Decluttering with Astrid (52)

The very last one

The other night, I had a disagreement with my other half over the mess in the house. I thought that was rather symbolic: to quarrel about possessions when I had to write my last blog about decluttering. The argument was about the fact that I felt like I was living in a large wardrobe. You see, my other half likes to hang his shirts out to dry on clothes hangers that he’s distributed all over the house (yes sorry, we don’t have a tumble dryer, but that now seems to be hip again). Wherever a hanger can be hooked, there you’ll find one of his freshly-washed shirts, displayed like a luminous flag. It really drives me up the wall. Now, it wasn’t that he was being unreasonable during the quarrel; it’s just that he had an issue with the time that I had picked to address the matter: at half past ten in the evening. Just when he had settled down on the couch with his drink and new issue of Runners World magazine. My conclusion therefore was that quarrels aren’t so much caused by the topic being discussed, but by the time that the discussion is being entered into. In this instance, my other half thought it was a topic more suited to 9.30 a.m.

Anyway, so this is my last blog post about decluttering. It’s been a year since I first fell in love with Tiny Houses: wooden houses on wheels, which are very photogenic and very small. You mainly saw them in America, but now the Tiny House Movement is also growing in the Netherlands. The fact that you had to get rid of most of your stuff to be able to live in such a house really appealed to me. And those who live in them described so beautifully the sense of freedom that this gives you. Imagine: if you don’t have to work in order to be able to pay off your mortgage, you can go and set your home up wherever you want. They also talk about how possessions can be a burden; that there are times when our possessions own us, as opposed to us owning them. And if you live with less, it also becomes more clear what, for you, is important in life. Decluttering seemed like a good solution to a lot of stress in my life. I named my blog ‘Decluttering with Astrid in 52 Weeks’. There seemed to be so much to talk about, and it also seemed nice to consciously consider how I dealt with possessions.

Now, you will naturally want to know whether I’ve succeeded in living with less. Perhaps my reaction to a call I received from a Dutch radio station is a good example. For my blogs were actually being read, and I suddenly found myself being featured in newspapers and on the radio. The broadcaster in question asked if they could come over to do an item. A slight panic attack ensued. These people were probably expecting an empty house, a bare room, a resident who opens the door in minimalist clothing! How on earth would I manage to get our hallway, living room and kitchen into a somewhat presentable state and portray myself as a deadly serious minimalist in just a few hours? Because yes, I was decluttering, but I was doing so with a fairly half-baked attitude. I flung a whole load of things on our bed upstairs, stuffed others in the closet, and thought of some good spin sentences. “Well, I’m more of a home-, garden- and kitchen-declutterer, you see,” I told the journalist. “I don’t live in a completely empty house. It’s more about seeing which way the wind blows.”

Yet I have certainly benefited a lot from a year of decluttering. It has affected my behavior and has become second nature in a way. I now walk past those so-called cute-stuff-shops without even peeking in, approximately 25 trash bags (full of stuff) have been carried out the front door, the shed has been cleared out, the attic has been sorted, and a whole load of clothes have been sent off to several charities. Refurbishing old furniture has proved to be nicer than buying new things. I ignore the supermarket’s promotional offers to collect stamps for flowerpots or Tupperware boxes, just like I ignore the sales in shops and the tombola at work. The living room is emptier and, where I used to dream of a large villa as the terminus of my home-ownership journey, I now dream of a mini-house and lots of money to travel. Something that will bring me a lot more joy than a widescreen TV would.

Decluttering was a global trend last year, with Marie Kondo at the fore, and I was so happy reading about all those people who pondered over consumerism and how matters could be different. Many declutterers devised all sorts of little projects to get stuff out of the house. I have watched untold amounts of videos by people who take you on a tour through their mini house in Tokyo or New York, with folding beds and Telescopic tables and washing machines that you spin with foot pedals. YouTube is full of them. Not that I was going to do all that, but it was such a safe, positive world, full of happy people who needed nothing more than a solar panel and an e-reader to be happy. They were usually dressed in a fluffy sweater, had a surfboard hanging from the ceiling and life was good.

Another nice thing about writing this blog was that I came across lots of lovely people. Like Babette Porcelijn, from whom I learned that repairing and reusing things is so much better for Mother Earth. I haven’t actually gone down that path yet, but it certainly was a wake-up call. And I also discovered that the Dutch government is now going to facilitate tiny living: Municipalities are designating places where tiny houses can stand, and housing associations are examining how they can meet the new desires regarding housing (smaller and more flexible).

But the greatest thing about this topic is that it more or less forces you to start thinking about what makes you truly happy and what you want to focus your time on. At the end of the day, decluttering isn’t only about possessions, or about clearing things away, or about tiny houses, or about Marie Kondo. It’s also about what you want to do with the rest of your life. Will you always be worrying about better, prettier, more? Or will you make other choices? One of the most shared quotes is not for nothing: “The most important things in life are not things.” Besides a tidier home, more free time and more money, I found—half-baked declutterer or not—that renewed insight has been the biggest bonus of the past year.

Astrid, together with Irene, is the founder of Flow Magazine. She lives with her partner and two children. Each Tuesday, she wrote about the sense—and nonsense—of decluttering.

“Week 52 – The very last one”