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I completely and utterly understand your struggle to declutter.
From the age of about eight, I would spend one full weekend every few months going through all of my stuff and trying to fit my ever-increasing amount of possessions into the limited space that I had. I measured my success by how well I could make it look like I didn’t have much stuff.
This went on until just a couple of years ago… And I’m 26 now. I’m over-the-top sentimental and have kept pretty much everything that I’ve acquired over my life that might have a memory attached to it.
Do you do this too? And do you feel the weight of it all resting on your mind? With tonnes of stuff and no idea what to do with it all, I slowly came to the realisation that I simply had too many things to organise.
You can only fit so much into a room before you start to feel cramped and closed-in. I realised that something had to change, and you might have too. It’s probably why you’re here in the first place.
If I couldn’t shift this weight through reorganisation, maybe getting rid of the stuff causing the weight would help.
A few years ago I was introduced to the concept of decluttering, and I haven’t looked back. I’ve gained some valuable insights through my experiences. I want to pass them on to help make the process a bit easier for you, whether you’re just getting started or have already done a round or two.
You may also be here because of Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying. I encountered her book a few years ago now, and couldn’t put it down! It has definitely helped my decluttering journey.
The tips I’ve come up with can give you a bit of direction so that you’re not bumbling around without a real plan or objective. It’s so hard to start with a sea of stuff in front of you and no plan.
Assess your hobbies
After looking through all of my things, I realised that I have a lot of hobby paraphernalia accumulated from my various pursuits over the years.
Many of them I’m no longer interested in, but was keeping the associated stuff because it was something that I used to enjoy. I guess I thought I might take it up again one day.
I reckon you can empathise. That old squash racquet, the scrapbooking materials, the hiking boots sitting in the back of the cupboard.
But being realistic means you have to acknowledge that not only are you not interested in the hobby any more, but that you likely have limited time in your day and have to prioritise which hobbies you actually want to keep up with.
List your CURRENT hobbies. The ones that you spend time on regularly.
Not ones that you used to have, or ones that you might be interested in having in the future. Don’t list hobbies just because you have the equipment, list them because you’re actively doing them.
You might not have many (or any!) at this point in life, and that’s more than okay.
List next to each hobby the items that you need to enjoy the activity. This might actually be very little. You may be able to hire the equipment you need for some hobbies so that you don’t need to store it. If you’re not sure what you need, finding out is simple with this easy exercise:
For each hobby that you’ve listed, gather everything you have that relates to it, cut it down to what you think you need, and then put it all in a box.
As time goes by and you need your hobby things, get ONLY what you need out of the box. This helps you narrow down what you actually use from your existing hobbies. After 3 months (or a reasonable timeframe for seasonal hobbies), get rid of anything left in your boxes.
Go ahead and declutter everything else hobby-related that you used to use, or planned on using but never did. Sell it or donate it to someone in need. If you really think you’ll start using the stuff, then do just that. Start using it. Give it a week and if you haven’t touched it in that time, you probably won’t for a very long time.
And seriously – you have to be realistic. If you no longer have time for something that you used to love to do, either prioritise it again or get rid of the stuff. If, in a few years’ time, things change, you can always buy the equipment again, but chances are you won’t.
Even if you do, you won’t have had the weight of this stuff on you for all that time.
Aim to get rid of big items
Another tactic I used which I found really helpful was to aim to get rid of larger items, such as a piece of furniture, rather than lots of small items.
Often when you’re decluttering, to take the pressure off it’s suggested to do a single cupboard or drawer, but chances are you found this unsatisfying and ineffective. There are a few reasons for this.
Firstly, you can’t see the results. There’s no visible change when you enter the room, even though you know there’s slightly less stuff in your house.
Secondly, the minute you declutter that drawer it goes back into accumulation mode. It’s now a new, available location for all of those things you don’t want to deal with right now. A procrastination station, if you will.
So, logically, you can get that sense of achievement you’re looking for by removing the whole desk, because you can actually SEE the result. If you clear out one drawer, and then the next drawer, and then the whole desk – well, that’s something much more likely to lend you some motivation.
Getting rid of a piece of furniture often involves dealing with the items contained in/on that furniture as well. Aim to get rid of as much of this as you can, rather than store it away in a different cupboard. Try to discard enough stuff that you no longer need the furniture to store it.
It will also go some way towards changing your habits. If you don’t have anywhere to hide your clutter, you’re much more likely to deal with it the instant it comes into the house.
It’s pretty obvious, but spaces look a lot clearer and more open when there are fewer items of furniture in them, so it makes sense to try to remove some. Not to mention, it reduces the amount of dusting you have to do and if you ever need to move house, it makes that easier too.
List your things for sale
Selling your things is another simple way to motivate yourself to declutter.
This doesn’t work for the tiny, valueless items you might want to shift unless you do it in bulk lots or a garage sale. However, it’s quite simple and easy for the bigger or more valuable stuff. Convenient, really, because this stuff can be harder, mentally, to get rid of.
Most items of furniture, unless they’re really desirable in some way, do best in local selling groups because of the effort and cost of transporting them. Bulk lots of clothes might do better on eBay because there’s a wider audience.
The satisfaction you gain from seeing the cash come in and the fresh, cleared space in your home can spur on your efforts. And getting something back for it reduces your guilt about how much you paid for it in the first place.
Selling decluttered items can also help to ease the conscience. I know it does for me. It means that people who need the items are getting them. Donating is great but a certain portion will go straight to landfill, where it will lay, unappreciated, forever. At least by selling, you know for sure that your item gets a chance to serve a purpose and create satisfaction for someone else first. Of course, donation is still WAY better than landfill.
Pretend you’re helping a friend declutter
Imagine you’re helping a friend declutter. You would be a lot more ruthless, wouldn’t you? “You only play squash with one hand, why do you have four racquets??”
Keep this in mind and just go with your instincts. Don’t think too hard and be objective. You’ll find that you can get rid of a fair amount of stuff this way.
But, only go for as long as you can without losing steam. There’s no point continuing after you’ve lost your resolve because you’ll go back to keeping much more than you need to. Use this method in short bursts, when you’re fresh and full of motivation.
Alternatively, you could actually get a friend to do this for you. Invite someone willing to give you a hand and ask all the hard questions. When you find yourself trying and failing to justify why you’re keeping every single little thing, it’ll be a lot easier to get rid of it all.
Once you declutter, try to keep the rate of new stuff coming in as low as you can. If birthdays and Christmases are a problem, take a look at my post on gifting for minimalists. You’ll find plenty of things to gift or ask for without bringing in new clutter.
Well, that’s it. I hope some of these tips have helped to provide some direction and resolve when it comes time to declutter. Go try some out now, while you’re feeling it! Let me know in the comments which ones you found helpful.