From Clutter to Clarity

How I finally beat the overwhelm of stuff

Words by Alexandra Aspey

When I was younger, I used to keep everything. If I picked up some pebbles on the beach, I'd become attached to them and keep them. It was the same with toys, clothes, books, and anything else you can imagine. My bedroom was bursting at the seams, I had bags of stuff in my parents’ loft that I couldn't bring myself to get rid of, and I still could have used more space in the house if I had it. I'm not sure when I developed this need to hold on to everything. Maybe it was when I was small and my balloon flew out of the sunroof of the car, never to be seen again. But the thought of letting something go filled me with dread, so I'd keep everything I could.

As I grew up, I did get a little bit better. I learned to let some things go that I didn't need anymore, clothes that didn't fit or toys I was too old to play with, but there was still stuff that I would “get rid” of—but that really just meant bag up and put in the loft. Visually, they were gone, but I knew that they were still there if I ever changed my mind. I think that's the thing: I'm so indecisive that I was always scared I would change my mind about something I had gotten rid of and regret it for the rest of my life. Dramatic, I know. I felt a little better at not having the thing in my bedroom, but I still had the security blanket of being able to bring back anything I had let go.

When I was 19, I left home. I didn't take all my belongings with me, not at all. I kept my parents loft full of things from days gone by, I had stuff stored in about three different places in three different houses. To be completely honest, I'm not sure I would have noticed if one person had gotten rid of everything I was keeping there, because I had so much stuff that I couldn't keep track of it all. I obviously didn't need it, otherwise I would have had it with me and uses it every day, but I still had to keep it “just in case.”

The moment that really made me want to change was just after I had moved into the house I am in now. I used to live in a small flat by myself, and I had a whole bedroom dedicated to all the stuff I had been storing with other people and carting around. My other half dubbed it the “spare room” which we both knew meant it was the room that housed all my hoarding sins. When we moved into our first rented house together, I thought that I would sort all the clutter and leave behind everything I didn't need. But I didn't. All the junk came with me, and our first house together also had its own spare room. After a year and a half, we decided to buy a house together. It was a new build, never lived in before by anyone, and I didn't want to sully it with all my junk. So, I promised myself to sort all the clutter and leave behind everything I didn't need. But I didn't. Our beautiful new house now had its very own spare room and I was gutted. Why couldn't I just let it all go? The thought of it made me anxious, and I even got a bit panicked when my other half wanted to get rid of something of his. Are you sure? Do you definitely not want it? Why not just keep it and think about it first? I didn't want my bad habits to spill over onto him, but I couldn't help the way I felt.

Every time I sat down in the spare room over the years to finally make a dent in all the stuff, I would feel overwhelmed, scared, and defeated. I would give up and go do something else more fun. This went on for so long until I finally realised that I had been carting around all this rubbish with me for six years! If some of the stuff had been sitting on the floor of one after another of the spare rooms for six years, then I very clearly didn't use it or need it. Not only had it been taking up so much physical space for all that time, but it was also taking a toll on me mentally.

If you came into my house today (the ninth place I have lived in since I left home) you would think I had finally gotten everything under control. And I have. But it has taken me years of carting stuff around. Moving to a new house is a great reminder of all the rubbish you're hoarding! I recently discovered The Minimalists, and I now listen to their podcasts all the time and read their blogs and articles and just about anything else I can. This life choice intrigued me. I wanted to know more about living with intention.

To tackle my hoard, I needed to come up with a plan that would help me work through every thing but not get overwhelmed and give up. I saw a TV program one night about hoarders (ironic, I know) and saw this woman who had a house full to the ceilings of rubbish and junk. I think I like to watch those programs because it makes me feel like my problem is less of a problem. She had come up with a system that meant she had to get ten items out of her house every single day. Whether that meant ten things going in the bin or ten things going to the charity shop, that's what she did. She would spend weeks walking down the road with a carrier bag each day to donate her ten items. She got through her hoard very slowly, but she did it, and she didn't get overwhelmed as a lot of people on those programs do. It gave me an idea. I didn’t have nearly as much stuff as she did, and if I tried the ten-item-a-day thing, then I could be done within a month or so.

So that's what I did. Armed with everything I learned from The Minimalists about living intentionally and only keeping and using things that add value, I put my plan into action. Every day, I got my other half to take ten things out of the spare room and put them into a box, and I would decide what to keep and what to let go of. The reason I asked him to choose the ten items was so I would get through everything and not just pick the “easy” items myself and ignore the rest. When faced with a room full of stuff, it was so easy to get overwhelmed, but not when I had only ten items to think about. I aimed to sort at least ten items a day, but if I was feeling good about it, I would get another ten items in the box and sort through those as well. After years of keeping all this junk, it took me a only week to go through it all, and I think I only kept about 20% of it. Just goes to show how little I needed.

Now, I have stopped being as impulsive when it comes to buying new things, and I always take time to think about bigger purchases and whether I need them, or I can borrow them from someone else. My home is minimal compared to the “average” home, I don't like to keep things I don't use or need. So much has changed for me since I sorted all my junk. It's like I've gotten rid of a mental block, and now I have time for anything I want because I'm not sitting thinking about the spare room. Do I miss anything? Not at all. Do I wish I had sorted it all out sooner? Absolutely. But I believe that everything happens at the right time, and now is the time for living with less stuff and more intention.

Alexandra Aspey

Alexandra Aspey writes about conscious living with a focus on minimalism, sustainability, slow living, and well-being.

Website
AlexandraAspey.com

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Inside Minimalism is our series of exclusive essays on simple living. Each essay is written by our team of writers who are passionate about helping you craft a simpler life. Supported by their own personal experiences, we want to inspire and encourage you to clear the path of life’s stuff, so you can get to where you really want to be.

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