If your home is a mess and you have too much clutter, your health is at risk. So is your wallet.
A 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.
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?
First, let’s define “clutter”. Peter Walsh, an organizational expert, says there are 2 types of clutter:
- Memory clutter – stuff that reminds you of important events
- 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)
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
- 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.
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
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
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
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.
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!