Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard of Marie Kondo and the Konmari method of decluttering and organizing. There’s a reason this Japanese Organization Expert has risen to near super-star fame with several bestselling books and now a Netflix TV show. It’s the same reason why minimalism and tiny houses have become so popular. What it boils down to is that we are drowning in physical possessions and it’s taking a toll on all areas of our lives.
As you will see in this guide, clutter and having a lot of material things to keep track of causes all sorts of problems – from feeling stressed to never having enough money to pay all the bills. Owning too much can leave you stressed and broke. The solution is deceptively simple – declutter and get rid of what you no longer need or love.
Of course that’s easier said than done. In this guide, I’m going to help you embrace the declutter mindset. Going into this whole idea of cutting the clutter and downsizing in the right frame of mind is very critical. It’s what will set you up for success and it’s what will keep you from falling back into old habits down the road. If you can get into the declutter mindset, doing the actual work will become easy and second nature.
We’re going to start with a chapter on some of the big benefits of decluttering. This will help get you into the right frame of mind. Next, I share my best tips for preventing burnout. If you’ve ever started a major declutter project and quickly lost steam, this chapter is for you. From there, we’ll cover potential pitfalls and how to avoid them. The following chapter is on measuring progress which can be a huge motivator to keep going. Last but not least, we’ll wrap things up with a chapter on what you can do and how you can change your mindset to prevent clutter from creeping back into your life.
Are you ready to jump in and see for yourself how freeing it can be to get rid of all that extra clutter and stuff you don’t really need? Start by reading through the book and then revisiting each of the sections as needed. Don’t miss the companion workbook. I recommend you print it out and use it to take notes and track your progress as you go through this process.
I wish you much success on this journey of decluttering for greater peace of mind and happiness.
One of the best ways to get into the mind-set when you’re ready to embrace decluttering is to start becoming very clear on what you stand to benefit from it. In this chapter, I’ll quickly run you through some of the main benefits of decluttering. This isn’t a comprehensive list. You’ll likely notice other benefits as you start to declutter. Make a note of them so you can use them to stay motivated. Decluttering can be a lot of work, and depending on how many possessions you’ve accumulated over the years, it may take some time to get through it all. Keep coming back to the benefits whenever you start to feel discouraged or need that little extra push to get the work done.
Let’s start with what I consider the biggest benefit of decluttering. It helps reduce anxiety. You may have noticed this when you walk into a clean room with few items lying around. It’s a big reason why going away on vacation is so relaxing (once you get to your destination). You’re no longer weighed down by all your stuff and the clutter around you.
Imagine being able to enjoy that feeling every single day. That’s what will happen when you take the time to declutter your home and your workspace. You’ll feel calmer and more relaxed. You’ll have more focus. Most importantly, your anxiety will start to disappear, along with all those possessions you didn’t really want or need to begin with.
I briefly touched on this in the last section, but it bears repeating. Decluttering your living and work space helps you focus. You won’t be distracted by that stack of bills you know needs to be paid, or those files that should be put away. You won’t waste valuable brain space on keeping track of everything around you. Instead, you’ll be able to focus and concentrate on the things you want to work on.
As an added benefit, it will be easy to find what you actually need. That one bill that needs to be paid will no longer be hiding in a huge pile of mail. The blue shirt you want to wear for an important interview won’t be stuck in a deep corner of your closet or the bottom of the hamper. When you declutter and work with much less stuff, finding the key things you need at any given moment becomes quick and easy. As a result, you can get back to what you were focusing on more quickly.
Something that may surprise you is that decluttering will improve your sleep quality. This is particularly true when you start to work on your bedroom. Go through that closet, get the clothes off the floor, and clear off everything that’s accumulated on your night table and dresser.
You’ll be amazed at how much of a difference something as simple as cleaning up your bedroom will make. Take it a step further and take out anything you don’t really need in the room, including the TV. A minimalist approach is best when it comes to the room where you’re supposed to get a good-night-sleep. The end result is that you’re able to fall asleep faster and stay asleep through the night in your new, clutter-free bedroom. Bonus points if you can bring yourself to leave the phone in the living room overnight.
Nothing puts a damper on your creativity faster than having to stop to go hunt down some supplies, tools, or information. It’s even worse when you have to dig through pile after pile of things that have accumulated on your desk. When inspiration strikes, you want to be able to tap into that creative zone where time flies and you’re having fun. Don’t let your clutter and disorganization pull you out of that zone.
Decluttering will help you avoid this, but it goes deeper than that. Once you’ve created a clean work and living environment for yourself, don’t be surprised to see a big spike in your creativity along with your productivity. Getting rid of things you don’t really need or want, and not having to stare at them day in and day out, frees up your brain to pursue other ideas. That’s where all that new-found creative juice is coming from.
It shouldn’t come as a big surprise that decluttering saves you time. The biggest time saving is because you’re no longer digging around for the one thing you actually need. But it doesn’t stop there. Having fewer possessions and less things taking up counter space – for example – makes it quicker and easier to clean your home or office.
Next, let’s look at how decluttering can save and even make you money. Like the time savings, this works on a few different levels. The first is probably the most obvious. When you can find what you need, you’re less likely to buy the same item again. This happens more often than you may realize. With lots of clutter, we often don’t realize what we have and either end up buying the same item multiple times, or are forced to buy something again simply because we can’t find the original item.
Next, when you start to declutter, look through the items you’re purging and see what could be sold instead of being donated or thrown away. There is a surprising amount of stuff that you can quickly sell and make a few bucks. Look at Craigslist, eBay, and the Facebook Marketplace. Or go old-school and hold a yard sale on a Saturday. In other words, turn your unwanted stuff into a bit of extra cash.
Last but not least, you’ll be more productive and creative in a less cluttered environment as we’ve previously established. This in turn results in more money in addition to free time.
Let’s wrap up this section on the benefits of decluttering with my personal favorite. When you have less stuff sitting around, it becomes much easier to clean. Picture two different living rooms. One with carpet, rugs, plenty of furniture, and every surface littered with knick-knacks, photos, books, magazines, and the likes. There are plenty of throw pillows on the couch and a stack of blankets. Now imagine a living room with a few key pieces of furniture, wooden floors, and one rug to make it comfortable. The blanket is stored in an ottoman and there are only a few treasured possessions sitting on the shelf and table. Now imagine cleaning each of those rooms top to bottom. Things will go much faster in the decluttered room. There’s less to dust, less to move, and you’ll be done in a fraction of the time it will take you to deep clean the first room.
The same holds true for every single room in your house. You will notice it in the kitchen as you start to declutter. When you don’t have a lot of dishes, pots, and pans, you’re more likely to clean as you go. You won’t find a stack of dishes piled in the sink, or pots sitting on the stove with caked on food that take forever to clean. Even laundry is easier, though likely more frequent when you own less.
Let’s not forget about digital clutter and cleaning up after it. Wrapping up a project or organizing your family photos from a recent trip is much easier when you don’t have to wade through file after file of random stuff you’ve saved on your computer “just in case.” As an added bonus, your digital devices will run much faster and smoother without being cluttered with files you don’t really need or care about.
I hope by now I have you convinced that decluttering is a great idea and you’re ready to embrace the declutter mind-set. Go ahead and jump into the process of eliminating things you no longer need. Come back to this section whenever you need a little extra motivation and read on for plenty of hands-on tips and advice to make the process go more smoothly.
When you first start to declutter, things are going great. You feel energized and you are highly motivated. Tackling a big pile of clothes, magazines, or dishes is an exciting sight to behold. You go through the items quickly, sorting them into keepers and things to get rid of. Unfortunately, this honeymoon phase of decluttering doesn’t last very long. Making decisions is mentally exhausting. Lugging piles of books and clothes around is physically taxing. Before long, you start to think that this isn’t nearly as good of an idea as it seemed. That’s where you’re wrong. It is a great idea and a worthwhile goal. You’re just starting to get burnt out.
Let’s look at some simple things you can do to keep from getting overwhelmed and more importantly to prevent that dreaded burnout.
It’s easy to get burnt out when you start to think about everything you need to go through and how long this entire process may take. Instead of focusing on the big picture and what you would like your house or your office to look like by the time you’re done with the initial declutter, set yourself small daily goals.
This could be to declutter 10 items per day for the next month. Or you could pick a different area to sort through on a given day. The important part is that you set yourself a daily goal – ideally the night before – that you can comfortably accomplish.
Burnout usually happens when we try to do too much at once and end up completely overwhelmed. Setting daily goals will help with this. Don’t try to do too much all at once. Focus on one small area or one set of tasks at a time.
For example, don’t start to pull out all your clothes and dump them on the bed. The task of sorting through everything at once before you can call it a day can make you want to quit before you even start. Instead, pick one drawer of your dresser or one type of clothes from your closet (all your t-shirts for example) and finish that before moving on to the next task.
When you make small daily progress, it can seem like you’re not making much progress. Start taking before and after pictures, keep track of how many items you’ve discarded total, or simply count the bags and boxes of things you’re taking to be donated or thrown away. Write it down, print it out, and post the progress you’re making somewhere that you see it frequently. It will keep you motivated to keep going.
Accountability partners work. Find someone else who is trying to declutter and check in with each other. Knowing your friend is counting on you to stay motivated can be very helpful. You can check in weekly or even daily and report on progress made.
If you live close to each other, it can also help to declutter together. Invite your friend over to help you sort through your closet and return the favor the following week.
If you can brief them beforehand about what you’re doing and what your goal is, do that. If you can find someone who has similar goals, or has done a big declutter themselves, even better. The main thing is that you want someone who will support and encourage you. Having a friend there looking over your shoulder will help you make the most of the time you’ve set aside for decluttering.
This brings up another good point. Put a time limit on your time together. Ask your friend how much time he or she has to give. You don’t want to take advantage, and to be honest, decluttering will take as much time as you give it. If you have two hours to declutter your closet, it will take two hours. If you have two days, it will take two days. Be aware of the time your friend is sharing with you and make the most of it.
Having another person there with a second pair of eyes can help in the decision-making progress. You can ask them for feedback on an item. I find this particularly helpful when it comes to clothing. It’s nice to have someone there to tell you to get rid of a skirt, a dress, or a pair of pants because they don’t look great on you.
This tip is also about avoiding overwhelm, and as a bonus, it will help you see the progress you’re making. Instead of decluttering all over the place, start with one room. Pick one that seems easy and fun. Go through everything in that room before moving on to the next. Whenever you start to feel burnt out, walk into one of the rooms that you’ve already done and revel in your accomplishment.
Here’s a quick tip that works to keep me motivated every single time. Pick a task, grab your phone or your kitchen timer, and set yourself a tight deadline. Short time frames like 20 to 30 minutes works best. Set that time and get to work.
The goal is to work as fast and furious as you can until the timer goes off. Don’t second guess yourself. Don’t stop to check Facebook or get a cup of coffee. Concentrate on decluttering for 20 minutes. Then take a break. Rinse and repeat as often as you like until you meet your daily goal.
If you’re feeling a bit burnt out and can’t seem to make yourself get to work decluttering, bribe yourself. Tell yourself that you can relax on the couch with a good book or enjoy that special candy bar you’ve been saving when the daily declutter task is done, but not before. Play around with different types of bribes until you find what motivates you to get stuff done.
What do you do when you feel completely burnt out from work? You take a break. You take a day off, or even better, you go on vacation and come back refreshed and ready to go. The same holds true for decluttering. It’s often a good idea to take a break if you’ve been at it for a while. One word of caution though. Don’t let the break stretch into weeks and months. Set yourself a deadline of when you’ll start back up. Put it on your calendar. Set a reminder on your phone. As a friend or family member to hold you accountable for getting back to the important task of decluttering.
Last but not least, when you’re feeling completely burnt out and overwhelmed, consider hiring a professional organizer. This person can walk you through the process, keep you motivated, and most importantly, hold you accountable to get it done. This isn’t an option for everyone, but worth mentioning. There’s a reason it’s one of the hottest emerging service industries.
This is by no means an exclusive list of tips to keep you motivated, but it’s a start. Try each of them and see what works and what doesn’t work for you. With time, you’ll come up with other ways to keep yourself motivated. Above all, remember that all this hard decluttering work is just temporary. There is light at the end of the tunnel and before you know it, you’ll have a clean and organized home to spend your time in surrounded by things you love and cherish.
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