Decluttering in the Time of COVID

I read somewhere last summer that Goodwill was having trouble dealing with the volume of donations brought on by lockdown. Apparently, people got stuck in their houses, realized those houses were waaay too crowded to be stuck in, and decided to use their newfound free time to box it up and throw it in the garage until it was safe to donate. But recently, I heard that in some places Goodwill now doesn’t have enough donations! They’re actually losing money, and not because people aren’t shopping there because of COVID-related fear — go figure. (Goodwill has actually done a lot of good during the pandemic and most have safety protocols to keep customers and employees safe.)

Photo by Sarah Brown on Unsplash

What I really find strange about all of this is that it was actually the other way around for me. Lockdown and all the fear and uncertainty surrounding it set me back in more ways than one. In 2019, I was merrily KonMari-ing and Swedish death cleaning my way to peace and happiness. In 2020, I was stress-hoarding butter (yeah, I can make it through life rationing toilet paper and hand sanitizer, but I NEED EXTRA BUTTER) and keeping old yogurt tubs by the truckload.

Last summer, I wasn’t ready to give anything up that I “might need later.” I bought extra food when I went to the store in case they ran out of something (I had one packet of yeast left when everyone decided to take up stress baking) and so I’d have to go out less. I thought twice about getting rid of old clothes because 1) I live in Zoom purgatory now so why bother and 2) shopping for clothes in person kind of stresses me out now. Living in a pandemic upended all the things I used to tell myself while decluttering: “You can always buy it again if you end up needing it.” “There will always be enough.” “If you get rid of these clothes that no longer spark joy, you can enjoy shopping for some that do!” Instead I thought, especially when shopping for food: “What if they run out and I really need it?” “What if the factory shuts down because of an outbreak?” “What if I lose my job and can’t afford to buy more?”

I bought so much bottled water during the first lockdown. A somewhat panicked decision, in hindsight. Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

Obviously, this wasn’t the healthiest thought cycle. Like most people, the last year has been pretty fear-driven for me. Fear of the unknown, it turns out, is kryptonite for people like me who coaxed themselves towards minimalism. But here’s the thing: it turns out, that wasn’t really a sustainable way of decluttering anyway. All the ways I told myself it was ok to get rid of something relied on me being able to get a new one or buy more stuff. Of course a pandemic that disrupted the supply chain and upended the economy would make me think twice about only buying the groceries I needed for the week!

This is an ongoing process for me, and I’ve been turning over this realization in my mind, trying to figure out what it means for me. I like my life with less clutter in it, but I also don’t want to force myself to let go when I still am dealing with a lot of fear and anxiety. My lizard brain is starting to chill out, and I’m starting to be able recognize items I no longer use or need again and be okay with letting them go, but I still worry about the what-ifs. It’s an uncertain time, and it probably will be for awhile. I do know I want to find a more sustainable way of letting go, in all senses of the word. I want to get rid of what I no longer need, but I want to make sure it’s recycled, if possible. I want to buy new if I need to, but not just to get a serotonin boost from “treating myself.” Mostly, I just want to find some peace of mind — go figure.

Thanks for reading!

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