17 Top Tips For Decluttering
© Kari Shea, via Unsplash
Statistics about clutter are sobering. There are 300,000 items in the average American home; 1 out of every 10 Americans rent offsite storage; 25% of people with two-car garages don’t have room to park cars inside them; and the average 10-year-old owns 238 toys but plays with just 12 daily.
Decluttering can lead to less stress and more focus on what really matters. It can also help connect you with others if you share, exchange or gift your extra stuff.
Here are 17 tips to help you declutter your home, office, garage and life.
1. Use Listia to exchange unused stuff for stuff you need. Listia is one of the largest goods exchanges in the world with over 9 million members. It's free and easy to use. You earn credits by listing your unneeded items which then can be used to buy things you need. No money is required. Most items are exchanged by mail, and there is a wide variety of items available including jewelery, books, clothes, antiques, collectibles, electronics and more. Listia has grown quickly by making trading social and fun. Getting stuff you don't need to those that need it should be central to your decluttering game. Listia is one of the best ways to do that.
2. Reconsider your attachment to stuff. One of the challenges to decluttering is that we form attachments with our stuff: our clothing, books, knick-knacks, collectibles, music. In the article How to Release Your Attachment to Your Stuff, Andrea Jordan offers great tips on releasing your attachment to belongings, including the following:
- Only keep what is essential or beautiful
- Get some help by inviting friends over to help
- Connect with your emotions by asking yourself why you’re keeping it, what it represents, and what memories you have attached to it
3. Give away one item a day. In 2010, an Australian woman named Colleen decided to declutter one item per day for an entire year. The result of what she called her 365 Less Things project was that she threw away or recycled 67 items, donated or gave away 237, sold 58 on eBay for a total of $1533.65, and completely used up 3 things. Her results are proof that decluttering doesn’t need to be an all-consuming affair—it can be a commitment to looking with an honest eye at the things around you and slowly getting rid of those you don’t need.
4. Throw a community swap meet. If you’d rather take the fast track to decluttering, consider throwing a community swap meet to get rid of unneeded stuff. This is an opportunity for your friends, neighborhood, or organization to declutter together. Bonus: you might find something you actually need from friends for free instead of wasting money on a purchase.
5. Do a little decluttering at a time. If you’re overwhelmed by the notion of decluttering your entire home or life, start with a short decluttering session. Even five minutes will give you a good start. Don’t think that five minutes will do much? There are plenty of things you can do in that time to launch your decluttering campaign. Leo Babauta of Zen Habits offers 18 tips, including:
- Designate a spot for incoming papers (as paperwork is a common source of clutter)
- Clear off one counter
- Pick up five things, and find places for them
- Spend a few minutes visualizing the room
- Pull out some clothes you don’t wear
6. Take the project 333 challenge. If clothing makes up the bulk of your clutter, consider taking the Project 333 minimalist fashion challenge. Created by Courtney Carver of Be More with Less, the project requires that every three months you choose 33 items, including clothing, accessories, jewelry, outerwear and shoes, and box up the rest of your wardrobe. The idea is to actually wear the items you have and reconsider how many pieces of clothing you need for any given season.
7. Get rid of unused toys. A great way to reduce toy clutter is the 20 toy challenge for kids. Every six months, have your children choose 20 toys to keep. Each child gets a box to keep their 20 items in and the rest gets sent to charity. If this is too difficult a challenge, consider the one in, one out rule. In other words, for every toy that comes in your home, your child has to decide one toy to donate.
8. Ask yourself, does this item “spark joy?” Bestselling author and decluttering expert Marie Kondo created a method for simplifying, organizing and storing items that involves keeping items that “spark joy” and getting rid of those that don’t. If you’re not familiar with Kondo, the video below will get you started on a journey to get rid of everything that does not bring you joy.
9. Use hacks to declutter your office. If your office is a clutter weak spot, don’t worry—there are ways to declutter it. In Top 10 Office Decluttering Tricks, Lifehacker blogger Whitson Gordon shares great tips, including taming your cables, creating hidden storage, locating your trouble areas, finding a home for everything, and rebooting your office back to its decluttered state each night.
10. Try the hanger trick. Turn all of your clothing hangers backwards. For six months, every time you wear an article of clothing, replace it facing front. After six months, look at everything that’s still hanging backwards and ask yourself whether you truly need to keep it.
11. Use the four box method. The Four-Box Method is a decluttering strategy created by Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist. The idea is simple: when decluttering an area, set out four boxes marked trash, giveaway (and exchange if you decide to use Listia), keep and relocate. Every item in the area, without exception, gets placed in one of the boxes. This forces consideration of each item and helps you avoid creating an I’m-not-sure pile, which ends up just contributing to more clutter.
12. Let go of sentimental items. Perhaps the most challenging things to get rid of are those with sentimental value. That worn-out blanket that your great aunt made you, the stuffed animal you grew up with, the plate that’s been passed down through your family. Courtney Carver of Be More with Less offers the following tips for decluttering sentimental items:
- Strengthen your ability to let go: Don’t start with the sentimental items...build strength with letting go of the easier stuff like clothing, kitchen duplicates, sports or hobby related items.
- Tell the story of your stuff: Take pictures of your sentimental items or write about the reason you saved them.
- Take a victory lap: Give each item one last intentional, loving use…then mentally thank that item for the role it played in your life, remind yourself that an object is not a relationship and lovingly give it away.
13. Rethink your garage or storage area. Garages run the risk of becoming clutter catch-alls for stuff you don’t have room for in the house—or aren’t sure what to do with. Professional organizer Helena Alkhas gives the following tips for decluttering your garage or storage area:
- Define your space. What is your goal for the space? What would you like it to be?
- Sort, purge and sort again. Ask yourself, do I need this? Is this something I can inexpensively replace? Will I have the space to store this?
- Go vertical. Determine the type of storage that best enables you to use up as much wall space as you can.
- Add interest. Treat the space as an indoor space by adding paint, freshening up the walls and floor, using magnetic and chalkboard paint, put new lighting in to make things easier to find.
14. Be honest with yourself. When decluttering an area, ask yourself if you would buy each item in question again today. If the answer is no, let it go. If you’re unsure, find out how much the item is worth right now and ask if you would pay that amount for it. If the answer is no, let it go.
15. Pull everything out of an area. Sometimes the best way to declutter is to make a mess. Pull everything out of your drawer, cupboard or closet and assess the usefulness of each item before putting it back in. If you use it, great. If it’s just taking up space, let it go.
16. Share your books and media. We tend to see books and media as part of a collection, not clutter. But for some, these make up the bulk of the clutter in their home. Luckily, there are many ways to get books and media to those who will appreciate them. For instance, you can host a giveaway for friends; you can exchange them for something you need on Listia; you can put them in a Little Free Library; you can gift them to people you know will like them; you can donate them to your local library or Friends of the Library organization; or you can sell them at the local bookstore, record store, or online.
17. Team up with your neighbors. Some clutter is made of items that you only need once or twice a year, but you do need them. A great solution to this type of clutter is to team up with your neighbors to find ways to share items. One example of this is the Party Box—a box with plates, cups, napkins, utensils, tablecloths, hot dog skewers, and other items that contribute to a good party.
What’s your favorite decluttering tip? In the comments, let us know!
Cat Johnson is a writer and content strategist covering collaboration, the commons, community and the future of work. Publications include Yes! Magazine, Utne Reader, GOOD, Shareable, Triple Pundit, LaunchableMag, and Lifehacker. She helps collaborative spaces and organizations stand out with custom content creation and strategies. Get content tips and resources at catjohnson.co. Follow Cat on Twitter and Facebook.