Typically we use 20% of our stuff 80% of the time. The other 80% that we rarely use gets in our way:
We have to work around it, move it, organize it, clean it, dust it, and shuffle it from one area to another as we try to create a clean space – but all that can be avoided if we get rid of it.
So, how do we do that? Here are six steps:
#1 Wash the dishes.
If they’ve already been washed – awesome, you can move right along to the next step! If you’re wondering WHY I would say “wash the dishes,” it’s because most of us want to declutter when we’re overwhelmed with our home. We think, “Oh my gosh! This home is HORRIBLE!! I need to get rid of everything!!”
And you’re right!! Getting rid of things is going to make your life so much easier! But having a load of dishes done will give you a quick boost because you accomplished something, which means you’re doing it NOW, so you don’t have to do it later. So much of the dread we feel in maintaining our homes is because we’ve procrastinated doing what we know we need to do.
#2 Clear the obvious.
Grab a garbage bag, set the timer for 10-30 minutes (based on how much time you have), and go through your house throwing away all the trash and obvious clutter: magazines, promotional flyers, unnecessary school papers, receipts, broken toys, anything that doesn’t require you to ask “is this trash/clutter?”
These are things you already KNOW you don’t need. This is generally surface stuff – we don’t need to dig in our drawers and cabinets yet; we’re just clearing out all the obvious trash from the surfaces in our homes.
#3 Declutter a drawer.
It’s hard to know where to start, and many of us get hung up here: I know I need to do this, but where do I start? What category is going to really help me?? But it doesn’t matter. That’s right. It. Does. Not. Matter. Where. We. Start. The only thing that matters is that we start. The two easiest places are the kitchen and bathroom.
So pick one drawer – go in, open it, take everything out of it, and then when we’re looking at it – think of the 80/20 rule: I only use 20% of this stuff, so I’m going to pick up those items that I use ALL THE TIME, and I’m going to put them back into the drawer.
Once I’ve done that, I can get rid of everything that is left. I understand that is a hard thing to box it up and get rid of it immediately. But if you want to simplify your home – getting rid of that 80% will mean less work for you in the long run.
If, on the other hand, you are filled with anxiety and fear of getting rid of something you may need, put the stuff in a box, tape it up, and label it. Set it aside for a month – if over the month, you have never had to open that box to pull out an item you missed, then you can know that you don’t really need any of it, and your life will go on just fine without that box of excess.
#4 The next day, declutter another drawer.
Go through one drawer a day until you have no more drawers in that room. And then work on one cupboard each day. When you’re done with your cupboards, do the closet.
I recommend doing one drawer a day because I spent too many years decluttering in one weekend and then not having the energy to do any housework for weeks – I overworked and burnt out. This meant that my home was a constant roller coaster – one week it was decluttered and cleaned, and then over the next 6 months, clutter crept back in until it got to the point where I couldn’t stand it anymore and would repeat it. We don’t want to do that!
Instead, we want to build a consistent habit of caring for our home each day, and making progress. Slow and steady wins the race.
#5 Declutter the surfaces of that room.
The reason I do surfaces last is that most often, our cupboards are full of things we’re storing “just in case,” and our counters are full of the things we use every single day. After getting rid of the 80% unnecessary stuff behind closed doors, we’ll have plenty of room to put away the things we use regularly.
The bags of chips and extra Tupperware no longer need to sit on the counter because they won’t fit anywhere. Instead, we can put them in the cupboards so they’re out of the way. Making our counters open and easy to use.
#6 Repeat in each room.
People say they get bored working in one area until it’s complete – and if that’s you, that’s fine; keep working a drawer, cabinet or cupboard at a time until you get through your entire home.
But make sure you aren’t skipping from room to room because you’re avoiding making decisions. If I don’t want to think about what baking pans I actually use, I will open the cupboard and think, “Not today! Today, I should go work on my desk.”
There is nothing wrong with working in other areas of the house, like I said in the beginning, it doesn’t matter where you work; it only matters that you work.
But if you complain to yourself that you can’t see a difference in your home, even though you’ve been decluttering for months – ask yourself if you’ve truly gone through every area.
Ok, so that’s the 6 decluttering steps – But here are two more points that I believe are vital for you to know:
Declutter only things in your control.
This isn’t really a step for “easy decluttering,” but it is important. If you live alone, you have complete control over everything in your home – you get to make the decisions on what is valuable enough to you that it deserves to take up space in your cupboards.
BUT, if you share a home, you need to respect that other people’s stuff is other people’s stuff. The exception is a child that is not old enough to make the decisions for themselves.
Everyone you live with needs to be able to trust that they can leave the house and know you won’t throw out their things while they’re gone. There are some situations where the person gives their permission for us to do that, and if you believe your family members would be ok with that, talk to them about it and confirm it first.
In our home, my husband doesn’t cook much, so I had complete freedom to make decisions in the kitchen, but what if you’re the one that wants to simplify and they’re the cook and don’t want you to get rid of anything? So do the kitchen last, then. Give them time to see what you’re doing in the other areas of the house. Talk to them about why you’re doing it and what you want to accomplish.
When you’re done with decluttering your home, go through it again and get rid of more.
By the time you do this in every area of your home, you will have a much better idea of what you use regularly and what you want in your home. Initially, it’s hard to get rid of things, and we don’t get rid of them as much as we’d like. But the more we work, the more decisions we make, the easier it becomes, and we become more discerning.
When I realized how much easier the house was to maintain without as much stuff, I wanted more. I wanted it to be even easier. I didn’t just want a home I was capable of managing; I wanted one that took as little time as possible to manage – so I went for minimalism.
And then there is the Fantasy self – the fantasy self, or aspirational clutter, is the most challenging stuff to work through and can really prevent us from making progress. To get a grasp on what that is, read this article.