7 Steps to Declutter Your Life and Why It’s Important

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Being surrounded by clutter increases our cortisol levels; cortisol is considered the “stress hormone” and harms our health all the way around – from depression to heart disease – Clutter is bad for our health. 

The main reason is: It’s an ever-present reminder of all the things we need to deal with; it’s as if when we’re in our home, we’re surrounded by our stuff yelling at us: “Clean me, organize me, fix me, respond to me, pay me off, mail me to your sister!”

On the other hand, decluttering raises our serotonin levels, which means we’re more focused, emotionally stable, happier, and calmer.

So there is the “why” now, let’s talk about what we need to do:

#1 Get rid of things

First, let’s talk about the physical clutter. Most of us think of actual clutter in our home when we think of decluttering, and how do we deal with all of it? The simple explanation is: start in the kitchen and work on one drawer at a time. Take everything out, spread it out so you can see what you have, and pick up and return ONLY the things that help you and add value to your life. And get rid of what’s left over. 

Sure, there is more to it than that, but if you approach your decluttering from the standpoint of “what do you desperately want to keep?” You will do a thorough job and be very pleased with the results. Because the tendency is to approach decluttering with the question, “What do I want to get rid of?” Well, we don’t WANT to get rid of anything. We have things in our homes because we like them. And if we think, “What do I want to get rid of” we feel like we’re going to be missing out. 

So flip the question – what do I love enough to keep? What adds so much value to my life that it deserves space in my home? What makes my everyday life more manageable? Keep those things; if it doesn’t fit in the “helpful” category, it’s stealing time and energy from us.

#2 Be honest with yourself

Many of the things in our homes are projects and possibilities. Stuff for our fantasy selves. The person that I want to be, but I’ll never actually ever going to be. I want to be a homesteader, a soap maker, a seamstress, a gentile lady in a sun dress and hat sitting in a field of flowers writing letters to my beloved friends on gorgeous stationery. Am I capable of all those things? Yes. Will I actually do them? No. They sound fun, and they sound like the life I would like living, but the truth is: I don’t want to shovel poop or milk a cow every morning, soap making intimidates me, and the only sewing I’ve done in the last ten years has been out of necessity, and I haven’t enjoyed it, AND I’m never going to be sitting in a field of flowers with a basket of stationary writing letters – I’m just going to text my friends.

When we’re honest with ourselves about who we truly are and accept that we don’t need to be or do all the things we expect of ourselves, it actually opens us up to be more creative and live a fuller life. 

Why? I don’t know! But I know that when I had shelves and shelves full of cookbooks, I was overwhelmed with all the possibilities and would end up making boxed macaroni and cheese. These days, with my kitchen clean and open, I experiment with new recipes at least four days a week. And I only have two cookbooks!

#3 Create a cleaning routine

If you’ve been joining me here on Youtube for a while, you have probably heard me talk about routines over and over.

And I will continue because it’s that important. I remember being completely overwhelmed with my home and with my inability to maintain a home. It was an embarrassment to me. I would talk to people at the front door instead of inviting them in.

It’s a combination of too much stuff -when we have more than we can handle, it’s evident in our lives and no cleaning habits. I wasn’t born organized. I didn’t understand how doing the dishes right away would save me time later – and I didn’t care about saving time later. I acted as if I hated my future self. *Let’s leave all this for her to deal with.*

By establishing a routine, I gained control over my home, and after a while, it felt like the house took care of itself. Because when we have a habit, we don’t pay attention to what we’re doing – we’re just going through the motions of our habit. We’re not designating a time to clean up – it just happens. Very much like getting a drink when we’re thirsty – we don’t put a lot of thought into it; we just do it because that’s what needs to be done.

#4 Handle your papers

I don’t know about you, but when my home was overwhelming to me, I had piles of papers everywhere. Dealing with the papers was HARD. 

My best suggestion is to go around the house and gather all the papers, so a quick sort to ensure you save out everything that needs to be addressed right away, and then schedule a time to sort everything else later. 

Then, rely on a routine again to maintain the paper – when you get the mail, sort if over the recycling bin so you can toss the junk mail immediately. Set up an inbox for yourself to put all the things that need to be dealt with – bills, important notices, etc. Once a week, pay your bills and toss the statements. Or bypass as much as possible and set your statements to come through email.

If you want to know how I handle my paper now, read this article.

#5 Reduce what comes in

For years, we didn’t have a lot of money. So I would shop at thrift stores and garage sales, I would look for sales and coupons. It did help to an extent, but along with the things we needed came all these other “great deals.” 

So I probably saved some money, but not a lot, because I spent what was “saved” on all the extra junk, I didn’t need. 

But that meant I was in the habit of shopping. And when I shop, I bring things home.

The best way to stop the cycle of decluttering over and over is to be very careful about what we bring back into our homes.

For me, that means I shouldn’t shop. Because I will STILL find things I think would be useful.

If you’re in the habit of shopping for enjoyment – like all the rest of us, who would go to Target to get out of the house for a while, we must find something else to do.

So I wrote a list of things I enjoy where I won’t be tempted to bring more clutter home. 

  • Taking a bath
  • Reading a book
  • Sitting on the front porch drinking tea
  • Going for a walk
  • Working in the garden
  • Drawing
  • Painting
  • Baking
  • Outlining my planner
  • Going to the library
  • Sitting at a local cafe

#6 Clear your calendar

I used to feel guilty not being involved in the local PTA or volunteering at my kid’s school. Until one of my friends affirmed that “it’s ok that you don’t do that; it’s not going to ruin your children.”

I love my children, but they’re mine. And outside of that, I’m not a kid person. It goes further than “I don’t enjoy working with kids.” I would rather be the janitor and clean up all the nasty stuff when they leave than be in a room full of kids.

And you know what, that’s ok. Because who would benefit from me being there if I hated it so much? I’m not helping those kids if I hate being with them every minute.

If you want to simplify your life – take a good look at where your time goes. Do you enjoy the things you do? Or do you feel stuck in certain obligations? 

Yes, people are needed to be on the board of organizations, and there are needs everywhere, but if you are only involved because you feel obligated and inside, you dread fulfilling those obligations – do what you need do to step down. We might be capable, but if we hate being there, we’re not doing the best thing for other people involved.

#7 Evaluate your relationships

Some people fill us up, and some people drain us. Some people are encouraging and uplifting, and others tear us down.

Boundaries are good things, and if we have very unhealthy people in our lives, it helps to have boundaries in place. 

Sometimes that means we need to cut ties. I’m divorced, and because I had kids with him, I still had to have contact to some extent, but removing myself from that relationship and the area where he lives was one of the best things I did to be emotionally healthy. Yes, it was hard. But the amount of stress it relieved was worth it.

Related articles:

Decluttering 101

How to get rid of paper clutter

Garage cleanout

About Rachel Jones

Hi there! I’m Rachel Jones, and I founded Nourishing Minimalism in 2012 at the beginning of my minimalist journey after I'd been doing a yearly decluttering challenge for 4 years and started to see a change in my home. If you're looking for encouragement in your journey, please join our FREE Facebook Group: Nourishing Minimalism Facebook Group

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