Welcome to the first in a new series of posts! I always intended to bring back Charity Shop Tuesday for a second run but as time went on I realised that now I have a full-time day job Tuesdays are not a convenient day to post and promote. I also wanted to broaden the theme to include discussion posts and essays about sustainable living and what I’m calling ‘slow decluttering’, which is the topic for today’s post. So I bring you: Sustainable Sunday!
Like many people, I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up when it first came out and found myself filled with KonMari zeal. Yes! I thought. I can do this! All my things will spark joy! Once I have tidied up, then my life can truly begin!
Approximately two days later, I realised that I had a problem.
I’d already gone through all my paper clutter two years before and eliminated anything I didn’t see myself having a use for in future. Ancient letters and six-year old bank statements had been shredded. I’d gone through every magazine I owned and kept only the pages I wanted for future reference. Six bags of unwanted printed items had gone to the recycling. I had two boxes of sentimental paper items. Otherwise I kept only essential financial documents, notebooks I hadn’t used yet, those magazine pages I kept for reference (half a box), some of my school and uni work, and craft papers.
Years before that, I’d gone through all my read books and listed those I didn’t want to reread on BookMooch. Those that weren’t snapped up had long since been donated. Ever since then, I’d been disposing of every book I read and knew I didn’t want to reread as a matter of course. I only had books I would reread, and books I planned to read left.
I’ve always had a strong sense of my personal taste when it comes to clothes. I have many items that are ten years old or more. Almost all my wardrobe sparks joy – the only items that don’t are boring essential pieces I need for bad weather or going to the gym. I have a lot of clothes, but I love them all.
The same goes for makeup and skincare. I’ve always found most face products boring. I don’t have 30 unused foundations from different companies like a lot of makeup fans do, I’ve been using the same brand since 2007. I have tonnes of eyeshadow and enough lipstick for years, but colour cosmetics have always sparked joy. I got everything out for a declutter and all that happened is that my heart swelled with happiness seeing the potential of all those items.
The same thing happens if I get out all my craft supplies. I just get excited and want to make things. I got it all for a reason – to read, to craft with, to wear. The problem is that I acquired too much too quickly.
I didn’t used to have a lot of stuff. My wardrobe was tiny before I went to university and discovered the joy of charity shopping and the confidence to wear the beautiful clothes I found. I had only a couple of bookshelves before I had lots of friends who love books, and started going to book events and being sent review copies. Although I always loved it, I didn’t have all that much makeup before YouTube beauty gurus and their tutorials were a thing.
And now I have too much. My clothes don’t all fit in the wardrobe. My make-up takes up four drawers and I wish it fit into one. The books won’t all go on the bookshelves. I’m never going to be a minimalist, but I would like to have fewer unread books on my shelves and to get the make-up down to one drawer, and have the craft supplies actually in drawers rather than in bags and a suitcase.
I have been on what recovering make-up addicts call a ‘replacements only no-buy’ for about four years now, but it takes a long time to use up each product. I clear out the books I’ve read and don’t want to re-read at the end of every month after I film my monthly wrap-ups, but last year I acquired far more than I finished reading. I’m slowly working through my craft supplies, but I lack the space to store them all in my one-bed flat, so I only have sewing supplies here and all the papercraft stuff waits in my childhood bedroom for me to have a space room and a bigger table. I have to try wearing my clothes in different ways before I can decide whether it’s time for them to go to a new home.
It’s been frustrating. But I’ve come to accept that my decluttering process is my decluttering process. It doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. It can be slow. I don’t have to get rid of everything over night. I can enjoy the things I have until they no longer spark joy or are used up.
And what a thrill I get when I finally use up an eyeshadow or a lipstick that I’ve been working on for weeks!
Slow decluttering can be as satisfying as an overnight transformation, and it’s also more sustainable. I’ve seen many a capsule wardrobe project fail because the person doing it forgot about seasons or formal occasions or needing clothes to wear for DIY. If I make my papercraft supplies into cards and gift tags and art, that’s better than flinging the lot into the bin. If I threw out all the makeup I hadn’t used recently I’d soon want to buy more.
But with all this in mind, I have some goals. I haven’t set a target to move out a certain number of items, but I do have rules I want to stick to:
- I’m continuing my replacements only no-buy for makeup and skincare with the additional rule that when I repurchase an item during a promotion I must try to do it when I’ll get money off rather than a free item (I’ve acquired far too many extra products via promotions).
- I will seriously work at my goal of reading 80 books this year. I haven’t banned myself from buying more books but I am buying ebooks or borrowing from the library where possible, and at least 30 of the books I read must be physical books. There’s no guarantee I’ll want to move them on (I’m keeping every book I’ve read so far this month), but it’s still progress on my To Be Read pile.
- I am not buying any new clothes. I love clothes, so I can still charity shop, but I’m on a replacements only no-buy for the things I would normally buy new, and a very strict one. For example, if I destroy bras to the extent that I have less than two weeks worth left, I can buy a new one from a sustainable brand. I have a lot more bras than that so unless they all start breaking I can go for years.
- I am done with winter dressing. I’ve been thinking almost constantly about going charity shopping for more winter everyday items and this is because the bulk of my wardrobe is spring/summer/autumn, but everyday winter clothes are always going to be more boring. I already have two velvet dresses I haven’t worn yet because they’re too glamorous for work. I do not need to give into the desire for more. It won’t help. Monday morning I’ll be back in another jumper dress, except this time I won’t because I’ve decided it’s now spring and I can start wearing cotton dresses with very warm tights and jumpers. Optimistic? Maybe. The jumper dresses will still be there if I have to retract this rule!
- At the start of each season I’ll identify clothes I’m not sure about and aim to wear them for a full day as early as possible so I can decide whether to keep them or put them in the bag for the next clothes swap I go to.
I also need to attack my mending/refashioning pile with zeal as it’s about to swallow the living room, but I haven’t worked out a rule to help with this. Maybe I need to set aside time every week to work on it? Let me know what you think!