It’s that time of year again — when we all reevaluate our lifestyles to create new goals, habits or intentions for the new year ahead. Many are saying “enough is enough” as they stare down a packed closet, cluttered living room or unorganized basement. So this is a common time to declutter or simplify the home — creating a clean slate in which to feel inspired, calm and ready to tackle another year.
If you are amongst those decluttering their homes, you may feel overwhelmed or even a bit helpless. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Use our list of tried-and-true tips and tricks to help you navigate this challenge with ease. There’s no one way to do it, but there are several ways you can make the simplification process a little…simpler.
1. Get Inspired
Before you start the decluttering process, it’s important to understand why you even want to reduce clutter in the first place. In the last several years, minimalism has taken the world by storm and as a result, there are plenty of resources filled with personal stories, tips and tricks, and most importantly, the many reasons for simplifying. Watch Minimalism or Less Is Now on Netflix (both produced by The Minimalists), read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up or The More of Less by Joshua Becker, or binge a few podcast episodes about minimalism, like The Minimalists Podcast. It’s important to lay the foundation of “why” to inspire you to make a change in your life.
2. Set Aside an Entire Weekend
You may assume you can declutter your entire home in an afternoon, but it typically takes longer than you think it will. Set aside an entire weekend to thoroughly address each space in your home — and try to not drag it out beyond that timeframe! This helps you have a self-imposed deadline to meet, so you aren’t living in unresolved clutter for weeks on end. Fuel up with lots of coffee, blast some upbeat music, and put on some workout clothes and tennis shoes to keep you moving.
3. Be Prepared With Supplies + a System
Set up a system before you get started. This typically includes a collection of boxes or bags labeled as “keep,” “sell,” “donate” or “toss.” Make a commitment to place all items inside the boxes or bags to keep everything separate. And if space allows, keep all designated piles in your home until the very end — there’s something so gratifying about seeing the items you are parting with all piled up in one place. You’ll feel a great sense of accomplishment!
4. Get Your Friends or Family Involved
You know what they say — many hands make light work! It’s certainly true with decluttering, as the task can seem overwhelming when tackled alone. Invite your friends or family members to help, to both lighten the load and help you make decisions. Having others around helps keep you accountable to stay moving and provides opinions on some of those items you are having a hard time parting with.
5. Host a “Packing Party” (For a More Extreme Approach)
If you’re looking for a more extreme approach to decluttering, consider hosting a packing party! Ryan Nicodemus of The Minimalists coined this term when he hosted one of his own, inviting his friends to help him pack away every single one of his belongings as if he was moving. After each box was packed and labeled, he spent the next 21 days removing only the essentials he needed to live — his toothbrush, bed and bedsheets, clothes for work, kitchen utensils, etc. And after three weeks, 80% of his belongings remained in boxes. Ryan then sold or donated all of it.
You could implement a scaled down version of this, or pick a specific category to “pack,” like your clothing or kitchen utensils. For clothing, you could extend the period to several months to allow for the change in seasons!
6. Declutter by Category, Not by Room
Many encourage going room by room, drawer by drawer, or closet by closet when decluttering. This simply doesn’t allow you to get a full picture or what you’re working with. But when you see a towering pile of a single item, you know just how much you have of it. As you work through each category (like shoes, clothing, books, kitchen utensils, children’s toys, sporting equipment, etc.), go throughout the house and grab everything that falls under that umbrella and bring it together in one area. This allows you to make more informed decisions about what you truly need within that category. Plus, the initial shock of seeing it all piled up can inspire you to be a bit more brutal!
7. Start With the Easiest Categories
As you go category by category, be strategic about the order in which you work. Don’t start with the most overwhelming category, like sentimental items including journals, letters, yearbooks or souvenirs. You’ll quickly get sucked into reminiscing and nothing will feel worthy of parting with. Instead, start with less weighty categories, like kids toys or kitchen accessories. You’ll slowly build up momentum and expertise as you go, so when you reach the tougher categories, you’ll have an easier time making decisions.
8. Use the 90/90 Rule
There are several “rules” in the minimalism world you could implement to help you make a decision when you pick up an item to decide its fate. One of them is the 90/90 rule, which asks the questions “Have you used this in the last 90 days?” and “If not, will you use it in the next 90?” If the answer is no to both, it’s time to let it go. You could reduce or extend that number to whatever fits your lifestyle — the important thing is to think logically about how much you actually use your belongings.
9. Utilize the “One Touch” Rule
As you declutter, it’s tempting to toss things in a “maybe” or “uncertain” pile. Make it a point to touch something just once — and choose its fate right away as worthy of keeping, donating, selling or tossing. This helps you move quickly through your clutter, making a gut decision and vowing to touch each item just once.
10. Ditch Any Duplicates
A quick, sure-fire way to reduce clutter is to simply remove any duplicates from your home. This means choosing between those two (or maybe three!) can openers you have, donating one of those identical sweaters in your closet, or saying goodbye to the old, damaged sneakers you’ve kept around that look exactly like your new ones. We have a tendency to hoard duplicates, assuming one might fail or we’ll somehow need both at the same time. But in the end, we’re just creating more clutter!
11. Eliminate “Just in Case” Items
Similarly, we all have a tendency to keep things around “just in case.” But more often than not, we don’t end up needing these items, and if we do, there’s a good chance we can replace them at that point. And we don’t have to worry about storing them in the meantime. There’s another “rule” that helps with the “just in case” dilemma — the 20/20 rule. This says that if an item could be replaced for less than $20 and in less than 20 minutes, it can go.
12. Reduce Hangers + Don’t Buy More
Closets are a common place to gather excess, and oftentimes, we end up only wearing a small percentage of our clothing. After you go through your closet (again, piling it all up in one place, or even in separate piles of each type of clothing), get rid of the excess hangers — or at least a large majority of them. Then, vow to not buy more hangers as you buy more clothes in the future. This forces you to constantly reevaluate your clothing, as you’re forced to donate unwanted pieces once you run out of hangers.
13. Digitize Important Documents
Paper clutter can be a major hurdle during the decluttering process. Transform important paperwork into a digital file, which is much easier to access and takes up way less space. Apps like Dropbox allow you to scan a document and turn it into a PDF right from your phone. Be sure to back up these important files by storing them in several places, including an external hard drive!
14. Take Photos of Larger Sentimental Items
Do you have some larger, sentimental items taking up space in your attic or basement? You can hang onto them in your memory without actually hanging onto them. Consider taking pictures of these items to trigger happy memories and donating or selling them so someone else can enjoy them. You could even turn items into something you can use and cherish, like turning t-shirts from a loved one who has passed into a beautiful quilt.
15. When in Doubt, Throw It Out
At the end of the day, if you’re having doubts about a particular item, there’s a good chance it’s time to part with it. Keep “when in doubt, throw it out” at the forefront of your mind as you’re going through the process. Oftentimes, your gut is the most powerful voice to listen to when your heart and mind tend to lead the way.
16. Donate, Sell or Toss Right Away
When you’ve completed your decluttering journey, you’ll likely be faced with bags and boxes of items ready to be donated, sold or thrown away. Make it a priority to remove these items from your home immediately, to feel the full effects of simplification and prevent you from reintroducing these items into your home. Take a trip to your local thrift store or the dump right away — don’t put it off!
Consider taking your “donate” bags to The Ann Arbor Thrift Shop, which accepts used clothing, jewelry, shoes, books, household goods, antiques and small appliances. Plus, proceeds at the thrift store directly support community service organizations and social service agencies in the Ann Arbor area!
Above all, envision how you’ll feel when it’s all said and done. There’s nothing more empowering and satisfying than living in a clean, clutter-free space filled with only the items you use and love.
What decluttering tips do you have? Share them in the comments below!