Monday, September 7, 2015

Minimalist Monday: So You've Decluttered All of Your Stuff... Now What?

Thank you guys so much for your encouraging words on my Minimalist Monday series - I really appreciate that, and your feedback gives me more ideas for future posts! That's exactly how this one was born: in part inspired by your comments, in part the result of my own reflections towards the process of achieving a simpler lifestyle.

The thought that has recurred the most in many of my conversations about purging and minimalism in general, and which has stuck in the back of my mind for the past couple of months, is that 'decluttering is just a trend'. Yes, if you're observing the whole phenomenon from the outside or have just dipped your toes into it by throwing out some old T-shirts, it seems to be exactly that - the Marie Kondo obsession, the whole series of make-up collection declutters on YouTube, popularity of Project Pans, blog sales; everyone is loving it at the moment. Everyone is throwing this out, everyone's reducing, everyone is simplifying... Or are they, really?

Here's what I think really happens to most us during the decluttering process, even with the best of intentions. You've either just finished reading 'The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up' (here's my review, if you're curious about my thoughts), or have watched a bunch of 'beauty gurus' purge and reorganize their closets and make-up drawers - and now you can't wait to start your own 'journey' (yes, that's how it's being called these days; sounds better than 'getting rid of a bunch of crap', doesn't it?). Usually, it goes two ways from there: either you get completely overwhelmed by the task and only manage to tackle a very small space, if that; or, you do actually go through all of your closets, junk drawers, document folders, and yes, make-up collections, and get rid of quite a significant amount of stuff. Which camp are you in, by the way?

I'm firmly in the second camp - I did go slowly and carefully through most of my stuff, and got rid of (threw away/ gave away/ donated) A LOT of things. I would estimate at least 50% of my own clothes, 30% of my make-up stash (over a period of a couple years - I started well before decluttering became a trend), 20% of other things like documents and miscellanous things; this last category had the least amount of progress since it includes things I share with my husband, and he's still not very interested in getting rid of anything. It felt AMAZING - I was on a decluttering high. I could see visible changes to my drawers and cabinets, everything looked cleaner and more organized (look at the pretty rows of my vertically folded clothes! Yes, they still look that way), and I was able to rediscover so many beautiful things I've owned for years but wasn't using because all that other crap was obscuring it from view. It was magical, just like in KonMari's book.

Well, okay - but what do I do now? I feel that this is something that isn't really mentioned in the book at all; Marie simply states that once you go through the total, all encompassing purge, you will never want to go back to your old ways, and your home (and life) will remain clutter-free. But unfortunately, I don't believe it's all that simple.

If you think about how all those things you just got rid of made their way into your home in the first place, they were not just 'junk' to begin with. You bought them because you needed or wanted them, or they were generously given to you as a token of someone's love and caring. No one came in with a shovel and showered your space with trash - that's clearly not the source of the problem.

The heart of the problem is that we're part of a consumerist culture, and we've been brought up associating all kinds of important feelings with physical goods, thinking about them as status symbols, problem solvers, or happiness bearers. Oh, the stuff! Stuff is important. I need more stuff! I believe that if you do not take time to address those feelings, and if you don't try to change your attitude towards stuff, you'll be just facing the same clutter problem again and again over the course of your lifetime (how depressing). There won't be any 'life-changing magic' to your hard work in purging your closet; things will just slowly revert back to where you started.

But changing your attitudes and thought patterns is not easy, and it won't happen overnight. That's the not-so-fun part of attempting a more minimalist lifestyle that's rarely mentioned, much less executed, by all those trend-setters showing us their perfectly decluttered and reorganized spaces. Essentially, if you truly want to change your consumerist ways and lead a simpler lifestyle, you need to acquire MUCH less stuff in the future, on top of continued efforts to downsize what you already have.

This is precisely why I put in place my two make-up products a month allowance two years ago (I'm considering changing it to one product a month next year) and started documenting my empties and doing Projects Make A Dent/ Project Pan. This year, I've also started writing down a list of every make-up item and every piece of clothing/ accessories I buy, along with their prices. So far, I've resisted doing a complete inventory of my make-up/ nail polish/ skincare stash because I think I'll be too overwhelmed with the results, but it's a useful tool, and I may consider doing it at some point in the future.

And while all of these strategies are helpful in keeping me on track of my stuff-reducing goals, it is still not easy - I get tempted, like we all do. I continue to purchase unnecessary things that I'll probably regret later. I don't want you to think I'm some sort of minimalist lifestyle ideal - you should see my bathroom cabinet, or my skincare back-up drawer - and remember those 70 nail polish bottles still remaining in my collection, even after various purges? I'm still a beauty fantatic at heart, and I love trying new products and reviewing them on the blog, even though I know I don't actually NEED them. Simplifying your life is definitely a long process, difficult and mundane at times (you know, like actually trying to use up all those extraneous bottles of stuff instead of just pitching them in the trash...), and finding your personal balance between living with less and living a full life may take months. Or years. I fully recognize that.

What I'm trying to say is that making a lasting change is challenging, and it may not even be for everyone. If a mere thought of getting rid of your things is giving you the heebie-jeebies, or you've finished your declutter and you feel happy with where you are now, then good for you - you certainly don't need me to tell you what to do, you just do you. But if you still feel overwhelmed by what you own, or you feel stuck, not fully content but not knowing where to go next - just give yourself some time to think things through. I've found that my comfort levels keep changing all the time (specifically, I'm comfortable with simplifying more and more stuff in my life; just look how skeptical I was back in February...), and what you deem impossible right now may seem quite effortless in a couple months. Minimalism isn't some sort of trendy race or competition (and if you hail the benefits of your newly decluttered closet just to turn around and haul MORE stuff into your life, then you're clearly missing the point - hint hint, YouTube), and it doesn't help to compare yourself to other people - just do it at your own pace, with your own set of rules.

I do my best to try and enjoy it despite the difficulties - like coming up with new ways of simplifying my life (for example, recently when I needed a new suitcase for international travel, I intentionally bought a smaller one to practice more efficient and minimalist packing - or trying to decide which personal care products in my bathroom I could do without), discovering more books and blogs about minimalist lifestyles, or combining my remaining clothes into new outfits I've never thought of before. I would love to hear your thoughts about your own decluttering/ simplifying/ minimalist experiences, what you struggle with the most and what you find the most helpful - we're all in the same boat! On a different note... Happy 29th Birthday to me! - I'm writing this post early in preparation for our Italy trip, and I'm hoping that as you're reading it, I'm off somewhere basking in the sun between hills of Tuscany, sipping Chianti and enjoying a fabulous gelato :D Thank you for reading!


  1. happy birthday, lovely! My biggest struggle with decluttering is that everything still manages to get disorganized. I can't decide if that means I haven't decluttered quite enough or if I'm jus a messy person and no matter how few things I have, I'll be messy unless I find a way to reform my habits.

    Hope you're enjoying all that incredible Chianti! Have a glass for me :)

  2. Thanks for this! Some very interesting thoughts. I think letting go of our obsession with consuming is a good (and difficult) thing, and I do prefer the concept of decluttering to minimalism, in general. I also think these sorts of things are best when people tackle them for personal reasons, as you've done, rather than preaching minimalism as a superior lifestyle that everyone should embrace. The fact is, there is an element of privilege to the idea that people should own "just one really good" whatever (tea pot, pair of shoes, etc.), and get rid of everything else. For one, it's often consumerism presented in a different form, as you noted (get rid of all your crap and buy these expensive items instead). What's more, if you're financially insecure, sometimes you have to hold on to your crappy duplicates, because if the one you're using breaks, you can't afford to replace it with another cheap one, much less a "really good" one. It's more practical to hold on to what you already have.

    Personally, I don't think there's anything wrong with attaching emotional (or other) significance to material things. People have been doing that forever. Attaching emotional significance to endless consumption is different, though, of course. It sounds like your plan is working great for you thus far, and you are approaching it in a realistic and positive way. I look forward to reading more about your "journey!" ;) And happy birthday!

  3. yes! i'm in the second camp. after having moved back i think i gave away/donated/threw away about 40% of my clothing? maybe 50% i'm probably at 20% makeup right now. and about 60% decluttered for life stuff/documents/ old memorabilia/books. it felt REALLY GOOD TOO!! i know exactly what you mean.

    yea i think 2 products a month is a good goal. so far i haven't bought anything since i moved back and its been great but i still feel like i want things or it feels like i'm depriving myself of buying things but that's such a weird thought to have! b/c why should my only happiness come from 'owning' and 'buying'. totally agree about changing mindsets.

    and yes i was thinking about the 'what next' thing too! and i realized the high of buying something isn't worth the feeling you get when you have to decide on whether of not you should keep it. i agonized over certain blushes again and again and again before letting them go. and i though jeez the 2 seconds it took for me to want/buy this has resulted in 30 mins of hemming and hawing and maybe another day to finally get rid of it. it just isn't worth the time! i'd rather not have gotten it in the first place so that i don't have make the 'hard' decision later on about whether to keep it!

  4. Happy birthday! Lots of cake and gelato today I hope!

    I think the follow-up to decluttering is so important, and you're right that there's not much focus on how to maintain a decluttered life and make a permanent lifestyle change. Kondo's method is so drastic that I can't imagine doing it that way and reverting back. As I was reading, I also wondered how long she kept track of her former clients and whether anyone who did "rebound" would ever admit to it.

    For me, I'm sick at heart at all levels of consumerism, be it beauty products, fashion, electronics and gadgets and even real estate. My main influences lately hasn't been hardcore minimalists (although they have a certain appeal when you feel so oversaturated with STUFF) but "slow living" folks who have opted out of the rat race to keep up appearances and even given up certain careers that were draining every ounce of joy and satisfaction from their lives. Their stories ring more true and steady to me because I can see similar trajectories in my own life and can relate to the mental anguish and fatigue that led to certain decisions to maintain a permanently slow and deliberate living. But also rather than being just pushed to give up things, I think there also has to be a pull to a vision of a life that you want to live, as Kondo also points out. For me it's greater awareness of world issues like the Syrian refugees and environmental crises. I'm no longer content to glide through life nicely by myself. I want to somehow contribute and make a positive change for everyone's benefit. Me giving up 40 blushes isn't solving any real issues other than my own, but I'm not going back to hoarding and feeding a buying frenzy. Money saved can go to relief efforts or financial donations to causes I believe in, and not participating in high level consumerism sends messages that will eventually translate to data and trends that will hopefully do something good for the world. Not being bogged down with material things is in fact just a side benefit.

    Thanks for the lovely thought-invoking post and enjoy the rest of your trip in Italy!

  5. Happy Birthday Monika!

    I totally agree that decluttering became some kind of trend. I think that post people aren't eager enough to stick to a minimalist stash.

    I've been struggeling with cosmetics for 5 years, but I succeed buying less stuff for 2 years. It was very hard for me to resist the tempting of brand new and better products, but then I realised, that I cannot use everything I own in my lifetime, so why should I buy the 31st brown eyeshadow? I own 8 different shades, some of them even thrice - That's a lot! I am happy with my stash though because I am using it. It will still be a long way to go, but I'm trying my best. I am proud that I use 90% of the stuff I've bought this year.

    After reading your post about storing the clothes vertically, I made up my whole wardrobe. Thanks for that advice - It really helped a lot and saved a lot of space!

    I think that you should keep the Minimalist Monday category. I am curious how long you will keep your minimalistic wardrobe and cosmetic bag. :)

  6. Happy birthday!

    I don't think I am anywhere near a limited-buy plan but at least now I put a damper on the lipstick hoarding (feel like I have enough favorite to run through) and I just brought a muji pill case to depot all of my lipsticks! I think I am getting somewhere...

  7. Happy birthday!!!

    I just read the Marie Kondo book and was just thinking about this... I'm not touching my makeup collection. I bought a storage system (uh, just two sets of Muji drawers/acrylic vertical storage for brushes and foundations) a few years back, and now I refuse to outgrow that. So I have more makeup than most, but it all fits into a drawer and it's a good size for me! I've got options, but I'm not *too* overwhelmed.

    I'd like to go through my closet and clothing, though, and I know that'll be a big job. Your drawers look amazing, but my drawers are much deeper, so I'm not sure how that will work, either... Trying to psych myself up for that. It will feel great! Right??? It's just a big job, and a difficult one.

  8. Am halfway through the book - and whilst I was reading it, the thought of "will i be the only one who will 'rebound' after all these decluttering exercises?" keep popping up. Have been wanting to practice a minimalist lifestyle (free up space, spend less, find spiritual fulfillment elsewhere etc) for the past year but must admit i got caught up and tempted by the slippery slope of new shiny things! Good bargains! GWPs! Yikes!

    ITA that decluttering is not a trend, sticking to it requires fundamental change of mentality, attitudes, mindset, and correlating habits. I found that it helps (to a certain degree, just a bit) by looking at minimalist bathrooms and cabinets of others to get a general idea of what you envision is your ideal minimalist space. It certainly takes a long time for re-alignment of attitudes: how can I still enjoy things when I'm accruing less, how can I carry on writing when I'm not getting many things anymore, will I feel deprived if I can acquire things but "couldn't" (couldn't in the sense that you know you shouldn't, but still want to), will others think I'm in a rut because I wear the same clothes every week? The timeline is different for everyone, "at your own pace" can't be truer.

    I also found sustaining the drive is not easy: i've been pushing off finishing the KonMari book becoz i know i wouldn't have time (a week off from work, say) to start the decluttering project, and if I don't do it right after finishing the book, the fire is gone. I don't know if I'd reach the threshold of "Clear all the things!" anymore, if the fire is dampened.

    I'm interested in what others think on this topic :) and Monika, please do share if you found some blogs and posts that struck a chord with you!

  9. I agree - it's definitely about more than just getting rid of everything that doesn't spark joy. It's also about changing your thought process so you don't end up re-stocking your newly organized drawers to the point of brimming and feeling the exact same "OMG, I have too much stuff!" feelings that got you wanting to declutter in the first place. I have read Kondo's book and found it very helpful, but changing my thoughts from "I WANT IT ALL!" to "Do I really need this?" has taken a lot longer than dumping clothes I rarely wear. I still buy new things, but I've tried to only buy things I know I will use a lot. For instance, I got rid of about 9 handbags during The Purge in favor of buying 1 new quality purse that's neutral in color and works with literally every outfit I could put together. Before buying a new piece of clothing, I have to be able to come up with at least 4-5 ways to wear it both to work and off-duty so I avoid buying anything that's a one trick pony. Makeup is harder because it's a serious love of mine and something that cheers me up considerably whenever I need a pick me up. I've tried to stick with my plan of pinning makeup that I want to a Pinterest wish list board and revisiting it in 1 week, 2 weeks, a month and seeing what my interest level is. Most of the time, I'm okay deleting the item from the list because my interest has wained. If something is still feeling like a must-have after a month, I consider how often I'll use it (a neutral blush? Probably a ton. Neon eyeshadows? Probably once.) and go from there. It's definitely not easy to keep a minimal stash when it's something you absolutely love, so I try to have some flexibility when it comes to my favorite products (blush, lipstick, eyeshadow) and skimp on the items that don't bring me as much of a thrill (bronzer, powder, foundation, brow products, mascara, etc.).

  10. Happy belated 29th birthday Monika! I like the idea of thinking beyond the initial decluttering 'journey' as you say - I am yet to really sink my teeth into the trend but have given away a few boxes of makeup and a whole lot of makeup so far....which doesn't seem to have made much of a difference to storage, but still felt incredible to do!

    I think I'm beginning to accept that I'll never fully lead a minimalist life, but gosh it sounds lovely to be able to locate everything you want and need, at any time!

  11. Love this post! I've started re-organizing my things about 3 years ago when I did a renovation work at my place and ever since I am trying to buy things that I only REALLY want/need.

  12. Hi Monika, this is a very interesting thing, and ... first hapoy belated birthday! .. and to keep my heap of thoughts short, I believe this buying and buying has to do with trying to fund some deeper satisfaction /happiness in the bought goods... and not in yourself, in using or having them. Since adverts sell you rather emotions than goods, that is very easy. Of course the bought emotions don't last, but the lipstick does. And its probably not the exact colour/texture etc. So the next one promising eternal happiness is so tempting.

    The looking back in what you have is to me a wonderful thing and i get sad, when I don't use one thing, be it a dress or a lipstick, enough. I have a relatively "small material base" in the moment, but more than enough to "survive ". I am happy to use the things I like and these are generally "cheap" products, since I don't have a steady income. But I'm not tempted by the "luxury feel" the high end tries to tempt us with and hypes, I rather stay away from these things ... even when I like them.

    Purging stuff is good, not used things are "dead materials", unless they are in a waiting cue, a movong one. Best is only to buy new, when the time for it is there. Unfortunately some things aren't there in the shops, when you'd want them... so they are bought when hou see them. Some kind lf a rope dance...?

    All the very best from Berlin!

    1. Hi Moni, thanks for subscribing to my blog and commenting, it means a lot to me!

      So many of the things you've mentioned in your comment ring true for me as well. We humans definitely attach a lot of meaning to material things, and we're tempted by anything that presents itself as an easy solution to our problems, like when we're feelng down or stressed out and go shopping instead of trying to address what's really going on that's making us feel that way.

      I definitely still have that 'line' of products that I'm slowly moving through to get them out of my possession, but this year I've been increasingly conscious that stockpiling/ hoarding/ buying more than I immediately need is only adding to my anxiety. I feel that I have very limited attention span, and can only enjoy a few things at a time - so if I have a lot of stuff that's not being used, or if I go out and get a lot of new things at once, they're not as appreciated as they could have been if I spaced them out more.

      Hugs from NYC!!! (and btw, one of my aunts calls me Moni all the time :)