Talking with a friend about her decluttering efforts got me thinking.
Decluttering is more difficult when it's a one-off event rather than a lifestyle. Minimalism – a clutter-free life – is a a mindset as much as it is an aesthetic choice, and a lifestyle inasmuch the mindset informs your day to day choices.
But minimalism is a personal choice; do it because you want to and because it makes you feel better, not because you think you should. I love minimalist design, I'm particular about neatness and cleanliness, and I'm comfortable with the essential less, so minimalism suits me fine. My minimalism is also dictated by constraints; I live in a house with four other people, one of them sharing the same room with me, so I just have less room for stuff.
I've bought maybe two to three books since my girlfriend moved in with me, and not for want of desire. If I had a large house, I'd definitely have a huge library. But I'm constrained by the small apartment I live in, and because there are only so many books that can fit, I have to consciously curate the books that I buy.
What's also important is that I recognize the limitations to this lifestyle. Where I have no problem throwing things out, I sometimes throw too much away and regret it afterward (I deeply regret throwing out my first manual Nikon SLR camera). I also recognize that sometimes there is great pleasure to be had in keeping things of sentimental value which you can enjoy years down the road.
So not all clutter is bad, and not all decluttering is good. It's a matter of finding where your fine line is between too much and too little, guided by a conscious awareness of how you want your environment to be. Someone will find my empty work-desk sterile, whereas I find that the clean empty space helps me focus. I may find someone else's work-desk too full of stuff, but the little knick-knacks and souvenirs help them feel at home. Which is better? I keep coming back to Peter Walsh’s quote as a guiding principle, he who wrote It’s All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff:
It’s not about the stuff – it’s about the life you wish to live…It’s important to remember that what you own and where and how you live is a reflection of the person you are. A clutter-free, organized life is about living in a way that helps create your best possible life – happy, stress-free, creative, motivated and enriching. Happiness can’t be found in the quantity of stuff we own, it’s in the quality of relationships that we form. What we own should foster that life, not be a hurdle to it.
For advice on how to de-clutter a room, I don't think I can describe it any better than I did in The 3 Decluttering Boxes. The guiding principle is knowing why you want to de-clutter and organize your efforts around that. Simply put, if you're decluttering, it's because you have an idea of the way you want your life to be like and how you want your environment to support that. Anything not essential to helping you achieve that vision then goes out the door.