Decluttering the word declutter.

We have too much stuff! 

No matter how old your are, or young you are, chances are you have too much stuff.  It’s not new news.  Because of it, we are now seeing a trend towards buzzwords like ‘decluttering’ and ‘minimalism’ as people try to manage the amount of stuff they own and stores that sell inexpensive home home décor items such as Homesense, Ikea and Dollerama aren’t helpful.  We are seeing an interest in ‘downsizing’ among people who are too young to be in the approaching retirement demographic.  Adults of different age groups, including young adults are searching to live in a more manageable way and with less stuff.  ‘Tiny Homes’ (not trailers, but about the size of a trailer) are becoming a ‘thing’, there are even shows on Netflix taking us through people’s decisions and processes of downsizing to much smaller living spaces.

Through all this talk of downsizing or living minimally we hear the use of the words ‘clutter’ and declutter’, attaching ‘clutter’ to define the stuff they don’t want anymore and ‘declutter’ as the act of tossing it out.

I looked up the definition of the word ‘clutter’ in three dictionaries:

Miriam Webster:

  • to run in disorder
  • to fill or cover with scattered or disordered things that impede movement or reduce effectiveness
  • a crowded or confused mass or collection

Cambridge English:

Oxford:

  • A collection of things lying about in an untidy state.

As I read through these definition’s, what I noticed was not a description of ‘unwanted objects’ or words like ‘garbage’ or ‘waste’. Rather, what is being described is ‘collection’, ‘a lot of objects’, ‘untidy’, ‘disorder’ and ‘reduced effectiveness’. 

Tossing items the garbage or giving them away to a neighbour or a donation centre is part of the organizing and cleaning process as we maintain our homes.  When my garage becomes overrun with stuff I don’t use any more, I clean it out.  I clear items that are broken, or I know won’t be used anymore, then I organize what is left on to shelves or bins, and then I take a broom and sweep the cobwebs and dust, activities that fall under cleaning.  I do the same with my fridge a couple times a month.  I clean my fridge out by clearing and tossing away any containers past its date, or accidental science projects lurking in the back.  I clear it which involves tossing items I no longer use, I wipe down the shelves (clean) and then I organize the food that remains.

I have also never decluttered my closet by the way, although, I have cleared my closet many times.

I’m not sure how the word ‘decluttering’ made it into our vocabulary, but the word is actually adding clutter to the process of managing our belongings and living space and how we talk about it.

Here’s is why we need to ‘declutter’ the word declutter:

Decluttering gives us a sense of moving backwards. As if we are fixing something that we didn’t get quite right the first time and so we are doing it again, or changing our mind about choices we’ve made.  It’s kind of like choosing to unravel a sweater that you’ve spent hours and hours learning how to knit. You know it’s not quite perfect so instead of leaving it as a learning experience and making the 2nd one even better you decide to take it apart to try and re-knit it.  You take a deep breath and cross your fingers hoping you won’t fall into old habits and make the same mistakes the second time.

We are striving for perfectionism when we are not perfect.  Human beings have the gift of intelligence, but we are not perfect.  We really are capable of making decisions including when to toss that old mug that has a chip in it.  We don’t need the latest celebrity to tell us what to toss and what to not, which items have value and what keeping or not keeping an item will do to our psyche.  Organizing a home is not all that complicated, so why are we dumbing it down?  I get that sometimes us imperfect mortals require some external motivation, but rather than complicating the process let’s think of another slogan for home organization that equals Nike’s ‘Just Do It’.  How about ‘When in doubt, toss it out’ or ‘Just donate it’?

We love our planet!  I believe people in general are good.  We don’t like to waste things like money, time, food, things.  I also realize that because we don’t ‘like’ to, doesn’t mean that we don’t, and there is often a difference in what we say we care about and our actions. However, people are kind-hearted. We care about other people, we care about our community, the environment and we care about the planet.  We want other people to like us, approve of our decisions, and we like our choices to matter.  When we’ve owned an object for a period of time whether we’ve chosen it from a shop, or it’s been a gift, we develop an attachment to. That object becomes a part of the extension of ourselves.  Its natural for us to want what meant something to us to remain useful in some way when it’s time to let the item go.

We are wise, resourceful, productive, and useful.  Using tools, specifically meaning objects as tools for survival is what sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom.  We’ve developed from hunter gatherer’s to organized stationary communities relying on agriculture.   We are wired to organize our environment and collect items that may be useful for cooking, working or even play.  The purpose of being organized is to look ahead to the future by placing items in a way that you can find what you need easily when the time comes.  It’s natural for us to collect things, and want to keep items that may ‘come in handy one day’.  My daughter is very glad that her grandma or I didn’t ‘declutter’ the bottom drawer of my old cottage bedroom dresser.  She scored my old favourite article of clothing, an original 1986 dark green Beaver Canoe sweatshirt!  Totally retro and totally trendy!  She has worn it solidly for 3 years now and it is still in perfect condition. The fact that it was actually mine and not found in a thrift store, or a been reproduced makes it even more special.

In the professional world of domestic home service offerings activities are separated.  We have interior designers, interior decorators, professional organizers and professional cleaners.  Designers lay out the function of the home, decorators style it, organizers place items in a logical manner and cleaners clean it, however for most of us that don’t regularly hire these professionals, these activities are loosely lumped into the same category.  We may do an initial spree of home decorating when we first move into a home or undertake a renovation, but individual pieces of furniture usually get purchased as needed.  Too much wine gets spilled on the couch and it needs to be replaced or the drawer got damaged when someone got excited and slammed it watching a hockey game and you need a new entertainment unit.  Even choosing to only put a fresh coat of paint on the walls can give a needed update affordably.  We then arrange our belongings in various drawers and cabinets and vacuum and dust from time to time as cleaning is necessary.

Have you ever hired a cleaning professional and ‘cleaned’ before the cleaner arrives?    Are you actually cleaning or are you organizing?  You don’t want to pay a cleaner to spend all their time tidying and organizing, you want them to clean.  The two activities go together because you can’t do a good job of cleaning when your stuff is strewn around the house and not put away in its place.  Like a lot of parents, I used to send my kids on a tidying spree, so I could go in behind them and clean.  It helped that my son was allergic to dust and liked his room vacuumed.

When we consider these activities separately creates an extra step when it comes to managing the contents of our homes. Each task appears bigger than it actually is so no wonder we are overwhelmed by it all!

Instead of looking backwards by trying to ‘declutter’ an accumulation of things from the past, let’s use language that propels us forward. 

What we do want to focus on is 3 main tasks. These can happen in any order or different orders depending on location, situation, and personal preference.

1 – Clear the stuff you don’t want to keep.

2 – Organize the stuff you do want to keep.

3 – Clean the space.

If you have a messy closet that is housing stuff that you haven’t used in a while, clear that stuff out by relocating it, tossing or donating it, organize what is left by choosing a spot to place each item and wipe the surfaces or vacuum the dust.  This will make space for what is relevant now and look forward to what will come.  If we choose to honour the past, the experiences and the stuff that brought us to this moment and we choose to organize clear and clean our spaces, rooms, homes and the environment, we open up space for new possibilities and growth.  It’s a much more productive concept.  It’s forward moving.  It’s actionable.  It’s positive.  It’s constructive.  It can be done, and it’s as easy as 1-2-3!

I’m in no way advocating for not using professional services. Cleaners and organizers are amazing people and should have enormous respect in the community! Having the extra help with our homes is extremely valuable for many of us. It frees up time for us to spend with family or to put in an extra few hours of work. It gives a peace of mind knowing that we are coming home to a safe and comfortable space, so we can rest or spend energy on what is important to us.

So when you just can’t get to that clearing out that closet, or spare bedroom and it’s bothering you, a professional organizer is definitely money well spent. If you are moving or downsizing, you really don’t have to do it all alone, professionals can get you transitioned smoothly. If you have an estate and the contents need to be cleared quickly, a professional can clear the contents, the cobwebs and the headaches, allowing you to focus on what really matters. Peace of mind and your own mental health.

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