It’s a new year and everyone often has a new set of goals. We want to redirect our focus, better ourselves, and make new habits to replace the old ones that haven’t been serving us well.
Many people have reached out to me recently for advice on simplifying and decluttering in the new year. They are tired of being overwhelmed by the stuff in their homes, and they want to have more time to spend with their loved ones doing the things they actually enjoy.
It makes sense. It’s the same feeling I had years ago when we decided to become a minimalist family. In fact, if I’m completely transparent, it’s a feeling I get from time to time when I start to lose focus. Living a simplified life is a process that requires routine maintenance.
The best approach to reducing clutter is similar to the way someone would try to lose a few extra pounds. If someone is trying to lose weight, they must typically change their diet and start an exercise routine. But once the weight is lost, if they stop exercising and go back to eating unhealthy, the progress they made will obviously start to regress. Back to square one, right?
The same principles apply to the clutter in our homes. Keeping our home clutter free is a lifestyle change. We can’t simply spend one weekend tidying up and donating a few boxes of unused items and expect to be free of clutter forever. The stuff didn’t accumulate on its own, nor did it accumulate overnight. We must start with how the stuff got there in the first place, change our habits, and embrace the journey.
No one is perfect, and sometimes clutter happens even after we make a lot of progress. It’s easy to get discouraged or overwhelmed when items start to collect again.
To help, here are 5 tips that have helped my family constantly stay on top of our anti-clutter game:
(1) Approach every object with a questioning attitude. You are the gatekeeper to your home. You (and only you) have the ability to decide what should be allowed in, how long it should stay, and when it must leave. Only allow things in that will truly fulfill a need or serve a worthwhile purpose. When an item no longer serves a purpose…let it go! Stuff is just stuff. Always question the items in your home and ask yourself if they are still necessary. Typically items that are duplicates, no longer fit, or are overly worn/broken are the easiest to let go of. Baby steps are still progress when you’re stepping in the right direction.
(2) Purchase mindfully. The clutter that is overwhelming us didn’t invade our homes without our permission. We made the choice to purchase it in the first place. To help eliminate clutter before it even enters your home, try not to buy items impulsively. I often give myself a grace period before buying anything new. Advertisements are only doing their job if they make us want to jump up and buy the newest version of something we already own, or something that we didn’t know we needed in the first place. When shopping, always take a list. If you find yourself reaching for something that is not on the list, write the item down and sleep on it. 90% of the time it wasn’t a need anyway. (This applies to online shopping too!) The more intentional we are when we buy things, the less likely we are to bring home something that will just have to be decluttered later.
(3) Keep a donation box somewhere in your home. In our master bedroom closet we always have a cardboard box sitting in the corner–it’s our “purgeatory box”– a place for purged items to wait until we have time to drive to a donation center (see what I did there?). Usually it’s just a diaper box or a box that I carried my recent Costco purchases home in, nothing fancy. I leave it in the closet and as I see things around the house we don’t use, I toss them into the box. That shirt I haven’t worn since last year? Into the box. The entire drawer of size 2T clothes my son just outgrew? Into the box…along with a few tears. When the box is full I either take it to a donation center or schedule a donation pickup (see #4). Items are more likely to leave your house when you have a convenient (and healthy) place to accumulate them.
(4) Routinely schedule donation pickups. Many organizations offer a free pickup service for donated goods and will even leave you a tax receipt at your door. When we first became a minimalist family, we vowed to donate 2 boxes of unused items per week until our clutter was drastically reduced. We managed to purge over 60% of our possessions in a very short period of time simply by scheduling frequent donation pickups. We knew a truck was coming on a certain date, so we had to find some things to fill the boxes. It almost became a game! Even now, we often schedule a pickup every few months since our young kids are constantly growing out of clothes. Services vary by geographical area, but some of the ones we routinely use for the DC/VA/MD area include: Lupus Foundation of America, Vietnam Veterans of America, National Children’s Center, and Special Olympics. If you live outside of these areas, a quick web search can help you find a donation pickup service near you, such as Salvation Army.
(5) Don’t store “just in case” items. This is a big one and sometimes it takes a lot of practice before you’re really good at it. One common thing I hear people say when they’re trying to declutter is “How do I know I won’t need this after I get rid of it? I should probably hold onto it just in case.” If we find ourselves using the words “just in case”…it is typically a red flag telling us to absolutely get rid of it. “Just in case” items are what hoarder’s dreams are made of! The only exception is when we’re not actually storing something just in case we need it…but for when we need it. For example, if you have some baby items that your child is outgrowing, but you know you’re planning to have another child in the future, then it’s ok to store those items. You’re not storing them “just in case”, you’re literally keeping them for an inevitable event. This also goes for some seasonal items. But when facing “just in case” items, it’s important to be honest with yourself. If you (or your husband) have a vasectomy and there is no plan to adopt a newborn…those “just in case” baby items need to go. After all, it’s just stuff.
For more tips on “just in case” items, see this quick read by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus.
Overall, clutter has the uncanny ability to stress us out and make us feel overwhelmed. Too much physical stuff can weigh us down and keep us from focusing on more important things like friends, family, and hobbies we enjoy. These simple habits can be the baby steps to a long-term solution to not only help you declutter, but to stay decluttered.
Are you overwhelmed with an abundance of stuff in your home? Try out a few of these tips and let me know in the comments if any of them worked for you. Or feel free to share a tip of your own!