transformation month

4 Decluttering Lessons I Learned When My Boyfriend Moved Into My Studio Apartment With Me

published Sep 23, 2022
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I’ve lived in the same apartment for 10 (!) years, which means I’ve never been forced to address all of my stuff in the way you do when you move. Without needing to ask myself if I really still need that fun run T-shirt from high school anymore in front of a gaping cardboard box, the shirt (and lots of other, much more space-consuming) things simply made themselves at home in my studio apartment.

That is, until my boyfriend and I decided to move in together this summer. Sharing my studio meant we could save money on rent while we wait for the one-bedroom rental market in New York City to cool down, so it made the most sense. Plus, I didn’t have to move! That joy was quickly replaced by the reality of the situation: I actually had to make room for him. And even though I didn’t have to deal with the money and stress of movers and lease end-dates and all that jazz, I still had to actually, really go through my stuff. A massive, long-overdue decluttering was in order, both so he could have room for his things, and so he could feel like I was both physically and emotionally welcoming him.

So I undertook a big, months-long decluttering project that taught me important lessons about getting rid of stuff, but also mentally wrapping your head around the process. Here are the biggest things I learned.

Address your shame areas.

You probably have a cabinet, shelf, or drawer that you know is messy or dirty or just filled with stuff you don’t need, but no one else knows it’s there, and who is it really hurting, anyway? You know how to deal with it, so who cares! I definitely had a few: the cabinet underneath my kitchen sink, my bathroom toiletry area, and the weird space underneath my kitchen window with the bug traps. I always had to engage in some cognitive dissonance when using them: I hated having to open or use them because I knew how bad they were, but once I was there, I just brushed past it, got what I needed, and then moved on until the next time.

But with someone else living here, I couldn’t say, “Oh, the trash bags are in the cabinet under the sink buried underneath the grocery bags, but I’ll get one!” I knew the cabinet was a mess and needed organizing and I didn’t want him seeing it in its disastrous state, and this was as good of motivation as any. I didn’t want to enter a new relationship stage with residual guilt; I wanted to face it head-on. And you know what? It took 15 minutes to throw out expired cleaning products, rearrange the grocery bags, and make the trash bags visible. It felt like a weight off my shoulders not having this shame anymore and I used it as motivation to tackle the rest of my shame areas.

Credit: Terri Pous

Don’t worry if the progress isn’t visible.

I spent an entire Saturday re-folding clothes in my closet, setting aside items to donate, and making it more efficient. I proudly sent a photo of my progress to my three sisters, and as sisters are obligated to do, one of them said, “That took you a whole day?” But there was no way a photo could capture the space now freed up or the much better method of folding jeans, or that damn fun-run shirt (OK, the three of them) that was now in the donate pile. When my boyfriend came over, I proudly showed him the one (1) shelf I’d cleared off for him and he was so excited, because it was a tangible symbol of the space I was making for him, in more ways than one. From then on, instead of measuring my progress in terms of items tossed out or empty drawers, I made sure to note where I felt better about how things operated and what there was now room for. (And I made sure to tell my sisters that my boyfriend was quite happy with my day worth of work!)

Fall in love with your local Buy Nothing group.

For reasons that aren’t totally clear to me, I didn’t join my local Buy Nothing group until I started this major decluttering project. I always dread creating more waste, but it turns out, my Buy Nothing group was thrilled to take the jigsaw puzzles I’d already done, books I’d tried reading and then DNF’ed, and the witch hat I wore for Halloween in 2015. Not only did it help me clear stuff out and give joy to the recipients, but I also met so many nice people in my neighborhood. I’ve since gotten a little addicted to giving stuff away, but when you see how excited people get, how could you not?!

Credit: Terri Pous

Enlist the help of a friend.

Sentimental clutter is hard for anyone to get rid of, but for a nostalgic person like me? I will (and have gotten) get derailed for an hour by uncovering a daily planner from college, reading it to relive the memories, and then deciding it’s too precious to throw out. You know who isn’t precious about your sentimental clutter? Friends. I coerced a pal to spend half a day helping me get rid of stuff, with the promise of a meal of her choice as payment. Fueled by bagels, we went through all of my old Playbills (break my heart, why don’t you), maps from trips past, USB cords that aren’t even compatible with my current computer, cases and cases of DVDs for a player I don’t own anymore, and so much more. She very unsentimentally told me to toss what I don’t use or need, took photos of things to post in my Buy Nothing group, and most importantly, majorly transformed my shelves from a cluttered mess into something that only housed what I really need (including several Playbills and other meaningful items because I’m not a monster).

It needed to be done, and I don’t know if I could’ve done it without the help of a friend that knows me and my values well, but who also isn’t afraid to say, “That book is crap, donate it.” It ended up being a fun day and the memories we made while decluttering helped my sentimental self come to terms with clearing out 10 years’ worth of stuff.

Is the decluttering done, now that my boyfriend has been living here for nearly two months? No, and I have the toiletry area to prove it. But by the time he rolled in his suitcases, I felt like I’d made mental and physical space for him, and that felt pretty damn good. I still miss my Playbills, though.

This piece is part of Transformation Month, where we’re showing off amazing home makeovers, brilliant tiny tweaks, inspiring before & afters, and so much more. Head on over here to see it all!