By Leo Babauta
There was a time, about 8 years ago, when my life was cluttered. I had too much stuff, and it kept coming in all the time. I had too much to do, and didn’t know how to simplify my schedule.
I was in need of some decluttering, and I knew it.
When I started to change my habits, from smoking to running to being more mindful, simplifying my life was near the top of the list.
The question became, how to go about it? How do you start when you’re facing a mountain of clutter, and another mountain of commitments, and piles of files and mail and email and other digital information?
The answer became clear, as I got started: start simply. Keep it simple as you go. Simple, each step of the way.
That said, I found complications that made things harder at every turn. I’d like to help you with some of those here, briefly, in hopes that you’ll be inspired to start decluttering.
How do you get started? As simply as possible:
- Take just 10 minutes today to sort though a pile, or declutter a shelf or table or countertop.
- Put everything into one pile, and start with the first thing you pick up (no putting things back in the pile).
- Ask yourself: do you really need this? Do you use it regularly? Do you love it? If the answer to any of these is no, then recycle, donate, or give it to someone who might want it. Put it in a box for these purposes.
- Put things back that you need/use/love, with space between things. This is their “home” and you should always put them back there.
- Stop after 10 minutes, continue tomorrow for another 10 minutes, and so on, one small spot in your home at a time.
- If you want to do more than 10 minutes, go ahead, but be careful not to overdo it in the beginning or you’ll think it’s difficult and not want to continue.
Once you’ve gotten the ball rolling, here’s how to keep going:
- Keep decluttering in small bits. Pick an area to focus on each week.
- Don’t worry about perfection. Just get it simpler. You can always declutter it more later.
- Put your box of donation/recycling/giving away in your trunk, to get rid of next time you’re out. Email friends/family to ask if they want things — often you can find a good home for perfectly good things you don’t really use (that workout equipment).
- If you’re on the fence, use a Maybe Box (put things that you think you might need in a box, mark it with today’s date, put a reminder on your calendar 6 months from now to check on the Maybe Box. If you haven’t used it in 6 months, you probably don’t need it and can get rid of it.
- Get help. Sometimes you just can’t bear to part with yourself, but if you can get an outside person to make the decision (friend or family member), they are usually much more dispassionate and ruthless.
- Enjoy the space. Once you’ve decluttered an area, really focus on how much you love the simplified space. Once you’re hooked on this simplicity, you’re more likely to keep going.
Decluttering Your Calendar & Digital Life
Physical decluttering is only one type of decluttering. You can also simplify your day, and your online/computer life as well.
A few simple tips:
- Decluttering your day is about reducing commitments, and saying no to the non-essential things. So first make a list of your commitments.
- Make a list of what’s most important to you (4-5 things) and declutter the rest. Say no to people with a phone call or email, and get out of existing commitments.
- Be very ruthless about saying no to new commitments — and seeing requests as potential commitments. Guard your time.
- Declutter your digital life one step at a time, just like your physical life. Email newsletters, blogs, social networks, online reading and watching, forums, etc. — are they essential? Can you declutter them?
Dealing With Others
Having other people in your life (home or workspace) can make simplifying more complicated. I have a wife and six kids, so I know how it is.
- Talk to them about it early on, when you’re just thinking about it (show them this article). Don’t force a decision on anyone, but involve them in the decision-making process.
- Focus on the benefits, the why, rather than what they need to do and why what they’re doing is wrong. People don’t like to be wrong, but they do like benefits.
- Lead by example. Show how you can declutter your space, and how much nicer it is, and how much easier it is to find things, to clean, to be at peace during your day.
- If there’s resistance, focus on decluttering your space. Don’t get frustrated with them, because that makes it more difficult. Instead, remember that you were a clutter-holic not long ago, so empathize.
- Don’t shy away from an opportunity to discuss simplifying, and why you’re doing it, in a positive way. Criticizing doesn’t help, nor does acting superior. Inspiring helps tremendously.