Decluttering should fundamentally be a creative process, rather than a chore, a problem or a responsibility. It is a positive, happy, artistic opportunity to rework your space and use it in the way that works best for you and your family.
There is no right or wrong way of decluttering. We do not need to reduce to ‘x’ amount of stuff or have a show home to impress our friends. It is not about style or fashion, but a way of looking with fresh eyes at the space you have available to store your items and asking yourself if it suits the way you live.
The traditional, English home, of the kind I am most accustomed to spending time in, has a kitchen, dining room, lounge/living room, bedrooms and a bathroom. Increasingly, owners of semi-detached houses are knocking through from the kitchen to the dining room to create a larger family cooking/dining space. But houses don’t have to be arranged this way.
Travelling through South East Asia, South America and even Australia and New Zealand I realised that people live in many different ways, with very varied housing arrangements and can be happy (or unhappy) with every size and layout of space. It is far less about the amount of space you have, and more about your use of that space, and your perception of what is a ‘good’ use of space.
If you want a show home and that is what you perceive yourself to have, then all well and good. If you have a studio apartment packed to the rafters with all of your favourite novels, unfinished manuscripts and art supplies, and that feels comforting to you, don’t let anyone put you off.
In our first house (which we still own), I always felt that we didn’t have enough space. I now realise that we just had too much unnecessary furniture and too much clutter. Our second bedroom (before it became my son’s room) was jammed full of odds and ends; old paperwork, old electrical items, old clothes, ten years worth of accummulated stuff that, because we both worked long hours, we never made the time to declutter. Eventually, it all went, but we could have done it sooner and enjoyed the space.
Seeing with fresh eyes
The house in which we currently live has the traditional room layout described above, but that is not how we actually use the rooms. In what would usually be the lounge, we have a bookcase, dining table and chairs (although we don’t always eat in this room), the ‘dining room’ is where my son has his craft supplies (because he likes to make things and talk to me while I cook, and this room is open to the kitchen), the front ‘bedroom’ has a sofa bed which we sit on to watch documentaries, the small back bedroom is now a storage room for boxes (mostly full of Lego, drawings, towels and soft toys), and we all sleep in the loft.
How did it end up like this? Through a gradual process, starting by really looking at each room in turn and asking, ‘what is really going on in here?’ ‘Who is using this room most and what are they doing in here day to day?’ ‘What do they actually need or not need to achieve this?’
Follow your own path
Often we allocate areas in our houses to some use or other that we think is ‘necessary’, not because they serve our family. My son’s craft room only contains his boxes of craft supplies, a small table and a chair. We realised that he likes to walk around the room while he is talking (sometimes run from one side to the other) and this is one of the ways he expends energy, so why clutter the room with extraneous furniture? I am happy to have this space as a fairly empty area as it lends itself to creativity. It can be whatever my son wants it to be, and we (his parents) don’t ‘need’ it to be something else. Sometimes we sit on the floor in this room to eat. Sometimes we use it as an exercise space.
I often wonder what would happen if we just got rid of all of our furniture, slept on a futon on the floor and kept all of our belongings in boxes. Would we go out more and be more active? Would I get bad knees from sitting on the floor? Could I get used to this way of living? Many people do, all over the world.
Minimalism as a lifestyle
My current goal is to reduce our posessions further. I regularly assess objects and furniture to see if they are being used or are doing us good service. Do we like the look of them? Do we use them regularly? Are they just taking up space?
I don’t see my house as a permanent dwelling place. I don’t have any notion of us ‘always’ living here, or needing to be a ‘home maker’. To me, a house is neither ‘security’ or ‘comfort’ over and above its function as a shelter. The way we use the space has little to do with tradition and far more to do with our current needs. Everything can (and will) be moved and removed as and when it feels right to do so.
The point is to know what feels right to you and the people you choose to live with and not get caught up in what you think others expect of you. I recently came across a family that had got rid of their ‘lounge’ furniture and erected a climbing frame in the room. They use it every day and don’t know how they lived without out it. And why shouldn’t a house work for you in whatever way you want it to?
I hope this has given you fresh impetus for your own decluttering plans. Do you have a traditional room layout or do you do things differently? Have you got rid of anything that others may see as ‘necessary’? Do you live in an unusual or alternative living space? I would love to hear about your own decluttering and living arrangements. Pop them in the comments or chat more over on the One Planet Parent Facebook page.