VI – Clutter


“The things you own end up owning you.” Tyler Durden


If time is indeed money, than most of the things you own are getting into your pockets. I don’t mean just the time spent working to buy the stuff. I also mean the time spent researching, comparing, insuring, repairing, cleaning it and maintaining it.


What is clutter?


  • Dictionary definitions: 1) cover or fill (something) with an untidy collection of things. 2) a collection of things lying about in an untidy state.
  • My personal definition is: everything that I do not use nor does bring me joy. It’s very easy for me to adjust this definition and fool myself by claiming that all the stuff I don’t want to throw away brings me joy. Fortunately, there are some rules and games to keep me honest.
  • Clutter is a distraction. It drains away energy, focus and prevents one from using one’s time in more meaningful ways. I have spent dozens of hours organising: Garage, Wardrobe, DVD collection, junk drawers, boxes and the like. By the end I felt an ephemeral feeling of accomplishment, but the weekend was gone. What a waste.
  • Clutter is visual pollution. The stuff that one doesn’t actually consciously notice but gives an ugliness and dirtiness to one’s environment, ending up causing distress. Ever walked into an empty house? Different feeling from stepping into a fully furnished one, isn’t it? I don’t advocate living in an empty, unadorned box, only limiting it to the essential. It also makes it easier to clean and maintain, hence giving even more time.


I read that the average household in the US contains an average of 300.000 items. 300.000!! Assuming the average American owns 3 times as much stuff as I do, that still leaves my house with 100.000 items.  I haven’t tried to count the number of items in my house, but taking into account all the cutlery, clothing, tools, kitchen utensils, linen, furniture, curtains, books, DVDs, etc., it isn’t too hard to believe. Not too hard at all.

But there’s hope and its name is declutter. Its definition is pretty simple: get rid of the clutter.



How to declutter?

Our approach has been to slowly go room by room, drawer by drawer and ask questions about each item we own. ‘Do I use this? When was the last time I did?’, ‘How does this add value to my life?’, ‘Does it bring me joy?’, ‘How much does it cost to maintain it?’, ‘Why do I have it?’ We then put said item in one of four piles: Keep, Donate, Sell or Trash.

This formula works for us and it is an iterative one. I have been through my wardrobe three times now, four through my DVDs and only once through the garage – when asking the above questions on the same item it’s easier to let go the second time around.

Rules and games that keep us honest:

  • The 20/20 rule: I use this rule to get rid of anything I haven’t used in a long time and am holding on to ‘just-in-case’ I might need it. If I can replace it under $20 and under 20 minutes, I get rid of it –
  • The 90/90 rule: get rid of anything you haven’t used in the last 90 days, nor plan to use in the following 90.
  • The 30 day game: this is perfect to play with your partner or a friend who’s also keen on simplifying. Make a bet of a dinner, movie, whatever. On the 1st day of the month each is to get rid of 1 thing, 2 on the 2nd and so forth until the end of the month. Whoever lasts the longest wins.
  • Project 333: this is an experiment where you use only 33 pieces of clothing for 3 months. Project created by Courtney Carver – Adjust her rules to your circumstances, maybe call it project 331. Put all the other clothes in suitcases and see how you go at the end.
  • Packing Party: this one takes a considerable amount of preparation but only lasts 21 days. It’s the most extreme one, but also the most effective.

There are a few good other ideas to help in the decluttering process. All of which, can be tailored to one’s specific needs. My advice is to start small, with the stuff that has no significant value (including sentimental). Get the momentum to keep going through all the things assumed to matter.

Sentimental items are tricky because they take one back in time. They’re never used, nor do they bring joy, they just ignite fond memories. My advice is to take pictures, back them up and then get rid of the items – they’re just things. The feeling gotten from looking at them can be sparked by its photo.


Why declutter?

Once all the stuff is gone there’s more space. Far more mental space to come to very significant realisations. In my case, most items I got rid of, were obtained to fill an unfillable void, tackle a discontentment, appease a sadness – “I will be oh-so very happy once I get those shoes.”

I did get pleasure from obtaining most of them but it was a short-lived feeling. In all honesty, I got a bigger ‘high’ from the idea of getting it than of actually obtaining it.

Since the clutter started to go, I have needed less, compared and envied less. I no longer crave that which I don’t need. I have gained more… more time, more purpose, more clarity. Less is indeed more.


The What and How are easily assimilated, but the Why can only be truly comprehended by personal experience. Start small but start now!!


Besides things, there are other parts of one’s life that surely drain energy, focus, time and money. That includes relationships, commitments, pacifiers and consuming too much information. I have also started to take action on these and the results are already being felt.

The most important thing though is to take action. That’s the key.




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