Decluttering can feel impossible, even with dedicated books and blogs and videos. Try a few of these realistic tips to downsize and declutter – helping you create a peaceful home.
Have you ever felt like a slave to stuff?
- You work hard to buy all the things.
- Then you spend more time to care for all the things – arranging, cleaning, moving and purging.
- And then you have to work harder. Because there’s constantly more stuff to buy.
I have been there. I have felt overhwelmed by all the stuff, too.
But over the past three years, our household has gone through a bit of a “stuff” awakening.
Overall, we have (far) less things. Our home has a lot more margin. (And it’s basically the same size as our last house – so it’s not because we have more space to fill.)
But more importantly, we’re better now at keeping the excess under control. That means getting rid of things we don’t need and curbing the desire to bring more things into our home.
You don’t have to be a hoarder to feel the desire to declutter or downsize. You don’t have to be moving, either. You can embrace the spirit of downsizing everyday. You can embrace minimalist without being a card-carrying, white-walls, no-stuff minimalist. That’s not me. And that doesn’t have to be you, either. (And if it is you, go on with your bad self. You be you.)
Today, I’m sharing a few of our best tips to declutter your home. There are thousands of books and blog posts you could read on this subject. (I’ve read lots of them, too.) But I’m going to focus on what worked best for our family – real-life people who just wanted – and got – a more peaceful home through decluttering.
I promise your home will thank you for the space to breathe – and you will thank yourself for giving yourself a little breather, too. Because who really wants to be controlled by their stuff? (Answer: Nobody.)
When you are getting rid of things, it can be hard to think about the big picture. You are only thinking about the very specific item you are holding in your hands. There may be a sentimental attachment. There may be fear.
But think about what you will accomplish by decluttering. Maybe you are clearing out space for storage you desperately need. Or maybe you are stressed and can’t even keep a space clean because of all the toys on the floor. Or maybe by selling some of these items, your budget could get a needed boost.
Some other examples:
By getting rid of clothes … you are freeing up room in your closet so you can actually see your favorite items and get dressed more easily in the morning.
By getting rid of kitchen gadgets … you are freeing up space that helps make your time in your kitchen less stressful.
By getting rid of toys … you are creating a space that is more conducive to play – instead of being overwhelmed by the mess and options.
We all know that life isn’t about the stuff. But sometimes, it’s hard to remember that when you are downsizing. Think about the big picture – it will help you get through the tough moments.
Try something radical.
There’s something a bit stressful about feeling chained to stuff. We want a beautiful space filled with beautiful things.
Until we don’t.
This is how I felt in our last house. So when we moved to the barn apartment, it was an opportunity to make a radical change. We purged a lot of our stuff and stored the rest in my parents’ barn. And we lived without 90 percent of our “stuff” for 18 months.
There was only room for our very favorite tchochkes, our very favorite artwork, our very favorite clothes, and our very favorite holiday decor.
But living with less was a total, incredible mind shift.
And by the time we moved into our new house, the things we had in storage only filled one small trailer. (That included the vast majority of our furniture.) And we could move into the house in the matter of a few hours.
(This was not the case the last time we moved. We had truckload after truckload of boxes and it was horrible.)
Maybe you aren’t going to put all your belongings in storage. Maybe you aren’t going to live in 320-square-feet. (It’s not all roses.) But that doesn’t mean you can’t do something radical to kickstart your decluttering. Doing doing something crazy will truly get you started on the right foot. (A few of those radical ideas below.)
Begin with your biggest pain point.
There are hundreds of places you could begin. You could start with your clothing, your kids’ toys or your paperwork. Honestly, I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all answer.
But I do think you should start with somewhere that’ll have the biggest bang for your decluttering buck.
If all of your closets are overflowing, start there. If your kitchen cupboards won’t close because they are jam-packed, start there. And by starting somewhere that needs serious help, you’ll make a larger impact. Which will give you momentum as you move onto other areas.
Touch everything as you make a decision.
If you want to really declutter, you have to look and touch everything. This takes time. It’s much easier to open your closet and deem that everything stays. Wave your wand and move on.
But if you deem that everything stays, you aren’t making progress.
We ran into this when we were going through storage bins in our basement. It was easy to pull off the lid and say, “Yes. We want to keep all these photos/collectibles/books.” But when we actually took everything out and looked, we realized there was plenty of junk in there, too. We could stand to get rid of a lot of the stuff and keep only the best.
(It also gave us a chance to decide whether we could scan items to mean less storage.)
It’s true that everything is going to get worse before it gets better. Allow yourself some time. And then take everything out of the closet/cupboard/plastic storage bin. And as you work through each item, make a decision – will you keep it or get rid of it?
You can make piles, you can create zones, you can ask yourself if it sparks joy. Do whatever you want to make this sorting process easier. But touch everything and make a decision – does it stay or go?
Some of this will be easy. But if you come across items that you aren’t sure about …
Store it away before you give it away.
I think the biggest fear people have is FOMO (fear of missing out). “What if I need that someday? What if I regret getting rid of it? What if I can sell it later?”
Don’t allow yourself to live in a constant state of fear about stuff. I have gotten rid of an embarrassing amount of things over the past few years. And I really can’t think of a single time I wish I hadn’t got rid of something. Not at all.
I don’t even remember most of what I got rid of. (That’s embarrassing to admit.) And guess what? If I did wish that, there’s a wonderful service called Amazon Prime.
If you are worried about FOMO, try something crazy. Store away some things before you get rid of them for good. I’ve done this for clothing, decorative items, kitchen gadgets and toys. This is a low-stress way to ease into downsizing and decluttering. It also makes you more likely to store away an “iffy” item – one that you may have kept if you were immediately driving it to Goodwill.
Focus on the items you never seem to use, although you technically still “like.” I love doing this with clothes, because I seem to have the hardest time parting with clothes I never wear. Store the tubs in your basement or garage or even in the back of your closet. Somewhere you still could get to them if you have a panic attack and realize you need that sequined tank dress immediately.
Then set a calendar alert for a month or two or six.
If you are anything like me, you may just find that you don’t need these items at all. This process helped me get rid of more than half of my wardrobe and about an ungodly amount of toys, kids’ clothes and holiday decor – and I couldn’t be happier. No FOMO here, my friends.
(And if you are worried about the money you spent – try selling items. I have made hundreds of dollars in the past six months selling clothing items on Poshmark. It’s been an easy way to get rid of items I never wear with zero FOMO.)
Give yourself a time limit.
Similarly to FOMO mentality, don’t allow yourself to store things indefinitely.
For example, when I decorate for the holidays, it can be really easy to just keep half of the items in storage, “in case” I want them next year. Now, if I don’t use the holiday decoration one year, it’s donated or sold – immediately. No justifying. No whining.
If I don’t love the items enough to use them once a year, I don’t love them enough to store them. (Remember – I’ve never wished I’d have kept something I gave away.)
This means that I may give away things I actually really like. That’s okay. That’s good. We can’t keep all the things we sort of like. Life isn’t a contest to have the most stuff.
And as an added bonus, I love giving or selling these items to people who love them more than I do. It’s a gift to them and me.
Limit the storage.
Once we moved into the new house, we allocated a part of the basement to storage shelves for bins. It provided a lot of storage. (Maybe more than you can even imagine having.) This is mostly the area we use for holiday decor, but also for the sentimental tubs of photos, childhood collections, and mementos.
But while it’s a big space – it’s really only half the size of our basement storage in the last house. (Which was overpacked and messy and seriously full of so much garbage. I’m humiliated that we filled that much space.)
By limiting our space, we made ourselves look extra hard at what we were keeping. While we may have gotten rid of a lot of stuff, there was still plenty left. So, we went through the boxes (again) and tried to limit the number of boxes.
Then, I labeled everything and organized it. It actually looks intentional. In the end, we actually had more than enough space.
Decluttering isn’t all or nothing.
Guess what? I can’t bear to get rid of my American Girl dolls my grandma gave me. They are safely stored in a box. And I can’t even consider selling them or donating them.
Call me selfish. Call me crazy. Call me spoiled.
I keep them.
Ryan has a giant bin of his kid collections – he has downsized and we have organized. But I’m not going to make him get rid of his California Raisin collection. Or his baseball cards. Or his stamps. (I can’t even make this up.)
He keeps them.
Decluttering and downsizing is what you make it. There’s no rule saying you have to get rid of everything. You make the rules. Give yourself the grace to make decisions for your own home.
And just start somewhere.
You may found that finding a little margin in one area will give you the motivation to start on that next, big ugly project. (For us – we still need to deal with all the tools. And toys. Again. #Christmas)
Be cautious about what you bring into your home.
While living temporarily in a small space was a great experience, I was more than ready for a little more breathing room. I looked forward to a bedroom and a giant sofa and lots of kitchen storage and display space.
Now that we are in a space that is almost five times that of our barn, I’m not ready to overfill it with all the stuff again. I know what can happen – when you feel like your full-time job is to care for your stuff.
So, I intentionally limit my shopping. I rarely go to Target anymore. I very seldom roam mall or shopping centers. When I do shop, I try to start with local stores where I know I’ll find unique, quality items that I will enjoy for a long time. (Plus I just love my local haunts.) Or I just order online and have what I need delivered to my door.
That doesn’t mean I never buy anything. At all.
But it does mean I’m more cautious than ever about what I bring into my home. And I find that what I do buy is more loved than all the junk I used to bring home without a care. Also, if I bring home something large, it may mean that something else has to go.
It’s totally worth it.
I wish that you could do this overnight. I wish you could spend a few easily hours sipping wine and end up with a radically simplified home. (Maybe you can. But I couldn’t.)
In many cases, there’s work involved. There are dusty boxes to look through. There are tough decisions to make. There may even be some emotional or budget issues to resolve in the process.
And many times, it’s an ongoing process.
But like lots of hard things, the work is totally worth it.
There are moments that I feel myself sliding back into the “want-it-all” mentality. Only now, I know that no amount of stuff is worth the cost. Because it is true that your home can bring you stress or it can bring you peace.
I choose peace. Every single time.
What is the biggest thing in your life standing in the way of a decluttered home?
P.S. I love Sarah’s post about going through the Konmari method and how much more she loves her home as a result of decluttering. (I also love all the empty drawers and cabinets she has now. How awesome is that?)
P.P.S. Looking for quick and simple places to begin? Start with these five-minute decluttering activities from Zenhabits.
P.P.P.S. If you want to dig into a book about the process, I recommend The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. A few others on my nightstand to read this winter – Seven, Spark Joy, and The Joy of Less. (*affiliate links*)
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