There’s only one thing I hate more than cleaning…decluttering. Let’s be honest, it’s a ton of work. But strangely I’ve become addicted to decluttering every inch of my home.
It’s the after effect I’m hooked on. After a good purge, my home feels peaceful. Everything feels right—open, clean, spacious. I feel unburdened. It’s like balance is restored. And I can’t get enough of it.
I’ve already decluttered every closet in our home. I’ve done about 75% of my kitchen cupboards. I already shared my great pantry purge with you. We’re working on our garage and storage (utility) rooms, and I have a little bit of work left to do in our laundry room (which was basically my Monica closet).
Now that I’m on a roll, I can’t stop, but it took me a while to find the motivation to get started. I’ve read the books on decluttering and minimalism, but none of them sparked me to action. I understood what the benefits would be, but didn’t really think they mattered until I experienced them firsthand.
Our pantry makeover was my awakening. Followed quickly by our front hall closet makeover. Now I’m a regular in the Goodwill donation drop off line, and we just did our first furniture purge with Salvation Army’s free pick up service.
So how did I get started? And how do I keep going? Here’s the three essential rules I’m using to declutter our entire home:
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1. Have a Bigger Goal than “Less Clutter”
Decluttering takes an enormous amount of time and energy. For enough motivation to start and finish decluttering, you need a bigger goal than getting rid of clutter. My husband and I have wanted to declutter for years. We’re drawn to going minimal. But…we didn’t take any big steps toward those goals until we decided to sell our home in 2017. Then, decluttering became a necessity to get our house ready to sell and to reduce moving and storage expenses for the move.
My realtor’s marketing assistant told me she has a friend who pretends to move every two years. It’s her way of finding the motivation to get rid of accumulated clutter. She gets fed up and looks at her home with fresh eyes. If we were moving next month, what would we get rid of?
Moving or selling a home aren’t the only goals that work. I’ve had a lot of success decluttering when I’m driven to improve our home in some way. Here are a few examples:
- When I got fed up with the mess that was our pantry, I used a pantry makeover as my motivation to do a complete pantry purge and reorganization. The goal wasn’t decluttering, it was to improve our lives by putting healthy delicious food at our fingertips.
- We usually host my family for holiday get togethers. For too many years in a row I tossed my guests coats on a bench, because my front hall closet was full of clutter. This past year, I wanted my guests to feel more welcome and to not have a heap of coats in the hallway. Now our front hall closet is always ready to receive guests. (The empty shelf also came in handy to temporarily hide birthday presents before my son’s big day a few weeks ago.)
- We used to store all the kids art supplies in the laundry room on a small Ikea Trofast shelving unit. It didn’t take up a lot of space, but it sure made our laundry room feel more cramped, especially when the kids tore through the bins and left papers and markers all over the floor in front of the shelves. So, I set a goal to move the art supplies to a more logical storage place. My target was the large armoire in our dining room. It would provide plenty of storage and the kids could use the nearby dining table (that never otherwise gets used) for their projects. With that goal in mind, I started my decluttering in the dining room first, not the laundry room. I decluttered the armoire in the dining room to make space for the art supplies, so I could get them out of the laundry room.
- My husband and I are switching to adjustable height desks (standing desks) in our home office. Standing desks have no storage drawers or cabinets. To make the switch, we had to declutter two bookshelves and the old desk unit in our office. We were motivated to tackle the messy file drawers and overstuffed bookshelves, because more than decluttering we wanted to make space for our new standing desks.
Instead of picking a spot to declutter, I recommend thinking through some improvements you want to make in your home. Use those as the motivation to start the decluttering snowball. Once you get started in a few key areas, it gets easier to keep going.
2. Use Filters to Automate Your Decision Making
You won’t get anywhere with decluttering if you slowly consider each and every item to decide if it should stay or go. You need some filters so the hundreds of decisions you’re about to make are easier, almost automatic.
I like the premise of Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, but the “spark joy” filter didn’t really resonate with me. I think some people are more intuitive that way, but I tend to intellectualize everything. I needed some more concrete guidance, not just a gut check.
It does make logical sense to declutter by category—rounding up all like items before deciding what to keep and what to purge. But that only seems like a practical approach in a small apartment or home. I did not find that approach practical for a large home with kids. In the year after reading Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I didn’t even start on my sock drawer, because the whole process seemed too daunting to even start.
Now that I’m in decluttering mode, my mind keeps coming back to my favorite decorating quote:
“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” – William Morris
The real keepers are the things that are beautiful and useful. Deciding whether or not something is useful, even if just for decorative purposes, is easier for me than deciding if it “sparks joy.”
Here are the filters I use to decide what to get rid of:
The Dust Layer
Unless it’s something sentimental, nothing in your home that you know to be useful or believe to be beautiful should be coated in dust. If you have to use a damp cloth to dust it off, it must go. I found so many dusty things in closets that might have a useful purpose, but the dust that collected on them was evidence that I wasn’t using them. I dusted them off and donated them to someone who might actually put them to good use.
Would I buy it again today?
Anything that isn’t fitting with your lifestyle right now must go. This filter was especially helpful to me while I decluttered my closet. At first I planned to try everything on and keep only the items that currently fit me. But I had this section of my closet filled with black, brown, and gray dress clothes—the uniform of my days in the corporate world. I don’t even buy that style of clothes anymore and there was no way, even if they fit, I would wear such drab outfits ever again. So, I skipped trying any of that garb on and put it straight into the donation pile. Decluttering my closet went really fast after that. Now, my eyes light up every time I walk in to see my colorful wardrobe of only pieces I love.
This is also a helpful filter for those things you “got such a great deal on.” If you were faced with the decision to buy the item again today, at full price, would you? If you wouldn’t pay full price for the item now, then it clearly isn’t valuable to you and shouldn’t be clogging up your home. Just admit you were only attracted to the item because of the deal, then let it go.
Anything unopened or with a price tag still attached obviously never found a purpose in my home. I think we’ve all brought home clothes, decor, and other knick knacks that we never ended up using or were too lazy to return to the store. I donated anything unopened or unused.
One thing I noticed when I started decluttering was all the duplicate items we had. Seriously, how many sets of sheets do we need for each bed?
I remember when we moved from our first home to our second, we went through all of our stuff and got rid of duplicates. Our kitchen cupboards were loaded with doubles of everything from our bachelor and bachelorette days. We didn’t need two toasters, two blenders, and two mis-matched sets of dinnerware. We kept the ones that were in the best condition and got rid of the duplicates.
I think it’s also important to notice when one new item can replace multiple old items. We used to make smoothies with a NutriBullet (which didn’t last very long). A year and a half ago we upgraded to the Ninja Kitchen System (which we love). At the time, I put the NutriBullet in the cupboard just in case. A few weeks ago, I was decluttering in the kitchen and realized not only could I finally get rid of the NutriBullet (which hasn’t been touched since we got the Ninja), but I could also get rid of the blender and food processor. The Ninja system does it all better than our old individual appliances.
This year when we were trying to decide what to get my in-laws for Christmas, I noticed all the small appliances littering their countertop and it first thought, they don’t need anything for the kitchen. But then we were trying to make green smoothies with my mother-in-laws NutriBullet and it was leaking all over the place. The smoothie came out chunky and it was no wonder she told us she stopped drinking green smoothies. We got them the Ninja so they could get rid of half their small appliances and make smoothies that taste good. It was the gift of health and decluttering all wrapped up in one small appliance.
3. Keep It Simple (and Fun), Silly
Decluttering takes time and mental energy. To avoid being completely drained by the process, you have to remove as many obstacles as possible. You need to keep the process simple enough to do on autopilot. The filters above are a good place to start, but there’s more you can do to streamline the whole operation.
- Keep bags and boxes on hand for trash and donations. I use large black garbage bags for clothing donations. I like brown paper bags for donating housewares, unless they are heavy or breakable, then I use small moving boxes (leftovers from when we moved in here). I also use a black garbage bag for trash. Everything goes immediately in a bag. I don’t make donation piles that I have to later bag up.
- Take note of donations. I keep a blank piece of paper on a clipboard so I can write down every item I’m donating. When I get the donation receipt, I staple it to the list and file it for taxes.
- Put donations directly in the car. Again, no piles around the house. When I finish decluttering an area, all the bags and boxes of donations go immediately in my car. I may not make it to Goodwill the same day, but at least I get everything out of the house. We have a Goodwill close by and it only takes five minutes to drop off a trunk full, so I swing by the next time I’m out running errands.
- Look for free donation pickup services. We just used Salvation Army (SATruck.org) for the first time, because we had some large furniture to donate that we couldn’t move ourselves. We filled out a quick form online and chose our pick up date. Just beware what they will take is at the driver’s discretion. If they don’t think it will be easy to sell (scratched, dented, or cheap), they won’t take it. We successfully donated the large desk and bookshelf unit from my husband’s office (making way for standing desks) and a small white student’s desk. We wanted to donate the solid oak table from our laundry room, but because it has one large scratch on top, the driver wouldn’t take it. Since it’s solid wood, I was shocked, but it’s up to the driver. It was still nice to get everything else picked up for free. I know my parents have used Salvation Army pickup several times to take everything leftover at the end of their garage sales.
- Have a ton of garbage? Get a Bagster. We used a Bagster for the first time last year and it was awesome. We did a spring cleaning of our garage and got rid of a lot of scrap materials and broken items we couldn’t donate. It was so convenient to put everything in the Bagster at the end of our driveway. Then I was able to schedule a pickup within three days of filling the Bagster. They picked it up curbside with a cool truck crane. We initially had trouble finding these at our local Home Depot, and sometimes they are sold out, so it’s easier to get a Bagster online. We just bought another one to keep on hand for our upcoming garage clean out. The Bagster is under $30 and you don’t pay for pickup until you schedule a pickup online. It’s more convenient—you schedule and pay for pickup online—and far less expensive then a full dumpster rental.
- Make decluttering a habit. I’ve started incorporating decluttering into my regular cleaning chores. For example, when I clean the bathroom, I do a quick decluttering of the drawers and cupboards. When I put clothes away, I pull out any clothes that are damaged, outgrown, or out of season. By keeping a watchful eye on clutter, I don’t think we’ll ever have to do a big purge again.
One other thing I try to do as much as possible is make decluttering fun. On The Lively Show (one of my fave podcasts), Jess talks often about making everything as pleasurable as possible. She did a great two-part series with Alissa Vitti on embodying pleasure in our daily lives (and no, it’s not all about sex or food). I love keeping pleasure in mind when I’m doing chores. So when I set off on decluttering, I thought how can I make this more pleasurable?
There are three main ways I make decluttering more enjoyable:
- Listening to podcasts while I work or putting a record on if I’m near the living room.
- Having a beverage near by—my drinks of choice are water, Zevia rootbeer, or a Skinny Vanilla Latte if I need a boost.
- Getting a helping hand. I take every opportunity to involve my husband, kids, or sister in my decluttering adventures. It goes by faster and is more fun with help. I’ve also recruited my kids for help with toy decluttering. On occasion, I’ve paid them a modest amount per bag of toys they are willing to donate. I figure with what they earn, they can buy one new toy, while I can get rid of bags full of toys they no longer play with. My seven year old is still a bit of a hoarder, but my nine year old is a decluttering ninja now.
Have you started spring cleaning and decluttering? I’d love to know your tips for making decluttering less of a drag. Please share in the comments below.