One Bag Nation

Is Decluttering the Same as Simplifying?

Posted on: July 7, 2008

I have to confess that I’ve never thought about my quest for serenity in terms of living more simply. The impetus for my journey was wanting to feel more relaxed, being able to look around my home and see beauty and order, and feeling a lot more productive and a lot less busy.

I posted recently about noticing that the clutter in my house didn’t need to be purged so much as put away.

Does having less stuff automatically mean you’re living more simply? I think it has at least as much to do with what we choose to take on in terms of work, family, and community. In my view, emotional clutter can be as much or more paralyzing than physical stuff.

What do you think? How do you relate to the “simplicity movement”? Are you actively seeking simplicity? Is having fewer possessions a requirement of simplifying? It’s a hot topic right now, online and off, and I’d love to hear your thoughts!


18 Responses to "Is Decluttering the Same as Simplifying?"

I *am* seeking after a type of simplicity because I don’t like the clutter (it makes me feel chaotic) but also because I want to keep around the things that I cherish most and discard everything else. I don’t want to have things laying around that I looked at maybe once even if it was expensive or beautiful or a gift from my Aunt Donna. I just want to focus more on life and not on things, and keeping less things around enables me to do that.

Hi Meags,
I feel the same way about clutter. It makes me feel anxious and I can’t concentrate properly, but at the same time, keeping things tidy and organized does not come naturally or easily to me.

I completely agree about holding onto things that you really don’t cherish. So much of what motivates me to hang onto things is guilt, it’s not even sentimentality!

I wonder about the meanings of both these things, too. I think that simplifying is more of an internal process and that decluttering is one thing you might do to get there.

Some people push to such far points (living in 100 sq ft home, reducing personal possessions to 100 things, etc.) and for me, to do that would be to miss the point. I always thought the goal was to make glorious room for the things you really care about and I think for me that includes a kitchen big enough to dance in and enough panties not to worry about doing laundry every five days.

I think that “simplifying” leads to less clutter. If you “live simply”, you don’t buy something just because it’s pretty or trendy or new, therefore you’re not cluttering up your house. After you declutter, if you simplify your life, you won’t add back your clutter.

I think “simple living” means different things to different people. Honestly I think almost everyone would benefit from decluttering and setting up simple to maintain organization systems. But to reach the goal of a simple life, self-examination is also required. Modern life is the antithesis of simple living, despite all our “conveniences.” I am sickened by the idea of being a typical consumer; those ideals are not suitable for the kind of life I want for myself and my family.

In March of 2007, I moved out of my 2200 square foot home to an 800 square foot apartment. As I went through every single item, I asked myself 2 questions: absolutely love it? absolutely need it? If I didn’t answer yes to one of those, I didn’t pack it. When my eldest daughter came to my apartment for the first time, she said “Mom, it looks like you exploded all over the walls!” Odd thing to say, but an hour later my niece showed and and said to my daughter “OMG, it looks like your mom blew up all over the walls!” I concluded that they meant I had finally gotten my life down to exactly what is me. I have recently moved into my boyfriend’s house and am slowing helping him work through his rooms. (He still has some of his Ex’s stuff that needs to go her after two years!) Each time we complete a room he exclaims in amazement “Wow! I can breathe!” So to answer your question, I think decluttering is both physical and emotional.

@Bex! I like your attitude, and the idea of decluttering as one way of getting to simplicity, while holding on to the things that we truly love and cherish.

@Ally: I know that impulse buying has contributed to my clutter. I’m trying to be much more mindful of that these days.

@C: As much as I try not to get sucked into the consumer culture, it can be very hard for me. At the same time, I see my daughter get totally seduced by the abundance and the “gimme” mentality. It’s a daily struggle.

@Urban Panther: It’s definitely both for me. I’m holding onto baby things, my mother’s wedding dress, school memorabilia, just to name a few. Good for you for taking the plunge!

Hi Ann,

I think clutter (in the real world) adds to the clutter in our emotional world. Once we begin to simplify, by getting rid of stuff, we are also working on letting go emotionally. (There is often a lot of emotions tied to (some) material things).

In the end, we soon find that having a lot of material things doesn’t matter. Once we realize this, emotional clutter begins to disappear as well.

The way I see it, de-cluttering is a subset of simplifying.
For many people, the urge to de-clutter is the first step in their journey towards a simpler life because, as so many of your commenters agree, there is a strong connection between physical clutter and emotional clutter. The yearning to feel more relaxed and serene leads to an urge to get rid of unnecessary ‘stuff’. And once you act on that urge, you find yourself looking more closely at your life, your habits, your needs, your values … etc.
But as I point out in my book “The Lilypad List: 7 steps to the simple life”, there are many types of ‘simplifiers’ and many doorways into the process, and one size definitely doesn’t fit all.

@Barbara: no doubt, there is emotional clutter attached to some of my physical clutter. That’s what I’ll be facing when I work through the baby clothes and outgrown toys.

Welcome Marian!
I like the idea that there are many types of “simplifiers”. I have a friend who keeps it all together by paring down her life to a degree I’m not comfortable with. But I’m slowly finding my own style and some balance – at last!

I think we outgrow stuff but then don’t get rid of it. So our homes are sometimes relics to our past. I like the two questions that Urban Panther asked herself as she was decluttering. I think that finding a way to declutter our minds is also very important. And I agree with Bex that sometimes decluttering to an extreme is as bad as not decluttering at all, maybe worse. I think it was Einstein that said, make things as simple as possible, but not simpler.

Marelisa: you’re right about hanging on to the past through our possessions, and not always in a healthy way. Some mementos and keepsakes are in the “absolutely love” category for me, but there’s a fair amount of stuff around here that’s in the “I feel guilty getting rid of this” category.

This is a question I’ve been asking myself lately.
I work full time and have a part-time organising business, and I’m quite organised and clutter free at home, and yet my life is far from simple.
So far I’m thinking
-a simple life is a life with few demands and the ability to use your time as you see fit
– a clutter free life is a life not surrounded by material possessions
To me simplifying is the next step on from de cluttering.

@Laura: I like your ideas. It seems to me that now “simple” is getting paired up with “green”, and I suppose they go hand-in-hand in a way, as far as less consuming is concerned. You sound like you’re very busy!

Thanks for visiting and commenting.

Simplicity is an overall value important to self-fulfillment. To achieve simplicity, decluttering is an action step applied to various areas of life.

Hi Tori,
It certainly seems that too much stuff leads to too much time tending to the stuff, in one way or another – even if it’s just experiencing anxiety about it all.

This is a really interesting question! I’ve always been a self-proclaimed “pack rat,” and recently I’ve been on a major simplifying kick. I’m finally getting fed up with the clutter on a physical level, and on an emotional level, I find that de-cluttering relieves stress that I didn’t even know I had. I’m also trying to become less of a consumer (like some of the commenters mentioned) and make simplification more of an inner change than just a clutter thing. But for sure, de-cluttering and getting more organized get me amped up on this whole simple living thing… I think those methods are actually what’s spurring on my inner journey towards simplicity.

Hi Gidget: thanks for reading and commenting!

I’m super-sensitive to the way my clutter affects me, but it’s still really hard for me to deal with it effectively. I didn’t realize until I started blogging, how widespread the simplicity movement is, but it does all tie in together, doesn’t it?

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