It’s perhaps a sign of our hectic modern times that most of us would like to be able to simplify our lives, schedules and environments. Decluttering our personal spaces can go a long way towards achieving that goal. The popularity of best-selling books such as Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” are a testament to the interest we have in making our living spaces cleaner, simpler and more manageable.
Our hope is that if we can gain control over physical clutter, then that organization and serenity will spread to other areas of our lives as well. The truth of the matter is that most of us have too much stuff, and we’d be happier if we could find a way to pare back to just what we really need.
I don’t know about you, but every year I would set out to thoroughly declutter my home, only to fail miserably until I actually learned how to do it. It seems that many of us don’t know where to start and make the same basic mistakes when it comes to clearing out the excess. If you are ready to simplify your home, streamline your life and make room for more happiness and contentment, read these easy-to-follow tips for simplifying and decluttering your space and your life.
Maybe your weak spot is your closet or your home office. Perhaps you have an email account that has needed to be purged for the last six months. It could be that the worst of your clutter is wrapped up in emotions and relationships. We all need to start someplace different, but even with that in mind, there are some basic pieces of advice that can help you get started and simplify the process.
- Start by making a priority list. If you need to declutter your home, make a list of the areas that need the most attention. Keep in mind though that the most cluttered area might not need to be first on your list. Yes, you have been meaning to clean out the linen closet which has become the resting place of everything that isn’t used or doesn’t have a proper home, but if you enjoy spending time in your kitchen the most, you should start there with the area that is going to have the biggest immediate impact in your daily life.
- Tell yourself that this is going to take time. Your priority list might be so long that it feels impossible, but it is important to remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day and the process of decluttering your life is exactly that; a process. One strategy is to work on it a little each day, but realize that even at that rate it might take you several weeks or even a couple of months to achieve your goals.
- Commit to 15 minutes per day. You might have time on the weekend to really dive into your decluttering project, but one of the biggest pitfalls for any decluttering effort is that it always takes longer than expected. You end up feeling overwhelmed and defeated, plus who wants to wake up the next morning to yesterday’s clutter explosion? Be realistic about what you can accomplish during your free time and then commit to spending 15 minutes per day, every day, in some type of decluttering activity. Maybe you clear all of the old contacts out of your phone, or go through that desk drawer is so stuffed that it barely closes. If you need to let go of a relationship, use those 15 minutes to write in a journal to release your emotions or pick 2 items from that relationship that you would like to donate. Taking these little steps takes the pressure off when it comes time to tackle larger projects.
- Get it done. Along with being realistic about how much you can accomplish in any given amount of time and setting up short intervals of decluttering activity each day, you need to make sure that you finish what you start. If you want to clear out your bedroom, start with your dresser, complete it and then move on to the next thing. When you have too many mini projects going on you lose track of what you are doing and waste time. How many times have you just tossed everything back into your closet because you were out of time and then had that pile sit there, nagging at you every time you opened the closet door? Stay on track and start only what you can finish.
- If you are getting rid of something, then get rid of it right now. You have gone through everything and now have a box for donating, a bag for the trash and a small collection of things that need to be put away. Do not let these things sit in your home. Take that box to your donation spot immediately and on your way out the door, make sure to take the bag of trash out to your bin. When you get home, put away that small pile. Letting these things sit defeats the purpose and all of your efforts so take care of them immediately.
- Visualize, but don’t get ahead of yourself. You need to have an idea of what your end goal is, so stop for a minute and visualize the space you are decluttering. What do you want it to look like? How does that compare to the state that the space is in now? You might even want to take pictures and make notes on them. This can help serve as a visual reminder if you begin to get overwhelmed. While you want to plan ahead, you also need to resist the temptation to get ahead of yourself. I love the idea of being organized, so I will go to the store and by all sorts of organization tools. I then return home and realized that they don’t quite work or that I don’t need them just yet. I then end up with clutter caused by my own organizational attempts! It turns out I am not alone in this, and one of the best pieces of advice I received was to use wait until I was finished, assess what I really needed and THEN head out to the container store, which was the exact opposite of what I had been doing.
- Prevent clutter. Take simple actions to prevent more clutter from accumulating. Start by finding two or three things every day that you use often but that don’t really have a “home” and designate a place for them to belong. When you want to buy something new that isn’t absolutely essential, put it on a list and then revisit it a month later. Do you still want it? Will it enhance your life? If the answer is yes, then go for it. If the answer is no, then it will only create more clutter so cross it off the list. Remember that clutter costs you time, energy and money. Think about that before you bring anything new into a space and decide if it is really worth spending those precious commodities on.
- Learn to be at peace with less. When you have spent so much of your time surrounded by clutter, its absence can be a little unsettling. Learn to love your new clutter free space and take the time to enjoy and soak up the beautiful simplicity.
Quick Tips for Your Spaces
So now you know the basics and you have geared yourself up to get started. Here are a few tips for each area of your home and life that might need a little decluttering.
- Start with the medicine cabinet. Toss anything medications that are expired or no longer used. Also discard soiled items like bandages with dingy packaging, old toothbrushes, dull razors, etc.
- Evaluate your skin care and cosmetics. Do you use it regularly? Is it still fresh or has it gone past its prime? Has it been stored properly? Have your needs or preferences changed? Do not let unused or old skin care and cosmetics clutter up valuable counter and drawer space. Plus, outdated products can be a breeding ground for bacteria and could cause serious skin infections. Get rid of what you don’t use.
- Replace worn out linens. You know those old towels that you keep hanging around just in case? Get rid of them or donate them to someplace that might be able to find a use for them. Animal shelters can often make good use of old toweling.
- Consider attractive organizational containers for your countertop or drawers.
- Does your pantry reflect your current dietary lifestyle and healthy eating goals? If the answer is no, go through and clear out everything that doesn’t fit with your ideal eating habits. Immediately donate usable items so that they are not sitting around and tempting you.
- Dried spices and herbs last quite a while, but they do tend to lose their flavor punch after about a year. Go through your spices and check for expiration dates and discard spices that you haven’t used in at least 6-9 months.
- Be brutally honest when it comes to your kitchen appliances and tools. You might have bought something with the best of intentions, or maybe it was a gift, but either way if it is not being used, it should go. If you use it at least once a week keep it. If you use it once a month, consider if it is something that is really necessary. If it gets used once a year or less, then it should go unless it is an item meant for special occasions or a holiday. Keep your grandmother’s china that only gets brought out once of year or that special holiday cake mold, but store these items someplace special that is out of the way of everyday kitchen activity. You don’t need to move your Halloween punch bowl every time you need to get a mixing bowl.
- Reorganize things so that they are in logical order. Don’t keep all of your cooking utensils in a drawer ten feet away from the stove; keep your cleaning supplies near the sink, etc.
- Your bedroom should be the room in your house that is the most free of clutter. Start by clearing out any furniture that does not have a purpose, and choose furniture that might serve a double purpose. If you have a beautiful comfy chair in your bedroom, choose a storage ottoman to go along with it, for example.
- Find a different place for you home office. An office environment in your bedroom not only interferes with rest, but it also invites clutter.
- If you are decluttering your clothes, empty out your closet and your dresser at the same time. This will save you time and allow you to be thorough.
- Simplify your bedding. A little decorative bedding is nice, but if you have pillows and blankets that you never use, then they should be gotten rid of. If you hate the feel of a certain set of sheets, if that down comforter makes you sneeze, etc. either donate or toss it.
This is one of the biggest areas of clutter, yet one of the most difficult to work on. Ask yourself the following questions when going through your wardrobe:
- How do you feel when you wear it? If it doesn’t feel good, get rid of it.
- Is it a fashion trend that you bought on an impulse but will never wear? Time to say goodbye.
- Is it the right size? Don’t keep clothes that are too small or too big, even if you are planning on dropping those last ten pounds.
- Do you not wear it because it requires dry cleaning or some other special care? If it is impractical for your lifestyle, let it go.
- Pick five items to donate, five that need to be placed somewhere else and five items that can hit the trash.
- If you are holding onto something because it was expensive, but you never use it you are only costing yourself more in terms of space and energy. Donate it to a worthy charity, possibly for auction and receive a nice little tax deduction at the same time. If you have a friend who has always loved it, then pass it along. Don’t let how much something cost determine whether or not it takes up space in your closet.
Decluttering your home and your life and your life can be challenging, but it is one of the most effective ways of simplifying your life. There is quite a bit of truth to the saying that less is more. When you get rid of the clutter, you create room for the things in life that are truly valuable and important, so get started today!