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Decluttering – why bother?

What happens at home matters.

Most of us live with more clutter than necessary and the idea of living a more simplified, uncluttered life with less stuff sounds very attractive.

Clearing clutter makes our homes look bigger, reduces mess, makes cleaning easier to achieve and clears both the physical and mental space that enables us to be more creative.

But where to begin? Many begin to feel overwhelmed around the idea of decluttering our homes. A good place to start is in considering our relationship to our things.

We all need a certain amount of stuff to live – and the more we engage with life the more stuff we potentially need. If you want to go camping you need camping gear, if you want to play sport you need certain sporting equipment and so on. On the other hand we can get caught up with wanting more things that we really need.

A good book on the topic is: Stuffocation: Living More With Less by James Wallman. In it Wallman talks about a spectre of materialism which is haunting western society. “Materialism, is making millions of us feel joyless, anxious and, even worse, depressed”, says Wallman.

Later he says; “Instead of trying to understand who we really are, we reach for the “Real Thing”. And when the goods we buy fail to match up to those deep desires, instead of giving up on material goods, we just keep banging our heads against the wall and buying more.”

Some people respond to this by opting for extreme minimalism. The trouble with discarding things we will need again later can be wasteful and counterproductive if we end up having to but a whole lot more to replace those things. Reducing our total possessions is a worthy goal for most of us – even better is buying fewer things in the first place. This is especially timely given that we’re about to start heading into the Christmas buying season.

3 ways to start changing our relationship to things ...

1. When we buy a product we’re responsible for its eventual disposal.

Waste starts with us and ends with us. Continually sending things to the dump is not a sustainable solution.

Far from being clean and green, New Zealand is way behind the rest of the western world in waste management. According to given current population and rubbish trends, the annual amount of waste disposed to landfills will almost double within 10 years in Auckland alone. This is a staggering increase from 1.5 million tonnes of waste to 3 million tonnes of waste that Aucklanders currently throw away.

In New Zealand in 2006, we sent 3.156 million tonnes of waste to landfills according to the five-yearly report by the Ministry for the Environment (MFE, 2007).

However, according to a more recent report by the Ministry, we have improved due to better recycling methods, leading to a decrease in rubbish sent to land-fills, but we could be doing a lot better when we compare ourselves to similar countries.

To change this we need to “consume less, and recycle more”.

2. Look at the things you own already and ask yourself:

“If I was just buying this now, how much would I pay?”

Value is a relative thing, and how much an item is worth can change over time. Some things become more treasured by us as time goes on, some less.

Understanding your changing relationship to things can help you to let go of some items you no longer value and also to have a clearer idea of what you really cherish.

3. Before you buy anything new, ask youself: "Do I really need this?"

Some things to think about:

  • Could the money be spent on something of better quality

  • more long lasting.

  • When this item breaks, how am I going to feel putting it in the rubbish, knowing it may sit there for hundreds of years

  • Does buying this item fit with the aim to: ‘Buy once, buy well’.

If we can stop the cycle of buying more things than we need, it will

  • save us money and the effort and stress of decluttering

  • it will be way better for the planet.

  • It’s the best way to start living with less clutter

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