Home » Blog » “Kill Your Darlings” and Other Decluttering Tips Inspired by Writers [Episode 41]

“Kill Your Darlings” and Other Decluttering Tips Inspired by Writers [Episode 41]

If you’re struggling to clear your clutter, you might need a fresh perspective. Here are 3 decluttering tips inspired by writers that will help you see your “stuff” in a new light.

In This Episode:

  • what it means to kill your darlings, and what this has to do with decluttering
  • a simple shift that will help you maintain your momentum
  • an essential (yet often overlooked) part of the decluttering process

Featured In This Episode:

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Note: this is not an exact transcript and has been edited for clarity.

Kill Your Darlings and Other Decluttering Tips Inspired by Writers

Hey, everyone, it’s Jennifer here and welcome back to the Simply and Fiercely Show.

Today, I have some decluttering tips for you. But I’m doing something a little different. I’m putting a little twist on it because what I have found is that when I am struggling with a problem, whether it’s decluttering, whether it’s work, whatever it is, it doesn’t really matter.

But whenever I’m struggling to get my head around something that’s a bit tricky, often looking at examples or analogies from something unrelated to my problem, it’s so enlightening.

It’s like, ‘Oh, okay, that makes so much sense’. I was so in my head here, feeling so confused, but now that I’ve heard this unrelated, but related analogy, it’s like something clicked.

So that’s what I wanted to do. Today, I want to talk about decluttering tips that are inspired by writers, but I don’t think you need to be a writer to enjoy this episode.

Jen’s background as a writer

A little background about myself. If you’re new here, this podcast is almost two years old, but I have been blogging for a lot longer.

You can find me at simplyfiercly.com, I’ve been writing there since 2015. Before that, I’ve had hobby blogs for years. I think the first one I ever started was around 2000, before blogging was even a term.

It was this website I had put together with very little knowledge of coding. And I used to just write about my life, very uninteresting, I’m sure. But it felt fun to share my thoughts at the time.

I also write fiction for fun. It’s nothing that you’re ever going to see, I promise, but it’s something that I do for myself.

So, while I wouldn’t call myself an expert writer, I have a lot of experience with writing, and I’ve noticed that there are three things from the writing world that we can use in decluttering.

Three things from writing that can be used as an analogy for decluttering tips

First tip- The phrase ‘Kill your darlings’

The first one is a phrase called ‘Kill your darlings’.

I don’t know who first said it but I think that currently it’s been made really popular by Stephen King.

The idea is that when you’re writing, sometimes you will write a sentence or two that you are just in love with. Or it could be a paragraph or a few paragraphs.

Whatever it is, you think it’s so clever, so beautiful. You’re patting yourself on the back going, ‘Oh, I can’t believe I came up with this brilliant idea or this brilliant play on words.’ But then when you look at the big picture, at the overall story, it’s just not working.

If you have read my blog, you probably look at it and see these blog posts that seem really short and you think, ‘Well, they must not take very long to write’.

But, especially in the early days, I could spend 12, 18 hours writing a 2000 word blog post, because it would be some kind of idea, this is like curdle of thought that I really wanted to include, but it didn’t really make sense.

So, the idea behind this concept of ‘Kill Your Darlings’, is that sometimes you have to get rid of something that you love, like your favorite part of the story but you’ve got to get rid of it for the greater good.

If you think about this with decluttering, I think it’s brilliant because sometimes we have things that we really love, but they just don’t work in our lives.

I’ve got an example. Around four or five years ago, IKEA collaborated with an artist and they did these beautiful platters. It looked like something, I don’t know. I’m not very cultured, but it looked to me like something very high end. It was like stoneware with this blue glaze.

I saw it in an ad and had fallen in love with it so I drove all the way down to IKEA, which is a bit of a drive from where I live, to buy this platter because I was so in love with it.

But then I brought it home and thought, ‘What am I going to do with this platter?’

If you have listened to previous episodes, I’ve talked about this before. I live in a very tiny house, it’s about 660 square feet for me, my husband, and my two kids. So, places where you could put a decorative platter and fill it up with fruit, for example, is very limited.

For years, I tried to use this platter for different reasons. I told myself, ‘Oh, maybe I’ll serve a fancy dinner and put it on the platter’. I think I did that once and I was like, ‘What is the point, why don’t I just put the food onto plates?’ I am not a huge entertainer.

Then I tried to use the platter for my plants as a drip tray.

I’m rambling, but the point is, despite my very best efforts, I could not find any reason or any place to put this platter so it was just living in a cupboard.

I finally had to admit that I had to “kill this darling.” I love it, but there’s absolutely no reason for me to have it. So, I gave it to one of my friends who actually uses it, which is really lovely.

But, I was sad, I did love that platter, and I still love it. But you know, killing my darling, was the right thing to do.

When we think about this concept of killing your darlings it is such a great way to get unblocked. I started talking about that earlier when you’ve got something and it’s just not working.

You’re rewriting it and you’re rewriting it, and you’re trying to make it work but it’s just not working and you want to pull your hair out, sometimes deleting a little bit and taking it away.

Then you’re like, Oh, I did love that bit but now that it’s gone, everything just flows.

An example where that really resonates when it comes to decluttering, I think about my closet. You probably have some clothes that you’ll love. They’re beautiful but you never wear them, maybe because they’re tricky.

Maybe they’re the kind of thing where you could wear that, but you’d have to buy some special pants to go with it. Or you don’t quite have the right shoes. It’s a little bit complicated.

Because of that, it makes you feel stuck in your wardrobe. You feel like you have to buy other things before you can wear it. And maybe you do but then you have a less cohesive wardrobe, because now you’ve got these new pieces that don’t go with your old pieces.

It all becomes a bit of a cluttered mess. Whereas, if you had parted with that item that you loved, but didn’t really work with your existing wardrobe, it would make everything so much easier.

You’d get unstuck, your style would flow, everything would go together, you could move towards that capsule wardrobe concept, wear a personal uniform, etc.

But it’s not easy. As a writer, or as someone who’s decluttering, it’s not fun to kill your darlings, but sometimes it’s the smartest thing to do for the greater good.

Second tip- ‘Write first, edit later’

Another great decluttering tip that comes from writing and this is something I’m going to be honest with you. As a writer, I’m really bad at it, but the idea is that you are not supposed to edit as you go, you’re supposed to write first, and then come back and edit later.

Apparently, it’s because we use different parts of our brain.

You can think about when you’re writing, especially if you’re writing creatively, you’re like in a bit of a flow, your brain’s thinking about the story.

Then when you go back to edit your writing, it’s almost in more of a logical mode.

You’re thinking about whether there are too many adjectives or what punctuation is the best, etc. You’re using a different kind of thought process.

I’ve noticed that this very much applies to our decluttering, as well.

I want you to think about when you’re decluttering, sometimes you’re in a bit of a flow. You’re going through things, and it feels kind of easy. That’s almost when you’re in more of a cleaning mode.

You don’t have to think too hard about the stuff. You’re like, ‘Oh, look at this sock that has a big hole and no partner. Why didn’t I get rid of this earlier?’ ‘Oh, here are some old receipts’ You’re not overthinking, and you can move through that stuff really quickly.

I call that the low-hanging fruit of decluttering.

Then you come across something like your high school yearbook, or a letter from your grandmother, or something that is emotional and sentimental, and it stops you in your tracks.

Your momentum is gone because now you’re having to use a completely different kind of energy to declutter. You’re having to do this inner work where you’re dealing with your thoughts and your feelings.

From experience when I was decluttering and that would happen, that would pretty much be the end of my decluttering.

It was always a disaster because you know, when you first learned about decluttering, you’d take everything out of your drawers or everything out of your closet and dump them all onto the floor. You start going through it item by item, but then you hit that one item that takes the wind out of your sails.

Then you look around and you’re like, ‘Oh, what have I done.’ I’ve got all this stuff to deal with now. The reason that happened is that you are doing the decluttering equivalent of editing while you write.

What I recommend you do instead, is that you do what I call a quick pass first.

You go through all of your stuff, well not all of your stuff, I’m not expecting you to do all of your house at once. But whatever area that you’re decluttering, a drawer, a closet or something. Go through it all at once, in that kind of cleaning mode. Getting rid of the easy things.

If you hit anything that’s challenging or isn’t easy to get rid of, put that aside.

You want to get all the way through the first time doing that easy, quick pass, then you can go through later and work through the tough things one at a time.

The same way you’d do it if you’re writing. You get your first draft down and then you can go through into your editing.

Same with writers who have outlines, when decluttering you must have a plan and clear vision

The third tip that comes from writing that I think is helpful when you are decluttering is to think about the way that writers write.

Now, obviously, before anybody comes at me, there are always exceptions. People have different creative processes.

But I would argue that a lot of writers have either an outline or at least have put some thought into the overarching theme, to the message that they want to communicate. There’s some kind of plan.

Of course, plots evolve, I see this all the time when I’m writing. But I at least start with some sort of plan.

The same needs to happen with your decluttering, you need to have some kind of vision about the space you’re going to create.

If you’re decluttering your closet, what do you want your wardrobe to be like? If you’re decluttering your bedroom, what kind of functional needs or how do you want to feel in your bedroom?

Just like when you were writing, if you have some kind of vision, it’s easier to get started.

If you have ever tried to do any writing before and you’re facing a blank screen or a blank piece of paper, you might know how hard it is to take that first step.

It’s almost like being a deer in the headlights, you’re like, ‘I don’t know what to do’. But once you get started, it starts to flow out of you. Having that plot or that outline in mind makes that a lot easier.

Same with your decluttering.

Say for example, your bedroom. How do you want to feel when you’re in your bedroom? What is the purpose of your bedroom? I would say that for most people it’s the place to recharge. But that’s not always the case. Depending on your lifestyle and the size of your home, maybe you have a home office in there, as well. But these are the questions you need to ask.

Then work backward from there and think, ‘Okay, well, if my bedroom is going to be a place that’s purely for relaxation, what do I want in there?’

Then you can think about how you want to decorate it. Create a mental picture of your bedroom, which is the equivalent of an outline or a plot.

What happens is that not only does that motivate you, but it also gives you clues as to what to keep. Just like how a plot or an outline tells the writer what to write, your vision tells you what to get rid of.

So, if you’re going to have a really peaceful bedroom, you probably don’t want your broken printer in there. You know what I mean?

Or maybe you want to get rid of all the clothes you don’t fit anymore, because that makes you feel kind of crappy, so you don’t want that in your beautiful oasis of a bedroom.

There’s no one size fits all to this. But I really think that there is so much power in thinking about the end results that you want to get before you begin, just like with a writer.

These are some really simple tips, but I find that when you implement them, you can make your decluttering easier and more focused, and more intentional. Hopefully that perspective shift gives you a new way to look at your decluttering.

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