Decluttering My Shed the Minimalist Way

Before you read this post, I would like to warn you that although it is about decluttering my shed, it also touches upon the grief of losing a parent (my dad). If you’re okay with that, or would even find some comfort in it, go ahead.

Like attics and garages, the shed is often one of the most cluttered, and the most forgotten.

Sheds are generally used to store gardening tools and equipment, but over time, these places tend to become a catch-all for things you were too tired to put away, things you weren’t sure about, things you got in a sale, holiday decor, bins and shelves from past organisational efforts, and kids toys.

Somewhere along the way, the shed lost its purpose and became a storage wonderland of mystery, intrigue, and yuck.

At the start of this week I was off work, it was a beautiful sunny day, Eryn was at nursery, and mum was busy moving into her new flat. What better time to clear out the shed! A rare opportunity indeed.

Previously, every time I needed to go into the shed for anything I braced myself for tripping over the sea of stuff on the floor, and for things falling dramatically off their shelves as if trying to escape the mess. There was no telling what had fallen – you could hear stuff but not see it. Once something had fallen, it was lost to the abyss of tangled hosepipe, fallen trapped appliances, extension leads, and whatever else decided to join the party.

The walls were filled with duplicates of gardening tools that were almost impossible to get to or to remove from the makeshift hooks.

It wasn’t as if the shed had never been cleared out before. Mum had cleared it out a couple of times in the past, but within a week it always went straight back to how it was, especially in the summer when kids toys were in and out and DIY was being done in the house (all decorating equipment, including paints, were stored in the shed).

I also never had the right or permission to fully declutter the shed myself as a lot of it belonged to my parents. It simply wouldn’t have been fair to go through their stuff and stress them out with it, so I let it be.

As you can imagine, the shed was full of my parents belongings as well as my own family’s. But now, with the passing of my dad and my mum moving into a flat, I needed to reset and to process the deluge of emotions.

As I stared at the mess I didn’t know where to begin, so I made the snap decision to start with the shelves. Except there was no room to stand.

So I removed everything that was on the floor and tossed it out onto the grass, stared in disbelief that there was a floor, then I rolled up my sleeves and got started.

In the end I cleared out:

  • 2 large bin bags of old garden chemicals, insect killers, motor oils, waxes, and cleaners
  • A car boot full of old tins and buckets of paint
  • A handful of old useless paintbrushes and rollers
  • Several roller trays thick with dried paint
  • A couple of bin bags of corroded screws and nails
  • A few bin bags of corroded, duplicate, or unused tools (not sellable or too time consuming to do so depending on what it was)
  • A pile of duplicate or severely corroded gardening tools and saws
  • A drill without a battery or charger and missing half its pieces
  • A handful of broken kids toys
  • Mystery parts nobody seemed able to identify or match
  • Leftover storage containers

Mum kept a small container of useable screws and nails, and my husband and I kept only the tools that we knew we would use. Just because something was expensive didn’t give us reason to hold onto it, so we let go of anything that wasn’t going to earn its space.

Usually, you wouldn’t associate sheds with emotional clutter but by far, the saddest thing in there for me to declutter was dad’s toolbox. It’s one of those large metal tool cabinets with a massive toolbox on top, and it was filled to the brim with so many tools that dad could have ran a workshop. There was every type of spanner known to man, and an entire family lineage of Allen keys which took up a whole drawer. There was even a full ratchet set which still looked brand new.

That’s not counting the duplicate larger tools and the random bits and pieces.

I stared at the ratchet set for a moment and acknowledged the sadness. For me, it represented the things dad lost the ability to handle, as well as the tasks he intended to accomplish. To be honest, the whole toolbox felt depressing.

The saddest part is, I don’t think dad used 95% of those tools. Perhaps he did when I was a kid, but I don’t recall him having done so since. The only things I do remember him using are basic tools like a hammer, drill, pliers, spirit levels, and the occasional wall plug.

Back in the day, dad was responsible for most of the DIY and home maintenance, but as he got older and suffered from mental illness and poor physical health he lost the ability to do more complex or labour-intensive tasks.

As painful as it was, I chose to let go of what was useless to us and to respect what we kept by cleaning them up and putting them to good use. I also fixed the front flap of his toolbox which had been hanging loose since God knows when.

Most of dad’s tools either got sold or got taken to scrap metal recycling.

The toolbox is now so spacious and organised, I can see everything at a glance on opening it. As I was clearing his toolbox, I spoke out loud and told dad I had fixed it, as well as cursing the amount of stuff he’d let go to waste.

Between child care, lunch breaks, and car runs to the tip, the entire thing took 2 days. You can see the results below:

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Going forwards, I would like to replace the old rusty nails which are serving as hooks, and make better use of the space that’s left over. I also want to give everything a good clean, although the idea of spiders and other half-dead insects is causing a lot of procrastination.

Aside from the creepier side, there’s now a lot of potential for the shed in the future, and this process has helped me to process some of the grief of losing my dad and letting go of his stuff.

For you, perhaps it’s not the grief of a lost loved one, but of a long- gone life.

If you have one, declutter your shed. I promise you, it’s worth it.

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