Clutter often feels like a seemingly impossible obstacle that stands between you and peace. Clutter makes us feel stuck. It blocks personal growth, clouds our judgment and halts our dreams. Ultimately, clutter causes us to settle.
At least this is the effect clutter had, and sometimes still has, on my life and I’m sure I’m no different than anyone else. So, I want to share my story of overcoming clutter to offer you hope and show you how to declutter your home and life.
- How to Declutter Your Home and Life
- How to Declutter Your Home
- How to Stop Clutter
- How to Declutter Your Life
- Benefits of Decluttering
How to Declutter Your Home and Life
Decluttering requires readiness and commitment, something that is much easier said than done. It helps when we understand clutter, what it is and how it happens, in order to make a declutter plan.
What is Clutter?
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the word clutter? For many of us, we probably picture physical clutter like paper piles, an overcrowded closet, or countertops covered in stuff. But that’s just one kind of clutter. We’ll get into the other types of clutter in a minute. First, let’s define clutter.
I personally define clutter as anything that crowds, or doesn’t belong, in your life. This includes emotional clutter, mental clutter, spiritual clutter and of course the physical clutter.
Other words for clutter include disorganized, chaos, disorder, confusion, crowded, messy, and untidiness to name a few.
Clutter can show up as stress, physical pain, depression, anxiety, decision fatigue, feeling stuck and as messy piles of things just lying around.
Let’s look at some examples of the different types of clutter.
7 Types of Physical Clutter
- Messes or piles of belongings that are out of place like kid’s toys, clean laundry that hasn’t been put away, dirty clothes spilling out of the hamper, dishes in the sink, paper piles
- Sentimental Clutter like momentos, keepsakes or inherited items or anything you are emotionally attached to.
- Misplaced items that are just in the wrong room or area of the house like shoes, purses, keys, wallets
- Stockpiles that you don’t have the room for but purchase or keep just in case.
- Pieces of the past such as clothes that haven’t fit in years or craft supplies you no longer need or use, baby clothes or baby gear you no longer need
- Broken items or items missing parts or pieces and should be tossed
- Donations that haven’t left your home
- Storage items that are boxed up and kept in the garage, attic or a storage room. Typically, these storage items haven’t been used or needed in a long time. These can be boxes that belong to you or be other people’s belongings that you’re storing for them.
Examples of Mental Clutter
- Decision fatigue or the inability to make a decision because of overwhelm
- A busy mind that won’t stop
- Worrying about what ifs, future outcomes or things that happened in the past
- Negative Self-Talk or the dialogue we have in our minds where we put ourselves down and beat ourselves up
Signs of Emotional Clutter
This one is tougher to recognize because it typically shows up as coping mechanisms and the way we relate to others. That might look like:
- dysfunctional relationships
- impulse shopping
- feeling trapped or stuck in life or in situations
- low self-esteem
- anxiety resulting from feeling stuck, unseen, not heard
Recognizing Spiritual Clutter
My definition of spiritual clutter is anything that suppresses your spirit, keeps you from fulfilling your purpose, or otherwise hinders you from becoming who you are created to be. It can show up as:
- not feeling connected
- lack of community
- and lots of wandering
Lest you start feeling overwhelmed or embarrassed, I want you to know I’ve experienced firsthand just about everything on these lists. And at one point in my life, it all came to a head.
About ten years ago my husband had lost his job, and we’d been living on my teacher’s salary. Between school politics and a dysfunctional work dynamic, I was miserable at work. I knew I wanted to leave teaching, but I felt stuck because we needed the income.
Between the stress of the job and worrying about money, I didn’t have the mental or physical energy to be a present mom. Household chores were neglected. My marriage was struggling. All of this mental and emotional wear and tear was showing up in my body. In fact, I’d already used all ten of my sick days just six weeks into the school year. I felt spiritually bankrupt.
But I didn’t recognize any of it for what it was until I quit my job and started tackling the physical clutter. Once some of my health problems were addressed and my home was tidy again, I started to recognize the mental, emotional and spiritual clutter.
Since physical clutter is typically more obvious and easier to confront, let’s start with how to declutter your home.
How to Declutter Your Home
Before we can tackle the clutter in our homes, we need to see our homes as sacred spaces set apart for nurturing our souls, filling our cups, knitting our household together and providing a safe haven. That vision then becomes our motivation, reminding us of why we’re simplifying and decluttering our homes, especially when it gets tiring or overwhelming.
Why is decluttering so hard?
Much like a child whose toys are strewn across the floor or a teen whose clothes cover their bedroom floor, when they’re asked to clean it up, they resist. It’s no different for adults.
Facing clutter is like facing a giant, it’s completely overwhelming and seems like an impossible obstacle. We get overwhelmed with how much stuff there is and are left wondering where to start and how to start. And sometimes, we have to make difficult decisions about things that hold value to us.
It’s so much easier to look the other way and just live with the clutter.
What Not to Do When Decluttering
While decluttering is a pretty straightforward process, there are some things to avoid so that you don’t get overwhelmed.
Buying containers before you declutter -It’s best to see what you keep, determine where you’re storing those items and measure your space before buying containers. Decluttering first saves you time, money and overwhelm.
Trying to finish in one day – You can start and finish a small decluttering project in a short period of time, but know that you won’t be decluttering your whole house in one day. Decluttering takes time.
Assume you’ll only declutter once – Decluttering is an ongoing process that requires periodic maintenance.
Start with sentimental items – Sentimental belongings require a lot of emotional energy and are the hardest to declutter. I suggest starting with a junk drawer or some other space where the items have no sentimental value and that will be easy to sort.
How to Start Decluttering
Because clutter can be so overwhelming, it is tempting to just start decluttering without a plan. It’s best to create a step-by-step plan or decluttering checklist to reduce overwhelm and keep you on task. Because it is very easy to get off track. This is the checklist I created, and I find it very effective.
1. Gather 5 containers. You can use cardboard boxes, laundry baskets, or plastic trash bags. We typically use kitchen trash bags for collecting trash and lawn and garden bags for holding items to be donated.
2. Label the containers:
3. Pick a space to declutter. The best place to start decluttering is with something easy like a drawer, shelf or cabinet.
I suggest removing everything from a space. Taking everything out helps us detach the emotional value and think more objectively. It also allows us to see the blank space as a clean slate.
When you move on to larger spaces like a closet, you can break it down into smaller areas or categories instead of emptying out everything all at once.
Decluttering Tip: If you are decluttering an entire room, start in one corner and work clockwise. If you’re clearing out the cabinets under the kitchen or bathroom sink, work left to right. And, for clearing out closets, work from top to bottom, left to right. Doing this takes the guesswork out of where to start and gives you clarity and momentum throughout the decluttering process.
Sort everything you touch into one of those five containers, following these guidelines:
- Trash it if it is broken, or too heavily worn to donate.
- Donate it if you don’t love it or use it.
- Recycle batteries, chemicals, electronics, paint…
- Return items that belong in another part of the house where they belong.
- Keep what you use and love
- Take out the trash and schedule bulk/heavy trash pick-up for items that don’t fit in the trash can.
- Arrange to have the donations picked up or take them to a donation center.
- Set your recyclables in your recycle bin for pick up or take them to a recycle center. Some centers take only take certain items on certain days and fees may apply.
- Clean your empty space then replace the items you are keeping in a way that complements how you use the space.
How to Stop Clutter
Often we tidy up and organize then find our homes and our lives right back where we started. In order to stop accumulating clutter, it’s important to create systems and routines that support your lifestyle. That comes with time and observing how everyone in your household uses each space.
Usually, clutter happens for one of a few reasons:
- Procrastination. We delay putting things away either because we’re tired, busy or because we haven’t found a place for that item.
- Passing of time Sometimes organizing systems stop working. Typically that happens over time such as when seasons change, or during life transitions.
- Personality – We all have an organizing personality or style. Some of us need to see our things and others of us need everything out of sight. Try switching from clear to translucent containers or translucent to clear whatever the case may be. You might need to try a different type of storage solution altogether, like changing from a shoe shelf to a bin.
Another really important step in stopping clutter is to identify your values and priorities. Once you define those things, use them as a filter to identify what belongs in your life and what doesn’t.
You will encounter clutter from time to time. It doesn’t mean you’re starting all over again. Instead it’s just the next stop on the journey, providing a new opportunity to delve deeper and resurrect more of you, whether that’s in your home or life.
How Often to Declutter Your Home
How often you declutter your home depends on your lifestyle. With that said, an evening tidy up routine helps keep daily clutter from piling up.
I also recommend decluttering with the calendar seasons as well as during or after life transitions. What served you well for one season may not necessarily fit into the next one.
How to Declutter Your Life
One thing I know for sure is that when you declutter your home, it opens the door to declutter your life. When I say declutter your life, I mean addressing those other areas of life where clutter happens; the mental, emotional and spiritual clutter. This isn’t something you can force, but you can be mindful by taking inventory of your life and paying attention to the areas that feel stressful or burdensome.
Doing that, allows us to tend to every aspect of our home lives; not just the physical space, but the way we live in it and how it affects our daily lives. When that happens, we’re able to live a life of ease, enjoying the people and passions that matter most.
Since these types of clutter can be harder to recognize and more difficult to reckon with, I highly recommend curating resources to help you declutter your life. So, I’ve rounded up a carefully curated list of the top resources that have changed my own life.
A journal and/or planner – Research shows writing down goals will help you accomplish significantly more than if you don’t. And I can attest to that.
My number one key to successful goal planning is finding a system that works for you. I’ve gone from a DIY planner to Lara Casey’s Powersheets to bullet journaling. I love them all and use a blank journal to combine the best of all of them. But if you need a structured planner, then I highly recommend Powersheets. It’s already set up for you. You just have to fill in the blanks.
If you prefer bullet journaling, I really like the Moleskine journal. Other people love the Leuchtturm 1917. Both notebooks come with lined pages. A couple of notable differences are the Leuchtturm also includes numbered pages and a blank table of contents page.
Get Your Pretty On – I cannot say enough about this virtual styling service. Especially how pretty and confident it makes me feel. (Really.) As a friend of ours once said, “When you look good you feel good. And when you feel good you do good.” It’s also very affordable and practical.
BeTransformed with Galina & Roland Denzel – I fell in love with this couple within seconds of watching the first video in their course, The Real Food Reset. Since then, I’ve become a big fan and follower of everything they offer.
This platform offers help for eating, moving and living well. For a quick win, I suggest trying Eat Well – 12 Habits to Success and the Eat Well – 12 Ways to Better Movement, or 5 Minute Movement Breaks.
Yoga – Yoga has become my favorite form of exercise and served as my introduction into mindful living and the mind-body connection. Our bodies are amazing creations! Adrienne of Yoga with Adrienne is an excellent teacher and is perfect for beginners. Her classes are free on Youtube. I also love Sarabeth Yoga. You can find her on Youtube as well.
Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World by Henri Nouwen – Henri is the most gracious teacher I’ve ever read. I found his writing so soothing; like a kindly grandfather sharing his years of wisdom and perspective. His words are so wise and profound, I had to read the book slowly and take time to ponder, reread and really let truth seep into my searching soul.
We all need to feel seen, heard and validated. If you could use a little spiritual uplifting, then treat yourself to this book. It will change the way you live your life.
Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World by Bob Goff – The title says it all. Bob put to words what I’d long felt in my spirit; Christianity is so much simpler, and kinder, than we make it. And Bob’s stories are so inspiring and encouraging. They will make you see the world, and the way we live in it, in a whole new light. Reading this book was such a relief to my soul. It’s affirming message felt like an overdue exhale.
Counseling – Counseling has done so much for me as an individual, wife and mother. You can ask friends or family for a recommendation, search for a counselor on Psychology Today or sign up for online counseling with Better Help or a similar source.
Benefits of Decluttering
I’m sure it will come as no surprise that I believe there are so many benefits to decluttering. When you declutter your home and life, beautiful things start to happen.
Mindfulness – Your sense will awaken and you’ll be more aware of and present for yourself, your family and the moments that matter most to you.
Increased Self Worth – As you peel back the layers, you’ll discover a sense of belonging and inherent worth. Knowing your value goes a long way in helping you live according to your priorities. And when your sense of self grows, it spills into your relationships.
Contentment – Culling and curating reduces stress and eventually leads to peace with yourself and your life.
Less Stress – Owning less and reducing mental and emotional clutter simplifies your life which means far less stressors.
Saving money – When you know what you own and have defined your values and priorities, you’ll have a better idea of what you do and don’t need to purchase.
Self-Expression – As you declutter, more of yourself emerges allowing you to discover your likes, dislikes, style and the most authentic ways to show up in this world. And that is a very freeing feeling. Ultimately, that freedom is what decluttering is all about.
It’s important to know decluttering and simplifying is a continual process. But the more you practice simplifying, the easier it becomes.
For more decluttering tips and strategies, read:
- Home on Purpose: Mindful Living in a Hectic World
- How to Organize Toys and Keep Kid Clutter Away
- The Long Way Home: A Scenic Route to Self-Discovery
And if you would like a personalized declutter plan, contact me for a free consultation call.
Wishing you the life-changing effects of a simplified and decluttered life.