There isn’t one right way to declutter, but in most cases, the get rid of everything overnight method isn’t sustainable. Think about the big changes you’ve made in your life. Do you have a better track record with fast and furious, or slow and steady?
I know it’s frustrating. Slow and steady isn’t as sexy or glamorous as fast and furious, but it does have a few lovely attributes.
Slow and Steady can be …
Slow and steady provides a platform for change that can impact every area of your life, with the space to learn and grow in the process. Try these slow and steady strategies for practical decluttering.
Set the stage. Challenge yourself and your family to three months of only buying the essentials and/or getting rid of something whenever a new item comes into your home. Incoming items include purchases, gifts, and objects from school or the office. In other words, everything counts. If you buy a new pair of shoes, donate an old pair. If you buy a new cosmetic product, toss the remnants of old ones that are probably expired anyway. If you buy new wine glasses, donate the ones you were using before. This will help prevent clutter creep while you are decluttering.
Clearly define the mission. There is a big difference between organizing and decluttering. Organizing means you’re just moving stuff from one place to another. Instead of working so hard to find the perfect spot for something, recognize that it might not have a place in your home or your heart at all anymore.
Play the memory game. If you keep things in storage, you’ve probably written the contents on the outside of each box. Otherwise, how would you know what was inside? Remembering what’s in the box without a label is a true test of how important the stuff is to you. Fill a box with things you aren’t quite ready to part with, but aren’t sure you really need. Mark the box “donate after 30 days.” Then move the box out of sight, labeled. “Donate if I don’t need.” After 30 days, if you can’t remember what’s in the box or don’t miss the contents, donate it all without opening.
Ask For Help. Sometimes, we are so attached to our stuff that it’s hard to know when to hold on and when to let go. Ask a friend or family member to help you. Let this person vote “yes” or “no” to clothing, decorative pieces, and other items. Even better, swap services, and agree to go to your friend’s home next to reciprocate.
Invite everyone to the party. When you begin decluttering, invite your family to join in. Don’t force, invite. Remember, though, that while the easiest place to look for clutter is in someone else’s space, your family may resent the pressure. So, start with your own personal items. Let family members work on decluttering their own things at their own pace. If you want people to see the joy in less, live joyfully with less yourself.
Declutter In Stages. Start with the easy stuff to build your decluttering muscles. Items such as duplicates, decorative items, kitchen equipment you haven’t used in years, things you don’t use or enjoy, and things in storage that haven’t been part of your life for a long time will be easier to release. Each thing you let go of will give you the strength and motivation to let go of the next.
Vacation Light. Apply your decluttering strategies when you travel, and lighten up your suitcase. Packing lightly is a great practice for living lightly. On your next trip, pack for half the length of your vacation. Leave the “just in case” items at home, and notice how light you feel when walking through the airport, unpacking at the hotel, and exploring a new location without worrying about all of your stuff.
Rethink sentimentality. The last stage of decluttering is usually saved for the more challenging items, including the expensive and sentimental stuff. If the expensive things have no meaning or purpose in your life, sell them, and use the proceeds to pay down debt or donate to charity.
If you are saving items to pass down to your children, consider that they probably don’t want it. A Washington Post article called “Stuff it: Millennials Nix their Parent’s Treasures” paints a compelling picture for parents who are holding on: “As baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, start cleaning out attics and basements, many are discovering that millennials, born between 1980 and 2000, are not so interested in the lifestyle trappings or nostalgic memorabilia they were so lovingly raised with. Downsizing experts and professional organizers are comforting parents whose children appear to have lost any sentimental attachment to their adorable baby shoes and family heirloom quilts.” In other words, your kid’s don’t want your stuff, so you can let go of it now.
Your children know real treasures are not in the attic or contained in any physical thing.
Let go of your emotions too. When you let go of items that you’ve held on to because you spent too much money to buy them or made a significant investment on them, strive to also let go of the guilt of bad purchasing decisions and overspending. If you struggle with guilt about letting go, holding on, money spent, or time wasted, it’s time to shift every guilty thought to one of gratitude. If you are thinking, “I shouldn’t have spent that money,” trade your thought for “I’m grateful that I recognize what’s most important to me now.”
You have already paid enough. If you don’t let go of the guilt, you will continue to pay with your time, attention, energy, and heart. The true cost of the items you are holding is much higher than the numbers on the price tag.
Make room for more. Decluttering begins when you want less; less clutter, less debt, and fewer distractions, but eventually, you’ll start to crave more. Make room for more of what you really want from your life, room for how you want to contribute to the world, and room for what matters to your heart. Make room for more of the good stuff.
Each of these slow and steady strategies for practical decluttering will help you create more space, time, and love with ease instead of struggle, and joy instead of heartache. Be kind to yourself and to your family as you learn to let go of the clutter, and hold on to the love.