You own more than you think. Much more. In fact, it is scary how much we own. We may not belong on a television show about hoarding, but if you were to try and get it all out onto one big pile… you would likely faint.
The day my parents decided to go into early retirement and downsize from the family home to a two-bedroom house with no second floor, guest room, or other big storage space, they realised just how much stuff they had. And they weren’t alone. Although I have my own place, I have had the luxury of leaving things in my childhood room and in their attic (don’t we all have boxes in our parents’ attic?). But in the new house, I have no room or attic. So the time has come for me to go through everything and have a little downsize myself.
Welcome to the biggest Spring Cleaning of my life.
Now of course, each situation is different. You may be downsizing, or moving, or just wanting to grow up and not rely on your parents, be more aware of your material belongings, do good and give away what you don’t need. But the result is still that you will need to go through everything you own and evaluate it.
I had to start in my own home, to make room for everything that would be coming.
Organising your clothes
Let’s be honest, we have more clothes than we need, than we will ever wear, and that fits in our wardrobe. So it’s a great place to start your clear-out. The hardest part is taking everything out to understand how much you have.
To organise your clothes, you will probably need a day and a large space to get out all your clothes from all your drawers, wardrobes, laundry basket and the seasonal clothes stuffed away somewhere. Check the hooks next to the front door as well!
Pile it all up nicely to see how many items you have serving the same purpose. Those jeans you keep in case you fit into them again some day? One motivational pair is enough (if you really need one). After all, you will have no reason to shop for your new size otherwise. (New mums currently wearing maternity clothes are exempt from this.) Gardening clothes? One old outfit is enough, get rid, donate or upcycle the others.
Anything broken (beyond repair), old, out of fashion or which you haven’t worn for other reasons should go. You will probably try on a lot of clothes in the process, just to check what actually fits as well as it should.
Deciding on wardobe essentials
Now for your every day and work clothes; this is where it gets harder. Look away from your clothes and make a list of how many items you think you need. Do you want underwear for two weeks? How many jeans do you feel comfortable with? How many cocktail dresses do you need so you don’t look like you always wear the one outfit?
There are lots of guides online if you really can’t decide what is appropriate, but the more you think about it, the more you will know yourself what seems right for you.
For a few tips on what you absolutely need to keep, check out which clothes every woman should own. And then, narrow it down to the amount you decided on. This is the hard(-ish) part. You will have one more of an item because you really like them all, and that’s OK. Likelihood is, you will still reduce by quite a lot, especially when it comes to smaller items such as socks, underwear, nightwear and shirts.
As you sort through your piles, make sure each item you keep can be used in two to three combinations. That means, don’t keep all black bras for all light-coloured tops; check a skirt has more than one top to pair it with, etc.
What you don’t keep, you can donate or sell to feel like your belongings aren’t just going in the bin (plus, it would be quite wasteful). And THEN, determine what you are short of (usually that’s well-fitting bras, because, as per your list, you will have gotten rid of all the ill-fitted ones) you can go shopping with a good conscience, just to top-up.
Sorting through memories
Depending on how sentimental you are, you will have more or less a memory box. Some of us keep every cinema ticket and every birthday card, others have nothing (or at least they think they don’t). Either way, it is time to go on a trip down memory lane.
Find every box with mementos you have (you may repeat this process as you find more of them) and also find any memories your parents still keep for you. Now start going through and decide what really means something, and what doesn’t, or what can be summed up by keeping something else.
It’s surprising how much you don’t remember, or don’t care about anymore.
All those stuffed animals from your childhood? You are likely to remember two. Keep those. Every map and leaflet from your trip to New York? Maybe the pictures you took mean more to you? Throw out the rest. Your old school books? Keep one from each year or subject if you want to remember how your writing changed, or if you are proud of a project you did, but get rid of the hundreds of pages of long division you had to do.
BUT these are your memories, so be careful. Unless you lived under a rock for the past year, you will have heard of Marie Kondo and her minimalist approach of only keeping what brings you joy. Well, apply a little of that (but not too much, she says you don’t need a lot of books, and I disagree.)
Some things will genuinely bring you joy as you uncover them from the depths of the attic, and that is good. Hold on to those.
Books, CDs, DVDs (and VHS for some of us)
If you like all your books and DVDs, then let me skip ahead to the big revelation I had while I was knee deep in 1000 books, all stacked on neat piles of ‘keep’ and ‘give away’: Now is the time to downsize, because it is unlikely to ever grow this much again. With kindles and Netflix and Apple TV and Amazon Prime, we don’t have as many physical books, CDs and DVDs anymore and cleaning out really makes a difference.
I love books, but I also know that unless I find a home with a library, I need to get rid of some. Don’t get me wrong, I kept 100s. But a good few hundred are going to new happy owners. These are books I read as a child and teenager, when I would read four books a week. I don’t even remember the stories. Or they are books you were given and you read, but that didn’t stick with you. I kept any book I liked, the ones of my favourite authors, the ones which bring me joy when I see them on my shelves, even the books which shaped my childhood. For the others, I found websites which buy books (Amazon marketplace, momox, Facebook selling groups are all places you can try).
Same with DVDs. I keep my absolute favourite shows (I liked Gilmore Girls before it was cool and the DVDs of the first season are a weird Chinese import because it wasn’t available over here and our players couldn’t read DVDs from the US). But other shows and films I can just as easily watch elsewhere and I haven’t picked up the DVDs in years. I would need a DVD player first. Ditto for CDs.
Kitchen, Bathroom, Toiletries
This should be quite easy, but in the spirit of being thorough, go through all your kitchen items and bathroom and toiletries.
What do you use? What don’t you use? How many different bottles of shampoo are on the go? Are you keeping those curlers in case some day there’s a fancy dress party? Does every lunch box have a lid? Are there pots and pans that should be discarded because their non-stick days are long gone? (I have a mini-muffin maker which needs a loving home.)
What about all the mugs you have? Which ones do you like and which ones are just in the back of the cupboard? How many do you actually need?
You have a lot of stuff which doesn’t fit into the categories above. It all adds up, and it will all need taking out of every drawer you have. But it will feel good in the end. Apply a similar method to everything you find – from stationery to nic nacs and electrical items.
It feels great, doesn’t it? Tiring, but good.
Your cupboards are no longer overflowing, you know what you own, you found some long-lost items, and your home is tidier than it has been in a long time. There is likely to still be the odd drawer you decided not to go through. Though I suggest you still do it at some point, just so it is done.
You will probably have a few weeks of using up all the post-it notes you found, reading a book one more time before giving it away or having a crafty afternoon to use up the scrapbook material you bought and never used, or find a frame and hang the holiday pictures you printed when photos weren’t all on phones yet.
Most importantly though, remember this feeling and every time you buy something, consider what you can give away in exchange.