Your Top 10 Clutter Questions, Answered

Post written by Leo Babauta.

Decluttering is a skill that you learn with practice, just like any skill. And just like other skills, there are many little questions and problems you need answered and solved as you get started.

Those of you taking the Clutterfat Challenge this month are facing these problems, and I’m here to help.

This post is a quickstart guide to decluttering — the most common questions answered. Also see last week’s Clutterfat Challenge post: How to Tackle Your Clutter.

1. Where do I start?
Start anywhere — really, where you start doesn’t matter, as long as you start. You’re going to get to all of it eventually, so pick a random spot to clear, and slowly expand from that spot. Start with a baby step — just one little space. Take just 5 minutes to clear a spot on a counter, and keep it clear. Clear a little more space later today. Tomorrow, clear a little more. It’s not difficult if you do it in small steps. Here are 18 5-minute decluttering tips to start conquering your mess.

2. How do I deal with the piles of mail and magazines? How do I handle paper cluttter?
Make a big pile of your mail and magazines. Now work through the pile very quickly. Take the top piece, and decide: can you toss it? If so, toss it in a recycling bin. If you need it, decide if it should be filed (and file it in a folder right now), or if it needs action — in which case, take action on it if you can do it in a couple minutes. Have an action folder to file things in if they need more than a couple minutes. Toss the magazines — you don’t need them. Work quickly through everything until you finished the pile. When you have more time, make another pile of paper clutter and work through it. Read more: 6 Simple Steps to Make Mail & Paperwork Painless.

3. What do I do if my family is the clutter problem?
Start with yourself. Lead by example. Declutter your personal space, and show how great it is. Start a positive discussion with them about why you’re decluttering, and ask if they want to join you. It’s a long process, educating people, but don’t ever force them or they’ll resist or be resentful. Read more.

4. I tend to keep things just in case I might need them again.
Make a list of your “just in case” stuff — or better yet, put them in a box — and see how often you actually need them in the next 6 months. If you didn’t need them, you can safely get rid of them. If you did, keep them. Read more: the just in case syndrome.

5. How do I deal with things that have a sentimental value, that bring back memories/feelings about a time you might not think about without a reminder.
Realize that your feelings, your love, your memories, are not in those objects. They are merely placeholders. You can easily keep those placeholders on your computer, or online. Some ideas:

Read more: Letting Go of Sentimental Items and Getting unstuck from sentimental stuff.

6. I want to clean my clutter but sometimes I’m just too lazy to deal with it.
This is why we’ve created the Clutterfat Challenge — it’s motivation to finally get off your butt! But you can create other challenges: announce to your friends and family on Facebook and Twitter that you’re going to declutter for 10 minutes a day for a month. Or blog about your decluttering journey. Do it with others and make it fun. Make it a game with your family.

7. My biggest issue is getting rid of things that where given as a present by people I care about.
Free yourself of this guilt. Your loved ones gave you the gifts to make you happy, not to burden you for life, not to make you feel guilty. Allow yourself to be happy, and only keep things if they’re making you happy. Read more from Discardia and Miss Minimalist.

8. Where do I dispose of stuff?
I like giving things away to friends and family, charity, Craigslist and Freecycle. Read Miss Minimalist’s great list.

9. I don’t have time to keep things clean.
Create clean-as-you-go habits. These take seconds, and if you do them, you don’t need to do a lot of cleaning later. Read more: Develop clean house habits and 15 Clutter Busting Routines For Any Family.

10. Making time to declutter and follow through with disposal is tough.
It only takes 5-10 minutes a day — declutter one pile at a time, one flat surface at a time. Do it when you get home, and before you leave the house. Put things you’re going to donate into a box each day, and put that in your trunk. When you drive by a charity, drop it off. That takes 5 minutes.

Need more? Here are a few more articles: