9 Fail-Proof Decluttering Tips

The number-one problem we face today is feeling overwhelmed. This is reflected in our home in the form of clutter. As you declutter your home, you will gain a sense of control over other areas of your life. Once you get going, you will feel an influx of fresh energy. Here are some tips to get you started.

1. Create One Area You Love

Before taking on a major decluttering project, I recommend creating one area in your home that you absolutely love. Make this your refuge. This could be your bathtub, meditation space, reading nook, kitchen, or bedroom. Like a meditation, this is the space you can always retreat when everything else seems chaotic. This will also provide you with inspiration for other areas of your home.

2. Remove Easy Things First

The first step to decluttering is to start with easy areas first. Start with the nonemotional, nontriggering, easy-breezy stuff first, not the gut-wrenching, Kleenex-box-grabbing items that you could mull and cry over for a week. Move out as much stuff in the shortest amount of time possible just to get the energy moving. Think of these as the expired food in the fridge. No matter how desperate you get, you know you’re not going to eat it. There’s no decision to make.

The more space you can immediately free up, the sooner you can get the ball rolling. Space gives us energy. It also gives us clarity. As the fog slowly begins to lift, you will gain momentum and be energized to keep moving.

3. Make a List

Once the easy stuff is out of the way, it’s time to prioritize the other areas in your home. Simply make a list of the areas you want to declutter. You’d be amazed at what simple pen and paper can do to relieve feeling overwhelmed. This is when our logical, analytical brain can step in and help out immensely.

Simply write a to-do list. Getting things on paper will get it out of your head and give you relief. Don’t worry about tackling the list just yet. You’re simply just looking for a better feeling than overwhelmed. Once you have your list, then you can once again start with the easier areas first.

4. Set Realistic Goals

If it took one year or twenty years to create a basement full of clutter, don’t expect to clear it out in an hour. Set realistic goals. For example, if you’re taking on a monumental task such as cleaning out the basement, then break it down into smaller steps. If you’re cleaning out a closet, focus on one section at a time. It’s easy to get stopped in our tracks by something that seems too big to accomplish. We end up abandoning it before we ever get started. Breaking it down into bite-sized steps will give the space you need to get moving.

For example, if you want to declutter your kitchen and pantry, break your list down into bite-sized goals. It might start out like this:

o  Kitchen

o Refrigerator

o  Clean out expired and uneaten foods

o   Wipe down shelves

Continue with each area of the kitchen. Take one step at a time and don’t rush the process. You will feel a sense of accomplishment as you make your way down the list and cross each task off. If helpful, reward yourself upon each accomplishment. However, you will find that the best reward will inherently be the renewed feeling of the cleared space.

5. Set Aside Time

Dealing with areas in your home or office that have piled up for years most likely calls for a more scheduled approach. Just like you would schedule time to meet with a client, you need to schedule time to declutter. It must be a priority or else it won’t happen. You take time out to accumulate things, so take time to release things too. Create a block of time out of your schedule. Take a day off from work or carve out an afternoon or simply designate the next thirty minutes for clearing clutter.

Sometimes you might have a sudden urge to purge. When these times come up, go with it. Clearing clutter can be an instinctive process, just like a mother “nesting” prior to giving birth. It’s also common to purge after experiencing a spiritual awakening or milestones along your path of self-growth. It is a natural process like a snake shedding its skin or even the digestive system eliminating waste.

6. Bigger Than a Breadbox?

Sometimes decluttering is brought on simply from a lack of square footage. For small spaces, there is a definite limitation on how much stuff we can accumulate making the outflow as frequent as the inflow. In this case, designate how much space you want to take up for certain category of items. For example, should office supplies only take up a shoebox, instead of an entire credenza? This is the case with memorabilia, clothing, shoes, papers, books, etc.

In most cases, people run out of storage space and end up with stuff sitting out in the open. This is usually a tell-tale sign that it’s actually the storage areas that need to be decluttered so that there is a changing of the guard in terms of what gets stored and what needs to go.

7. Divide and Conquer

First, make sure you have boxes, bags, and a recycling bin, on hand. This step is important because you don’t want to clear one closet just to shift it all into another one. As you start the clearing process, it is helpful to sort the items into the following piles or sections:





For Sale


Deal with the Undecided items last. Have you ever started decluttering and you come across a magazine or some other resource and find yourself rereading the entire magazine? Before you know it, half an hour has passed. Avoid this. Instead put in a pile for later. Better yet, tear the article out or toss the magazine out altogether. If you haven’t taken action on it yet, you probably never will.

8. Deciding on Undecided Items

Deciding on undecided items is the quintessential question of clearing clutter. As a reminder, clutter is anything that keeps you in the past and prevents you from living the life you want to be living. It’s no longer serving your highest and best interest. This is regardless of monetary value. In determining what to keep, first consider,

Do I use it?

Do I love it?  

Professional organizer and author Marie Kondo suggests asking yourself, “Does it spark joy?” You should love or lovingly use everything in your home. If you don’t, then it’s taking up valuable space. If you’re still struggling with an item, then ask yourself these questions:

What am I feeling right now?

What memories does this item bring up?

Who gave it to me?

Why did I originally buy it?

Who does it remind me of?

Do I feel guilty getting rid of this item? If so, why?

What time of my life was I in when I used this?

Get to the root of why you are hanging on to an item that you know is no longer serving you. What you thought was just an old mug may actually be a reservoir of past emotions that you and your past love shared on a trip to San Francisco. Or maybe the green strapless dress with the price tag on it conjures up guilt for buying things that are on sale and never wearing them.

After further inquiry, if you’re still unsure about an item, that’s okay too. It will come back around for review the next round of decluttering. By then, you might have new insight or be in a place of letting it go. Sometimes we simply need more time before letting something go that was emotionally sensitive. Like everything in life, we hold on to it until becomes easier not to.

One approach is to pack undecided items in a box and store them. Within a year, revisit the items and see if you’re still undecided. Most likely you won’t be. You’ll wonder why you felt a need to hang on to them and most likely even forgot you even had them. Each time you clear clutter you will be amazed at how much easier it gets. It becomes extremely freeing. When you successfully do it once, you realize life really does continue without those items.

9. Ask for Help

Sometimes we just need help. It’s hard to see the forest for the trees when it comes to our home. We’re simply too close to it and can’t always see our blind spots. Hiring someone with an objective pair of eyes, such as a professional organizer or feng shui consultant, can lighten your load and help you get the perspective you need. Or, grab a friend who will be honest with you. Who knows? She may want the one thing you really need to get rid of.

Excerpts from Clutter Intervention: How Your Stuff is Keeping You Stuck