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The Art of Letting Go: How to Start Decluttering and Never Look Back

From a would-be Marie Kondo disciple.
by Clara Rosales
3 hours ago
Photo/s: Unsplash / humairahteaches

After a year of lockdown, I accepted that the pandemic was far from over and decided to improve my space by decluttering 10 years worth of stuff, only to stand paralyzed on an island of things I had forgotten I owned. New Year’s courage surged through my veins in January without realizing how difficult it would be to let things go.

I am no Marie Kondo and it took 10 months to declutter on top of my weekday work and weekend chores. Beyond having an Instagram-worthy desk setup, I yearned for a space that worked and welcomed mental clarity. If you’re a sentimental person like me trying to move forward, know that it will take time and discipline.


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Here are tips and tricks to start decluttering if you have trouble letting go:

It will get worse before it gets better

When I first started decluttering, I had to realize how much I owned so I could keep the things I used and let go of items I outgrew. Doing so meant going through everything. Under the bed, inside every drawer, and all the stuff pushed to the back or inside a bag. Things got messy quickly.

It can get tempting to just stop and find respite in a clutter-free area. Start somewhere and keep going, because it’s the only way you’ll make progress. Even after you declutter, remember that it must be done periodically.

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Say goodbye to expired stuff

No, do not attempt to save corned beef that expired in 2020—we’re two months away from 2022, please drop the can. The same goes for other ingredients you never used after one TikTok recipe.

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It’s sad, but you can never unexpire them. Keeping spoiled food exposes your kitchen to unwanted pests. Use that space for food you know you’ll eat. Moving forward, you can gauge how much you need to buy given your past consumption habits.

While you're at it, look at your lipstick, eyeshadow, and mascara. Lipsticks last for one and a half to two years, eyeshadows are good for two to three years, but mascara? Only good for two to three months.

Make-up is expensive and some shades are limited edition, but putting expired chemicals on your skin could result in allergies.

Get rid of duplicates

Do you really need 15 knives, when ten of them are blunt, rusty, or missing a handle? Open that drawer and toss out things that got too old in storage or are broken. Save the ones you use regularly.

Declutter at least 10 things a day, one drawer at a time

It might seem a lot, but there are actually a lot of items we don’t declutter right away that pile up over time. In my case, it’s usually paid bills I forget to shred until I have a stack of envelopes overtaking my entire desk.

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You can start by type, as with clothes or kitchenware. And if you ever think you’ve already reduced your stuff to what you use, look for trash—be it old magazines, a homeless screw, or that five-year-old lipstick (that’s expired, by the way). This will build mastery of deciding what to keep or toss out.

Would you pay money to keep it?

I always save pretty packaging or paper bags. I kept all of it thinking I could use it again someday.

Then I asked myself “Would I be willing to pay P50 daily just to store this one box?” That’s nearly P2,000 daily if I kept all the paper bags I’ve stowed at the back of the closet since 2018. I would pay money to keep my laptop and my bed, along with the moisturizer I use every night. But a cardboard box collecting dust?

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Call a friend

Let someone know you’re decluttering. Update them with progress pictures or piles of things you’re letting go of. Having that support system can push you to get things done on days or weeks you haven’t stuck to the goal. If you live with family, the physical act of grouping things together or carrying stuff out can make the task more fun.

There may be some things that no longer match you but are still usable. See if a friend or family member would like to give it a new home. That way, the item lives a new life in better hands.

Be yourself in the now

It’s cheesy advice, but it works. You are no longer the band tee you bought in 2014 when everyone was listening to indie rock. That sequined dress you bought three years ago thinking you’d live your best life and party (when you hate drunk crowds) might be part of your ideal self, but isn’t exactly who you are.

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Objects are not always memories

Guilt weighs heavily the second we begin to think about throwing out gifts we never used or movie tickets that brought us joy. We give physical objects emotional value, even though they can never be stand-ins for past relationships.

We associate the happiest memories of our college years with a school shirt that no longer fits us, but it’s important to remember that the memory doesn’t fade when we begin to make physical space for future experiences in our homes.

If you want to come back to it from time to time, take a photo or make a digital copy. That way, it's still with you without taking up space.

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