By Leo Babauta
One of my favorite habits that I’ve created since I changed my life 9 years ago is having a decluttered home.
I now realize that I always disliked the clutter, but I put off thinking about it because it was unpleasant.
The thought of having to deal with all that clutter was overwhelming, and I had too much to do, or I was too tired, so I procrastinated.
Clutter, it turns out, is procrastination.
But I learned to deal with that procrastination one small chunk at a time, and I cleared it out. That was truly amazing.
Amazing because I didn’t really believe I could do it until I did it. I didn’t believe in myself. And amazing because when it was done, there was a background noise that was removed from my life, a distraction, an irritation.
Decluttering my home has meant a more peaceful, minimal life. It’s meant I spend less time cleaning, maintaining my stuff, looking for things. Less money buying things, storing things. Less emotional attachment to things.
For anyone looking to begin decluttering, I’d like to offer a short guide on getting started. Know that this guide isn’t comprehensive, and it can take months to really get down to a decluttered home … but if you do it right, the process is fun and liberating and empowering, each step of the way.
- Start small. Clutter can be overwhelming, and so we put it off. The best thing I did was to just focus one one small space to start with. A kitchen counter (just part of it) is a good example. Or a dining table, or a shelf. Clear everything off that space, and only put back what you really need. Put it back neatly. Get rid of the rest — give it away, sell it on Craigslist, donate it, recycle it. The clearing and sorting will take 10 minutes, while you can give stuff away later when you have the time.
- Work in chunks. If you start small, you’ll feel good about it, but there’s still a whole home full of stuff to deal with. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. (Not literally — I’m vegan.) So just like you did one small area to start with, keep doing that, just 10 minutes a day, maybe more if you feel really enthusiastic. If you have a free day on the weekend, spend an afternoon doing a huge chunk. Spend the whole weekend if you feel like it. Or just do one small piece at a time — there’s no need to rush, but keep the progress going.
- Follow a simple method. For each small chunk you do, clear out the area in question and put everything in one pile. Pick up the first thing off the pile (no putting it aside to decide later) and force yourself to make a decision. Ask yourself: do I love and use this? If not, get rid of it. If the answer is yes, find a place for it — I call it a “home”. If you really love and use something, it deserves a home that you designate and where you put it back each time you’re done with it. Then go to the next thing and make the same decision. Working quickly and making quick decisions, you can sort through a pile in about 10 minutes (depending on the size of the pile).
- Put stuff in your trunk. Once you’ve collected stuff to donate or give away, put them in boxes or grocery bags and put them in the trunk of your car (if you don’t have a car, somewhere near the door). Choose a time to deliver them. Enjoy getting them out of your life.
- Talk to anyone involved. If you have a significant other, kids, or other people living with you, they’ll be affected if you start decluttering the home. You should talk to them now, before you get started, so they’ll understand why you want to do this, and get them involved in the decision-making process. Ask them what they think of this. Send them this article to consider. Ask if they can support you wanting to declutter, at least your own stuff or some of the kitchen or living room, to see what it’s like. Don’t be pushy, don’t try to force, but have the conversation. Be OK if they resist. Try to change the things that you can control (your personal possessions, for example) and see if that example doesn’t inspire them to consider further change.
- Notice your resistance. There will be a lot of items that you either don’t want to get rid of (even if you don’t really use them), or you don’t feel like tackling. This resistance is important to watch — it’s your mind wanting to run from discomfort or rationalize things. You can give in to the resistance, but at least pay attention to it. See it happening. The truth is, we put a lot of emotional attachment into objects. A photo of a loved one, a gift from a family member, a memento from a wedding or travel, a treasured item from a dead grandfather. These items don’t actually contain the memories or love that we think are in them, and practicing letting go of the items while holding onto the love is a good practice. And practicing tackling clutter that you dread tackling is also an amazing practice.
- Enjoy the process. The danger is to start seeing decluttering as yet another chore on your to-do list. Once you start doing that, it becomes something you’ll put off. Instead, reframe it to a liberating practice of mindfulness. Smile as you do it. Focus on your breathe, on your body, on the motions of moving items around, on your feelings about the objects. This is a beautiful practice, and I recommend it.
These steps won’t get your home decluttered in a weekend. But you can enjoy the first step, and then the second, and before you know it you’ve taken 30 steps and your home is transformed. You’ll love this change as much as I have.