Minimalist Tips For Decluttering Your Home

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There’s no upside to clutter. The excess amount of things we have but don’t need takes up valuable space in our environments and minds.

Clutter has been linked to elevated levels of cortisol, disrupted focus, and procrastination. 

Decluttering, together with adopting a minimalist mindset, is key to bringing intentionality to your life. Having and wanting less gives you mental clarity and the confidence to say no to mindless consumerism.

“We don’t need to increase our goods nearly as much as we need to scale down our wants. Not wanting something is as good as possessing it.” – Donald Horban.

While decluttering sounds easy in theory, many of us still struggle to implement it into our lives. It’s often pushed aside to the “I’ll do it later” list.

There are a couple of reasons for this:

  1. You don’t believe in the value of decluttering.
  2. You don’t know where to start.

We’re assuming that you already understand the importance of decluttering but need guidance to help you get started.

By the end of this post, you’ll have an actionable minimalist decluttering checklist of things you can do to create more freedom and intentionality in your space.

Increase your motivation to declutter with this one question

As a society, we’ve never had more commitments vying for our time, whether it’s family, work, school, errands, social, or health. 

After we race through each day, spinning our wheels, we wind down by getting lost in the endless sea of content.

The thought of carving significant time out of your schedule to declutter seems unfathomable.

How do you beat the clock and finally tackle some much needed decluttering?

At this point, you hear common advice about breaking decluttering activities into small chunks and celebrate incremental progress. Start with 15 minutes a day, focusing on either by room or by category.

While this method can be useful and sometimes unavoidable, there needs to be more urgency. The benefits of being clutter-free are life-changing, and ironically, will give you more time. 

Why wouldn’t you want to move quickly and feel significant progress sooner?

Well, first of all, it’s a losing battle if you plan on cramming the task of decluttering into your existing busy lifestyle.

How you currently spend your time is a reflection of your priorities.

You do have time to declutter. You just choose to spend your time doing other things.

So for this exercise, change the question of “how do I find more time to declutter” to “what would my life look like and how would I feel if I didn’t have any clutter?”

If you’re connected to the vision of the person you’ll become due to being clutter-free, you’re ready to prioritise decluttering.

Be realistic in your vision

Following on from the previous tip, try to be realistic with your vision. It’s so easy to get caught up in comparing your home to beautiful minimalist houses on social media and home decor magazines.

I get it. Minimalism is a sexy topic at the moment. And of course, it’s ok to want to have an aesthetically pleasing house. You just need to be careful that you set realistic expectations for yourself.

Your home may not look a certain way because of the way it’s built, be it the materials for the flooring or the colour of your walls.

Remember, the purpose of decluttering is to create physical and mental clarity. Find beauty in the process.

Read more: The Curse of The Minimalist Aesthetic

Use destination piles to simplify your decisions

Cutter increases your decisions. But then you need to make more decisions to get rid of the clutter. Overwhelming, right?

The very thought of deciding whether to keep something or not—or what you’re going to do with an item if you no longer need it can prevent you from starting your decluttering project.

In fact, we argue that deciding what to do with something you no longer need is more overwhelming than determining whether or not to keep something. This is especially true if you’re resourceful and are trying to be considerate of your waste.

What we suggest you think about the lifecycle of your things before you start decluttering. Otherwise, you run into the trap of getting stuck partway through your efforts. 

Here’s where the power of piles come into play. Brainstorm all of the possible outlets for discarding items and create a list. Here’s what we commonly use for destination points:

For sale pile – this is for things that are in excellent condition that you wish to sell either online, at a garage sale, at a local market or to friends.

Giveaway pile – this is reserved for things that you wish to give to friends and family. You want to make sure that your offering is valuable and that you’re not contributing unnecessary clutter to other people’s lives.

Donation pile – this is for things you wish to donate to charities. This generally tends to be leftover stuff from your for sale pile and giveaway pile.

Reusable textiles pile – this is for clothing, bedding and towels that are ruined or completely worn out. We found someone in our city that turns worn textiles into blankets and toys for dogs in animal shelters. Perhaps you can find something similar regarding a maker looking to take old material and turn it into something new. Try zero waste Facebook groups in your area.

Rubbish pile – this is for things that cannot be reused or repaired but are also not recyclable. You want this destination point to be the smallest of all your piles, and it’s pure waste.

For scanning pile – this is for all of the necessary paperwork in your life, including tax papers, registrations, receipts, warranties, certificates, etc. Create a pile for which you can scan into your computer and recycle the physical versions.

Sentimental pile – my wife Maša and I each have a box dedicated to special items that mean a lot to us. Note: it’s worth reviewing your sentimental box annually. You’d be surprised how it can shrink over the years as you create new experiences—more on this below.

Recycling pile – despite your best efforts, sometimes you need to add things to recycling. This is normally the first pile people think about when decluttering; however, we try to leave recycling as a last resort.

Once you’ve defined your destination piles, you’re ready to start decluttering.

You’ll still need time to execute on the distribution of your piles, whether that’s putting items up for sale, taking a trip to the tip or telling your friends and family.

However, planning for these activities in advance helps you to simplify your decluttering workflow and set the right expectations for yourself.

How to finally overcome your resistance to declutter

Redefine what is enough for you

Having more than we need gives us a sense of security. Security against what might happen in the future.

That’s why, as a culture, we never seem to have enough money in savings in case we need to access it. Or we’re stressed about having the perfect outfit for a specific occasion.

Applying minimalism to decluttering means stepping back and questioning the value of everything you possess. 

This means tightening up your rotations on towels, cutlery, skincare, tools, bedding, shoes, sports gear, you name it. 

Depending on what motivates you, counting your items might be effective to reprogram how much stuff you think you need.

A good example is clothes. It can be empowering to developpersonal uniform with a few high-quality pieces on rotation and some unique pieces for occasions.

Courtney Carver propelled the wardrobe capsule movement with her Project 333 program, where you pick 33 articles of clothing and accessories every three months.

Striving for 33 items of clothing sounds more appealing than merely saying you’re going to declutter your wardrobe.

If you apply this method to all of your things, you risk getting consumed by numbers rather than focusing on the benefits of minimalism. So make sure you find a balance that works for you.

How To Declutter Your Sentimental Items Without Feeling Guilty

Declutter your sentimental items without feeling guilty

As you read this, pause to look around at the things you own.

Now ask yourself, “why did I get these things?” Maybe this is a straightforward question, or perhaps you can’t remember. No problem, I have another question for you.

What memories do you associate with the things you can visibly see in your space?

For example, I’m currently writing this article on my MacBook computer. The same computer I used to start this website.

Everything we own is associated with memories of relationships, accomplishments and experiences.

Our memories are precious to us, and if we lose the trigger of an item that represents that moment in time, do we trust ourselves to remember?

Well, surprise, surprise, our memories are not stored in our things. Our memories are processed and kept in our brains—specifically the hippocampus, neocortex and amygdala.

So is the fear of decluttering sentimental items about remembering moments or wanting to remember moments?

Either way, here are some tips to help manage memory loss fears and regret when it comes to decluttering sentimental items.

Learn to be content in the present

So much of the concerns associated with decluttering sentimental possessions is about preserving the past or mitigating our future.

Reflection and planning are useful to do in small doses, but holding onto things we don’t need, pushes us further away from the present.

Here’s the thing. On average, we have 23,000 breaths each day. This is a second-by-second reminder that we’re alive.

If you’re focused on contentment and gratitude for being alive, you’ll find that your fears around decluttering sentimental items will soon fade away.

You are not your things

It’s easy to get confused about the role things play in our lives. Everything we own is effectively just a tool for us to use. They’re not fundamentally who we are.

For example, my first mobile phone was a Nokia 3315. This was the same phone I used to message my first girlfriend, play snake, and ultimately begin my adulthood journey. Sure the phone played a role in these experiences, but if I didn’t have a phone, I’d find another way to have similar experiences.

It’s worth repeating. You are not your things.

Journaling

Keep a journal

Words and images are timeless tools we have to keep our memories. Think about famous historical literature Seneca the Younger and Shakespeare and the impact it’s had on society.

Their words live on through the ages as we derive lessons from their work and apply them to modern times.

This is not to say that you need to be a world-class writer. But keeping a journal for yourself is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your mental health. As a by-product, it acts as an archive of your life.

Rather than relying on things to remind you to be introspective, journaling is a method specifically designed to help you reflect and think.

Create a multimedia library

You are the director of your life. So why not capture the most visual experience you can?

This could be in the form of photo albums, art, digital images and video.

Instead of relying on sentimental items to capture moments, start carefully building a library of media that showcases your life.

In the context of technology, how many of us take the time to curate a digital photo library we’re proud of? How many screenshots do you have on your phone right now ruining your image feed?

Take charge by being your own creative director, and not only will you have fun drawing, painting, photographing, filming, editing, adding music, but you’ll also have a beautifully crafted media library of your life.

Digital drawing

Keep all of your sentimental items in one place

Despite recognising the over-dependence we place on the things we own, that doesn’t mean we need to get rid of all of our possessions with sentimental value.

As I mentioned earlier, since my wife Maša and I started our minimalist journey, we’ve kept a sentimental box each. It used to be one of those 60L plastic boxes from Target. Then eventually, we started sharing a box. Today, we both have a shoebox, each with our sentimental things.

It would have been fine if we still had a big plastic box each today, but because we review our sentimental regularly, we became less dependant on holding onto those memories over time.

For instance, every time I opened the box, I was thinking, “why did I decide to hang onto these things last time?” My current self was often confused by the actions of my past self.

It shows that as we grow older, we create new experiences, and the old experiences don’t matter as much. At least, this is the case for me.

So much has happened since I became a minimalist that I no longer feel the need to be triggered for memories to feel happy.

So keep a version of a sentimental box that works for you. We choose to tuck our things away in a box. But your items might be out in the open. The important thing is to review if these things are worth keeping regularly.

Don’t trick yourself into thinking that there’s no cost of keeping things you don’t need, especially sentimental items.

Remember, we hang onto these things to remember meaningful relationships, experiences and accomplishments. It’s not necessarily healthy if you’re triggered continuously to live in the past instead of the present.

Remove the burden of clutter from your parents

Following on from sentimental experiences, we’re somewhat attached to the old memories from our family home, so we leave some of our things in the house that represent those old memories.

We rush out with our move and don’t think it’s a big deal to leave boxes of our things behind.

Some of us even dare to reserve our bedrooms from our family home, even though we’re no longer living there!

If you’re a parent reading this, and you’re honest with yourself, you have some doubts about your child surviving on their own, and you’re open to the idea of keeping their room free just in case they need to come back home.

So we end up with this dynamic of parent and child (who is an adult), who are holding onto old memories created over a lifetime.

The result. More clutter.

And not just any clutter. It’s the most ambiguous kind. See, when a child leaves the family home, there’s so much uncertainty of their future, which leaves everyone in limbo.

Parents are processing what just happened and are often focused on helping their kid make a successful move. Sure there may be some plans of what you could do with the extra space in the house, or perhaps consider selling. But these ideas are generally put on the back burner because they’re emotionally taxing decisions.

Then for the child, you’re so focused on what’s next that you can’t think about dealing with every last thing you own in your family home.

For some of us, this transition is smooth. The kid is switched on, takes all of their stuff and deals with it. The parent is switched on and is happily and confidently planning their next season of life with the child out of the house. But this situation is a rarity.

However, for most of us, I included, years go by, and your stuff stays in the house. Sometimes your stuff gets moved from your bedroom to the garage or attic. But it’s still there.

Then when you come back home to stay for a couple of nights, you might take some of your old things with you.

So here’s the hard truth about this situation. And I’m talking to the kids who still have their stuff in the family home.

It’s selfish.

Especially if you’re trying to live a minimalist life, it’s not fair for you to live clutter-free in your own environment but continue to contribute clutter to your family home. Consciously and unconsciously, you’re creating a burden for your parents.

It also hinders their ability to do things with the space they’ve worked so hard to pay for financially.

Yes, some parents like having their children’s things at home, as they’re holding onto those family memories. While your parents may not be minimalists, it’s still not fair to put your stuff on them.

Minimalism is not some tactic. It’s a mindset, and it spreads beyond your own environment. Lead by example and reduce clutter in all aspects of your life, and most of all, remove the weight of clutter from those closest to you.

Time your decluttering sessions

When decluttering, you can get lost in the details (especially sentimental things), and sometimes it’s better to make quick decisions to keep your momentum going.

Timing your task is a great way to keep things moving along. It could also be a fun way to engage your family. You could set up a big countdown timer on your laptop, and everyone has to scramble to clear the space in that time.

Ready set go!

Chronicle your journey

The fear of failing in front of others is a powerful motivator.

We see this a lot in the fitness industry, as people chronicle their weight loss journey and progress on social media.

You can apply the same method to decluttering. Embark on a 30-day decluttering challenge, post your progress pictures online, and gather support from your friends and family.

Your community could be the very thing you need to keep you going when you’re not feeling motivated.

Develop a framework for knowing how much to declutter

Sometimes when we’re decluttering, we get on such a roll that it’s like we experience a blackout. Only to wake up and realise that you’ve taken your discarding efforts too far.

This is the challenge of managing your possessions. At the point of deciding whether to keep or get rid of something, you’re running the “what if” test.

What if I need {insert item} in {insert situation}?

For years we’ve advocated that the “what if” mentality is a trap. The thought of having to re-purchase something is a terrifying prospect for many of us, to the point where you could justify keeping everything for the “just in case” moments.

To help you find peace with how far you take your decluttering efforts, below are a few prompts to support your decision-making process.

Thinking about your future

When deciding to keep something, it’s only natural that you think about your future. In fact, everything you buy represents who you want to be in the future.

The problem is, despite good intentions, we don’t always follow through on our promises to ourselves.

I remember doing my first round of decluttering back in 2014. I was reviewing my exercise equipment. I had resistance bands, bikes, a boxing bag, gloves, gym towels, tennis rackets, running shoes, the list goes on and on.

These purchases symbolised my intent to exercise in the future. But as I was discarding, I was forced to think about how realistic it was for me to start doing these physical activities.

Through these situations, I learned that you first need to look at your past to decide your future.

I realised at the time that I had not used any of the equipment in the previous year. This was a good indicator that this trend was likely to continue. Yes, even despite my best intentions.

Furthermore, I had to be realistic about my motivation to change my behaviour. And not in 6 months. But that very afternoon. “Would I start using any of this exercise gear today?” I asked myself.

By thinking realistically about my future, I decided to get rid of all my gear, which brings me to the next point.

Assessing the worst-case scenario

To build confidence in your decision to discard something and overcome the “what if?” trap, you need to get skilled at contingency planning.

What is the worst-case scenario if I discard this item? How much will this decision impact my life?

Back to my example of workout gear. I knew that even if I got rid of all my equipment, and one day I wanted to exercise, I could always do exercises that don’t require gear.

As I write this post, the only workout gear I have is my hiking shoes. So that means no basketball (because I’d ruin my shoes), no boxing, no cycling, no weight lifting.

But what can I do?

I can walk, jog, do bodyweight exercises, stretch, yoga. This is my worst-case scenario? That’s not too bad at all!

Assess your worst-case scenario if you’re unsure about discarding something. If you mistakenly got rid of your Monopoly board game, play more scrabble. If you accidentally discarded a paint kit, maybe focus on a different craft instead to prove that you’re serious about getting back into art, then re-purchase your tools if it comes to that.

Ironically, we haven’t regretted discarding our iron and ironing board. Does this mean that we wear creased clothes? Yes, sometimes. But funnily enough, we’ve found ways to iron clothes when we really need to. We borrow our families iron, use the iron at a hotel, or use the iron at my old workplace.

Do your contingency planning, and you’ll start to see that it may not be such a big deal to get rid of something after all.

How Do You Know How Much To Discard As a Minimalist?

Practising contentment with your decisions

Let’s take a moment to discuss the “trade-offs” of minimalism.

If you live in fear of the inconvenience of not having access to something because you got rid of it, you’ll struggle to pair down and feel the benefits of minimalism.

It’s a numbers game. The correct decisions I made about whether to keep something or not far outweighs the wrong choices. This is a ratio I’m happy with.

But here’s a secret. You make the ratio.

If I’m more interested in working with what I have instead of worrying about what I could have, I always make the right decision to get rid of something.

You get to choose whether you feel regretful or opportunistic to work within a constraint.

Even if you genuinely regret over-decluttering, it still comes down to the question; are the benefits of having more good decluttering decisions than your bad decluttering decisions still worth it?

If the answer is yes, then you can be at peace with your decisions.

Minimalist tips for decluttering to help you feel lighter, focused and empowered

Having clutter is a big deal. Address it, and do it with urgency.

Remember, if you don’t have enough time, you haven’t prioritised clutter-free living.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with decluttering decisions, take some time upfront to plan and think about the destination of the things you no longer want to keep.

Decluttering doesn’t have to be hard. It should feel empowering and freeing–like you’re shedding the burden of things from your life one layer at a time.

I would love to hear about your experiences. What is your biggest obstacle to decluttering? If you’ve already done it, how did you overcome your resistance?

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