Decluttering: Thoughts on a Difficult Practice

old version of deskAs of late I’ve been on this kick to declutter my life. I am sure this has a lot to do with now being a father and realizing there are a lot of inessentials in my life; and quite honestly, I can’t say I would have come to this otherwise. Actually, this has also lead to a lot of reflection on all kinds of things including my blogging: why I do it, and whether I should continue and if so in what manner? But all of that is for another post.

So I decided to make this year a year of decluttering. I say year so that it’s not too ambitious, like get rid of everything in the next month, but rather spend the entire year, not just getting rid of things, but organizing better, managing time differently, and make good choices about what to bring into my life (whether a material things, commitments, etc). One thing somewhat related that Emily and I have talked a lot about is trying to focus on buying used things instead of always feeling the need to have something new.

Anyways, I don’t have any great tips on how to become less cluttered and I’m still at the very beginning of this process, but here are some of the things I’ve been working on so far.

First, you don’t have to spend money to get decluttered. It’s funny, I read productivity sites a lot, and it seems like most of them are under the impression that to live a life less cluttered means to purchase something — that’s a silly idea.

Second, I sat down with a piece of scratch paper and thought about the areas of my life I’d like to work on.

Some of those areas are:

  1. My computer – I’ve begun deleting old files and applications that are not essential any longer. It’s amazing how many things I keep on my mac “just in case.” It’s also amazing just how many of these things are already backed up on an external drive or online somewhere. I don’t need all this stuff on here. I’m aiming for a clutter-free hard drive, a few basic folders, only important apps, etc. That’s all that is necessary. I’ve also moved to using one main application (DevonThink) for all my research and note-taking (ok, I guess this was something I bought a year ago – dang it!). But focusing my usage on a couple apps helps me stay more organized.
  2. Online – This is an area of some serious clutter for me. I’ve actually started deleting some of my accounts to various online services. Recently, I’ve deleted my twitter and virb accounts, but I am also choosing not to sign up for more services and beta accounts. I don’t have time for this stuff. I’ve also decided to blog less, and only blog when I actually have something I’d like to share (like this). I am going to start approaching my blog as more of a journal of the development of my thoughts and ‘professional’ work and less of whatever else I’m into. I’ve also started to use things like google docs more, and have gone through my box.net account (free online storage) and organized it down to less folders so I have less places to put things. Finally, I am slowly working on editing down my delicious tags which are completely out of control.
  3. School/Professional – This is an area I’d like to really get down. In this area decluttering means more focused study, when I read I’m reading something essential to my studies and reading it without a lot of distraction around me. Another thing I’d working on is sticking to my to-do list. I use the free app xpad for that, and my moleskine. I’ve also got a separate journal I’m using as a way to declutter my thoughts. This journal is mainly for brief reflections on the happenings of the day, as well as thoughts and ideas I have that help reflect on where I am at in life, work and faith. I’ve found journalling to be one thing I keep going back to as a discipline I really enjoy.
  4. Spirituality – For me spirituality is more about how I live on a day to day basis than having personal devotions, or going to a church service. Yet, reading and praying as a discipline is something I’ve increasingly become disorganized in. As a part of my own decluttering process, I see this as an area to work on. As I mentioned above, journaling is one way for me to do this.
  5. Library – my library is absolutely bulging with books. I have more books than I care to confess (and yes, I really know how many there are), so I’ve decided to drastically reduce the size of my library. Part of this is simply a practical move, but part of it is a gesture towards decluttering. Another part is to let go of something deeper in my own identity – I am not what I own. I’m going to slim it down to books I see as important in my doctoral studies, and books that I can/would use in the preparation for the creation of class material. Otherwise, you’re out of here! This is going to be a big project, and a hard one, but I look forward to doing it. I may post more on this when the time comes.

Third – I guess is to tell others I want to do this for the sake of being reminded! But also, then, I actually need to do it! Ahh, the hardest part of all.

So these are some areas I’ve been working on and plan on working on over the course of this next year. How about you, have you done decluttering in the past? What did it look like? What helped you? Or if you haven’t done it yet, would you consider doing it with me this year?

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Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

12 thoughts on “Decluttering: Thoughts on a Difficult Practice”

  1. You sound much more ambitious than me. When I became a father I simply started to write my sermons on Thursdays instead of putting them off to Saturday nights.

  2. Wess!!! If you didn’t live on the opposite coast from me, I would hug you right this instant!

    This is what I am doing … and my husband too. Well, we’re not being nearly as strategic as you are. But slowly and more scatteredly we are decluttering and letting go of all the cr*p that is surrounding us. I try to devote a couple of 15 minute periods each day to it. Or maybe only one. Or maybe I do a closet, or a drawer or a set of shelves … but I try to do something every day.

    Anyway … I’m thrilled to find someone else who is streamlining. Consider this your hug of encouragement!!

  3. Sonja, Thanks for the comment and virtual hug! Don’t think of me as being strategic, it comes off as being far more organized to fit the medium of blogging than it really is. I like that you’re taking a little time everyday to do something, that’s something I will work on as well. I have a couple drawers that desperately need my 15 mins!

  4. Ah…this is actually a thought that has come to my head over the last few days. I really need to take a few days and throw stuff away. I need to clean out my closet. I need to give clothes to someone else. I need to stop buying crap. I need to stop downloading programs that will make my life more organized. It’s like openly lying to myself and telling myself that i need this stuff.

    This was a good reminder of the things that i need to do. It’s moments like this when i go back in my mind to life in a 3rd world country with one small bag and 3 pairs of clothes. I did it. For a month. There’s still hope. I can still do it.

    Thanks…Seminary here i come.

  5. Hey Wess,

    De-lurking here to encourage you on your blogging and your decluttering! I always look forward to checking out your thoughts (spirituality-focused or otherwise).

    As far as decluttering goes, my wife and I have been gravitating towards this goal for a few months nw. As a recent dad myself, I’m increasingly rolling around the concept of being “downwardly mobile” that I came across in J. Matthew Sleeth’s Serve God Save the Planet. A mindset that I have been trying to maintain around our house is to simplify like we’re going to move to a smaller living situation at some point. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something that excites me about picturing our friends showing up to help load our moving truck someday and saying “Wow, is that it!” [This is looking like a pipe-dream at this point, but a guy can hope can’t he??]

    Anyway, enough from me. Keep on keepin’ on.

    -Adam

  6. Moving across the country showed us quite a bit about how much stuff and space we truly need to survive. Just simply downsizing our living space and sorting through what we owned out of necessity created a lot of welcomed change. Sadly, we still have items that we haven’t touched since we moved to Pasadena half a year ago.

    Hope you can truly let go of some of clutter in your life, it’s a daunting task!

  7. @Kristen – yeah, I know it’s often the buying and downloading things I think I need, but then never or hardly use, that really add up!

    @Adam – thanks for the reminder of the “downwardly mobile” idea from Sleeth. I haven’t read the book, I’d like to, but I did hear him speak on one of Mars Hill (MI) Podcasts. And thanks for the encouragement as well.

    @Ben – we’ve moved every year for the past 5 years, so I agree that moving definitely helps in this process. I think this connects to the downwardly mobile thing well.

  8. I’ve given up being organized. Well, mostly. I used to be very OCD about stuff but once I became a father I really relaxed. It was a good thing, I think.

  9. Wess,

    This is so good. We should talk about this on Monday. We are in the same boat. My wife and I have been getting rid of lots of stuff lately. You soon realize how much stuff you have and don’t need or use. I don’t know how many books you have, but I had about 1,000 and I’ve been getting rid of them. So far I think I’m down to about 400 or less and still paring them down. Lots of them were inherited from my dad’s library (he was a pastor, adjunc. prof, etc.). I wrote some posts a while back and realized that a lot of my identity was in my library. It was crazy. So I have gone through and asked myself the question, what books will I never use, or rarely use, and it’s amazing how many there are. I know a professor who said if he didn’t pick up a book within a year for anything, then it was gone.

    I’ve given some away, but I’ve taken lots to Archives and traded them in for cash…and if they don’t have cash, then they give you store credit, which is a problem since I don’t need more books. In that scenario I just bought some big reference stuff (like Colin Brown or IVP stuff) that I could use are resources.

    Ideally, I would like to someday get the Kindle and have most of my books in that format. But I’m sure that will cause another problem someday as well.

    great post…

  10. Rhett – thanks for the comment. Yeah man I know what you mean about identity and our libraries. I’ve cleared out about 60 or so, but I think I’m being too nice about it, I think I should get rid of much more. Maybe this is my first sweep. I do like the idea of using something at least once a year that would radically clear out my shelves though! I also have been thinking about criteria for what to get rid of and am thinking about someday if/when I become a professor what I might need. Maybe planning for the future isn’t the way to do it.

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