My Decluttering Project Fail

In February I ran a fairly successful decluttering experiment, with the goal of removing one object per day from my kitchen or dining room. In March the plan was to shift my focus to decluttering my bookshelves, one book each day.

The result?

A complete failure.

After a flurry of activity in the beginning of the month, I pretty much gave up on the whole thing. Not because I was too busy or too loathe to part with books, but rather because, …well, it just didn’t work.

What did I accomplish?

  • I thinned out certain shelves, to make room for books that had been stacked on the edge because that bookcase was filled to capacity.
  • I got rid of 40-50 books, which I donated to the local library and a local thrift shop.
  • I relocated some books so that certain types, such as children’s picture books and coffee table books, were collected in one place.

What I learned from my decluttering experiment, take two

Decluttering works best when I have a goal

When I focused on the dining room I had clear goal: Open space in my china cupboard to make room for additional water goblets. When I focused on my bookshelves I began with a clear goal: make room for the books piled on the edge of certain shelves. But once that goal was accomplished, I didn’t have much motivation to continue. I could easily get rid of an entire bookcase’s worth of books, but what do I want with an empty bookcase? Maybe I should change my goal to: Get Rid of All the Books I’ll Never Read Again. Maybe. I’ll consider it and get back to you.

The one-a-day method works well for some times of clutter, but not so well on others.

I have continued to cull a few items from my kitchen. Every now and then I look in a drawer and realize I never use a particular item. Out it goes! Also, I’ve dug into a few upper cabinets and cleared out all the stuff hiding in the back row. I’ve discovered stuff I’d forgotten I owned, and am now happy to give away. But books aren’t the same as old garlic presses or coffee mugs—at least for me.

Some things need to be curated

In my house, books are organized (more or less) by categories: writing books in one case, theology books in another, fiction books in a third (and fourth and fifth). When deciding which books to give away, I want to look through all the books of a certain category. In other words, when it comes to books, decluttering is really curating the collection, just like a museum curates their collection of paintings or artifacts. Which means the one-a-day approach doesn’t make much sense.

The first chapter test

When I consider potential books for book club, I have learned that reading the first chapter or two gives me a pretty good idea of whether I will like the book or not. As I considered a shelf of books I’ve picked up at book sales and not yet got around to reading, it occurred to me that applying the one-chapter test would help me decide which ones to keep and which ones I won’t enjoy anyway. As a side benefit, I have now whetted my appetite about the ones that “passed” the test.

Finding the balance between minimalism and empty

My decluttering efforts are not so much about clutter as they are about intentionally de-accumulating. The house is full of stuff I don’t need, and I am gradually getting rid of the excess. But reducing our stuff to the point where all our possessions would fit in a one-bedroom apartment makes no sense. We are not looking to downsize in this current stage of life. (Although I am considering repurposing certain bedrooms.) I am trying to find a happy medium between holding onto unnecessary stuff and getting rid of too much (like those picture books I don’t need now, but might if grandchildren enter the picture).

The bottom line: Decluttering is a journey, and we must all find what techniques and motivations work best for us. Oh, and even a decluttering fail can teach us something useful.

So don’t be afraid to try something new in your journey to a simpler, happier life. Who knows what you’ll learn.

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