Decluttering: Thoughts on a Difficult Practice

old version of desk

As 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 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?