Decluttering 101: How to Start Decluttering

Decluttering 101: How to Start Decluttering

If you’re ready to start simplifying your home and your life but aren’t sure exactly where to start, this post is for you. Think of it as “Decluttering 101”. A step by step guide to show you how to start decluttering and how to follow through and reach your clutter-free goals!

Want to declutter but don’t know where to start?

Deciding you want to clear the clutter and simplify your life is awesome. Maybe you’ve read a few articles about the benefits of decluttering and are excited to start experiencing them in your own life.

But then you look around your house and see all the stuff, and wonder how you even get started decluttering?!

This post will give you a step by step plan to follow to help you figure out how to start decluttering. And how to follow through and clear the clutter from your home and your life!

1. How to start decluttering – know your “why”

The most important step in learning how to declutter is knowing why you want to declutter in the first place!

There’s no doubt that clearing a lifetime worth of clutter from your home can be hard work – physically, mentally and emotionally. There will likely be times you feel discouraged, sidetracked, overwhelmed or simply like you want to give up.

But having a clear understanding of why you want to declutter is so important to help you stay on track and get the job done.

Begin with the end in mind

Why do you want to declutter? What’s your end goal in clearing the clutter? What do you want to achieve by decluttering and simplifying? What do you want to create more time and space for in your life?

Maybe you want more time to spend with your family. Decluttering could be a way to help lower and better manage your anxiety. Maybe you want to feel happier in your home instead of stressed out by it. Maybe you want to spend less time taking care of your home and the stuff in it and have more time for the things, people or activities you love instead.

There’s no right or wrong “why”. It’s whatever YOU want to achieve by decluttering.

Then keep coming back to your “why” as you’re decluttering.

Not only will it help you stay motivated to get the job done. But it can also help you make better decluttering decisions as you go. Instead of asking yourself if you love or use an item enough to keep it, you can ask yourself if keeping that item will help you achieve your “why”?

2. How to start decluttering – make a plan

The best way to start decluttering is to give yourself a clear plan to follow throughout the process.

The more decluttering details you can figure out ahead of time, the fewer roadblocks you’ll run into along the way.

Not only that, but a plan makes it easy to dive in and get to work on the actual decluttering when your decluttering sessions start. Instead of wasting time figuring out what you need to do each time you’re ready to declutter.

Your decluttering plan should include things like where you want to declutter, when you’ll declutter, what you’ll do with the stuff you’re getting rid of, etc.

One word of caution

One word of caution when making a decluttering plan is don’t get too hung up on the planning. A decluttering plan will help the process go a lot smoother and is important. But the plan is just a tool to help you do the actual work.

Don’t get so caught up in the planning that you don’t get around to doing the actual decluttering!

You can read all the articles and books, make a beautiful colour-coded decluttering plan, have a schedule all planned out, etc. But you also need to get started and do the decluttering or you’ll never get to enjoy the benefits of clearing the clutter!

Here are the key points to include in your decluttering plan:

Where you’ll declutter

This is a big one. Sometimes trying to figure out where to start decluttering can be one of the biggest hurdles you’ll face when decluttering.

There are a few options. Figure out which option – or what combination of all three – feels like the right fit for you.

Option one – start somewhere easy

This is my favourite way to start decluttering.

Decluttering is a skill you get better at the more you practice it. When you start decluttering in an easier space, you’ll work on building your “decluttering muscles”. By the time you tackle your more challenging spaces (like your storage room or your sentimental items), you’ll have strengthened your decluttering muscles and be a better declutter-er.

Easier places to start decluttering are places where you can make easier and more rational (and less emotional) decluttering decisions in general. Smaller spaces are also easier simply because they are less overwhelming to start and finish.

For example, the bathroom is a great place to start decluttering. Deciding what to do with old make-up and half-used bottles of lotion is a lot easier than deciding what to do with your keepsakes from childhood.

Other easy places to start decluttering are places like the pantry, the coat closet, the junk drawer, etc. Anywhere that doesn’t usually hold sentimental or particularly important items and is more of a utilitarian space instead.

When you start by decluttering your easier spaces, you can gradually work your way through your house until you get to whichever spaces are more difficult for you to declutter.

Option two – start with the spaces that cause you the most stress

The second option is tackling the spaces in your home where the clutter and “stuff” in them cause you the most stress on a daily basis.

Maybe it’s the playroom overflowing with toys. Or the kitchen that’s always full of piles of dirty dishes and paperwork. Or your overstuffed closet that makes getting dressed a timely and stressful process each morning.

The advantage of this option is that you’ll immediately remove a huge source of stress from your home and your life. You’ll free up a significant amount of time and energy when those sources of stress are gone.  

The disadvantage of this method is sometimes it can be overwhelming to tackle these areas first, before you’ve had a chance to build up your decluttering muscles!

Option three – start with your highest use spaces

The third option when you’re figuring out how to start decluttering is to start with the areas of your home that get the highest use or are high traffic areas. Think places like the kitchen, entryway, laundry room, etc.

The advantage of starting here is that you’ll get to see and experience the benefits of clearing the clutter from these spaces right away. They will be easier to use and maintain immediately once you’ve simplified them.

Pick your option, then plan where you’ll declutter

Once you’ve picked which option you’ll use, make a list of each area of your home you want to declutter, in the order you want to declutter them in.

The goal is to make it very easy to see where you will declutter next. You won’t have to spend time before each decluttering session figuring our where you’ll declutter next. Instead, you can simply check your list and move onto the next space.

You can make this list as detailed or as general as you prefer.

For example, you may just list each room in your home in the order you want to declutter them.

Or you could break down each room into smaller, more specific decluttering projects. For example, under your bedroom category, you could list areas like your dresser, nightstand, hanging clothes, closet shelves, under the bed, etc. This can help you avoid feeling overwhelmed and not sure where to start in each room.

When you’ll declutter

The next part of your decluttering plan is figuring out when you’ll declutter.

There are two options for this. Most people usually do some combination of both.

Again, figure out what will work for your lifestyle, your schedule, your preferences, etc. In order to be successful with decluttering, you need to find a way to declutter that works with you, not against you!

But whichever option you choose, hold yourself accountable! Decluttering is very easy to put off if you don’t make it a priority. Make decluttering appointments with yourself, put them in your schedule and treat them like you would any other appointment.

The key to clearing the clutter from your home is making decluttering a priority until it’s done!

Option one – slow and steady

The first option is a slow and steady approach. Doing a little decluttering often to slowly, but consistently work at clearing the clutter. It could look like 10 minutes of decluttering a day. Or tackling one drawer, one shelf, one basket, etc. a day.

This is a great option to break the work down into smaller, less overwhelming, more manageable chunks.  It’s also a great option if your life and schedule are already busy and full and you don’t have a lot of extra time to devote to decluttering.

The key to this option is consistency. When you spend a few minutes decluttering on a regular basis it will add up to make a difference over time.

Remember, every time you choose to remove something you no longer use, need, love or want from your home, you are making progress towards your decluttering goals. Progress is progress – even if it’s baby steps!

Option two – decluttering fast

The second option is setting aside bigger chunks of time to clear the clutter as quickly as possible. This might mean taking a weekend (or a few weekends) to devote to decluttering. Or it could mean setting aside a few hours on a weekly basis to declutter.

This is a great option if you have a deadline, such as an upcoming move, to get your decluttering done before. Or if you just want to get the process of decluttering over with quickly.

If you choose this method, just be mindful and cautious of burning yourself out.

Often when you’re decluttering, the mess gets worse before it gets better as you sort through things and decide what to do with them. One disadvantage with this method is burning out when you’re in the middle of your big decluttering weekend, and then being left with a bigger mess than you started with!

What to do with the stuff you’re decluttering

The next part of your decluttering plan is what you’ll do with the stuff you’re getting rid of.

If you don’t know what you’ll do with the stuff you’re getting rid of, it can pile up in your house, causing mess and stress. And often get spread back out over the house, undoing all of your hard work!

Plan ahead of time where you’ll take donations, where you plan to sell or consign items, what you’ll do with the trash, etc. Knowing exactly where these items will go will make it easier to get them out of your house quickly and easily as you declutter.

Decluttering 101: learn how to start (and finish) decluttering
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

3. How to start decluttering – gather your supplies

Now that you’ve made your decluttering plan, it’s time to start clearing the clutter!

When you start decluttering a space, make sure you have 4 boxes, baskets or bags ready. One for trash, one for donations, one for items to sell and one for items to put away in other areas of your home.

It makes it a lot easier to get to work when you have clear places for items you’ll be taking out of the space.

A box or basket for items to be put away is a great way to avoid being distracted while you’re decluttering too! It’s easy to start decluttering in one room, see something you need to put away, take it to put it away, then get distracted in another room or by something else and never make much decluttering progress.

Set those items aside, focus on decluttering the space you’re in and deal with the things to put away after you’re done!

4. How to start decluttering – follow your plan

This step is where there real decluttering work begins!

Start in the area of your home you decided to start decluttering when you made your decluttering plan. Then continue to make your way down the list decluttering each space in your home.

As you declutter, here are a few tips to help you make your decluttering decisions:

Take everything out of the space you’re working on

Although it seems like more work, the best way to declutter effectively is to take everything out of the space you’re working on and start with a clean slate. For example, take everything out of or off the drawer, cupboard, shelf, space you’re working on, then sort through the stuff.

It’s easier to avoid skipping over things or keeping them by default when you are consciously choosing what gets to go back in each space.

And while you’re at it, shift your focus from what you’re getting rid of to what you’re keeping instead.

When you think about what you’re getting rid of, decluttering can feel like deprivation or loss. But when you think about keeping the things you love, use, and need, it becomes a lot easier to keep the most important and let go of the rest.

Once you’re finished decluttering, put the things you’re keeping back in the space in a way that makes the most sense for you. The great thing about organizing after decluttering is organizing becomes a whole lot easier when there’s less stuff!

Key questions to ask when you’re decluttering

When you’re deciding what to keep, there are a few key questions you can ask yourself:

  • Do you use the item regularly?
  • Do you love the item?
  • Is this item adding value to your life?
  • Is this item worth the time and space it’s taking up?

These 4 questions get to the heart of deciding what should stay in your home.

If you’re stumped on a particular item, you can find more decluttering questions here.

5. What to do when you’re done decluttering

After you’ve finished all the spaces you wanted to tackle in your decluttering plan, the first thing to do is celebrate and enjoy all of your hard work!

And after that, you may want to start the process all over again!

Most people do multiple rounds of decluttering before they reach a place that feels like the right amount of stuff for them. Remember, decluttering is something you get better at the more you do it.

And after you’ve experienced the benefits of clearing the clutter, you may be more willing or able to let go of even more stuff.

You don’t have to do your next round of decluttering right away. Take a break and enjoy the progress you’ve already made. But be ok with the fact that you may need or want to do more than one round of decluttering.

6. Do regular maintenance decluttering sessions

Decluttering isn’t something you do once or a few times, and never have to do again.

New stuff is always finding its way into your home. Not only that, but your lifestyle, needs, interests, the season of life you’re in, etc. all shift and change over time. And the stuff you need, use and love shifts and changes right along with them.

You may even find yourself motivated to get rid of more stuff the longer you live with the benefits of a simplified home.

Maintenance decluttering lets you maintain your clutter-free home. The good news is after you’ve done your big declutter, these maintenance decluttering sessions will be A LOT quicker and easier. But they are very important in keeping your home clutter-free and simplified moving forward.

Quickly sweep each area of your home for anything you no longer use, need or want and get rid of it. Plan to do these quick maintenance decluttering sweeps on a regular basis to stay on top of the amount of stuff in your home.

Decluttering 101: how to start decluttering

I hope this post helps you get started decluttering and makes the process easier and less overwhelming.

If you have any questions, leave a comment below. I’m happy to help!

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2 Comments

  1. I just read your guide on how to start decluttering and I found it to be the best guide I have seen without reading a whole book. I have collected over two dozen books and cleaning, organizing, and or decluttering, and you summed them all up in a few
    paragraphs. I really like your ideas to begin cluttering by drawing up a plan and thinking about where you’re going to start based on the three options or more you give, gathering your supplies, and planning what to do with the stuff after you’re done. So simple, so concise, and so helpful! Thank you, thank you! You have given me inspiration to begin!

    1. Oh, I’m so happy to hear this, Ruth!! Thank you so much. I’m so happy to know this post was helpful for you and has inspired you to start decluttering. That’s just wonderful and completely makes my day! Thank you again for your kind words and comment. I appreciate it so much. Thank you for reading and happy decluttering!

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