Decluttering for all! Easy steps to get started

declutter spring cleaning Mar 25, 2023

Spring has sprung in the Northern Hemisphere. That means we’ve spent the last two weeks trying to recover from a one hour time change (how is that possible?), including wrangling kids and pets whose bodies refuse to believe we have sprung forward. It also means it’s time to take a hard look at all the clutter we’ve accumulated, and do some good old fashion spring cleaning. 

If you’re anything like us, you look around and find clutter lining your shelves, desks, tables and counters. It insidiously accumulates for months on end, until one day we wake up and wonder where all this stuff came from, and feel anxious and overwhelmed by the sheer volume of papers, knick knacks, overflowing drawers and miscellaneous *stuff* all mixed together. 

It’s become so easy to buy more. Press a button and whatever you need will arrive almost instantly. Can’t find matching socks? A box will show up tomorrow. Out of tomato sauce? Instacart will bring it in hours. When replacing something is easier than looking for it, we feed the clutter monster. And for most of us, we don’t have the habits and practices that keep our stuff under control. Things don’t exit our homes as often as they enter, so the clutter accumulates. 

Clutter can be a major source of stress and can even impact our mental and physical health. When we declutter, we create more space in our homes and our minds, and we have more bandwidth to focus on what really matters. Today’s post is sharing practical tips for decluttering, starting with our mindset, to common things you can get out of your space today without a second thought.

Get ready to let go of the things that no longer serve you and make room for the things that do!


Decluttering Philosophies 

There are different philosophies on decluttering, with two major camps:

The Marie Kondo camp

Marie Kondo gained notoriety in 2014 with her first book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”. Marie Kondo's approach to decluttering is centered around the idea of keeping only the items that "spark joy." This means asking yourself whether each item you own truly brings you happiness and adds value to your life. Kondo's method involves sorting through items by category (such as clothing, books, or sentimental items), and physically holding each item to determine whether it sparks joy or not. In order to sort through any category, you must first take out every item of that kind from everywhere in your home. It’s therefore a rather intensive experience that can take days or weeks.  

The Dana K. White camp

Dana K. White is the author of the blog A Slob Comes Clean, and the author of several books, including Decluttering at the Speed of Life. Her approach to decluttering is focused on developing simple, sustainable habits that can easily be integrated into daily life. White's philosophy is that clutter is a symptom of deeper issues, such as disorganization, indecision, and procrastination. Her approach involves breaking down decluttering into small, manageable tasks, and focusing on creating simple systems to keep your home organized over time. 

One philosophy is focused on fixing everything all at once. The other is focused on making small changes. For the rest of this post, we’ll focus on the latter. If you need help with decluttering (like we do), and you’re a reader of Mindfulness Incubator, it’s likely that you don’t have many days to spend at once on this effort. So let’s talk about small, meaningful steps that will absolutely make a difference, and help you feel more ease and spaciousness. 


What's this? A table without piles of stuff on it? Impossible!


Tackle your mindset first

Have you ever felt envious of your friends who are able to maintain neat and tidy homes? How do they do it?? It turns out decluttering is legitimately harder for some people. There are some studies (one conducted by researchers at the University of Kansas) that have found that people who grew up with less financial means tended to value possessions more highly than those who did not. The researchers suggested that this may be due to a sense of scarcity and the belief that possessions are necessary for survival. For those who grew up with less, it can be a hardwired habit to look for opportunities to repurpose and reuse, and hesitate to let go of things because “What if this is helpful someday?”. 

We might also hesitate to get rid of things because of how much we think they are worth. “How can I possibly give this away?” you might think. That’s the endowment effect at play. The endowment effect is the tendency to place a higher value on items one already possesses. It’s been documented in several studies, including one conducted by researchers at Yale University, where findings showed participants were willing to pay significantly more for a coffee mug they had been given and owned for a short time than they were willing to pay for an identical mug they had not been given. The researchers concluded that people develop a sense of ownership and attachment to objects that they possess, which can lead them to overvalue those objects. If we overvalue our stuff, we might convince ourselves we should hold on to it (it’s an investment!) or that we should try to sell it, where we’re not likely to get nearly what we think it’s worth. 

But even if you’re prone to hanging onto things and overvaluing them, you can still declutter. 


Four steps to get started with decluttering

1. Awareness

Awareness is always the first step. Acknowledge if it’s difficult for you to let go of possessions. If you feel attachment to your things, start your decluttering in spots that don’t carry such a heavy emotional load.  

2. Set some goals

Having a clear objective in mind can be really helpful in dealing through the discomfort that comes with the process. Perhaps your goals are centered around how you want to feel in your space, or reducing stress. Use this vision to motivate you throughout your decluttering. 

3. Start small

Rather than trying to declutter your entire home at once, start with one room or category of items, such as clothes or books (or our top ten below!) This can help you avoid feeling overwhelmed and make it easier to make decisions about what to keep and what to let go.

4. Change your questions! 

Shift away from “Is there ANY chance I’ll ever need to use this? What if every store suddenly stops carrying broken paperclips?”. Instead, ask yourself whether it serves a practical purpose in your life right now or whether you truly enjoy it or find it beautiful. Avoid questions that focus on the item's monetary value or potential future use.


10 things to get rid of right now

Still feel overwhelmed? That’s totally fine. Here’s a list of 10 things that you can get rid of right now, no second thoughts. Start here!

  1. Expired food: Go through your pantry and your refrigerator and toss everything past it’s “best by” date.  
  2. Expired medications: These are not only holding up space, but they can be dangerous (check out this article on how to do that safely).
  3. Expired cosmetics and beauty products: the Mayo clinic’s guidelines for safe use of cosmetics might surprise you. If you’ve had products open for more than a year, there’s a good chance they should be replaced or tossed. 
  4. Old electronics: Cords, chargers and electronics that you no longer use shouldn’t take up space. Resist the urge to keep a bin of cords “just in case”. For any devices that have data, consider locating a shredding service to ensure the complete disposal of your data, and always consider recycling your electronics. 
  5. Clothes that no longer fit: Get rid of anything that doesn’t fit you (or your kids) today. If you expect your future self to somehow be a different size, then give that future self the opportunity to get clothing that will fit you comfortably then. Consider donating to causes, like Becca’s Closet for old prom dresses, or Dress for Success for business wear. 
  6. Broken household items: You might think you’ll get around to repairing things, but if they’ve been gathering dust for six months or longer, get rid of it. 
  7. Outdated paperwork: There’s a lot of paperwork you don’t need to hang on to. Old credit card statements should get tossed after 60 days. If you can access them online you can switch to paperless billing and get rid of them right away. Tax returns and receipts can go after three years. Insurance policies and cards can be shredded as soon as you receive new ones. 
  8. Duplicate or mismatched kitchen items: If you have multiple kitchen gadgets or utensils that serve the same purpose, consider getting rid of the duplicates. If you have storage containers without the lids, get rid of them. 
  9. Broken or chipped dishes or glassware: Broken or chipped dishes can be dangerous to use. If it’s broken, toss it. If you love it and can’t bear to part with it, then replace it. If it’s sentimental, then use it as a decoration/showpiece (and if your reaction is “this isn’t nice enough to be a showpiece…” then get rid of it. 
  10. Old, worn out linens: Are you hanging on to stained towels, dishrags, table cloths or bed sheets? Keeping one or two items for dirty jobs *might* be reasonable, but anything outside of that can definitely go. 


Deeper reading / resources

Want to go even deeper with your decluttering? Try listening to one of Dana K. White’s audiobooks while doing your spring cleaning/decluttering. Hearing her thoughtful, pragmatic voice in your ears as you make choices might be just the pep talk you need! 


Final thought…

If decluttering is really a struggle, know you’re not alone, and you can definitely do it. Remember, decluttering is not just about getting rid of stuff - it's about creating a space that supports your physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing.

Remember to practice self compassion, and meet yourself where you are. Letting go of possessions can be challenging, and it's okay to take it slow and approach the process in a way that feels comfortable and manageable for you. Progress over perfection. 

Isn’t today a great day to get rid of something you no longer need? Go ahead, give it a try.

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