Hannah Bunker »

13 Tips to Help You Declutter

I’ve been sharing our purging and minimizing journey with some friends over the months and a recurring theme I hear is how overwhelmed they feel when they think about doing the same with their stuff. And there is no judgement from me because I totally know what that’s like.

It’s easy to look at a house full of things and be overwhelmed with the task as a whole. I have been there. If you would have told me last year that this year in the span of two months I would make 10 trips to various donation centers with my truck full to the brim with things from my home that I didn’t need, I would have told you that you were crazy.

But that’s what happened because I had had enough.

As I’ve had conversations with friends and I hear their overwhelmed-ness, I’ve been thinking about how it finally clicked with me. How did my brain finally lock in to the task of purging our house that made it feel doable? Because I want to share it in a tangible way to help empower others. If someone I know really has the desire to declutter and purge, I don’t want being overwhelmed to stand in their way.

I thought about it a lot to create a list of beginning steps for purging. Here is a list of how I finally was able to set my mind on decluttering our home…

Why is purging important to you? What type of freedom do you see for yourself after your home is decluttered? Do you see yourself living a more minimal life? Do you want to travel and your stuff is weighing you down? Are you overwhelmed because the clutter brings with it a constant to-do list of cleaning and organizing? Do you want to break the twitch of numbing yourself with consumerism? Do you want to get out of debt? Are you just tired of being overwhelmed and surrounded by stuff?

For me, the long-term goal I envisioned for our family was living in a smaller space with fewer things and being debt free so we are able to pick up and travel together without being tied down to much. So the short-term vision became clearing our home from things that we don’t need, never use, and won’t miss.

Coming up with a mission statement or a vision will help you keep your eye on the end goal when the decluttering gets tough. And it will. When those memories start flooding in from baby’s favorite onesie, even though baby is 5 now, you’ll need that end vision to help you make hard decisions when you ask yourself “Does this add value to my life?”

(Tip: You have pictures of baby in that onesie. Donate the onesie. If not, take a picture of the onesie so you have it and then donate it.)

After you have the vision in your head for a decluttered life, this step is for once you roll up your sleeves and start working.

It’s easy to want to get it all done in a weekend. But if you aren’t where you want to be by the time the weekend is over, you may feel like you failed and by next weekend you’re burned out.

If you look at your entire house and see all the things that need to be done and purged all at once, you’ll get overwhelmed. When I see things that need to be done it stresses me out not being able to be in 5 different rooms all at once doing those things and I wind up emotionally exhausted from the insane to-do list I have in my head for an entire house.

Create that mission statement and have your vision handy, but don’t let it consume you so much that not having that final goal done immediately keep you from doing the task. Go room by room, item by item, category by category, all in small doses so you don’t get overwhelmed by the task.

Warning: cliche ahead…This is about this journey.

Jumping into it without a strategy can be overwhelming. When you dive in, things and memories will fly hard at you and they have no mercy. They know your weak spots. Whether it’s because you want to keep it just in case, because you’re sentimental, or because you feel guilty that you spent money on it. Decide how you’re going to approach your decluttering mission.

You could start one room at a time. Then make it smaller – one wall or corner or shelf at a time in that room. And you can’t just organize the clutter. Things have to go. I find when I start in a smaller space with blinders on without worrying about ALL the clutter in the house, it’s easier to tackle.

Another strategy is to declutter specific items throughout the whole house. For example, I realized that a lot of our decor wasn’t bringing me joy and I barely even noticed it was there. So I went through the whole house purging frames and art first. Then vases. Then trinkets. If I held it in my hand and hadn’t noticed it, hadn’t used it in 3 months, or if it was dusty (which means it wasn’t touched in a long time), then it was out.

But also, don’t procrastinate because you’re spending all your time working on a strategy. You also have to do the work.

This was a part of my strategy. I’m not normally a list person but I needed it for this because I would have been all over the place if I didn’t have one to keep me focused. I would jot down items I wanted to purge as soon as they came to mind if they weren’t right in front of me because otherwise, I would have forgotten. When there is a lot to do I can be scattered and I had A LOT to do when I did our original purge so keeping this list was a life-saver.

Make four piles: Trash. Donate. Keep. Come-back-to pile.

These are the four piles to work with. The first three are obvious. The fourth one, the come-back-to pile, is something that I created for those few things I wasn’t sure if I wanted to let go of quite yet. I’d rather have a small box of things I stash away in a corner for a few months to see if they crossed my mind within that time, and get rid of them in the next purge round.

And do not let that come-back-to pile get bigger than any others. You’ll end up exactly where you started.

“If you have to buy stuff to store your stuff, you have too much stuff.” Courtney Carver

Organizing is not decluttering. If your goal is simply to organize, you’ll eventually end up back in the same overwhelmed mess where you started. Don’t organize. Things have to leave.

Have three colanders? Get rid of two. Have a hand mixer and a stand mixer? You don’t need both. Have four black scarves? Pick your favorite and donate the rest.

If you’re holding on to several of one item “just in case” one breaks, you’re exchanging the cost of replacing it with something…your freedom, energy, time. Plus, once we have one of something we tend to take better care and treat it more delicately. Getting rid of the extras allow us to appreciate what we currently have.

If you are holding on to something “just in case” really think about the last time you used it. If you haven’t used it in months or if you even forgot it was there, you don’t need it.

Give yourself an allotted space. I’ve done this with several categories – paint, art supplies, kids crafts…For sentimental items I gave myself a small box. If the box got full, then I had to decide what to keep. I saved this space for all the printed pictures I had from before I went digital and until I can send them to a scanning service (because all digital is my end goal), items from the kids’ birth parents to give to the kids some day, my Granny’s Bible, and for letters and notes from Aaron and other sweet friends that were given over the years. At first I kept my junior high and high school journals because I thought I wanted to keep them to remember what I was thinking and feeling as a teenager. But as a few weeks passed and I really thought about it, I threw them away because that’s not who I am any more and don’t want to hold on to that old self that was nothing but a bundle of hormonal emotions. Stepping away gave me clarity and purging them allowed space for more sentimental items in the future. This designated space mentality can work well for a number of things.

When you make your donate pile and start filling it, you have to actually do something with it. Don’t let it multiply until it takes up a whole room. Don’t drive around for a month with it in your trunk. Designate a day of the week that you are absolutely, most definitely doing a drop off, rain or shine. Not only does that give you a deadline to purge for your donate pile, it forces you to get the crap out of your house.

It’s okay to take a break. This is really helpful when you start to feel overwhelmed in the midst of purging. Do what you need to do to take care of yourself (besides spend money on more things!) so you can come back even more focused on what needs to go.

This is why I said it’s a journey. You can’t just bust it all out in a weekend. As time passes you begin to see the things you have with new eyes. You can really gain perspective as time goes on. So do several rounds of decluttering over the course of months and then make it a lifestyle you continue throughout your whole life.

You know what keeps me from heading to Target to mindlessly wander and spend money? Seeing a garage full of things to take to Goodwill. That. Is. Money. When I saw the pile as tall as myself waiting for me to donate it, tears came to my eyes thinking of all of that wasted money, the debt I brought us, and the waste that I’m heaping onto the planet. Once you purge your home, not only continue to declutter, but also, keep in mind all the hard work you put into purging, equate the things you got rid of with money, and remember that collecting stuff is what made you overwhelmed in the first place.

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