Decluttering has become quite the buzzword lately, but where do you begin and how do you do it? Is it even necessary? I mean, the clutter always comes back, doesn't it? And there are so many different perspectives, resources, cheatsheets, and instructions. How do you know what to listen to?
I'll make it simple for you and condense the information I've found all across the Internet into just one place with step-by-step instructions to simplify the process and remove the overwhelm for you!
First, let's establish the importance of decluttering. Kendra Adachi, the wonderful woman behind The Lazy Genius, says, "Stuff is the enemy of clean." The only way to have a home that's peaceful and clean instead of stressful and overwhelming is to have less stuff. Period.
You can organize your stuff till the cows come home, but if you have too much stuff, it's going to continue to be a problem, and you'll feel like a hamster stuck in a never-ending wheel of cleaning over and over and over again. So we need to first get rid of the extra stuff!
1. DECIDE WHERE TO START
Where do you want to begin? I usually suggest starting small, with a junk drawer or closet instead of a large room. That way you can get your feet wet before jumping into the deep end and realizing you've gotten yourself in over your head.
When I'm going to do a round of decluttering, I typically start with my bedroom closet. I'll go through my clothes there, then maybe move to the rest of my room, and then the living room or kitchen. I work my way up from smaller projects to larger ones.
The biggest thing here is that you start somewhere. Yes, it's easier if you start small. But really, just pick a place and start!
2. REMOVE EVERYTHING
Take everything out of the area you're decluttering. Yes, everything. I'm so serious. It's the only way to make sure you don't miss anything.
I caught myself trying to sneak around this step just the other day, thinking I've been decluttering long enough that I didn't need to follow all my own rules. Wrong. I had to go back and do it right because I noticed I actually was missing things. I had assumed that certain things would stay because I thought I used them, but when I went back to really look at them, it dawned on me that I hadn't used them in ages and knew I wouldn't miss them, so out they went. And I went back to following my own advice.
So please, learn from my slip-up, save yourself some time and headache, and take everything out the first time around.
3. PUT LIKE THINGS TOGETHER
When you're taking things out of your space, group like things together. It's the absolute easiest way to see where you've accumulated too much. Put all your sweaters in a pile, all your jeans in a pile, all your sandals in a pile-- well, you get the picture.
It might take a little longer to remove everything from your space and sort it into piles before even considering what you might want to keep or get rid of, but it's an important part of the process. Every time I group things together this way, I'm surprised by how many duplicates I see. When things are spread out more, I don't notice it as easily, but when things are grouped by category, it becomes glaringly obvious, and I'm much more willing to let go of what I need to.
4. EXAMINE ITEMS ONE AT A TIME
Now that you've taken everything out of your space, look at each item one at a time. Hold it in your hand. Consider whether you want to keep it or not.
It's tempting to focus on what we're getting rid of when we're decluttering, to take pride in the piles of things accumulating as we go through our homes. But I've actually found it to be much more fulfilling and joyful to focus on what I'm keeping instead. When I carefully choose which clothes to keep, for instance, I feel happy with the wardrobe I'm left with. I'm proud of my choices. I'm content with the end result. I don't feel deprived or restricted because I forced myself to get rid of things, and I'm not focusing on the sadness of getting rid of things I used to love, or any guilt associated with getting rid of things. It puts a more positive spin on it.
And just like taking everything out of your space helps you to not miss anything, so does forcing yourself to look at each item on its own.
5. ASK CLARIFYING QUESTIONS
When it comes to making decisions about what to keep and what to get rid of, it's easy to have some biased thoughts about the worth of our stuff. But if we truly want to conquer the clutter, we have to be willing to let go of some things. I've found it helpful to ask myself some clarifying questions to help weed out the things I no longer need to hold onto:
- When was the last time I used this?
- Do I have another thing like this that serves the same purpose?
- Does this fit me? Is it flattering?
- Do I have all the pieces?
- Would I buy it if I saw it in the store today?
- Would I miss it if I got rid of it?
- Could someone else get more use and joy out of this?
- Would I rather keep this or enjoy the space it frees up in my home and my life?
- What is keeping this really costing me?
- Could I replace it down the road if I discover I really do want it?
6. LET GO OF THE GUILT
I think most of us are guilty of keeping things out of obligation. We receive well-intended gifts from loved ones, hold onto memorabilia from our own pasts, and might have things passed down from family members. How do we handle the sentimental things we no longer use or find much joy in?
This is where grace comes in, because there is no one right way to handle sentimental things. There are some tips and some encouraging words I want to share, though.
First, know that you can cherish your relationships and hold onto your memories without feeling obligated to keep all the tangible reminders. Certainly, if you have physical things you truly cherish, use, or desperately want to hold onto or pass onto your own family, then keep them! That's wonderful! But if you're holding onto things due to a sense of guilt, maybe it's time to let them go gracefully. You can take a moment to walk down memory lane, cherish the memory, and then choose to hold onto the memory while letting the tangible reminder move on.
You can get creative, too, repurposing old things, or finding new ways to give them life so they can bring you joy or be useful again. Maybe you could create a quilt from old t-shirts that hold special memories but are just sitting in a box or the bottom of a drawer. Or you could frame recipes your grandma gave you that are gathering dust in your cupboard. Or maybe you could frame a collage of your kids' artwork instead of keeping boxes full that neither you nor they will actually want to take the time to sort through later.
And when it comes to gifts given to you by loved ones that just aren't your taste or that you've outgrown, I encourage you to think of the freedom you might feel in letting them go. Someone else could likely use them, too! Chances are, the person who gave you the gift won't notice or remember, and they certainly value their relationship with you more than the gift, so don't worry about it.
7. SORT INTO PILES
As you're deciding what to do with all of your things, I recommend creating a few different piles so you can sort things without having to take the time to get up to take care of each one.
First, a "yes" pile of things you're carefully choosing to keep.
Second, a "donate" pile for things going to charity.
Third, a "recycle/trash" pile (or piles, really) for things beyond donating.
Fourth, a "relocate" pile for things that you're keeping, but that don't belong in the space you're currently working on.
Fifth, a "maybe" pile for things you're just not sure about yet.
I'm a big advocate for a "maybe" box. If you're not sure about something, put it in the "maybe" box and keep the box out of sight for a defined period of time (two weeks, a month, however long you want to wait until you take your donations to charity). If you want something from the "maybe" box in that time, then you can get it without any guilt. If not, then you can get rid of the whole box, also without any guilt. You've then proven to yourself whether you want it or not.
8. CLEAN OUT THE SPACE
Before you put the items you're keeping back into the space you've just decluttered, take a moment to clean the space out! This might be your only chance to clean it while it's completely empty!
I know my closet and various drawers and shelves are never completely empty except when I'm decluttering, so I always make a point to clean them quickly before I put things back. Then it's like killing two birds with one stone, and the space feels extra clean and organized.
9. PUT THINGS WHERE THEY BELONG
Once the space is clean, you get to put back the things you're keeping! This is the fun part, because your space is going to look so much better than it did when you started!
This is also your opportunity to take the trash and recycling piles out, find a place out of sight for your "maybe" box, and figure out where you want to collect your donations while you declutter the rest of your home.
And this is when you can relocate misplaced items to their rightful places in your home. That pair of scissors that wandered into your room? Back to the office. The hammer and nails you used to hang a picture a month ago? Back to the tool box in the laundry room.
10. KEEP THE CLUTTER FROM COMING BACK
One of the hardest parts about decluttering is the fact that clutter comes back if we're not really careful to prevent its return.
Once you've done the hard work of the initial purge, it's time to establish habits and routines for handling your incoming stuff going forward.
I'm a big fan of the "one in, one out" rule. If I buy a new pair of shoes, I try to compensate by getting rid of an old pair (which usually looks more like not buying a new pair until I've worn an old one into the ground and need to replace it). I have a finite amount of storage space, so I know that I can't keep adding more stuff and expect it to fit.
Have a plan for how you're going to handle incoming paper clutter, schoolwork, artwork, and gifts. Know where things will go, how you plan to organize them, and what kind of systems you need to have in place.
Do you need a mail sorter? A command center for your whole house? A filing cabinet? Do you need to unsubscribe from mailing lists so you get less stuff to begin with? Do you need to have conversations with family members, asking them to focus on spending time with you or enjoying fun experiences with you instead of giving more stuff? That's your next step once you've cleared out the clutter-- and I promise it will make it ten times easier to keep the clutter from coming back!
That's it! Don't forget to grab the free printable cheatsheet! And stay tuned for the next post in this series next week, which will cover how to organize all the things you're keeping!
And if you're looking for some more help or guidance with your decluttering, simplifying, or organizing goals (or any other goals!), let's chat about it!