Studies have shown that we work better and are happier in uncluttered spaces, so Leo Babauta from Zen Habits tells us how to go about it in a manageable way, starting with the small things.
One of the things that gives me most peace is have a clean, simple home. When, on the other hand, I walk out into a living room cluttered with toys and books and extra things all over the place, it is chaos and my mind is frenetic.
I’ve been a simplifier and a declutterer for nearly a decade and I’ve gotten pretty good at it, but I’ve found that you have to keep coming back to revisit your clutter every once in awhile.
Here are my top decluttering tips:
1. Do it in small chunks. Set aside just 15 minutes to declutter just one shelf, and when that shelf or that 15 minutes is up, celebrate your victory. Then tackle another shelf for 15 minutes the next day. Conquering an entire closet or room can be overwhelming, and you might put it off forever.
2. Set aside a couple hours to do it. This may seem contradictory to the above tip, and it is. It’s simply a different strategy, and I say do whatever works for you. Sometimes, for me, it’s good to set aside part of a morning to declutter a closet or room. I do it all at once, and when I’m done, it feels awesome.
3. Take everything out of a shelf or drawer at once. Whichever of the two above strategies you choose, you should focus on one drawer or shelf at a time, and empty it completely. Then clean that shelf or drawer. Then, take the pile and sort it, and put back just what you want to keep.
4. Sort through your pile, one item at a time, and make quick decisions. Have a trash bag and a give-away box handy. When you pull everything out of a shelf or drawer, sort through the pile one at a time. Pick up an item, and make a decision: trash, give away, or keep.
5. Be merciless. You may be a pack rat, but the truth is, you won’t ever use most of the junk you’ve accumulated. If you haven’t used it in the last year, get rid of it. It’s as simple as that.
6. Papers? Be merciless, unless it’s important. Magazines, catalogues, junk mail, bills more than a year old, notes to yourself, notes from others, old work stuff … toss it! The only exception is with tax-related stuff, which should be kept for seven years, and other important documents like warranties, birth and death and marriage certificates, insurance, wills, and other important documents like that. But you’ll know those when you see them. Otherwise, toss!
7. If you are on the fence with a lot of things, create a “maybe” box. If you can’t bear to toss something because you might need it later, put it in the box, then close the box, label it, and put it in storage (garage, attic, closet), out of sight. Most likely, you’ll never open that box again. If that’s the case, pull it out after six months or a year, and toss it or give it away.
8. Create a system to stop clutter from accumulating. There’s a reason you have tall stacks of papers all over the place, and big piles of toys and books and clothes. It’s because you don’t have a regular system to keep things in their place, and get rid of stuff you don’t need. This is a topic for another day, but it’s something to think about as you declutter. You’ll never get to perfect, but if you think more intelligently about how your house got cluttered, perhaps you can find ways to stop it from happening again.
9. Celebrate when you’re done! This is actually a general rule in life: always celebrate your accomplishments, no matter how small. Even if you just decluttered one drawer, that’s great. Treat yourself to something delicious. Open that drawer (or closet, or whatever), and admire its simplicity. Breathe deeply and know that you have done a good thing. Bask in your peacefulness.
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