Have you ever walked into a room in your home and just felt overwhelmed?
Have you ever opened a drawer and immediately shut it because it was full of things.
Have you ever thought there must be an easier way to organize and declutter your home?
I’ve been there. I’ve been there a million times and counting. I used to think that organization would help. But really that just put all the things I had into different things (like containers and bins) neatly. It didn’t help me at all to actually get rid of things.
This is where minimalism can help. Minimalism is all about how to live with less and surround yourself with the things that really make you happy. So when you enter a room you feel refreshed, not overwhelmed. When you open a drawer, you look at all the pretty things that bring you joy. When you look around your home, you feel content.
Minimalism doesn’t mean having to have bare white walls and empty closets. It’s really about letting go of things that don’t make you happy. Read 5 Reasons You Should Consider Minimalist Living.
One of the best resources for me to learn to how to let go of things I didn’t really want was the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. The KonMari method (named after the book’s author) is a systematic method to help you declutter your home to keep things you really love, not just moving things to a new location.
10 Steps to Declutter Your Home
1. Start by category, not by room
When you declutter by room, it will feel like an endless project and you’ll end up with multiple places to store items like photos or books. Rather start by category and work your way through each one.
With the KonMari method, the suggested order is clothing, books, papers, miscellaneous items (you know, that junk drawer and mystery boxes in the closet), and then mementos and photos. NEVER do photos and mementos first. You need to get some practice letting go of clothes and books first.
2. Take it all out
Let’s say you start with your clothes first. Take all of your clothes out of your closets, drawers, bins and anywhere else in your home and put them in a pile. You’ll then go through piece by piece and figure out what you truly need to keep. And that way your closets, drawers, etc. will have a clean slate, and it will be easier to work on step #3.
3. Discard first
This is the critical step to declutter your home. Get rid of the things that have outlived their purpose and don’t bring you joy.When you discard the things you don’t want, you’ll finally be able to enjoy the things you DO want. I find it’s easiest to first go through and figure out what you definitely don’t need and can either throw away or donate. Once you do this, it’ll be easier to do step #4.
4. Does it bring you joy?
I used to put my things in three piles – trash/donate/sell, maybe to keep, and yes to keep. But I ended up getting confused on what made the maybe pile, and I often kept things I didn’t really want but felt like I should hold onto it. This is why I love the KonMari method. Once you discard things you know you definitely do NOT want, you start to go through each thing that you have and ask yourself, “Does this bring me joy?”
Now think about that pantsuit or dress with the tags still on that’s been hanging out in your closet for 5 years. Yes, it’s practical. You *may* wear it someday. But does it bring you JOY? Most likely not, otherwise you would be wearing it all the time. So let it go in the donation pile.
Why not sell items? For me personally, I find it takes so much longer to sell items and often I will hold onto things I don’t really want when it’s still sitting in my garage. But if I donate items right away, then I get the immediate gratification of a clutter-free space. In addition, the profit isn’t much return for the time I would spend to post on Craigslist or have a garage sale. Plus, the tax deduction is a nice benefit to donating items without taking much time or effort from me.
5. Start with your clothes
Your clothes are the easiest to get started. Take everything out of the closet and drawers and place them on the bed. Then go through each article of clothing and ask yourself, “Does this bring me joy?” If it does, keep it. If it doesn’t, let it go.
And this goes for clothes that you think could be reused for PJs or lounge around the house. The thing is that you’ll likely never wear it and those clothes just pile up in the closet. Who wants to wear old clothes to bed? Wear PJs or loungewear that bring you joy. Think about how that could translate for spending time in the bedroom with your loved one. Wear old clothes that don’t make you happy? Or wear loungewear that brings you joy? Which do you think will inspire feelings of contentment and romance?
6. Don’t declutter for others
The added benefit is that as you go through your own clothes and other items to declutter, it will likely inspire other members of your family to do the same. Kids clothes will be easier to work on. And if they’re under the age of 5, you can do it for them (they’re the one exception). Then after those early years, you can work with kids who are 5 and older to go through and ask them the same thing, “does this make you happy?” Again, YOU showing them what that process looks like by doing the same with your clothes and things will inspire them.
Now a word of caution… don’t go through your spouse’s things or any other adult in the house. Let them work on that themselves. It can cause a lot of friction and trust issues if you discard things that belong to someone else. You be the role model for how decluttering should look like.
7. Let go of those books and papers
Do you have shelves and shelves of books? How often do you read them? Why do you keep them?
Before I moved into my new home three years ago, I had a bookshelf filled with books that I NEVER read. Why? I accumulated them over time and kept them to read someday. Well, here’s the thing… someday never came. Those books just piled up on my bookshelf. They didn’t bring me joy. They actually stressed me out every time I look at them because I kept thinking… I need to read those books when I have time.
Here’s the crazy thing… I never had time to read THOSE books. I read other books and had no problem. So those books didn’t bring me joy, and I let them go.
If you haven’t read a book or used a book in the last 6-12 months, then it’s time to let it go. You can alway buy it again on Amazon if you really need it (or better yet, download on your Kindle app on your phone) or borrow from your local library. If you’re not using it, let it go.
The same goes for papers, such as:
- College papers from 10-15 years ago
- Credit card statements or other bill documents
- School work from the kids
- Bank statements
- Tax documents
You get the idea. If you haven’t used any papers in the last 6 months, let it go. You can likely get a credit card and bank statements (as well as other bills) online and print if you need it. Scan college papers or schoolwork from the kids (choose which ones you want to keep) and store on USB flash drive. You can do the same with tax documents too – scan them and shred the paper copies. You can get a scan app on your phone for less than $6 (I like TurboScan or a document scanner that can do multiple pages at once).
You’ll have so much more space without all the clutter of paperwork around the house. And here’s another tip: Scan as you go. Don’t let paperwork build up so it feels impossible to do it. Scan as you receipt documents and then shred it right after.
8. How to declutter miscellaneous items
This is all the stuff that’s likely in your junk drawer. Pens, paperclips, thumbtacks, batteries, computer and phone cords, etc. Take it all out and then ask yourself, “Am I using this?” You likely have way more phone cords than you really need. Or what about the boxes that the phone and computer cords came in? This was something I worked on with my husband because he would keep EVERYTHING. So we went through them together and talked about what we really needed.
I’m willing to bet you have a drawer or bin full of old computer supplies that you think you need, but you’ve never used. Let it go. If you needed it, you would have already used it. And you can always buy it if you need in the future.
You can handle sports equipment, toys, home decor, dishes, cookware, silverware, etc. Start with a category, let’s say cookware. Bring it all out and empty your cabinets. Ask yourself, “Am I using this and does it bring me joy?” If not, let it go.
With toys, we have a rule with our kids that teaches them how to declutter their own stuff… if they bring a new toy in, they need to rid of an old toy. It’s a simple way to show kids how to get rid of things that don’t bring them joy and make room for things that do.
9. Save photos and mementos for last
Once you get some practice going through clothes, shoes, toys, cookware, etc., it’s time to move on to photos and mementos. This is usually the hardest category to go through as there’s sentimental value to many items.
So first with photos, go through and let go of duplicates. I found thousands of photos that were duplicates (or really close to the original shot) that I really didn’t need. I got rid of the duplicates and kept the originals.
Scan really important photos that you want to keep in the family. Try to keep this limited to your top 10-20 for the year. Now, most of your photos are likely on digital format, which makes this easy. But for older photos, it’s easy to scan with an app like PhotoScan or use a photo-scanning service for bulk scans.
Got kids artwork? Don’t feel like you need to save it all. I typically save 2-3 pieces per year and store in a box, and then take pictures of the rest on my phone and save them to an online photo album.
One KonMari tip for mementos and other sentimental items is to consider whether those things make you happy. For instance, does it make you happy to keep that miniature spoon collection from grandma? If not, then think about how much joy it brought your grandma and how you are happy it served its purpose with her. That makes it easier to let go. And you can always take a photo of the mementos before you let it go.
10. Don’t transfer your stuff to someone else
As you declutter, you’ll be tempted to bag things up and give to your parents or your children. But really what you’re doing is redistributing the clutter. And you’re not truly letting it go. The exception may be an heirloom memento or old photos. We’ll get to how to assess and go through old photos in a bit.
The other part of this is NOT to put things in storage either. Offsite storage is really just redistributing the clutter where there’s even less of a chance you’ll ever go through it. And let’s be honest… if those things brought you joy you wouldn’t lock them in a storage unit and never look at it again. If you have items that could go in storage, consider donating it instead. It can go to a worthy charity and you’ll get the tax deduction too.
What’s your favorite decluttering tip?
Photo credit: Bigstockphoto.com / Scovad / manera
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