By Tabita Green
I love decluttering. I love choosing a messy drawer, emptying out the contents, wiping it clean, and putting back only the things I want to keep. The rest goes in the trash, in the recycling, or in my Goodwill box. It’s an activity I gladly pursue, even on my Day of Rest, because it doesn’t feel like work.
But why do we need to declutter in the first place?
That’s the question I will wrestle with in this post.
The Rise of Decluttering
Decluttering has become a big thing the last few years. Clearly, we’ve all done some amount of “cleaning stuff out” in our lives. When we were young, we outgrew clothes and toys and passed them on to younger siblings or cousins or friends (our our parents did). When we moved away from home, we probably cleaned out some of our childhood, because it wouldn’t fit in the car taking us to college or our first apartment. It was part of the normal cycle of life.
However, when I hear the word “decluttering,” I think of an activity that is needed because we accumulated too much stuff, which is a little different than cleaning out clothes you outgrew (you really needed it when you bought it). And I think that’s why decluttering is all the rage now. As a society, we’ve gotten to a point where we have so much excess stuff that decluttering is a requirement to maintain balance or—in some cases—to fit more stuff.
I first heard the term “decluttering” on Zen habits. It resonated with me immediately. I had decluttered before I even knew there was a word for it every time we moved from one place to another. For example, when we moved from Texas to Tennessee in 2002, we sold most of our baby gear and at least fifty stuffed animals (and gift bags and other things not worth moving) at a yard sale.
(Once I got so carried away that I threw away my husband’s cell phone charger. Oops.)
But I never stopped to think about why I frequently had to clean things out. It was just another thing that needed to happen. It was normal. And since I actually enjoyed the process, I didn’t question it.
Goal: End the Need to Declutter
However, as fun as decluttering is, it’s really a symptom of a big problem. A problem of buying things we don’t need. A problem of buying cheap products with obsolescence engineered right into them. A problem of buying fashion that is not in fashion the following year.
A problem of consumerism—of excessive consumption.
While it’s good to do a one-time, huge decluttering event to get down to the essentials (can happen over the course of days and weeks and months, if need be), our ultimate goal should be to adopt a buying habit that eliminates our need to declutter.
This is difficult to do in our consumer-focused society. In fact, you could even be called unpatriotic if you stop shopping and “stimulating the economy.” It takes guts. However, speaking from experience, it’s amazing when you do it. The habit of buying only what you need (or really, really love) simplifies life immensely and saves a lot of time (shopping, browsing, deciding, unpacking, exchanging, mending, fixing, dusting).
My Last Decluttering Event
I realized I hadn’t been adhering to my buy-only-what-you-need philosophy when, the day after Christmas, I instinctively started looking for things to clean out. I found I had a decent amount of decluttering to do! My friend Jackie spurred me on with her 28-day Clean Out and Get Rid of Something Each Day challenge. (Community decluttering is even more fun!)
I admit, it’s been a blast. I even sold my first item on eBay—a pair of golf shoes that had been sitting on my closet shelf since we moved into this house almost four years ago.
But this will be my last major decluttering event. A last hurrah of lingering consumerism. I’ve finally realized that a decluttering habit is simply a side effect of a want-based shopping habit.
This doesn’t mean that decluttering is a bad thing—absolutely not! However, it’s a means to an end—a way to create space in your life and eliminate distractions. Space to focus on being instead of buying.
I’m ready. I’m moving beyond decluttering. I feel freer already.
Tabita Green is an author, speaker, blogger, and community organizer. In 2011, she left her six-digit corporate job to focus on family, health, and community building. After three years of research into mental health and resilience for her book, Her Lost Year, she believes humanity’s future health and happiness depends on the creation of resilient, sustainable communities.