Decluttering: How Far Can You Go?

Decluttering: How Far Can You Go?

Is it “de-cluttering”, “minimalism” or “simplification”?

I like the idea of keeping things simple. Apart from one particular connotation (#25), I rather like the word simple.

Einstein said: “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.” I buy into that idea 1000%.

In other words, make things as complex as they need to be, but as simple as they can be.

Some things in life do need to be complex, but then we have a tendency to get really into stuff and over-engineer solutions, to over complicate things – to add complexity where it’s not needed.

It seems like Da Vinci was on the same page too (“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”).

So the question is, just how simple can we go?

Choosing The Simplest Solutions

I have just returned from holiday in France, part of which we spent in the French Alps where we own a little studio. Being a bit of a geek I decided to see if I could construct a rather clever system for watching digitally stored media on our TV there. I created a kind of ‘intra-net’ using a NAS drive, a wireless router, and a wireless media server connected to the TV. It worked fine but in the end was overkill. I got a buzz out of working out the details and getting this to work. It turns out the cheaper and easier solution was crazily simple – a USB stick (these are available at low cost with plenty of capacity these days and the TV has a USB port) – so my clever solution just wasn’t needed.

With advances in technology there are similar examples all over the place where more complex methods can now be massively simplified with something cheaper, quicker and easier – do you have any similar examples in your own home?

This can sometimes be a question of examining a service or contract and asking the organisation you are in contract with if they can offer you a better, simpler, more appropriate deal (e.g. people often have much better mobile phone or utilities contracts available to them if they were only to ask).

De-cluttering Your Living Space

Before we went on holiday we decided to tidy our cottage so that we came back to a tidy home. We did this room by room.

We cleared a lot of surfaces which had amassed ornaments, photos, cards, reminders, papers, clutter.

We started emptying some of the containers we have lying around which had become receptacles of miscellaneous items and in some cases just threw out the entire container.

We picked through items we don’t seem to use and gave these to people (via freecycle) who would (e.g. a rather nice bread making machine which sat around taking space and gathering dust in our kitchen).

You get the idea.

Just how much do we need?

I have to say, after quite a decent de-cluttering spree the extra space we’ve made is far nicer than all of the unused items which took that space before. We were holding on to them ‘just in case’ we would ever want to use them, but we never did. They just took space.

Removing clutter & creating space is very liberating. It really does make more space for the things that you do care about, for the things that you do use and makes for a much tidier and more pleasant living space.

I hope we will continue to look at the things in our home as either necessary or candidates for a trip out of our home (to somewhere they will be more valued).

Digital De-cluttering

Whilst on holiday I also spent very little time engaging on-line. I hardly checked my emails and social media.

I do like twitter (mainly because, unlike email, it’s a very transient and clutter-free platform) and do continue to use emails but I’m feeling like I could really take-or leave the rest, and if the likes of Facebook or LinkedIn bother me much more I might just leave them entirely.

I’m pretty streamlined in my use of email already (check out my system to avoid email overload here: Email Overload II (Demo): How To Stop Being A Slave To Your Email Inbox) but through letting those that I do receive ‘pile-up’ whilst on holiday, I found myself streamlining my digital world even further when I got home and caught up with online stuff.

Streaming Instead of Downloading

Another way you can de-clutter digitally is to stream rather than download. Again, with improvements in technology and communications, the need to collect stuff – even digital stuff – is just not what it once was.


I’ve tried various types of diet. I am currently not really trying any but I did arrive home to a very empty kitchen.

Rather than going to the shop to stock up on food items, I just ate what we have. Call it my ’empty cupboard’ diet if you like – again, as with everything else, it’s amazing how little we really need.

I realized something similar recently when I spent a week walking Hadrian’s Wall with a tent, a small amount of food (to keep my pack as light as possible) and not much else. When you have to carry everything you need with you including all of your clothes, your food and water (and food and water for your dog), your tent, sleeping bag etc then you can’t afford any clutter or unnecessary items.


As with everything else, what we really need is very little. You may want to have a huge selection of clothes, but consider a smaller collection of items that you really like or really need – you’ll have clearer drawers/cupboards, be able to get to those items quicker and waste less mental energy wondering what to wear.

De-clutter Your Mental Space

Do all of the above and you will undoubtedly clear your mental space.

… and this is where things start to get really interesting.

It’s like when you knock down a wall between two rooms. The resulting space is always far greater than you’d imagine.

With less around, less going on, less ‘stuff’ physically or otherwise, there is less to get in your way mentally, less to think about – which in turn frees your metal energy to be applied elsewhere.

More time for thought and more control of your thoughts – and as our thoughts shape our reality, that’s important.

Add to this an appreciation of Cicero’s 2nd mistake, “The tendency to worry about things that cannot be changed or corrected.” – i.e. don’t do that (it’s a mistake, right, so something you shouldn’t do ;-)) and you’ll be wondering what to do with all of that time you just freed up – weird when you used to be so busy all of the time.

So What do we Really Need?

This lot would be some of my particular favorites:

  • Companionship (takes no space at all but needs time, mental energy and socialising/effort).
  • Love.
  • Nature.
  • Mindfulness, time to enjoy the moment rather than worrying about the future or the past.
  • Enjoying the outdoors.
  • Learning.
  • Experiencing.
  • Enjoying the things we have that we have made room for.

How far can you go to make room for these?

I for one would rather spend more time on these than on clutter – sorting out my house, my overly complicated problems/solutions, over-complicated work, digital clutter or spending too much time shopping for too much food or clothes then eating or wearing too much which in the end I’ll pay for financially and maybe in terms of my health too.

We don’t actually really need much at all, just to look after and enjoy what we have (and perhaps to make sure that what we have is not already too much).


Decluttering: How Far Can You Go? — 4 Comments

  1. This is a perfectly timed article for me. I’m in the process of decluttering my house. Well, I guess you could say that I’ve been doing it for the past few months and I’ll probably do a major declutter, where I get rid of bigger items, later on. It feels so good to get rid of things that I really don’t need. The more I look around, the more I see things that I highly value. The things that are left over are there for a reason. It just feels good to be surrounded by the things that you really want to have in your life.

    • Hey Steve,

      I wouldn’t have imagined you as having a lot of clutter in the first place, but I do know exactly what you mean. It’s hard to convey in an article that feeling you get when you do this, but you put it very well when you say it just feels good to be surrounded by the things you really want to have in your life – this obviously goes beyond material possessions too.

      thanks for the comment – hope all is well with you these days,

      Alan recently posted..Why Shared Experiences are Great for NetworkingMy Profile

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