Inside: Learn four steps to living clutter-free in the new year so you can focus on the things that matter most.
A guest post by Rose Morrison
Cutting down on clutter creates a healthy mental space for people to rest and achieve their dreams with more focus and energy. Living clutter-free is an investment in personal growth, valuable experiences, and financial health.
At its core, decluttering is simply a discipline that takes practice. However, it’s not just a simple set of actions. It also requires emotional work because material possessions are often tied to thoughts and feelings related to the past, present, and future.
Here are four steps to help you with living with less clutter in the coming year.
4 Steps to Living Clutter-Free This Year
Use these four steps to begin living clutter-free this year.
1. Check Your Mindset
It’s essential to realize that living clutter-free requires a mindset shift similar to culture shock. Most Americans think it’s normal to have 15 different T-shirts and 20 pairs of shoes.
It’s also considered OK to add new clothes to the closet every season and make impulse purchases online. There are statistics on clutter that show how much money and space is wasted on excess stuff.
However, these views on ownership and possessions are cultural, not universal. You can have a fulfilling life with far fewer items.
Living simply in a consumer culture is challenging, but possible. Decluttering challenges cultural values because it reminds people that their belongings do not make their lives meaningful.
While many people suffer from having too little, it’s possible to also struggle with having too much. American culture often promotes the idea that bigger, newer and more is better.
However, hoarding items has never led to joy or fulfillment. In fact, there’s some evidence that clutter is connected with poor mental health.
When you start decluttering, you may notice that your values begin to shift. Instead of buying more clothes to boost your self-confidence, you might call a friend for support. Rather than purchasing a new car because one of your friends did, you can build financial wellness with a savings account.
Decluttering challenges you to reconsider your definition of success. This will look different for everyone. Some want to simply declutter their workspace, while others do an extreme declutter on their whole house and strictly limit new possessions.
2. Keep What’s Valued
When people think about living clutter-free they may imagine that means throwing everything away. Nothing could be further from the truth. The point of decluttering and living simply is to keep what brings value to your life.
When decluttering, it’s much more effective to focus on what you want to keep instead of what you want to get rid of.
Take a drawer of clothes, for example. After everything you love has been removed, you can look through the remaining items and more easily decide what you need to retain.
Organizing enthusiasts like Marie Kondo suggest asking what items spark joy and only keeping those. People have an emotional connection with their items. If something isn’t sparking good feelings, there’s a good chance it’s contributing to overwhelm, guilt or frustration.
Because decluttering is so closely tied to emotions and past experiences, people need to take time to process as they clean. Decluttering can be physically and mentally exhausting, but it can also help you become more emotionally healthy by considering why you’re holding onto certain objects.
Another popular kind of decluttering, known as Swedish death cleaning, involves processing meaningful items by passing them on to others and sharing why they’re meaningful through written notes or discussion. This process can help you work through emotional connections and let go of items in a healthy way.
3. Have a Game Plan
Many people feel overwhelmed with how to start decluttering. The hardest part is often simply beginning. Taking a small step in the right direction can spark motivation and snowball into cleaning out an entire home.
However, people who have busy schedules and are worried about losing motivation should start by creating a plan of attack. It’s helpful to start with the easier items in your home to work through.
Different methods of decluttering work for different people. You can start by room or category.
Examples of categories include clothing, books, furniture, and dishes. Some categories are too large to sort all at once, so they can be worked through in subcategories. For instance, shoes, coats, camera equipment, and electronic cords can be sorted as part of clothing and electronic categories.
Another important part of decluttering is to ensure there’s a place for every item in the house. Without permanent storage solutions, things move around, and it’s easy for people to lose track of what they have.
Many people tend to store items in their attics and garages. While these spaces can be a safe place to store large items, they tend to collect clutter and quickly fill up again. Using clear storage containers and open shelving can help reduce clutter in these areas.
4. Build New Habits
Individuals who have successfully decluttered their houses can focus on the next step to living clutter-free — practicing better shopping habits.
It’s very normal for people who’ve just finished cleaning to want to buy new things to replace their old ones. However, this can quickly lead to a re-cluttering situation.
Before buying a new item, ask yourself how it will benefit your life. Quick questions to ask include “Do I need this?” “Can I afford this?” and “Will I want this in a month?” Having a financial goal like saving for a house can also help you spend less and stay focused on your primary values.
Many people shop to fill emotional needs or because they’re trying to shape their personal identity with belongings. However, this is not a healthy relationship to have with possessions or finances. Finding better ways to meet emotional needs can also reduce the clutter in people’s lives.
Individuals who want to keep their home clutter-free may also need to talk to family about handling heirloom items and gift-giving. Maintaining an organized lifestyle is much easier for those who have the support of their family and friends.
Another effective way to keep clutter low is to follow the “one-in, one-out” rule. Committing to decluttering an item each time you gain something new will keep your amount of material possessions stable instead of allowing it to slowly grow.
Start Fresh This Year
Decluttering is a wonderful way to mentally and emotionally prepare for a new year. However, it’s essential to remember that it’s a very personal process and will look different for everyone.
If you’re overwhelmed by clutter, follow these four steps to living clutter-free this year. Practicing systems and new habits will allow you to press forward into a fuller, less cluttered life.
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Great article Rose. I love how you said that out view of clutter is cultural but not universal. We have to remember that America is a consumer society so that means it will always drive consumerism but we don’t have to keep consuming. That just makes sense. It’s like being at a never ending buffet of stuff! We can’t keep taking in more and more and more. There has to be an enough.
I have found that your point to start with easy stuff and mini categories is very helpful for decluttering too! It helps us stay motivated and not overwhelmed!
For me, the worst is paper stuff. Very tedious and unmotivating, so I often end up putting it in paper bags. Not good! I do process mail as it comes in, getting rid of unneeded paper as it comes in the door. I’ve been trying to approach the rest of the bags one at a time, but life crowds that out a lot. I appreciated your advice about having a game plan and a plan of attack!
What about photos in frames on almost every counter top table shelf in the house in every room . Should I take them all down and store away ?