I am a sponge for knowledge. Which is why I found myself on the other end of about 2,800 emails (after just one week) as a result of taking a deep dive into learning more about my health and wellness. I signed up for one listserv after another. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed and unable to tackle my to-do list because seeing that huge number of emails was exhausting. On any journey, it’s important to make space for yourself and your goals in your life. This can be done through physical and emotional, even financial, decluttering.
When you reach that pinnacle of struggle, the pain point that makes you want to make a change, you are often surrounded by overwhelm. Where do I start? What do I need to tackle first? What would be the best use of my time? Analysis paralysis! Take a deep breath, make a to-do list, pick the top three areas that need the most decluttering and let’s do this! For me I dove in and decluttered my emails. And then my finances. And then my house. All of this allowed me to declutter my life naturally.
How Clutter Affects You
While many of us purchase things based on a perceived idea of fulfilling a need (or a powerful want), the truth is what we buy is primarily influenced by an emotional response that marketing gurus understand how to tap into.
As an example, when you physically hold an item, you are more likely to build an emotional attachment to it which increases your desire to purchase it. Many stores are explicitly constructed to appeal to your sense of touch and to entice you to buy the item you’ve been holding (think every Apple Store you’ve ever been to). I’m pretty sure this is why I own so many journals, many of which I’ve never actually written in!
As you acquire things, you project a specific value on them. And over time, this value adds up to equate memories and hopes or dreams that you associate with the thing in question. This all makes it incredibly difficult to get rid of the stuff you’ve acquired throughout your life. And it is particularly tricky if you’ve assigned a particular meaning to the item – For example, a pair of jeans that you someday believed you might fit into that still don’t fit.
The psychological impact of the idea that you never have, and will never fit into those jeans is rolled up into a unique sense of failure; You did not achieve success so getting rid of the jeans is, in essence, getting rid of that goal.
While it may seem that you are losing your focus on your goals for a particular item, the truth is by continuing to keep things that don’t serve you, you are doing the opposite and are impeding your ability to move forward.
A study conducted at Princeton University found that people working in a cluttered environment experienced higher stress levels and lower performance than those in a less cluttered environment. In a similar study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, researchers discovered that the cortisol levels in mothers who had a large number of toys and clutter spiked while at home, but dropped almost immediately after leaving. The overload of too much stuff in your environment can increase your stress, and reduce your productivity.
Digital Clutter is Also Clutter
Your computer, your email program, your phone – each of these objects is another vessel for you to collect clutter, making you feel as if you are productive and multitasking (look at all these files I have!) But truthfully, many of them are unneeded or unused and often unread.
How many times have you needed to open the file that stores your graduate school application letters? Really?
In the case of my email, I felt like I could never catch up. To deal with it, I signed up for a program called Unroll.Me – which allows you to get one email summary each day with all the subscription emails you would otherwise receive to your inbox. It was perfect for me to feel attached to the information and ongoing learning (which is one of my top 3 life goals) I wanted to receive but limit the overwhelm that was stopping me in my tracks to get through a simple task like checking emails.
The same is true for social media alerts for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. Each of these message platforms adds to the clutter you have to sift through on your phone, tablet or desktop. It all also has an uncanny way of cluttering your mind and leading you down a path of distraction. In some cases, reading a triggering politically laced post from a friend or family member can completely derail your productivity.
A clutter of any kind can be an assault on your brain and your thinking, and distract you from what your actual goals are and make it hard to physically relax (because it seems as if work isn’t ever done).
Declutter: How to Let Go To Get More
Minimalism is a huge catchphrase in the health and wellness community these days. And it’s for a good reason: for many health professionals having a clean, organized kitchen makes it far more enjoyable to cook healthier meals. If you work out at home, having ample space to move or to store any equipment (out of site when you’re done working out) can be more motivating than if you were to have to move a bunch of stuff out of the way before you can even begin your workout.
While these are all great added benefits to having less stuff and less clutter, ultimately when you have less clutter to live amongst, you also open yourself up to spend more time on things that matter. For many, this means being able to spend more time with your family, your health and wellness goals, and your work or other activities that are enjoyable (instead of always feeling like you have to clean!).
When you reduce the clutter, you reduce the associated stress which improves your quality of life and trickle’s down into all other corners of your environment.
How to Declutter Your Home
There is no one size fits all when it comes to decluttering your home. A lot of it depends on your lifestyle and the number of things that you have. Here’s a simple guide to jump-start you into it. Spoiler alert: get out the giant garbage bags and get ready to collect on your donations at Goodwill. You’re about to get rid of a lot of things and enjoy doing it too!
Take it One Room at a Time
If you try to declutter your entire home in one go, the odds are good you’re going to take about two or three hours and burn out completely, having only gone through a third of the house and feel like you’re back and square one.
Instead, take it one room at a time. Start in the closet where it’s super easy to decide on clothes that don’t fit you or that you haven’t worn in years.
Marie Kondo’s book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” (and the subsequent Netflix hit show “Tidying Up”) has some excellent tips for tackling the emotional attachment that is often associated with clothes. For me, her outlook on decluttering is a bit extreme (Sorry, I’m not about to empty my purse every night and then restock it). BUT the idea of getting rid of things that no longer have a purpose is downright inspirational and worth taking a read.
As a Shinto Buddhist, she assigns meaning and emotion to all living and inanimate objects. And because of this, she recommends that you thank the item you’re getting rid of as you do it. Take a moment and appreciate the memories you shared.
Thank it for being a part of your life, and then toss it in a pile for donation or recycling.
A Little Decluttering Goes a Long Way
Dedicate 30 minutes every week to your decluttering goals. Take it one step at a time, one project at a time. 30 minutes is not so long that you feel resistance toward doing it, but long enough that you can make a sizeable dent in your goals.
Even better? Block it out as an appointment on your calendar and commit to spending these 30 minutes on your path toward emotional and mental freedom.
Here Are Some Of My Favorite Quick Tips To Get You Started:
Keep Quality Items Over Quantity
As you evaluate how many towels to keep, opt for thicker, nicer, more absorbent towels over the thinner, older ones. The more quality the product, the better it will continue to serve you.
When it comes to specific decorations, keep whatever makes you happy and brings you joy.
Plan Your Wardrobe Like You’re About to Travel
When I travel, I’m sure always to make sure that the pieces I bring can easily coordinate with each other. I rarely carry just one pair of pants that can only be worn with one different shirt. It doesn’t maximize the space in my suitcase and it also just doesn’t make sense.
When you choose which clothes to purge, consider how each item coordinates with other items. If you have one pair of shoes that can only be worn with one dress, then it might be something you can part with. However, if these shoes bring you exceptional joy and you love wearing them (and wear them often) please, keep them.
I’m merely suggesting that you take an overall picture of your closet as one cohesive project rather than a series of smaller individual ones.
Alternatively, turn each of your hangars to face one direction. When you pull an item of clothing off the hangar, turn it to face the opposite direction. At the end of a certain amount of time (six months allows you to go through at least two seasons in most temperate climates) assess which clothes never made the cut (i.e., were worn). These are a great place to start when it comes to purging clothes you no longer wear.
Declutter Your Digital Life
Go paperless when you can for bills and other correspondence. When it comes to emails, unsubscribe from newsletters or emails that you rarely read. Consider a service like unroll to keep the ones you want, but still minimize the amount of email you get in a day.
Bed, Bath and Beyond
Drawers, cabinets, and under-the-sink storage are notorious for collecting clutter. Start by checking expiration dates on any medications, makeup, or other cosmetics and toss anything that’s expired. Then move to purge the items that you never use anymore, gift sets, or soaps that have sat collecting dust in the back of the cabinet.
The same is true of your nightstand, or bookshelf in your bedroom. If it no longer has a purpose, or you didn’t even remember it was there, the odds are good you don’t have a current use for it, and it’s time for it to go.
Try to commit to making your bed every day. The psychological effect of making a bed is something that is quick, easy and trickles into other areas of your day as well. (And also it looks so much nicer!) It’s also a remarkable bit of self-care that can make you feel energized and inspired.
Declutter Your Kitchen
Kitchens can naturally lend themselves to clutter when you love to cook (like my husband and I do). We have tons of gadgets and plates and glasses and silverware that all need to be stored.
At the bare minimum try to clear anything off the counters that don’t get used every day. If it can fit in a cabinet or drawer, put it there instead. If you have a family of four, and 20 champagne glasses, there’s a good chance you can get rid of some of them. Unless you’re hosting huge parties every weekend, then, by all means, keep your glasses.
But if they are collecting dust, or grime from hanging out in the cabinet, you may be able to move them out of the way to make space for things you use.
If you haven’t used it in a year, you probably won’t use it this year, and it’s worth considering donating it or giving it away.
Live in Your De-cluttered Living Room
Your living room probably is one of the most challenging spaces to keep tidy, especially if you have kids. Consider including storage bins for toys, remote controls, and game consoles and accessories so that at the end of the night you can toss it out of the room and into the bin and you can relax.
If everything has a specific space to go, then it is more likely you can tidy it up and declutter that space.
The “Tape Date” Trick
For the items that you don’t know if you can get rid of, consider putting a piece of tape on them and labeling the current date. Set a time a few months down the line on your calendar to check the date of the item. If it hasn’t been used or even moved, the odds are good you can probably get rid of it.
One In, One Out
It’s as simple as it sounds. If you buy a new shirt, get rid of an old one. If your kids get ten new toys from Grandma, time to donate ten old toys to children who don’t have as many toys.
Daily Declutter Your Electronic Devices
Spend some time every day going through emails, and old files that don’t get used anymore. If you must keep them, consider transferring them to a flash drive or even to cloud storage (so you don’t have another THING you have to keep track of).
Declutter Your Finances
Your credit card debt is just another way of hanging onto old things that may or may not even be getting used anymore.
Consider the Credit Card Snowball method to pay off debt. In this method, you pay off the credit card with the highest interest first. Once that’s paid off, you’ll move the amount you paid and designate it to pay off the credit card with the next highest importance, and so on, building on the momentum of having paid down some sizeable debt.
How To Declutter Your Mind
Once you’ve gone through each of the rooms in your house, and decluttered your stuff, it’s important to make sure you can also spend some time decluttering your mind and other areas of your life that can be directly impacted from the stress of clutter.
A decluttered living space equals a decluttered mind, and that’s where real happiness can enter instead.
I love meditation and yoga as a way of relaxing and calming those pestering thoughts that seem to keep me feeling spun and not productive.
How are you making space in your home? Share this post on Facebook or Pinterest or comment below and let me know your declutter plans! What’s worked for you?