My sister and I spent last weekend decluttering her entire bedroom. And when I say “decluttering,” I don’t mean a non-committal, put-a-few-shirts-and-koozies-into-a-box-and-call-it-good decluttering—I mean a massive purge that spanned two days and resulted in nearly 20 grocery bags marked for donation.
Now, my sister is a trinket collector and a sentimental person. She has not pledged to embrace minimalism. She does not have any desire to live in a shack with only 100 items and no running water. But she did have the wisdom to recognize that, like a lot of us, she had more stuff than places to store it, and it was stressing her out.
When she called me up and asked for help going through her closet, I don’t think she knew what she was in for—but the result was nothing short of beautiful, and we had a lot of fun in the process.
If you know it’s time to ditch some of your stuff but you don’t know where to start, here are seven of my favorite decluttering tips:
Tip 1: Declutter first, then organize.
If you’re trying to organize your space, the first step is to get rid of everything that isn’t absolutely fundamental. If you have too much stuff for your space, it won’t matter how many cute, color-coordinated storage bins you buy to organize it all—it’s still going to look like a pile of crap, because that’s ultimately what it is.
Tip 2: Declutter by category, not by physical location.
For anyone familiar with Marie Kondo and her insanely popular KonMari method of cleaning, this tip is something you likely already know: When going through your stuff, clean up by category (clothes, books, papers, toiletries, etc.), instead of location (bedroom, bathroom, laundry room). This helps you avoid what I call the “scope creep” of organizing.
My sister and I made this fatal mistake over the weekend, when we innocently decided to “clear out her closet.” Of course, there were things in her closet that belonged on the bookshelf…but the bookshelf was full of things that should have been in her nightstand…and stuff in the nightstand belonged in her disorganized desk…and suddenly we had all of her things pulled out of every space and her room looked like this:
Luckily, we had the time and motivation to push through the chaos we’d created and come out unscathed on the other side, but for people who originally plan to sit down for an hour of tidying, this mess quickly becomes overwhelming. What we should have done was organize by the “clothes” category, which would have provided a clearer stopping point than the nebulous “closet” category. Do yourself a favor and learn from our mistake.
Tip 3: Pull everything out of the space you’re organizing.
My sister balked at me a little bit when I told her we were taking every single piece of clothing out of her closet and depositing it onto her bed. Most people don’t want their day of organization to start like this:
But the truth is, pulling all of your items out of the space you’re organizing is the only way to go, for a few reasons:
- It forces you to commit to the task. If you only put three shirts in a donate bag before losing steam and firing up Netflix, you’re never going to get anywhere.
- It gives you a chance to clean the space. You also get a fresh view of what the area looks like without all your junk in it, giving you a clearer vision of where things should most logically be stored once it’s time to put them away.
- Most importantly, it requires you to physically handle every item you own. Instead of taking out the stuff you don’t want, you’re putting back the stuff you do want. You will be amazed at how much of a difference this makes.
Tip 4: Make a decision on every item.
You’re allowed to have a “maybe” pile as you declutter—it’s actually great for momentum because it keeps you from agonizing over an item for too long—but ultimately, you need to make a decision on every single thing you own. Either actively decide to keep it and find a home for it in your space, or actively decide to get rid of it. The last thing you want is a bunch of junk passively sitting around your house because you don’t know what to do with it. Make a decision and move on.
Tip 5: Drag a friend along for the ride.
Going through all your stuff is always less sucky when someone you like is around to help you.
A second set of hands makes the process go faster, and while you’re looking at your junk through a thick set of rose-colored glasses, your friend/family member/other cool person can provide a valuable and objective second opinion.
Having another person around can also prevent you from getting overwhelmed by the mess. It’s fun instead of stressful—a game instead of a chore. And that’s how we want our lives to be.
Tip 6: Be ruthless.
You don’t need as much as you think you need. You just don’t. You could cut the number of clothes you own in half and likely wouldn’t notice, because you’re only wearing about 30 percent of your wardrobe anyway. You own more books than you have time to read, your Christmas decoration collection is out of control, and your basement is filled with “just in case” items you’re never going to need. Get rid of it. You won’t miss it.
A couple hours into our decluttering, I was amazed to witness my sentimental, nostalgic sister transform into a ruthless decluttering machine. By the end, she hardly needed my guidance or advice—the training wheels came off, and she was on a roll.
Tip 7: Stop bringing crap into your home in the first place.
If you clear out a bunch of clothes from your closet and then immediately buy a bunch of new clothes to fill the space you just opened up, you are missing the point of this whole exercise. If you get rid of something, the goal is not to replace it with a newer, nicer version. That is an expensive habit and does not promote frugality, happiness or gratitude. Quit buying stuff. Love what you have.
When you’re decluttering—I mean really decluttering—it’s going to get worse before it gets better. That’s just the way it is. There is stuff under your bed and stuff packed inside each suitcase in your closet. You are going to wonder if there will ever be a day you won’t be buried under a pile of your own garbage. But soon enough, you’ll break through to the other side, and it will be a beautiful sight.
And for those afraid they’re going to miss their stuff once they get rid of it, here’s what my sister texted me a couple days after the purge:
“Dude, it feels so good to actually use the stuff that I own. It’s not just passively taking up space in my life. It’s so much easier to make decisions when the selection is only things that I actually care for.”
Preach it, sister.
Do you have a favorite tip or trick you use when decluttering that I didn’t mention here? Let me know below in the comments!