Growing up, my home was a collection of other people’s things.
My parents bought plenty of things new, but many of the biggest items in our home didn’t come from a store.
My dad made some of our furniture—the dining table of my early childhood, some side tables, and the patio furniture out front—on his woodworking bench in the garage.
Our couches? The white ones with oddly bright pastel stripes? Or how about the glass table and wicker-backed chairs? My parents took those off someone’s hands, and come to think of it, I don’t even know whose.
Even now, a tour of their home might highlight artwork from an old neighbor or china and decorative objects from my grandparents who have now passed away. I don’t remember where our piano came from, but I know it wasn’t ours first—and my parents still have and use it to this day.
My parents’ home reminds me that our belongings are never really gone.
Once we’ve decided we’re done owning them, they don’t magically cease to exist. They may find their way into a loved one’s house or to a donation center. Belongings that go unsold at Goodwill may eventually make it as far as an underdeveloped country… or a landfill.
This brings me to my first hard truth about clutter, but it’s only one of many. I believe that clutter is keeping too many of us from living well. Let’s change that.
9 Hard Truths About Clutter You Need to Hear
1. Nothing you own is ever really gone; it will continue to exist… somewhere
I remember searching for a piano on craigslist. It turns out, there are pianos all over the place. Old pianos in people’s back rooms, sheds, even their gardens.
This truth is motivation for me to be judicious about what I buy.
2. The best way to clear clutter is to reduce what you bring in
It really is. Never start a decluttering journey without giving real thought to your consumption habits. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself right back in the same spot, over-cluttered and weighed down.
Set a goal to not only get rid of more but to buy less.
3. Are you shopping to escape your feelings?
Most of us have an unhealthy way or two (or three or four) of hiding from our feelings. We eat, drink, watch TV, or shop so that we don’t have to feel our truth in a given moment. We crave the dopamine hit we get from eating something sweet or making a purchase online.
Masking our feelings sounds so much more appealing than sitting with them. But I believe that real freedom comes when we begin to practice experiencing our humanness rather than running from it.
Shop less, allow yourself to feel your feelings, and live with less clutter. 🙌
4. There’s a dark side to donating
If the above weren’t reason enough to limit your consumption, how about this—
“By one estimate, used clothing is now the United States’ number one export by volume, with the overwhelming majority sent to ports in sub-Saharan Africa.” The Afterlife of Cheap Clothes, Slate
“African textile industries are closing their factories and laying people off because they cannot make clothes as cheaply as those American items found in the bend over markets.” The Truth About Where Your Donated Clothes End Up, ABC News
5. Everything you own is something you have to take care of
A friend recently told me what it was that started her on a path to minimalism. She read a single paragraph in Zero Waste Home where the author said that every decorative item sitting on a table is nothing more than something you have to dust.
She realized in that lightning-bolt moment that everything you own is something you have to take care of, so she immediately cleared off most of the surfaces in her house and instantly felt like she could breathe.
Our time is so precious; who wants to spend it cycling mountains of laundry from washer to dryer, replacing dead batteries or buying replacement parts, and shuttling items from room to room?
“The things you own in life end up owning you.” Tyler Durden
6. Clutter has been linked to depression
Women, in particular, suffer under the weight of our family’s belongings. UCLA researchers—who conducted a nine-year, rigorous study of how 32 families interacted their belongings—found a correlation between high cortisol levels (read: stress) in women and a high density of household objects.
Source: Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century: 32 Families Open Their Doors
Clutter accounts for a significant, unseen portion of your mental load.
7. The longer you keep something, the more attached you become
I recently heard Gretchen Rubin say this on the Happier podcast, and it rang so true for me from my own experience.
One by one, as my sisters and I approached adulthood, our parents gave each of us a cedar “hope chest,” a place to store sentimental items. I remember my older my sister jokingly warning me to be careful what you put in there, because if it’s there long enough, it starts to feel special no matter what it was.
It turns out, she was right! I now have a stack of papers (notes, quotes & letters) from my high school days that didn’t feel particularly significant at the time, but now that I’ve had them for 15 years, they feel hard to part with.
So… Consider yourself warned. 😉
8. Eventually someone will have to decide what to do with every item you own
Whether it’s you or one of your loved ones, every non-consumable item will eventually be handled, sorted, and kept, sold, or donated. Everything you buy increases this burden on yourself, and someday, you may well pass this burden on. Is that what you really want?
Less is more.
9. Your stuff is getting in the way of the best stuff
While many of these truths are a little scary, like living with depression or dying and leaving your children to sort through your stuff, the one I actually find most compelling is the most hopeful.
Imagine what it would feel like to walk into your home and be greeted by belongings you love—and nothing more.
Imagine what you could do differently with your time if you’re spending a fraction of it managing your stuff.
Imagine yelling at your kids a lot less because they have half as many toys cluttering up your living space.
It feels good to imagine, right?
I promise—It feels even better to live it.
Need some support on your decluttering journey?
If this was the gentle kick-in-the-pants you’ve been needing, I’d love to point you to a few more resources:
- A PDF: 100 Things to Get Rid Of—To Simplify Your Home
- An article: 10 Clutter-Clearing Strategies that Will Gradually Make Your Life 100 Times Easier
- My brand-new book, which dives deeper into these stumbling blocks and gives you strategies for moving past them! The Minimalist Way: Declutter Your Life and Make Room for Joy
Which of the 9 truths is most motivating for you? (#5 is probably the one that comes to my mind most often…)