Motherhood coach Denaye Barahona, Ph.D, started decluttering her home by decluttering her closet. After she was done, her closet actually became a place she wanted to be. It became a space of solitude, quiet and calm — a feeling she “quickly came to love.” Which inspired her to declutter her entire home “in search of this calm feeling that I wanted to bring to my entire family.”
It’s hard to feel calm when you’re surrounded by clutter: surfaces with piles resembling the leaning tower of Pisa; toys strewn all over the floor; clothing jam-packed in your closet; random receipts, paperwork and coupons in random places. “Visually, clutter makes us feel chaotic and unfocused,” said Carrie Higgins, who writes the blog Making Lemonade.
Clutter also makes it harder to find what we need, which only frustrates us and makes us feel helpless, she said. And it’s time-consuming and leaves us frazzled and running behind.
When we pare down our possessions, we have fewer things to fret about and get distracted by, said Rachel Jonat, who writes about simplicity and minimalism on her website The Minimalist Mom. When we pare down, it’s easier to make decisions, especially for relatively minor matters—like what we put on our feet. “Having fewer choices reduces stress and allows us to focus on things that are more meaningful and rewarding to us.”
Plus, the less we have, the less there is to maintain and clean, Jonat said. In fact, you might decide to have less stuff in general. Which translates to spending less—or spending your hard-earned dollars on what counts for you, such as caring for your health or working fewer hours, she said.
The idea of decluttering can feel overwhelming, especially if you already have a full schedule with a family, demanding job and all sorts of additional responsibilities. But you don’t have to do an overhaul to feel better and make substantial progress. You can work small and strategically. Below you’ll find simple suggestions that make a significant difference in your space and mood.
Shift your perspective. It’s hard to get rid of our possessions. But considering their cost can inspire you to start decluttering—and to become a more conscious consumer, said Jonat, author of several books, including her latest title The Joy of Doing Nothing.
She suggested exploring these questions: “How many hours did you work to pay for these items? How much space in your home do they take up and what does that space cost you in rent or mortgage payments? How much time have you spent moving or cleaning these things and how much time will it take to say goodbye to them?”
Declutter an entire category. The best way to declutter is to do it deeply and thoroughly, tackling one category at a time, said Higgins, author of Organization Hacks: Over 350 Simple Solutions to Organize Your Home in No Time! Because when you declutter here and there, you don’t get to see and feel the full impact, she said.
Barahona, who pens the blog Simple Families, also recommended picking one spot in your home and completing it before moving on to another project (like she did with her closet).
An easy place to start is personal care products (and makeup). Higgins suggested pulling everything out; being ruthless; and tossing anything you don’t use or that’s expired. Instead of asking yourself “What should I get rid of?” consider “What do I need to keep?” she said.
Keep a donations box in every room. Put the box in the corner; when you come across an item you don’t use or need, toss it in the box; and, when it’s full, drop it off at a donations center, Jonat said. This is “a simple method that doesn’t take up a lot of your time but is quite satisfying.”
Be strategic about your mail. Higgins suggested opening your mail over the recycling bin. You also can hang up a vertical letter organizer. Dedicate one divider for holding unopened mail, and the other one for important mail you need to tend to (like bills), which is the system Barahona uses.
Clean up one surface. “Clear, clutter-free surfaces visually convey a sense of calm,” Higgins said. Which is why she suggested selecting one flat surface to completely clear out. Put occasionally used items back where they belong (or find a new home for them). “Only items you use every single day should be out on counters, desks and tables.”
Barahona suggested starting with kitchen counters. “I find that having clear kitchen counters makes them easier to clean and maintain and the kitchen is overall a more peaceful place to be without clutter.” For instance, her counters only contain: cooking oil, soap, towels and a coffee pot.
Clean out the fridge. Take everything out. Wipe down every nook and cranny, and only put back food that’s still good, Higgins said.
Focus on your favorites. Jonat suggested selecting your favorite items and boxing up everything else. “Many of us have beautiful things that we don’t let ourselves wear or use for fear of breaking or damaging them,” she said.
Instead, use your beautiful china daily, and wear your best clothes. “Nice things are meant to be used and enjoyed.”
Sell valuable items. Gather items you don’t use that are worth selling, Jonat said. “Keep a running list of how much money you have earned selling these items and then use the earnings for something that makes you feel great: a weekend away, a night out, a monetary gift to a local charity.”
Decluttering takes time and effort. But in the long run it saves both. Less clutter means less chaos. It means less time spent running around and running late searching for your wallet or keys or most important papers. It means paying your bills on time because you can actually find the statement. It means having more mental, physical and emotional space for what really matters to you.
“Decluttering is a free way to freshen up your home and it boosts your mood while giving you room to breathe,” Higgins said.
Of course, getting rid of our possessions isn’t easy. It can quickly get emotional. But as Higgins said, “Honor your possessions by taking great care of them, and when they’re no longer serving you, then free them up to live somewhere else.” Or as Jonat noted, “Own your stuff, don’t let it own you.”