Last week I introduced a new series called Living With Less, where author and decluttering expert, Megan Starbuck, shares part of her “Pack Rat to Clutter-Free” journey. If you missed part one, definitely check it out; but, today, I am excited to share part two with you. In this post, Megan shares her tips for going clutter-free, which, as I shared last week, is necessary for our emotional well being. I believe that the less we are surrounded by (or carrying) the freer we will feel.
After I began exploring a clutter-free lifestyle, people in my life began to notice and started asking for help. This inspired me to start a Facebook group and the Clutter-Free By Thanksgiving Challenge which includes a 30-day Clutter-Free Challenge and ongoing encouragement between group members to keep at our goals. From here, I started working one-on-one with clients, doing the challenges with group members and eventually even wrote the book on Clutter-Free living, Packrat to Clutter-Free: How I Cleaned Up My Life in Less than a Year.
When Catherine asked me to share some of my advice here, with the Her Bags Were Packed Community, I thought it would be best to start with one of the most common frustrations I hear from my readers, group members, and clients, “I don’t know where to start.”
They don’t know where to start, so they don’t start.
I don’t want that to be you, so if you were inspired by my story last week, read on for 8 tips for getting started with clutter-free living.
For each tip, I include an approximate amount of time that each task should take. Often we think it will take longer than it does, so we try to wait until we have a big chunk of time. And, yet, at the same time, we think it should be completed faster than the amount of time it’s taking us. Then we might get discouraged and quit. These time estimates are here to help you, but it is okay for you to take a little more or less time than I suggest. Adjust it as you see fit.
Do not skip this one! People often skip the “Before” photo because they don’t think the result will be that different, and they don’t want an ugly picture of their home. Once they have the “After” photo, though, they regret not having the “Before” photo. Don’t let that be you.
I used to just take a picture of an entire room, but that was a big mistake. I’d have to wait until I had the entire room clean to take an “After” picture. Instead, take “Before” pictures of shelves, drawers, inside cabinets, under beds. I like to do mine all at once, so I don’t forget any area before I start decluttering.
Set Up a Donation Station
Getting stuff out the door, not just cleaning and organizing it, is key to having noticeable and lasting change. So grab an empty box, bin or trash bag and designate it the “Donation Station.” Everyone in your home will know that they can put stuff in the “Donation Station” that they want to donate or get rid of.
After three years of decluttering, I still do this. Just as our bodies always get rid of excess, I have to do the same thing to keep my house from becoming obese. Since I’m always bringing new stuff in, I must always take stuff out.
To help me stay motivated when I was first starting, I kept a sheet of stickers by my donation box. Every time I got rid of a box full of stuff, I added a sticker to the box. You can do tally marks, or some other method – just do something to track your progress. On the days when you feel like you’ve put in so much effort but the house still looks the same, you can glance at that chart and see how much you’ve gotten rid of. It’s amazing!
Once you’ve got this set up, go ahead and start filling it with the stuff that’s easy to get rid of — the bigger the better because that will help you see more progress faster.
Write down your reasons.
Knowing why you’re doing something is so important. I don’t mean a surface-level reason. I mean, what are you making room for? A new family member? Space for creative projects or a business venture? A peaceful area to focus on goals or invite friends over for a relaxing conversation or fun game night?
Rate your overall clutter on a scale of 1-10, with one being clutter-free to your satisfaction and ten being completely out of control. This is really just another way for you to see your progress and evaluate how far you’ve come at each stage.
Set Realistic Goals
Making a quick list–no need to be elaborate–of what you want to accomplish each week or month can go a long way. The amount of time this step takes will vary based on how detailed you want to get and how well you know what you want to accomplish. Reading the next few steps will give you a little more guidance on what your goals might look like.
If you’re a packrat, don’t expect to go through a category each week. If you have a full-time job, don’t set a goal of spending 20 hours a week decluttering. Be willing to adjust your goals as you see what works and what doesn’t.
If you don’t even know where to start with goal-setting, I recommend spending at least five minutes a day decluttering, just to get in the habit . But no more than an hour a day, unless you have someone there to help you. After that, your brain is usually exhausted from making decisions, and your productivity goes way down.
While you might want to declutter everything in a week, that isn’t realistic for most people. For me, it took six months to go through everything. I did not feel rushed or overwhelmed, and I did see that there was an end in sight!
The experience and results were so amazing that I’ve done it multiple times since then! The second time took almost as long, the third time took half as long, and the next time I decluttered in just a month. It gets easier and faster the more you do it.
Having monthly goals helped me feel accomplished along the way, and having a plan helped me rest in knowing I wasn’t skipping anything.
Use the KonMari method to get rid of clothes
An average of 15 minutes per day for one month
The KonMari method is based around asking yourself a simple question, “Does this item spark joy within me?” If not, you get rid of it. Spending an average of 15 minutes per day for a month means you can do one hour a few days and then skip a whole week, if you need to, without feeling guilty when life gets crazy.
I recommend starting with clothes because they take up a lot of space. As you start getting rid of clothing you will have more room in your closets and dressers for items that didn’t have a good place before. Clothing also tends to be less sentimental making it easier to answer the question, “Does this spark joy?” You might not always know why a certain shirt annoys you, but if you look at it with disgust or just don’t love it as much as others, there’s a reason. I started realizing that sometimes it was because it wasn’t comfortable, it didn’t fit my personality, it was difficult to find something to wear with it, or it had parts that would bunch up or didn’t fit well for whatever reason. Finally, because we use our clothes every day, getting rid of your least favorite items means you get more joy out of getting dressed each day.
Get rid of excess blankets, towels, accessories, books, dishes, etc.
An average of of 15 minutes a day for 3-5 months (depends on how much stuff you have and how big your home is).
Keep going through each category of items in your home starting from some of the largest and easiest. Once you’ve built that momentum, it’s easier to go through the more difficult (usually sentimental) items.
Read up on downsizing.
15 minutes a day, as needed.
This can be done at any stage, particularly when you’re stuck or when you’re away from home and can’t actively get rid of items. Filling yourself with knowledge of how to go about decluttering and the difference it has made in people’s lives will inspire you, make it much easier to keep making progress once you’re home, or motivate you again.
Here are a few of my top recommendations:
Blog: Becoming Minimalist
Audiobook: Decluttering at the Speed of Life (or her podcast: A Slob Comes Clean)
Take “After” pictures & celebrate!
An average of 15 minutes a week.
This step can, and should, also be done throughout the process. You may not have made as much progress as quickly as you wanted, but basking in your new freedom and accomplishments and peaceful environment is what will help keep you going to reach even more of your goals.
It’s important to keep things fun. You can do this by quickly putting on a favorite dress, necklace, hat, lipstick, or pair of shoes while you declutter. Notice I didn’t say to do all of those things. Don’t get distracted by feeling like you’re getting ready for a photoshoot.
If you clear off a shelf and make it look particularly lovely, go find your “Before” picture to compare. You can even encourage other people with your pictures. People get really inspired by transformations.
Once you go through those steps, you should have a much easier time figuring out where to go from there. If you’d like some extra guidance so you aren’t having to figure it out on your own, I go into detail about each of these steps and more in my book, Packrat to Clutter-Free: How I Cleaned Up My Life in Less than a Year.
Are you feeling as inspired as I am? If you haven’t yet, I would encourage you to join Megan’s Facebook group. I’m always inspired by all the decluttering action the group members are sharing about. And if you feel like you’re already doing pretty well with living clutter free, be sure to check back next week for Megan’s tips on exploring minimalism.