How to Declutter Your Expat Life

By - August 16, 2013 (Updated: January 16, 2015)

I bet you have a closet that looks as cluttered as ours!

I bet you have a closet that looks as cluttered as ours!

After 8 years in Belgium, our expat lives are becoming cluttered and all of that stuff is holding us back from what we really value – travel and experiences. Luckily, I’ve just found the solution and I urge you to join us in decluttering your expat life.

Expats tend to be pretty used to moving house. But, if you’re anything like us, just because you’re used to moving, doesn’t mean it’s easy. Every time you unpack your belongings in a new place you think “This time will be different. I’ll stay organized and won’t clutter up my life.” But it’s not long before the junk-drawer is overflowing and you have no idea what’s in that box at the back of the closet.

Since Andrew and I have been together, we’ve moved half a dozen times. And contrary to what most people do, instead of moving into increasingly larger spaces, we continue to downsize. In fact, in a few years, our plan is to downsize drastically again, in order to live our dream of full-time travel.

We should be experts at decluttering by now. But, here’s our dirty little secret: Even after getting rid of just about everything we owned, to move to Belgium, we feel weighed down by our stuff.

Neither of us are shoppers; at least, not any more. We’ve decided, for us, experiences and memories are more important than objects. Still, it’s amazing how many things have crept into our expat lives over the past 8 years – clothes we don’t wear, knick-knacks from our travels, and don’t get me started on the things we dragged home from IKEA.

In our small flat, I’ve become an expert at making things look uncluttered. But open a drawer or peak inside a basket and you’re bound to find a jumble of junk. And for the love of God, don’t look in our crawl-space unless you want to risk being buried in an avalanche.

Does any of this sound familiar? Come on, raise your hand if you have at least one box you haven’t unpacked since your last move. Bonus points if you can’t even remember what’s inside anymore.

Not only is this stuff weighing us down, but it’s costing us money – money that could be much better spent on experiences, like, oh I don’t know… travel. I’m not just talking about the money we spend to actually move this stuff around and store it. But also money we could make from people who actually could use the things we consider clutter. You know the old saying “One gal’s junk is another gal’s treasure.”

Well this gal used to work in a craft store, and one of the few things I brought to Belgium from my old life was a huge trunk full of craft supplies from my teaching days: scrapbooking, jewelry making, rubber stamping, and needlework supplies, many of which were never opened. While I’m still crafty, there just isn’t the time in my new life, for all of my old hobbies. I’ve been talking about selling these things for years. But, thanks to our dear friends Warren and Betsy, I finally have the kick in the butt to do it.

Warren and Betsy are experts at decluttering. (Hell, all of their worldly possessions are held in two backpacks.) In fact they even wrote a book about it. But sometimes you need more than a book.

They have just launched the Decluttering Clinic and I got a sneak-peek. It’s a comprehensive plan, using video, audio, PDFs and worksheets, to help you organize, downsize and make money from the stuff you no longer need. I’m in decluttering heaven.

In just a couple of hours, I had: a plan of attack for decluttering my entire flat; a cleaned out bedroom closet and drawers; a completely organized jewelry box; a pile of stuff to sell and bags of clothing to donate to charity. And this was only week one of the 4 week program.

Closet before and after

The before (left) and after (right) of my closet doesn’t look so dramatic (especially as Andrew is off the hook for his half until he graduates in October)…

Clothes to donate

But this is what came out of there to donate… two large recycling bags full!

Before and After shelves

A little more dramatic are the shelves beside our closet… now clutter free!

Jewellery Declutter

I wish I hadn’t forgotten to photograph my jewellery box before, but I can’t believe the after!

This all came out of my jewellery collection and will be looking for a new home.

This zip-lock bag full of stuff came out of my jewellery collection and will be looking for a new home.

One of the great things about the Decluttering Clinic is that Warren and Betsy are very opposite personalities (kind of like another couple I can think of), so you always get two different approaches to organizing and decluttering: Warren tackles the logical and analytical, while Betsy focuses on the emotional and creative. It’s a winning combo.

Each week is broken into modules: Declutter Your Head (dealing with the emotions behind the clutter), Deal, Donate or Dump (practical advice on what to do with things you don’t want), Motivation and Maintenance (where you learn how to make decluttering a lifestyle) and Room by Room Breakdowns (Step by step plans for tackling every single room in your home.)

So, over the coming weeks, I’ll be decluttering our flat and selling our stuff with encouragement (and the occasional butt-kick) from the Declutter Clinic. I’d love it if you would join me in decluttering your own expat life. The workshop is $99USD and they guarantee you’ll make back your money in your first few sales. Looking at my huge ‘to sell’ pile, I believe it!

If you want to join me in my decluttering mission, Click here to sign up (This is an affiliate link and will help us with saving money for our travel goals, but if you’d rather buy direct from the site that’s ok too! As you know, we only recommend things we believe in.) Leave a note in the comments if you decide to embark on this decluttering journey and we can offer each other some support! I’ll update our progress along the way.

[UPDATE: Since writing this post, I have made my first sale and I did indeed make almost twice the price of the Declutter Clinic. I have also started sorting through my scrapbooking supplies and getting them ready to sell. If this program can motivate me after 8 years, it can surely work for you!]

Looking for more resources for living in Belgium? Check out our Expat Resources page.

If you like this, you might like:

Alison Cornford-Matheson
Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
Alison Cornford-Matheson
- 14 hours ago


  1. Comment by Warren

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Warren August 16, 2013 at 15:20

    Betsy and I are jumping and cheering you on from afar to see your photos and all your progress. We could not be happier to watch you all take more steps towards freedom from your clutter and towards the lives you and Andrew crave. Well done. We are so proud.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison Cornford-Matheson

      Alison August 16, 2013 at 16:27

      Thanks Warren! We definitely couldn’t have done it without your support and encouragement. We LOVE this program. I just listed a bunch more stuff to sell today. Woohoo!

  2. Comment by Shweta

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Shweta August 16, 2013 at 17:37

    I went through a decluttering phase after I met my husband. I realised that all the memories of my life have now been seen by my partner in life. Now, we have so many items that provide us memories of our times together that its going to be hard to declutter. But I know I must. Like you said, the stuff is weighing us down. ARGH.

    I am tempted to take the infamous Betsy and Warren’s class. Will keep you posted. I will need your support though because I have no clue where to sell my stuff here in Belgium.

    P.S. Writing this while sitting at the Funkey.

  3. Comment by Alison

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Alison August 16, 2013 at 19:30

    Oh yay! I’m so happy for you; both for the Funkey win and also for taking the decluttering plunge. You’ll love the program and we can start our own little support group! 🙂

  4. Comment by expatraveler

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    expatraveler August 16, 2013 at 22:19

    Alison – this sounds awesome! It is exactly the type of kick in the butt I need too. I’ll have to ask the other half about the video, but I can see my closet needing the same encouragement you gave yours! And wow, it’s amazing how much comes out of it!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison Cornford-Matheson

      Alison August 17, 2013 at 10:18

      It’s definitely a great butt kick and weekly motivation to do a bit each day. Well worth the investment for how freeing it is and the money you make back. I’m still surprised at the things people are buying!

  5. Comment by Ana Elisa

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Ana Elisa August 22, 2013 at 21:10

    I have always been very organized and hated stuff laying around but after moving countries a few times I really had to learn detachment. I LOVE decluttering and being in a clean, energizing space 🙂 Good luck!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison Cornford-Matheson

      Alison August 23, 2013 at 09:50

      Thanks Ana! I’m pretty organised too and if you look around our place it doesn’t look that cluttered but we definitely have a lot of stuff we don’t need anymore!

  6. Comment by Andrea Burns

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Andrea Burns September 9, 2013 at 22:33

    You’re on!
    I’m not yet an expat, but I’m decluttering in preparation for becoming one. Just paid for the Clinic and will get started this week!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison Cornford-Matheson

      Alison September 10, 2013 at 11:49

      That’s great Andrea! Please keep us posted on your progress. We’d love to have a few de-clutter buddies for support! Good luck!

  7. Comment by William Harp

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    William Harp September 13, 2013 at 20:08

    Good Afternoon Alison.

    I am writing to you at this time because I came across your site, while researching expat sites.

    Anyway, my wife has accepted a position in Brussels in October and as a 16 year veteran in Education (ESL, English, German, Coaching, Student Advisor) – Currently in my 17th.
    6 years of International Education (Bremen and Frankfurt, Germany)

    As I have done a lot of research already, I am looking for any help or guidance, in the hopes of finding contacts that might be able to help me get in front of a school administrator or something?

    Hope to hear from you soon. If you have any advise or ideas, please contact me. Thank you for your time and make it a great day.

    William Harp

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison Cornford-Matheson

      Alison September 14, 2013 at 11:51

      Hi William, There are plenty of International schools in Belgium, in Brussels in particular but also in the other major cities. Unfortunately as we don’t have children ourselves we don’t really have contact with any of them. I would suggest starting your search with the Saint Jonh’s International School and the British School of Brussels as they are two of the largest. Good Luck!

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