How to De-clutter (Even When You Really Don’t Want To)

I love stuff. I hate mess. This causes problems for me. I am what I term a ‘creative collector’ – meaning, I have a ton of scrap fabric, odd bits of paper, 17 pairs of different scissors, and a whole lot of ‘but I might find the right project!!!’ stuff.

I find letting stuff go hard. Even when I know I don’t need it. Even when I forgot I owned it. Even when I really want a lovely, clean, organised house.

I tend to wait until I get to the point where I’m so sick of it that I’m two days away from emptying the whole house onto the lawn and starting from scratch. That’s not a sustainable system, though. So I’ve been working out some tips and tricks to try to get myself on the case. And I’m sharing them with you!

de-clutter post cover

Start Slow

It can be really intimidating to de-clutter a whole house at once. The amount of times I’ve told myself – “Right, this weekend” and then opened the door and walked away after realising exactly how much stuff I’m going to have to work through.

Every time I’ve intended to do a ‘quick tidy up’ of my room especially, I’ve ended up tipping everything out, re-arranging my furniture, and generally causing more mess than I intended to clean in the first place.

So try clearing out one box, or one shelf. Then one area. Then one room. Work your way up from sorting out a few bits and you’ll soon have the whole house done.  You can spread it out, if you’re really busy. One box every night, one room every weekend. Once you get started, seeing your progress will spur you on to even it out. Little and often is the key to not losing motivation.

Do a Test Run

If you’re not sure whether or not to throw something, or if you’re having difficulty letting things go, try a test run.

Put all the ‘maybes’ in one place (in a box, a bag, a cupboard, wherever) where you won’t be able to access them easily. If you find you need them, you can take them out. Anything that’s still there at the end of the week or month can go.

Is it still clutter if it’s neatly stacked?

Think about whether you’re de-cluttering or clearing out. There’s no strict rule that you have to go full minimalism off the bat. You can keep stuff. Maybe it just needs better organising?

I have a ton of drawings and crafts and  all sorts of notes and whatnot from my time teaching. I can’t bear to let them go. They’re little snippets of my life, of the time I spent with wonderful children who took time to create something for me. Technically, there’s no use for it, other than emotional. But they’re beautiful, and heartwarming, and part of my life. That’s not clutter.

I made a memory box, and added all of the above, and more. I decorated it, I gave it a place on a shelf. If there’s things you don’t want to let go – organise them, display them, store them appropriately.

Make it worth something

Are you using things? And if you are – are you really making the most of them? If not, why not donate them? Make your clutter work for something better and make your work worth something. I find that if I know it’s going somewhere better, I work a bit harder, I let things go a little easier.

And it’s not just a case of dropping some bags at a charity shop, there’s a whole host of outlets. I know from experience that schools love craft supplies and the like, so ask around. There are campaigns that take old clothes, my local church has a community library that runs entirely on a ‘take one, leave one’ system and donations. Animal shelters around mine are always willing to take sheets, towels, blankets etc to make the animals a bit more comfortable and at home.

Get organised about getting organised

Sorting out before sorting out helps keep the train on the tracks. I make sure that I have bags and boxes in place before I touch a single object. Labelling a ‘Keep’, ‘Throw’, ‘Fix’, and ‘Donate’ pile stops it all getting out of hand and makes it more likely to finish the job. And easier to sort out afterwards. But if you do have to stop, it’s already there to come back to, instead of all over the floor and whatnot.

Make Stuff Pretty has a good part in their de-cluttering post on ‘what to do with everything’ once you’ve sorted them, so check them out if you’re a bit stuck.

Give yourself a soundtrack

I listen to the radio, a playlist, a podcast, or an audio book while I clean because it helps me zone out a little during mundane tasks and keep me working. It’s not going to magically turn it into the funnest activity you’ve ever experienced, but a little boost won’t hurt. If you’re listening to an audio book it’s a multi-task situation that can help you feel like you’ve achieved a lot more than you would otherwise.

Buddy up

Uni meant moving into flats, and out of flats. Into houses, and out of houses. So many boxes. So many bags. Packing, sorting, throwing, shopping. So much sorting. Even in a tiny pretty-sure-this-used-to-be-an-actual-cupboard student room.

Using a buddy system got the job done in half the time, gives you a bit of support, and stops you second guessing yourself. Also, if you’re an emotional clutterer (technical term), having a friend who has no connection to an object can be a little more ruthless.

The repeated exchange of:

“Do you need this?”

“Uhhh…”

“You hesitated, I’m throwing it out”

Saved me loading about five boxes for the graduation drive home.


Do you have any other tips? Let me know in the comments!

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