I’ve spent a lot of time talking about and thinking about “stuff”. Hosting discussions and events on minimalism for almost 5 years now, I’ve had the honor of meeting people from all different stages in their lives looking for a way to live a more meaningful life with less “stuff”. People who have families, people who are retired, people who are still in school. The thing that brings them all together is a recognition that all of this extra “stuff” they are carrying around is weighing them down in some way.

As much time as I’ve spent talking about and thinking about stuff, I still struggle with clutter.

Clutter does much more than just making your home less Instagramable; clutter has a direct impact on increasing procrastination, stress, as well as overall life satisfaction.

According to psychologists Joseph Ferrari and Catherine Roster clutter impacts our ability to make decisions, and as we get older, this impacts our overall contentment with life. Yes, you heard that right, those socks that are left all over the house or that room that just keeps collecting “junk” that you plan to get to “someday” may be having more of an impact on your life than necessitating that you run around to pick up before company arrives.

What is Decluttering?

Note written on napkin about decluttering options

Decluttering is a term that has been thrown around quite a bit over the past few years. Minimalist lifestyle influencers like Leo Babauta, Courtney Carver, The Minimalists, Joshua Becker, and Marie Kondo have gained popular attention with different strategies and beliefs on how to “declutter” or become “a minimalist”.

There are many ways to define decluttering touted by several influencers, but in its simplest definition, to declutter is “to remove things you do not need from a place, in order to make it more pleasant and more useful.”

The key word there is need, because most of us define needs a little differently. Some people, like Colin Wright of Exile Lifestyle, are comfortable living out of a backpack full time, while some of us enjoy hosting family gatherings, gardening, or wielding a ridiculously cool guitar collection. The point is, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to finding your personal clutter-free zen den.

Decluttering can be authentically you. The way to declutter your home, and keep it decluttered, rests on making this process work with your lifestyle, not against it.

Here are seven practical tips to make the process a little less painful, and a little more you!

1. Write a Mission Statement

woman's hand writing in a note pad

Your decluttering mission statement serves as your compass for the whole process. Are you planning on making space for something specific? Do you want to have a clean space so you can breathe easier? Maybe it’s to spend less time looking for lost items? Perhaps you simply want to wake up in a clean home each morning?

Whatever your reason for decluttering is, write it down and put it somewhere you can easily come back to whenever you need to refocus. If you are having a little trouble establishing your mission statement, here’s an example to get your creative juices flowing:

“Decluttering my home allows me to spend more quality time with friends and family.”

Once you’ve got your “why” covered with the mission statement, it’s time to decide how you are going to work through your decluttering project.

2. Determine your strategy

Woman organizing clothes in closet

Having a few of these key factors in your mind before diving in will ease the process. There are three main pieces to developing a strategy that will work for you.

Categories vs. Rooms

Decide whether you want to sort through your stuff either room-by-room or category-by-category, and make a list. If you decide to go with doing rooms, we suggest starting with the smallest room first and working your way up to the biggest project last. Perhaps starting with the hall closet, then the bathroom, then the living room.

If you are working with categories, designate a place in your home you can bring all of the items to while you sort through them. For example, if you have crafting supplies in 3 different locations, bring all of them into the living room to see them laid out next to each other. This will give you a better visual and physical concept of just how much space they are taking up.

Fast vs. Slow

Creating a timeline that works with you rather than creating overwhelm is important. If you are the kind of person who likes to work in large chunks of time, set aside a weekend to cram it all in. Alternatively, if you are someone who does better with celebrating several smaller victories, break it down to bite-size chunks over a month or two.

Solo vs. Community

If you live solo, then this one is easy. But, if you live with a partner, have a family, or live in a community setting, this one may be the trickiest piece of the puzzle. Not everyone in your household may be ready to board the decluttering train, and even if they are, each of your needs and priorities may be different. Decide whether each person will do their own decluttering or if there are some rooms or categories that may be a joint venture. For anything that will be a team effort, we’ve included some ways to make it fun below.

3. Sorting

Post it notes on a desk

Using boxes or post-it notes, place or label each item with one of these four categories. Post-it notes work particularly well for making this a family affair! Each person gets to vote on items in the house and at the end of the process, you can tally points for each item and make the final decision. Getting the family involved from the beginning is essential to keeping the momentum going, not to mention heading off scuffles.

  • Keep
  • Sell
  • Gift/Donate
  • Toss

While items to keep or toss seem fairly straight forward, items to sell, gift, or donate may be a little more challenging. Have a plan in place for how you would like to sell or donate these items to avoid having mounds of stuff in your basement or garage waiting to be dealt with.

Pro Tip: One great resource can be local community Facebook groups or Nextdoor.com. In many areas, there is a neighborhood buy/sell/trade group which is an awesome resource for quickly connecting to people in your area who may need exactly what you are looking to toss. The added bonus here is that you have the chance to see exactly how your stuff is benefitting someone else.

4. Techniques

Woman thinking, making a list

There are so many different techniques you can use for your decluttering project and while you are exploring to find your own particular brand of tidying, here are a few tried-and-true ways to get started. Here are three suggestions you can pick and choose from to find what resonates with you. Remember-- decluttering can be authentically you.

Make a list

Over the course of one week, or one month, write down the things you use each day (excluding consumables, as in food, soaps, paper goods). At the end, review your list against all the things that are left in your house.

Unboxing

Moving is one of the best times to inventory all of our stuff. Surely, we don’t want to move a bunch of heavy boxes of things that we don’t use. The Minimalists have suggested boxing everything up you own as if you were about to move, and then slowly unpacking your boxes as you need specific items. Any boxes left at the end can be sorted in your donation or toss pile.

Does it spark joy?

Marie Kondo’s best-selling book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up has a ton of suggestions on exactly how to live a clutter-free lifestyle. Some may find her techniques a bit overwhelming, but the basis of the book is this foundational principle: does this item spark joy? If the answer is not a resounding “YES!” then it’s time to let it go.

5. Gamify the Process

Woman putting clothes in a box to donate

Here comes the fun part! Decluttering doesn’t have to feel like a chore, it can be turned into a game for everyone to enjoy. One of the most difficult parts of keeping the house decluttered can be keeping the momentum going. Here are a few fun ways to keep the energy flowing:

Minsgame

Each month The Minimalists host a game where you get rid of one thing on day 1, two things on day 2, and so on throughout the month. This can be done with friends, coworkers, family, and you can follow along, as well as share your progress, with other people through #Minsgame.

Project333

Each season, Courtney Carver invites us to choose 33 items (Workout clothes, undergarments, and PJs not included) for our wardrobe for the next three months. This is a great way to keep the closet fresh and wear only the things you love! Follow along and share your capsule wardrobe at #Project333.

Bring one thing in, toss or donate one thing out

Choose a basket or box to keep by your door, and any time you bring something home (again, not consumables) you choose something to place in the box to be tossed or donated.

6. Dispelling the Common Myths

Woman organizing items in a box

The process of letting go of our things can be hard. Many of our things have memories attached to them, or meanings that we have assigned to them. Here are some of the most common stories we tell ourselves that prevent us from successfully decluttering:

“What if I need it someday?”

How long have you been waiting for “someday” to come along? Let it go, and if you do in fact need it again 10 years from now, chances are you will be able to get exactly what you need.

“This is too nice to waste”

Rehome it, and allow it to bring someone else joy who will use it.

“This was a gift from grandma/friend/family member”

The joy that happens from the act of giving and receiving the gift is the part that matters. Also, you can always take a picture of the item to remember it by. Then, let it go.

“I will fit into or have the perfect place to wear these clothes someday”

Maybe. But how does it make you feel to look in your closet every day and see those things sitting there not fitting, or not having the perfect place to wear them? Donate them or box them up and put them in storage. If in a year you still aren’t using them, give them away.

“I’m saving this for my kids/nieces/grandchildren”

How many items are you saving for them? Make a box, take stock, and remember they may or may not want these things. If you start collecting multiple boxes for them, find someone else’s kids, nieces, or grandchildren who may want them.

7. Be Easy on Yourself

We all have different needs and wants. The key to successfully decluttering your home is to make it work for you. The art and science of decluttering is practice, not a destination. If you fall off the horse, have a good laugh, take a deep breath, get back up there, and most importantly, have fun!

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