Lifestyle Tips

Live Better with Less: 7 Steps to Reduce Clutter

January 2, 2016

Most of us have way too much clutter. We have more stuff than we need to survive on a daily basis and certainly more than we need to be happy.

Don’t believe me? Consider the following: tomorrow you have to relocate to a new state. What do you have to pack in order to empty your home? Think about the stuff in your closet, kitchen and bathroom. Think about the piles of clutter stashed away. Perhaps you even have things that are currently stored outside of your home.

If you’re like me, this thought experiment is panic-inducing. Most people I know hate moving. It requires us to confront our vast store of possessions and deal with them, which is completely overwhelming.

Consumer culture has conditioned us to believe that we must constantly acquire new things, but our belongings become a burden. Fortunately, there is a way out. You can minimize the amount of stuff you have. I’ve done it, and it feels amazing.

By getting rid of excess stuff and clutter, you free up space in your home and mind. Possessions become manageable and life becomes simpler. Your focus shifts from acquiring stuff to adding value to your life in other ways.

Ready to get started? Here’s my best advice.

Set Your Intention

Being successful starts with the right mindset. Think about what you want to accomplish. By simplifying your life, you’ll have less to clean and more space to actually live. You’ll save money by shifting away from consumerism and you may even make some extra cash. You’ll also relieve the mental burden of caring for and moving with all those possessions.

I was highly motivated by a desire to travel long-term. I didn’t want to have to pack up and store a bunch of stuff that I no longer used. Even worse was the idea of having to come back and deal with it all. You may not be traveling long-term, but consider this: what if something happens to you? Somebody is going to have to deal with all your belongings sooner or later. Be proactive. Assess and minimize your things now– it’s a gift of kindness for yourself and your loved ones.

Create a Staging Area

You don’t want to just move your clutter from one room to another, so it’s important to have a staging area. You need a place for the unwanted items to go. Consider placing a box in the corner of your bedroom or designating a closet for the “junk.” I found it very helpful to have a box for donations and another box for things that I wanted to sell. (Eventually, I had an entire closet filled with yard sale items!)

Make a Game out of Decluttering

The Minimalism Game was a great inspiration for me to start minimizing. The object is to cull your things by trashing, donating or selling them. On day 1 you get rid of one thing and so on, through 30 days if possible. I didn’t have a partner, and I changed the rules somewhat. I was playing the long game, so I wasn’t worried about getting everything out by midnight each day. (This is where a staging area really helps!) By the end of the first week I was getting rid of way more than 7 things. I promise, you will build momentum– minimizing is fun!

Start with a Narrow Focus

Most likely, there is already something you have in mind as an area or category that’s gotten out of hand. Maybe you’ve been meaning to go through your stacks of magazines or the overflowing cabinet in your bathroom. Start there!

For me, it was clothes. I began by working through my drawers and closet, picking out items that I could donate or consign. I filled up three trash bags on the first night. I’ve continued culling my clothes throughout the year, finally allowing myself to let go of things that never quite fit right or looked good on me. Now I have about 15% of the wardrobe I started with, but a much greater appreciation for the clothes I’ve considered worthy of keeping.

No New Stuff

While you’re working on decluttering, you shouldn’t be buying anything new. Seriously. Assessing all your possessions takes time and there is no reason to add anything in the midst of this process. Just say no and use the money you save to treat yourself to a reward that isn’t a new possession: see a movie or get a good coffee. After all, minimizing is hard work!

If you’ve really thought about it and still believe there is something you need to buy, make sure you get at rid of several things before you bring the new item home. This ensures that you keep up the momentum of decluttering. Once you’re at a “maintenance” level, apply this rule on a 1:1 basis. Every time I acquire a new item of clothing, I get rid of one.

A note on consumables: yes, we all need toothpaste and groceries. However, now is a great time to assess what you already have. Make a commitment to use all the half-full bottles of shampoo and lotion before you buy more. Cook up some of the groceries that have been sitting in your pantry and freezer before you declare that you have “no food.”

Tell Your Friends

Social support is important when you’re trying to accomplish a goal. When we declare something publicly, we strengthen our motivation to actually complete the task. Tell your friends and family what you’re up to. Share with them how good it feels to finally get rid of the clutter. This is also a good time to mention that you don’t need any “thoughtful gifts”– spending time together is more valuable. Perhaps you’ll inspire them to join you in the quest to simplify your life.

Be Ruthless

When it comes to minimizing stuff, you want to end up with only possessions that truly add value to your life. Ask yourself, “Does this object make my life better?” If you haven’t used something in six months or if you didn’t even remember that you owned it, you should most likely get rid of it. 

A few common barriers:

  • Gifts: Just because someone gave it to you doesn’t mean you have to keep it. They don’t have to know.
  • Sentimental items: Just because someone you care about bought an object does not mean you have to keep it. Their possessions are not the same as your memories of them, and it’s not dishonorable to get rid of an item if it’s not adding value for you.
  • The Just-in-Case mentality: Too often, we keep clutter because of hypothetical situation X. If that hasn’t happened yet, the item is clearly not adding value to your life. Even if it is hypothetically awesome, it would be better off with someone who is actually getting some use out of it.
  • The Fantasy Self: You probably have things that you are keeping around because one day you are going to be a total master of ________. I thought I was going to be one of those amazing DIY women that makes all her own body products. Reality check: one year later, I haven’t used any of the stuff I bought with that idea in mind. Time to ditch it.

I truly hope that you’ll find these tips useful so that you can begin to revel in the space and joy of a simpler life. Do you have other ideas on why or how to minimize your clutter? Share them in the comments below!

Enjoy the truly memorable experiences that life has to offer-- no stuff required!

Enjoy the truly memorable experiences that life has to offer– no stuff required!

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  • Reply Jill Blankenship January 3, 2016 at 7:00 am

    Well now aren’t you smart! What you have said is so true. I see things! I see things everywhere now! I don’t have enough boxes! Except when it comes to scraps for quilting. You know I have a weakness! Love, Aunt Jill

    • Reply Lindsay D January 4, 2016 at 2:22 pm

      We all have our weaknesses. :) Mine is in the kitchen… so many spices and recipes! Thank you so much for reading!

  • Reply Teresa, Schuyler's Mom January 13, 2018 at 11:26 am

    Not sure how i missed this until now and am sorrry I did! It gives me motivation to refocus on getting rid of unneeded stuff. Great advice, and great blog Lindsay. You are greatly appreciated and treasured. ❤

    • Reply Lindsay D January 15, 2018 at 8:00 am

      Oh wow, I’m so excited that you found it! It’s definitely a lifelong process. I still have to continuously evaluate what I’m buying and carrying. When we were home, I found two full storage bins I didn’t know I had that needed to be dealt with. Luckily, if you didn’t even remember having that stuff it’s not so hard to let go. :)
      Miss you tons!!

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