Everything in its Place, Finally and Forever

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Every morning, I wake up to a home with nothing out of place. I’ve never been a Neatness Nazi and I still am not, but I’ve set things up so that my place just doesn’t get messy.

Every object in my house has a home of its own now. A little over a month ago, I vowed to eliminate homelessness from my home. My reasoning was that if I can’t be bothered to give my possessions a proper place to sleep at night, then I own far too much. I don’t want to own anything I don’t use or don’t appreciate. I don’t want stuff any more, only things.

“A place for everything, and everything in its place” is an ancient platitude that we’re all familiar with, but don’t think I have never been in the home of someone truly living it. I suppose in ancient times most people only owned a few dozen possessions so it wasn’t so hard.

But in our culture it’s perfectly normal for one person to own thousands of objects, far more than they could ever remember they own, let alone make use of or keep organized.

I insisted on finding out what it’s like to live this dream. In thirty days my lot has gone from chronically disorganized to nearly immaculate, by making one simple but drastic change:

I won’t own anything I can’t give a home to.

After a lot of tossing, selling and donating, everything I own now has a place where it is properly, officially away. A place where:

  • I always know where it is
  • I don’t have to move a bunch of crap to get to it
  • It doesn’t look ugly or get in the way
  • I can put it away in less than ten seconds

At the end of the day I take five minutes and put everything that’s still lying out where it belongs. There’s usually about ten or twelve items that aren’t already in bed, and the apartment quickly becomes hotel-room tidy again.

I used to live in perpetual untidiness. It wasn’t disgusting, but it wouldn’t be odd to find, say, notes and receipts on my kitchen table, a stack of library books on my coffee table, a jacket draped on a dining chair, and a hot sauce bottle stranded on my mantel — and that’s when it’s “clean.”

There was never a time when it looked good, except the hour immediately following the five-hour cleanup I would do every other Saturday when it got too bad to take.

And how could it look good? Since many things had no proper home, there was no “base” arrangement where things were exactly where they were supposed to be. I could hide messes, but the simple fact was that I had more things than I could care for. Most people do.

I had to reduce my possessions quite dramatically to get to be able to adequately house everything I chose to keep, but I still have quite a bit. Only once or twice have I wanted to use something that I’d gotten rid of, and it never was a big deal. There is an indescribable weight on your conscience that is released when you give something up. Every item you get rid of frees you, it really does.

I will never go back. There is just zero advantage to keeping more stuff than you can properly care for, even though it’s the normal thing to do. And it’s easy to maintain. I won’t buy anything I’m not prepared to give a home to. For once I am committed to really owning everything I have.

11 unexpected benefits of owning within my means

1) Cleaning the house takes five minutes. Five minutes to put everything away. About one minute a room at the end of the day. I actually set an alarm to do this every night at 9:20. I vacuum whenever it needs it, which is also a snap because there’s no crap on the floor. Once a week I clean everything including the bathroom and my apartment’s two floors. It takes about 20 minutes. Not even enough time to get through one Beatles album.

2) My mind is much clearer at home. This is an unbelievable difference. I suspected an organized home would make me feel better but I had no idea how enormous the difference would be. It’s easier to do my work, easier to write, easier to cook, easier to go to bed, easier to get up. There is just so little resistance in my mind about anything because I’m not constantly being accosted by thoughts that disordered possessions trigger: about the receipts on my table, the broken thing I’m not sure if I’m going to fix, the book that belongs to so-and-so, the notes I wrote about that thing that’s important (but probably will never be acted on), the PDF I printed out that it looks like I won’t read after all because it looks like the first few pages are missing… It had become normal for there to be so much unsettled crap in my mind because there was so much unsettled crap in my house. This effect is altogether separate than the fact that it’s just more pleasing on the psyche to see cleanliness than mess, though that’s nice too.

3) I’m not embarrassed to have people over. I don’t have to remember if there are dishes in the sink before I have someone in. In fact, I pretty much avoided having company entirely before. Now that’s wide open to me, and I’m not only unashamed, but proud.

4) Time seems to have grown out of nowhere. Aside from the tenfold reduction in cleaning time, there is no time wasted looking for things, nothing needs to be finally “tackled”, and I don’t get distracted from working by magazines, cereal boxes and other convenient procrastination devices.

5) Cooking is a much more attractive proposition. I can’t believe how much a difference it makes just to put the damn toaster in the cupboard when I’m done with it. Making toast is something that’s occurring for about 0.05% of the day, yet I let the toaster and all its ugly crumbs take up my precious counterspace (and headspace) for 100% of the day! Why? Because I was in the habit of leaving stuff where it ended up. It takes 3 seconds to put it away and another 3 to take it out. I was ignoring some pretty simple math. All of my utensils have their own dedicated place to lie in their respective drawers. Unloading the dishwasher is never an unattractive task anymore because I love the feeling of everything being away, and there is nothing that needs to be shuffled around.

6) I can’t distract myself from proceeding with the rest of my life anymore. This was a weird side-effect I didn’t expect, but it’s been very revealing. One thing I’ve often done (and I know it’s not uncommon) is to avoid an intimidating to-do task by cleaning up first. I reason that if I clean up I’ll be in a better state of mind to tackle whatever it is. This is usually true, it does help clear the mind, but often it’s just an obstacle we put in our own way to avoid working on the important stuff. But now I’m done the cleanup in five minutes, and there’s nothing left to do but face the next thing in life. Clutter serves as an easy distraction — it’s easy to lose track of your responsibilities amidst a lot of stuff and sometimes that’s exactly what we want to happen.

7) All my affairs are much more organized, by association. It’s not just the physical space of my life that is suddenly crystal clear, but also the abstract space of my plans and to-do lists. If I write a reminder note to do something, I know I won’t lose it. It’ll end up in my inbox and it will get acted upon. I don’t have to fear that I’m losing track of critical things. There are no important tasks going silently un-done, and for once I know that.

8 ) I can have good-quality versions of almost everything. I’m still gradually replacing anything that is cheap, plastic and ugly, but there’s a finite number of things I have to do this with. I am much more grateful for what I do have, because I only own things that would make a difference to me if I lost or broke them. There’s a profound joy to be had in the simple act of taking an object from its place, using it for what it was meant to be used, and putting it away. It is such a different experience than rifling through a drawer for that thing you think you still might have, finally finding it, using it and then tossing it back in a pile of mostly unused stuff.

9) My self-esteem made an unexpected jump. It’s hard to quite explain why this is, but I find I’m carrying myself differently even when I’m not at home. There is a certain mindset that arises from knowing you are “master of your domain” at home. I have removed a huge measure of chaos from my life, and now I feel much more confident in every interaction because I know I don’t let my own home overtake me. When you can’t even get a handle on the one corner of the world in which you have complete control, how can you expect to bring real steadiness and confidence into the outside world?

10) I am calmer. If you can imagine the difference between walking into a packrat’s garage sale, and walking into an orderly space, that’s a difference I feel every moment I’m home. I never realized the agitating effect that homeless stuff has on the mind. There’s this mild but always-present feeling that something is unresolved, because we only leave things lying around under the pretense that they’re only going to be there temporarily. But the resolution never comes, because the homeless objects have no place to go. I don’t want to beat this point to death but it’s unbelievable what a huge mental weight is released when there are no more “fish out of water” like this.

11) I love waking up, even on weekdays. My whole morning experience is different. Now that I wake up to a clean house, I want to spend more time in it before I go to work. I’ve shifted my bedtime forwards about half an hour, and I wake up almost an hour earlier. I am able to meditate and stretch and take my time in the mornings now because I don’t have this feeling of being squished between a taxing home and a taxing job. My mood is so much better when I leave, so my workday starts off on a less-taxing foot, which means I’m not very reactive at work, which helps the workday go much more smoothly. I do a better job, I have better interactions with people, I come home to a calming environment. Best domino effect ever.

It doesn’t need to be airtight

When I began I had a fear that I would get everything to an immaculate state, then watch as it all deteriorated into exactly what it was before: an hideous orgy of homeless stuff.

It’s not going to be an airtight system. And that’s good, because then everything would explode if you slipped somewhere. There are just a few things that you have to stay aware of to sustain it, and that’s really easy when you’re living in such a high-clarity environment.

Not all objects in a person’s home are really possessions. For example, if there’s a form you need to fill out and send somewhere, you probably won’t have designated a spot for it before it gets there. Same with gifts, things people return to you that you forgot you owned, and things that are waiting to be sold or donated. So you need to have some containers set up for certain categories of “thing”:

  • A nice-looking inbox, for stuff that needs decisionmaking or some other kind of action
  • A nice-looking box for things that you need to return to other people
  • A nice-looking box for “things that need a home.” This is your failsafe. Put gifts, new purchases, and objects that somehow remained stray in here.
  • A designated area for things that are waiting to be sold or donated. Best if these can be boxed too, so that they don’t spill into other areas.

Those buckets should catch most of the leaks.

Most of the benefits I’ve described do require a standing commitment: take that ten minutes to make sure everything is in its place at night. It’s not difficult to do this at all, but obviously there’s no point to making a place for everything if those things never get to go home. As a single person in an apartment, usually it’s about a three-minute job. If you live in a big house and you have kids, it might be fifteen, but it’s probably going to be the best fifteen minutes you spend all day. It’s such an easy job because every item should only take about ten seconds to put away. So even if eighty (!) items are left out, that’s only about thirteen minutes.

But it’s unlikely you’ll be waiting until the end of the day to put everything away. A left-out object is so conspicuous in an orderly home that you’ll probably put it away as soon as you realize it’s no longer in use. And there’s so little resistance to doing that because it requires no decisionmaking — you know exactly what to do with it, and the payoff is immediate.

It’s not hard to keep it tidy, because you just won’t tolerate things lying on the floor. There’s no longer any reason to.

We’ve been trained to not do this

One reality I can’t help but notice now is that it is extremely unusual in our society to not have far too many possessions to keep track of.

We let things pile up to absurd levels it because it’s normal, and it’s normal because we’ve been trained to buy things without being aware of the costs. The financial hit we take from a purchase is a one-time cost that dissipates quickly. Indiscriminate purchasing and owning costs us much more than money, and these costs are ongoing liabilities to our peace of mind, the order in our homes, gratitude for what we do have, the quality level of what we do own, and a sense of control over our own “lot” in life. Every possession imposes these costs, but we’re so used to excessive possessions that we don’t realize they’re so taxing to own.

Very-high-level marketers have successfully made the act of acquiring things into a highly unconscious habit for nearly all of us. Just as overeating has become normal, along with its consequences on our health, so has over-owning, along with its consequences on the states of our minds and our lives. Many people will never know what they’ve been missing, having been born into a disorderly household, and probably on their way to dying in one.

This all may sound a bit dramatic, but it’s hard to overstate the immediate difference this has made in my life. It was a lot of work, and I really had to get quite close to a 100% absence of homeless possessions before many of the benefits kicked in. But it could be the best time I ever spent, and it’s only begun to pay its dividends. If you’re looking for a “sure thing” to invest in, here it is.

R

Photo by See Ming Lee

Learn to live in the present

Everyday mindfulness has transformed my life, and has for countless others. You can use it to reduce stress, deal calmly with trouble, and experience joy and peace throughout each day. Making it a habit is easier than you probably think. Learn how.


{ 63 Comments }

Ian Anderson February 25, 2011 at 2:35 am

I so need my family to read this David!

We have been moving around the world for the past ten years or so, but kids got to school age so we had to stop and pick a place to “settle down”…….we chose Norway (my wifes home country).

Problem was that all our stuff has now followed us. Stuff from my old house in the UK, our stuff that we shipped from New Zealand (our last place), stuff from my wifes old flat, stuff my wife had in storage, stuff that I had in storage, stuff from my old lockup………

All of that stuff is now HERE!!!!! and it is a massive job to just sort it out.

I am inspired by your example David and it keeps me going knowing that one day, I too will only have stuff that I want to own.

Kudos man, you made it!

David February 25, 2011 at 6:26 am

The good part is that you never have to organize the stuff you eliminate in your initial purge. I probably got rid of 80% of what I own. Organizing a few hundred things isn’t so bad, but a few thousand is impossible. If you live with others, you’ll have to have at least one ally if you want to do this. But even if you’re only able to transform one room in this way I think many of the benefits will become obvious to everyone else.

Ian Anderson February 25, 2011 at 4:41 pm

It all reminds me of going to see Michael Landys ‘art’ in London years ago, where he shredded and recycled everything that he owned, walking away in just the clothes he stood up in!

Possessions demand that we take responsibility for their storage and upkeep. Stands to reason then that the less we have the more freedom we can enjoy.

Imagine that freedom.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Landy
http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfour/documentaries/features/feature_micheal_landy.shtml

Betsy February 25, 2011 at 5:36 am

Though whatever you write makes sense, and you write meticulously and your prose is perfect, yet i have this to say – your posts are getting trifle long and my attention span is limited…well thats me…thanks for the great ideas you disseminate…

David February 25, 2011 at 6:29 am

Hah… I was wondering if anyone would say that. I totally agree with you and I don’t like when they get this long. The experiment reports do tend to be this long though because they are a summary of a month in my life and I don’t want to leave anything important out. This won’t become the norm, I promise :)

Betsy February 25, 2011 at 8:01 am

David, i can see from your picture you are a young fella!! Generally we think “nuggets of wisdom” come only with age or maybe they sit pretty on a Buddha meditating under a tree, but you are far mature for your age,…don’t let me stand in your way – :-)

Here is a hilarious George Carlin video regarding stuff we accumulate in our houses, or maybe you have already seen it, but i come from another country where we see these things late!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvgN5gCuLac

Carrie February 25, 2011 at 6:47 am

I grew up in a home where I was embarrassed to have friends visit due to the state of the house, then endured several college roommates so slovenly that I was quite literally distracted from my work by their creeping clutter. When I moved to my own apartment, I vowed to have a clean, orderly, and welcoming home.

I’m amazed at how often my apartment is referred to a ‘bare’ or ‘empty,’ even though I still have quite a collection of stuff, at least by my standards. It seems that everyone has grown so accustomed to being hedged in by things at every turn that they feel uncomfortable when not surrounded by cluttered tabletops, chairs permanently occupied by chairs and papers, or chronically full sinks.

David February 25, 2011 at 5:27 pm

Good for you for breaking the cycle. There is such a psychological difference between a cluttered space and uncluttered one, that I’m not surprised it throws people for a loop.

Mara February 25, 2011 at 7:20 am

thank you for the great article!!! inspired me to clean my office desk :). Now I’m sitting and enjoying the additional space created from shredding and putting in place all those printed reports and emails. Smiling to myself and observing the view from the window. The idea with the containers is great, i already apply it for cloth donation but never thought before to do it for other things. Will try to remind myself before purchasing anything new: “I won’t own anything I can’t give a home to”

David February 25, 2011 at 5:28 pm

Enjoy your new freedom.

Katie February 25, 2011 at 8:26 am

Another great one! I especially loved the last section breaking down why we have this cultural drive for things. Dead on. Nice!! I too live a “stuffless” lifestyle in a small efficiency. Literally takes 5 minutes to clean and I love it! Internal peace is the main benefit for me. It is the greatest feeling when everything truly is in its place. And I love to do the dishes more than anything else. Imagine that! Granted, I have not been as diligent as you with every single item in my home, but you can bet I will now be evaluating stuff vs. things much more closely.

For most people, it seems this sort of lifestyle is quite overwhelming to imagine. Too structured, or expectant. Too many ways to fail, and we all know the power of the fear of failure. It will keep most people from doing most things. But you break it down so well, David! Anyone could feel excited to give it a whirl. Thanks for helping us all, “get better at being human.” :D You’re doing a really great thing.

Pieter February 25, 2011 at 8:59 am

Hi David, awesome article. Coincidence is, today I just am almost finished putting everything in proper order in my own house, and in an for me unprecedented way. Almost finished, always wanted to do it, it just never came of it. It already feels much better inside myself.

Thanks

Heather February 25, 2011 at 9:36 am

You are so right on this! I haven’t yet reached “0 homelessness” in my home, but I’m working on it! It’s amazing how every little step you make in that direction helps though. And it feels great when you spend that 5 minutes putting stuff away before bed and wake up to a clean house in the morning.
I still have to spend about an hour once a week on the cleaning, but that’s mostly for the major stuff, vacuuming, dusting, bathrooms and kitchen, never going to get away from that with a shedding dog and cat!

Rose Siboney LaLuz February 25, 2011 at 9:55 am

This was a real gem in my in- box this morning (another area to de -clutter is e-mail). What a clear and gentle way to explain something that is so difficult to convey. Clarity, like most things we need comes from a shift in beliefs/habits. At 49, I am newly divorced after 32 years and living alone for the first time ever. Discovering that much of the stuff we own really owns us and that I am so very happy with so very little stuff and all the inner and outer space to finally breathe.
One thousand thank yous David.

djinnga February 25, 2011 at 10:24 am

It has been my main focus to de clutter the space for sometime now.It is a long “journey” to say the least. However it has to be done.Wish me luck. lol Thank u for this excellent post.Blessings and smiles

Will February 25, 2011 at 12:40 pm

I work for a moving company out of Boston. Ask most movers and we will tell you that most people have too much “stuff”. Usually when we go into a house with a family that has been lived in for more than ten 10 to 15 years, a full 53 foot trailer can be filled. Basements and attics take up a lot of this space.

When you do find a place for your stuff. Make sure it is not a bottomless pit you can just keep dumping the stuff into. This just makes it worse.

Whenever we move young people or couples, I always say the same thing and give the same advice. Get rid of anything you don’t want or need because it usually accumulates and piles up without you noticing. Want to know what one of the most popular comments to us movers is? “Man, I forgot I had all this stuff!” or “Jeez, I haven’t seen this stuff in like 20 years!”

This is my take on stuff. The more the accumulate, the more your gonna have to move. And since having movers come is expensive, most people are going to have to do it themselves. Therefore, get rid of it.

David February 25, 2011 at 5:34 pm

Hey thanks for the inside look Will. A 53-foot trailer, that’s unbelievable. There have been times when friends or acquaintances ask me to help them move, and I’m usually thinking “Do they really use all this shit?” So much of what we move is literally just dead weight that will probably never get unpacked, let alone used. But I don’t need to tell you that :)

nrhatch February 25, 2011 at 4:10 pm

David ~ Have I told you today that you’re my favorite? :D

I love this post. We’ve been streamlining possessions for 13 years. During that period of time, we’ve downsized from 4200 sq. ft. to 1800 to 1200.

The more stuff we set free . . . the more freedom we have. We gain clarity, energy, insight, time, and happiness. And when visitors stop by unexpectedly, we never have to wonder whether to invite them in.

Less is MORE!

Minimalist Wannabe February 26, 2011 at 3:41 am

I grew up in a family of packrats where everything (and there was lots!) had a home… but it was exhausting! I love your expression: “eliminate homelessness from my home”.

I’ve started streamlining my belongings and I too find that I now have an urge to put things away and clean – something I had never experienced before! LOL

Your description is an inspiration and you did it in 30 days!

Jeff Gaver February 26, 2011 at 6:59 am

Great read. I’ve found, especially being in a mid moving status that the Salvation Army and Goodwill reap great benefits from my relocating. Minimalism is a foreign concept to many of us in our consumption based economic ideology and it’s easy to subconsciously accumulate in it’s midst. Having space that is not a hoarder training ground definitely helps ones own balance and inner fung shui

Chris February 27, 2011 at 8:38 am

Talk about something I need to work on! Sometimes I think I come home to surf in a sea of clutter. My office is a wreck. Sure could use those 11 benefits… think I’ll start by packing up some stuff for goodwill!

Ivars February 27, 2011 at 10:03 am

David, this is THE kind of thing I needed to stumble upon to help me continue my removal of stuff which I had done with good success, but which had stalled for a time. I used to consider myself a clutter person just letting the stuff on it’s own, but after time I now see it’s not what I really want. Here, I see the oppurtunity to make at least my room and at the time my mind more tidy.
Sure, I may need to return here for guidance, as for overcoming the “enviromentalist” in me when I decide to throw out an empty marker I doubt I’ll be able to refill. But hell, I even threw some amount of useless stuff while reading this post. That was good.

Greetings and gratitude from Latvia.

Shanna Mann February 27, 2011 at 12:20 pm

Hey, David, I actually stole that phrase of your whenever I read it to overhaul our own house around New Years — no homelessness! My family resists decluttering, convinced I’m trying to get rid of all their stuff, and no amount of clarifying the definition of clutter was helping. So finally I said, look, it has to have a home, out of sight, and you have to be able to find it in 20 seconds or less.

So I totally bobbed my head while I was reading. But I think you forgot to mention one thing — this lifestyle promotes mindfulness. Just like your toaster. Why am I leaving this out? Well, I found that I wanted to leave things in such a way that I never had to really notice what I was doing; I wanted to be able to cook one-handed, nose never leaving a book. I wanted to be able to do things while on the phone. It seems like I was almost terrified to be fully in my own space, mindful of what I was doing. One hand shakes the other in this case, but that was what I noticed the most, over and above the things you mentioned.

David March 2, 2011 at 8:43 pm

Yes, it really opens the door for mindfulness. It makes it a natural thing to do. When you have stuff everywhere it makes you used to splitting your attention. When the clutter is minimized, it’s amazing how easy it is to immerse yourself in one task.

O February 28, 2011 at 2:21 pm

For me the hardest part is keeping tabs on the quantity of books. They just keep accumulating (some purchased but mostly gifts), I’ve no shelf space left, and yet it’s hard not to think I’d like to read it or lend it one day. Any thoughts on books specifically? Thanks.

David February 28, 2011 at 3:41 pm

Be a bit ruthless here. You won’t read them all, and in the mean time, new books will arrive in your life. If you’ve accumulated a backlog, then it means you acquire at a higher rate than you consume, so you need to do some conscious purging if you want to keep it in control. If you’re saving it just to lend it, then why not donate it now (lending permanently to a stranger) or else tag all the lend-worthy books with sticky notes for the person you want to lend it to, and get it into their hands the next time you see them.

You don’t have to read a book just because it was a gift, or even if you bought it yourself. I got rid of some books that I’d paid full price for and never read, because I know there are twenty other books on that shelf I’d rather read, and new ones come in all the time.

There’s nothing wrong with having a large book collection as long as its orderly, but I think most of us fool ourselves about how many of those books we’re actually going to read one day.

O February 28, 2011 at 4:01 pm

What are your thoughts on having a good collection of books at home for a child to grow up among? Anyway, I don’t mean to change subjects on you. Whether and how many books to keep is one decision. Storing them in an orderly way instead of having them spilling out everywhere is your recommendation that is well taken.

I do have another question though. How do you feel about untidiness inside a container? E.g. a bookcase with a solid door, in which it’s a wild world of books stacked every which way. Does that count as tidy? Personal judgement?

David February 28, 2011 at 4:52 pm

My parents always had a lot of books in the house and I know it was good for us growing up. But I don’t think there is a difference in the benefit between having fifty books and any given time and having a thousand. But books come and go, I wouldn’t worry about being too rash in getting rid of books because you can always get more easily if you ever feel “short”.

What counts as tidy? Good question. It counts as tidy if it improves your mood and “sense of domestic peace” rather than takes away from it. In a storage box, or something you rarely look at, it probably doesn’t matter how orderly it is. But a bookshelf that looks like hell, even if it’s behind a door, will make you feel good every time you open it if it is orderly. Books are easy to make orderly, there’s no reason not to do it that I can see. Notice the positive psychological effect of having straightened something out. I want to have that feeling nearly all the time in my home.

The idea, from my perspective, is to:
-Own little enough, and have it in an organized enough manner, that you never have to search for anything

Allison March 11, 2013 at 12:47 pm

I don’t have a complete solution for this problem but I use my amazon shopping cart as a partial solution. Instead of buying a new book I put it in my shopping cart until I actually have time to read it. I still have books in there since the *nineties*! I have over five hundred items in that shopping cart that I didn’t buy. Imagine how much money I’ve saved! Yet all the books I want to read and stuff I want to buy is carefully stored there and saved so that I won’t forget them and I can buy one when I have time to read it.

bshine March 8, 2014 at 8:15 pm

Allison – I do this too. My “wish list” is so many pages long, I haven’t seen the bottom of it in years.

And my cart? I put things in it that I DEFINITELY want, and then leave them for a few days, or weeks. I rarely end up buying them.

I find I enjoy the research and thrill of discovery more than the purchasing and owning of most objects.

It’s like giving up smoking – the urge is so strong, but it passes quickly.

Ian Anderson March 1, 2011 at 3:15 am

I agree David, living in Africa definitely reduced my impulse to buy.

Now we ask ourselves the question, do we really need this item? How did we manage thus far without it and then the best one of all, leave it a few weeks. If you still want it at the end of all that. Buy it.

Then you need to tackle the other great stuff problem. ‘Other people’. Start telling people NOT to buy for you, donate instead or keep a carefully compiled wish list of stuff that you need, not want.

It’s difficult though, grandparents simply cannot help themselves………

Ramsey March 1, 2011 at 12:14 pm

My fiance and I cleaned all weekend after reading this. Probably donated and threw out 3 truck loads of “stuff.” Haha, thanks for the inspiration. Great read.

David March 2, 2011 at 8:29 pm

*High five*

*pol March 3, 2011 at 5:56 pm

I just found my way here from “365 Less Things”, and I have to say I LOVE THIS POST! You have put into words all the things I am hoping for from decluttering.

HOW did you do it in 30 days? I have been working for over a year, and though the cupboards close much better now and the closets aren’t bursting, it’s still got homeless things in everyroom!

Maybe it doesn’t help that I am married with 2 kids so it’s not all my decision? Or is that an excuse?

This clutter-busting mentality is fairly new to me. I used to get comfort from my belongings, but lately something shifted and they feel like they are smothering me more than anything.

Congratulations on your success, I will be back to your blog for inspiration!

David March 3, 2011 at 9:27 pm

It is definitely easier for me because I live alone with no kids.

I have noticed how quick many people are to disqualify themselves from any attempt to declutter just because they have kids. Living with others, especially kids, certainly limits how far you can go with it, but there’s still so much you can do. Just start by getting rid of anything (of yours) you don’t use. That is such a huge step for some people, but there is no reason you can’t do it. Then pick one room to get to “Everything in its place.” The master bedroom is probably the best place to start. Have one sanctuary, even if it’s just your desk or your closet.

Nea | Self Improvement Saga March 3, 2011 at 6:30 pm

I really admire what you’ve done here. I’ve moved in with a friend in another state, but I’ll be moving into my own place soon. That will be a perfect time for me to follow in your footsteps.

I know how incredibly liberating it can be to let go of excess things. I did a lot of that when I left my home town a few weeks ago. However, I still brought a lot more with me than I need. I’m sharing this article with many of my friends and I’ll be using it as my personal source of inspiration.

Knowing that you’re making it work, shows me that I, too, can “own within my means.”

I accept the challenge, David.

Pat March 4, 2011 at 12:51 am

This is an AWESOME post!
I’ve retired from a career, raised two children and lived in a “normal” home. It’s taking me a while to sort through a life of accumulation but I’m getting there. The rewards are everything you describe (and more). If I’d have known how this felt, I’d have done it years ago!

I used to be afraid I’d miss something I gave away too. I should have trusted myself a little more. Being newly retired, I now live on half of my previous income. I know I can’t as easily replace things as I once could have so giving away items that I knew still had value was a concern. The fear is gone because I realize the feeling I have in my home every moment I’m in it is worth far more to me than any fleeting moment of regret I may have later. The trade-off is a no brainer.

I have a new respect for my home. This is my home.. not a public lending library of books, not a warehouse to hoard things for possible future use, and not a sanctuary to house physical reminders of a life well lived. Without even trying, I’ve learned more about living in the moment too.

I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but my focus switched from being about “what I gave away” to “what I chose to keep”.

David March 4, 2011 at 6:34 am

It’s a completely different feeling at home, isn’t it? Worth way more than any amount of junk.

Pat March 4, 2011 at 6:00 pm

Absolutely.

It’s so true that it impacts other areas of your life too. I’m in south Florida so our yard never goes dormant. I’ve begun decluttering and simplifing my yard. I’ve given away plant that are too high maintenance and plant pots and “stuff” piled up by the side of the garage. Yep, you nailed it when you said it does make you more mindful of your surroundings!

Grace March 5, 2011 at 4:48 pm

Dave, This was a great read. Even though you thought it was long, as I was reading I thought, “Wow, someone is not just rattling off a quick post but really putting a lot of time and effort into this.” So I enjoyed the length. I guess the length allowed some much needed motivation to build up so that when I was finished I got on task immediately. We have just moved into a smaller home and there are many homeless items still about so I really needed your post to get me going on the final stretch. My kids have a new chant for me, “Mom against homeless things”. I am hoping that the message gets through to them too! : )

David March 8, 2011 at 7:27 pm

Haha! Mom against homeless things, that’s awesome. I’ve had a lot of feedback from people saying that decluttering is somehow not an option for them because they have kids. I’m not a parent, but I know this is something that kids can get on board with. It doesn’t have to be “spotless or nothing,” just a different philosophy about how things are going to be treated in the home. As I kid I know I would have liked the idea of everything having a proper home. Kids raised with this idea would probably grow to be uncommonly conscious of the value of what they own and what they buy. They’ll also realize how easy and rewarding it is to clean up when things have homes, and how impossible it is when they don’t.

kitty March 11, 2011 at 7:22 am

im one of those neat-messy people. every thing i own has a place but when people come into my home they ask me how i can find anything? I mean im not a horder, and i definatly clean but it still looks like crap….is this just orginizational issues or do i need to hire a maid:(

David March 17, 2011 at 8:27 pm

You don’t need to do anything, but you’ll notice a big difference in how you feel if you give things proper homes. Being able to find things is really the least of it. There is such a powerful psychological effect from order in your home.

Miami Foreclosure Defence May 2, 2011 at 12:06 pm

That`s pretty neat, how they are organized by color. great idea, thanks.

Patricia Hope May 17, 2011 at 2:47 pm

I’m impressed David. As someone with dyslexia I have a problem with ‘finding homes for things’. Even a small number of them!

Something that I haven’t read in your post or in the comments (but I may have missed it) is that many people buy things to fill a psychological hole in their life. Also most people are fearful of change and their ‘stuff’ is a form of security.

I’ve moved around so much that I regularly attempt to condense all my possessions into a suitcase and a few boxes.

I have a pattern of living in other people’s homes surrounded by their ‘stuff’ that is still stored in ‘my room’ – but that’s another story – something I need to address. :-)

David May 19, 2011 at 6:48 am

I mentioned at least one psychological hole-filler: When I lived in clutter, it was much easier not to worry about what to do with the rest of my life, because I always had this big distracting obstacle between me and the rest of my life. With nothing to put away, nothing out of place in the home, I had no choice but to decide what to *do*.

This was a weird side-effect I didn’t expect, but it’s been very revealing. One thing I’ve often done (and I know it’s not uncommon) is to avoid an intimidating to-do task by cleaning up first. I reason that if I clean up I’ll be in a better state of mind to tackle whatever it is. This is usually true, it does help clear the mind, but often it’s just an obstacle we put in our own way to avoid working on the important stuff. But now I’m done the cleanup in five minutes, and there’s nothing left to do but face the next thing in life. Clutter serves as an easy distraction — it’s easy to lose track of your responsibilities amidst a lot of stuff and sometimes that’s exactly what we want to happen.

et June 3, 2011 at 11:03 pm

I wonder about your use of the term “Neatness Nazi”.
The Nazi movement was a particular political movement with policies that I am sure you are aware of.
Do not think that you are belittling the lives lost and the sacrifices made fighting the Nazis by associating them with “neatness”?

David June 4, 2011 at 9:12 am

No. That’s ridiculous.

kat July 15, 2011 at 4:53 am

This has articulated a creeping, nagging feeling I’ve had coming for months.

I read every word of it rapt and engrossed (and even took some notes). Thank you so much. :)

Bronwyn August 30, 2011 at 9:53 pm

Hey David, just want to thank you for this experiment, even though it was several months ago now. I actually came looking for it again today, because I’m moving house this week and needed some inspiration while packing boxes to decide what gets kept and what gets given away. It’s a bit of a chore to sort and pack it all, plus I’m only moving 5 minutes away so there’s the temptation to just dump it all in the car and make 10 trips there and back and unload it all at the other end. But that will just result in owning the same number of things at the new place. Your refreshing perspective on valuing my things enough to give everything its own home is helping me today! In fact, I think this post was one of the first that brought me to Raptitude, and I’ve been a reader ever since. Keep up the inspiring work. Cheers!

Shelley Heck February 27, 2012 at 7:02 pm

This is awesome! I love everything about this article and what you are “preachin”. My husband left this link on my FB page because I’m always saying “A place for everything and everything in it’s place”. I just need help with getting my family to help me implement! I think there is hope since my husband is the one who sent me this link! =)

Shelley

Dennis Neftleberg April 29, 2013 at 7:44 pm

Great read David, Not only does it apply to a home or particular space, but to our mind as well. As a home improvement specialist I deal with hundreds of details for each project. Things can get quite chaotic when my space ie truck, storage space, home as well as my mind is disorderly. You are an inspiration on the benefits of “Doing It Now” A saying my girlfriend has been trying to instill in me for 6 years. Once a month I organize my life and feel so energized, Like I can tackle anything. Now I need to implement it every day. Thank You

sophie November 5, 2013 at 6:10 am

great tips thank you for sharing this blog looks easy but i think i can do that

Chris June 8, 2014 at 4:46 pm

I love that post! Do your thoughts on stuff and how to manage it also extend to emails? I find they clutter time and mind space just as much. Would be great Iif you could share your ways with these too! Thanks for this inspiring reading!

David Cain June 8, 2014 at 9:27 pm

I hadn’t thought of that, but why not? A lot of people go by the five sentences rule for email.

tina June 29, 2014 at 2:59 pm

this is the way I always lived but I cant get the slobs I live with now (husband and son) to understand this…I miss the days of living by myself, when I woke in the morning to a clean house…getting ready before work was a calm leisurely thing…now its a rush and stress because I have to start putting other peoples crap up…I thought this article was by a woman and was pleasantly surprised.

O February 28, 2011 at 5:02 pm

Thanks for the thoughts.

I can’t shake the feeling that this is such a ‘rich’ thing to do. You can always get more, you said. Now you can – you’re young, able to work, there’re no shortages. Would you regret the donations if a disability or major economic problems came along? Look up Song Dong’s exhibit Waste Not if you get a chance. But again, I don’t want to change focus. How much to have is one decision, to keep it organized is another.

David February 28, 2011 at 7:45 pm

That’s an interesting perspective, because to me it’s about getting acquainted with living with less. It has reduced my impulse to buy.

Many people are uncomfortable with the idea of getting rid of stuff that’s “perfectly good.” I think this is a fear that’s worth challenging, because most of the stuff we have comes with mental burdens we’re unaware of until we let go of it.

Would I regret donating a bunch of stuff I didn’t use if I lost my job later? Of course not. Would a pile of books I’ll never read serve as some kind of emergency fund in case of hard times? No, because they have very little monetary value. The only value they have occurs when and if I read them. In the mean time they are only liabilities. It’s unlikely I’ll ever find myself bookless and crying about it just because I got rid of so many this month. I can get a dozen books at Goodwill for a few bucks any time I want. A pile of garage sale-worthy junk will not save you from hard times.

We need to get over the idea that something has positive value just because it’s a thing. The “waste not want not” mentality is a carryover from the depression. This is a different time, a culture in which even very poor people can accumulate way too much stuff without even trying. It is a waste to keep all this crap now. Continuing to own it is a waste of our living space and head space, and the culture of continuously accumulating stuff creates an enormous waste of resources by sustaining demand for mass-produced, low-quality stuff.

There is no decadence in getting rid of things. If it feels like a ‘rich’ thing to do, it’s only in that it is the opposite of a fear-based ‘poor’ mentality, where we feel like we don’t have enough so we refuse to let anything go. We don’t realize what our excessive stuff costs us just by being in our houses and on our minds, until we get rid of it. I do feel richer now that I have less crap.

Kiron February 28, 2011 at 9:36 pm

On the subject of books, I’ve found that my bookshelf has been pretty much static since I’ve gotten a Kindle, and when I get the time I am just going to run everything on it to goodwill (with the obvious exception of reference materials, which don’t work very well on e-readers).
I can’t speak for the mental burden of having 10 books on it that I haven’t read, but I think part of the reason this works so well is because there’s a lot of truth in the old adage “Out of sight, out of mind,” and things that are sitting on flash memory are pretty well out of sight.

As far as the rest of it goes, I’m looking forward to implementing it when I’m not living in a house with 7 other university students. I think trying to live minimalistically here would be somewhat of a fruitless endeavor.

O March 1, 2011 at 1:24 pm

I’m totally with you on buying less and carefully. As for getting rid of stuff: you said “Would I regret donating a bunch of stuff I didn’t use if I lost my job later? Of course not.”. I don’t know about that. You might start using it if you cannot afford an alternative. An old jacket might become acceptable after the newer one is worn out, the old phone might become handy because the newer one broke, etc. What are your thoughts on this? I don’t think I’m being too pessimistic by considering this possibility.

What comes to mind is storing all the stuff you don’t want now – in a locker, in storage, etc in an organized manner. This is what so many people try to do I guess, except it gets disorganized … and others can’t benefit from it since it’s not donated.

On that note, I was wondering how much of what we donate actually reaches good hands. I’ve tried contacting Salvation Army with this question by email, and didn’t get an answer.

David March 1, 2011 at 4:40 pm

As for getting rid of stuff: you said “Would I regret donating a bunch of stuff I didn’t use if I lost my job later? Of course not.”. I don’t know about that. You might start using it if you cannot afford an alternative. An old jacket might become acceptable after the newer one is worn out, the old phone might become handy because the newer one broke, etc. What are your thoughts on this? I don’t think I’m being too pessimistic by considering this possibility.

I’m afraid I just don’t see it that way at all. You are describing a fearful mentality where everything you own represents some sort of reliable padding against disaster. If disaster really wants to find you, an extra jacket or a bunch of books will not save you from it. It’s a slippery slope to start thinking of remote contingencies in which item X or item Y might be handy. It stems from a deep-seated fear of feeling regret in the future. I’m willing to face the odd circumstance where I have a passing feeling of regret for getting rid of something. Getting rid of stuff has immediate, guaranteed, long-lasting benefits to a person’s state of mind and sense of self-reliance. Hoarding stuff offers a remote possibility of a short-lived circumstantial benefit sometime in the future, which only comes at great cost in the present.

In a desperate situation I would always draw upon the best resources I have, which are my brain, my body, my life skills and my friends and family, not boxes of stuff in the basement. Being prepared for those kinds of circumstances has nothing to do with how much stuff I hoard in my home and everything to do with my confidence in myself and my ingenuity. Cutting my possessions down to what I can see and know has strengthened these qualities. I believe more in myself and less in my possessions. If you need material padding against disaster, make it money, not things.

Organized storage is an improvement over having stuff all over the place, but it is still clinging to the notion that all this stuff really adds something worthwhile to life, and that it is wiser to not let go of it. I am saying that hoarding stuff (organized or not) adds to our insecurity if we can’t let go of it, and that cutting the cord is an act of great empowerment.

O March 1, 2011 at 6:55 pm

I appreciate the continued thoughts. I was playing devil’s advocate a bit here, I do actually donate and purge regularly, and ask people to give me donations as gifts. But obviously not without some fear, so I was curious to explore it. I think I will now be better able to weigh the options for any given object: potential feeling of regret vs. benefit to state of mind.

Thanks!!

P.S. I want to share a tip I got a few years ago and have used a lot: if an object has sentimental value, take a picture of it, then donate.

David March 1, 2011 at 9:01 pm

Ah, great tip. I don’t mean to be overbearing with my minimalist bent, I just have found such liberation in challenging that fear of getting rid of stuff, I would encourage anyone to see what’s on the other side of it.

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