Okay, THAT’S IT. You’ve had it with the constant mess in every area of your home. You know it’s time to purge things–but how do you really start decluttering?
Trust me, I know how it feels to be BEYOND FRUSTRATED with all the clutter, but still struggle to actually get things alllll the way out of your house.
I also know how it feels to be SO overwhelmed that you don’t even know where or how to start decluttering.
And I know how it feels to think, “I tried decluttering, and I just couldn’t make it work.”
As you’ll see all over this website and all over my not-Pinterest-worthy Instagram stories, I am NOT one of those type-A, naturally tidy people who can’t go to bed with dishes in the sink. No no–I’m a natural slob with a husband who’s a natural slob, with two little kids who are… well… little kids.
So I know for SURE that decluttering CAN work for you. When you’re overwhelmed by decluttering, here are 5 tips that will help you get started.
1. Have Your Decluttering Supplies Ready
You wouldn’t start redesigning a room without a plan, or renovating a house without the right tools, would you?
Of course not! Decluttering is exactly the same.
These are the supplies you need:
- Boxes, bins, or bags for garbage (make sure you have plenty)
- Box or plastic storage bins for things to sell
- Bins or box(es) to donate
- Plastic storage bins to pack away
- Tape and markers to mark each box
Now, I learned most of what I’m talking about in this post from Lauren at Simply Well Balanced, so you’ll see a few of her valuable tidbits here. Another important thing she explains is that you should try to avoid bins with clear sides so you can’t see the things inside of them. It’s hard to say goodbye to things the first time, so don’t give yourself an opportunity to see the item again and rethink it.
(Not sure how to sell your stuff? One of my most popular posts is all my best tips for selling on Facebook marketplace. Check it out and drop your questions in the comments!)
2. Choose The First Spot to Declutter Wisely
This is where me and Marie Konda have beef.
If you’ve ever watched the Netflix show, you know that Marie has the declutter-er take EVERY ITEM out of their closet and pile it on the bed. They usually end up crying–often out of shame and overwhelm.
I tried that strategy on my own many, many, MANY times before ever watching that show–and let me tell, it never once worked. In fact, it had the complete opposite effect. I always ended up leaving those overwhelming spots in a worse state than when I started.
Instead, think carefully about where to start decluttering. If you feel overwhelmed at all, then DON’T START with these areas:
- Your closet
- Your papers
- Any area that you have an emotional attachment to
- Any full room that you’re completely overwhelmed by
Yep, it’s the total opposite of the Marie Kondo way, and this changed my life. Choose a SMALL area of your home that you don’t feel particularly attached to.
I’m not the only person who stands against Marie Kondo!
Allie Casazza, a very popular decluttering influencer, suggests starting your bathroom storage or kitchen drawers. Because it’s usually easier to throw out expired perfume than it is to throw out a drawing your best friend made for you when you were 6.
Another spot that worked really well for me to start was my kid’s art cabinet. It was a distinct area with very distinct items that I wasn’t totally attached to. I was able to finish it in less than an hour and a half, which motivated me to keep going, instead of burning me out immediately.
3. Set a Timer
I know that I’m talking to people who are OVERWHELMED by decluttering, so you probably think, “STOP?! No, I should be spending the entire weekend decluttering non-stop!”
No girl, no.
I mean, you can. And you might have success. But when you’re just STARTING to declutter, it’s really important not to overload yourself and to give yourself the space to feel the benefit of purging.
You will NATURALLY motivate yourself and build your decluttering skill. Pinky promise.
Another thing Lauren suggests is to set the timer for ten minutes, find ten things to get rid of, and then STOP. I remember clearly the first time I did that, because it was so different than the mentality I had every other time.
And it was the first step I took that actually led to SUCCESSFULLY declutter my home.
If you need more help figuring out how to make real progress in limited amounts of time, read the two questions I ask myself to declutter a room in 30 minutes.
No, Seriously, Stop Decluttering and DON’T Organize!
This is SO IMPORTANT. In my old, failed days of decluttering attempts, I thought of decluttering and organizing as the same thing.
WRONG. SO WRONG.
Decluttering is the act of actually deciding: Keep, sell, or donate? And then actually MOVING items.
Organizing is rearranging items and setting them up in a specific way in a specific space. It’s a completely different task with a different strategy.
When you try to mix decluttering and organizing, neither one gets done RIGHT.
So when you set your timer, that time is ONLY for decluttering, NOT for organizing.
For more details on the difference between decluttering and organizing, read my post how to organize cluttered and overflowing spaces.
4. Stop Decluttering and Reward Yourself
I’ve said it many times and I’ll say it again–decluttering is a skill that you build, not a task to cross off.
Say it with me: DECLUTTERING IS A SKILL, NOT A TASK.
In Atomic Habits, James Clear talks very specifically about how rewards are 100% necessary to build any habit. It’s neuroscience! Proof!
And that is exactly what you’re doing with decluttering–hopefully you won’t need to declutter every day for the rest of your life, BUT you are building a skill and a habit until your home is clutter-free.
In the beginning, you’re going to feel very motivated to declutter–but that motivation will fade, and it will probably fade fast. Trust me.
For that reason, you can’t depend on motivation or willpower to declutter your home. Instead, trust this stranger on the internet. Set a timer, then stop and reward yourself.
Over time, these short spurts of decluttering will actually make a surprising difference in your home. Within a week, I noticed my kitchen getting significantly easier to clean and that WAS the reward. Serotonin all over the place.
5. Build on Your Progress
Once you reach this step, you’ve done it–you’ve started decluttering. Remember that it’s a journey, not a…. what is it?
[Together now] Not a task to cross off in one day.
But you will quickly find that you enjoy decluttering past the time limit. That’s totally okay and wonderful–just stop before you get overwhelmed and reward yourself.
IF you’re frustrated by the idea of decluttering for ten minutes, its possible you need a mindset change.
In fact, you definitely need a mindset change if your thoughts sound like this:
“Oh my gosh, it is unbelievable how much crap I have laying around. I am such a mess. I’m disgusting. I really need to get my act together–why can’t I get a grip on my house? Everyone else can.”
I have some bad news for you–this mindset almost guarantees that you WON’T be able to declutter successfully. I know it sounds harsh, but it’s true.
I’ve been in your shoes. But science has actually PROVEN that negative self-talk like that is NOT AN EFFECTIVE MOTIVATOR. In fact, all it really does is drain your motivation.
Instead, you can consciously start telling yourself things like this:
“Every item I’m decluttering is making an impact. Every item and space I declutter is helping me build the skill. Every small period I spend decluttering is freeing from the burden of having too much stuff!”
…That will very quickly have a very different impact on your motivation. You’ll even start thinking decluttering is FUN pretty soon!
You’ll also discover some unexpected and freakin’ fabulous effects of decluttering, like I did.
This decluttering checklist is made to help you track and celebrate the progress you make. You can either save this post with the bullet points below, or you can download this document and print it.
Keep in mind that I’m only specifically naming pretty large areas! You should still celebrate if you only get one cabinet done.
- Box/bag to put stuff to sell
- Box/bag to put stuff to donate
- Box/bag to put garbage
- Under the sink
- Fridge and freezer
- Above fridge
- Storage ottoman
- Side tables
- TV stand
- Pictures/decor on the wall
- Hutch or shelves
- Other storage space___________
- Toy bins
- Other storage boxes
- Decor on walls
- Other: ____________________
- Storage boxes
- Under the bed
- Other: ________
- Linen Closet
- Other storage: ___________________
- Empty boxes
- Storage bins (the necessary ones)
- Other: _______________________________
Questions? Thoughts? Obscenities? Drop them in the comments below. Except for maybe the obscenities.
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