Inch by Inch Decluttering

Inch by Inch Decluttering

Decluttering is not a one-night stand or a sprint to the finish line. It is a day by day, step by step, inch by inch revolution.

If you think it would be easier to walk away from your stuff, or hire a professional organizer to come in and fix things, you might be right. It might be easier, but that ease will be temporary.

I didn’t wake up one morning and think, I want to lead a simpler life. I didn’t wake up, cancel my cable television, quit my job and throw all my stuff in a dumpster. I also didn’t change because I started listening to the voice in my head that had been telling me things had to change.

I made a change because I was sick and tired and scared. One small change led to another, but the common thread through every change that I’ve made over the past 6 years has been simplicity, decluttering and editing. I’ve simplified and edited every part of my life and continue to approach my life and business with a less is more approach.

Instead of a massive spring cleaning, or a big purge, consider the tried and true, proven method of slowly but surely.

When you declutter inch by inch, you …

  • you learn from your mistakes
  • enjoy the process
  • teach by example
  • rediscover passions
  • connect with like-minded people
  • realize that the best things aren’t things

If your approach is more dramatic, stressful and urgent, you may miss these really big lessons and find yourself back at square one. If you have been losing the same ten pounds every year, and cleaning out the same closet every April, make a change.

The inch by inch decluttering method for every area of your life:

Choose one of the following recommendations. Just one. Do it. Celebrate it. Breathe. Choose the next. Let the power of inspiration and momentum from your very first tiny change make the next change even more enjoyable and less scary and overwhelming.


  • Write down everything you want to change about your diet.
  • Eat something green first thing in the morning.
  • Don’t eat meat on Monday.
  • Boycott fast food.
  • Eat sitting down.
  • Make a vegan pizza.
  • Drink more water and less of everything else.





  • Figure out what you enjoying doing.
  • Connect with other people who do it well.
  • Help people.
  • Ask for help.


  • Cancel your cable television.
  • Close your computer and put down your iStuff.
  • Don’t check email in the morning.
  • Turn off all alerts.
  • Kill your Facebook account or just be friends with your actual friends.


  • Keep a box by the door. Drop something in it to donate every day.
  • Try a decluttering challenge.
  • Don’t buy anything new for 30 days
  • Maintain a tiny clutter-free zone
  • One in One out

Inch by inch decluttering is not about getting organized or spring cleaning. Instead, inch by inch decluttering will provide the time and space you need to recognize enough and to embrace real happiness without buying, storing or saving one more thing.

I know you want things to be better immediately, but if you want things to be better for good, take your time and enjoy the ride. This time next year, you’ll be glad you started today.

What other inch by inch steps have you taken to simplify your life?


  1. Heather says

    It’s definitely a process. The best picture I can think of is layers. As each layer is exposed, you deal with it, live with it, check it out and make peace, then move onto the next. Some layers are thin and flimsy while other are thicker, deeper and more painful and require a lot more energy. My life goals and who I am has changed so much, especially over the past 5-6 years. What I saved before, gripping for dear life, can now go, in peace. It ebbs and flows.

    And yes, enjoy the ride. It’s not a race or end all because time and life will always change something and that will trigger you to do something different. Enjoy the ride.

  2. says

    LOVE this, thank you for the encouragement and some new ideas of small ways to declutter! The more change I make, the more convinced I am that small changes are the way to go. I can attest that a year really can make a huge difference. Last year I tried to get rid of one item a day, and read one book a month. Not huge in the scheme of things but led to all sorts of growth and changes to other areas of my life beyond “stuff” (like what we eat). My most recent “inch” was deleting my phone’s Facebook app :)

  3. says

    Thank you for this post, I needed it. The hardest part of wanting to declutter and simplify is the amount of work and time it takes to get there! I am impatient, but learning that small changes really do add up.

  4. says

    There are so many great thoughts and tips in this post. Long-term change truly is easier if you take things a step at a time. Fantastic post!

  5. says

    I love this, thank you. Totally agree with everything you have said here. I started decluttering about a year ago, but didn’t even realise I would call it that until a few months ago. Just generally started buying less, stopped reading magazines, did a few small wardrobe clear outs and considered how much money I was spending on coffee (too much!). 12 months on and its still going, but I love the process. I don’t want it all to be over in a day! It feels so satisfying to simplify.

  6. says

    I have started decluttering some months ago and I am experiencing the first results right now on my road to minimalism. This blog has inspired me and helped me a lot to get started and keep motivated!

    Decluttering is indeed a long-term challenge. In my opinion, one reason why it’s like that is that at the beginning when you are starting to do the first decluttering you just suck at it. You have spent years accumulating stuff and keeping stuff and you just don’t know how to get rid of it properly. Which makes sense, how can you be good at something you’ve never done before?
    But then you learn and you get better and do some more, maybe better organized decluttering. I have just had the first small success putting my stuff in ebay and by the time I am finished I find even more stuff that I can put there. I have learned how to do this and what to declutter and so more things will inevitably follow.

    Decluttering is like life: There are no shortcuts, you just live and learn and get better at it gradually. This takes time, but it’s totally worth it :-)

  7. says

    Thank you for this post. I appreciate it. I wonder how people come to the decision to turn towards simplicity. I have read about your journey with MS, and my journey towards simplicity was set off by a major illness 8 years ago. It really made me reevaluate my priorities. Anyway, thank you for sharing your journey and providing inspiration.


  8. Donna Rinn says

    This is a great article. I appreciate your writings, but this one in particular is a very clear and concise way to explain to people what I am trying to do!

  9. says

    This is beautifully written, and so, SOOO important to remember, especially when the going gets tough.

    I definitely have the most trouble with the physical clutter/neatness aspect of things. It’s not so much that I have a ton of stuff (although there is certainly much room for improvement) my problem is that I have trouble putting things away. It’s not really laziness either, it’s that I’m such an “out of sight out of mind” person that my experience is generally that once I put something “away” I can never find the damn thing again!

    But I’m having success by taking it one very small step at a time. My first one was shoes… and believe it or not, it took many, MANY months to convince myself that it really would be easier to find my shoes if they were always in the closet when they weren’t on my feet! My cat helped me along by developing a bladder problem and deciding than any shoe left out needed to be peed in… but I still consider it a success. And since then I’ve had much better luck creating “homes” for things and putting them back where they live when I’m done with them.

    It’s still a struggle, but slowly, very slowly I’m seeing improvement.

  10. says

    Thank you for all the tips. I try to do the one in one out rule especially with my daughter who is only 3 and has way too much stuff. Sometimes I get a lot of drama depending upon what disappears. I also do it for me as well although with less drama. lol.

  11. says

    I loved this post, Courtney! Like you, I have taken a gradual “inch by inch” process in simplifying my life, and the journey is continuing…

    I have gradually cancelled both physical and electronic subscriptions, pared down the items in my house, and eliminated activities which didn’t serve me. I removed the Facebook app from my cell phone and got rid of all notifications on both my phone and my computer. I stopped checking email all throughout the day and generally don’t even look at it before noon these days (I try to get at least one of my key tasks done before even looking at my in-box).

    As I’ve pared things down, my mind has become more peaceful and I’ve created more space and time for the things which truly matter to me.

    The main area that is NOT simple for me today is my closet, but that is why I started my “Recovering Shopaholic” project and blog. While a part of me thought, “just get rid of half of what’s there” or “do Project 333 or the 30 for 30,” I wasn’t ready to do those things. I have mostly new clothes in good shape, so I am evaluating them slowly and systematically while buying VERY little this year. I have stopped the continual in-flux of new things so I can use and love what I have. If I don’t love something, it moves on to someone else (which also feels good!).

    You are a definite inspiration to me and for many! I love the tips in this post and plan to integrate some of them into my life moving forward – inch by inch…

  12. MelD says

    It’s such an ongoing process.
    Only now do I see that I have probably always craved simplicity, but was often overwhelmed by consumerist ideals as I grew up and went my way.
    I started with wanting organisation and tidiness (a young family made that hard!) and then I realised I had accumulated so much, often dictated by society. There came a point when I realised I didn’t need to have so much “in case” and that you can’t organise clutter. Then came a life crisis.
    At this point, about 2000, I found the internet and that set me off, really. Through a number of years I shed layers and layers, my life changed, I moved a couple of times and when I came back to see whether there was still support for me in my “simple” (sometimes “frugal”) aspirations, I found it had become a “minimalist” movement.
    15 years on, I am still decluttering every day and re-evaluating all the time but now I know what I need to make me happy and it’s definitely not more stuff! Today I can say I (and my husband and family) know a quality of life away from consumerist ideals that is wonderfully freeing. We are so appreciative of what we have.
    But as I say, it’s an ongoing thing!

  13. says

    You can declutter in a flurry but the process of simplifying is definitely a long term commitment. You can’t just wake up and lead a simpler life. I’m sure there are people who have done that and had some measure of success but in reality it will take a lot of time and a lot of habits will need to change in order for it to be ingrained.

    I’ve been going through it slowly over the past few years and the reality is that I’ve still got a ways to go but I am definitely enjoying the process.

  14. says

    Courtney: Saw you and met you at SXSW a few days ago. Great panel and just now digging into your site. Thank you for your words and for sharing your journey.

    This post is so right on. I know many people who approach their stuff / electronics / habits with big dramatic gestures and fixes. It never works. Ever. It is just one more more, so to speak.

    I love this post for its sane, small, one-at-a-time steps. Thank you!

    Be well!

  15. Cindy says

    Thank you for your encouraging words. I have gotten discouraged and felt alone in my struggle because my friends and daughters are all on top of decluttering and I have, in my opinion, failed in it. I still have a strong desire and recently have been celebrating my little successes. No one sees my advances like I do, but I know that my thinking has changed which is really important to change a habit. I realize I need to push myself to be able to get rid of extra stuff that I have kept since a traumatic experience (divorce)15 years ago.
    Thank you so much for saying it takes time…to really change.

    • Nicole says

      Hey Cindy,

      Thanks for sharing. You certainly didn’t fail. I think the whole point of decluttering is to do something that will help eliminate stress and help you to focus on the more important things in life. Most people struggle to declutter so if its still a struggle then I would suggest you start a bit slower or maybe its life’s way of telling you that maybe now is not the right time for you. It’s not supposed to bring you feelings of failure. Maybe there’s other things in your life that need decluttering first before you work on the “stuff”(i.e. maybe your time or schedule needs to be freed up). Keep with it and I’m sure you’ll start to see some great progress.



  16. Vicki K says

    The idea of a daily declutter habit is so appealing. Reality for me seems to be a weekly declutter spurt. I keep a notebook of items purged so I can track progress. In 14 months I have let go of 1,105 things. This seems like something I can keep doing and I am noticing my shelves and rooms beginning to feel lighter!

  17. says

    Love your posts! I love that you share your passion for simplicity and I share that entirely.

    Just a bit about professional organizers. We work with the client, not while they are away. We are there to empower their decisions, not make the decisions for them. We work on long term solutions with our clients. I know that our work together makes a difference for our clients.

    It’s all about the baby steps!