There’s no upside to clutter. The excess amount of things we have but don’t need, take up valuable space in our environments and our minds.
I vaguely remember life before becoming a minimalist. I was constantly looking for things that I had misplaced. Sure, a minute here and there to find my keys or passport wasn’t anything significant. But multiply those minutes, daily over a lifetime, and I was losing hours upon hours of productivity because of clutter.
Beyond productivity, clutter comes with a huge emotional burden. And this is perhaps a little harder to explain without experiencing directly. Because it was only when I removed clutter that I understood the toll my things were having on my mental wellbeing. It was the sense of looking around and feeling at peace and ease with what I had, while at the same time enjoying the fact that I didn’t have to think about what I had.
Creating white space in my environment gave me incredible clarity, focus and intentionality.
I should also mention that decluttering is different from tidying. Maintaining a clean environment is absolutely helpful, but it’s the process of deciding what’s important to keep that’s life-changing.
There’s a difference between organising pots and pans you don’t need versus only having the pots and pans you need. One method is focused on getting creative with storage to optimise how many things you have, and the other method is about designing your environment to remove unnecessary decisions in the future.
The byproduct of a clutter-free environment is a tidy environment. You will still need to clean, but if you’re ruthlessly focused on only maintaining what you need, you’ve automatically done the heavy lifting of tidying.
Now I share these examples, knowing very well that if you’re reading this blog, you probably have some level of interest and experience with decluttering.
But I also know that no matter where you are in your journey towards living an uncluttered life, there’s always room for improvement.
What I see time and time again is people’s awareness of the benefits of decluttering, but the rapid procrastination towards taking action.
Before I go on, let me point out the obvious. The thought of decluttering is overwhelming. And depending on the severity of clutter in your environment, it’s an extremely daunting task.
But no need to worry. In this post, I’m going to break down two common challenges to decluttering and how you can start to overcome them.
Decluttering challenge 1 – not enough time
We’ve never had more commitments vying for our time whether it’s family, work, school, errands, social, or health. And with the internet, it’s impossible to be bored with our spare time as we consume content at scale through on-demand services and other media outlets.
So the thought of carving significant time out of your schedule to declutter is for sure a challenge.
The question remains, how do you beat the clock and finally tackle some much needed decluttering?
At this point, you hear common advice about breaking decluttering into small chunks and celebrate incremental progress. Start with 15 minutes a day, focusing on either by room or by category.
While this method can be useful, I’m far too impatient to approach decluttering slowly. The benefits of clutter-free are life-changing, and ironically, will give you more time. Why wouldn’t you want to move quickly and feel significant progress sooner?
Well, first of all, it’s a losing battle if you plan on cramming the task of decluttering into your existing busy lifestyle.
How you currently spend your time is a reflection of your priorities. Every minute I spend writing articles for The Minimalist Vegan is time taken away from something else I could be doing.
You do have time to declutter. You just choose to spend your time doing other things.
So for this exercise, I would love for you to change the question of “how do I find more time to declutter,” to “what would my life look like and how would I feel if I didn’t have any clutter?”
If you’re connected to the vision of the person you’ll become as a result of a clutter-free life you’re ready to prioritise decluttering.
Note: motivation = making time to declutter.
Decluttering challenge 2 – too many decisions
Excess clutter increases your decisions. But then you need to make more decisions to get rid of the clutter. Overwhelming, right?
It’s this challenge I see people struggle with the most. The very thought of deciding whether to keep something or not—or what you’re going to do with an item if you no longer need it can prevent you from starting your decluttering project.
In fact, I would argue that deciding what to do with something you no longer need, is more overwhelming than determining whether or not to keep something. I think this is especially true if you’re trying to be conscious of waste.
What I suggest you do is think about the lifecycle of your things before you start decluttering. Otherwise, you run into the trap of getting stuck part way through decluttering—you know when you have bags of stuff in your car boot for months because you don’t know what to do with it? #carbootclutter.
Here’s where the power of piles come into play. Brainstorm all of the possible outlets for discarding items and create a list. Here’s what Maša and I commonly use for destination points:
For sale pile – this is for things that are in excellent condition that you wish to sell either online, a garage sale, at a local market or to friends.
Giveaway pile – this is reserved for things that you wish to give to friends and family. You want to make sure that what your offering is valuable and that you’re not contributing unnecessary clutter to other people’s lives.
Donation pile – this is for things you wish to donate to charities. This generally tends to be left over stuff from your for sale pile and giveaway pile.
Reusable textiles pile – this is for clothing, bedding and towels that are ruined or completely worn out. We found someone in our city that turns worn textiles into blankets and toys for dogs in animal shelters. Perhaps you can find something similar regarding a maker who’s looking to take old material and turn it into something new. Try zero waste Facebook groups in your area.
Rubbish pile – this is for things that cannot be reused or repaired but are also not recyclable. You want this destination point to be the smallest of all your piles, and it’s pure waste.
For scanning pile – this is for all of the necessary paperwork in your life including tax papers, registrations, receipts, warranties, certificates, etc. Create a pile for which you can scan into your computer and recycle the physical versions.
Sentimental pile – Maša and I each have a box dedicated to special items that mean a lot to us. Note: it’s worth reviewing your sentimentalise box annually, you’d be surprised how it can shrink over the years as you create new experiences.
Recycling pile – despite your best efforts, sometimes you need to add things to recycling. This is normally the first pile people think about when decluttering; however, we try to leave recycling as a last resort.
Once you’ve defined your destination piles, you’re ready to start decluttering. You’re likely to have already a home for things you want to keep. And with the piles, you can quickly allocate the items you wish to discard.
Now there’s still work to do when you’re working with piles. You’ll need time to execute on the distribution of your piles, whether that’s putting items up for sale, taking a trip to the tip or speaking with your friends and family.
But planning for these activities in advance helps you to simplify your decluttering workflow and set the right expectations for yourself.
Overcome the resistance to declutter and change your life
Having clutter is a big deal. Address it, and do it with urgency.
Remember if you don’t have enough time, you haven’t prioritised clutter-free living.
And if you’re feeling overwhelmed with the decisions involved with decluttering, take some time upfront to plan and think about the destination of the things you no longer want to keep.
Decluttering doesn’t have to be hard. It should feel empowering and freeing–like you’re shedding the burden of things from your life one layer at a time.
I would love to hear about your experiences. What is your biggest obstacle to decluttering? And if you’ve already done it, how did you overcome your resistance?