Richard Cheesman

24 May 2022

He Who Controls The Clutter...

He who controls the clutter, controls the stuff

“He who controls the spice, controls the universe”

Today I’m writing about control. It’s really come about from a lot of discussion over decluttering, especially during the New Year when a lot of people not only create unrealistic resolutions that a majority will fail to keep, but also decide to ‘spring clean’ their house - resulting in a lot of decluttering.

This is often a yearly cycle - “How did we end up with so much crap again? I thought we cleared out last year?” are the common questions that can come up when going through this process. There is a simple reason why.

We aren’t controlling the right part of the accumulation of stuff.

Now, some of you will already know where I’m going with this, but it’s really worth reiterating the main point of this so here we go: In order to stop decluttering for good, or to reduce it to a more manageable level, we simply have to stop letting the stuff come in.

It’s so easy in the Amazon & next day delivery era to just buy on impulse. To just think “I need x product for y solution.” And the next thing you know, the order is placed and you’re waiting impatiently for the next 24-48 hours. It’s easy to throw a few extra things in the trolley when shopping for groceries - the “special offers” are there, designed to tempt you to spend more. At this time of year, it’s going to be exploiting that organising and decluttering trend the comes annually.

This is the point where the brakes need to be on, and on in full. Often it’s written in minimalist lifestyle blogs that the beginning of minimalism is to stop buying stuff. As minimalism is really about having space and time for the important, the essential and the functional - it’s too easy to miss this vital step. So often people declutter, minimise their possessions and fail to understand why they keep having to do this again and again. It’s simply because they haven’t looked at what is currently coming in - instead we are only looking at what needs to go out.

Sure, we do need to buy stuff, and sometimes it’s hard to let go of new ideas, solutions or things to fill our shelves, cupboards, wardrobes, etc. But being intentional about it stems the flow a bit. It’ll reduce the amount to declutter at a later stage.

Even better is to adopt some simple rules - “1 in, 1 out” is a common and popular one, where if you feel the need for a new jumper, then one jumper has to go. You can apply this to any aspect and it’s pretty easy to do. Some things are a little harder - books you read, for example.

There’s nothing wrong with collecting something. Some people equate minimalism to asceticism, which is a topic I’ll cover in the future. Simply put, we aren’t denying ourselves things - we simply decide to deliberately focus on the important and joy-creating stuff. I enjoy photography, so I have gear for that. Does that make me less minimalist? No. If there was a new lens that could suit a particular photographic purpose, this would not be a place for the “1 in, 1 out” rule to apply, because it’s a passion and pleasure of mine. A new shirt would apply because I have a wardrobe that is tailored to my almost exact needs - an extra shirt would be unnecessary and too much for me.

Other ideas include using a 30-day wait. Check again if you need said item in 30 days (I really don’t recommend this for food, unless you have one of those deep chest freezers stacked full).

There are lots of other simple principles contained within minimalism that help control the influx of things.

Don’t buy if it doesn’t serve a purpose or add joy

Now be careful here - adding joy is not the same as ‘shopping as therapy’. Does the item in question have a genuine need, does it add meaningful value to your life?

Don’t get it if you’ve already got it

Got a good, functional watch? Then what is the need for another one? Again, discernment is needed if you’re looking at some things (we have household consumables on a +1 item rotation), but getting one thing of good quality is better than 2 or more of lesser.

If you need to make space for it, is it worth getting?

My wife recently got a recliner to help with her back issues. We knew we had the space for it. It was an easy decision, and a deliberate one. But then the following week someone was giving away a drawer unit for free and my wife grabbed it without considering where it will go. It’s now sitting in our living room taking up floor space and looking pretty ugly (IMHO) because there isn’t a suitable place for it.

Is it an impulsive purchase? - Don’t do it.

Minimalism (in all forms) is the deliberate and intentional reduction of either stuff, features, form, shape down to the essential and important. A minimalist watch for example, will tell the time. Some may have the date, but a lot are hours/minutes/seconds. Some watches are hours/minutes only, and I’ve even seen examples that only have the hour hand. Being deliberate in our purchasing reduces the impulse buys that usually end up being the clutter, clutter that gets hidden away in cupboards until spring rolls around and the deep clean begins. We end up at the question right at the beginning of this article: “Why did I buy this crap?”

Rounding off and concluding - when beginning our minimalist journey, or even if we’ve been doing it a while, controlling the influx of possessions really should be the first step. We have already admitted to ourselves we have “too much stuff” and so decide to remove a lot of it, often without realising that it is our buying these things that caused the problem in the first place. It’s up to us individually to control what we buy, when and where.

I’m going to end by altering the opening quote:

“He who controls the clutter, controls the stuff”