Reduce Consumption: declutter your life

Step 1: Understand your enemy

Firstly, you must keep in mind the importance of space and the unimportance of stuff. I borrowed The Story of Stuff from the library, to help the process (see the video version here). The idea is simple. Past a limited number of items, stuff stops making us happy. Sometimes you just need to step back and recognise this, and do something about it.

Review why you are collecting stuff and get to the root cause of your problem. Think about those days when the whole house feels tidy, and how happy you feel. Less stuff means that is more likely to happen.

Do not fall for the idea of decluttering your house by putting it in storage. This growing industry (summarised in a report by Deloitte) covers 34.4 million square feet of space in the UK and cost the UK £385 million in 2013. We have far more storage space than any other European country. This is the path to even greater depression. Face your problems, do not bury them in a storage container out of town.

There are 26.4 million households in the UK. Imagine you are moving house, and the weight of all that stuff being carried out to the street. How much of it do you actually use, and how much is just there because? The volume of materials stored in our houses could be doing good elsewhere, and could avoid mining in precious areas across the globe. Release your grasp on these things and learn to share.

Step 2: Empty the space, and start again

Tackle one space at a time.

For example, start by taking all your books off the shelves, and only put them back if you have a reason. If it’s because you haven’t read it, but having checked if it is any good online, decide you will, then put it on the most handy shelf and aim to work through this collection. Once read, you could then get rid of them. If it has sentimental value or you refer to it again and again, then these are the ones to keep. Just clear out the deadwood. According to a study, the average household has 200 books. By giving away the books we don’t want anymore, we will be reducing consumption of new materials. If you like having books around because they look nice on the shelves, how about just swapping the books you won’t read for other ones? Either swap with friends, or list the books you want to swap on ReadItSwapIt, and get a whole new set of books to read in the post.

Now move on to dealing with the kitchen drawers and cupboards. Remove everything and review what you have. If there are things in there that don’t work, now is the time to fix them, or get rid of them. Clean all the surfaces, and then put back in only those things that deserve a place. Keep only the stuff you need. If, like me, you live in a shared house, there is probably two of most things and this is a tricky process. (You could always put half the items in a box for when the other one gets broken. Just remember to check this box before buying anything new.)

Time to tackle the shed, garage, under stairs cupboard and loft. These places hold items that we hardly ever use, but instead of borrowing them off a neighbour or from a tool hire shop, we have all bought one each. Mowers, pressure washers, folding tables, paper shredders, hedge trimmers, sanders, sports equipment, old electronics, are all stored in nooks and crannies. Again, remove everything and consider the options. If, like us, you have removed all the wall paper in the whole house, it is time to pass the wallpaper stripper on to someone else. If you have a new printer, do something with the old one, do not just store it. For one, the longer you keep an electronic item, the more likely it is to be obsolete and therefore only good for scrap metal. Two, the thing is made of materials, including precious metals that require huge amounts of energy and produce tonnes of toxic water to process.

Keep going! Once you have cleared an area, explain this to your household, and ask for their cooperation.

Step 3: When I say, “get rid of…”, I mean:

  • Lend to a friend (advertise it on Facebook, your friends may want to have a go at yoghurt making, or bread making, or icecream making. who knows?)
  • Sell them on ebay
  • Give them to a local charity shop
  • Give them away using the Freecycle network
  • WEEE waste that no-one wants should be taken to the local waste handling facility, or recycled by the retailer when you buy a replacement item. Old phones and ink cartridges can be donated to charity (see Recycle4Charity)
  • join a tool library, or create one and donate your surplus useful items to the cause

Once you have decluttered, keep it that way. Think about how you feel about your space, and avoid allowing clutter to creep back in to your life.

  1. Join sharing websites so you can get that feeling of ‘new’ without buying stuff.
  2. Every time you want to buy something new, write it down with the date. Tell yourself you are not allowed to buy it until a month later, by which point you probably won’t want it. Is it really worth the space required?
  3. Write a gift list, so that if you can’t avoid doing presents at Christmas, you will at least get something good. (Tip: Think experiences, rather than things.)
  4. Make sure that the other people in your household understand and share the vision.

Good luck!

If you have any other tips to reduce the amount of resources we all use, please share.

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