It’s true. I decluttered exactly zero things in May.
After months of detailed recaps outlining everything I decluttered, I simply walked away from it all. And like most things in life, the reasons are complicated.
In May, the school year was winding down. Except it wasn’t.
Instead of the usual decrescendo that comes with the end of the year, there was a relentless fervor. It was the usual shared excitement with my students layered with incredible pride, especially given the huge obstacles some of them overcame (thanks, in no small part, to a little help from my Internet friends!). But it was also the stress and anxiety that comes from schedule changes, room relocations, grade level switches, and huge surprise staffing shake ups.
Normally, decluttering serves as fantastic way to assuage my stress, even if it is only temporary. Last month, though, I couldn’t even muster the enthusiasm to try.
So I didn’t.
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I was incredibly hard on myself at some points. In fact, I felt pretty certain that Britt was going to pull my minimalist card if she found out. But now that the month has passed, I realize that walking away from decluttering was actually exactly what I needed.
This is the not the post where I point out where I call out the suitcase sellers (I did that on a podcast, though. You can’t take me anywhere.)
This is also not the point where I talk about the inherent privilege that comes with deciding to opt out of things.
And no, this isn’t the post where I rake Thoreau over hot coals. (Been there, done that…and you all hated me for it then, so I’m not going to do it again.)
There was no epiphanic moment that has me turning my back on decluttering. I’m not even more reluctant to call myself a minimalist than I usually am. In fact, I actually have nothing bad to say about decluttering, minimalism, or living with less.
I do think, though, that stopping the process has taught me a few important things.
Lesson 1 – Decluttering is Confrontational
OK, this isn’t actually something that I’ve never not known. Even decluttering a single kitchen drawer feels like work.
But what I actually didn’t realize is that it isn’t just a time commitment. Decluttering is a huge undertaking. It’s a lot of emotional and mental work. Of course, there are plenty of rewards to reap. But I don’t think the anxiety and the amount of stress that sometimes comes with decluttering gets enough air time.
We get very dismissive of people who can’t part with their things.
“Oh, they have so much. They won’t even miss it.”
“She’s such a hoarder!”
“Just get a Dumpster and toss it already.”
All of these things are easier said than done. There’s a sentimental layer to decluttering. And honestly, sometimes you really miss the things you thought you could live without.
But even when you’re not decluttering anything of particular emotional value, the process is emotional. Or at least it is for me. Whether it’s wading through expired coupons and old receipts or confronting dozens of pairs of jeans and castoff shoes that I haven’t worn in
weeks years, the process is confrontational.
I am confronting old habits and past decisions.
I am confronting myself.
Lesson 2 – It’s Not a Competition
I’m prone to letting the Internet distort most things in my life, at least for a brief moment. An email from Nordstrom convinces me to do a quick scroll for a crossbody bag. A photo in the Target app makes me ask myself if I really would like a pair of slides this summer. And a book, a post, or even just a comment from a fellow declutter-er can make me really feel like I need something to show for all of my efforts.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone on a tear through a room motivated to match other people’s Instagram photos.
However, the reality of decluttering is that I’m not doing this for anyone else. I’m doing this for my own sake. That means that my end goal needs to align with my purpose, not replicate something I saw on social media.
It’s fine to pull inspiration from the Internet, but stay in the driver’s seat.
Taking a break from decluttering actually ensures that I’m not competing with anyone. I lost before the race even started. By bowing out temporarily, I can reassess my motivations and goals when it comes to living with less.
Lesson 3 – Sometimes You Just Have to Live With It
If you’ve waded into this process for a week or a month or you’ve even been working on decluttering for years like I have, you realize how fluid the process really is.
Sometimes, I’m entirely satisfied with a room only to discover later that there is more work to be done.
By stepping away from the decluttering process for a month, I realized where exactly I need to focus my efforts (cough cough the toddler hand-me-downs have invaded). I also realized just how much progress we’ve already made.
Why? Because honestly, I was quite comfortable in my own home this month even without pitching things out the door.
Final Thoughts on Stopping Decluttering
I’m going to attempt to declutter 50 items by the end of the month. I could let myself take a toe-dip back in, but I think a cannon ball sounds like summer fun.
In fact, summer feels like the perfect time to declutter. Some of the stress of the school year is gone (If I could just stop checking my work email! Or if my bosses could stop sending them!) and my side hustles are manageable. I’ve cut myself some slack and caught my breath. Now feels like the perfect time to jump back in.