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Your Guide to Embarking on a Decluttering Journey

August 30, 2019

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Jan 22, 2019

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Do you ever feel guilty about how fast your home gets cluttered? Or maybe you feel like you own way too many things?

Even though you might feel ashamed of your clutter, you’re not alone. But have no fear—the purpose of this article is not to berate you about your clutter habits—it’s to help you fix them!

In this article, we’ll take you step-by-step through the decluttering process, which will include:

  • Decluttering 101: A brief background on American consumerism and the benefits of decluttering
  • A few decluttering philosophies
  • Your baseline decluttering checklist: A great start, no matter what “school of decluttering” you choose

Why declutter?

Not convinced that you need to declutter? Perhaps you are, but want that extra push to start? Keep reading in this section to familiarize yourself with the bad and the good.

American consumerism: Too much stuff!

American consumerism is exponentially rising, and it doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon.


The average American home houses 300,000 objects, and we’re spending $1,497 a month—that’s almost $18,000 a year—on nonessential items. It’s never too late to get started on taking a good, hard look at the clutter in your home!

For example, the average American family spends $1,700 on clothes, annually. If that doesn’t seem crazy enough to you, consider the fact that the average American throws away 65 pounds of clothing per year.

We also stockpile and buy food in bulk, even when most of our food simply gets thrown away. It is estimated that 60 million tons, or $160 billion, worth of produce is annually sent to landfills.

The average size of the American home has nearly tripled over the last 50 years. The Diderot Effect tells us that making “fancy” purchases, such as large homes, leads us to going down a spiral of buying similarly fancy things to match.

Benefits of decluttering

Other than the obvious benefit of having a clean home, decluttering has amazing psychological benefits, including less stress and more intentional living. Here are just a few examples.

Grieving a loss

Decluttering can be a very emotional process, especially if you are decluttering items that belonged to a past loved one. This loved one could be living or deceased—perhaps an ex-partner, or a beloved grandparent who is no longer with us.

Decluttering can help you grieve a loss during a hard time, since objects hold much sentimental value.

Decluttering can help you release your grief in ways that you never thought were impacting you.

Making way for the new

When you declutter, you’re not just getting rid of stuff to accumulate more stuff. However, there is something to be said in the fact that you are letting out the old to make way for the new.

The “new” isn’t limited to new objects. The “new” may be a clearer mind for you to focus on what you love doing, or a clearer space to allow room for new hobbies and passions. Think about what you want to bring into your own life.

Investing more in relationships

When you spend less time thinking about and maintaining your stuff, you actually allow more room in your life for things that matter the most, like your relationships.

When you refuse to let your clutter rule your life, you—unintentionally or not—make room for your relationships with partners, friends, and family to flourish.  

Maybe picking up the hundreds of your kid’s toys takes too much time, and you don’t actually get to spend time bonding with them. Or maybe you spend too much time cleaning the house, when you could be getting coffee with a friend.

When you declutter your home—you choose experience over the material.

Popular Decluttering Philosophies

The Konmari Method

Marie Kondo, globally renowned “tidying expert,” pictured helping one of her clients on her Netflix show, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. Photo courtesy of the New Yorker.

World-renowned Japanese decluttering consultant Marie Kondo champions her signature “Konmari” method of decluttering, which helps you intentionally declutter by category, in the following order:

  1. Clothes
  2. Books
  3. Paper
  4. Komono, or miscellaneous
  5. Sentimental items

Her methods are loved by decluttering fanatics and minimalists around the world. The basis of her decluttering is to hold onto objects that “spark joy” in your life in order to declutter based on what feels right for you. You may politely thank your discarded items for their service and peacefully let them go from your life.

Books: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, and Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Swedish Death Cleaning

Swedish death cleaning is a lot less scary than it sounds! It is a practical, permanent form of organization which is meant to sustain you for a lifetime, beyond your single decluttering sesh. This decluttering is thinking about what you do when you think your time on Earth might be ending, but can be done at any point of your life.

“Let me help make your loved ones’ memories of you nice—instead of awful,” author Margareta Magnusson writes.

Here are a few principles of the method:

  • Death cleaning doesn’t have to be done in one go
  • Begin with the things you have in storage, hidden away in attics or garages
  • Shred or throw away anything that could be upsetting, hurtful, or embarrassing for your family to find
  • Leave photographs, letters, and journals until last
  • If you know what you’d like to be done with certain belongings after you die, tell someone or leave a note
  • Ask people if they want your stuff

Book: The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter, by Margareta Magnusson

Your baseline decluttering checklist

You’re educated on decluttering, and you’re hungry to get rid of some stuff. What now?

Now, you’re finally ready to start your own decluttering journey!

In this section, we’ll provide you with a bare-bones decluttering checklist for you to get started with—and maybe if you’re an ambitious declutterer, you can explore the intricacies of other methods on your own!

1: Make a list

When you’re eager and ready to declutter, it may be tempting to take on the entire house.

Conversely, you may feel utterly terrified of starting any kind of decluttering.

Either way, you don’t want to jump right into the decluttering before you make a game plan!

Don’t declutter without planning first! Make a list of your home and items to help you see what you need to tackle first.

Rather than tearing up the entire house and making piles (too big!), or only tackling one drawer of clothes (too small!), start by assessing each room and category that you need to go through. Often, making a list can very helpful in this step. Your list can cater to your house and needs, but some general guidelines are as follows:

  • Rooms, sorted by most to least clutter
  • Categories of items in each room
  • Sub-categories, if necessary
  • Which rooms need attention first

This way, you can prioritize the bigger areas (start with these!) and de-prioritize the smaller, easier areas (end with these!).

2: Consider your priorities

Decluttering—especially your first time around—is often a long, continual project, which requires multiple rounds.

So, when you’re decluttering, don’t bite off more than you can chew!

When you get started, consider your priorities: what is pressing you most? What clutter do you have to navigate on a daily basis, or may be contributing to your stress the most?  

Assessing priorities may also involve assessing your time priorities. What we mentioned in tip #1—tackling big projects first and smaller projects last—isn’t the end-all-be-all. After a long day at work, maybe you’ll want to prioritize quick, small projects that will give you more immediate gratification. Conversely, on weekends, maybe you’ll want to prioritize big projects that are more time-intensive.

Always refer back to your list, and see what works for you!

3: Declutter by category

Even just picking one room in the whole house to declutter can seem extremely intimidating. A great way to further break up your workload is by decluttering by category.

In your bedroom, for instance, you may dedicate one day to clothes decluttering only, working with your closet, drawers, or other storage.

As with everything in decluttering, follow the categories which you feel make the most sense based on your home’s clutter. However, if you find yourself stuck, the Konmari Method has an excellent guideline of categories and the order in which you should tackle them, as follows:

  1. Clothes
  2. Books
  3. Paper
  4. Komono, or miscellaneous—komono is the biggest category in the Konmari method, which encapsulates many different subcategories, from kitchen supplies, bathroom supplies, electronics, containers, office supplies, and more.
  5. Sentimental items

For more on the Konmari Method, refer to the previous section on decluttering philosophies.

4: Have a plan for “discarded” clutter

When you’ve decided what you don’t want to keep, you may be inclined to just throw your items away. But wait! Here are a few tips on “discarding” items from typical clutter categories.

Clothes

As mentioned, the average American throws away more than 68 pounds of clothing and textiles per year, and clothing and other textiles represent 6.3 percent of the municipal solid waste (in major cities like New York and Chicago alone, textiles make up a staggering 10 percent of all municipal waste).

When you’ve sorted through your own clothes and gathered a “not keep” pile, keep these statistics in mind. Clothes are not trash!

Take your unwanted clothes to your local thrift store to resell them. You never know how much money you’ll get for finding your clothes a new home!

A great way to deal with discarded clothes are to resell them if you believe they have market value. Take your clothes to your local vintage clothing store and see what kind of money they offer you. Better yet, if you have the time, try user-friendly online resellers like Depop or Poshmark.

If you don’t mind getting rid of your clothes for free, you can donate them to your local charity. Try local places of worship (churches, temples, mosques), community outreach centers, or homeless shelters to see if they are collecting clothes—chances are, they will be!

Food

Wasting food can feel so wrong. But remember that your food doesn’t have to go to the landfill.

If you have unexpired nonperishable foods—the ones that keep on the shelf—that have been collecting dust in the back of your pantry, donate the ones that you’ll likely never use to your local food pantry or food bank.

If you have too much produce, consider composting rotten or uneaten food that is taking up space in your refrigerator. Find out if your city has a composting initiative—you can check out this state-by-state guide to composting.

The Golden Rule

For all your discarded clutter, you can generally remember this golden rule: one person’s trash is another person’s treasure! So don’t be afraid to look into your options for “discarding” clutter before you leave it out on the curb for garbage collection.

5: Consider your goals

Above all, make sure to keep in mind your personal vision for your space.

Don’t lose sight of why you started decluttering in the first place. You don’t need to become a total minimalist in order to declutter and better your spending habits in the future. Writing down some of your motivations for decluttering may help give you clarity in this regard.

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