Want to start decluttering, but just the thought of it makes you feel tired and overwhelmed?
Luckily, there are a few things you can do to make it as easy as possible. In today’s article we’re going to have a look at 17 useful tips to start decluttering so you can begin today.
If you don’t have time to read the whole post, feel free to skip to the summary at the end.
The importance of decluttering
The main reason we find it hard to get rid of stuff we no longer need (or stuff we shouldn’t even have bought in the first place) is that our brain is programmed to accumulate stuff so we can feel safer. Like, accumulate food so we won’t starve, accumulate clothes so we won’t get cold, etc.
Those were our thoughts thousands of years ago, and they haven’t really changed. When we think about decluttering, a part of our brain tells us we shouldn’t do it because it’s a waste, or a risk, or we shouldn’t do it because one day we may need those items (more on this later).
But one key concept we must remember is that when we declutter and embrace a more minimalist lifestyle, what we gain is more than what we lose. Or, what we gain is more important than the things we will lose. Clutter has many negative effects and it’s important that you reduce it or eliminate it as soon as possible.
Clutter affects your mental health in many ways, for example:
- It makes you feel lazy and unproductive
- It eats up your time and energy
- It may affect your social life
- It may trigger stressful or anxious thoughts
- It makes it impossible to focus and get stuff done
(Check out my article about the ten negative effects of clutter for the full explanation)
How to start decluttering even if you’re overwhelmed
1. Don’t keep buying useless stuff
Alright — first things first: as long as you keep accumulating stuff, decluttering won’t really help. So before you embark on your wonderful decluttering journey, decide that from this day forward you simply won’t buy things that don’t add value to your life.
A simple but effective rule you can start using (or at least keep in mind) is the one in, one out rule. Whether you live in a tiny room or a castle, there’s only so much space available, so it’s not like you can keep buying things over and over again. So… one in, one out.
2. Make a list of things you want to throw away
The more organized you are, the better your chances of success. And yes, it applies to decluttering as well. Just like productive people use to-do lists to make sure they won’t forget about their tasks — if you’re serious about decluttering, but feel overwhelmed, it makes sense to list all the things you’re supposed to discard.
It takes time, and it’s not the most glamorous thing in the world, but it’ll definitely help you. So grab pen and paper, walk around your home and when you see an item you want to get rid of, note it down.
3. Make a list of things you haven’t used in a while
Think of literally all the items you own. Can you think of an item you haven’t used in, say, two weeks? What about two months? What about a year or more? The longer the time frame, the more you should seriously consider getting rid of that item.
There are exceptions, of course (gifts or valuables, for instance), but in general there is absolutely no point in keeping things you don’t actually use. Especially if you consider that these things will still take up space and potentially cost you money and time — whether you use them or not.
4. Know starting is the hardest part
If you are trying to declutter and you feel overwhelmed, it doesn’t mean you are lazy. Even for hardcore minimalists, decluttering can be overwhelming if they haven’t done it in a while. However, just like anything else, starting is the hardest part.
So no matter how intimidated you may feel right now, know that once you start, it will be much easier to keep going. Once you discard the first few items and notice how much tidier your home looks, you’ll have a big extra dose of motivation, and the thought of decluttering won’t be as intimidating.
5. Take action immediately
With that in mind, find a way to take action as soon as possible. Throw away an item that is clearly useless, or go buy trash bags, or make a list of the items you want to discard. The sooner you start, the better.
As we’ve seen, the first step is always the hardest, so don’t wait. Go through the pain of doing something unusual and know that you’ll feel really proud afterwards. If you’re too busy or tired, at least decide when you will take the first step, and feel free to tell your friends about it if that gives you motivation (or accountability).
6. Pretend you have less space available
Why get rid of that pile of old books if they can just sit on your bedside table? Why throw away the t-shirt you haven’t used in five years when you can just leave it in a drawer? Why throw away that broken chair when you could tape it to the ceiling and pretend it’s contemporary art?
The last one was a joke, but you get the point. As long as you base the number of your possessions on the space (you think) you have available, you won’t have the motivation to start decluttering. So my sixth tip is to simply forget about that.
7. Set a deadline for decluttering
You may be thinking you’ll start decluttering “when you have time”, but more often than not it’s not the best strategy. Unless you have a clear start date or deadline, tomorrow becomes next week, next week becomes next month, and so on.
Think of all the stress and frustration clutter is creating and will create unless you take action soon. Think of all the negative effects of clutter — how it impacts your mental and even physical health — and make decluttering a priority, and set a clear deadline.
8. Don’t think about how much you paid
Let’s say there’s a few items you’re supposed to throw away, but you feel bad when you think you actually paid quite a bit for those items. Although it’s understandable, my question to you is: does it really matter?
Unless it’s things you could resell, the truth is that the amount of money you originally spent on them is irrelevant. Clutter is bad for you and your first thought should always be whether something adds value to your life, and if it doesn’t, then it probably does the opposite, and it’s probably time to throw it away.
9. Don’t get lost in the “what ifs”
Most people who live in a cluttered or chaotic space are perfectly aware it’s not good for their mental health and productivity. Only, they subconsciously have all these excuses why they can’t get rid of any of their items because, you know, they may need them one day.
So my ninth tip to start decluttering is to ignore all these excuses that your mind comes up with, and just do it. If you are about to discard something and you have the thought of “I may need this”, or “this could be useful”, know that the chance of these thoughts being accurate is pretty low.
10. Ask a friend to help you
This has two purposes: it makes the whole decluttering process less overwhelming, and it basically guarantees you’ll follow through (you really don’t want to ask someone a favor then say you changed your mind when they show up).
Plus, it could be a lot of fun. If decluttering per se sounds boring (and to be fair, most of the time it is), try and turn it into a fun, unusual experience with a friend. After you’re done decluttering, you could have dinner or go out and celebrate your small win.
11. Think of your last holiday
If the thought of living with less material possessions sounds overwhelming, I encourage you to think about your last holiday, or whenever you traveled and stayed at a hotel or a friend’s house. When you did, you probably brought only a few of your items.
However, that didn’t make the experience worse — if anything, you felt liberated, in a way, and you had more freedom, and that made the experience better. You can declutter and you can live with less stuff, and I’m sure you can think of examples of that from your past.
12. Start with just one room
Depending on where you live, decluttering the whole house/apartment could definitely be overwhelming. When it comes to goal setting, there is a principle which says you should always break down your goals into smaller, achievable tasks so the whole process isn’t too intimidating.
The same can be applied to decluttering, and if you’re just getting started, you should probably start with just one room, or even one area or side of the room — it’ll be much easier. Then simply repeat the process until you are satisfied with the result.
13. Start decluttering on your days off
Decluttering can definitely be time-consuming, and even physically exhausting, especially if you haven’t done it in a while and you have accumulated way too many things.
Although you should take action ASAP, sometimes it’s more sensible to start decluttering on the weekend or whenever you have the whole day available. It’s up to you whether it’s going to be a marathon or a sprint, but knowing you won’t have to work will give you extra energy and focus.
14. Go digital when possible
That notebook on your desk can probably be replaced with a free application on your phone; that picture on the wall could be replaced by an image in your phone’s gallery; and so on.
I know — it’s not the same. And there’s definitely items that you do want to keep because even though you could use your phone for that, it just wouldn’t be the same. But when possible, go digital so you can save a lot of space and potentially a lot of time as well. Technology isn’t always beautiful or elegant, but it can help you declutter.
15. Don’t worry about how your home looks
Perhaps so far you have spent an enormous amount of time decorating your home, and even though it’s full of things you don’t use, you may have learned to like it and think it looks good.
So if the process of decluttering means changing the way your home looks, at least temporarily, don’t worry too much — the extra time, energy, and freedom are more important than pure aesthetics. When decluttering, your home may initially look worse, but don’t let that discourage you.
16. Prioritize the decluttering process
Another useful tip to keep in mind if you want to declutter but you’re overwhelmed is to know what the priorities are — what items should be thrown away first, or which part of the house should be cleaned first.
For example, if you work from home and you’ve noticed your desk is full of stuff and that clearly affects your productivity, then that should be first on the list. If you want to throw away some of your clothes, or give them to charity, then start from those that you clearly don’t want to wear anymore. And so on.
17. Gather your decluttering supplies
My final tip to start decluttering is to gather all your supplies in advance, so the whole process will be super smooth. If you need trash bags, gloves, cleaning supplies, boxes, etc. then go get them before you even discard the first item.
Planning everything in advance and buying everything you need in advance will save you time — and make it harder to come up with excuses as to why you should wait one more day…
Decluttering tips: summary
- Use the one in, one out rule (before you even start decluttering)
- List the things you want to throw away as well as those you haven’t used in ages
- Take action immediately because starting is the hardest part; set a deadline and stick to it
- Your home isn’t a warehouse: pretend you have less space available and leave some areas empty
- Don’t think about how much you paid for your items and don’t fall into the trap of “I may use it again one day”
- Call a friend and ask them to help you declutter
- Think of your last holiday: you probably had way less stuff around you, and were way happier
- Declutter on your days off; start with just one room then repeat the process
- See if you can replace some of your physical items with a digital version of them
- Don’t worry too much about how your home will look
- Prioritize: identify which areas or rooms should be decluttered first
- Gather all the supplies you need in advance
Thanks for reading this post! I hope you found it useful. If you liked this article, remember to share it 👇