How to avoid decluttering going too far


In my most recent Community newsletter, I described an interesting article in the New Zealand Herald which had recently caught my eye.

In anticipation of The Minimalists‘ ‘Less is Now’ tour dates, journalist Chris Schulz had decided to explore if espousing a minimalist lifestyle might make a difference in his life. Did he need stuff that had been lying around in cupboards untouched for years? Of course not. But Schulz’ article does sound a cautionary tale: it is possible to go too far.

Schulz realises that you might get so carried away with decluttering that you potentially let go of items that might be of value in future years. So, here are a few ideas on how to avoid taking your enthusiasm for decluttering going a step too far.

Take it slowly

You’re less likely to relinquish a valued treasure if you take things slowly. Always start with the non-contentious, non-emotive stuff: the easy to declutter. As you peel away the layers, you’ll become increasingly intentional and deliberate about what you keep and what you get rid of. Take your time to decide on the things that may have sentimental value.

Don’t unclutter other people’s stuff

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Don’t unclutter other people’s stuff. You can model decluttering behaviours and will – undoubtedly – inspire those around you. But don’t make decisions about belongings that aren’t yours. For shared items, you can certainly moot the idea of letting go, but this has to be a joint decision.

Create a treasures box

For years, I dragged around a plastic trunk with my so-called treasures inside. Shaped like a treasure chest and in bright primary colours, this storage container was so heavy that we had to heave it into our loft when we move into our current home. I seldom looked inside it.

As part of my final decluttering, I got to grips with exactly what was in that container. What remains is a very small (shoe-box sized) collection of some lovely sentimental items that I will never part with. Our daughter keeps a similar box; again, this is very small.

Become your own curator

Adopt the mindset of a curator. Your home isn’t a museum, but imagine you have the role of the creative lead on a fabulous project. What selected items would mean the most to you? Which items would form a part of an artistic or historical collection were you to create a display about your own life? What has meaning and adds value in your home? What is frankly just a collection of miscellaneous tat? Keep and enjoy the former; declutter the latter.

Consider your loved ones

We all know that grown-up children don’t want their baby boomer parents’ stuff. But is there a particular item you’d like to keep to pass onto your daughter or granddaughter in future years? On my mother’s side of the family, we love a pretty ring. Keeping a ring (or another small piece of jewellery) may be a lovely thing to do; it might give someone pleasure in the future.

Store and save virtually

An image of something will spark a conversation or trigger a memory that you may enjoy in the future. As I’ve said previously, your treasured possessions aren’t memories. But images of items you once owned may suffice if you want to recall a piece of art you created as a teenager or remember something crafted by a loved one.

Bring some of your personality into the workplace

I’ve recently joined a new department to take up a new post within the organisation where I work. I am privileged to have my own office, so this provides an opportunity to display one or two decorative items that wouldn’t otherwise have a place at home.

My maternal grandmother was a prolific craftswoman. Among her creations are a number of small pictures, intricate and beautifully crafted with embroidery. I have had 3 of these little pictures hung on my office wall; they are a talking point for people who come to see me and they provide a little visual reminder of family, as I work at my desk.

Another friend uses her grandmother’s favourite china cup and saucer as a scented candle, which she keeps on her kitchen table.

Stop when you’re not sure what to unclutter next

Unless you are staging your home for sale (when home life takes on an artificial impression of familial perfection), it’s fine to take some time out or to stop altogether. You might take a pause or cease decluttering completely. Good for you. After all, it’s worth harking back to the reasons we started this in the first place – our ‘why’ or purpose. Living with less allows us to be so much more. So, get out there and enjoy! That’s why we do it in the first place.

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Going car free


Reading about others’ experiences of going car-free is always inspiring.

Advocates of two wheels

In her book, You Can Buy Happiness (and It’s Cheap): How One Woman Radically Simplified Her Life and How You Can Too, Tammy Strobel writes about the positive benefits of cycling around her local community. 

More recently, in her article for The New York Times, Elaisha Stokes describes touchingly how her cycling adventures in NYC helped her through a sad and extremely challenging period in her life.

Getting around under one’s own steam

We recently took the decision to go down to one car,  with the idea that I’d be able to use my bicycle a little more regularly. Indeed, there have already been days during the winter months when I’ve cycled to work. It’s not far: 4.88 miles there and a long, uphill 4.88 miles home.

My alternative mode of transport would be the bus for days when neither the weather nor my legs would countenance transport on two wheels. There’s a regular service to and from work, so the bus and cycling seem to be a good combination.

When the ‘beast’ roared

For me, 1 March was the first day in a new job. It was also one of my first car-free days. However, on this particular Thursday, the UK was in the midst of the ‘beast from the east’, a dramatic and unusually severe weather event that plunged the nation into sub-zero temperatures. On top of this, ‘Storm Emma’ clashed with the polar vortex to create widespread disruption across much of the country.

The Met Office recorded plummeting temperatures as low as -15C whilst the snow continued to fall, resulting in significant delays on the roads, with some devastating fatalities and severe disruption for many.

My homeward journey

On this particular day (the joint second coldest March day on record), our cockapoo, Ollie, was in doggie day-care. My plan was to return home from work by bus, alighting earlier than usual to collect him from our dog walker’s home (she lives on the east side of town; we’re on the south side). Ollie and I would then walk the rest of the way home together.

The reality was a little different.

Trudging through the storm


After alighting the bus, as planned, I descended a steep hill before walking up the other side of the valley to fetch Ollie.  This 10-minute walk was along snow-covered pavements, with the biting wind beginning to pick up, making progress was more challenging than normal.

Following a few brief words of grateful thanks, I grabbed Ollie to catch another bus that was due imminently. This one would take a route across town, dropping us nearer to home. This worked well; the bus arrived within minutes and both pooch and I were somewhat protected from the elements. By this time, the snow was really coming down blizzard-style and the traffic had built up.

Eventually, after proceeding through Kenilworth in very slow-moving traffic, we got off at our usual stop on the south side of town.

We then took our 10-minute walk to our house in what I can only describe as Siberian conditions. The whole trek took just under 2 hours… for a 5-mile journey.

What have I done?!!

This experience forced me to remind myself why we’d made the decision to relinquish our second vehicle:

  • No car payment, road tax, fuel costs, insurance or servicing fees
  • Better for the environment
  • An efficient and cost-effective bus service runs between home and work
  • Cycling to work is fun!
  • We really don’t need two cars, having previously resolved that our teen would take the bus to school for the remainder of her secondary schooling

Day 2

The next day (Friday) proved to be a little more straightforward. There was no doggie daycare to factor in, which made my journey simpler. In spite of the overnight covering of new snow, I jumped on the morning bus at 07:55, arriving in my office at 08:18. That’s more like it!

So, I’m going to carry on. We’re doing this for the right reasons. But it didn’t feel so at the time.

Have you taken the decision to ‘trade down’ in transportation? Perhaps you cycle, use an electric vehicle or have a public transport alternative to a car that works for you? I’d love to know how you get around if you, like me, are now car free!

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All those books we held onto…


I came home yesterday afternoon to find the carpet on our landing stacked with books of all shapes and sizes, plus a range of other miscellaneous items.

All of this stuff had come from the little pine bookcase in our family study; it was clear that there was some purposeful and industrious activity going on in there!

With her dad’s help, our teenager had decided to reorganize the space, the idea being to improve her own personal organization (she is about to enter an intense phase of revision prior to her GCSE exams).

One bookcase, so many items

I have to admit that I was well aware of every single item on those shelves. I had previously done a little bit of delicate ‘pruning’, but was cautious about tackling this particular decluttering project.

My reluctance was mainly because of ‘The Declutter’s Rule: don’t minimize someone else’s stuff. As many of the items were shared or belonged to one of the other family members, I’d let sleeping books lie.

Now, there was a real reason to get one with it. And – when it came down to it – no-one was actually attached to any of this stuff at all.

The bookshelf list

You won’t be surprised when I tell you what miscellany lay before us.

There were: A-Z guides of Warwickshire, Birmingham and London; children’s bibles; language dictionaries; prayer books; poetry; kids’ story books (for all ages); tourist maps and guidebooks; seldom-used fitness publications and a couple of associated recipe books; two photo albums; my old Franklin Covey organiser (now used only as address book); a box of mobile phone-related electronic goods; my summer hat; two teddy bears; one small mug (a gift from long-ago Dutch houseguests); and some revision guides.

All of this fit onto one single bookcase, sitting neatly behind the door of the study, so (until now) it had been unobtrusive and therefore almost invisible. It had, in effect, been hiding in plain sight.

Guess what we really needed? Yep, just the revision guides (and I might use my hat when the sun decides to shine)!

Why did we keep these things for so long?

Books say so much about who we are (or tell a story about who we once were). They remind us of the people who gifted them to us or the period of time when we first read them. The maps and guidebooks take us back to much-loved places and the language dictionaries are symbolic reminders of trips of yesteryear.

What do our books say about us?

Having books around also says something about who we think we are (or who we’d like to be). A mix of fiction and non-fiction, they provide a glimpse into the aspects of life that appeal to us.

Books also add interest to a room, especially when you can display them by colour, type or shape.

As well as hanging onto them for aesthetic reasons, we also keep them in the hope that someone (one day) might read them again.

Maybe I was hanging onto the baby books ‘for the grandchildren’ (whose would-be mother is still at secondary school!!!). Surely, it’s better to release these lovely stories into the world, where they can be enjoyed by others who’ll really appreciate them now?

Keepsakes or clutter?

If I admit it, much of this stuff fell into the category of “keepsake” but it was disguised as something useful, educational or visually appealing.

What spurred me on was a throwaway but telling comment from our daughter: “I can’t work with all this clutter; I feel better without it.”

She needed the shelves for revision folders and guides, so our mini-museum of curiosities was now just getting in the way.

Home museum or library?

A study space in our home, no matter how large or small, can easily become something akin to a personal museum; a collection that provides a glimpse of who we have been, the places we have visited and the objects we accumulated over the years.

Unless we pursue an academic career when a carefully-curated collection of key works in a particular subject discipline might be useful, it seems to me that we can readily let go of these things without a backward glance. After all, any book we want to to read is readily available at our fingertips via digital download (either as a purchase or via the library).

Out they went

So, in just a few minutes, we placed all the books into carrier bags and carried them downstairs where we placed them in the garage, ready for despatch to our local second-hand bookshop.

The result? The room feels lighter, less cluttered and there’s more space for the study’s intended purpose: to study.

Have you ever been spurred on suddenly to declutter a space in your home? What did you do? What was the result? I’d love to know!

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The shopping ban vs written budget


I’ve recently started reading Cait Flanders’ The Year of Less. In this book (her debut), Cait documents (with a real openness and honesty) what was happening in her life during a 12 month period when she decided to go ‘cold turkey’ on her spending and instigate a year-long shopping ban.

Cait describes how she had documented the ‘year of less’ on her blog, inspiring others to do a shopping ban of their own.

The Approved Shopping List

In case you’re curious, Cait decided to change her relationship with spending by sticking to a specific number of self-imposed rules. The items on her Approved Shopping List were carefully considered: she worked out what would be coming up during the period of her shopping ban and planned accordingly.

To give you some examples, takeout coffees were firmly off the list, but replacement toiletries and cosmetics were OK, providing they weren’t “fun items” such as nail polish. Travel was definitely on the list, but clothes were not.

This got me thinking about the difference between getting on a written budget versus instigating a shopping ban. Were they polar opposites, or could one approach benefit the other?

Getting on a written budget

If you’ve been reading my blog for a little while, you’ll know that I have previously cited the work of Dave Ramsey. One of the key tenets of Ramsey’s philosophy is that, if you’re going to be successful with money, you have to get on a written budget.

Ramsey’s budgeting app, ‘EveryDollar’ (not available in the UK), is so named because the idea is that you literally tell every dollar where to go.

My dual account spreadsheet serves the same purpose. With two accounts rather than one, we run all of our regular bills and expenses (e.g. utility bills) off the first account. This leaves only the second account to manage in terms of discretionary spending on items including food, groceries, fuel and so on.

Why a written budget is so useful

A written budget is essential. It means you plan in advance of your spending, rather than worrying about where your cash has gone when there is ‘too much month at the end of the money’.

If your finances are joint ones, by sitting down each month and doing a written plan, you also balance any ‘go go’ (spending) tendencies against any ‘no no’ (saving) preferences within your relationship.

The benefits of a shopping ban

A complete shopping ban also has a number of benefits, especially if you’re someone who needs to take an ‘all or nothing’ approach.

Writer Gretchen Rubin famously abstains from eating carbohydrates; if she doesn’t eat carbs, she doesn’t have to think about them. A little bit of something in moderation isn’t her style.

The same goes for someone who can’t go shopping without returning home laden with bags of merchandise they hadn’t planned to buy. So, the ‘all or nothing’ approach might be beneficial.

By announcing your intention, you can also get accountability for your goals: your supporters will spur you on and help keep you on track.

‘No spend’ drawbacks

Cait’s experience made me realise that initiating a shopping ban might also bring some drawbacks.

For example, so-called well-meaning ‘friends’ would try and tempt her to buy something Cait didn’t need, or which wasn’t on The Approved List. They reasoned that ‘she deserved it’ or that a little retail therapy was no bad thing. In fact, this was tantamount to offering a reformed smoker a cigarette, a dieter a wedge of chocolate fudge cake, or an alcoholic ‘just one’ drink. Happily for her, a handful of true friends were on hand to help keep Cait on track.

Another potential drawback of a shopping ban is that you also have to deal with your own triggers. That is, if you’re working to achieve specific financial goals, avoiding putting yourself in situations where you might blow your budget is essential. For an abstainer, it has to be all or nothing.

As Cait writes, “The toughest part… was having to confront my triggers and change my reaction to them. It always felt like the minute I forgot about the shopping ban was the same minute I felt like shopping again.”

Why a written budget provides some flexibility

If you’re like me, you might prefer having some flexibility each month. That said, Cait certainly didn’t set out to veto all spending forever; it was, after all, an experiment.

What helps me is that I’m now really intentional in what I buy; getting on a written budget also avoids any feelings of self-deprivation. If we need something (in any category), we make provision on the spreadsheet for it. There’s no ‘forget it, I’m going to buy whatever I want’ and the extremes of a shopping spree or spending ban are avoided.

The middle ground

Where the ‘no spend’ philosophy might help is in cutting out expenditure that you know doesn’t add value to your life and which may impact negatively on your overall finances.

For example, if you regularly buy lunch out (perhaps at a cafe or by picking up a take-out meal), the cost of this soon adds up. Deciding to intentionally exclude things from your budget can help you achieve your financial goals. In a recent post, I discussed the idea that second-hand should become second nature; applying a ‘nothing new’ rule might be one approach to consider.

All or nothing?

I admire Cait Flanders’ forthright account. In applying her ‘no spend’ discipline, she not only learned a great about herself, but she lived on just a proportion of her income. This helped her not only to pay off debt but also to truly understand the important things in life.

Whichever route you choose, laying some ground rules (and getting accountability for your goals) will truly reap the benefits. And less is definitely more.

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One purchase, one tree

Arhaus_onepurchase_onetree_mm (1)

The team at Arhaus was recently able to showcase my advice on an infographic they were developing (pictured), which includes ways to make our homes more environmentally friendly. Spot the community tip!


A concern for the environment is one of the reasons why people choose to live a more intentional life. We’ve talked about sustainability on the blog before:

You might remember Cheryl Magyar’s helpful great piece on reducing everyday disposables. My own recent post on why second hand should become second nature also sparked some great comments.

We all need to consider if what we buy is promoting sustainability or contributing negatively to the environment (especially if what we buy is replacing something we already own). Arhaus uses reclaimed and sustainable materials as often as they can. For example, many of their dining and kitchen tables are sourced from reclaimed wood.

One purchase, one tree

I liked the idea of a store planting a tree for every purchase. I wonder if you know of other organisations who do this?

Plant a tree anyway

This reminded me that planting a tree is a lovely way to give a “non-stuff” gift. When my twin godsons were christened, the godparents got together and planted a pair of trees on their behalf. As the trees grew, so would the boys (indeed, the twins are now 9 and shooting up!).

During the year in which my husband Andrew turned 50, he also planted a tree in memory of my late grandmother who died during the month after his birthday. I think that’s a lovely memorial and an appropriate way to remember a long life, well-lived. W

When might you plant a tree?

Have you ever planted a tree, or supported a tree-planting scheme? And what sort of purchase (especially for the home) might prompt you to do this in the future? I’d love to know if this idea appeals to you.

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Do this for your future self


As long as I can remember, we have cleaned our home on a Friday evening. Yes, I know what you are thinking. Our Friday nights aren’t exactly rock ‘n’ roll. And I’d certainly prefer to be out on a SUP on the ocean, as the sun goes down.

But here’s the thing. Cleaning on a Friday evening means that we come downstairs on a Saturday morning to surfaces that are clean and shiny, with everything looking as good as it can.

Our weekly ritual 

This weekly ritual, which is aided by the fact that I am able to finish work at 4 p.m. on the final working day of the week, has become a part of our family routine.

Sometimes, if we are really exhausted, we’ll do some of the cleaning on a Saturday morning. But the point of this habit means that our future selves (in this case, our ‘next day selves’) are always glad when we’ve done it.

Doing something for your future self is incredibly rewarding, but it does – of course – mean applying discipline at the time.

Applying self-discipline

Consider something like exam preparation and revision. This is particularly close to our hearts, as our daughter’s GCSE examinations are now only a few short months away. When the pull of friends caused a conflict in her mind one Sunday afternoon recently (when she hadn’t completed all of her work), we gently reminded her that her future self would thank her for the extra effort she devoted in the present.

Paying it forward… for yourself

The same applies to many areas of our lives such as weight loss and fitness; saving (or not spending); and even decluttering and creating space in our lives.

I have written before about overcoming inertia, but the idea of doing something for your future self provides a little bit of extra motivation.

But how to get started, if you’re a long way from where your future self would like to be?

Ten top tips

If the goal is to get on top of the clutter once and for all, consider these top tips. Of course, they also apply to other goals you might have established:

1. Start small. As I wrote for my article published on Becoming Minimalist, start with somewhere like your closet. A wardrobe is akin to having a ‘room within a room’. Opening up that space and seeing all the clothes you love (arranged beautifully on hangers if that’s your thing) will spur you on.

2. Get an accountability partner or even employ a personal organiser. You could join an online group, such my Minimalism and Simple Living group in Better, to chat to others who are facing the same challenges as you.

3. Make it fun. Try one of the strategies I wrote about in my Unclutter series last year. Lots of people take photos of their ‘minimalism game’ hauls, as they progress through the 31-day challenge.

4. Make a mood board (either actual or virtual) to inspire you towards a simpler, less-cluttered home. Display it somewhere you can see for daily inspiration.

5. Take inspiration from some of the best-known writers, bloggers and podcasters on the subject (see my Community Resources page if you’ve signed up – Join the Community below). I listen to a podcast daily, as I travel into work. Hearing a solid, consistent message on a topic that you’re interested in enables you to educate yourself and provides inspiration to help you remain focussed on your goals.

6. Do good, feel good. Remember that, by removing the excess in your own life, you may enrich the lives of others by providing them with an opportunity to enjoy something that’s new to them.

7. Give yourself a deadline or a series of mini milestones. If you know someone is coming round to collect a bag of clothing, for example, you’re more likely to have it ready for them.

8. Promise yourself a treat when you’ve completed a particular goal, such as a good cup of coffee at your favourite cafe or a browse in the library.

9. Take baby steps. Any bit of progress is a step towards your goal, no matter how small.

10. Let go of perfect. You may not achieve a 100% clutter-free space (especially as you can’t declutter other people’s stuff) but you will reap the benefits, no matter how far towards your ideal state you get.

Just remember, your future self will thank you.

So, what will you choose to do today?

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Why buying second hand should be second nature


For a number of years, my wardrobe has comprised around 50% secondhand clothing and 50% items that I have intentionally bought in the sale of brands I trust. Rarely do I buy clothing that is full price.

Since I follow the Project 333 approach, that’s roughly 16 items ‘new’ and 16 or so ‘second hand’ altogether. It’s more than enough and buying second hand is such a good thing to do.

Here’s why:

Second hand offers great value for money

Buying second hand a great way to buy what you need at a fraction of the cost of what the item would have cost new.

One of my more recent second hand purchases was a gently-worn and perfect-fitting brown suede skirt from Monsoon. It cost just £8. To go with that, I picked up a Mint Velvet cowl neck knit for just £1.66.

My most recent acquisition, which inspired this post, is a little black dress by Coast. I’ll wear this for a work-related ‘do’ in early March. It cost just £9.99 from eBay and I’m currently watching a co-ordinating pair of shoes whose starting price is £3.99. My whole outfit is likely to cost less than £15 overall. I had recently sold a number of dresses myself, so the direct cost of this purchase was far less than the actual sale price. Plus, I’m sticking to my principles of one in, one out.

Pre-loved is better for the environment

My heart sinks whenever I enter a store selling ‘fast fashion’. Like me, my teenage daughter’s on the lookout for value for money, but she’s far less likely to buy second hand. Whenever I enter one of these high street stores (which, mercifully, is seldom), I’m struck by the vast quantity of merchandise which, on closer inspection, often seems flimsy and of poor quality. We all know that the world has reached ‘peak clothes’ so it’s especially important to be intentional when we buy. What better way to signal that we care about the environment by doing so via what we wear? 

Gently worn supports great causes

We often moan that today’s high street consists mainly of coffee shops, estate agents, hairdressers and charity shops. Yet, we often fail to recognise the important contribution charity shops make to the causes they serve.

Writer and friend, Rae Ritchie,  is fashion ambassador to Myton Hospices Charity Shops. Not only do these shops offer great value for money, they’re supporting a much valued local cause.

To give you a sense of their importance, Rae explains: “Myton Hospices require £8.8 million per year to fund their vital end of life care at three hospices in Coventry and Warwickshire. Their 22 stores play an important role in raising that money.”

In terms of fashion finds, Rae tells me that Myton’s Coundon store currently has some Vivienne Westwood shoes. Her own recent buys have included a vintage leather handbag, some barely used yoga pants and a denim tunic that is being continually washed and worn!

Second hand is not second best

For kids (who grow so quickly you can almost see them sprouting upwards), second hand clothes are absolutely fabulous and definitely not second best.

When our daughter was tiny, we used to buy all her clothes from the NCT Nearly New Sale. As her mummy, I loved putting all the cute little outfits together, but never had to be overly anxious about anything she wore; nothing cost more than a couple of pounds.

Once you’re fully grown (and assuming you maintain a stable weight and size), it’s wonderful to be able to buy second hand clothing online, as you know what’s going to fit. Most brands are fairly reliable in terms of sizing, so you can bid and buy with relative confidence.

Where to buy

Fargo Village in Coventry is the perfect place to meet up with friends, enjoy a coffee and a browse in the Big Comfy Bookshop. While there, nip into Myton Fargo Village, Myton Hospice’s very cool and carefully curated charity shop (and you can get a sense of their one-off bargains by checking out their Instagram account).

Dress agencies are another way to find beautiful gently-worn clothes at great prices. I used to love Corina Corina in Warwick, as well as the aptly-named Savoir Faire in Kenilworth. Anyone remember them? Sadly, they’re no longer trading, but there are lots of alternatives, notably in Leamington Spa and Solihull.

Top tip: dress agencies only keep stock for a certain period of time. Once an item remains unsold after a number of weeks, it is either returned to its owner or passed to a local charity shop.

Here in the UK, eBay sales of second hand clothes are booming. I’ve both bought and sold over the years. Here’s where your knowledge of what fits really comes into its own; I know that a Phase Eight Size 10 is a pretty good bet if I’m buying a dress, for example.

Local Facebook groups are often great sources of second hand clothes, especially kids’ bundles. For buyers, there’s the nuisance factor of having to go and collect, but it’s free for both buyers and sellers, so there’s often a good deal to be had.

Let buying second hand become second nature

So, let buying second hand become second nature. You’ll be glad you did.

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