Decluttering and Poverty

This post was sparked by Jack on Twitter. She’s looking at moving, with the flat in question being smaller than her current, and she’s asked for ideas on how to downsize her stuff. Now there are tons of how-to’s online, but Jack – like me – struggles with decluttering/downsizing because we’ve both been poor. Getting rid of stuff when you are, or have been, poor is extremely hard to do.

I mean, one thing I cannot do is throw out a toilet roll tube with any paper on it. I have been so poor that literally every. Square. Matters. Having lived with that sort of economy, I can’t turn it off. We were forced to declutter our living room ahead of having new carpet laid and I found it incredibly hard. However, once it was done, I felt liberated.

So how did I get over the compulsion to keep things just in case?

Clutter doesn’t build up overnight and, likewise, you’re not going to rid yourself of it all at once. Start with a main area, somewhere you spend a lot of time and so will see the maximum results. For us, it was the living room, but consider your bedroom or the kitchen (the latter especially if you’ve a dining set in there.)

Set yourself a time frame. We had to have our room cleared before the carpet fitters came – there was no time to dither or procrastinate. A new carpet also worked as an effective carrot-on-a-stick – don’t just set a goal, ensure you set yourself a reward.

Do not pull everything out! You’ll only end up with a larger mess and lose heart. Work on one area at a time. This can be as large as on wall or as small as one box. Have three bags – one for recycling, one for charity, and one for complete rubbish. Set a timer (egg or on your mobile phone) and work in short bursts. Paper, glass and metal goes in your recycling bag. Things in good nick but are no longer used goes to charity. Everything else goes in the bin.

Do not over-do it. Stop before you think you’re done. Exhausting yourself one day makes it harder to keep going the next, and you don’t want to lose momentum.

Do not open it up. “It” being a book or a letter. Or course, if it’s official paperwork, you need to keep hold of it, but you know the difference between a DWP update and a ten-year-old love letter. Scan read enough to ensure you’re not chucking away something vital but not enough to get swamped. Same goes for photo albums – put it on a shelf. The time for nostalgia comes after you’re done, otherwise you won’t be.

Deep clean. Yes, the rest of the room is chaotic. And? Grab a duster and wipe down the surfaces. Vacuum or mop the floor. What you want is one area that is your version of perfect. This will give you incentive to keep going.

Put it back together. Once your spot is clean, put back everything you’re keeping. Do it neatly, so as not to undo your hard work.

Get the clutter out of your house. Don’t let your bags build up – as soon as your done for the day, put the bags in your car (or a friend’s car) and do a round trip to your local charity shop, recycling area and the tip. Getting rid ASAP reduces the likelihood of you going through the bags and doubting your gut.

Take care of yourself. Take regular breaks for a drink and don’t skip on meals. Once you’re home from dumping your bags, grab a shower or a bath and put on clean clothing (you can wear your declutter stuff tomorrow.) Make getting rid of sweat, dust and dirt part of decluttering.

Do not fiddle! Once you’re done, you’re done. Do no more chores other than your regular ones, such as making dinner and washing up afterwards. You’ll probably find yourself popping stuff in the bin, and that’s okay, but don’t be tempted to tackle anything big.

A word on selling

If you’ve noticed I haven’t mentioned eBay, Gumtree, and so on and are wondering why I advocate giving stuff away on a post that talks about poverty, there’s a very good reason.

Clutter happens when we can’t let go of stuff. Being poor makes clutter both more likely and harder to let go of. Holding on to anything, even if your plan is to sell it, brings about the temptation to keep it. If you are 100% sure that you can put something aside solely for listing, then fine, do it. But remember that eBay takes a percentage and then you have P&P costs, not to mention needing time to go to the post office. Be honest with yourself whether what you’re selling is worth the time and effort.

Another option is somewhere like musicMagpie, which pays your postage. Since you’re listing goods and then boxing up, you can consider this as decluttering, and with them paying out on receipt of your goods, there’s more incentive to get rid and not sneak stuff back on your shelves.

Decluttering when you are, or have been, poor is difficult. Take it slow and be mindful of your mental health. Certainly do not just dump anything that can make you some money! Weigh in clothes, handbags and shoes you no longer use. Pop coppers in a jar and either pay them into your bank or at your local supermarket (the latter does take a percentage off the total.) It is a balancing act between cleaning up and saving money, but the more you do it, the easy it gets. And the better you’ll feel.

Good luck!

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