If you are reading this, it probably won’t surprise you to know that a clutter-filled life leads to a stress-filled life. You can never find what you need when you need it, which leads to mad dashes in the mornings and more messes to clean up at night. Unmanageable surroundings make us feel out of control in general. And clutter has an uncanny way of creeping itself into all areas of life–your home, at work, in the car… everywhere!
Decluttering your life involves more than organizing and purging in your physical space, though. It requires a thoughtful approach to scheduling your time and prioritizing your tasks.
Luckily, when you break the decluttering process down into sections and come up with game plans for each area of life, it is possible to feel uncluttered again.
We’re taking a look at all the places in life that easily fill up with clutter, including:
After reviewing each of these areas, we hope you can devise your own game plan and start tackling your goal of a decluttered life. We’ve included links to other articles along the way for further reading on just about every area, too. Read on to learn how to declutter your life for good.
Step 1: Mentally prepare to declutter your life.
If you are serious about decluttering, you need to start by taking an honest look at yourself and your behaviors. What habits have you fallen into that cause the clutter in the first place? Are you too lax on a few do-it-now chores? Are you realistic with your expectations for organization considering your schedule and the demands of life? Only after you’ve understood some of your root clutter-causing problems can you begin correcting them.
Next, be clear with yourself about why you want to declutter. You can look to your why in moments of lost motivation. Would you like to make space for a hobby in your home? Are you trying to make some extra cash by selling your excess? Focusing on your goal throughout the process will remind you that decluttering will be worth the effort. Consider writing down your goal and displaying it in your home as you work on decluttering your life.
Along with evaluating your habits and focusing on your goal, start identifying ways you can simplify your life. Perhaps this is the time to do less as well as have less. Decluttering doesn’t mean you are only re-organizing your material items. It can also mean you are simplifying every aspect of your life. Here are some ways you can mentally prepare for a real decluttering journey:
- Adopt some aspects of minimalist living. (Take some advice from an uncommitted minimalist–me–on how to live minimally.)
- Try a digital freeze. Let go of your phone and apps for one full day a week and reconnect with your love of reading, board games or bike rides.
- Turn off the TV or the news and free yourself from that modern constant need to be in the know all the time.
- Make a concerted effort to reduce screen time in general.
- Take some more time for yourself and be comfortable saying “no.” Prioritize what is most important to you, accomplish those goals first and then make time for the rest.
- Practice mindfulness to give yourself the mental space needed to make good decluttering decisions.
Step #2: Declutter your schedule.
Our schedules are often a catalyst to clutter. When we are overbooked, we rush from one place to the next with little time to put things where they belong.
If you don’t keep a calendar, start. If you do, look at your upcoming week and month. Start by writing down must-do events and tasks. Next, carefully consider the remaining tasks on your list. Are they worth the time and effort to keep in your schedule?
Making a conscious effort to write down your events and plan for you and your family on a weekly basis is time well spent. By thinking through your week in advance, you can better prepare for upcoming events and avoid chaotic mornings that inevitably lead to more clutter.
Laura broke down a handy six-tip routine for organizing your life on a weekly basis. It’s definitely worth a quick read!
Do you have trouble coordinating calendars with family members? Try a calendar in a centralized location where everyone can see it often and add to it. Maybe this is the year to start using apps to keep track of your shared to-do lists.
Meal planning can also be a way to “declutter your schedule” so to speak. By planning your meals from a weekly perspective, you’ll know just what to grab from the grocery store instead of buying a whole bunch of food you might cook up. If you know what you need before heading to the store, you’ll buy less fluff and waste less later on, too. You’ll also bypass the “what should we do for dinner?” question at the end of the day. Keep yourself and your family on task and well-fed during a busy week by planning and prepping meals ahead of time.
Step #3: Organize your home around your schedule.
Decluttering goes beyond the physical, but your surroundings are a great place to start. For some, clutter on the outside means clutter on the inside. So organizing your home is a great first step when trying to declutter your life.
When it comes to home organization, it can feel like a constantly changing cycle, especially in a group dynamic. What worked for your family last year, or even last season, may not carry into the next. As work, school and daily habits change, so must your home organization.
When it is time to find a place for all those new Christmas gifts and gadgets, it may also be a great time to re-evaluate your organization strategy. Make some time to declutter seasonal clothes, rethink that guest bathroom storage and give the kitchen and pantry a clean sweep after all the holiday eating.
Closets are always a struggle, so tackle those kinds of problem areas when you have the most energy and motivation.
For the nitty-gritty details on decluttering your home, check out my home organization tour. It takes you room by room with specific details for all the problem spots and clutter zones in your home.
Step #4: Declutter your digital life.
Your digital life requires just as much attention in your decluttering journey than your physical environment, if not more. The amount of information being presented to us when we pick up our phones or hop on the computer is overwhelming, to say the least. It’s helpful to monitor the number of inputs we allow in our lives.
One great way to declutter digitally is to give yourself a clean slate in your email. Unsubscribe from extra newsletters and promotional emails that don’t bring you any value in order to keep the unneeded info out of your inbox. If your inbox is out of control, consider creating a new one. You can set up important accounts under your new address one by one as opportunities present themselves such as due payments.
Computer files can also be overwhelming. It is important to backup photographs to make sure you have all your memories safe and updated. But without any kind of organization system in place, your computer can be another place where clutter enters our lives.
Take some time to organize files chronologically or by subject. Use folders and back everything up on external hard drives. Upload your cell phone photos and files onto your hard drives or digital drives as well. Losing digital information is frustrating, so keep a schedule and backup files often so you aren’t relying on unpredictable computers and phones to preserve important media files. Just be sure to take the time to place items in the right files when you do to keep from cluttering up your computer again.
Resolve to stick to your new filing system going forward so you’ll never have to spend time organizing digital files again!
Step #5: Declutter the paper trail.
Sorting and storing your important documents could be one of the most beneficial steps of decluttering your life. Investing in a filing system that can keep your sensitive information safe is vital. However, taking the time to find a method for storing all your everyday papers and mail is just as imperative.
This is the year to add a mail sorting station to your message center. How are you going to corral all those school papers, bills and fliers that come home on a daily basis? Making a habit of filing your papers daily will keep the task manageable.
When it comes to sentimental papers such as cards and photos, it’s easy to get caught up in the memories mid-organizing. This holds many of us back from actually getting anything done. Even so, there are great techniques out there for getting these types of papers in check. Here are some fun ways to repurpose sentimental cards to get some use out of them by putting them on display, and here are our top tips on photo organization.
Step #6: Let the decluttering trickle into your work life.
First of all, be clear about your priorities. Start off decluttering at work by creating some balance for yourself. Set clear goals to know how much you want to commit to your job, and leave time for other activities.
Next, make the necessary changes required to maximize your time away from home. Maybe that involves automating one of your projects. Perhaps it’s making the shift to working from home. There are plenty of benefits to working from home–no commute, more family time and a little less stress–all of which will add up to an uncluttered life. To make that strategy a reality without simply adding work clutter to your home, you’ll need a dedicated workspace in your house.
No matter where you decide to work, an obvious bit of advice is to declutter your workspace. Similar to wanting a clean kitchen before you start cooking, a tidy workspace leads to a focused worker. Here’s a helpful guide from PopSugar to get you started.
Step #7: Declutter your car, too.
The car is almost like a mobile office for most of us. Being constantly on the go, picking up family members and waiting for the next time to shuffle children off to school or one of their many activities, random items collect in the small space that is your car.
For that reason, this is a space that needs to be cleaned often, but keeping it organized will also help keep it clutter-free.
At the very least, add storage to seat backs and pockets to make space for those random necessities like tissues. And, of course, have a spot to stash trash.
Finally, set resolutions as a family that whatever you bring into the car leaves with you. This should decrease the piles of shoes, water bottles, and toys that need to be emptied out of the trusty family vehicle at the end of a week.
Sometimes the physical process of decluttering is enough to reset yourself for a fresh start, but other times you need to declutter more than just stuff. Take time to evaluate all aspects of your life that need some clearing.
Maybe you need to set small goals for yourself, or maybe it is time to delegate new chores to family members and co-workers. Whatever the case, now is the time to process all the extra and purge. Hopefully these tips will help you declutter your life and start you off with a clean slate.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on January 19, 2018, and was revised on March 12, 2020.