Declutter 101 — how to tackle clutter and live simply
Clutter is disorder.
It is a bunch of stuff — be it physical or mental — that is haphazardly thrown about. A mess, to be blunt. Here’s how to get clutter under control and make space for what you love.
Being messy in your mind or in your space has a strong, adverse effect on your well-being. Countless scientific studies have shown this correlation:
People with clean houses are healthier than those with messy homes.
People who describe their homes as cluttered are more depressed than those who describe theirs as orderly.
Clutter overwhelms the brain and makes it hard to focus and complete tasks.
If you want a surefire way to gain more serenity and clarity in your life — and substantially improve your overall health — identify and eliminate clutter. In this guide, we help you get started with decluttering both your mind and space.
What is Material Clutter?
What is Mental Clutter?
The Benefits of Tackling Clutter
Where to Begin?
How to Follow Through
1. What is Material Clutter?
Material clutter is an excess of physical stuff, disorder or uncleanliness that has adverse psychological or physiological effects on your sense of well-being.
Examples of material clutter or clutter-inducing behavior include, but aren't limited to:
Letting too much time go by before cleaning your space
Making obsessive purchases, then regretting them later
Hoarding lots of objects that have no functional use
Living in an environment that is in disarray or simply unattractive
Examples of the adverse impact that material clutter can have on you include, but aren't limited to:
Stress and anxiety
Overwhelm and depression
Anger and frustration
Distraction, procrastination and negligence
Dissatisfaction and lack of contentment
It is important to stress that clutter is a form of chaos and that this chaos is hardly ever good for you (or the people around you).
2. What is Mental Clutter?
You may not be aware of this, but not all clutter is physical — it also comes in non-tangible forms. Your thoughts, habits and behaviors can also be chaotic or lead to situations that wreak havoc on your life.
This is categorized as mental clutter, and even though you can't see or touch it like material clutter, it has a similar impact. In fact, mental clutter may be more challenging to overcome particularly because you can’t see it build up.
Where material clutter eventually becomes obvious, your mental clutter may be sabotaging you without you realizing it. Examples of clutter or clutter-inducing behavior include, but aren't limited to:
Replaying mental scenes from old situations in loops
Having too many unfinished tasks on your to-do list
Allowing social media to distract you or make you insecure
Entertaining superficial relationships that drain energy and waste your time
In the examples above, it's very easy to blame something or someone else for the problems that arise, when they actually are mental clutter in disguise.
Mental clutter can have the same adverse impact as material clutter in addition to effects such as:
Brain fog (slow mental processing)
3. The Benefits of Clearing Clutter
Clearing the clutter may be the obvious thing to do. If you can't muster the courage or are not sure whether it may be worth your time, consider what decluttering will do for you, it:
With less stuff, you will spend less time cleaning, less time trying to find things, leaving you with more time for your family, your self-care and your friends.
Clearing out furniture that you actually don't like, cardboard boxes that have been standing in the corner since your move and storing kitchen appliances in their space in the cabinets will make your home feel more spacious again.
The process of decluttering throws us back at the somewhat bigger questions of how we want to live, what we want to do and who we want to be.
Answering these may seem daunting at first, but can help us remember and re-actualize our vision for our lives and re-align our actions, our space and our thinking with this bigger vision.
Navigating your day-to-day will be less overwhelming because things are in the place where they belong, you know how to find everything you need and do not have to go through piles of mail first before you can locate your car keys (which makes getting to work more relaxed, to begin with).
Once you have identified for yourself what matters to you and what wastes your time you can start to progressively strip away all the unnecessary time wasters (things or thoughts that do not contribute to your happiness) from your space and from your mind.
You will end up having more clarity about the things and people that make you happy – and more time to be doing exactly these things!
Decluttering is a great exercise. It helps us let go. If we keep clinging to everything, we turn into hoarders and people who suffocate others. Learning to let go off things and thoughts of the past allows us to be 100% in the present, savor and be grateful for what is.
Buying less things you do not need is great news because you are cutting the constant flow of things that will only end up cluttering your space, go in the landfill, hurt your finances or eat up your time.
Many of us would want to be generous. Sometimes we don't know how to be generous, where to start. Sometimes we fear losing out, not being able to afford giving to others.
Not only is donating what we don't need any longer a great way of giving (making us feel lighter and giving to someone who can derive so much more value out of that thing than you, sounds like a total win-win).
More than that, by accumulating less unnecessary stuff, you will save money, feel less strained and more at liberty to share, connect with the people around you and experience how contagious the joy of giving can be.
A place that is organized and aligned with your priorities will feel more comfortable and inviting.
Accumulating more and more stuff cannot possibly be all. There must be more to life than this. And this is what decluttering -acutely reminds us of — our lives are too precious being wasted chasing empty shells.
4. Where to Begin?
Start by choosing one area of clutter in your home or life to declutter first. Make time for tackling this particular room or category on a specific day, marking that day in your calendar.
Step 1: Identify the problem – How does that space make you feel?
One of the best ways to know where to begin is getting in tune with your emotions. How does a specific room in your home make you feel? If you feel irritable, uncomfortable or unsettled start to scan the room and ask yourself:
Is it clean or dirty?
Are things organized or in disarray?
Are there items in the space that you actually don’t like?
You may be unconsciously reacting to the disorder. The energy in an environment can be positive or negative depending on what's in it and how it's arranged. Start with a room that you both care about and that feels off or not as comfortable as it should be.
Step 2: Formulate your vision – Make space for what you love
Now, sit down for a minute and think what you would want this room to be. Which priority of your life should it support? Which of the things that matter to you most should this room be a reflection of?
In other words, going back to how different places make you feel: how would you want this particular place to make you feel?
This is an extremely important part of the process as you want to make sure that you declutter not for the sake of decluttering, but for a purpose: you want your space to support you in doing the things you love most.
So, the point is less to give up certain things, but more so to listen to your heart and make more space for the best things in your life. Looking at it from this perspective makes decluttering a happiness and self-care exercise.
Being clear about the priorities in your life you want your space to support is going to save you a lot of time while also providing you with a razor-sharp tool to differentiate between what supports your priorities and vision for your space from what doesn't.
Step 3: Take systematic action – Keep, donate, act
Equipped with this vision, let's move on to the action part. You’ve already decided on the one category or room to begin with. And, you have dedicated an entire day to this room or entire category of things.
Now, it may help to empty out that particular room or category of things entirely, remove it from its original place and only have the best things return to it. What may prove useful here is to divide things into three buckets:
Keep only the best
Donate to friends or family, a thrift store or charity, a homeless or pet shelter
Act by selling, fixing, repurposing or recycling
Try to stay true to the vision you have laid out for yourself, take breaks and listen to your heart and gut. Does this particular object bring you closer to the priorities I have laid out for myself? Does it support you in doing the things you love? If not, it might not be that necessary after all.
5. How to Follow Through?
One of the questions readers ask us over and over again is: what is the ONE thing you need to do to successfully declutter?
Purpose: Knowing why you are decluttering
For us, the one thing you want to get right when decluttering is the purpose. What are you doing this for? When you your purpose for decluttering straight, you will find the means to make it happen.
Support: Have a friend help you
After that, it is super important to find support, too. This can be a friend, family member or an online community of peers to challenge you and keep you on track. Decluttering is a tremendous investment in your well-being, but it won’t be completed overnight.
Therefore, having someone rallying for you is a surefire way to significantly increase the odds of you actually following through with it. They’ll be there for you, encouraging you not to get distracted, bogged down or worse give up.