I’m not ashamed to admit that I am tad bit obsessed with decluttering. The truth is, I still struggle with an attachment to STUFF, but I’ve also discovered just how much better life is with less.
In our modern lives, excess and stuff-collecting are common dilemmas. So often, we become bogged down and tied to taking care of our house, sorting through paperwork, finding homes for things we didn’t really need to purchase, and just feeling generally overwhelmed by this pile of, well, everything that threatens to crash down around us at any time.
What’s so great about clearing the clutter? A clutter-free home makes for a clearer mind and a better life. Letting go of our attachment to STUFF allows us to focus on the things that matter most–things like faith, family and friends–and leaves us feeling less stressed and more organized.
My new book Unstuffed offers practical advice for not just getting rid of clutter, but for addressing the heart issues that cause us to fill our lives with so much stuff in the first place. If you’re feeling like the clutter is becoming too much to handle—here are a few great ways to roll up your sleeves and get started!
1. Don’t Bring It In
The first rule of clearing clutter: don’t let it happen in the first place. If you’re already in a position where you need to tackle clutter (as most of us are), then commit right here and now to STOP bringing in more stuff.
Try a month of zero spending. Find a way to make do with something you already have. Repurpose items, get creative and “DIY.” Instead of ordering pizza or take out (more boxes and stuff coming in), see if you can make a restaurant meal at home.
The next time you buy something, stop to think if it’s something you really need. It’s okay to treat yourself once in a while, but when you do, make it meaningful and useful. So often we think, “I deserve this” and find ourselves purchasing $30 candles, knickknacks soon forgotten, or clothing and accessories we won’t wear.
You deserve special things. We all do. But let go of the mentality that you must “treat yourself” by spending money on stuff—especially when you know it will only add to your clutter and your stress level.
2. Give Yourself Permission to Let Go
Many of us have sentimental attachments to our stuff, which makes it feel almost impossible to let go. But you can. If a loved one has passed, keeping their items can make us feel closer to them. Similarly, we can form attachments to things we associate with happy memories or times in our life we wish we could hold onto.
Unfortunately, our emotional baggage can become actual baggage in the form of clutter. Suddenly, we’re weighed down by the guilt and emotional toll these items have on our lives.
Give yourself permission to let go of the guilt. If you bought something you liked, but it doesn’t fit your style anymore—let it go. If you received gifts you don’t want or need, donate them to someone else. Giving still-useful items to charity can help us feel less guilty about getting rid of them. After all, you’re giving the item new life, and it will continue to serve someone else.
3. Get (and Keep) a Handle on Exactly What You Have
How often do we find ourselves running to the store for batteries or ingredients, when we know “it’s around here somewhere”? It happens all the time. Clutter makes it hard to find the things we need, so we end up re-buying items, adding to yet MORE clutter.
Keeping your home organized can seem like an overwhelming task, but if you break it up into smaller bite-sized pieces, you can clear a lot more clutter a lot more quickly than you might think. When your home is organized, you can quickly inventory what you have on hand, and save yourself the trek to the store to buy tissues, cotton swabs, or peanut butter, when they’re already hiding in a cupboard.
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Once you get your home organized, commit to keeping it that way. Make time and space for the important things and let go of what doesn’t fit the bill.
Bonus: staying organized will also keep your schedule clutter-free. Time is one of our most precious commodities, because we all know: when it’s gone, it’s gone. If you feel life is racing by and you can’t keep up due to schedule clutter, try filling a time jar. It’ll change your life.
4. Get Out of the STUFF Mindset
Change your mindset to “experiences over stuff.” In our family, we try to make memories, rather than giving gifts. For birthdays and holidays, it can be much more meaningful to do something exciting than it is to give another toy or accessory soon to be forgotten.
For your friend’s next birthday, take them out to coffee or a movie, and give them your undivided attention. (Cell phones off!) Take your kids to a museum, or spend time hiking, playing outdoors, or enjoying a park instead of going to the mall. Even taking a walk to the library and bringing home books can be an experience, which doesn’t result in more permanent clutter.
Try family game nights, dinners at home, movie nights, and crafts. You’ll find new creativity unleashed and stronger connections made. When you have a date with your spouse, try just going for a walk, holding hands, and enjoying each other’s company. Things don’t have to be costly, fancy or tangible to result in memories.
5. Create (Don’t Buy) Gifts
Rather than giving more clutter to those around you, again, find ways to give experiences. Like the aforementioned coffee date or birthday lunch, giving the gift of a listening ear and time with a friend can be so much more meaningful than buying things.
If you hate to go to a party empty-handed (or it’s the holidays), it’s a great opportunity to create meaningful, handmade gifts. It can be much more special and fun to design something for a friend. I find spa items (salt scrub or candles, for example) make great gifts, and many can be created with ingredients on hand. Try making cards. Even if you aren’t “artistic,” simply pasting a beautiful photo onto a blank card can make a lovely greeting to brighten the day of anyone who receives it. Fresh flowers or veggie treats from your garden like beets, carrots, fresh herbs, or lettuce make for a great “edible arrangement.”
When all else fails, cookies are a gift everyone loves to receive. Homemade bread is another. Put together a baked good and a card, and you’ve given someone something beautiful they can enjoy without adding to their (or your) clutter.
6. From Kids’ Clothes to Kitchen, DIY and Get Creative
Give new life to old items by getting creative about your repurposing. “Refashions” are very popular online right now. Refashioning involves finding thrift-store items, then, with a few snips and stitches, turning them into beautiful, wearable fashions.
We all experienced “hand-me-downs” in our youth, so some of us may have vowed to never let our children feel embarrassed about wearing “used” clothing. If you’re still harboring this mentality, it’s time to let it go. We’ve gone to the opposite side of the spectrum now, where many of our kids have closets full of clothing which would have put even the most fashionable woman in our grandmother’s day to shame.
When it comes to kids’ clothing, most items have much more life left in them, even after day-to-day wear. Swap clothing with a fellow mom or donate items your kids have outgrown.
When it comes to kids’ toys, you know I believe less is more. We’ve found, with fewer conventional “toys,” our children were able to better develop their imaginations, exercise more creativity, and show more of their artistic side. So many popular toys today tell kids what to do or how to play. Our girls have made whole fairy villages out of items in the garden and doll dresses out of tissues and marker. They’ve even written stories and plays—all out of their own imaginations.
Oftentimes, we spend money on new stuff, even though we have something on hand that already fits the bill. Kitchen gadgets (and again, kids’ toys) are two areas where getting creative can usually fix the problem without spending a dime at the store. In the kitchen, most chefs will tell you a knife, cutting board, grater, peeler, and maybe a few spatulas will get you pretty far. You don’t need a fancy mandolin, spiralizer, slap-chopper, and all those other one-trick ponies that clutter up kitchen counters and drawers.
The great thing about buying less stuff? You’re creating less waste clutter AND less waste. It’s win-win!
7. Opt for Less Packaging
Speaking of buying less stuff, when given the option, purchase the item with the least packaging. Less packaging = more space. It’s that simple. For bulk items, bring your own bags or (better yet) uniform, stack-able containers—fill them up by the pound and stack them neatly in the pantry. (This tactic is also great for your wallet! When purveyors don’t have to pay for packaging, they can charge much less for grains, dried fruits, baking goods, herbs, and other bulk items.)
A word of caution: don’t save all that packaging. If you don’t plan on using the box, bag, or container within a week, send it to the recycle bin. It’s easy to start storing boxes, until one day you find yourself with a closet or basement full of them.
Try to reduce your garbage as much as possible. After all, garbage is Earth-clutter. Use reusable containers for lunches and food storage (glass containers are better for your health anyway), and try composting to give your garden a healthy boost and reduce your table scraps. Most communities offer recycling programs for glass, metal and paper waste. When used properly, they can really cut back on your household waste.
8. Go Paperless
Paper clutter can be one of the most overwhelming problems to tackle, and yet, once it’s addressed, it’s one of the easiest to manage. The first rule of thumb is to go as paperless as possible. Again, so many of us have this mentality that we need tangible items to hold onto, yet today, so many things are available digitally—well, there’s hardly a need for paper clutter at all.
Whenever possible, opt for digital when it comes to books, magazines, movies and photos. I love my Kindle and I love that digital subscriptions and purchases are often much cheaper. Remember the days of records, cassettes and CDs? Now nearly everyone uses mp3s or digital streaming services to store and play music. Think of the space and clutter saved!
When it comes to documents, photos, and even articles and ideas you want to save, simply snap them with your smartphone. This works great for receipts and other documents, when you may just need a copy for future reference.
Whenever possible, opt for paperless billing. When you receive mail, check to be sure you’re signed up for the most paperless option, whether it’s your insurance company information, your portfolio management service statements or your electricity bill. Be proactive about unsubscribing from junk mail and catalogs. If you can find it online, why waste the postage, time and energy to send a paper copy?
Clearing the clutter from our lives is freeing, plus it stimulates our creative side. It gives us space to grow and enjoy time with our kids and our spouse. It keeps our schedules free too, as we no longer have to search for things, shop for things we don’t need, and sort through things we shouldn’t waste our precious time sorting.
Let go of the clutter and you may find you have more room for the things that matter most.
P.S. Unstuffed is now available in bookstores everywhere, and if you’ve been feeling weighed down by clutter, it might just be the message your heart needs to hear! Jam-packed with inspiring personal stories as well as practical tips you can implement right away, it is a guilt-free, stress-free guide to taking our life back from all the STUFF weighing down our lives.