Note: This is a guest post by Allison Fallon, author of Packing Light.
It’s safe to say most of us wish our lives were less cluttered than they are. And yet when it comes to actually going through our possessions and getting rid of the stuff we don’t need, most of us get stuck.
Maybe we tell ourselves we don’t really have the time do that, or we convince ourselves we don’t really have that much clutter anyway.
But there is a significant amount of research that shows what common sense could have told us all along, which is that clutter causes more than just a mess. It causes us a significant amount of stress. It bombards our minds with stimuli and makes it more difficult for us to relax.
Not to mention, when we actually do get around to going through our possessions and sorting through what we need and what we don’t, our brain tricks us into thinking we’re more attached to those things than we actually are. A new study shows that the part of your brain that lights up when you get rid of clutter is the same part that registers when you experience physical pain.
No wonder it’s so hard for us to clear out the clutter.
I thought I’d give you a few simple ways to get rid of clutter—a guide you can follow—so that when you make the attempt to clear your clutter and your brain tries to protest, you have a solid plan you can follow, reminding yourself, “this will be worth it in the end.”
Here are eight steps you can take to start clearing out the clutter.
If you’ve been putting off this task, any of these places would be a great place to start.
1. Clothes you haven’t worn.
Go to your closet and clean out anything you haven’t worn in twelve months. Or if it’s in season and you haven’t worn it this season, give it up. If you’re anything like me, you have dozens of items hanging in your closets or stuffed in your drawers not only that you don’t wear, but that you actually dislike!
Get rid of them. Clear out space for something better. Side note: if you have a hard time getting rid of some of these things, tell yourself you can keep it for one more week but you have to wear it this week. If you wear it, and love it, keep it. If you wear it and remember to yourself, “oh yeah, I remember now why I hated this shirt” it’s time to let it go.
2. Kitchen appliances or tools you don’t use.
My guess would be your kitchen is full of things you don’t ever use. Aside from a few seasonal things, like a big pan for your thanksgiving turkey, for example, there is just no reason to keep things in your kitchen that you aren’t using at least four to five times a year.
Do you have a crock put you never use? Either use it, or get rid of it. Do you have a blender that couldn’t cut a scoop of ice cream on a warm day? Maybe you’re holding onto it because you haven’t wanted to invest in one that actually works. Get rid of the old one. You’ll either forget about it completely, or it will motivate you to start saving for something a little more effective.
3. Any duplicates.
Do you have two vacuum cleaners or two lawn mowers? Maybe you got a new one and you’re keeping the old one. Why? Just in case? Just in case of what? The running joke I have with myself is that if I need a second one of something I have, I know where to find it: the store.
That may sound wasteful or irresponsible to you, but the truth is we often overestimate the value of our possessions (ever tried to buy something on Craigslist?). More importantly, I rarely, if ever, have to go out and buy a second one of anything.
4. Expired products.
Most of us are holding onto products—in our bathroom, our kitchen, our medicine cabinet, or our refrigerator—that are expired, nearly gone, or that we used once and decided we’d never use again. Throw them out! It will feel good, I promise.
Just go through the space under your bathroom sink and get rid of all of those bottles that are nearly empty anyway, that hairspray you bought that you never liked, or the cough medicine from 1993. You don’t need it. It’s taking up space. The same is true with your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry.
One time for fun I tried to eat for a week on just what was in my freezer and pantry already, instead of grocery shopping. It was a total challenge, it saved me money, and it makes me think twice next time I think about buying that giant pack of tuna fish from Costco, just because its on sale.
5. Junk drawer.
I understand the need for a junk drawer as much as the next person, but every now and then it’s good to go through your junk drawer and realize that most of the stuff in it is (surprise) junk. You can throw it out.
When it comes to books, I divide mine into four categories. First, you have books you bought (or were given) but that you will never read.
Second, you have books you have read but that you would like to keep so that you can reference them. Or, maybe they’re a collector’s edition, or simply a nice copy you’d like to keep on your shelf.
Third, you have books you’ve read but that you will never look at again. And finally, you have books that you purchased and plan to read, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. When you are able to divide your books into these categories, it becomes easier to let the books go that you will never read, or that you’ve read but don’t plan to read again.
7. Under your bed.
Beware of spaces and places in your house that are “out of sight, out of mind.” What happens in these space is we tend to shove things there that we aren’t sure we want to keep but we aren’t ready to get rid of.
We put off the decision by saying, “I’ll just put it here.” The truth is if you went to one of those spaces right now and pulled things out, I bet you’ll find several things you didn’t even know where there. Sometimes you can put those things to use, or put them in a place where you won’t forget about them. Most of the time, you can put them in the “giveaway” or “throw away” piles.
8. Storage closet or garage.
This is on the border of becoming “not so simple” ways to declutter, but here’s the thing to remember with storage closets or garages. And consider the possibility that out of sight is not out of mind.
The clutter that builds up in the spaces we don’t see every day does absolutely have an impact on us—our mental clarity and peace of mind.
So consider doing a “mental” pass-through of your garage or storage closet before you actually physically look to see what’s in there. The items you remember and miss—keep those. Everything else, consider getting rid of it.