7 Life Lessons Learned Decluttering my Home

A few weeks ago I hired a couple to come help me declutter my home. 

Jake and Rachel Whiting
Seriously, how cute are these two?
Photo: Whiting Organization Services

It turned out to be not only a transformation for my home, but also for me.  Here are seven lessons I learned from the experience.

#1 - Don't be satisfied with what the public sees.  

When I told people that I had hired an organization service, I was usually met with something like this:

"But your home is so clean!"

"You don't have any clutter."

"What could you possibly have to get rid of?"

It's true, my home is pretty organized and clutter free—at least the parts you can see.  My closets and other private spaces are a different story.  For years it has bothered me that I have unorganized chaos in the nooks and crannies of my home.

Same with our lives.  It's easy to believe "our own press" as my former student likes to say.  We post photos of our great vacations, cute family, and amazing meals.  Our friends and followers comment how jealous they are or compliment us on our wonderful life.  But we all have trials, bad habits, and hardships in our "closets" that no one else sees.  They are also a part of us and deserve time and attention as well.

#2 - Don't be afraid to ask for help. 

Many were surprised that I was asking others (strangers no less) to come into my home and tell me what to keep and throw away.  To that I say, who better?  They were able to see my items for what they really are without knowing the amount I paid for it, who gave it to me, or the memories attached.

The outside perspective helped me make better decisions more efficiently.  We accomplished in two weeks what honestly would have taken me at least a year to do on my own.  They were like two bumble bees frantically working around me, hauling trash, filling their car with donations, and cleaning as they go.  I never could have done this by myself.

Same with our lives.  Sometimes we need help as we try to navigate this life.  Whether it's a professional, friend, or family member, true healing can happen if we are willing to let ourselves be vulnerable and say, "I can't do this on my own."  And whether we decide to seek outside help or not, we can always use prayer or meditation to draw from a higher power to help us see more clearly what needs to be done.  I pray to my Heavenly Father for inspiration that comes to me through the third member of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit.  I write down my thoughts and impressions after my prayers and use them as a guide for my life.

#3 - It is hard to give someone else your experiences. 

Years ago my aunt gave me a bunch of porcelain plates.  I didn't know it at the time but they had been collected by my great grandmother.  To me they were just ugly.  I decided to put a few of them up by my front door out of guilt.  One was this ugly plate with pears on it.

My dad came over and saw the plate.  He got excited and said, "Oh my goodness, that was hanging in Grampy's home.  I remember that plate."  He then started to share memories of Grampy, who died when I was 2.  Obviously this plate meant much more to him than to me. 

And that's how it is with most items that get passed down.  They are special because of the memories of the original owner of the item.  And those memories can be hard to share with someone who never met him or her.  So unless it's the pen Benjamin Franklin used to sign the Declaration of Independence (wait, did he sign it?) consider tossing the item. 

Same with our lives.  Some of our memories and experiences are personal to us.  We want someone to care about something as much as we do, but they just don't.  It's not because they don't care about us; they just haven't been where we have.   We all have different passions and opinions, and it's okay if they aren't the same.

#4 - Rejecting the gift isn't rejecting the person. 

I'd say quite a bit of my clutter came from things people had given me that I didn't have a use for.  Because of my love for that person, or the value of the item, I held on to it out of guilt.  This couple helped me see that getting rid of the gift doesn't get rid of the relationship I have with this person or the gratitude I feel for receiving it.  Additionally, now the item can go on to bless someone else's life. 

Same with our lives.  Sometimes people hurt our feelings or offend us.  We can let that hurt and offense go without losing the person.  Don't misunderstand me.  Sometimes a person is abusive or so toxic that they need to go as well.   We don't need to expose ourselves to sexual, physical, mental, emotional, or psychological abuse.  But if we are close to the person and love them, it's better to focus on what their intent was rather than what was actually received.

Henry Winkler (the Fonz) gave some great marital advice once. 

They have been married 40 years.
Photo: Jason Kempin / Staff/ Getty Images

He said he seeks to find out what his wife heard rather than explain what he meant.  If we all did that, I think we'd live in a better world.

Note: Consider giving gifts that don't add to someone else's clutter.  Give experiences instead of stuff.  Take a person out to lunch, have a long conversation on the phone, give them a gift card to a movie theater.  On my birthday what I treasured the most was all the texts from around the country letting me know people were thinking of me.  

#5 - Tossing the item doesn't toss the memories.  

I'm guilty of holding on to items because of the memories attached to it.  A poignant moment for me was when Jake stumbled upon a 1988 Winnie-the-Pooh calendar.  He asked me to tell the story of why I had it.  I start in on this hilarious event that happened when I was a Sophomore at BYU.  After I was done he looked at his wife and said, "Take a picture of it."  Then he told me to pick one page from the calendar to scan and toss the rest.  It was in that moment that I realized, tossing the calendar isn't going to toss the memory of something that happened 30 years ago.  (I was in college 30 years ago?  Wow!)

Same with our lives.  People come in and out of our lives.  Many have made us better people.  Some people leave our lives due to death, moving, change of jobs, or other reasons.  Losing the person doesn't mean we've lost the impact they made on us.  Sometimes we are lucky to enough to run into that person or even reconnect with them.  I don't know about you, but it's like no time has passed since the last time we saw each other.  Letting go of the guilt we feel for "losing touch" can help us stay focused on the positive.

#6 - If it has served its purpose, let it go.  

I also discovered that I had many items that were quite expensive when I bought them.  I used them, then I no longer had need for them.  Because of how much they cost, I held on to them.  I kept thinking, "I might need it again someday."  Call it the frugal side of me.  Makes sense, right?

But think about this.  You have an expensive meal.  It was delicious and satisfying.  Do you keep the crumbs on the plate?  I don't (and if you do, we need to have another conversation).  Holding on to remnants of the meal doesn't change how much it cost or the experience.  Letting go of items that are no longer needed not only frees up your living space, but also allows for someone else to use it.  Think of it as our contribution to lowering consumerism.  Additionally, the next time you need to buy something expensive for just a few uses, you might first look for other options like renting or borrowing if you know you'll give it away afterwards.

Same with our lives.  Traditions are great and can be fun.  But sometimes a tradition outlives its purpose and it's time to let it go.  "But it's a tradition!"  Yes, but if it no longer accomplishes what it was set up to do, it's most likely just making others miserable.  Take stock of all of your traditions and evaluate if any can be retired.

#7 - If it's valuable, use or display it. 

Decluttering my closets was like going on an archeological dig.  I lost count of how many times I said, "Oh, that's where that is." or "I forgot I had that!"  The item was special or useful but buried among so many other items that weren't.  Now these items are out where I can enjoy them or use them.

Same with our lives.  Do we give our time and attention to what really matters?  If it's special, is it treated as such?  Recently I reconnected with some girlfriends at our high school reunion.

Photo: A certain Englishman

We decided to plan a trip to Disneyland and started a text thread to work out the details. 

Photo: Some random person at Disneyland
This thread is now almost a year old (the trip was 2 months ago) and I don't think we've gone more than 3 days without communicating, and usually a day doesn't go by without at least one conversation.  We offer advice, support, compliments, cheers, and understanding as we navigate this life.  I don't know what I would do without these amazing women, and I'm sad that we didn't start this thread years earlier.  When we are willing to let go of hurt feelings, items, traditions, and habits that are cluttering our lives, what is special has the chance to float to the surface.

If you have any parts of your home that cluttered or messy, schedule some time to take care of it.  I promise you that it won't just change your living space, it'll change your brain space too.  You'll feel lighter, more energetic, and just all around mentally healthier.

If you live in Utah County and would like some help decluttering your home, contact Jake and Rachel at Whiting Organizational Services.  For the same hourly rate as a house cleaner, you'll get so much more.   You can find them on Facebook by clicking here.   Or call or text them at (801) 935-0990.

Are you all curious to see some before and afters?  I don't want to let you see how I used to live, but the change is just too dramatic not to share.  Keep in mind these pictures don't show the 85+ bags of trash and donations that were hauled away.

If you liked this post, you might also like:

11 Tips + 2 Bonus Tips for Decluttering a Master Bedroom Closet with Your Partner

Organizing My Spice Cabinet in the Real World