Want to declutter your home once and for all? Ready to make room for the life you really want to live? Learn how to change your approach and create a realistic, organized home.
While not the same as the advice here, I also have a Lifechanging Magic of Tidying Up checklist here. Keep reading below for a new way of seeing and doing things.
How to Start Decluttering
- Why Do I Have Clutter?
- Do Not Buy Decluttering Supplies
- Navigating Differing Family Styles
- How to Get Started
- Dealing With Obstacles
- Reasons We Keep Stuff
- Resources to Inspire You
- Useful Decluttering Tips
- The Magic Question
Why Do I Have Clutter?
Unlocking the Clutter Cycle
If you understand why you’ve got clutter, it’s a lot easier to tame it. Let me show you how!
A Job Half Done
Would you like a clean and organized home that makes it easy to get on with living the life you want?
Several years ago, when we thought we might have to move (we did), I started seriously decluttering many years of accumulation. I went room by room, weeding things out, and then weeding some more.
Midway through the process we suddenly sold the house and had to move. I never quite finished the decluttering and many boxes of unfinished business moved along with us.
In hindsight, all that time, energy, and money spent on stuff that goes unused is such a waste.
Since then I’ve come up with a balanced, functional happy medium that works for us.
It’s not going to be the same for any two families, but I think the information here will help you determine how you want to approach your own decluttering.
Do Not Buy Decluttering Supplies
Long-Lasting Decluttering Does Not Require Buying Stuff
Organizing Is Big Business but It Doesn’t Have to Cost You
The goal is to create a comfortable, fully functioning home that let’s you do what you want and need to do.
At one end of the spectrum there’s the super-organized trap, where every item is sorted, folded, labelled, indexed, and requires effort to access or put away.
At the other end of the spectrum is a minimalism so sparse that one is without the comforts that make life enjoyable.
What I aim for is the moderate approach. Stuff I use all the time (or enjoy having on display) needs to be easy to access and keep clean and tidy, and the rest is either stored or purged.
Navigating Differing Family Styles
Focus on Yourself
I have one of those odd families that neither notices mess or clutter or care whether it’s there or not. Though, when presented with the idea of reducing clutter, they lean heavily toward ‘Ah, just leave it for now.’ Which translates as forever. I, however, was one of those freaky little kids who found cleaning my room to be tremendously therapeutic. Still do.
Today, as the Chief Domestic Engineer in our household, I need the house organized in a way that makes sense to me and is easy to clean and find things.
I love a tidy-looking home along with the pursuit of lots of creative endeavors.
For many years this was not within my grasp but now, as the kids are older, I finally get to have my cake and eat it too. Clean, comfortable, and fun.
And set up to suit how we live, not how others say a house should be organized.
The biggest obstacle for most of us is our emotional attachment to stuff—and don’t worry—we’ll address that too. You can do this.
How to Get Started
For starters, aim for:
- Having just what you need (not more).
- Everything has a logical place (everyone knows where to find stuff).
- Each room is easy to keep clean and performs the intended function (what works for your family, not what others expect it to be).
- Function, purpose, flow, and ease of use makes everything easy to find and return to its place.
Dealing With Obstacles
Emotionally-Charged Stuff Is Highly Overrated
As I worked through my own decluttering I realized that I clearly left the hardest decisions to last.
At the old house, I got rid of the easy, low-hanging fruit.
Now it’s down to the nitty gritty.
Everyone will find certain aspects of decluttering straight forward and later stumble upon their own emotional hotspots. And these hotspots (difficult to deal with items) usually only have meaning for one person.
We assign meaning to things. They are not in themselves meaningful.
We assign meaning to things. They are not in themselves meaningful.
I learned this as I was decluttering our old house and I asked my husband about a childhood toy I had saved for years (something I had long been attached to but had no need for) and soon saw it had zero meaning for him—despite all the emotions I carried for it! Imagine that. And part of me was hoping he’d insist I save it so I wouldn’t have to deal with the inner conflict myself.
No wonder we end up with so much stuff!
And, conversely, the stuff that he hangs onto has little or no meaning for me.
I know I can’t change what he keeps but that objectivity enabled me to let go of whole bunch of things that were really just my own emotional clutter in a bunch of tidy looking bins.
You can save stuff from the past and try to give it to future generations but really, for the most part, they want to come up with their own treasures.
We don’t want heirlooms and keepsakes pushed on us, so why do that to your kids?
Reasons We Keep Stuff
Beyond the items we use and enjoy each day, most of us own a lot of stuff that rarely gets used. The reasons for hanging onto it generally falls into these categories:
- Sentimental (memorabilia)
- Bargains (didn’t need it but it was a good deal)
- Technology (what if I need to send a fax a few years from now?)
- Knowledge (books, often more books than we could ever possibly read once let alone twice)
- Hidden Clutter (easier to stuff into spaces than deal with)
- I (Or Someone Else) Might Need That One Day (and caring too much about where stuff ends up)
While I have lived through all these reasons and have gradually shed them one by one, my last holdout seems to be I (Or Someone Else) Might Need That One Day which left me with a lot of tools and hardware to sort, some fancy old sewing machines, tons of art and craft supplies, and some what-if piles of riff raff.
But, I Might Need That!
The I Might Need That One Day excuse is growing old for me. Yes, I might need that widget or wadget, and yes, stuff costs money and why waste it?, but really, if you measure the stress of keeping, maintaining, organizing, cleaning, storing, and moving so many items, their value wears thin.
It is easier to borrow or obtain what’s needed later if the need arises. Or just do without. I mean, we are burning daylight here.
That said, I do think it’s wise to engage in some emergency preparedness, keeping basic necessities on hand for emergencies. But there is peace in finding a happy medium.
Ways to Declutter and Get Organized
If I had it to do over when my kids were little, I would organize each rooms by purpose, centralizing all books, art supplies, games, toys, and other items used by everyone. This would clear a lot of bedroom clutter and make sure good supplies do not get overlooked or repurchased.
I like this idea of centralized resources for neighborhoods as well: think of all the items we each purchase but rarely use (specialized garden tools, ladders, etc.). In a better world we could be sharing these things and saving a lot of money. Hippy dreams forever.
Resources to Inspire You
- It’s All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living
- Lose the Clutter, Lose the Weight
- Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat?
Peter Walsh has excellent advice on decluttering and home organization. My favorite from a few years ago was the audio version of his book, Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat? The name comes from the rather intriguing relationship between excess, clutter, overconsuming, debt, and overeating. Booya!
Peter poses these questions when decluttering:
- What do you want from your life?
- What is the purpose of each space in your home?
You may not need any further pep talk or books or shows or advice.
You could be ready to just let stuff go. Stop hanging onto things knowing the memories or meaning are with you regardless.
Watch Declutter & Tidy TV
Useful Decluttering Tips
The goal is to review every single thing you own and let go of that which does not contribute to the life you want. This can be done by working through categories of stuff, or room-by-room.
This is not the time to get distracted by cleaning. We tend to procrastinate or stall by doing something emotionally easy. Stay focussed on deciding what should stay and what should go.
If you’ve done the room-by-room thing in the past and it hasn’t really worked, I suggest categories. All books. All clothes. All dishes. And so on. You can get a free printable category list here.
It’s nuts to spend hours sorting and reducing craft supplies only to find a bunch more boxes stashed somewhere else. Instead, don’t declutter until you have them all in one place.
- Instead of tidying up and trying to make everything fit in neat, labelled bins, try assessing the real purpose and function of each room. Empty the room and then just return that which supports its purpose. If it doesn’t fit the space or function, get rid of it.
- If you enjoy a tidy look, keep all flat surfaces clear.
- When you give everything a place, make sure your choices are realistic. Is it easy to get to frequently used items? Will I be able to maintain this?
- When decluttering, start small. For me, getting the fridge clean and nicely sorted provided an excellent start. Others find cleaning out their clothes closet starts a fresh, new beginning.
- Never acquire any new shelves or containers until you have completely sorted, reduced, and organized every single room of your house and can see what you actually need. If you’re like me, you may not need anything to make it work. If you follow through and declutter/tidy the entire house, your judgements about stuff will evolve. See the whole process through! Your desire to keep stuff will greatly diminish as you go.
- Stop shopping. Take a month off from buying anything but food. This is a great way to become aware of your habits, step back, and see what you really want and need and discover how much of your current stuff you actually use. Again, the connection between clutter, overconsumption, debt, and overeating may come into focus.
Solutions for Typical Clutter Excuses
- Sentimental (memorabilia) – Emotional Clutter
-> Keep one or two items and display them prominently. Take photos of the rest and let it go.
- Bargains (didn’t need it but it was a good deal) – Adrenalin Clutter
-> Stop shopping. Donate the surplus to charities. There’s always another sale….
- Technology (the wasteful allure of the newest version) – Trend Clutter
-> Consider using things up until they have worn out or no longer function.
- Knowledge (books) – Ego Clutter, unrealistic time to spare
-> Allow one bookshelf of favorites you will read again and let the rest go. Again, just if it feels like clutter to you. You don’t have to own it to have a happy memory of it.
- Hidden Clutter (easier to stuff into spaces than deal with) – Emotional Clutter
-> You can run but you can’t hide. Get it all out in the open, do inventory, assess your needs, and let the rest go.
- I (Or Someone Else) Might Need That One Day – Fear-based Clutter
-> Trust that will be able to get what you need when you need it and not have to stockpile for every eventuality. And, when getting rid of stuff, it’s truly not worth the time and energy to stress over who gets what. Just let it go and get on with it.
The Magic Question
And here’s the one question that will really get you on your way to a decluttered life.
If you can answer this one honestly—and act on it—you will not have any further problems with clutter.
Are you ready? Ask:
Can I live without this?
Or, if you like the KonMari approach:
Does this spark joy?
Or, if you’re more practical like I am:
Does this have a beneficial purpose in the life I want?
For real-life examples of the KonMari method plus a free printable, see The Lifechanging Magic of Tidying Up.
For many of us, decluttering and tidying up is a long, tiring process that takes fortitude to see it through. An average family home may take a year to get in top shape. If you are determined, you will get it done and enjoy the rewards for many more decluttered years to come.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛