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  • Writer's pictureUshma Agrawal

Need help starting the decluttering process? Read this book...

I recently came across an amazing book called "Let It Go: Downsizing Your Way to a Richer, Happier Life" by New York Times bestselling author, Peter Walsh.

It's an inspiring guide with a built-in workbook to help people work through the process of letting go of "stuff". Whether you're downsizing, moving, entering a different phase in life, helping a loved one in need, this book walks you through the process with a very thoughtful, caring, measured, approach.

Taking time to go through your stuff in a planned and measured way can be life-altering. Not only will it help you process emotions related to your things and your memories associated with them, but it will hopefully help you realize that you don't need to keep everything you have accumulated over time.

"We mistakenly think that all empty space needs to be filled. We don't appreciate that unfilled space can be beautiful and functional, too."

Peter Walsh suggests the amount of "stuff" you have in your home is predominately down to the following factors:

- Laziness

- Outgrowing (think clothes and technology)

- Inattention (you forgot it was there)

- Obligation (someone gave it to you, you inherited it, or it holds a memory)

- Imposition (you are holding onto it for someone else)

"When you can't let go of your stuff, your stuff won't let you move forward"

The book delves into each of these areas in detail and while some feel obvious, it's refreshing to hear the author's reasoning and rationale behind them.

"With the clutter gone, the vacant area is ready to be filled with an air of peace and calm, a sense of purpose and motivation, and an environment that's welcoming and nurturing."

Two of the key things that stood out to me in the book were:

  1. What will be the impact of your stuff on your kids/grandkids?

  2. What will your legacy be?

While I'm not at an age where I am necessarily thinking about my legacy, it is a very interesting concept when considering what I should keep hold of and what to let go in my own life.

Something that made me laugh out loud in the book was the observation that many people can have longer discussions about parting with items in their homes vs. having surgery. It sounds ridiculous, but it's true.

I often find when working with people that there can be very visceral reactions to conversations about whether they should keep X item. Defense barriers go up as if you are discussing the removal of a kidney, not a large pot that hasn't been used in 16 years! - This is a true life example from my own experience.

"Remember, the environment you've created in your home affects your mood, your thoughts, and your identity."

The author goes over the types of clutter we accumulate in our homes:

- Memory Clutter - those things that remind you of an event or achievement

- I Might Need It Someday - people who worry about the future too much have a lot of this. They can represent about 80% of your stuff.

- Unobjects - Unwanted, unopened, unused, unappreciated, unnecessary

I really like his approach to categorizing as I can look around my home and easily identify which bucket the items belong to. Try it at your home. How much of the stuff in your home falls into "I might need it" or the Memory clutter buckets?

"Most of the stuff that clutters my mind as well as my house - most of it has no meaning to me."

The author, Peter Walsh, delves into the different types of Memory items we accumulate over time.

  1. Treasures account for about 5% and represent peak experiences in life. If something makes you smile, or brings back a fantastic memory when you look at it, then it's probably a treasure. It may hold no monetary value to anyone else, but is irreplaceable to you. If you have a collection or multiples of something and would like to downsize, pick the one that means the most to you. If you keep them all, you lessen the value of the one that means the most.

  2. Trinkets are items that spark a smile but aren't as important as Treasures.

  3. The Forgotten consists of items that hold no significance.

  4. The Malignant items remind you of negative or painful moments.

Particularly when thinking about your treasures, consider if something happened to you today - would your family know that the skirt your grandmother handmade for your mom before she got married is one of your most treasured items? Or would they assume that it's just an old skirt that you had forgotten to get rid of? This takes me to an interesting tip that Peter Walsh hit upon in the book. If you have treasured items that have a story, record them, perhaps even label the item. That way, it will be very clear what is truly important to you.

"Our natural tendency is to see everything in a home as important...when everything is important, nothing is important."

One thing to note about treasures is once you start collecting them, it's easy to experience "treasure creep" - when every item holds a fond memory.

I went on an around-the-world trip when I was in my early-mid 20's. It was one of the best experiences of my life. Along the way, I picked up some really great memorabilia: a painting of a Spanish matador by a talented street artist, glass coasters from Italy, a boomerang from Australia, a beautiful silk robe from China...every item brought a smile to my face and took me back to that trip. However, as life evolved and we changed decor in our home, I was faced with "storing" some of the items in the storage room, or letting them go. I took the time to really think about how to handle this and decided that the memories I have won't leave me and I have photo albums to commemorate my trip. I let go of those items about 15 years ago and I can still picture them and the memories I made with no regrets. Letting go of items that hold memories does not mean you are getting rid of the memory - you are just moving on with life - the memories are yours to keep. If you are afraid of forgetting the memories, write them down in a journal.

Of the "I Might Need It items", the author believes there is only one kind to keep and that is the Worthy kind. However, dealing with worthy items is one of the most challenging when de-cluttering. When faced with making decisions about worthy items, people often default to:

- I can't deal with this decision right now - so they put it off

- I might need it in a year

- My kids might need it in 3-4 years

Be ruthless when handling this area and very practical.

Here are some of the common justifications that people make to keep items that they should really let go of:

  1. It was expensive - the price you pay for something should not determine its importance in your life. The same is true if something is cheap. Just because it's cheap, doesn't mean you need to have it / keep it.

  2. It's a good back-up - Decluttering cannot be successfully done when awaiting worst case scenarios.

  3. I might need it someday - if it will create a minor inconvenience not having the item "someday", it's not worth holding onto.

  4. Someone gave it to me as a gift - you don't want to live in a home filled with guilt/drama/obligation.

  5. My adult kids may need it - your home should not be a storage facility. If your kids don't want it now, let it go.

  6. There is a memory attached to it - everything has a memory attached to it. A memory is not a good enough reason to keep it. If it's that important, take a picture of it, record its story, and then let it go.

One of my favorite exercises in the book is called "My Personal Treasure Map" where the writer provides prompts to help you think your treasures. It's a very reflective and cathartic activity, which I highly recommend for everyone. It's in Chapter 4 of the book.

The author reminds readers to honor and respect their homes as if they are a relationship. Have boundaries - if you overload your home and push it's boundaries, you won't be happy there.

On that note, I invite you to take a good look at the clutter that has accumulated in your home and consider 2022 as the year of creating space in your home and your life.

"If something is important to you, you'll always find time for it. If it's not, you'll always find an excuse for avoiding it."

I highly recommend this book! It's one of the few books I suggest having a physical copy of as the exercises inside are in a workbook format. If you want to downsize or seriously declutter and are intimated about starting, read this book to help you prepare or connect with me (I've read it already!)

Here's to a clutter-free 2022!

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