21 Popular Decluttering Methods & Philosophies to Change Your Space AND Your Life
Anyone who has ever tried to get their home in order knows that it's not easy. As Americans we really like our STUFF. We buy things, collect things, keep things and then form our identities around them.
There are lots of psychological reasons for these attachments which make letting go of our belongings a challenge. If you're one of the millions of people awakening to the value of your home environment and ready to take on that journey, it can be daunting knowing where to start.
Rest assured, there is no wrong way to start. Just GO FOR IT. You may be surprised how good it makes you feel. Everyone will have a different method to their madness. Check out the strategies and tips below, many from established celebrity professional organizers. Which one resonates most with you?
“Our contribution to the progress of the world must, therefore, consist in setting our own house in order.”
A militant-minimalist approach with a soulful twist. Divide your belongings into 5 categories (clothes, kitchen, books, paper, sentimental and "miscellaneous") by putting like with like. Going item by item and type by type can allow you to see the big picture of what you have and widdle it down from there. Everything in your home should spark joy when you touch it. If it doesn't, thank it and let it go.
The “Only Handle It Once” rule is best for controlling unnecessary and wasteful items that are constantly entering the home such as junk mail, freebies, cheap toys from kids’ birthday parties. Create systems in your life where these items are only touched once before being placed in their proper home (the trash), or better yet - prevent them from entering the home altogether.
This method was promoted by the Minimal Mom as a simple way to declutter even after your primary decluttering sweep. It involves categorizing items into three types: First, the things that are easy for us to part with because they don't make logical sense to keep. Second, the items that are obvious to keep - items you frequently use. And then between these two spectrums is the challenging "grey area" where you frequently get held up in questioning or doubt. For this category use the motto "if it's not a clear YES, it's a no".
This approach involves working in bursts, especially focused in "hot spots" where clutter or messes accumulate. Using a timer, operate in intervals of 15-20 minute sprints each the day, and at the end of the week (or year), you will have fully re-invented your space. This helps prevent burnout, and still
Coined by Joshua of The Minimalists, this style focuses on room-by-room decluttering, starting with the easiest, most lived-in, most high-traffic areas first. When you begin this way, you’ll immediately notice the benefits of your decluttered spaces, which will motivate you to work on more difficult areas.
This strategy breaks down the decluttering process just 5 easy steps: 1) Empty the space completely (as if you're moving/relocating) 2) Create a vision for the room and Declare your intention 3. Divide your belongings into two piles "meets vision" or "does not meet vision" vision. 4) Discard what does not fit the room's purpose and discard (donate or trash) them immediately. 5) Return the "must keep" items to your room to complete your vision.
Leo Babauta, longtime writer at Zen Habits, offers a comprehensive guide to creating a minimalist home. There are three compelling benefits Leo mentions about having a more minimalist home: it’s less stressful and more calming, it’s more appealing, and it’s easier to clean. What does a minimalist home look like? Only essential furniture, surfaces and countertops kept clear and not for storage, and choosing decor based on quality over quantity.
Professional Colleen Madsen recommends remove 1 item a day for a year. By giving away, selling or throwing away only one thing every day, you'll avoid the feeling of overwhelming, reap the rewards and likely continue the process for years to come.
Don't forget about decluttering your schedule too! Tim Ferriss, author of The Four Hour Workweek, stands by his philosophy of quality over clutter and encourages readers to let go of most items and activities on your to-do list. Imagine what it would feel like to let go of your most life-depleting obligations. It calls for getting serious about your values and choices, making bold decisions and setting clear boundaries for how you use your time, money, and energy. Challenge yourself to short-list and prioritize the projects in your life by fifty percent. and watch your productivity and happiness soar.
The Technological Method
If you’re a phone addict and looking for a decluttering philosophy and roadmap in the palm of your hand, check out the Clutterfree App. It is the first app to create a personalized, room-by-room decluttering to-do list for your home. It will even track your progress, unlock achievements, document donations, and allow you to compare before and after photos. The app also includes motivational articles and bonus content from some of the world’s top organizing experts.
The Social Method
This method aims to make decluttering more fun and enjoyable by involving friends to help. It always helps to have the input and second opinion of others, and the man-power can really speed up the process. Order food for the group and get to work! Some ideas include:
A Mock Moving Party. Ask friends to help you pack all of your possessions into boxes as if you were relocating. After everyone leaves the party, remove items from your boxes only as you actually need them. After several weeks, you’ll find most of your belongings are still packed away in boxes and at that point you can donate, sell, or discard them. Because they’re already packed, you’ll find it much easier to part with it!
A Clothing 'Swap'. Invite friends to bring their unwanted clothes (and/or housewares) and instead of swapping, make a vow to not take anyting new home. Commit to giving it away, as sometimes knowing it is still "in your network" and in good hands can make it easier to part with items. Whatever clothes are left unclaimed at the part can be taken to consignment or donation.
A Group Yard Sale. Host a group yard sale with neighbors or friends. Remember to price items less than half of what you would pay for new. Many experienced yard sale shoppers won't buy unless there are significant deals, so if you're serious about decluttering, price to sell with the intention of owning less, not to make money.
The Unstructured Method
While a defined system with a clear start and end is more likely to yield success, there is no one size fits all approach to decluttering. In fact, many times, you may feel that you like to mix and match different framework based on the season, mood, or life stage. You can choose to create your own unique style, or even to have no rhyme or reason at all. Here are a few more casual strategies that can be your beacon in that case:
The One-Year Question: What do you have in your home that you haven't used or worn in more than 365 days? There's probably a lot of stuff where you tell yourself "one day I'll use that" but in reality, you're probably not going to. Be honest with yourself about what truly adds consistent value to your life.
The Capsule Wardrobe: Imagine a closet filled with only your favorite, mix and match basics. To get there, imagine you're going on a backpacking trip to Europe, or a to a tropical island and you can only carry a very small amount of luggage or clothing. Look at each item in your closet and simply. ask yourself "Would I wear this three times in one week?"
A Place for Everything, And Everything In It's Place: Except for rare instances you shouldn’t buy or keep more stuff than your space will hold. Many times this means stopping shopping, or purging before buying or bringing on something new.
The Rules of Threes: Look at everything you own under the lenses of three. First, when deciding, only keep belongings that you (actively) NEED, (regularly) USE, or (genuinely) LOVE. Another perspective: what to GIVE away, THROW away or PUT away.
Less is Always More: If you approach life as the editing process never-ending term paper, you'll eventually train yourself to always look closely at the details. You'll remove duplicates, take out unnecessary language or fluff, and make sure every single "word" counts. Less IS more.
Look Down or Ahead, Not Back: Stay in the present and understand that what you keep from yesterday has the power to hold you back from living in today. While always easier said than done, parting with items that hold negative sentiments or associations from the past is paramount from a Feng Shui perspective. These reminders hold weak Chi which will only increase feelings of heaviness or stagnation. Focus on the future, creating the space- and LIFE- that will attract joy and prosperity.
See The Reality: No one enjoys wasting, but this aversion is often what holds people back and prevents them from moving forward. These beliefs, while true and with good intention, ultimately do not serve us. They are based in a mindset of scarcity or lack, fear and insecurity. With a more positive perspective of abundance we will realize the reality: that more often that not, most things are replaceable if needed.
You Are Not Your Stuff: While challenging, it is helpful to emotionally disassociate from the decluttering process. Remember this: You are not defined by what you keep, or what you let go. You are a soul in a body. You are worthy of greatness and you deserve supreme happiness.
Go At Your Own Pace: It's your life and therefore YOU get to choose what, when and how you part with your belongings. Some people gravitate towards an all-or-nothing purge while other prefer a slow progress of gradual decluttering. Whatever pace and process you choose, it's about the destination, not the journey: a life of simplicity and pure joy awaits.
Start Small. It's easy to ignore tiny clutter (paperclips, magnets, sock drawers and more) because it doesn't take up a lot of space. But this visual clutter adds up and can create the same heaviness as the larger clutter.
The Hire An Expert Method
Many people don't have the desire or motivation to declutter by themselves. If you or someone in your family is having a hard time starting or finishing a home organization task know that there are lots of experts willing to help. Look for your local "match" on the sites below:
Neat Method Consultants
There should be no stigma or remorse in enlisting the help of an a professional. Investing in your home is an investment in your health. It is going to be a challenge no matter what (one that can't be avoided) but worth every penny.
No matter which approach you take, you’ll quickly discover the benefits of decluttering your home, inside AND out. Creating a life of balance and harmony will extend out to your family, community and beyond. Decluttering is truly one step closer towards a better world.
Did I miss anything? Let me know!
Love, Light (and LESS),
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