I Tried Being A Minimalist: Here Are My Decluttering Regrets

Photo: Lucas Ottone

Dreams of unfussy, Architectural Digest-worthy interiors where empty space is the prevailing décor swirled through my brain upon first reading Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I'd always been in awe of big, bright, and airy spaces as a kid, and in retrospect I'm pretty sure it was because the homes in which I was brought up were anything but. The grass is always greener. I lived in a modest '70s-inspired home that had a perpetual den feel, accented by a beige shag carpet, orange velvet chairs, and a wall unit with as many media, photo books, records, CDs, tapes, and more as would fit. Embarrassing amounts of toys, pogs, gadgets, Furbys, and electronics were stowed away in my closet because I had to have them, not because I wanted to use them. Call it the collector's curse. When we moved to an even smaller (if not more functional) home in Connecticut; the clutter accumulation continued. I always tried to figure out why, and in the end after arguing tooth and nail with my mom, who'd frown upon my efforts to organize our space, simply enjoyed being among her things.

I now realize that my mother and I have very different tastes (sorry, Mom). For me, and I'm sure many others, Tidying Up didn't just promise a new aesthetic: It was a deep-reaching affirmation of the décor dreams I didn't even know I had. Finally free from the shackles of my clutterful past, Kondo gave me permission to do what I'd always wanted to do: discard relentlessly. Marie Kondo did in fact change my life. On most days, I maintain that it's all for the best. The problem? Like any new habit—trendy meal plans, new workout regimes, or even social media—too much of a good thing is rarely actually a good thing.

Cue the decluttering madness. Once I started to purge, I couldn't look at a single thing without asking myself whether it brought me joy in the moment. That's where I went wrong: instead of sticking to Kondo's one-day rule, I made decluttering a lifestyle, and my answer to the "joy" question largely depended on the mood I was in.

Sacrificing authenticity for the sake of a specific aesthetic or adhering to a method, while it felt joyful in the present, wasn't contributing to long-term happiness. Of course there is a time and place for decluttering, always. You shouldn't feel buried under your stuff. But one of life's little joys is to walk into someone's home for the first time and see their story. Autobiographical home décor is far more interesting than a super-minimal interior devoid of warmth and personality. To be clear, I'm advocating for a more intentional and less pressured way of living that allows for expansiveness and expression. Since doing a major overhaul in 2015 and redecorating my home, here's what I wish I hadn't discarded:

1. Handmade items.

Thankfully, Kondo recommends decluttering "sentimental items" last, so I've saved myself from overdoing it. I chalk this one up to living in tiny New York apartments a decade and counting, but I got rid of a few sentimental objects I would have liked to keep, like artwork from my friends' kids (heartless, I know!), ceramics I made, and handmade gifts from others over the years. They would have made great decorations! I tossed them because I was always moving through a new iteration of "my style." I finally realized that tastes do change, but they inevitably include some kind of consistent throughline. It just takes a little trust to develop, especially if you're a shape shifter like me. There's nothing cooler than being in a home full of artwork from friends of the dwellers.

2. Clothes that didn't fit (at the time) or favorite wardrobe pieces in perfect condition.

As much as I miss the aforementioned sentimental items, this one is by far my biggest decluttering regret. I donated so much clothing that was in perfect condition, many pieces of which were statement-making and didn't fit into the minimalist aesthetic I was trying to curate. I've got news: What you like is what you like. So if you hate something, by all means, move on! But if you're reluctantly giving away clothing from another "era" of yourself that you're still into for whatever reason, think twice. You might want that cropped CBGB tee again someday.

I'm also fully guilty of decluttering (and shopping) when I'm feeling svelte—which inevitably leads to frustration. As a woman who works out, experiences bloating just like the rest of us healthy people, and menstruates, it's so important to have a range of sizes. It's also not shameful to hold on to pieces you might need later on. Wear your clothes; don't let your clothes wear you.

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3. Photos.

I got rid of a lot of printed photos that were both old and recent—all of which I would love to have right now. Printed photos these days can be a blessing and a curse. They're so novel and fun, but where do you keep them? I wish I'd spent some time figuring out a storage system instead of tossing them. This instance perfectly illustrates the decluttering trap: when tossing something is the path to least resistance, you're crossing the line into the danger zone.

4. Old magazines.

I always knew they'd be cherished relics or even coffee table props someday, and that day has come. After moving them around New York for a solid twelve years, it seemed silly to keep old September and March issues (the textbook-thick ones) because all they did was sit on a bookshelf gathering dust. Nowadays, buying paper magazine feels like an indulgence, and how cool would it be to look into the fashions and culture of ten years ago?

That said, there's quite a bit I don't regret decluttering:

  • Old cosmetics. It may feel like they last forever, but they don't. Expired products can be toxic and irritating to the skin,
  • Old tech. I could certainly improve in this area, but I've never regretted tossing an old phone, cable, or calculator. However, I still have (and cherish) my OG iPod. Anyone else with me?
  • Clothes and shoes that were favorites but are totally worn down. It's never a good feeling to continue wearing your favorites if they are looking shabby and make you feel unkempt. Even if I'm recycling a favorite piece, I thank it for its time and service (per Kondo's recommendation, yes) and move on.

I still think learning to declutter per Kondo's method is a worthwhile endeavor. And I would do it all over again. I'd simply be lying if I didn't share these pangs of sentimentality I experience every now and then for the things I actually miss. Perhaps that is one benefit of going overboard: you learn where your true values are.

What about you, do you have any decluttering regrets? Tell us on Facebook, and in the meantime, check out this story on what happens when minimalism goes too far.

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