Lisa Bronner has come up with a fool proof way to make sure you don’t find yourself sitting amongst the same unwanted items this year, so we spent some time with her to talk about her theories on minimalism, decluttering and letting go of versions of yourself that no longer exist.
Did you spend much of lockdown decluttering and why is the UK lockdown 3.0 the best time to kickstart a decluttering journey?
Yes, that was one of the silver linings of being homebound: plenty of time for tackling stubborn clutter. There is so much we can’t do right now, so many no’s, so much we can’t control. But we can control our immediate environment. We can free it from burdensome extras and leave only what is useful or does our hearts good. We can make our spaces beautiful havens.
Would you consider yourself a minimalist?
Definitely not. I have way too many books. Also, decluttering does not come naturally to me. I like the outcome – the space and the order, but I have to be very focused and intentional about the process. I don’t know if this makes me more or less qualified to speak about it, but I will say, if I can find my way to the other side of clutter, anyone can.
Please tell us about your moment of clarity when you first decluttered your space.
Two things greatly helped me get started on decluttering. One was having examples to follow. I have a good friend who is amazing at this. More hardcore than I will ever be. She is almost ruthless in removing items that don’t need to be there. I am more prone to ponder. I tell myself to channel her when I need a little decluttering boost. I visualize how calm and orderly her space is and how quickly she makes decisions. It helps me tremendously. Secondly, before even tackling decluttering, I had to go through a time of getting to know myself and admitting a few things: I am not my stuff. I change through the years and do not need what I used to need. That’s not a failing, just life. Some plans or intentions I had about the future I no longer have, and that’s ok, too.
How did this form your theory about decluttering identities?
Admitting that I’m not who I was and am not heading where I once thought I would meant I didn’t need to keep the equipment for any of those things. Part of this is being able to say good bye to parts of my life that have passed. Even though they were good parts, it is ok to let them go. Another part of this is not feeling guilty for changing my plans for the future, even if I had already bought things in preparation. There were big boxes of guilt in my closet, protected with the armor of, “But I paid money for that.” Here are some magic words to break through that armor: “I don’t need them anymore. I don’t want them anymore. Someone else could use them.”
For me, this meant letting go of past identities of college student, teacher, seamstress, and letting go of potential future identities of crafter-extraordinaire, gourmet cook, repairer of all things. Suddenly, so many items were free to go live happy lives somewhere else!
Why do you think people cling on so tightly to their past selves?
Sometimes we cling to our past for positive reasons: they were parts of happy times. Sometimes for negative reasons: guilt or regret over something that didn’t go well and we’re hoping to fix or redo. Sometimes it’s just plain laziness of not taking the time to wrap things up. We just walked away and left all the stuff shoved in a corner. Brought home a box from college or a box from a past job and just dumped it somewhere.
Why do you think people assume decluttering is a one-time process as opposed to a continuous journey?
It’s a nice thought to think you can do this once and be done. That’s not how it works though. Especially if you think of it in terms of identities. Someday, who you are right now will be in your past – your job, your interests, even some relationships. The items associated with them will need to be processed and rehomed.
How do you personally feel when you purge your home of things?
It feels so good! I am always so glad when I’ve done a purge and have boxes of items to get rid of. Sometimes that feeling of euphoria is what motivates to get started. And when I’m done, I can better find things I need and see things I like because they’re no longer obscured by a whole bunch of uselessness.
Dr. Bronner's products are appealing to the minimalist community because they have so many different uses, so please tell us about some of the responses from those living with less who rely on your cleaners?
These stories come in all the time and I never tire of hearing of them. Just recently, someone living the van life in her restored VW shared how with her very limited space, this one bottle can clean her and all her stuff. We hear from backpackers who have kept themselves and their stuff clean for weeks with just one bottle, and I love the pics we get of our little bottle sitting on top of some magnificent vista. On the home front, we hear from busy moms who are so glad to ditch all the endless products advertisers tell them they need to take care of their kids and their homes and just have one bottle. And then from small space dwellers - just imagine opening the cabinet under your kitchen sink and seeing only one bottle. Or opening your bathroom cabinet, and again, seeing only one bottle. It’s beautiful!
What are your top tips for others who are thinking about decluttering their home?
Start small – one drawer or one cabinet. Momentum builds for this, so you’ll likely get addicted and move on to the next. But don’t start with the intention of going through your entire house in a weekend.
Ride the wave. If you feel the urge to declutter, grab hold and go. If I try to put off that urge til tomorrow morning, it almost always has faded.
Get the items you’ve purged fully out of the house! Don’t stop at just putting them in a box. Then you end up with a whole bunch of boxes of giveaway items cluttering up some other floor or counter. The job’s not done ‘til the stuff is irretrievably out, out, out!
What is next for you?
A book! I’m working on compiling info from my “Going Green” blog with more stories of how all this works out in a real life – mine!