zen habits : breathe

Pare Down with the Declutter Habit

By Leo Babauta

It’s a fact of life that without constant vigilance, clutter creeps up in our lives, accumulating into piles and closets and drawers and shelves so that it can overwhelm us.

One of the best things I’ve done is simplify my life and pare down the clutter.

How do you pare down when you’re overwhelmed by the piles? Where do you start?

As with anything, you should start small, and start simply.

Just pick one spot. Spend 10 minutes. Make a dent in the piles.

And one spot at a time, one day at a time, create a zone of zero clutter that expands to cover your entire life.

Create the declutter habit, and your life will gradually become simpler.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Create space. The declutter habit doesn’t need to take up a lot of space in your day — you don’t need to devote an hour to it — but you still need to make the space. Just 10 minutes a day, but when will you do it? In the morning? After work? Midday? Pick a time, block off 10 minutes a day, and commit to doing that daily.
  2. Pick a spot. Now just pick a small flat space in your home or workspace. A part of your countertop, a tabletop, a shelf, part of a closet floor, part of your living room floor, part of your desk’s surface, a drawer. It doesn’t matter where you start, just pick something.
  3. Pile it up. Clear everything off the small, flat surface, and put it in a pile. This pile is like your to-do list — you’re going to work through things one at a time until you’ve finished the pile. Work by picking one item off the top of the pile — no skipping items!
  4. Decide one thing at a time. Pick off one item, and decide whether you really love and use it. Have you used it in the last year? Is it incredibly important to you? If not, get it out of your life! Give it to someone else, or a charity, or sell it. Put it in a box for that purpose. The keep pile should be small. Make quick decisions, and move on to the next item.
  5. Create homes. Take everything in the keep pile and create a home for each item — a place where the item will go from now on. Designate that spot carefully in your mind, and tell everyone else where that home is, so they know. Now always put that item in that home, always, so you never lose it. If it’s important enough to be in your life, it’s important enough to have a home. Note that you can find a home for items elsewhere — it doesn’t have to be the space where you’re decluttering.

Your new space should be pretty clear, with just a few keep items in their homes. Isn’t it lovely! Celebrate this wonderful little oasis in your life, this reward for 10 minutes of deciding what’s important.

That’s what decluttering is: taking time to decide what’s important enough to remain in your life. It’s not about getting rid of everything, or emptying your life completely. It’s about figuring out what matters to you. And then getting rid of what doesn’t.

Help with the declutter habit

If you’d like some help forming this habit, and deciding what to do with harder items, or dealing with family members who don’t want to declutter … join me and thousands of Sea Change members decluttering in March.

We’ll have articles, videos, a live webinar from Courtney Carver of Be More With Less, and even a free ebook on becoming Clutterfree written by Courtney and me.

Join Sea Change today (with a free 7-day trial).

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