Decluttering seems simple until we sit down to do it. Then we begin wondering if we're doing it wrong because it feels like we just cleaned out these closets and drawers. Is there a wrong way to declutter? Is there a right way? A better way?
Yes, there is a better way to declutter, and I'm going to give you my very best tips for what to do and what not to do in order to make it the simplest, smoothest, stress-less process it can be!
Are you ready? Let's dive in!
DO: Declare your goals for decluttering.
DON'T: Feel obligated to declutter just because it's what the cool kids are doing these days.
When it comes to pursuing any goal, you have to know why you're doing it. Just because your neighbor, best friend, coworker, or sister is signing up for a workout class to get fit doesn't mean you have to do it just because they are. If you don't have your own motivation to declutter your home, you're going to get overwhelmed with the work and be tempted to quit halfway through. You have to have a bigger, deeper "why" behind your goals (decluttering and otherwise).
Do you want to be able to invite people over without worrying about dishes falling out of your cupboards when a guest goes to get a glass? Do you want to stop spending all your time searching for that lost bank statement or unmatched sock? Do you want to be less distracted by all the mess and chaos and more focused on and invested in spending time with your people?
Knowing why you are decluttering helps you stay focused when it gets to be challenging. It gives you a big-picture view and a clearer view of the end goal so you know what you're working toward and so you can feel more accomplished when you're finished. If you're decluttering just because it's what everyone else is doing, you'll never know when you're done because you haven't taken the time to determine what the end goal is for you. So take a moment and declare what your decluttering goal is.
DO: Set aside a specific amount of time to work on decluttering.
DON'T: Say you'll declutter when you find the time.
More time won't just magically appear. We make time for what's important to us. So if decluttering and simplifying your home is important to you, you're going to have to set aside dedicated time for it. It doesn't have to be a whole weekend; it can be just twenty minutes a day. But you have to choose to focus on decluttering for that time in order for it to work.
DO: Declutter one area of your home at a time.
DON'T: Try to tackle the whole house in one fell swoop.
Not only is trying to declutter your whole house at once ridiculously overwhelming, it's also insanely chaotic. If you take everything out of your spaces and begin sorting things, moving things into other rooms where they belong, and creating piles everywhere, it's going to feel like your clutter is winning. It's going to seem like the piles are taking over your home and your life.
If instead you choose to focus on one space at a time and work your way through your house, it will feel much more manageable and less stressful. Start with a drawer or a closet. Work through one room at a time. Make your way around the room clockwise. Finish one room before moving onto the next, leaving it put back in order so you can have just one area you're working on at a time. I promise, it will feel like much less of a burden.
DO: Remove everything from the area you're decluttering.
DON'T: Assume you know everything that's inside your closets, cabinets, and drawers.
Unless you take everything out of any given space, there's no telling what might be lurking in the dark back corners! It's amazing what I've found (even in spaces I've previously decluttered) when I've taken the time to remove everything. I, too, am tempted to cut corners and skim through the contents of a drawer or closet to take out what I think I can get rid of, but I always find more things to toss and end up feeling more satisfied and accomplished when I take everything out first.
The only way to see just how much stuff you have is to take it out and examine it all. As you're clearing out your drawer, cabinet, or closet, laying out the contents will be the best way to get a clearer picture of all the things that were inside of it. It's always amazing to see how much stuff fit inside that space! And it's eye-opening to reveal how many similar items might have been lurking inside-- six very similar t-shirts, five cans of sweetened condensed milk, eight rubber spatulas, twenty-five pens that have run out of ink.
DO: Get really honest about your stuff and why you've kept it.
DON'T: Keep things out of guilt.
There are so many reasons why we keep things, but if we let guilt motivate us into keeping things, we're going to continue to fill our homes with things that don't serve us.
If you've spent your own money on things that you know you don't use but feel guilty about getting rid of because it seems like a waste of money, consider it a learning opportunity. You could try to sell it to recoup some of the cost, or you could donate it and know that someone else will get more use out of it than you are right now.
Consider what it's really costing you to keep things you're not using to their fullest potential-- the cost of the space those things take up, the time and energy it takes to maintain and care for them, the mental energy it takes to convince yourself to keep them because you spent money on them. How would you feel if you gave yourself permission to let go?
I myself have experienced a great deal of freedom in letting go of things that are no longer serving me, despite the money I spent on them initially, sometimes selling them if it's worth the time and energy to list them, often donating them so I can have more breathing room and less of a burden from holding onto things I'm not using or loving anymore.
Sometimes we're given gifts by people who mean well but don't have the same taste as us. And if we feel obligated to keep all the gifts we've received, our homes will become full to the brim with stuff we don't like or use. We feel bad, though, for wanting to get rid of things our people gave us. But can I tell you a secret? You can cherish the relationship and still let go of the stuff. Someone else might get more use out of it (certainly more than we are while it's collecting dust on a shelf in our basement). And those people who gave us the gifts? They care more about our relationships with them than they do about what we do with their gift. I promise.
Certainly, there are things we feel compelled to hold onto for sentimental reasons. And that's not always a bad thing. Some things have very special memories tied to them. It's great to keep some mementos that are especially dear to us. But we don't have to fill our homes with boxes of them. I advocate for keeping the very best-- the best of your childhood artwork, the best of your writing projects, your favorite toys you want to pass on, the best of a collection of tea cups from your grandma, your favorite necklace from your great-aunt. You don't have to keep the whole collection if it's not meaningful or useful to you-- you can keep part of it, enough to cherish it and remember that person or that time of your life, and you can choose to let the rest go gracefully.
DO: Establish new routines to keep the clutter at bay.
DON'T: Think that once you declutter once, it will magically stay that way.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing we've always done but expecting different results. So if we keep living like we did before decluttering our homes, the clutter's just going to build up again. We need to be proactive to keep our homes from returning to a state of complete chaos.
Have a plan for how you're going to shop differently. Create a shopping list and stick to it. Avoid impulse buys. Go home and wait 24 hours (or 30 days if you're considering a really big purchase or are just really disciplined) before buying that thing you think you "need." Adopt a one-in, one-out rule so the next time you buy a sweater, you have to donate one of your old ones. Suggest experiences as gifts instead of more stuff. Learn how to say, "No, thank you. That's lovely, but I already have something similar and don't have a use for it" to decline cast-offs from others. Handle your mail as soon as it comes in, funneling it through a command center or filing it in appropriate places or sorting it into baskets or trays or whatever works for you. Just have a plan for things coming into your home, because that part never stops. There's always more stuff coming your way.
Tidy up regularly. It will make your space feel less cluttered, and the more you do it, the easier it is. If you tidy as you go, it's a no-brainer. Put your shoes where they go as soon as you take them off. Hang your jacket up instead of putting it on the back of the chair. Fold the blanket and put it back in the basket instead of leaving it bunched up on the couch. Wash the dishes or put them in the dishwasher instead of piling them in the sink. Wipe down the counters when you're done with dinner. I promise it will make things feel so much less chaotic, and you'll thank yourself for it later!
What are your decluttering do's and don'ts? I'd love to hear from you in the comments! And if you're looking for more help decluttering, simplifying, or organizing your home, let's chat about it!