As regular readers know, my theme for 2021 is “less,” which is basically an extension of my 2020 “enough” theme.” Although I experienced big wins last year related to feeling good enough and showing increased compassion for myself, I didn’t make as much progress as I’d hoped with downsizing my possessions and streamlining the way I spend time and consume information. Selecting “less” as my focus for this year seemed like a good way to increase my emphasis on those areas while also improving other facets of my life experience.
Now that almost half of 2021 is behind us (can you believe it?!), I’ve increased the attention I’m directing toward my “less” theme. Specifically, I’m examining the various areas of excess that are getting in the way of my happiness, and I’m finding ways of addressing them. Last month, I shared about my ongoing struggle with information overload, including open browser tabs, email backlog, articles to read, videos to watch, and items that I’m considering buying. After gaining clarity on those issues and the shifts I needed to make, I got to work on implementing the changes I outlined. I checked in a few weeks later with an update on the progress I’d already made, and I’m continuing to take steps toward making information overload a thing of the past.
In today’s post, I explore physical clutter and how I plan to tackle my remaining issues in that arena. My tolerance for disarray in my surroundings continues to decline as I pare away more and more of what I don’t love and don’t use. Although my husband and I played “The Minimalism Game” in January and got rid of over 500 items, we still have too much stuff! There are a few areas I’d like to address within the next month or so to help pare things down: books, framed photos, knick-knacks, and artwork. I’ll delve into each of these topics below.
Let’s start with books, as this is an area of overabundance and clutter for many of us…. My husband and I rearranged some of our furniture recently, which resulted in our deciding to no longer use one small bookcase. Since we’ve downsized our book collection considerably (beginning with our first KonMari process back in 2015), there aren’t that many books remaining on our bookshelves. We mostly have smaller stacks interspersed throughout, with pictures and knick-knacks filling in the remainder of the space. As I went to relocate the contents of the bookcase we’re no longer using, I was struck with the realization that we still have too many books. I also felt a sinking feeling of burden.
Just as it feels emotionally heavy to have clothing in our closets that we’re not wearing, it also feels burdensome to own books that we’re not likely to read or re-read. As I perused the titles scattered throughout our several bookcases, my predominant emotion was guilt. I felt guilty for having purchased books that I’ve never gotten around to reading. I also felt remorse for not opting to read books that seemed like a great idea, including many self-help titles that I believed would help me to overcome challenges and create a better life.
A reader left an amusing and insightful comment about books on my recent information overload post. I’m sharing an excerpt of it here, as it exemplifies what many of us who love books go through on an ongoing basis:
“The cycle: Sue-Past packs bookshelves with books she considers Sue-Future should/must/needs to read. These books, many with bookmarks showing where Sue-Past gave up, cause Sue-Now constant stress (inadequacy for not meeting Sue-Past’s expectations, and guilt for adding to Sue-Future’s burdens).
So finally, Sue-Let’s-End-This-Madness has decided to take control. I am now working my way through my books: reading those that interest and entertain, skim reading those that do not; keeping those that I treasure, donating those that I do not. While I will always have shelves of books I want to read and shelves of books I want to read again, I aim to remove all books I only feel that I ought to read someday (the homework books). Like my clothes, my books should make me smile, not stress me out!”
I wholeheartedly agree with the above sentiments! If I’m totally honest with myself, I don’t want to read many of the books that I own. However, I keep holding on to them because I believe I should read them. Some of my “homework books” (great term, Sue!) have survived multiple decluttering sessions, but they remain untouched – and unread. The time has come to set myself – and many of my books – free.
Within the next few weeks, I’m going to remove all of the books in my home from their shelves and do yet another KonMari session (if you’re curious about what this entails, check out this post), which will probably be the third or fourth go-around in downsizing our book collection. I’ll hold each book in my hands as Marie Kondo instructs, but rather than asking myself if the book “sparks joy,” I’m going to instead pay attention to whether I feel a sense of heaviness or levity (a concept I got from Jill Chivers). If it’s the former, the book will go into a donation box, regardless of what it’s about. I’m only going to hold on to those books that evoke a feeling of lightness and freedom – and that I see myself reading or re-reading sometime soon. Who knows? Maybe we’ll be able to KonMari another bookcase along with a bunch of books!
As I was relocating the books from the downsized bookcase, I also noticed a lot of framed pictures amidst our books, as well as on other surfaces throughout our home. Some of these photos belonged to my mother-in-law and were part of the vast array of items my husband and I inherited after her passing almost two years ago. We put them out in our home because it was easy; they were already framed, which is often half the battle when it comes to displaying photos. We also felt closer to my mother-in-law having her many photos visible in our environment, which helped to lessen the deep sense of loss that we felt.
Now that almost two years have gone by, we’re ready to curate the photo collection a bit more. There are lots of lovely photos, but there are just too many of them. I’d like to space them out so that we can enjoy looking at them more. Perhaps we can rotate them periodically so they don’t just become “background noise” that we simply tune out and don’t really notice any longer.
I’d like to be more deliberate about what’s being displayed in our surroundings. I’d also like to switch out some of the picture frames for styles that better coordinate with the rest of our home décor. This can be a lot of work, as the proper sizes and shapes of frames can be difficult to locate in one’s desired aesthetics. However, if we start with strategically selecting the photos we’d like to display – those that we like the most and which evoke the best memories, we may find that we already have some good frame choices on hand and can simply swap the images as needed.
We also have an abundance of “knick-knacks” distributed all over the house. Many of these items used to hold sentimental value and/or were in line with our visual preferences, but that’s no longer the case. Some of them actually annoy me when I look at them now, so why are they still being displayed? Of course, if my husband loves these items and I don’t, that’s a different story, but I’d venture to guess that he isn’t experiencing joy from such items either.
I used to be a “more is more” type of person in many respects. While many of you think of me as a woman with a wardrobe that’s too large, I’ve also accumulated an overabundance in many other areas, including collectibles and knick-knacks. As one example, I used to collect everything and anything that had a celestial theme. I also accumulated quite a few cat-themed pieces, inspirational sayings on various materials (wood, stones, etc.), glass sculptures, and various types of figurines.
I loved displaying these collectibles all over my home for much of my life, but I now prefer a more minimal aesthetic, with more “white space” and an open feel. As such, I’ve become far more selective about the pieces that I collect and hold on to. I’d rather have a small collection of pieces that my husband and I love strategically placed in our home instead of a large array of items that we just don’t care about. Over the years, we’ve been slowly chipping away at our accumulation of knick-knacks, much akin to the peeling of an onion. I think it’s time to release yet another layer.
Finally, there’s the matter of the artwork we have hanging on our walls. We cherish the paintings that my mother-in-law created, as well as a few others painted by my stepmother (I’m lucky to have an artistic family). We also have other wall art that makes us smile, but some things that are hanging up definitely no longer spark joy. A friend recently mentioned that she doesn’t like framed pieces with lots of words on them (i.e. quotes, sayings, and the like) because most people don’t read them, including the homeowners themselves.
My friend’s words prompted me to consider a few such items in my home, one of which is visible to me right now as I’m typing this. It’s a very inspiring passage, but there are so many words that I’m unable to make them out even though the piece is only about three feet away from me. I’d have to get up, walk to the edge of my desk, and contort my body sideways in order to get close enough to read the passage. What’s the point in that? I’d much rather replace this screed with something that’s more visually pleasing and doesn’t require any “work” in order to enjoy it.
I also feel like perhaps we have too many art pieces on our walls and we don’t love some of them anymore. We’ve lived in our home for three years now (to the day, actually!), so I think it would be worthwhile to evaluate all of our framed items at this point. In doing so, we might decide to take some of them down and either replace them with other pieces or allow for more open wall space.
It might also be fun to move things around so we can better enjoy looking at them again. When we have the same items in the same places for many months or year, it can get to the point where we don’t really see them anymore. Shifting the location of an art piece can enable us to see it with fresh eyes once again. Also, a bit of redecorating from time to time can be fun. We have several hundred more of my mother-in-law’s paintings to choose from for displaying in our home. Most of them are not framed, but we can either take some favorites from the collection to a framing shop or swap them out with pieces that we’re not as fond of (perhaps those framed sayings I wrote about earlier).
Even when we’ve done a lot of decluttering work, we can find that there’s still more to be done. That’s the case for me with some of the items in my home. So, as part of my “less” theme for 2021, I’m going to revisit and re-evaluate my books, framed photos, knick-knacks, and artwork. Ideally, this is something my husband and I will do together, but he usually doesn’t have as strong of an opinion about such things as I do.
The bottom line is that I spend most of my time at home, as so many of us do lately, and I’d like my home to evoke a feeling of peace and calm. Gretchen Rubin wrote a book called Outer Order, Inner Calm, which has the following premise:
“By getting rid of things we don’t use, don’t need, or don’t love, we free our minds (and ourselves) for what we truly value.”
That’s the essence of what I want to achieve with my 2021 “less” theme. I want to clear away the excess so that I have more time and space to focus on what matters most to me. I look forward to peeling away more layers of the proverbial “onion” to cultivate increased calm and serenity in my surroundings, my life, and my heart. I’ll be sure to share more of this journey and what I learn in future posts.
16 thoughts on “Less is More in 2021: Reducing Physical Clutter”
Sue-starting-her-day-reading-Debbie’s-blog really enjoyed this post. 😄 Very inspiring reflections!
So glad you enjoyed it, Sue!
Debbie, I’m enjoying all that you write so much. I find myself nodding in agreement, especially about the books and art on the walls. Some art has come over to this house and even though it is more than 20 yrs old I still love most of it. The other art just fills a space on the wall and some of it is irritating me too. I have one religious thing that really irks me but I feel guilty everytime I think of taking it down and then my Dh chips in and says ….and replace it with what? Same with the books. But as time goes on I feel another book cull coming on. Then theres the huge cabinet we have for knickknacks. Some of them I would love to throw away, as the whole cabinet looks old fashioned and cluttered with junk really. Again, dont want to leave the cabinet empty, dont want to particularly buy new things as I have no interest in that really so what to do? Any ideas? anyone? HELP!!
You don’t necessarily have to replace the art with anything. Blank walls can be quite calming and elegant. Also, there’s no need for bookshelves to be totally full! Mine is only about 50% full. I’m sure I will get more books over time, but there’s no rush.
Similarly, you could probably get rid of the entire cabinet of knickknacks. I mean you could donate or sell the actual furniture item (Assuming it’s not built-in) and, if you want to keep any of the knickknacks, you could move them to the newly decluttered bookshelves, or other locations.
I’m glad you’re enjoying my posts, Krissie. Maureen is right that you don’t need to replace the art on the walls that you don’t like. I think a lot of people get used to the idea that we have to fill all of our wall space or all of our bookshelves, but that’s just “agreement reality” and we don’t need to abide by it. Maureen gave you some great advice here. I guess that only thing I would add would be to trust yourself and your gut. We often know how we feel about things, but we’re afraid to trust our feelings. There is beauty to the KonMari (Marie Kondo) approach, and I highly recommend it. What helped me the most was taking everything off of the shelves or out of the cabinets. Doing so detached me from the items, as they didn’t feel as much “mine” when they were in a big pile. It was a lot easier for me to make decisions when I did it that way. Good luck to you!
Letting go of accumulated belongings is an ongoing process of peeling away emotions and finding what one’s current tastes actually are. When we recently reached the 4 year mark for our current home I really wondered why I had unhung and unframed art stashed in a closet! I reused some of the frames and had some art matted and framed after deciding exactly where they would hang so I could pick mat colors. Not an inexpensive project but these newly displayed items do bring me much joy as did letting go of others stashed in that closet. Still some left but that is ok for now. Good luck.
I think I’m going to do what you did with the art, Juhli. I know it can be pricey to have things framed, but it can be money well spent, as you’ve learned. As for the items you still have left, I’m sure you’ll either decide to get other things framed or will be ready to pass them on in time. I’m all for a “phased approach” with this type of thing. Some people do it all at once, but I find that overwhelming. Different strokes for different folks!
It occurred to me as I read about your artwork that you have hanging, to rank in order of how well you like it without considering the artist or backstory. I think I’ll do that with mine because I tend to stick them on walls that coordinate with the surrounding decor and then forget about them.
Hi Nina, Good to see you comment here! Great idea to rate how well we like the artwork just based on what it is, not who did it. I hope that idea works well for you, too!
I also dislike too much “stuff” around me. It didn’t bother me when my kids were young at home and I was working as a teacher. Perhaps I didn’t have time to notice. However, I was always tidy and probably had less clutter than most. When we first downsized from house to apartment, my husband, already retired, cleared out papers, some of his possessions. Together we went through kitchen things, furnishings, items stored in closets. He was looking at a tax donation for deductions and I for serenity! It was after we had arrived at the condo and he was out of town that I really bumped up my efforts, perhaps seeing how the smalled condo looked with our things in it. I got rid of much and made piles for him to check through. On a later date, my husband also being away and myself retired, I blitzed through mostly my areas and finished the job. Since then I have kept on top of it because it feels so good and I hae time to notice. For ten or so years we have been relatively clutter free. He still has sentimental items that I would not choose to hae around the home, and he has collection of many cables and cords. We have a big chair I dislike and am working on giving it away (not his comfy big recliner–I know better.)For themost part, it is one-in, one-out. I am not judging because it is up to eachindividual how much he/she wants to have in his/her home. I just know that I enjoy having a little less, but not having a barren and uncomfortable home or a stolen-from, violated husband. For us the faster spurts of decluttering worked.
Your comment made me think about how our tolerance for “stuff” and clutter can change over time, Gail. Maybe when you didn’t spend as much time at home, you didn’t mind having more stuff. I think that’s the case for me, especially with being home almost constantly since the start of the pandemic. Like you, I find serenity in owning less, but I also struggle with buying some things (mostly clothes, but it also used to be books, knick-knacks, and other things) for emotional reasons. Of course, those two things are at odds with each other, which is part of why I’m blogging about these issues and continue to work on them. Good for you for keeping on top of your clutter! One in, one out can be helpful in that respect, but it takes a lot of discipline to keep it up. Regarding your husband’s big recliner, sometimes we need to compromise on certain items. There are items like that in my home, too. We can’t win them all, and yes, we all have our areas where excess can pile up (or at least most of us do).
I forgot to mention that I STILL have more than enough kitchen things and am certainly not minimalist there. We all have our collections, be they shoes, sweater, dishes…
I really enjoyed Sue’s account of the past, present, and future Sues and their various challenges – very funny! Your readers always have interesting comments and it’s nice to see how much we all have in common.
In a recent attempt to estimate how large of a storage unit/moving van I might need, I counted furniture pieces and discovered that I have 1 bed, 1 couch, 1 desk, and … 14 large bookcases. I think this accurately represents my priorities in life.🤣 But seriously, books have been my greatest love since I was 3 or 4, and I don’t plan on changing that anytime soon. Yes, there are a few I could part with (1978 genetics textbook maybe?) but I have read every one, kept the ones I liked, and discarded everything else. So I feel that the book collection is well under control, even if it seems unimaginably large to other people.
Framed pictures and artwork are definitely an issue though. Some time ago I went through and took more than half of the photos out of their frames and stored them, leaving just a few out. I’m actually not interested in looking at any modern family photos but I love seeing the ones of my grandparents and great-grandparents, so those are on display. I don’t have much artwork hanging, in fact the walls look pretty minimalist, but I do have stacks of framed prints and a few original works stored in closets. I think rotation may be the way to go.
The knick knacks also got on my nerves a few years ago and I cleared them out pretty mercilessly. Unlike the photos, I had no sentimental attachment at all to family trinkets and heirlooms (no kids, so it’s up to me), but I did keep a few mementos of my travels and some decorative items that I just really love. I have a lot of houseplants, but like the books, I feel they are an important part of my life and there’s no need to give them up.
For now I feel pretty comfortable with the level of “stuff,” but as life changes I will probably want to unburden myself further.
Ladies, I love learning from Debbie’s articles and your comments here. I’m learning I’m not alone in this. My home isn’t cluttered but my closet extends from my bedroom closet to my son’s bedroom being half full of totes full of new clothing. This is my issue!! Our car is also clean! I’m disabled and unable to go thru items by myself.
You’re definitely not alone, Natalie. It’s good that your car is clean. A lot of people can’t say that. We should give ourselves credit where credit is due. I think a good first step for you is to dial back the shopping so you’ll have some time and space to evaluate what you have. You mentioned that you have a friend who can help you go through things. Maybe do it a little bit at a time. I know it’s hard to buy less (I still struggle with that myself), but your clothing issue will become less overwhelming if you can buy less. Just take it one day at a time. You can do it! You will likely have ups and downs with the shopping, but it will get easier with time. Best wishes to you.
My son is grown and has a family. His room is empty otherwise. Just received another shipment today!!
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