Decluttering isn’t easy, otherwise we’d all live minimalistic lives with immaculate, Pinterest-worthy houses. The allure of Stuff held sway over me for a long time too.
But the thing about Stuff is it doesn’t necessarily add value to your life. And for the duration of this post, I’m taking value to be the worth of something and not it’s monetary cost. A glass of water costs almost nothing, but when you’ve just come in from a long run in the hot sun it’s value is considerable.
There is also the issue of things versus experience. It’s easy to think of items we own as things, not experiences. But really, it’s a sliding scale. A red letter day driving a race car is on the far end of the ‘experience’ scale – there is no permanent ‘thing’ involved. An ornament is mostly a thing, but the experience comes from the enjoyment of looking at it.
Separating cost from value, and things from experience is the first step to decluttering zen.
These are some ‘things’ I have on top of my bookshelf. Slightly more cluttered than I would usually have it – we’re in the process of redecorating our spare room, and much stuff has been consolidated into our bedroom. It’s a cluttered nightmare! But, I digress. Things. I’ll look at them from left to right and explain the cost, value and experience attached to each one. (Obviously this is personal and individual to everyone. The Boyfriend, for instance, is much bemused by my attachment to thing number one!)
Thing number one is an ornament that serves no purpose other than I really liked it. It’s cost was about £4. Not expensive at all. It’s value is that I really like it – it adds a bit of colour to our grey room. And as I said before, the experience is in enjoying it. If/when I stop enjoying it, then it will be time for it to go.
Thing number two is an empty whisky (or other alcohol) jar full of sixpences. Cost was nothing – it belongs to my Boyfriend. His grandparents owned a bar, and when sixpences stopped being legal tender, they collected them up from their patrons in that jar. It’s value is in it being a little piece of history, and the emotional connection to the Boyfriend’s grandparents. The experience? Much the same as above – it’s the pleasure gained from feeling that emotional and historical connection. Plus it’s unusual – how many people can say they have one in their house?
Thing number three is a piggy bank. Cost nothing because it was a Christmas present, but it’s not expensive. It doesn’t have a massive amount of value, either, except that it’s useful to keep spare change in, and it’s nicely designed – big enough to fit lots of change and nice to look at too (in case you can’t quite see, it says ‘pirate booty’ on the side) which is why I keep it. Experience? Not really anything. But those pennies saved in it could go towards one!
Thing number four is a plastic model of four penguins. Cost was less than £2. I bought them for the Boyfriend for Christmas one year. Why? Because he likes penguins, and I thought it would make him smile. It did, and they still do, which is the value. Honestly, if these were any bigger, they probably would have gone a long time ago, but because they don’t take up all that much space, they don’t need a massive amount of value to justify their continued presence in my home. And the experience was obviously the pleasure of giving them to the Boyfriend, and the smile they prompted.
Being able to identify what value something has to you is important in the decision making process when decluttering. The more pleasure or joy you get from continuing to experience that thing has, the more value it has, the more reason you have to keep hold of it. If you can’t think of any value then that’s a good reason for it to go.
The ‘I Paid X Amount For That!’ Argument, and why it’s False
You buy a new release DVD for movie night at a cost of £12.99 (for American readers, that equates to about $20). It is a thing, albeit quite small, that sits on a shelf and takes up space.
At a cost of £12.99, it’s probably not something you’d easily get rid of. £12.99 isn’t megabucks, but it’s quite pricey when you can pick up DVDs for a couple of quid if you wait long enough, or are prepared to buy second hand. Putting it in the ‘charity shop’ box feels like emptying your purse into the bin. And if you think of your DVD purely as a ‘thing’ which has a (comparatively) high cost, then it sort of is.
But think of that DVD as an experience instead. You would probably spend a lot more than £12.99 to go to the cinema, and would do so without too much question. You might leave with a pair of 3D glasses, but you largely go through the entire cinema experience without accruing a single ‘thing’. Because you paid for the experience – the thrill of the loud big screen, the privilege of watching something when it’s fresh and new, without having to wait for DVDs or, god forbid, network premiers. If you think of a DVD in the same way – the experience of curling up on the sofa with someone you love, watching a new film you haven’t seen before, or revisiting an old one – then suddenly £12.99 doesn’t seem that much of a cost. The value is much higher.
And you might have to watch a DVD ten, twenty or thirty times before you feel you’ve got true value out of it. Or it might be that it only needs to be watched that one night. Either way, after the value has been gained, the DVD box sitting on your shelf is just the waste product left behind – like an apple core or a crisp packet. And when you think of your ‘things’ in these terms, they suddenly become much easier to get rid of.
What has No Value for You can have Value for Others
A thing’s value doesn’t have to end with you – and this is where I get the greatest joy from decluttering. Something that is just taking up space on my shelves, or contributing to the general clutter that can make my house unmanageable, could become a perfect gift for someone else, a donation to charity, or even make a little bit of money back for me towards my next ‘experience.’
I don’t advocate just blindly throwing stuff out. Putting something in the bin that still functions and is in good condition is wasteful – and in a disposable society, I like to try to combat that in some small way. But also, the thought that things you once loved and enjoyed experiencing can go on to create good experiences for someone else makes taking the plunge and getting rid of it that much easier.
A Last Hurrah
Sometimes there’s value in using something one last time. When clearing out things, I often wear or use them one more time. It’s either a fond farewell, or timely reminder that there’s a reason I haven’t used that particular ‘thing’ in forever. Giving your things a last hurrah can provide the emotional closure needed to help you clear them out.
Everything in this series will be looked at in terms of cost, value, thing, experience. If you apply that to your belongings, it’s all you really need to know. But sometimes judging the value can be a little tricky. I’ve got that covered in later posts.
Next time we’ll go step by step through how to declutter your DVDs. DVDs are easy, for reasons outlined above. Plus, you can often get monetary reward for getting rid of them for little effort. I’ll start gently, then we’ll move on to more tricky things!
Leave me a comment if you have any thoughts! I’d love to know if you try this and how you get on :)