I have done my fair share of decluttering. I have donated or disposed of books, bed linens, clothes, cooking utensils, artwork, and furniture and always enjoyed the end result — a cleaner apartment. Moreover, I find that having less stuff helps me think clearer, feel calmer, and live in a more organized and efficient fashion. And — surprise, surprise — I rarely miss the things I shed. Frankly, I often find myself wondering why I kept something as long as I did.
There is another level of decluttering that goes beyond clearing out your closets and cabinets. The clothes you wear, the books you read, the furniture you use are not the only devices that help you live and enjoy your daily life and move about in the world. A lot of your daily life is lived in your head and that space might need some clearing. Here are some constructs and collections which you might consider weeding.
Obligations. Are you the one always expected to host the holiday party? Babysit your friend’s kids? Give up your weekend to finish the department report on time? Obligations are a part of life, but so is wearing clothes and sometimes we need to weed our closets. Ask yourself: Do you need to be doing all that you are doing? Are you the only one who can do a certain chore? Would dropping this obligation negatively impact your life? Get you fired? End a friendship? Would that be so bad? There are chores we accept as our responsibility, duties duties we take on because we believe in a mission, extra tasks we actually enjoy doing. Grab these gigs and go at it with gusto. If, however, you are feeling overwhelmed by all that you are expected to do, determine what is making you feel put upon and go in decluttering mode. Do you really truly absolutely need to do this? If the answer is no, say no to it and let it go to someone else or go undone. (Note: It is surprising how many “obligations” can be ignored without changing the status quo.)
Standards. Standards can be beneficial, benchmarks to evaluate your quality of life. You can set standards on anything: the way you clean your house, the way you cook your food, the friends you keep, the jobs you take. Sometimes, however, the bar you have set for yourself needs to be adjusted — or even eliminated. Can you actually maintain your current lifestyle on your new salary? Does it truly matter what kind of car you drive? Do all your friends have to share your political views? Are your habits in line with your beliefs? Standards should help one live to the best of their ability but they must be reachable in order to be of any value. When circumstances change, our standards might need to change. While we should not abandon all our ideals, if you find yourself continually frustrated because you cannot meet your own standards, it may be time to remove that goalpost.
Regrets. During the last conversation with my mother, I asked her if she had any regrets. Of course she did, she told me, everyone does. If you have ever thought anything or done anything, you will have regrets — how you did something, what you could have done better, what you passed up. Regret is part of the fabric of human life. We are imperfect, often realize it too late, and remember that fact often. Most people regret things they did not do, although we all have those moments we replay in our minds where we did something we regret. Regrets may help or hinder us depending on how we use them. We may never again speak without thinking or we may never again miss a chance to speak up. We will take more risks or we might be more cautious. We will stop to help others or we might be a little less free with our charity. Regrets can keep us from missing opportunities but they should not keep us up at night. If you find yourself continually mulling over what you did or did not do, remember that no amount of regret will change the past. Acknowledge your regret, make amends or plans if possible, and then toss those regrets or at least put them where you cannot trip over them.
Habits. Obviously, getting rid of bad habits — smoking, gambling, drinking — will help you live better. But even if you don’t have addictions draining you, you probably have habits that hold you back and you don’t notice them until you look closely. Do you always hit the snooze button? Pay your bills late? Immediately accept any invitation? Check your phone constantly? Forget to bring lunch? Blame everything on everyone else? Take a good look at how you handle the mundane moments of your day. Do you have habits that hold you back, waste your time, cost you money? Some of them could be tossed out. (NOTE: I find this to be the hardest type of decluttering. When you decide to dispose of a habit, it tends to sneak back into your life like a stray cat you’ve been feeding. But just as Marie Kondo can help with decluttering up your home, there are others who can help you tidy up your habits.)
Dreams. We all have dreams — that adventure we are going to have, that goal we are going to reach, that life we are going to live. Dreams can get us out of bed on bad days. They can lighten our mood and help us focus. Dreams may give us purpose and a reason to persevere on a difficult path. But dreams can also waylay us. Why put any effort into your current job, relationships, living space, or life if you are going to be leaving town/running your own business/marrying your dream partner and heading off to Tahiti? Dreams can guide us but they can also trick us by giving us the view that our current life is insignificant and not worthy of any investment on our part. Do you have dreams that make you ignore your everyday life? And are your dreams still your dreams? Do you still want to bicycle across the U.S.? Do stand-up comedy? Adopt a child? If you do, please focus on these dreams and turn them into reality. If not, toss them and make room for new improved dreams — or perhaps just more space for all those plans for your current real life.