Tips for Successful Decluttering

To me, there's almost no greater pleasure than a tidy and well-organized space free of excess and clutter. Honestly, it's an ideal that's hard to attain and even five years into my journey as a minimalist, I haven't been able to attain a fully clutter-free life. But what I have done is learned a lot of useful techniques for being able to declutter quickly and decisively, which I'm going to share today without much more ado.

I will give a few words of caution speaking from my own experience: Living with another person who isn't as hardcore into minimalism has been one of the biggest obstacles in having a totally clutter-free life. The mismatching levels of interest in minimalism combined with shared responsibilities that are hard to equitably balance (just by virtue of being imperfect humans) has made it hard to achieve a house completely free of clutter. Living with another person who brings me great joy is a fair trade-off for having to admit that I have some impossible ideals. So just be aware that decluttering is made more difficult by other people who make other parts of life better. Anyway, on to the point of this post...

Tips for Decluttering Clothes

  • Give everything a run through the laundry before you declutter. Is this step kind of a hassle? Probably, yes, if laundry feels like a chore to you. But I do feel it's necessary to make sure everything is clean before going through it all and picking pieces to donate or throw away. (I'm also the only person I know who unironically enjoys doing laundry.)
  • "Shop for someone else." If something is no longer your style or no longer fits but it's still in good shape, pretend that you're shopping for someone else, and donate the garment so they can buy it. 
  • Cross "some day" off the calendar. Most of us have had a dress or a shirt or some kind of garment that we've kept through several moves and several extra pounds just because "some day" we might fit into it again. Forget about "some day" and focus on dressing for the present. 

Tips for Decluttering Shared Spaces

  • Get everyone who shares the space involved. If you have non-minimalists living with you, it might take a little bit of explaining, but decluttering doesn't only mean you're getting rid of stuff. Decluttering usually does involve some degree of discarding things, but the end goal of decluttering is to make a space organized and not necessarily empty. If you can't get everyone involved on a personal level, ask if they would be okay with you organizing their things in the shared space so that everything is easier to find.
  • Lead by example. If trying to get everyone involved is a fruitless effort, don't be discouraged! Instead, try to lead by example. This might be especially effective if you have kids, or if other adults complain about the space being cluttered but don't do anything about it. Show off your initiative by decluttering anything that's your responsibility, and wait for others to follow suit. (Some gentle encouragement wouldn't hurt, either, especially if they're visibly envious of your willingness to declutter.)

Tips for Decluttering Miscellaneous Things

  • Start with the obvious discards. Normally I wouldn't mind advocating for starting with the hardest decisions so every other decision feels easy, but the best way to build momentum while decluttering is to start with the stuff you obviously don't want to keep. Ease into it so you can turn a few discards into a cascade of discards.
  • Go paperless/unsubscribe. If you have bank accounts, bills, insurance, work benefits, or store memberships, you probably receive what feels like an actual ton of clutter. Wherever possible, sign up for e-statements or unsubscribe from mailers to cut clutter off at the source.
  • Try the pomodoro method. There are two ways to go about the pomodoro method. One is to become a red fruit and sit in the dark for 48 hours until someone decides to put you on a bed of crunchy leaves and coat you in ranch. Delicious? Maybe. Effective for decluttering? No. The second and better way to go about the pomodoro method is to pick a set amount of time, and use it to declutter a specific area or category of items. If you reach the end of the timer and want to keep going, let yourself take a short break and then restart the timer and continue.
  • Try the box method for difficult/occasionally useful items. If you're having a hard time parting with something that you know you barely use, put it in a box and seal it in. If after a set period of time (up to you, but try 1-3 months), you haven't unsealed the box to grab and use the item, discard it. Try the box method for clothes, books, small kitchen appliances, and so on. It can be especially helpful in shared spaces if others don't want to part with something they hardly ever use (and having proof they don't use it is a powerful motivator to agree to lose it).
  • Take in donations every time you fill a bag. This tip might be a little difficult if your nearest donation center is out of your way. However, getting rid of discarded items often will help prevent a pileup that takes a long time to load and take in, and it will prevent you and everyone who lives with you from going back through the discarded items and pulling some out to keep.

Make your own rules!

Honestly, I could give tips about decluttering any kind of household object until I'm blue in the face. If you want to declutter but none of the tips seem right for you, make up your own rules for what to declutter. Maybe you'll...

  • only discard beige items
  • blindfold yourself and whatever you trip on, you'll throw in the garbage
  • only keep items with a giraffe on it (adding giraffes to previously ungiraffed things MIGHT be cheating)
  • put $3.50 into a college fund for your dog every time you add an item to the discard pile

How you declutter is up to you. If you follow all of my tips, great! If you make up entertaining, mildly-nonsensical rules to make it fun, even better! I do hope my tips have helped. I'll be back to ramble more about how to get rid of stuff soon, I'm sure. Happy decluttering!