but my family is not on board, that’s impossible for me, I don’t have time’.
I completely acknowledge these challenges, but one of the mantras I live by is that I try to remind myself that I don’t let what I can’t control control me.
I can’t control if I have to work, especially when I was younger, I used to work two jobs.
You might not be able to control that, but don’t let what you can’t control blind you to what you can control.
No. 3 reason – Some people think that decluttering is not for them
Some of us have bigger problems.
And again, I’m not denying that, but because there’s no acknowledgment of this in the conversation about decluttering, it just really makes some people feel like it’s not for them when it could be for them.
So hopefully that makes sense.
Another example I thought of when I was brainstorming some notes for this episode, I was at a Christmas party a few weeks ago and having a conversation with this lovely woman whom I just met. We were talking about, you’ve probably heard that really cliched line, like ‘Oh, we all have 24 hours in a day’, right?
And of course, it’s obviously true. But in reality, functionally that’s not how time works.
If you have to work two jobs just to pay your bills, or if you’re a single mom and you get no help. Maybe you have health issues. Maybe you are caring for an elderly parent or young children.
The free time that you have to do things is different from say, somebody who’s older, who’s very financially secure, etc.
If we don’t acknowledge the nuance, it makes people feel excluded. I guess my point is that it’s not that people can’t try or that people shouldn’t declutter, it’s just that we should talk more about why it’s harder for some people.
If people are struggling, they need to know that A) that’s absolutely normal and B) if you’re not in a perfect circumstance, it still makes you feel like, okay, I can do something.
This is the community that acknowledges the challenges that I’m facing, and still says, ‘We can still help you.’ Instead of saying, all these are easy hacks, and everybody should be able to do it. You shouldn’t feel attached to your stuff. You shouldn’t be a materialistic person.
It kind of reminds me of podcast episode 13 The Morality Of Minimalism + A Few Words Of Caution where I talk about how careful we have to be about not judging people for clutter.
How easy it is, like in society, and you see it with those hoarder shows, to be judgmental that people that have too much clutter, can be lazy, or they’re materialistic or they’re bad people.
That shame that gets put out there makes it very hard for people to ask for help or make changes.
The way to reduce that shame is by saying, ‘Hey, I get it, I totally get it for some people decluttering, it’s going to be really easy for some people.’
My husband, for example, is what I would call a natural minimalist. He moved from the UK to Australia with one bag and he doesn’t feel the need to shop. He wears his clothes until they fall apart. He doesn’t own a lot of things.
He’s a very compassionate person but he has a hard time understanding that decluttering is something that people struggle with.
And so, I want to use my voice and my platform to say, ‘Hey, sometimes people struggle, and it’s through no fault of their own, it is just because of their lived experience’.
We all have different paths in life.
Benefits of decluttering and simplifying
I would love to see more people talking about this because decluttering and simplifying for me, the benefits of it go so far beyond the individual.
It helps communities, it helps environments.
If you’re considering simplifying beyond just decluttering, where we talk about reducing stress, reducing busyness, and reducing consumption, on a bigger scale.
All of this ties back to decluttering and simplifying, and I want to invite as many people as possible into this lifestyle.
There are a few things here that I want to make crystal clear.
First and foremost, I want people to understand that decluttering is not a magic pill.
I’ve talked about this before and I will admit that sometimes, as somebody who has been blogging about minimalism since 2015, I admit that there’s probably been situations where I may have been part of the problem.
But it is so easy to present to the world that if you declutter and simplify your life, everything’s going to be wonderful, all your stress is going to go away, you know, it’s going to be like tapping your fingers and tada, life is going to be so much better.
I do believe there are some benefits of minimalism. We’ll talk about that in a moment.
Decluttering does not mean all your stress and problems will go away
When I first started decluttering, I felt I fell into this trap where I used to think that once I finished decluttering the vast majority of my stress was going to go away.
As I said, it took me like three or four years to declutter but then even once I did, I realized pretty quickly that this just wasn’t true.
I downsized to a point where at one stage I was living in this teeny tiny studio apartment, I want to say was around 140 square feet.
It didn’t even have its own kitchen or bathroom, they were shared on the property. So yeah, like, ultra ultra-minimalist.
But I still found that I wasn’t living that beautiful, super carefree life that I thought, ‘Oh, yes, I’ll have that as soon as I declutter’.
So, at the time I thought this was a sign that I needed to simplify other areas of my life, which I did. My husband and I made some big lifestyle changes over the past decade, where we have intentionally stepped back with our “successful” careers, made sacrifices with our income, the size of our home, etc. to have more time, freedom, fewer responsibilities, more time with our kids, etc.
What I learned when I came out the other end is if we’re looking at the big picture, simplifying, and decluttering does not make all your problems go away.
It just means that you have different types of problems and I still think that’s a good thing.
For example, on a day-to-day basis, I spend less time worrying about getting my laundry done and more time thinking about how I want to be as a parent, more time thinking about my health, and more time thinking about this podcast, for example.
I feel like the problems that I have now are more aligned, we should say, like, higher level problems, although I’m not sure if that’s the right term, just the problems that feel more meaningful to me.
Not always though. I still have to clean my house, feed my kids, pay taxes, etc., but I’m not nearly as stressed about the day-to-day running of my life as I used to be,
It hasn’t been this magic transformation though. It wasn’t like I magically decluttered and then my problems went away, I still have problems, they’re just different kinds of problems.
Building on this same topic, I also want to point out that the benefits that I have experienced from decluttering, the ones that I raved about on other episodes or my blog, come less from having fewer doubts, and more from what I learned about myself and decluttering.
What I did with the space I created in my life. I could talk so much about this, honestly, that’s probably why I’m a little bit all over the place.
The way that you declutter, how you declutter matters. (…Decluttering is a beautiful opportunity for self-awareness and healing.)
How you declutter matters, that’s something I wish that people talked about more as well.
If you are just tossing your stuff into boxes. This is your keep pile. This is your toss pile. And you’re just going through your house and you’re like, does this spark joy?
Again, that’s not a dig at Marie Kondo, I know I’ve gotten people very mad at me. I’m just talking figuratively, okay?
If you’re just tossing things into boxes, you may end up with less stuff in your home, but in my experience, nothing really changes.
Whatever habits or whatever there was inside of you, that led to having so much clutter in the first place, it probably hasn’t changed. So, you’ll find that a year down the road, two years down the road, however long, you more than likely will kind of end up in the same place.
Alternatively, decluttering is a beautiful opportunity for self awareness.
When we learn from our clutter, when we question why we had clutter in the first place, what are our fears, thoughts, habits, patterns, etc? What led to us having so much stuff in our home, that helps us break cycles.
A great example of this is episode 11 of my podcast where I talked about The Link Between My Minimalist Wardrobe And Self-Acceptance
When I was decluttering my closet, I examined why I kept and bought certain clothes. That in turn helped me understand the fears and thoughts around what I was thinking about myself. What I believed about myself.
Once I got myself into that mindset, decluttering was healing.
So, it wasn’t just getting rid of stuff, I transformed the way that I looked at myself. I transformed the way that I shopped in the future.
It wasn’t just having fewer clothes that made my life better, it was the process, the learning process, that made all the difference.
I don’t want to sell decluttering as this magic pill that’s going to fix all your problems, it’s not. But as you declutter, you may find that the quality of your problems changes.
You spend less time looking for your keys, for example, and more time thinking about things like what you can do to improve the quality of your life or the quality of life of your loved ones.
You still have problems, and still have stress, it’s just different.
About the Clear Your Clutter Program
I won’t go on about it too much, but I will say that this is exactly the kind of work that we do in my program, Clear Your Clutter.
If you are interested, it’s a group program that I run twice a year in January and July. I’ve been running this program live, twice a year for almost five years.
I pretty much always get the same feedback about how this program changes the way that people see their clutter. It’s like they put on glasses, and they can see everything with fresh eyes.
I genuinely believe it’s because of what I’ve talked about so far in this episode. We spend time acknowledging why our relationship with clutter might be different, we spend time learning from our clutter.
The difference between knowing how to declutter and knowing how to let go.
The final point of this episode is learning from our clutter and examining our clutter.
One thing that I have observed in the decluttering community, and I’m speaking really broadly here, I don’t want to be calling anyone out because I know for sure that I’ve done this before.
There’s so much talk about decluttering hacks and decluttering methods. 10 decluttering tips that will help you do this.
Again, I contribute to this. I’ve got like a million articles about tips and hacks.
If you’re someone who reads them all, you probably know them like the back of your hand and could write your own decluttering book.
And yet, somehow, you struggle to follow through, you have that experience of “Oh, I know what I should be doing, but I just can’t get myself to do it’.
I believe that the reason for that is the difference between knowing how to declutter and knowing how to let go.
When you know how to declutter, generally, that’s very good for clearing the low hanging fruit. The kind of stuff that you know you should be getting rid of. Things like expired cosmetics or you know, a sweatshirt that has 20 holes in it. The kind of rubbish type level clutter that’s very easy to get rid of.
But what I often find is that after you do your first or second round of decluttering, it gets really hard.
You have stuff that you know that maybe you should get rid of, you have a dress that you haven’t worn in three years, but it still has the tags attached. There’s part of your brain that knows you’re never going to wear it and that you should just get rid of it, but you just can’t follow through.
That is where the ‘how to let go’ comes up.
To me, that is a very different part of decluttering part that is rarely spoken about.
This contributes to the shame people feel because they can’t follow through with what they think they’re supposed to be able to do. That’s because they’re missing a piece of the puzzle. It’s about your relationship with stuff.
Even though I’ve taught a course on this for five years, I’m never going to pretend I have all the answers because it’s very personal.
But from experience, we don’t necessarily need more tips like let’s turn the hangers backward or store stuff in boxes or different kinds of hacks.
What we need to do is to ask deeper questions.
If you were struggling to declutter that dress with the tags still attached, is it because you feel ashamed that you spent a lot of money on a dress that you’ve never worn?
Are you feeling guilty because that’s money you could have spent taking your kids out for a special day or something like that?
That shame you don’t want to face. That shame is a pretty horrible feeling.
So, you just keep your item and you don’t declutter it, because decluttering means thinking about these hard things.
Or maybe that dress represents the side of yourself that you wish you could change.
I remember buying this gorgeous silk designer blouse that was discounted at some kind of outlet shop. I was really young, it probably wasn’t even that high quality. But to me, it represented this aspirational lifestyle.
I wanted to be the type of person who wore silk blouses. And I wanted to be the type of person who dressed in designer clothes.
So even though I never worked and it wasn’t my style, it was hard to declutter, because I didn’t want to let go of that vision of myself that, in my brain, was better than my actual self.
There was this beautiful version of myself that was so successful, wealthy, and beautiful, and I was just my boring self. That made it really hard to declutter.
Those are just two examples out of a million. We talk about this a lot in my program, Clear Your Clutter.
Regardless, I just wish that the decluttering world, in general, talked more about how to let go, and why it’s so hard.
If I had to sum everything up that I’ve been talking about in this episode, it’s that we need to go beyond treating decluttering like some kind of household chore and start acknowledging the vast number of emotions that are involved.
How it can be your lived experience, your privilege. Somebody who makes $250,000 a year is going to find it a lot easier to toss out a $40 jacket or something that they haven’t worn than somebody who’s making $20,000 a year.
That’s not shaming anyone, but we need to be having this conversation because it is the truth for a lot of people. And it just creates a more inclusive, supportive environment.
Those are just some things that I felt were really important to get out there. In my experience, when I think about decluttering, it has been one of my greatest opportunities for personal growth and that’s not how it’s talked about.
I encourage you to give it a try and to think about your decluttering that way.