Note: This is a guest post from Courtney Carver of Be More with Less.
Decluttering is usually the first step people take to simplify their lives. It is often the easiest and most effective place to begin. Removing the excess from our homes naturally encourages us to look at the more challenging, often hidden things that also complicate our lives: debt, busyness, mental clutter, just to name a few. But it often starts with physical possessions.
Decluttering teaches us how to let go and create space. Owning less helps us save time and feel lighter. And it often causes us to rediscover the joy of giving.
If you feel overwhelmed with stuff or struggle when it comes to letting go, start with some of the items that don’t come with major emotional attachment—or at least, the items without positive emotional attachment.
If you are looking for a good place to start, let go of these 10 items to jumpstart decluttering:
1. Clothes you don’t wear. Clothing is a great place to begin. Most of us have too much of it, but we still wear the same things over and over again. Donate the jeans that don’t zip. Toss the socks with holes. Remove the outdated fashion. And if you have an extra coat or hat, give it away. There are lots of people who could use it this time of year.
2. Unidentifiable items in your junk drawer. It might be too soon to jettison the entire junk drawer, but you can easily remove the items that have no name, no place, and no meaning instead of saving them just in case you remember why you put them there in the first place. If you don’t know today, you won’t know tomorrow.
3. Lotions and potions. Get all of your lotions, potions, makeup, shampoo, and other products into one place. Put the things you use every day back where they belong. Toss the rest.
4. Lonely items. If it can’t be used without a match, and the match is long gone, it’s time to let go. Think cassette tapes without a cassette player, Tupperware tops without containers, and lone socks.
5. Kid stuff. Instead of shaming your kids into decluttering, make it fun for them. Announce a prize for every 10 things they can collect for donation. The prize can be a family activity or your child’s favorite meal. If you have more than one child, offer a bonus if everyone hits their goal to encourage them to work together.
6. Stale food. Set a timer for 15 minutes and go through your pantry, freezer, or refrigerator. Dump anything out of date, or opened and stale. If you find things that are good but you’ll never eat, bag it up and drop it at a homeless shelter or church.
7. Extra dishes. If you have two sets of dishware, silverware, or glassware, one can go. If you love your good dishes, use those every day. If they are stuck in a box somewhere and you never use them, give them to someone who will.
8. Other people’s stuff. If your home has become a storage facility for friends and family, make a few phone calls. Be kind, give notice, and politely ask them to remove their stuff or offer to help if they aren’t interested.
9. Things that bring you down. Sentimental items are usually saved for later on in the decluttering process, but letting go of things that remind you of people, places, and events that have hurt you in the past will make room for more joyful memories.
10. The guilt. This might not fall in the “easy” category, but if you let it go now, it will make the rest of the journey more meaningful. You paid enough already with time, money, and attention. Guilt is the worst payment of all. With guilt, you continue to pay with emotion, by holding onto the past and by punishing yourself for old habits. Say goodbye to guilt.
Letting go of these items will lighten things up and encourage more decluttering, more simplicity, and more freedom. Once they are gone, celebrate your progress and dig back in.
A simple life is waiting.
For more, check out our The Declutter Your Home Checklist.
Ellen Scott Grable says
Old socks make rags.for dusting and cleaning out the fridge.
Terracycle (www.terracycle.com) is an option for recycling containers of lotions/potions, and there are municipal sites where you can take plastics (and electronics, etc.) that won’t go curbside. Otherwise all this *stuff* just gets transferred to the wider population, via landfill/garbage patch.
Aha! Very timely post. I really needed this. Thank you so much!
Daisy @ Simplicity Relished says
I love donating items, but more and more charities are requesting “brand new” items, some even asking for tags attached. It took me a while to figure out whom to give good, used items to!
Seriously? NWT? Who are these charities? I usually donate to the ARC and The Leukemia Society. They pick up donations and they certainly are not so presumptuous as to ask for new with tags items.
These are great suggestions, all. I am a longtime minimalist, AND i have benefited from Courtney’s 333, apartment therapy January challenge and regularly take lists like yours above and do maintenance. In fact, just this week,
1. Got rid of a big bag of clothes that were worn out — one benefit of having less it that things I love get worn out.
2. Put a bunch of random plastic from the plastic container drawer in recycling
3. Went through the apothecary (I don’t by products anymore) and made a lot of left over infused oils and old herbs into cleansers, body butters, butter bars, and lip balm, just in time fro dry winter skin! I look great and have more space in there for the next harvest!
4. See above!
5. Part of my simple life is opting out of parenthood, and taking the shaman path.
6. When we went on vacation (to a cabin in the woods, I filled one whole insulated box with food to use or compost on the trip!)
7. Freecycle is my friend!
8. As an only child of people with stuff, it is hard to say no to, “dont you want .. from ___?” but I have developed the practice.
9. I became aware recently that three gifts from someone I care for deeply actually make me sad when I look at them. It was too painful to let them go, so I put them in a box out of sight. That is a first step!
10. No. is a complete sentence. I takes practice but works well when used.
Great advice, made me get up with real perspective! Thanks :)
I like the fact that you talk about donating the good stuff (and not so good) to charity. Instead of just throwing it out
Michele O'Connor says
A few years ago, my husband and I had to declutter in a major way when we decided to downsize. We found it was a blessing because living more simply is, in fact, very enjoyable. You can read our story here:
School and craft supplies are other areas that are not sentimental and easy to remove duplicates. We have tons of extra pens and pencils, and I didn’t know what to do with them. I found a website where children in Africa are in desperate need of school supplies, so if you have extras, Develop Africa is a good place to donate and keep gently used items out of the landfill. http://www.developafrica.org/collect_school_supplies
Jeffrey Pillow @ Wannabe Novelist, Actual Dad says
Also, your local elementary school. Most teachers buy quite a bit of their own supplies because the districts don’t put money into that sort of thing. So, the onus falls on the teacher. My wife works at an elementary school is why I know. There’s a reason there is a question on the tax form asking if you are a teacher and purchased school supplies, and if you have the receipt to write off on taxes.
It’s sad it’s like that, but it happens almost everywhere. Education and creativity within the educational system are not valued as strongly as it should be.
I took a bunch of paper, scissors, pens, pencils, envelopes and stickers to a local preschool. They were thrilled to get them.
Thank you for sharing the link for Develop Africa. Sometimes local schools are not as interested in used supplies. I have tons of pens and pencils and would love to see them go to students who would appreciate them.
Jeffrey Pillow @ Wannabe Novelist, Actual Dad says
I struggle with #4. Cassettes. I have an extensive punk rock cassette collection from the early 90s I find impossible to let go of. If Spotify had all of the albums, it’d be gone in a second. But Spotify doesn’t. Example: Dead Kennedys. Second Example: Shower with Goats.
One day I would like to convert them all to digital, but until then, they will remain boxed up in my attic.
I know. Terrible. Not very minimalist. But most of these cassettes were difficult to find when I was younger and are impossible to find now in any format and I refuse to re-purchase the ones that are because it’d be like buying a paperback book and then buying the ebook. Like burning money.
There’s also this: my kids discovering these old cassettes one day and buying an old cassette player from Goodwill to play them, the same way I bought a record player and played my dad’s old Sabbath records when I was a teenager when rock music was the soundtrack of my adolescence.
Discovering your dad’s music is a rite of passage.
The struggle is real.
Amy Axelson says
The sound quality of cassette tapes isn’t all that great. And I imagine they don’t last for a long time–especially in a hot attic. I would weekly start digitizing the tapes to get it out of your system (and attic).
Also, your kids wanting to play your old punk rock tapes when they are older: how likely is that? I had saved childhood stuff thinking my kids would love it. Most of the time, they did not. And they dislike my taste in music. Lol. Our wisdom, values and life-experience stories are probably the best “things” we can pass on to our kids.
Jeffrey Pillow @ Wannabe Novelist, Actual Dad says
The sound quality of most punk rock isn’t all that great — cassette or otherwise. Ha. But it’s my thing. Was in 1994 and still is in 2015. Bad Brains, “Omega Sessions.” “Damaged” by Black Flag. My wife would describe the sound quality and everything about it as torture to the ears. I call it music to my ears.
But yes, I agree with you that our wisdom, values, and life-experience stories are the best “things” we can pass on, and I do that daily as is. I also think that to be minimalist or aspire to minimalism doesn’t mean you have to part with every/or most every physical thing in one’s life, particularly if those things bring value into your life in some way. Music does that for me. And, I am by no means implying that you are saying that. It’s just that certain blogs (not this one) that espouse minimalism tend to do so in a very OCD-like manner, which is not very realistic for most people’s lifestyles. I am picturing a workspace that has a beautiful iMac without a single cord in sight. iMac’s have cords. Life has cords.
I do plan to digitize though, some day. It’s just that right now I don’t have the equipment to do so, nor do any of my friends. So, before buying something to do this, I plan to pay off my remaining credit card debt. That’s a priority over cassette-to-digital. It’s also a very time consuming process, which might push me toward sending the tapes to someone else to do. I have two small children, so the thought of sitting around recording one tape after the next for what would likely be hundreds of hours doesn’t sound very enjoyable (or efficient). We’ll see.
Cassettes are my one area of weakness in the clutter department, so I don’t beat myself up over it too much — and in all reality it doesn’t take up very much physical space. You can pack cassettes like sardines. Will my kids enjoy discovering my music one day? Maybe, maybe not. I enjoyed discovering my dad’s old records. I wouldn’t trade the day I dusted off his old Sabbath albums and placed the needle down for the first time for much of anything. It’s a fond memory.
i have over 300 cassettes. i also have a player that can play them records and dvds…love all my music..never can have enough!! and i won’t get rid of them..too many great ones!!
agreed, some things can’t be replaced or found. even many of the books I have can’t be located in libraries.