how to declutter

How to Declutter Your Home and Beat Stuffocation Stagnation (+ How to Declutter Your Life!)

If your home is a mess and you have too much clutter, your health is at risk. So is your wallet.

study shows that 84% of stressed out Americans say their homes aren’t organized or clean enough. Of those people, 55% say that it’s a source of recent stress.

If you’re like most of us, your home has lots of junk you don’t use anymore. But you spend time cleaning and organizing don’t you?

Maybe you have a closet, attic, or spare room that you jam with stuff you don’t know what to do with. Then there’s the kitchen table.

Ah, the infamous junk collector. In the past I would use the kitchen table to pile mail, lunch bags, and anything else that was easy to drop off.

declutter dirty dishes

Laundry piles, dusty window ledges, and a sink loaded with dirty dishes. This is all clutter.

In this post I’ll teach you how to declutter and get rid of all the crap you don’t need. You’ll save yourself from unhappiness and stress, and even make a little money on the side.

What is clutter and where did it come from?

declutter a messy house

First, let’s define “clutter”. Peter Walsh, an organizational expert, says there are 2 types of clutter:

  1. Memory clutter – stuff that reminds you of important events
  2. Someday clutter – stuff you won’t throw away because you might need it one day

James Wallman, author of Stuffocation: Why We’ve Had Enough of Stuff and Need Experience More Than Ever, discusses where all our “stuff” came from. Simply put, it’s in our DNA.

We’ve evolved to be aware of the threat of scarce resources. Thus, gathering “stuff” was important.

But in today’s day and age, everything is mass-produced. We can get whatever we want, as fast as we want it.

There’s no need to worry about things like food and material possessions being available. Yet we’ve hung on to this mindset for some reason.

Instead of getting rid of things, we buy organizers, bins, and shelving to just move the stuff around. This isn’t decluttering, it’s re-cluttering.

When we finally get the nerve to get rid of things, we can’t seem to get rid of it all, can we? Instead, we develop emotional attachments and make excuses to hold on to them.

This constant cycle is creating more mess, more stress, and less time and money for us. It’s time to break away from the habit and start decluttering.

Further reading: The Reason You’re in Love With Material Possessions? Loneliness

How your “stuff” affects your health (and your wallet)

stressed out by clutter

According to Sherrie Bourg Carter, Psy.D., clutter has a bunch of negative consequences. Having clutter in our homes can cause things like:

  • information overload
  • inability to relax
  • anxiety
  • lack of productivity

Imagine the impact things like anxiety and information overload have on your spending habits. Scientists even found a correlation between clutter and your ability to focus.

Clutter leads to stress. Stress leads to stress spending. Clutter isn’t a house problem, either. It’s a YOU problem.

The only person that can change the clutter in your home is you.

Further reading: Materialism Breeds Unhappiness

How to declutter to clear your mind (and stuff your wallet)

1. Change your mindset

Before you even attempt to declutter, you have to be willing to change your mindset.

Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, says the first thing you need to do is visualize what your ideal life and living space should look like.

Take me. One thing I love about traveling is walking into a clean and tidy hotel room. There isn’t any clutter and everything is neatly organized so I can get access to what I want, when I want.

This is how I visualize my living space. I want to walk in the door and have very few things to look at. I want everything tidy and clean. It makes me happy.

Another example might be for those of you who work from home. One way you might visualize your work space is a small table (instead of a large desk) with a single laptop on it – nothing more. Now that’s tidy.

A tidy environment is one that you can easily get to the stuff you need and want. That’s why it’s crucial you understand what it is you want.

Marie says you need to surround yourself with things you absolutely love and get rid of the things you don’t.

For example, don’t just re-purpose old clothes you dislike into pajamas. Get rid of them and focus on things that embody your new vision of a tidy living space.

Further reading: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

2. Get started

get started decluttering

Decluttering is very therapeutic. I know it’s not going to be easy getting rid of stuff you have an emotional attachment to. I’ve been there. But once you start to let go of stuff, it becomes addictive.

There are a bunch of ways you can go about decluttering, so I’ll just talk about the method that works for me.

First find three large boxes and one smaller box. If it’s nice outside, you can also spray paint four designated “areas” on your lawn. Just be warned, you might look like a hillbilly.

On each one of the three large boxes, write either “toss”, “give”, or “sell”. You’ll have one box for each. On the smaller box, write “keep”. See where this is going?

Marie Kondo says that you should focus on what you want to keep, not what you want to throw out. This doesn’t mean that your small “keep” box is overflowing with goodies.

It means you should focus energy on finding things that are truly important to you. She suggests asking yourself: “Does this make me happy? What’s its purpose?”

If the item doesn’t make you happy or serve a purpose, get rid of it. Once you’ve decided to get rid of something you need to pick a large box:

  • if you can sell the item, throw it in the sell box and try to sell it on Craigslist or eBay
  • if you can’t (or don’t want to) sell it, but someone else could get use from it, put it in the give box and take it to Goodwill or find someone to give it to
  • if it’s un-sellable and not in any condition that someone else would get value out of it, put it in the toss box and throw it away

I suggest really placing a focus on your give box. Fill that thing up. There’s something good about giving to someone in need who’s less fortunate than you are.

The least full box is your keep box. As I talked about above, your goal is to keep less, but keep what’s really important.

Further reading: Letting Go of Sentimental Items

3. Get organized

organize your closet

Once you’re able to declutter, it’s time to keep it that way by organizing effectively.

Marie has some clients that say they were born messy and there’s organization to their messy ways. She calls this out as an excuse and doesn’t buy it.

She thinks we need to get rid of this negative self-talk and instead try for perfection when tidying and organizing. The point is not only to get rid of stuff (and make a little money on the side). You’re potentially changing your mood… maybe even your way of living.

One suggestion Ms. Kondo gives is to start organizing your wardrobe first. She suggests organizing your clothes in a way that will make you happy. For instance, maybe arrange them by order of color, starting with the brightest.

You’ll have to find unique ways to organize your newly decluttered home. Do what works for you and what makes you happy. Just remember to stick to the vision you had of your new, more minimalistic lifestyle.

Further reading: 27 Great Tips to Keep Your Life Organized

Conclusion

ways to declutter

Fully decluttering your home is a huge task. It can seem overwhelming and impossible to do. But guess what? It’s normal.

Marie Kondo says that, on average, it takes her six months to declutter and tidy a client’s home.

So don’t rush it. Take it one day at a time. Fill up those boxes and get stuff out of your home regularly.

My suggestion is to do one room at a time. Ms. Kondo suggests not doing that, though, and instead decluttering by category. Again, do what works for you.

Once you’ve decluttered, you’ll give yourself piece of mind. You’ll feel like you can breathe again. You’ll hopefully also have a few more bucks in your pocket.

Next Steps

organize your home

Pick one day this week – just one – to declutter. It doesn’t have to be the full day, and it doesn’t have to be for long. Just pick a day and try it out.

The point of this isn’t to necessarily get your home decluttered, but moreso to get you in the frame of mind to start the decluttering process.

After you’ve done your trial period of decluttering, let me know how it went. Come back to this page and post an update on your decluttering event, and whether you’re going to continue with a full-blown declutter and why.

Good luck, and happy decluttering!

14 thoughts on “How to Declutter Your Home and Beat Stuffocation Stagnation (+ How to Declutter Your Life!)”

  1. I think keeping things tidy is crucial to keeping my brain sane. I do the one room at a time thing too, though sometimes I batch certain things to do all at once within a room. For example, paperwork, I tend to batch processing of documents for saving, scanning, or shredding but otherwise I’d do my office all at once.

    One other thing I struggle with is throwing stuff out because “I might need it later.” I just bite the bullet and toss it and it’s rarely come back to haunt me, so it reinforces the good behavior.

    1. Hey Jim – yeah the one room at a time thing seems to work for us too. One thing that The Minimalists suggest is putting all of your “stuff” in boxes for 21 days and pulling things out of the boxes as you need them. After 3 weeks, whatever is left in the box, get rid of it. If you haven’t touched it in 3 weeks, odds are you won’t need it for a while (if ever).

  2. It’s definitely been a huge process for me/us. I’m going slow to make it sustainable. The first floor should be done by the end of the month, and I’m already trying to combat my closet. It’ll definitely take more time to do the upstairs. I struggle with the “toss” items personally, because it feels wasteful.

    1. Hi Penny – I’m with you on the ‘wasteful’ feeling. As long as it’s not GARBAGE, you can take boxes of stuff to Goodwill. I try to do that regularly. I try to donate or give away stuff before throwing it out, because there’s a good chance someone else can make use of it.

  3. Let me tell you, the wife loves this stuff. Her tolerance of clutter is about as high as the Detroit Lions’ chances of winning the Superbowl this year. Every week she tackles something else, it seems. But things have gotten pretty uncluttered around here, thanks in large part to her slowly but surely picking apart the clutter during her weekend routine.

    …and yes, she has color-coordinated my shirts in the closet, too. I’ve had no reason to change it, so they have remained as such! 🙂

    Nice piece. Clutter is everywhere these days.

    1. Hey Steve – my wife is like that too. One way to think about it, though, is if you do one massive declutter like Marie suggests in her book, you should be set forever. The goal is to minimize enough to where you only have things you truly love. I love the color coordinating idea. I do something slightly different (arrange by type) but the color thing seems like it’d be cool.

  4. “Instead of getting rid of things, we buy organizers, bins, and shelving to just move the stuff around. This isn’t decluttering, it’s re-cluttering.”

    This is so true, and it took me a while to realize it!

    I am kind of a neat-freak so clutter isn’t a huge issue for me, but one way I keep the paper clutter down is by dealing with mail etc. as soon as it comes in the house. If I open a letter and it contains a Dr.’s bill, for example, I immediately pay it and toss the letter instead of letting it sit in a to-do pile.

    1. Hi Jessica – paper clutter is my big offense. It’s the one thing you can minimize but it still comes back! We usually do a weekly ‘purge’ of snail mail. I’m glad you connected with the re-cluttering comment. It is true, just go to Target or Walmart after the holidays. They put red and green bins out for people to reclutter their junk. It’s a continuous, vicious cycle! Thanks for reading my blog and commenting 🙂

  5. I love throwing crap out / giving stuff I don’t use away. I recently took two full garbage bags of clothes to Goodwill. If it’s rainy on one of these fall weekends coming up, I’ll definitely do another purge. Definitely feels good to declutter and remove stuff that just takes up space!

  6. We like doing the 70 in 7 type of challenges every few months. This is where we each find 10 things a day for 7 days to donate/toss out/sell. This does great for reducing clutter. This last go around we had a really hard time finding things because we’re not replacing the stuff anymore.
    I have to say it took a mindset change as mentioned in your article, for me to let go of some inane things I thought had emotional attachments to me. Once past that, I found it way easier to let go and de clutter.

    1. Hi Mr SSC! That’s an awesome concept (70 in 7). How often do you guys do that? I think that’s a perfect way to jump start getting rid of stuff. Thank for stopping by to read and share your thoughts!

  7. We try to continually declutter, and stay pretty vigilant about what comes into the house, so we thankfully don’t have loads of stuff we don’t use laying around. But we haven’t gone through the closets in a little while, and they could definitely use a pass — thank you for the inspiration!

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