Changing Habits: 3 Shifts to Adopt a Decluttering Mindset

We hear about mindset everywhere these days – mindset for losing weight, mindset for making more money…and I tend to believe it’s true, that you have to change the underlying beliefs that are driving your actions in order to create long-term change.

So, today I want to talk about adopting a mindset that automatically reduces clutter in your home.  Or, put another way, I want to talk about the things I wish my husband believed and/or knew deep down to help us reduce clutter more.

First, let’s get one thing straight – decluttering is about changing your habits, it’s not a one-time activity.  You may need a booster shot to declutter what has already accumulated, but on an ongoing basis, what you really need is a change of the habits that led to the clutter in the first place.  So, let’s take a look at what beliefs are underlying the clutter, and the mindset shifts needed to correct them.

Habits that Lead to Clutter..and Money Wasting…and Time Wasting!

Did you know that clutter has a financial component to it, too?  If you’re not caring for the things you own by keeping them reasonably (!) organized, clean, and accessible – you’re wasting the financial resources that have been given to you.  Whether you believe that financial success is a gift from God, the Universe, or just a stroke of luck…what you DO with those resources will help drive what you receive down the line.

In other words, if you’re buying things, tossing them in a corner/desk/spare bedroom somewhere (come on, don’t we all have that one room in the house that is a catch-all for random things we’ve accumulated?), and then can’t find them again when you need them…you’re wasting money.

This came up twice in my house this weekend.  The grandparents were in town, so my hubby, my son, and my dad wanted to go out fishing.  However, they couldn’t find my son’s lifejacket (he has two), and it was delaying the whole trip.  My husband and my dad both came to me at some point over the hour or so it took me to find the lifejacket and asked if they could just stop at Walmart on the way to the water and buy him a new one.

No, you can’t – and here’s why.  First, we already have two lifejackets for him – why on earth do we need a third?  And second, it’s all too easy to just “buy a new one” every time you can’t find something, or it’s not readily accessible, or it needs to be cleaned…you get the idea.  I swear to you, my sister was known in college for just “buying a new one” every time she got a stain on her clothes.  What a waste!

As it turned out, the lifejacket was in our old boat – which apparently hadn’t been cleaned out the last time it was used, probably a year ago.  Yep, add that to the list of things to do this weekend…alongside getting that boat ready to actually sell (because there’s an opportunity cost to it just sitting there)!

Then, apparently my husband also couldn’t find his fishing pliers when they were out on the boat.  My father, knowing that hubby’s birthday was next week, promptly went on Amazon, found the best-rated fishing pliers, and ordered them to be delivered to our house.  Great, right?  Except guess what…in another month, when he needs to use them again, and now can’t find the old ones OR the new ones…you get the idea.

So you can see how decluttering leads to wasting money.  However, it also leads to wasting one of our absolutely most precious resources…TIME!  Whether we spent an hour finding the lifejacket, or a half-hour going to the store and buying a new one…it certainly took a chunk away from the time they could spend fishing.

A few minutes at the end of that last boating trip would have solved both the fishing pliers and the lifejacket problem…and wouldn’t have cost a dime!

Mindset Shifts to Reduce Clutter

After observing friends (and loved ones) who tend towards accumulating a lot of clutter, I truly think there are a set of core beliefs that drive a lot of this accumulation:

A Bird in the Hand is Worth…Two in the Basement?

My husband doesn’t want to get rid of anything largely because he “might need it again later.”  And for some things, this is absolutely valid.  If he gets rid of an extra roll of tape, he’ll need to go buy another one next week when this one runs out.  So keep it, no problem.

But where do you draw the line between keeping backups and extra items and simply adding to the clutter?  Well, for one thing – how long is it likely to be before you may need that item?  Are you sure you will need it at all?  For example – he has not one, not two, but THREE sets of extra gauges (speedometer, gas gauge, etc.) for his truck out in the shed.  Now, we don’t know for sure that the gauges will ever become a problem – or that, if they do, it would be hard to find a replacement.  So, in this case, this is really just clutter.  We could easily pass these on to someone who actually needs them, and buy or repair the gauges if they ever become an issue.

So, next time you’re thinking about keeping something, remember that someone else may be looking for this exact thing – while it’s just sitting around collecting dust currently.  Try to come up with a reasonable time limit of when you’ll be keeping things – should you keep them if you’re likely to need them in 6 months?  A year?  Longer?

And ask yourself – what is the VALUE of keeping these items?  Are they really worth anything to me right now?

Fear of Loss & Scarcity

For many people, the fear of scarcity prevents them from getting rid of things they may need “one day.”  Particularly if your personal background includes a serious shortage of things you needed, it’s incredibly tempting to counteract those times by keeping things you accumulate during the good times.  What if “one day” comes, and you don’t have enough money to replace/repair/buy the item you got rid of?  And, if you’ve already spent money on the item, doesn’t getting rid of it mean you’re losing the money you spent?

In my husband’s case, I think this fear is actually costing us far more than he realizes.  Because he’s afraid he might need something later, he’s paying more than $200 every month for a storage unit we don’t really need…to keep those “but I might need it!” items.

This particular mindset issue is likely deep-rooted, and will be particularly challenging to overcome.  But start with identifying whether this fear of scarcity is an issue for you.  If it is, just work on identifying when you’re acting out of fear…and try not to let that fear drive your decision-making today.

Last week, I asked Don how long he’d had the storage unit before meeting me…and it turns out, he’s had it a total of 8 years!  I’ll let you do the math on that one…which leads me to my next point:

Sunk Costs, Storage Costs and Buying it Again

So you’re decluttering your spare room and you find a widget.  Now, this widget cost you $19.95 plus tax, and it’s still a neat widget, so you’re going to keep it, right?

Maybe.  Hopefully not.

See, that $20 you spent on that widget…it’s gone.  Forever.  It’s called a sunk cost, and you won’t get it back no matter what you do (okay, maybe if you’re still within the return period, and it hasn’t been opened yet).

So, basically the $20 you spent on that widget is irrelevant to whether you should keep it now or not.  It’s even irrelevant if it was a $20 widget that you found used on Craigslist for $5 – but good for you!

But what is relevant?  What is the cost of storing the item until, and in case, you ever need it again?

Wait a minute, you’re saying – I don’t have a storage unit, so there is no storage cost!

Wrong.  Every. Single. Item. you own has a storage cost.  From buying or renting a bigger house because you have too much stuff, to taking longer to clean your home because of the clutter, to taking more time to find things because you own so much…there are many costs involved with keeping things you might need one day.

So, when you’re thinking about whether you should keep that power tool you used once for a home project three years ago, also thing about having to clean it, maintain it, organize it…you get the idea. In my ideal world, I sell the tool on Craigslist for 50% of its value…or donate it to someone who can really use it.  Then, if I ever need a similar tool again…yup, I look on Craigslist, and find one for a similar price.  This way, I’ve avoided the storage costs of the tool, while also avoiding the high costs of buying the same tool new again.

Obviously you won’t want to buy everything used, but this works in a surprising number of cases.  And it definitely works for all those baby and kid items that you’re keeping in case you have another one.  If you buy things secondhand, you’ll also be less reluctant to get rid of it when you no longer need it, because you have less invested in it.

Letting Things Flow – In AND Out

There’s a natural flow to things in the world…by avoiding clinging to belongings, you’re creating an energy flow, rather than a blockage.  You’re letting things you no longer need flow out of your life, and letting things you want or need now flow in.

Can you imagine if you never got rid of anything?  Either your home would, over time, become impossibly full of your belongings (there’s a show about that…).  Or, you’d have to progressively move into a bigger and bigger home regularly to accommodate your extra belongings.

If you’re reading this blog, I suspect you’re not planning to continually have to buy a bigger home.  Although, I did just get an image of your home swelling with extra belongings, kinda of like a tick feeding on blood…

Decluttering, as it turns out, is crucial to simplifying, paying off debt, and changing the way you live your life.  Now, what are you going to do about it?

Wrapping it All Up

Accumulating clutter, really, is about mindset.  It’s a pretty direct result of the incredibly privileged world we live in – it’s easy to buy anything you want or need.  But just because you can buy anything you might want doesn’t mean you should – and it doesn’t mean you should keep it once you have it.

Indeed, caring for the resources you’ve been given means regularly moving no-longer-needed items out of your home, one way or another.  And it means creating the belief that you will be able to get what you need tomorrow, and the next day.  It means letting go of fears of not having enough.  If you truly didn’t have enough to meet your needs…probably you wouldn’t be reading this, because decluttering wouldn’t be one of your problems.

As Americans, we’re incredibly blessed that most of us have far more than just our basic needs met.  Why not use that gratitude to bless others?

Take Action

Do it now, don’t wait!  How can you implement small changes or habits today for a less cluttered future?  Perhaps you need to address some deeply-held fears; how will you do that?What is a single regular activity that you could start to help prevent clutter from accumulating in the first place?  Comment below!

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