Please let me get this off my chest to begin with: I own too many things. Things that come in the form of technology, like old phones (Nokia N95 anyone?), hard drives, mice, keyboards and computers, to name just a few. But also other things like 17 pairs of shoes (I love my shoes and I have collected some wonderfully weird ones over the years), clothes that I just cannot fit anymore (a hard fact to admit) and so many other things like broken umbrellas, old SIM cards, cd covers and enough snail-mail paper to pad my house.
The problem with our society is our unconditional and uncontrollable need for more things. We're surrounded by media, technology and advertising that convinces us on our desire to have more and more. Even if we cannot afford it. We spend our hard-earned money on it, enjoy it for a few weeks or months and then add it to a pile of other abandoned items.
I am married and I work from home on a full time basis along with my wife who does the same. I love technology. That is a contributing factor to the number of (growing) things I own. And having a subscription to Amazon Prime that will deliver anything I order today, to my door tomorrow morning, for free, doesn't help with that. To be honest, I had no real intension of cleaning up dramatically at this point in my life. I am not moving to another house anytime soon; I would love to spend my free time working on more apps and cleaning things out just didn't have that priority. That's not to say I never wanted to do it. I have had it on my someday project list for quite sometime but never got around to it. I guess that's why it's called someday tasks. I will get to it someday.
I am now writing about an uncluttered course, so it is fair to say that the someday finally came to me.
In the early days of January 2016, while randomly looking through Twitter at night, I came across this tweet from Mike Vardy (@mikevardy). It sparked enough interest for me to click on the link. With reading Joshua's introduction and watching his video, I was intrigued by the idea of a course in helping me to become uncluttered. Remember, this was a someday task for me to eventually get to, but I had no real plan for how I was going to approach it. It seemed on that day like I didn't need a plan because an opportunity came in front of me. I even started to research Joshua's background in this field and saw that he had written a book about this topic and was in the process of another one.
Lifetime access for $89 to a course that's going to, on a weekly basis, help me reach a state of being uncluttered was an offer too good to resist. I've always wanted to become uncluttered but just never had the drive to make that push. And reading article after article wasn't necessarily going to help get me there either. I needed a different format and I needed the encouragement from someone with experience to help me. I am now 11 weeks into the 12 week course and I can honestly say I couldn't have been happier with the results that came out of me enrolling that day.
The format of the course is a weekly email that comes in on Monday from Joshua. The email provides access to the material of the course. Each week, Joshua focused on a different area of being uncluttered, starting with your reasons for wanting to take this journey. The videos came in the form of him providing examples and stories from his life as well as video interviews with people who have also taken this path seriously. Other materials included reference links to articles and a weekly Q&A video with Joshua. The videos were not live and therefore provided you the ability to watch it as many times as you require, in your own time. Enrolment into the course was also a ticket to the Facebook group. It's not easy making good (or breaking bad) habits and encouragement from a community is key. The group element was a really powerful strategy in helping me progress through the course.
Each lesson would come in on Monday because the course is interactive; at the end of every lesson, Joshua provided a practical assignment to begin the journey of becoming uncluttered. You couldn't progress to the next lesson till you acknowledged completion of the assignment. Well, you could but that's like eating a donut after working out, telling no one about it and omitting it from your food tracker; you're just lying to yourself. And trust me, becoming uncluttered is much easier than going to the gym. I'm talking from experience here.
The interactive nature is one thing that stands out from the course compared to just reading a well-written article about becoming uncluttered on a famous blog. Joshua's dedication and passion for leading an uncluttered life ultimately translates into every word he speaks. He's lived it. Experienced it. And seen the benefits of it, like having a clean house and realising the financial implications that go along with that. He truly wants you to experience the same. He wants to guide you through that process that seems like a mountain to climb. Splitting it into 12 weeks allows Joshua to break each area of your cluttered life down, starting with an individual drawer. He doesn't want you to just become uncluttered once, only to fall into the same trap again in a few months. He wants you to define your goals and build habits to make this new path stick. He believes life is about more than just owning an unlimited number of things. And by signing up to the course, before I even started, some part of me believed that too; I just didn't know how to get there.
What Does it Mean to Become Uncluttered?
Joshua, in one his lessons describes it as follows:
Being happy with fewer possessions has the opportunity to change everything about us. It would change how we spend our hours, our energy, and our money. It would change where we focus our attention and our minds. And, it could free us to pursue the things in life we value most.
This truth, that there is more joy to be found in owning less than we can ever discover pursuing more, is the key to finally finding the space and resources necessary to live the life we want.
A life of being clutter-free doesn't mean giving away everything you own and it doesn't mean you have to give away things you need; it's about keeping only the things you genuinely require. It is about understanding your distractions. It is about not letting our desire to accumulate items overtake our understanding for why we want them in the first place. This is not as extreme as the 100-Thing challenge you may have heard of, where a couple vowed to only keep 100 things. This is about helping you remove the distraction from your life.
It took you years to accumulate your clutter; it's going to be a measured process getting down to an uncluttered environment.
Instead of spoiling the course for you (I am writing this because I believe you should strongly consider joining the next intake, no matter where you are in life), I will tell you the benefits that I experienced.
A Clean Environment for Finding Things
Frustration has always been the number one emotion that rears its ugly head when I tried to find something I need, in the mess that I've accumulated. Papers, bank statements, proof of addresses, bank locker keys and other things used to require a full weekend to locate, only for it thrown back into the pile after. The first immediate benefit of the course was the fact that everything was easier to find. Throughout the weeks since starting the course, I have been able to find any item I required after going through an in-depth cleaning process. And every thing just looks so much cleaner.
I cleaned out my home office drawers, the desk I work on, the window sill (which was big enough to collect items). In my room, I cleaned out my cupboard of clothes, my side tables and the wires. I also did the same with the living room, the car and guest room (I had things everywhere). On the surface, this doesn't sound like much, but I have given away 6 bags of items to charity and thrown away a further 4 bags of broken clutter. The fact that I am still left with the things that are important to me means I had a lot of stuff to begin with. I still have the shirts, trousers, jackets I love but I gave away the ones that didn't fit anymore. I can keep convincing myself that I'll fit those again one day but I've been saying that for 5 years. I hope to get there soon and I'll make an adjustment to the clothes I wear when that day comes. That was a difficult sentence to admit out loud.
Once I was able to clear things out and keep only the things I needed, I used an online service for free; (this is an important point that I'll come back to later) called Trello to create a visual list of the locations of my items. I will go into more details about Trello in a future post. I have a picture of every item I own (which is still a lot; it's just a lot less than before) and a designation for where it's stored. If I am looking for that old iPhone 5s (being a developer means I couldn't quite get rid of this just yet as I still need to test apps on the older devices), or my SIM card for my next international trip, I know exactly where to find it.
Papers & Finances
One of the things I realised early on in the course was that the principles of becoming uncluttered can be applied to any area of life.
On a deeper level than just cleaning the physical things in my home, I went through every single paper in my home office and set aside time to scan what I needed and shred the ones I didn't. So another benefit of the course is that I now run with a full paperless system (which I'll go through as part of the series in the Way I Work) and have a file in a fireproof safe for just the remaining papers that actually are required to be in the original form.
Becoming uncluttered for me was not just about the physical things in my home but with the tools I work with on a day to day basis as well. I took this opportunity to also declutter the technologies I use. I cleaned out the items on my desktop, in my various inboxes and the files on my computer. The direct outcome of trying to declutter technology also had a very positive impact on my finances. With each physical item I went through, I asked myself if I actually needed it. If the answer was yes, the next question was does it stay where it is or should it be moved? If the answer was no, the next question was should I give it to charity or throw it out. I did the same with the online services I pay for.
Hours of working through bank statements lead me to understand exactly which services I was paying for on a monthly basis. I had no clue I was still paying for services I hadn't touched in years. Because it's so enticing to sign up for a service and pay £2.99 per month, just like with the items we own, we begin to build up a clutter of services that we're subscribed to. I evaluated that on a monthly basis, for services, I was paying close to £600. Some of that included things like car insurance which I need but other contributions to that figure are things I want. I made extensive notes on each service including answers to questions like: do I use it?; do I need to pay for it; can I still do what I need to do if I get rid of it?
With this approach, I managed to cancel 14 services and save £335 per month. Allow me to give you a a few examples. I'm paying for iCloud to backup my devices and it comes with an ability to sync my documents across devices with iCloud Drive. I therefore cancelled my paid subscription to Dropbox. That was instantly a saving of £120 a year. I cancelled my breakdown cover because I'm getting that cover from my bank. The premium subscription for Trello (mentioned earlier) offers custom backgrounds for the boards and third-party integrations. I had no immediate use for the integrations and it didn't make sense to pay just to make my boards look prettier.
At this stage, I was still paying for the remaining services I required on a monthly basis. So the next step was to contact each vendor and ask how much it would cost to pay for the service on a yearly basis. Every single vendor offered me a heavy discount with the idea of making this up front payment. It's a lot of money to take out in one go but you do receive the discounted price for that. I wanted to remove the stress of keeping up with monthly payments. Now, my only monthly expenditure for a service comes in the form of a £100 payment towards my car insurance. I've instantly saved £500 per month just by decluttering the services I was subscribed to and by paying on a yearly basis.
I am not affiliated with Joshua and I will not receive anything from you signing up for his course. It has benefited me in a big way and it was the perfect way for me to get 2016 started. Apart from the benefits of being uncluttered, I am happy that I was able to achieve something I set out to do, even though it was a task that I though I'd get to, someday. And I just want you to enjoy the same benefits.
Joshua is hosting another course in the Spring and all of the experience he has accumulated over the years is being put into a new book called The More of Less. He is offering the course for free if you pre-order the book. That's lifetime access to a course priced at $89, with an accompanying book, from as little as $10.99. In 72 hours, he has had more than 1,000 people signing up. All of the details are on this page he has put together.
I hope you've enjoyed reading about my experiences of becoming uncluttered and I hope it's a step you can take too. Please feel free to reach out in the comments section if you have any questions.