3 Decluttering paradigm shifts that have improved my life

Sometimes we need to have a paradigm shift when changing our decluttering habits, especially our deeply ingrained ones. I have had three paradigm shifts that have really helped in my decluttering journey and will share them with you, as perhaps they will resonate with others.

I am really starting to embrace minimalism. Although I have decluttered in fits and starts over the years, I call myself “stuff bulimic” because I go through binge and purge cycles. However, my additions are less and less and I am finding much more joy in letting go.

Decluttering Paradigm Shift 1:
I can apply the capsule wardrobe approach to my pantry

Over the past couple of months, I have been using the capsule wardrobe philosophy to reduce my wardrobe. I will write a more detailed blog about this decision and my process later, but right now-just know that I am doing it. With this method, I can see everything I have, everything in my wardrobe fits and looks okay on me, and all the pieces generally work together. It takes the guesswork and the decision paralysis out of the equation.

All my hanging clothes for the summer

It turns out, I run into a lot of the same issues with my pantry. I shop at discount stores that often sell products that I don’t normally use for super cheap. Being a bargain hound, of course I stock up on it!! But I do not make a plan to use it. What’s more, I usually shove it to the bottom or the side, so my cupboards and fridge are over-full, but with things we don’t use. So I have the feeling that there is nothing to eat and nothing to make, but I am continually stressed at how cluttered my storage is. And because it is so cluttered, it is so much easier to forget about foods until they are rotting. Paradigm shift: apply the capsule approach to decluttering the pantry and fridge.

My new plan is to really evaluate what we eat and what we don’t

I threw out things that expired in 2014 (!!) and donated a lot of other food. We then made a plan for some of the more “on the bubble” food that we don’t normally eat. I think we have processed it all. Now my plan going forward.

  • Only buy food we really eat
  • Make a solid plan for food before or right after I purchase it. How will we use it? Do we have all the other ingredients? Is it food that folks in the house like?
  • DO NOT OVERBUY!! A good price is not good if no one eats it. This also goes for produce and dairy products.
  • Go through what is available frequently and plan around it. Use it up!

I reorganized my cabinets and put all of our snack and lunch prep foods in the cabinet over the microwave. Before, they were in the deep pantry. We would lose track of snack items all the time. Meanwhile, we were giving prime real estate over the microwave to big staples like flour. We hardly ever opened that cabinet over the microwave. Now the snacks and lunch items are easy to access from the microwave. And we cannot overbuy the ingredients because the space is limited.

This is an incredibly difficult challenge for me. I raised my kids in poverty, so I was always looking for things that I could afford that felt like luxury. Even if we wouldn’t use them. And I also got into the habit of STOCKING UP when the getting was good.

Decluttering Paradigm Shift 2:
I do not need to save all the paper

Seems like a no-brainer, but I have the hardest time throwing away paper! Receipts, warranties for things we don’t own anymore, every school report card my kids have ever gotten…

It is all (mostly) neatly filed. In a rolling filing cart and file boxes and a 4 drawer filing cabinet and baskets and trays. But it is just not necessary. And that was a wake up call. These have been some of my paper-heavy habits:

  • Taking notes that I never look at after writing.
  • Printing articles that are also saved on my computer.
  • Keep bills long after they have been paid, even though the company shows the billing history online.

After decluttering my cabinets (which happened due to my successes and mind shift with my closet, I am beginning to see a pattern here!), I turned the same notion to my paper. Paradigm shift: “We don’t have to keep all this paper.” So simple, yet so freeing!

Over the past couple of weeks, I have pared down from

  • 1 hanging file box
  • 3 1/2 large filing cabinet drawers
  • 1 magazine file box
  • 3 large binders
  • 1 short basket
  • 1 extra large milk crate

All full of papers!! Now I have:

  • A single hanging file box (this size) that is not full.
All my papers
How did I do it?

First I looked at the papers to determine what they were. No surprise, the majority were academic articles I had printed out. There were many that I didn’t need anymore and I just recycled those.

The remaining articles fell into one of three categories:
  • Ones I might need later that I have saved on my computer
  • Some that I might need later that are available easily online
  • Articles I might need that aren’t available, so I have scanned those
The rest of the paper?
  • Assignments from undergraduate and graduate school. I have the degrees, I can let the papers go.
  • Notes from classes and research.
  • Old medical records
  • Student papers (big shredding party for some of the smaller assignments that I didn’t toss in the big shred bin on campus)

You might think, how can you throw those notes, you might need them some day! But here is the thing: I have always been a fairly disorganized note taker, so when I look back I can never remember what I wrote down or where I wrote it down. And if I find notes, I can’t figure out the context.

This is hard for me to admit. Even though I successfully completed the highest degree in my field, I feel like a fraud and a bad student because I am not a good note taker! But the point is, my notes were not helpful to me except for a few days after I wrote them. So I have discarded them. I have the work saved and all the feedback from my committee and my comments to their comments. There is plenty to work with, I simply did not need notes I would never look at again.

By the end of it, I was able to give away my huge, heavy vintage filing cabinet

The Dude has a pile of files to go through, and we still have a rolling file cart filled with family papers to go through. Another rule will be that junk mail is immediately recycled. But we are well on our way!

Decluttering Paradigm Shift 3: The library will hold my reading lists so I don’t have to!

Instead of a night stand, I have a short bookshelf next to my bed. I did a first run of decluttering it, and got rid of some books. But the shelves were still pretty full. I need a space for my water glass, bracelet and watch, night guard case, glasses, and phones. The top of the bookshelf is a bit hard to reach while lying down, so the stuff would end up sitting in front of the books on the second shelf from the top. It was very unstable. And the top of the bookshelf was looking cluttered.

In order to get order, I needed one full shelf empty. And I wanted to declutter the top as well. All the books on my bedside bookshelf are books I am currently reading or books I really want to read soon!!

But I had to have a talk with myself

Because those books that I *really want to read soon* have been sitting on my shelf for years. Literal years.

I didn’t read much for fun or personal growth while writing my dissertation. In the year since I have been done, it has been a struggle to pick up a book at the end of the day. I have read some, but nowhere near the level of books that were on my shelf. But I want to read them, so I have been keeping them for *someday* and keeping them on the shelf next to my bed as an active reminder.

My a-ha moment

I haven’t read these books and keeping them on my shelf isn’t changing that. I realized that I could send them away until I wanted to read them. Since I am trying to avoid storing things, I knew I didn’t want to put them in storage. But most of the books could be found at the library or on Amazon at a later date.

Much like my wardrobe and my overstuffed pantry and fridge, with too many books on my shelves for too long, I stopped seeing them. Each individual book faded into the background and when I did want to read, it was hard to choose from the abundance.

I knew the answer: fewer books

However, I wanted to remember what books I had so that I could return to them later. My first thought was to create a Google Doc of titles, but I kind of lose track of Google docs sometimes, so it isn’t a great solution for something I wouldn’t use often.

Decluttering paradigm shift! The library will keep track of my book needs and I can proceed in decluttering my shelves! My library has a list service. This is different from holds. It is simply a reminder. Here is an example. I am interested in this book but not ready to read it, so I simply added it to a list.

My library lets me categorize lists, so I added a list called “Books from my shelves” and I looked up each book from my shelf that I was not actively reading but would still like to. I added those to my list.

The panic crossed through my mind, ‘What if I forget about them when they are on this list?’ But then I reminded myself that they were inches from my head every night and I always forgot them! So, if I forget them, nothing will have changed. Except that I have more shelf space.

My bookshelf has thanked me

On my bookshelf, there are now only about 20 books. I have more on other shelves, but only 20 in my active zone. My bedside collection does not even cover an entire shelf. I now have space for my things, and mental space to breathe and contemplate.

It won’t win any minimalist prizes, but I can now set my drink on a shelf without fear of a book knocking it off. My goal for this week is to pare the books down a bit more and confront the items in the bags on the bottom 2 shelves.

The top of the bookshelf is much calmer.

Each paradigm shift has brought me a little further on my decluttering path. These shifts can lead to long term change and may help me break the binge and purge cycle I have lived on for so long.