Note: This is a guest post from Colleen Madsen of 365 Less Things.
I have never considered myself a natural organizer. But in 2007, my family moved to Australia from the USA. Because we were moving into a smaller home, I found myself needing to unclutter a large number of items. Fortunately, we were able to accomplish the task…but mostly, because I had no other choice.
Shortly after the move, a new stage of life surfaced. My husband was about to begin semi-retirement. And to prepare for our new life together, I set a personal goal to again reduce our possessions. Coincidentally, on January 3rd, a segment aired on morning television about people abandoning their New Year resolutions. Turns out, on average, most people only stick to their resolution for three days. Even though I had never been one to take on resolutions, I found great motivation in beating those narrow odds… in fact, the challenge was nearly irresistible to me
I decided at that moment to set a new resolution to minimize our possessions. I determined to remove one item each day for the next 365 days. I started with three items to make up for the missed days, and promptly began removing one thing a day for the rest of the year. I am happy to say I not only completed my resolution successfully but it was so simple and satisfying that I continued uncluttering in my slow and steady pace (an average of five items per week) for an additional two years!
Over these last three years of clearing clutter, I have removed over a thousand things from our home. Also, through the process and through my writing, I have had the opportunity to help many people realize their own goals as well. These conversations have sharpened my desire for simplicity and taught me important insight about uncluttering. I have learned that understanding just a few key principles can help anyone just learning how to declutter.
The 10 Most Important Principles I Have Learned to Help Anyone Unclutter:
1. Stop the Flow of Stuff Coming In. Uncluttering is a waste of time if you simply replace the old stuff with new. You’ll need to begin by slowing the flow of things entering your home. Determine today to buy less. Trust me, you won’t regret it. The freedom from desire to acquire is a beautiful thing.
2. Remove at Least One Item a Day. The process does not have to be a mad frenzy that disrupts your entire household. Over the years, my home has become quite minimalist by simply choosing one item a day to get rid of. This gradual process began to change the way I think about stuff. Eventually, it became a way of life rather than just a crash diet of stuff.
3. Get Rid of the Easy Stuff First. There is no need to make things difficult by trying to get rid of the hardest things first. Most likely, it will simply deter you from the task altogether. Instead, start with the easy stuff and then as you strengthen your will to reduce, the harder decisions will become easier.
4. Put a Disposal Plan in Place. Before you begin, investigate selling, recycling, donating and give away options for the items you choose to remove. The more prepared you are for the task, the simpler it will be… and the more likely you will be to follow through. Ebay, Freecycle, and our local thrift store became my favorite disposal options. However there are endless others to explore.
5. Decide to Not Keep Things out of Guilt or Obligation. Your home should only contain the things you love or use. Don’t let incorrect thinking or other people dictate what you should keep or give away. Remember, if the items are yours, it is your choice to decide what to do with them.
6. Do Not Be Afraid to Let Go. The urge to hold on to items you think you might need someday can be eliminated simply by being realistic about what need really is. Many items in our homes may be useful, but they are not particularly necessary to our happiness, well-being, or the functionality of our homes. Seek to understand the difference.
7. Gifts Do Not Have to be Material. There are so many ways to honor loved ones without giving gifts that end up as clutter. Encourage people to follow this concept when buying gifts for you. Some alternative gifts are gifts of experience or adventure, a gift of time spent together, even cash gifts are appropriate in some instances. I have two clutter-free gift guides at my blog if you are looking for ideas.
8. Do Not Over-Equip Your Home. A home does not need enough linen, crockery, cutlery, or pantry supplies to serve as a hotel. Be realistic about your true needs. In the rare event an unusually large number of guests arrive on your doorstep, you can always borrow from friends, family or neighbors.
9. Do Not Throw Out Things that are not Yours Without the Owner’s Permission. Everyone should have a choice about their own belongings, even small children. Honor them by allowing them to choose. You can encourage hoarding tendencies in others by ripping things away from them before they are ready to let go.
10. Do Not Waste Your Life on Clutter. Every item you own takes time out of your life: time to manage it, clean it, repair it, and maintain it; time to choose between objects of a similar category; time spent shopping for it… and that doesn’t even mention the time spent earning the money to pay for it in the first space. Decide to sacrifice less of your precious life on the pursuit and ownership of stuff.
These ten principles have kept me resolute for the past three years. I had no idea when I began this mission how much stuff I would relinquish over the next three years. What I originally thought was going to be an arduous task quickly became a way of life… so much so, we have just put a deposit on a beautiful, even smaller, apartment with fabulous views of our coastal city, a swimming pool, and gym all within walking distance of everything we want. Semi-retirement is becoming a beautiful thing. Uncluttering made it possible.
Colleen Madsen blogs regularly at 365 Less Things where she inspires others to reduce their stuff one day at a time. You can find her on Twitter.
The Declutter Your Home Checklist
I know this may be an unpopular view, but I do declutter items that belong to other people in the house. Not often, not regularly… BUT if you are going to do it, make sure they won’t discover it by bagging it carefully so they don’t see it. Example: I was going through a paper bag of old papers in the attic. My husband, just on principle, wanted me to keep old credit cards that were never used, and literally had expiration dates in the ’80s. After he left the room, I said, no way. I cut them up (probably not necessary…) and tied them in an opaque plastic bag and nestled them in the outside trash. Some of these hoarding situations we see on TV would not exist if other family members put their foot down and put a stop to the nonsense before it gets out of control, unsafe, and unsanitary.
Good for you.
Nancy Plummer says
I have been downsizing since I retired and am on the last part LOL…..so difficult as most of what I have left are antiques and pictures. One thing that has helped me is giving my family items that they want….admire that picture? Take it with you!!! I am currently sorting out stuff for gifts for this year’s holidays. If they don’t get an antique they get food!!! Just wish I had more relatives to give stuff to LOL
Cameron Bethuram says
Great ideas and great work!! :)
Thank you do much for sll the helpful ideas. I am struggling daily with my husband’s clutter. I don’t know how to begin the process and he just ignores it. How can I help him to see how it is effecting our whole family? I don’t need much. I model putting things away, giving away clothing regularly, putting the kids things and my things away…but how can we start this project when he is not on board.
Pamela Brady says
What to do about items the I inherited but my children don’t want. I have a spinning wheel that belonged to my 2nd great grandmother as well as other “treasures”. I’m 62 and know that now is the time to begin the process of pairing down so my children won’t have a huge household to deal with when I’m gone. Any ideas?
The things handed down by family members would be a treasure to some of your cousins who are truly interested in family history or who does not have any of the heirlooms. Pass the word around to them you are getting rid of family treasures.
Colleen Madsen says
I agree with what Joshua has to say about this. In fact I am sure that I would have at least one post about exactly that. I also have had many a comment from readers who had been left the arduous and emotional task of having to declutter property of lost loved ones. A task that these people vowed they would never visit upon their loved ones in the future.
About that spinning wheel, I am sure there is a spinning group that would gladly find a new owner for that wheel should no family member want it. I know this because spinning is a hobby of mine and I belong to just such a group.
Tina B says
There are people out there who would treasure your spinning wheel and other antiques. I have a friend who belongs to a spinning group in PEI. I’d suggest writing a brief note telling the story of your spinning wheel and then see if there is someone local who would like to use it. Affix the note to it in a ziplock bag and gift it to someone outside the family who will actually use it and love it. ❤️
Thank you for this post!!
I’m retiring in about two years, and have tried to grasp the idea of how to declutter, downzice, minimizing, and simplify my home and my life.
To inspire myself, I have red quite some post on this.
This actual post is one of the best I have red.
I live in Scandinavia, with cold and wet winters, and sometimes warm summers. I think my wardrobe is a bit more than I need right now, but facing a soon retirement, I’ve decided I will not just through out clothes, but wait and see.
I’ve started to get rid of books and plant-things I do not need or like.
I’ll keep some toys for my grandchildren to play with when they come visit after the corona-threat.
I’ve talked with my husband about our kitchen, if there are things we don’t need.
It will be a long-term-walk to simplify to a level I think is reasonable.
And I will not let this be a new religion for me, just a guide to help me live simple
Colleen Madsen says
It sound like you are making some good decisions there. You may even find you enjoy the process, I certainly did.
I was fortunate early on in my life to work as a civilian employee right out of college in the 1970’s for an old school Navy Admiral. His motto to me and every one in his chain of command was the following : 1. Know what you have. 2. know why you have it 3. Know where it is
If you can not answer those 3 things it needs to go.
I have lived a blissful minimal lifestyle for those words of wisdom. Thank you Admiral Green
Margaret Hoyle says
I love this. Simply put yet it says all you need to know to declutter.
Came across this accidentally but it made my day.
I also thank you Admiral Green.
I am retired and would like to downsize. I am completely overwhelmed with stuff. I am depressed and ashamed. I don’t know what to do. I keep people away because I am embarrassed. Please help me
Just do it. We found out we were moving 800 miles away, and only had a few weeks before my husband had to go, and we wanted to sell the house as fast as possible. We just loaded the car over and over with most things we had stored in the basement, took them to good will, put old furniture out to the curb, put a notice in the local web page that we had wood, lumber and other stuff in our garage for anyone who could use it. A guy showed up with two trucks and took them away full. Because we were moving south, I sent most all our winter clothing to good will, and also gave Goodwill half of my kitchen gadgets and rarely used serving items. Still had our children’s sleds, bikes , sporting supplies, etc, and sent it all to Goodwill. We moved again 9 years later, and thinned down again.
The great thing about moving, aside from new adventures, is that you’re kind of forced to downsize! No one likes to pack and unpack!!
Don’t be ashamed. Just get it done! Start slow. Like the post mentioned, start with one item a day. Maybe just start with one drawer or a shelf in the bathroom…but just start. You can do it!
Colleen Madsen says
This is Colleen from 365 Less Thing. Like Christine said, “jest get started…”. I no longer write to my blog but the posts are all still there to read. Go right back to the first post and read a few, it might be just the inspiration you are looking for. Some of the readers comments are as, and sometimes more, inspiring as the posts.
Jean Hoplins says
May I know the difference between [your idea] of easy stuff and hard stuff? Just as a starting point or reference. I am the stuff-keeper of my family (heirlooms, etc) and don’t know how to get around that. But buying more containers made me realize that I needed too many of them and I want to reduce, reduce, reduce. Then maybe someday make it to my dream home on a beach some place…thank you for your time. jh :-)
Easy stuff is the obvious junk: broken items, single socks and mittens, holey or stained clothing, duplicates of any items, things you haven’t used for years, empty boxes, boxes of stuff that you haven’t looked in for years and disposable or recyclable items you should have been getting rid of all along (think of stacks of empty yogurt or margarine containers, jars and newspapers and magazines).
The hard stuff is the sentimental or guilt-ridden stuff and the stuff you spent a lot of money on, but is still actually junk because you aren’t using it).
We really never need more containers, we just need less stuff.
Samantha Clarke says
This is an awesome post! I’m a purger, myself; I tend to do massive cleansing all at once and it works okay for me, but having tips like this for more long-term practice is super helpful. Thank you so much!
love these simple ideas, thanks x
Dr. J C McIntosh says
I’ve learned that it’s a lot easier to declutter my body (get rid of fat, junk food, toxins) and my brain as I declutter my house.
Is making art for gifting and home decor clutter? Does this activity contribute to promoting clutter? Especially if it’s satisfying your creative streak…
Lowell Denney says
I’m a 56 yr old single fella who lives in a one bedroom apartment because I work in Texas, but am planning on heading back to Tennessee in a few years..And I have ADD…Always have..
ADD varies from person to person..Mine is this..I never have been able to stay ahead of my laundry, bills, general upkeep of my entire life actually…It so overwhelms me I just bury my head and give up…That part has gotten worse with age…It has affected my life in everyway..From the smallest clutter to my investments and life savings…It kid you not..
I’m a good guy and I’m known by my peers as an extremely hard worker..At work….And yes, I bathe soon as I get home from work, so I’m not a lazy slob, loser…
I wish I didn’t have this…
I’ve been reading this site for sometime and I started these practices last month..I had no idea how much better I feel..I am more relaxed and I feel much better…And for the first time in a decade or so, I can actually get things done instead of burying my head…
For a dude like me , this is a possible life changing event…Even if it IS only a 1 bedroom apt….!!
This can really work for ADD folks..It never really goes away..It manifests in many ways…
Thank You whoever you are..!
1 bedroom apt. can hold a lot of stuff. It’s funny how having less stuff can really make you feel so much better since we have a tendency to think more stuff will make us happier! Great to hear you’re doing better!
Thank you for your post. I have ADD too, and it’s gotten worse with age, too, though it’s been a big detriment in my life always. Even though I want things clutter free, it’s still extremely painful to push myself through the task, especially when there’s nowhere to put anything even temporarily other than the bed. So I’ve had varying success with using the bed as a staging area as I go through the accumulated extra clutter, some of which isn’t really clutter, just doesn’t yet have a designated spot. I too am not a slob, just overwhelmed. Those who don’t have ADD can’t really understand this anatomic anomaly (brain wiring) and some people feel the strange need to taunt or insult those who do have ADD instead of just being grateful they themselves don’t have it (does “lazy” ring a bell?). I will keep doing decluttering/organizing sessions as I feel up to forcing myself through a mentally painful experience, but now I’ll also do the 1 thing a day decluttering so I can make progress even during times I’m feeling unequal to the bigger sessions.
my son got stabbed a year ago and i can not bere to part with his school stuff
I know how you feel. My Grandson passed away 2 years I can’t ever see getting rid of anything I have of his or his favorite things in my home. Nothing else matters but this I can not do.
To Kathleen and Denise, my sincere condolences. Just my thoughts: You certainly should keep anything you want for as long as you want. In time you may find that you can take photographs of some of their things, and even a video of their room if that’s applicable, and be able to let the some of the physical items themselves go, or make a quilt out of their shirts, for instance. But if you can’t or don’t want to, then those things are not clutter to you. Bless you.
How tragic. My sincere condolences to you. You certainly should keep anything you want. Just my thoughts, but in time you may find that you can take photographs of some of his things and even a video of his room and the things in it and be able to let the some of the physical items themselves go, or make a quilt out of his shirts, for instance. Bless you.
Jodie Wallace says
We have 4 children, 2 full time jobs, 3 of of the 4 children are involved in 1 activity. We are involved in our community and church. I have been trying for over a year to de-clutter and simplify. It’s seems absolutely impossible. After a full work day, sports activities, dinner, homework, laundry (6 people, laundry is a daily necessity) and baths, there is no more time. The weekends are consumed with sports activities, church, play time, downtime (rarely). I have a very deep concern for the future of our environment, I try to recycle, aluminum and plastic. With 6 people we have a lot of recycling every week which requires more of our time and energy.
The posts that I read, seem as though they are written by individuals or couples. Is it even possible to achieve simplicity for our family?
Lowell Denney says
Hi Jodie, I just posted my bit on here…You are in a situation at the other end of the spectrum for sure..When my son was young, it was easy for me because I had him and his Mom to care about..
Obviously you guys are much younger than me too..
But I know in my heart that if it can work for me, it definitely will work for you as well…And trust me, you’ll notice a massive difference in your being overwhelmed….That’s the biggest thing we have in common..Being overwhelmed..And I have never been the guy to buy self help books and such….This will affect you so much more than you could ever realize right now…Good Luck !
Lisa T says
Jodie, it is absolutely possible to declutter a family, as long as each person is “on board” for the good of the collective household. I’ve done space clearing (clutter clearing, feng shui, soul cleansing–whatever one wants to call it) as a single person and a mother, as a stay-at-home and a full-time employee. Let your desire drive you! Best of luck and love.
And Lowell is right, too…trust me and him!
You are only one person & are giving so much to your family-that’s your priority for now:)Maybe try the suggestion of ‘one item removed everyday’-over time you will notice that you are indeed progressing towards your de-cluttering goal.It is your journey & there are no rules in how fast you get there!!
Janice Barrett says
Teaching your children how to declutter and keep on top of their possessions is a great life skill. No matter how young, adapt your decluttering and tidying/sorting skills to show your children how its done. Its not about ‘you doing it for them’ its about ‘them doing it for themselves’.