How To Declutter – Thoughtful Techniques for Simpler Living

Oh, the pleasure of decluttering – it’s a breath of fresh air, an opportunity for a new beginning. Decluttering inspires us to pursue our goals and focus on what’s important. The only catch? We actually have to declutter. 

Decluttering is the process of removing and organizing things in our physical environment. Decluttering also involves organizing and removing that which no longer serves us, including mental habits, daily life patterns, and how we spend our time. 

We all know what decluttering entails – the hard part is finding the motivation to put in the work. It can feel like a monumental task, so much so that we don’t even know where to start. If you’re feeling a little lost on how to declutter and put in the work, then you’re in the right place. We’ll give you some helpful tips on how to find the motivation to declutter, why it’s beneficial, and information on how to declutter each area of your home. Let’s get started.

What is Decluttering?

Decluttering involves going through each of your living spaces and removing/organizing all of the items in that space. It’s a great opportunity to assess your belongings and figure out what is necessary and what isn’t. The items you no longer need can be donated, given to a family member, or sold online. Throwing some stuff away is okay – especially if it’s not suitable for repurposing, but try to limit how many things end up in the landfill. 

A man holding a simple plastic trash bag - How To Declutter - Gone Minimal
A man holding a simple plastic trash bag

Decluttering isn’t limited to the physical, but can also be applied to our schedules, emotions, social life, and mentality. In this way, decluttering is used as a tool to simplify and reorganize every aspect of our lives. For example, this can be applied to the people we hang out with or how much time we spend on social media. 

The main difference between the two is that decluttering our environment requires physical action and dedication, whereas decluttering our inner world requires self-reflection and time to rest/evaluate.

It can feel overwhelming if there are many spaces that need attention, so just start with one and focus only on that area.

What are the Benefits of Decluttering?

Decluttering holds a multitude of benefits, including better rest and less stress and anxiety. It’s not rocket science to know that when you look at a messy room, it makes you feel more anxious. It’s also difficult to feel motivated when one’s living environment is full of too much clutter. 

There are numerous studies that have confirmed that a messy life is hard on our emotional and mental well-being. Psychologist Libby Sander expands on the scientific benefits of decluttering, stating; 

A man and woman eating popcorn - How To Declutter - Gone Minimal
A man and woman eating popcorn

“(Clutter) It can also make us less productive, triggering coping and avoidance strategies that make us more likely to snack on junk and watch TV shows (including ones about other people decluttering their lives). My own research shows our physical environments significantly influence our cognition, emotions and subsequent behaviors, including our relationships with others.”

Having a cluttered space also makes it difficult to sleep. When we are constantly getting triggered by our living environment it greatly affects our ability to get a good night’s rest. Even though it may be so minor we don’t even notice it, messy environments trigger our sympathetic nervous system, which controls our fight/flight/freeze responses. When we are constantly triggered into this state, our sleep suffers, along with our physical and mental health. 

How to Begin Decluttering

Now that we understand the why behind decluttering, let’s dive into how you can accomplish tidying up your space. You might have a few spaces in mind that need attention, such as your closet, the kitchen, or the garage. It can feel overwhelming if there are many spaces that need attention, so just start with one and focus only on that area. Then, when that area is complete, you can move on to the next. Keep these following tips in mind as you begin decluttering. 

A woman organizing a minimalist kitchen - How To Declutter - Gone Minimal
A woman organizing a minimalist kitchen

Tips for Decluttering

  1. Start small. 

If you start with a space that is completely cluttered and chaotic, you might feel overwhelmed and lose motivation. It’s best to start small and work your way up. Choose a space that feels manageable and start there. By following this tip, you set yourself up for success, and then you receive the reward of completing that tasks. This instills confidence and self-belief which can be carried over to the next space. 

  1. Put it on your schedule.

If you dedicate a specific time or day in your schedule to decluttering, you’re much more likely to follow through. Writing it down is a way of manifesting your desire to declutter, and it also serves as a reminder every time you look at your schedule or calendar. Putting it on your schedule means that you’re serious about it and committed to it. Plus, the excuse of “not having time” will no longer be applicable, as scheduling it out makes the time for it. 

  1. Listen to a book or music while decluttering.

One of the reasons many of us have a hard time decluttering is because we don’t enjoy the work. It’s tedious, tiring, and sometimes gross or unpleasant. One of the ways to make it more enjoyable is to listen to music or a book. I personally love listening to audiobooks whenever I’m doing something tedious and it helps me stay focused on my work and enjoy my time. If you’re feeling like you need something a little bit more motivating, put some energizing music on. Dancing or singing while you declutter can help lighten the experience. 

  1. Have all your supplies ready and at hand. 

Before you begin cleaning or reorganizing a space, have all your supplies ready and at hand. This includes specific bags for sorting stuff into, such as trash and donations. We’ll dive into specific supplies more below, but having all you necessary supplies with you will immensely help your progress. This way you don’t have to pause in the middle of your process to go get something. When that happens, we get distracted and it takes longer to pick up where we left off. Essentially, having to focus back on the task repeatedly can quickly drain one’s energy and motivation. 

To declutter our minds means to reach the core of who we are. It means taking an honest look at our thoughts, beliefs, patterns, and conditioning.

Checklists for Decluttering

If you’re a person who benefits from following a list and writing things down, it may be helpful to write a checklist of all the places you wish to declutter. This can help you break down your process into easy-to-follow steps. Plus, you get the satisfaction of crossing things off your list. For me, I love the feeling of completing a task and crossing it off my list. It motivates me and instills pride in my accomplishment, no matter how big or small the task is. 

Supplies for Decluttering

In order to have all your supplies ready, you need to know what supplies you need. This depends on what kind of decluttering you’re planning on doing. Are you planning on throwing stuff away, donating items, and/or cleaning the area? Figuring out your process will help you have the supplies you need at hand right when you need them. Here’s a list of common supplies you might need: 

  1. Trash bags (for trash and donated items)
  2. Storage containers or boxes
  3. Dusters 
  4. Rags 
  5. Cleaning solution/sprays 
  6. Vacuum 
  7. Paper towel 
  8. Speaker (for rocking out while you clean)
  9. Full water bottle (best to stay hydrated as you go)

How to Declutter Different Spaces

Every space (both physical and nonphysical) is going to require different approaches. Before you begin, I recommend checking out this youtube video” 

What I love about this video is she talks about the root of clutter, and how we must face why we have clutter in order to fully remove it from our surroundings. 

How to Declutter Your Home

If your whole home needs to be decluttered, you may want to dedicate a full weekend or a few days to decluttering each of your spaces, depending on how large your home is. Alternatively, you can declutter your home in incremental steps. To do this, you assign one area to 15 minutes of decluttering each day until you feel the task is complete. 

Decluttering your home can be a liberating and transformative process. Be honest with yourself about what you truly need and use regularly. Consider the purpose and value of each item. If it no longer serves you, let it go. Focus on the benefits of decluttering, such as creating more space, reducing visual noise, and simplifying your life.

How to Declutter Your Mind

Decluttering your mind is a bit more complicated than decluttering a physical space. This is because thoughts are shaped by conditioning and beliefs established in childhood and adolescence. This creates patterns we continuously return to, and these patterns can be beneficial and destructive. 

If you feel like your mind is scattered and unorganized, it may be helpful to take up an activity that will help you process your thoughts. This includes meditation, yoga, gardening, journaling, drawing, therapy, and being in nature. 

A woman practicing a simple meditation - How To Declutter - Gone Minimal
A woman practicing a simple meditation

To declutter our minds means to reach the core of who we are. It means taking an honest look at our thoughts, beliefs, patterns, and conditioning. From there, we can heal and let go of that which no longer serves.  

Just as putting it in the schedule helps one declutter their space, it’s just as important to set time aside for activities that help one process their thoughts. 

How to Declutter Your Clothes/Closet 

Closets are one of the places that need decluttering more often than others. This is because we outgrow certain styles, our sizes change, and our priorities. If you’re living a minimalist lifestyle, then you’re probably not interested in having a TON of clothing. If this is the case, decluttering your closet can feel so rewarding. 

To start decluttering your closet, you’ll want to go through every item. Make a “to keep” pile, a “donations” pile, and a “maybe” pile. If you’re into selling things online, you can also have a “to sell” pile for clothes that were rarely worn and are still of high quality. Then, go through each of your items. 

A pile of simple t-shirts - How To Declutter - Gone Minimal
A pile of simple t-shirts

It’s easy to overthink this process and to be unsure about getting rid of clothes. The clothes you wear most often go in the “keep” pile, and for the rest, you have to feel into it a bit. If you pick up a piece of clothing, and you can’t remember the last time you wore it, then that’s probably a donation item. If you pick up a seasonal outfit – see how you feel; if it’s not an immediate yes, then it goes into the “donation” or “maybe” pile.

Decluttering When You’re Overwhelmed

Decluttering can be an emotional process, as some of our things have sentimental value. On the other hand, decluttering can trigger trauma from our past, making it difficult to clean and get rid of things. This is why hoarders accumulate and accumulate without cleaning or getting rid of anything – they’re responding to childhood trauma. 

If you’re feeling overwhelmed about getting rid of your things, take some time to explore why that is. What meaning do your things hold? Once you can get to the root of an issue, you can work your way up to healing whatever attachment you may hold. This is a deep and emotional process, often requiring us to take a look at our past wounds and find healing for them. 

Don’t be afraid to ask for support. If decluttering is a challenge for you, then ask for help from a friend or family member. This way you don’t have to do it alone, and having someone help will make the process easier and faster. 

A man with his hand on his friend's shoulder - How To Declutter - Gone Minimal
A man with his hand on his friend’s shoulder

Related Insights

What should you not do when decluttering?

Don’t start multiple decluttering projects at once. Start with one space, complete the task, and then move on to the next. 

What is the first thing to declutter?

The first space to declutter is a space that needs your attention but is also manageable. For example, both your garage and your pantry need organized. The garage is most likely going to be a larger task due to the size of the space, whereas the pantry is smaller and less complicated. 

The Spaces That Real People Like to Declutter and Why it is Difficult

It’s helpful to see how others relate to decluttering and what their process is. For this reason, I asked a few friends and family to answer a couple of questions about decluttering. First, I asked what space they would like to declutter (mind, home, life, closet/clothing, room, etc), and then what the most difficult part of decluttering that space is for them. Here’s what I found out: 

Spaces People Like to DeclutterWhy it is Difficult
Mental space: Attatchment to all my exciting ideas. 
Closet: Dedicating time to do it/have to make it a big deal
Clothes:Emotional attachment 
Tincture/Supplement drawer:Dedicating time to do it 
Every room in my house: Emotional attachment 
Simple spaces that real people like to declutter

Other Resources:

Like most things, the hardest part is just getting started. Then, once you’re started you have the motivation to keep the process going. The same goes for decluttering. Now that you have the necessary tools to get started, the next step is to put your tools to work. So, put on some music, grab your supplies, and get to decluttering! 

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