Anora O’Connor can never keep her house clean.
And in her mind, that means she has too much stuff.
She and her husband have been decluttering for more than a year, but—with three kids and their busy lives to keep on top of—there’s always more to do.
“I want to walk into my home and not feel stress and tension,” she says. “I want to walk in and feel glad to be home. Instead of minding the junk and clutter, I want to simplify and mind the things that matter.”
The outpouring of interest in my recent post, 9 Hard Truths About Clutter You Need to Hear, has confirmed what I already believed: Clutter is keeping too many of us from living well.
But now that so many of us are convinced that we need to do something about it, the question is—Where do we start? How do we really make a dent in our belongings? And how do we keep at it without giving up?
Exactly how do we create the clutter-free homes we’re dreaming of?
Life with less stuff is exponentially easier than life with too much. I hope these 10 simple, clutter-clearing strategies help you create the home—and by association, the life—you’ve been craving.
10 Clutter-Clearing Strategies that Will Gradually Make Your Life 100 Times Easier
1. Start with one small area—like your junk drawer.
Get rid of everything you don’t regularly use, organize the things you do, and commit to keeping it that way. Going forward, notice the satisfaction you feel every time you open that drawer. It’s empowering, right? My guess is it will motivate you to do another drawer. And another. And another. 😉
2. Set a timer for 10 minutes.
Clear clutter in one area for 10 minutes, and when the timer rings, you’re done—guilt free. If you happen to want to continue, set your timer for another 10. But keep in mind that every time that timer dings, you’re free to stop, without feeling bad about it for a second. Instead, look at what you got done in just 10 minutes, and allow yourself to feel that wave of accomplishment and growing confidence.
3. Try the trash-bag method. (Also called The Goodwill Diet!)
Do a sweep of your house with a trash bag in hand, seeing how quickly you can fill the bag. You can choose where the bag is headed—trash, recycling, or a donation center. One reader said her record for filling a bag was 45 seconds!
For insurance that this strategy helps you make real progress, plan to do it right before your trash gets picked up or right before you do a donations dropoff. That way you won’t be tempted to change your mind about the clutter you’ve cleared.
Need some new corners to look in? 100 things to declutter
4. Keep it sustainable.
I often hear from women who go on a clutter-clearing rampage but burn themselves out so thoroughly that in no time at all, they find themselves right back where they started. In The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo recommends an all-in, no-holds-barred approach to decluttering and tidying up. If you’ve had a lightning-bolt conversion and are certain you won’t backslide, then by all means, go full force like she recommends.
But if you have a life full of things that might get in the way (um… children, a job, a less-than-eager spouse…), keep it sustainable. Do one corner at a time, and practice keeping that space clutter-free before you tackle another.
5. Use “habit tracking” to your advantage.
Research shows that we have greater success with the habits we track.
People who write down what they eat every day eventually see more weight loss over time than those who don’t. People who meditate daily using the Headspace app can watch their “streak” (the number of consecutive days they’ve meditated) grow, and it motivates them to keep it up. When I was working on my book about minimalism, I wrote each day’s word count on a calendar next to my desk, and I found so much satisfaction—and motivation—in seeing my progress.
How can we apply this to our clutter-clearing efforts? Could you decide to find three items to donate every day during the upcoming month of January and check each day off on your calendar? Could you set a goal to get rid of 365 items in a year and check off a box for each item you donate? There’s power is watching your streak grow.
Pssst! Enter your email below to download and print my free PDF for just this purpose! Declutter 365 things in 2019.
6. Never, ever start with sentimental items.
Build up your clutter-clearing confidence by starting with things that hold no emotional value. As you gain experience, you’ll be better able to discern the few things you can’t part with. (But again, never start with those!)
When you are ready to tackle the sentimental stuff, here’s a great resource to help.
7. Create a place for everything—and keep everything in its place.
While you’re decluttering, keep in mind that the goal is to have a designated home for every item you keep. This will make it significantly easier to maintain your new lifestyle going forward, because you’ll know exactly where to put anything away.
I find it inspiring to remember all the times as a child when I asked my mom for a bandaid or a hair tie or a bottle of glue, and she knew exactly where it was. Now I get to do the same for my children; I get to offer them—and myself—a home of order, a place that provides us comfort, consistency, and stability even when the world around us does not.
8. Keep the one-in, one-out rule.
I think a lot of us have thought to practice this with our wardrobes; every time you buy a new top, an old one must go out. But what about your dish towels? Or your bath and beach towels? How about your spice collection, your kitchen utensils, your coffee-mug addiction?
9. Reduce your purchases.
If you’re not vigilant about what comes into your home, you’ll never really get ahead. It’s as much about what comes in as what goes out. Studies are have shown that the average consumer is exposed to up to 10,000 brand messages a day. Staggering, right? Imagine how much our brand exposure is influencing our consumption, and consider taking these small actions to reduce your exposure to advertising—and hopefully curb that shopping habit we all struggle to kick.
- Cancel product catalogs and brand mailers.
- Unsubscribe from brand email lists. The (unfortunate) power of those “20% off!” coupon codes cannot be overstated!
- Unfollow any social media influencers who make you feel like what you have is not enough. I don’t think of unfollowing someone as unkind or hurtful. It’s my responsibility to be proactive about what I let into my mind, so while I may appreciate the influencer for what he or she is putting out into the world, I get to determine whether it’s the right fit for me. And if an influencer is promoting more products than I want to see… or if I notice that her content is making me wish for a better home or a nicer wardrobe… it’s okay to unfollow.
10. Celebrate your progress and really FEEL the sense of lightness that comes with it.
It goes without saying that the process of decluttering isn’t easy, even if the results are well worth it. To keep your motivation up, don’t gloss over your small successes. Instead, celebrate them. Focus on how good it feels to live with less stuff, whether it’s as small as a pared-down sock drawer or as big as an entire garage. Sink into that feeling of lightness and let it propel you forward.
Okay, friends! The more ideas the better! I’d love to hear—What’s worked for you in your house?
PS. If you enjoyed these strategies, you should know I have a whole book of them! 😉 My new book, The Minimalist Way: Declutter Your Life and Make Room for Joy, is a deep dive into decluttering everything from your home and your family life to your career, relationships, and use of time. Take a look at it on Amazon, and thank you SO much to those of you who order! (I really can’t thank you enough!)
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