Out with the old...

(source: bellefleurdelis)

I've been trying to streamline my life a little bit over the last month or so. There's been a couple of really difficult life events going on recently which has made me reassess my spending habits and my penchant for accumulating really silly things like teacups, flatware and shoes. I mean in the whole scheme of things, I'm still extremely lucky, but there are times when I feel like I need to stop reading blogs and/or blogging for a while just to have a reality check every now and then. I think it's very easy to be swayed by how flawless some people's lives seem to be. In between perfectly framed photographs of knitting and thrift store finds, apple crumbles, Parisian holidays and pretty babies, I sometimes wonder if it's just wrong to mislead readers that life is filled with nothing but good things (or for readers to be misled in their own right). I guess for some people, reading blogs is a means of escape - like watching the telly or reading a book. Who wants to constantly read sorrowful litanies by some cynical, overworked person (e.g. this blog)?

Inspired by Yumiko Sekine's Designsponge sneak peek, I've moved about 1/2 of my frivolous belongings into boxes and in the next few weeks, I'll be calling Salvation Army to pick it up from my doorstep, so if anyone wants a bunch of Crate and Barrel cappucino cups (brand new!), let me know. I think I'm going through some sort of radically mad change where I feel like I need to throw everything out and live like a hermit. I'm also getting rid of perfectly new and good items that for some reason I find to be galling now. I suspect that I was possessed at that point by the demons known as "Instant Gratification" and "Cheap Prices" but truly, I sometimes think that just blindly and blankly forking over money has been my greatest foe.

The good news is that I think I'm finally able to move closer and closer to all the Byzantine doctrine that I've been very hypocritically espousing since last year (omg, she's still on about this?!). I still have an immense amount of clutter to get rid of, and living with someone who has sentimental attachment to everything makes it harder for me to arrive at that spartan aesthetic I'm craving - although I suspect there's nothing some gentle coaxing and a large bacon sandwich can't fix.

A couple of things I'm trying to incorporate into my spring cleaning checklist:

1. Bring only what you love into your house.
2. Have a story and a reason behind everything you own.
3. If you don't use it, get rid of it. Someone else would always need it.

Those three philosophical ideas may seem generalized and unhelpful, but personally, it helps me let go of things and to consider carefully why and what I buy. There are many things I own that I like well enough but don't exactly love; many items were bought as "substitutes" for the real thing - cheaper shirts, cheaper glassware, cheaper dishes etc. Those things are mostly the ones that I've ended up loathing because deep down, there really is no substitute for the real thing.

Do you have any personal tips on getting rid of clutter and spring cleaning?

29 comments :

  1. cynical bloggers provide a nice dose of reality in the rosey picture perfect world of blogging i think! haha. all these spring cleaning ideas are great as they are already and don't think there really is much to add to the list. maybe also stop trying to justify purchases by "substituting" too much? for me i it's so easy to claim everything is a substitute when it really isn't.

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  2. Great post. I used to feel the need for a big purge like this once or twice a year, but lately I feel it much more often, and I think you're right, it's a reaction to the 'muchness' of everything we constantly see (and contribute to) online. My stepmother gave me the book Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui by Karen Kingston, and though I'm really not a feng shui person at all, the book has been immensely helpful in clearing my home. I highly recommend it. And keep us posted on your process, readers are not only interested in perfect stuff-filled lives, we also want the real nitty gritty, and there's nothing more inspiring than someone doing a major cleanse like this!

    http://nomadic-d.blogspot.com/

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  3. This is a really great post! And I totally understand how hard it is living with someone (or in my case: 2) who refuses to let go of things and says that I'm being wasteful when I want to declutter (especially the first time I sorted through my closet, they must think I was crazyyy haha).

    Anyway, I think these tips are already good enough to guide you (and your readers) through spring cleaning. Please keep us updated!

    http://navybluetiramisu.blogspot.com

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  4. If it makes you feel any better, I am way crazier than you are when it comes to decluttering. Like you, I also have a spouse that does not like to get rid of stuff the way I do, but unfortunately, a bacon sandwich nor a triple A sirloin steak can pursuade or distract him.

    As to my own stuff, my wardrobe in particular, I've subconsciously adapted a minimalist philosophy regarding wardrobe culling and got rid of 80% of it. I barely have anything to cull now, but it's become an addiction and I'm constantly looking for items to get rid of. I cannot begin to think about the money that's been thrown out the window, otherwise I may have a serious heart attack. I think it's possible to overdue it.

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  5. I think this is such a wonderful idea. I've been trying to do the same for the past year or so, although I have the same problem as you, in that my partner isn't as obsessed with paring down as I am (he owns much less so I suppose I shouldn't expect him to be) which makes things more difficult. The single best thing I've done so far is so remove all of my DVDs from their cases and store them in little plastic slips instead, inside of a small filing box. I threw out the cases which filled 2 bin liners, and now I have one small filing box of DVDs instead of en entire bookcase full of them - it feels amazing and I don't miss the cases at all. I'm trying to download a lot of films/tv etc and store them on a hard drive to save space. Doing the same with books is more difficult, but I'm trying to use the library more instead of buying books myself, or buying them from charity shops and taking them back there after I've read them.

    I too get frustrated with seeing/reading about the 'perfect' lives of some bloggers. I think it is misleading, and can make others feel quite isolated if their own lives don't live up to that (which they invariably don't, I know mine doesn't). I'm not sure I believe in authenticity, but it's refreshing to read blogs which seem more 'honest' either way. :)

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  6. I just saw this and thought you might find it interesting - http://sannahkvist.se/work/all-i-own/

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  7. I enjoyed this post. I'll be moving soon, and this reminds me that I need to start clearing away clutter so I don't pack it with me.

    I don't have good tips. If you looked around my apartment, you would see confirmation of my inability to effectively de-clutter. But when I'm trying to get rid of things, I do sometimes look around and try to remember what moved me to acquire some item. Was I looking to start a new habit or try a new routine? If so, why hasn't it happened? Sometimes that is enough to get me to start again on some half-forgotten idea. Or else I realize that I've moved on from that project, and it's time to get rid of that thing.

    Not having a lot of disposable income right now has prompted me to repurpose a lot. I've found it very illuminating in seeing how much can be done with just what you have on hand.

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  8. My most successful "declutterings" happened when I moved homes. So during my most recent clear-out, I pretended that I was moving to another city.

    Only the essentials (useful or meaningful things) were worth moving, but I had to be careful not to throw out anything that I might actually need in my new home.

    I totally get what you are saying about "substitutes". I've been guilty of buying substitutes as well. I've gotten better about it over the years, though. One thing I have learned about myself, however, is that I don't necessarily need the "best" of everything. Sometimes it's better to have a less expensive version that doesn't feel too precious or require as much care. (I.e., not the "best" china, but perhaps some good china that's also dishwasher/microwave-safe.) In other words, I've learned to consider how often, where, and with whom I'm going to be using the thing, and that's how I determine what price level I'm willing to pay.

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  9. Amongst various strategies that I use to declutter, I find that the most persistently useful one is to ask myself if I'd rather own the given item or have more empty space.

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  10. @joy I find myself "substituting" usually when I get impatient or don't have the money yet to purchase something. I really should learn to do that less because in the long run, the amount of substituted items do add up to the cost of the real thing. My grasp on the economy of things is pretty bad.

    @Nomadic D I'm not a believer in feng shui either but some of the tips they have are pretty useful e.g. clutter and positioning of tables/chairs at work. I find that it's more of a design thing and it really does help increase the nice flow of things around the house.

    @Navy Blue Tiramisu Haha! My mum use to chew me out for buying things then getting rid of it in a year. She thought I was mad and would secretly keep everything I threw out. Eventually though, she saw that the house was so much cleaner with less clutter -- I think that made her realize I was right all along. She still thinks I'm wasteful though.

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  11. I know what you mean. It is so easy to purchase an item thinking it will fit your lifestyle, or that you'll use it because it is so chic. And then it ends up being completely useless sitting there, gathering dust and then it's not so chic right? It's clutter. Less it always more. But it's so hard to find that perfect exact moment during which what you have is finally just enough, not more and not less. I'm happy you're clearing out the excess. I've been trying to do this a lot more this year and a bit last year but it's pretty darn hard. Best of luck with your Spring cleaning! :D

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  12. @Wendy Doesn't decluttering become an obsession? My husband thinks I've gone mad when I'm constantly standing in the middle of the living room sighing at how I feel the place is filled with things. We have a bad bad habit of buying more books and cds and DVDs than we should and I find myself loathing myself for it, even though I'm inseparable from all my media. I'm sure your husband has a weak spot as all men do :-)

    @Fen Oh but I simply can't get rid of my DVDs or CDs and books, they're like my best friends and have gotten me through some really tough times. Also, I'm one of those really conceited people who love displaying obscure items on my shelves. I need to take a picture of my shelves and you will understand how absolutely important this is to me :-)

    @Quinn I'm one of those really flaky people who never finish what they start and I buy a bunch of things for a project and end up throwing them out after a few years. I don't exactly know why I do that, but I think it's boredom coupled with not really knowing what I want. I think it also explains a wider spectrum of my life and why I own so many things. Good luck with your move! I know you just moved a year ago maybe - and hope the baby is doing well.

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  13. @Ms. M Your last statement is so true - I find myself constantly pining for really expensive dinnerware, but the truth is that I don't really need it and I'm not rich enough to get replacements if anything breaks. I'm better off with an entire set from Costco that I don't have as much of a stake on, it's definitely less stressful that way. On another note, moving day can be such an eye opener - I don't think people realize how much they accumulated over the years until they have to put them in boxes. I know I almost had a heart attack the last time I moved and the sheer amount of things I had to pack up made me want to chuck them all out!

    @Abby What if space is not problem? Do you use any other tricks to get yourself to chuck things out?

    @Brigitte I think we all have that problem where we buy something just for the sake of buying without knowing why we're doing it. I'm going to try the two-fold decluttering thing by (a)buying things that I'm actually going to use right now, instead of saving it for some special occasion (b)getting rid of thing haven't used in over a year.

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  14. I hadn't consciously considered it prior to reading your post, but now realise that I lead a somewhat spartan lifestyle, almost entirely free of unnecessary possessions or clutter.......except for clothes! Although my wardrobe is steadily becoming more streamlined with time and determination, it still appears to be my only obvious trouble spot.....or perhaps that is too negative a term.....a segment of my life in which I appear to love to challenge myself or make undue fuss over. Perhaps it is born of a moderate control issue (we all have them in some degree or another, i suppose), or maybe it is because in my younger days I could never afford to make that fuss...I don't know. Something I ponder quite often, and love to discuss & read about online.

    I think that many of us utilise blogging as a comfortable, pretty escape hatch. Mine is particularly dear to me at the end of a long days (or night's) work, when I can kick back and do absolutely nothing, indulging in the blogosphere with a tub of haagen dasz, a pot of tea and my kitten curled purring beside me. It functions as a fabulous distraction, also, when I am feeling pressure or anxiety. I do notice the so called 'idealised' impressions of people's lives, but I tend to believe that these are just dream fragments, tiny slices of a much more complicated whole.

    I don't think that it has to become a negative, but it certainly does us good to turn away from it sometimes, to recharge our sense of immediate reality, to graciously close our eyes to the endless stream of brand names, advertising, and the mere surface sheen of pretty things. They have their function, of course, but as many of us have suggested in the past - there's a dark side.

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  15. Also, on the subject: I am not even currently aware of (or read) any blogs which appear to present a 'perfect' lifestyle. Although many of those which I read occasionally display lovely and/or expensive acquisitions or beautiful living spaces, they also tend to project a realistic life view, which contains quite a bit more than the shiny and new.
    However, I DO notice this effect when browsing tumblr.....so many images of exquisite interiors and folks milling about wearing wonderful clothes, the strong emphasis on photo's of individuals who are quite clearly very wealthy indeed. I am not so sure what I make of this, for I can perceive something dangerous in the sheer volume of this type of imagery. How many people wonder 'do they measure up?'.
    It doesn't affect me too negatively, personally, but I wonder about a culture which procures and obsesses constantly over imagery of homes and clothes only accessible to millionaires. Brands/capitalism have certainly caught the attentions of the young in their vast net.

    Sorry for the monologue! You made me think..

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  16. Amanda - I don't really have a space problem, I just enjoy that lighter feeling of things having more space around them - e.g. Four glasses where you could fit seven.

    Otherwise, I'm motivated by two main things - one, the sense of relief I feel from the reducing of possessions that I've done so far, and two, I keep a (loose) count and looking at my tally is oddly encouraging. I also go online a lot for inspiration, and check back in the deeper motivations that got me on this kick in the first place.

    Also, I got rid of a fair bit at first, and since then I have proceeded really slowly - I want this to be long term and for my decisions to feel comfortable.

    Sorry if there are errors, I can't proofread on my phone.

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  17. When i started de-cluttering, i did a huge cull initially one evening, but then would revisit the remains once a week for the next couple of months. six months later i still consider it a work in progress honestly.

    admittedly, it was in therapy i realised some of the reasoning behind my shopping habits, in short i do it when i'm sad, so if i feel like i want something and to exchange money, it's very important to me that i don't do it straight away and that i go pat my cat or something instead.

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  18. I think it's great you're actively trying to do something about stuff you're not happy about, like cutting down on the clutter. The timing of this post is great as I have a housewarming party to attend and you've made me think twice about showing up with more bric a brac the owner might not need. Perhaps I'll just bring a really elaborate food hamper.

    I grew up sharing a bedroom with my sister so there was no room for clutter if we didn't want to lose our minds - I think that's turned me into a bit of a nut case about decluttering. Like Abby commented above, I do it slowly - just to make sure I'm making the right decision and also to give me time to find people who might have a better use for it. Not as cathartic though - but same outcome!

    Good luck with this, and also, with the wedding planning. I imagine things must be stressful now!

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  19. This may seem silly and it's just slightly off the mark of your question, but I have a habit of boxing up some of my very favorite things (my weakness here being generally of the sartorial and ceramic variety) and departing from them for a while. Often the seasons encourage me to do this. Then when the spring and fall wanties hit I remember that box and am almost (!) always completely satisfied to re-enjoy the purchases of the past. I appreciate this post very much, and have especially finally learned that the cheaper substitutes I have chosen likewise sadden me. It's so worth it to save for the things made by kind people with stories.

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  20. @lapindelune I find myself being on of those people who constantly ask if I "measure up". It's definitely a character flaw because I grew up being constantly in competition with other people. A lot of blogs these days are like magazine spreads and are so easily accessible - it's hard sometimes to differentiate between reality and blog specific fantasies. I started making a fuss about paring down on possessions because my work was a real eye-opener, and also because I have a penchant for brooding about everything. I want to feel like I can contribute to the world, and by using/buying less, maybe I can in some way achieve that.

    @Abby Thanks for elaborating! I find that my journey towards possessing less is an evolving one too - the more things I get rid of, the more I feel like I should cull! I love open spaces too and feel claustrophobic when face with too many things all at once. I've decided though, to take online inspirations with a grain of salt - a lot of the design editorials showcase spaces that don't seem to work if you have messy partners and rabid dogs.

    @Nyssa Jayne I think we're all guilty of shopping by emotion - I know I do as a way to justify my feelings e.g. "Oh this would make me happy, I would work harder" or "I deserve this, I've been working so much!" etc. I think realizing that other people (and canines) depended on me to make mature decisions has helped me overcome this blatant spending habit just for the sake of it.

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    1. I totally agree about taking online inspiration with a grain of salt! I mostly rely on sites where people seem a bit more real, and who are committed to reducing possessions for reasons beyond aesthetics (zerowastehome, some of the minimalist websites, posts like your post here, etc.)

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    2. having a furry one at home has helped me immensely i must say, along with a multitude of other things. i know people often speak of blogging feeding the habit, but i've found the opposite, that the "blogosphere" encouraged me to re-valuate. it may be a stroke of good fortune that i came across blogs such as this.

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  21. @lin Haha! I usually just bring wine or something homemade e.g. cake, pie, etc. I find that if it's something people can eat, they'll be happy. Of course, I'm also one of those really preposterous people who do not appreciate anything unless it's from a specific wishlist. So maybe it's just me :-)

    @Heather The boxing up things and reusing it sometime later is a really good idea except... in my case, I often forget about the boxes and can't remember what I've put away, so I go out and buy more stuff because I can't find anything. I've decided that if I see something I love and can't afford it, I'll just save up for it until I can. That way, I won't accumulate seconds, and I'll appreciate the item more anyway.

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  22. Hi Amanda, I have been reading your blog for a while and I personally feel that you have one of the more "curated" wardrobe. Like how determined you are to source for heritage and ethically sound products. It is ok to sometimes feel that you want to strip life and possessions to the bare minimum. I have seasons like these too and I just take a chill pill before I get rid of more stuff that I may end up regretting. I know what you mean when you want to really love the stuff you buy. And to have special feelings associated with the things you own. The oldest item I have right now is a french fleur lace blouse that my mother gave me which has stood the test of multiple culling. We have shared memories associated with that blouse. I want every item that I own to be like that, with memories and lots of love. I guess it takes time and many of the items today are not made to last.

    Someone once told me "Buy the best, cry once. Settle for less, cry forever." I try to remember that and not settle. I apply that to luxury items and hope to apply that to clothes as well.

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    1. I just heard a similar quote yesterday: "When you buy quality, you only wince once." Sums it up quite neatly!

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  23. have you read The Minimalist blog by this guy from Guam? since getting most of my wardrobe foundation items last year i've managed to shop much less this year. it's a good feeling. :)

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  24. Hi Amanda! There are a couple of blogs out there that reinforce my desire to purchase less, rather than feed it (as some more consumption-focused blogs do, it's true!). Two that I especially like are:

    http://www.becomingminimalist.com/

    http://www.everydayminimalist.com/

    It really feels great to get rid of non-essential stuff. We are lucky/cursed in that we move every 1-2 years, and that helps cull the flock, so to speak. But my husband is a total packrat, and I've found myself getting rid of my own things and sort of working around his possessions. I've been encouraging him to keep his work-related teaching materials AT WORK (as there are many bookcases full of books, DVDs, and CDs in our apartment that fall under this designation), once a recent visit to his office uncovered 8-10 large, empty cupboards. We'll see how that goes, ha ha! I'm sure I sound like a total shrew, but it's pretty out of control at times.

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  25. That's always a very good surprise to discover people questioning our consumption habits and actually starting to act about it, even if it is just sorting out your own stuff. So thank you for this post, and for your blog as well that I just discovered and love. For what it's worth, I find the thoughts you are engaging very interesting, not "sorrowful litanies".

    Anyway, you should see this TED video from a designer called Graham Hill if you are interested in the whole stuff sorting thing: http://www.ted.com/talks/graham_hill_less_stuff_more_happiness.html

    He actually talks about editing your life and make it easier, with more time and more happiness, by getting rid of all the unnecessary things we are surrounded with...

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  26. Hi, This was a good post. I live with someone who is very spartan on necessities. I, on the other hand, once bought something every day. I cannot believe it. I didn't love all those things, but I think once you get into the momentum of buying/consuming, it gets harder to stop.

    Well, I did decrease those buying habits quite a bit when I moved to Cambodia. During my first 7 months, I almost entirely lived off the items I brought in my 2 suitcases - and I bought perhaps three pieces of clothing.

    Two years later, I have much more clutter in our Cambodian home. The cycle has completely repeated itself, however, because with shipping costs and all the effort to get items here, I engage in a lot more internal reflection before I purchase an expensive piece of clothing or shoes. I rarely have impulse buys now. Everything is calculated.

    With our move to Thailand this summer, I am going through the ritualistic purge of books, plates, clothes, etc. I, too, want to only buy things I love. For the most part, substitutes rarely satisfy me in the long-run.

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