Are you drowning in clutter? Do you sometimes feel tempted to gather it up and throw it all out in one go? Read this article before you go any further.
Twice in my life I have let go of everything I owned and started again. From time to time, someone reads my description of this in my Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui book, feels inspired to do likewise, and contacts me to ask exactly how I did it. Here’s what I tell them…
How I radically decluttered
The first time I radically decluttered my life was when I was 19 years old and living in England. I had just ended a relationship with my boyfriend and decided to move from one end of the country to the other. I didn’t own a car at that time so I packed a change of clothes and left everything else with him to use or dispose of as he wished. He was fine with this arrangement, and many years later he turned up at one of my clutter clearing talks in London and told me he liked my stuff so much that he still had some of the items.
The second time was when I was 37, single again, and had a whole apartment full of things. I decided to move from the UK to Bali and not take anything with me. I sold all my furniture to a friend and sold everything else at a car boot sale (a popular UK selling method). I got on a plane the next day.
In both cases, the decluttering was accomplished within a week of deciding to do it, and I’ve never looked back. By the time I left for Bali, I no longer owned a single possession from my childhood, teenage years, twenties or thirties, and was as free as a bird.
Less radical decluttering
Fast-forward twenty years. By this time, I was married to Richard and we were living in Bali together. We had achieved everything we’d gone to Bali to do and it was time to relocate to the UK. Moving involved a huge decluttering this time because we had a house, a hotel, and conference centre to dispose of.
We sold the properties, sold or gave away most of our things, and only kept twenty boxes of personal items and a teak Balinese daybed that we loved. We left Bali with two suitcases apiece. The boxes and daybed were shipped to the UK after we’d found a place there to live.
Radical clutter clearing is not for everyone
Radical clutter clearing is certainly not for everyone. Whenever I’ve made a major move, I’ve always had a very clear idea of the next important step to take in my spiritual journey after I had lightened my load. This meant that disposing of my things was both meaningful and liberating. I’ve also been fortunate to marry a man who has let go of everything and started a new life even more times than me.
When someone writes to ask me how to do this themselves, it suggests that they don’t yet have this clarity. I therefore recommend that they wait until they are sure what their next step in life after decluttering will be. Letting go of everything you own doesn’t magically improve your life. It can leave you with no possessions and no idea what to do next. It’s essential to have a clear direction to go in, that you feel confident about, even if your logical mind can’t quite explain it yet.
One oil barrel at a time
A detailed map of the journey ahead is not required. In my experience, all you need to know with certainty is the next step ahead. That’s all I’ve ever known, and every major change I’ve made has worked out better than I could ever have imagined.
A lovely analogy for this can be found in Brian Tracy’s book, Eat That Frog! It comes from an experience he had of crossing a bleak 500-mile stretch of the Sahara Desert, where over 1300 people had lost their way and died. Then someone had the bright idea to place a 55-gallon oil barrel every 5 kilometers to mark the route. After that, all anyone had to do was to drive from one oil barrel to the next. The last oil barrel and the next one would always be in view, so no one ever got lost again.
The concept of “one oil barrel at a time” can also be applied to navigating through life. Get clear about your next step, and off you go. If you can’t yet see it, wait until you can. But wait proactively, not passively. Research, explore, be relentless in your quest until you get that next oil barrel in your sights.
Radical clutter clearing is not the same as minimalism
The art of living a spiritual life in the twenty-first century is to have the right things around you to accomplish what you’re here to do, but not so much stuff that it holds you back. It’s about finding the right balance.
Where minimalism so often takes a person off-track is that reducing the quantity of possessions they own becomes the goal instead of following their spiritual purpose. Getting by with the bare minimum is a pointless pursuit if it has no deeper meaning. It can seriously hinder your progress and distract you from your path.
And times have changed. Renouncing all material possessions is not even a valid route for an aspiring monk now. It worked in the past, and periodic meditation retreats are still of great value. But what the world needs at this time is people who can hold spiritual awareness while remaining part of the modern world. They are the ones who can truly make a difference.
Copyright © Clear Space Living Ltd 2018, updated 2023
What’s missing from minimalism
Fast Track Clutter Clearing online course
Zero Procrastination online course
Like to read more articles like this?
Subscribe to my newsletters to receive news, articles and information about upcoming online courses by email. And I promise you – no junk mail ever.
This is a wonderful article and so inspiring. I read one of your books about 20 years ago and decided to get rid of 80% of what I wasn’t using. It transformed my life. The new energy that came in was amazing and so transformative. New opportunities happened for me from all new angles!! I have since been so inspired by your words and your work. I live abroad and move countries every year or 2 so my husband and I are always on a decluttering cycle. But I love how this article talks about the difference between minimalism and decluttering. They are not the same and serve different purposes. I have found myself sometimes wanting to live more minimalistic and sometimes it can just make my life more difficult so I really appreciate you separating that out and talking about more holding awareness than being minimalistic. Thanks again.
I love this article! It’s just the right moment for me to read this. I needed this input. I am on the way to this radical change in our life together, me and my husband. The more I learn from you, the more courage and strength I get. Even now I am aiming to buy an apartment in our new found place on earth, leaving, selling or giving away whatever we have. I believe in the PROVIDENCE. We have clear goals for the next step. Clutter clearing for us became just like eating nutritious food that we need and we thank you for that. My husband says: I have no problems, I can leave with 2 suitcases anytime. He became far better than me, your student!
Interesting article about decluttering. I have moved house 24 times in 33 yrs (RAF family) so decluttering was the order of the day. There were jumble sales then. We have 8 charity shops in one road near where we live. Charity sacks are pushed through the door I wander round the house to put clothes or items in this sack every month – even asking my husband – any clothes or belts? I also sell my grandchildren’s bikes toys etc – advertising on FB marketplace – I helped to sell plenty of furniture and items for my daughter in law from her parents’ estate. Had a summerhouse and put the prices of everything for sale, so when people view furniture they can see other items with prices on and more STUFF sells. I have even put a lawnmower out on the front driveway for sale for £10 – sold.