Inside: Are you sick and tired of all the clutter? Here’s how to declutter your house in one week (or less) & why you haven’t been able to succeed at decluttering yet.
From the 154 coffee cups lining the countertop to the closet that looked like a bomb went off inside it, saying our house is a disaster is the understatement of the century.
With our moving date being T-8 days away I felt like the mess had overtaken me.
Sweat beads formed on my brow, my hands began to shake, and confusion twirled my mind into a maze.
I couldn’t do this anymore.
After spending every day for the past week trying to pack our clutter into boxes to ship off to the new house and feeling like I hadn’t even put a dent in the pile of stuff left me feeling exasperated.
- Why am I wasting time packing things we haven’t used in two years?
- So. Much. Stuff.
- Oh look, that toaster oven we lost in the last move. Huh, guess we didn’t need it as desperately as I thought.
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This is Why I Couldn’t Declutter
I ran into a problem. Spending hours packing things we hadn’t used in over two years was a waste of time, waste of energy, and a waste of mental capacity.
(One can only take so much packing in a lifetime, and after 5 moves in less than 3 years, I’d had it.)
But, when I tried to bring myself to get rid of something (anything) I would end up talking myself into keeping it.
- “But it did come in really handy that one time five years ago…”
- “It’s expensive. I can’t just give it away.”
- “We might need it in the future,”
The inability to get rid of the clutter taking over our house all boiled down to one, painful, truth:
It felt like a part of me.
Studies have found that the clutter we surround ourselves with can actually become a part of who we think we are.
One article states,
“According to researchers, the items you hang onto are likely to be linked directly to your self-worth.” – Source
The article goes on to say the items you tend to hold on to are most likely the ones that you find your self-worth in.
For example, if you value your success above all, you may struggle to get rid of trophies, college papers, or plaques. If it’s relationships that keep you going, getting rid of gifts from people may make you feel like you’re being disloyal to a friend.
The problem is we can’t separate the physical object from the way we feel.
It took me far too long to learn getting rid of that sweater that never did fit or those earrings I’ve never worn wasn’t going to put a strain on my relationships with the people that gave them to me.
If I could have learned earlier how to separate physical objects from my state of mind our house would have been filled with a lot less stress-inducing clutter.
Here’s The Clincher
After researching why so many people – like myself – struggle to declutter, I learned two crucial lessons:
- The average American household has 300,000 things in it. (Source)
- The number one reason why people hold on to clutter is because “I might need it one day”. (Source)
In other words, the reason we own way too much stuff (tell me, when was the last time you used every last one of the 300,000 things in your house?) is because we keep bringing new stuff in, but never get rid of the old stuff (because we might need it one day… remember?).
It’s All in Your Head
The reason why I struggled so greatly to declutter in the past is this: my mindset was all wrong.
Marie Kondo mentions in her ever-famous book that having an attitude of gratitude is where you need to start decluttering.
Why? Because as you thank the things you own for giving shelter, clothing, or entertainment, you validate the items to yourself.
(If you need some legitimate inspiration to start decluttering, I seriously recommend reading it.)
Having an attitude of gratitude towards your belongings helps you appreciate what they did for you at one point, and helps you realize that a) they’re either still useful and a necessity in your life, or b) they no longer serve a purpose for you.
And, if they no longer serve a purpose in your life, you’ll be all the more willing to donate them and pass them on to someone else so they can make that person’s life easier.
Mindset is everything.
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You Should Know This
A study published in 2010 found clutter negatively impacted the mental well-being of women, in particular.
Clutter is also linked to increased cortisol levels throughout the day, whereas people without cluttered homes had cortisol levels that decreased as the day went on.
“Clutter is an overabundance of possessions that collectively create chaotic and disorderly living spaces,” – Source
Another study found clutter significantly decreases productivity. On top of decreased productivity, clutter robs your ability to focus by competing for your attention and distracting your brain from what it should be focusing on.
“When your environment is cluttered, the chaos restricts your ability to focus. The clutter also limits your brain’s ability to process information.” – Source
Clutter also makes it more difficult to relax because when surrounded by it, the brain can’t fully “turn off”. The chaos constantly tells your brain there’s always more work to be done.
A Psychology Today article states “Clutter creates feelings of guilt (“I should be more organized”) and embarrassment, especially when others unexpectedly drop by our homes or work spaces.”
>> Download the FREE step-by-step guide to declutter your house when it’s an overwhelming mess as a bonus for joining my newsletter: From Chaos to Calm: The Free Decluttering Guide
How to Declutter Your House in One Week When Overwhelmed by the Mess
(A 5-Step Guide For How to Declutter Your House)
These are the tips I found the most helpful when it came to decluttering our house.
But, before you even start, remember to take time to change your mindset.
Changing the way you think about the clutter and appreciating it for what it is – and did for you – will help eliminate the guilt you feel when you get rid of it.
Instead, you’ll be thankful that it helped you for a time, and you’ll be happy to pass it on to someone else.
After you change your mindset towards decluttering, here are your next steps:
1. Catch it Before it Starts
If you’re here learning how to declutter your house, chances are the clutter has already started.
But keep this step in mind any time you are tempted to purchase something or bring a new item into your home.
A cluttered house starts outside the home.
Think of it – when you moved into your current house, it was empty. But now? It has boxes, papers, and pizza boxes stacked all the way to the ceiling.
A house doesn’t start as a cluttered mess. It takes time to turn into one.
As stuff gets brought into your home – even things as small as a new pair of earrings – and nothing is taken out of the house, that’s when clutter starts.
When you start having more stuff than you need. When the stuff gets in your way and creates a chaotic living environment. And, when you have to move stuff around to be able to complete a task.
Those are all signs your house is cluttered.
It’s important to note a cluttered house can look immensely different from one person to the next.
While one person’s house may just have a handful of stuff that gets in the way and is unnecessary, the next person’s house may have walking trails through the junk to get from the living room to the kitchen.
Both homes are cluttered.
You don’t need to reach some invisible quota of stuff before your house is considered cluttered. If the state of your house causes you stress and you have to move stuff to complete tasks, you have too much stuff.
To stop your house from becoming – or becoming more – cluttered, ask yourself these three questions every time you bring something new into your home (no matter how small it is):
- Do I already have something that can be used for the same job as this?
- How often will I use it?
- Do I have room to store it neatly?
If you already have something that is used for the same job as this, you don’t need two. Having two may be more of a want than a need.
If you do have space to store it, however, and having a second one would make your life easier, you can consider keeping it.
But if there’s no room to keep it, it’s got to go.
If you aren’t going to be using this thing frequently, ask yourself if it’s worth taking up precious real estate in your house. Is it worth creating room for?
And, finally, if you don’t have room for something don’t get it. It’s as simple as that – it isn’t an option. (However, if it is an absolute necessity and you don’t have room to store it, you may have to get rid of something else to make room for this particular item.)
If you struggle to stop bringing new things into your house, I recommend working your way through this book.
2. Do a Trash Walk
When it comes to decluttering, it’s important to focus on one room or area at a time. We’ll talk about why this is important in step #4.
However, before you start tackling the clutter in a particular room, you’ll want to do a trash walk through your entire house.
Meaning, with a large trash bag in hand (I suggest using this kind so they don’t break from the potential weight), you’ll walk through every room in your house collecting any obvious trash.
Obvious trash is anything from crumpled papers to broken items, or anything else that is obviously garbage.
Doing this will lessen the stress you feel when you think about decluttering your house.
The reason behind this is to remove the unnecessary items (the trash) so the task of decluttering doesn’t seem so daunting and the amount of stuff you have to sort through is smaller.
3. Become a Stranger
Studies have shown we directly relate the items we hold onto to our self-worth.
How instead of looking at an item for what it is, we feel like it’s a piece of who we are. Feeling this way toward our clutter makes it nearly impossible to get rid of anything, because we feel like we’re either damaging a relationship, ignoring our accomplishments, or discarding the only proof we have that we somehow “made it”.
Some studies found the longer you touch an object, the greater the value you assign to it.
“When it comes to physical things, merely touching an item can cause you to become more emotionally attached to it.” Source
In other words, looking at your belongings through the eyes of a stranger, as if you had absolutely no emotional attachment to the object at all, will help you make smarter decisions when it comes to decluttering.
“But what if I can’t get myself to lose the attachment I feel towards an item?”
In that case, you could invite a friend over to help you declutter. Have them hold each item up and ask you “Yes? or No?” so you don’t need to touch the item and create more feelings of attachment to it.
Another tip for making smarter decluttering decisions is to remove each item from its home.
Meaning, if your coffee mugs live in a cabinet above the sink, instead of sorting through the mugs in the cabinet, remove them and place them all on the floor, on the table, or on the countertop.
It doesn’t matter where you put them, as long as they are not in the place where they normally live.
This allows you to see each and every item – mug, in this case – out in the open and out of its “natural habitat”, which will help your decision making be easier.
4. Start Small. No, Smaller Than That
Decluttering is a marathon. It’s not a sprint where you run as hard as you can for 15 minutes and are done.
Instead, it takes time, focus, and raw determination.
But when you start, you have to start small.
Just like someone who has never run before wouldn’t physically be able to run a 5-mile marathon, decluttering isn’t something you jump into and do in one fell swoop, either.
When you’re starting out, it’s important to start with something small.
And I mean small.
If you want to start in the kitchen, start in a small area of the kitchen. For example, the Tupperware drawer would be the perfect place first.
The reason why it’s so important to tackle a small area for a short amount of time is because we need that push of motivation to keep moving forward.
If we try to tackle the kitchen in its entirety in one go, we’re more likely to get overwhelmed, tired, or even bored, and give up part way through than if we were to start with a small area and see it through to completion.
If you take 15 minutes to declutter and organize the Tupperware drawer, you then have one area that is totally done. You don’t need to go back into it and you can even take a break from decluttering, because you’ve accomplished something, and start back up tomorrow.
Whereas if you were to have tackled the entire kitchen, in 15 minutes you wouldn’t even have been able to remove everything from the cupboards and drawers.
Starting and finishing small also give you a feeling of accomplishment, because now anytime you open that Tupperware drawer, you see the work you did and you feel good about yourself, which motivates you to keep going.
Those small nudges are necessary to keep you motivated and moving forward.
Here’s proof this method works:
“When we get something we want…our brain releases dopamine. This chemical is often known as the “feel good” neurotransmitter because it does just that—it makes us feel good.” – Source
The article goes on to say “it is possible to manipulate your dopamine levels by setting small goals and then accomplishing them.”
Which means, if you set the goal to declutter and organize the Tupperware drawer – even if it only takes you 5 minutes to do – when you complete the task, your brain will release dopamine and make you feel good, like you’ve accomplished something.
“The next time you want to accomplish a big goal, try to break it down into bite-sized, dopamine-friendly pieces… If you want to write a novel, make a deal with yourself to write for just 15 minutes every day.” – Source
Take your big task of decluttering your house and break it down into smaller tasks like completing one small area that takes 15 minutes or less a day.
5. Use Three Boxes
I’ve discovered sorting my belongings into three boxes works the best and helps me get rid of the most stuff.
When sorting through your belongings, you always want to start by removing the items from their “home” and placing them in a giant pile.
Next, work your way through the items one by one, placing them in one of the following boxes, or bags:
When you come across an item you will be keeping, that item can be placed to the side, in another pile (not to be mixed up with the pile you are sorting through).
Anything you won’t be keeping can go either in the donation or trash box. (If something is broken, stained, or ripped, it should be trashed. If it’s still in working order and decent condition, it can be donated.)
The 6-month box is an important one.
This is the box that will help you get rid of the most stuff, because it’s for anything you’re not sure about. If you think you should get rid of something, but can’t bring yourself to do it, stick it in the 6-month box.
If you come across anything you think you use often enough to justify keeping, but aren’t sure, stick it in the box.
Once you’re done decluttering, you’ll write the date 6 months from now on the box.
Over the next 6 months, if you need anything out of the box, go ahead and grab it out and then find somewhere to keep it in your house to use again (but do not just go rummaging through the box. Nothing should be removed unless it’s needed).
At the end of the six months, load the box up into your car and take it straight to a donation center. If you haven’t needed these items for the past six months, you won’t miss them when they’re gone.
(Of course, this excludes holiday decorations and the like.)
A Warning About Selling
You may be wondering, “but what about selling clutter?”.
Many good-intentioned people include another box in their decluttering process: “Sell” and fill it with things that are in good shape and could be donated, but they want to make a few bucks off of so they fill the box up and tell themselves they will post the items on a buy and sell.
In most cases – not all, but most – one of two things ends up happening:
- They don’t get around to posting the stuff for sale and it ends up sitting in the basement for another two years,
- The stuff doesn’t sell
Either way, the stuff is still taking up space in your house and will likely end up finding its way back into the rooms of your home.
On top of that, since the items aren’t removed from your home, you won’t get the dopamine rush of completing a project because it won’t feel totally done until the items are gone.
For this reason, I advise against selling clutter and recommend sticking to bringing it to a donation center.
How do I Start Decluttering?
(Where to Start Decluttering)
The best place to start decluttering is the place in your home that bothers you the most to see cluttered and messy.
What is one area you absolutely can’t stand to see a mess? It grinds your gears, makes you want to yell, and no matter how often you clean it, it always seems to become a mess again in less than 3 seconds flat?
Did an area pop into your mind?
That is where you should start decluttering your home – because when you start somewhere that frustrates you, you’ll have the drive and motivation to continue through to completion.
Then, once you complete it, your brain will release dopamine and you’ll be hooked on decluttering for good.
Need more detailed instructions? I lay out how to find your “starting point” here.
Decluttering Tips For Hoarders
I’ve compiled a detailed list of how to help hoarders declutter. It includes 13 steps as well as solutions to the most common decluttering problems.
Declutter Your Home Checklist & Decluttering List
For a step-by-step guide to declutter your house, you can grab the room-by-room decluttering checklist here or grab your copy of The Clutter Buster, which walks you through every step of decluttering, helping you track your progress and giving you pointers along the way.
How to Live Clutter-Free
Now, anytime I’m tempted to keep something because “I might need it one day” I can put these 5 decluttering tips to practice and rest assured knowing I’m no longer letting clutter control my life.
The best way to live clutter-free is to plan before bringing things into your house.
For example, designate an area for the mail so that it doesn’t end up scattered all over the kitchen table. Or, designate a spot for shoes (this works well) so they don’t end up all over the floor.
It’s also important to change your mindset on clutter. Go from thinking, “I need this” to, “this is nice to have, but I don’t need it and could make do without it,” use that to determine which things you will keep and which you will get rid of.
Always remember: clutter causes stress. It’s proven itself true time and time again. So, next time you want to buy the newest edition of Southern Style magazine, ask yourself if it’s worth taking up valuable real estate in your house and if it’s worth the potential stress it will bring on your life when you’ve collected 10-too-many of them.
Download Your Free Printable: 20 Things in 20 Minutes: Your Decluttering Checklist
To get started decluttering your house right now, you can get my free 20 Things in 20 Minutes decluttering checklist, which includes an exclusive list of 20 easy items to get rid of from your home when you can’t seem to get yourself to get rid of anything. Here’s how to get it:
- Download the checklist. As a bonus for joining my newsletter, you’ll get the checklist! You can click here to download and subscribe.
- Print the list. While normal printer paper does work, cardstock works the best as it’s stiffer and will yield a more sturdy checklist that won’t easily bend or break. Don’t skip this step – remember, you’re 42% more likely to achieve your goals when you write them down.
- Use it. Any time you start to feel overwhelmed by the thought of decluttering, refer back to the checklist to find something to get rid of instantly.
Here’s a sneak peek of your 20 Things in 20 Minutes Declutterathon:
How to Declutter Your House Fast… Your Turn
Do you have some awesome decluttering tips hidden up your sleeve? We’d love to hear them! Drop a comment below with your decluttering tips that have helped you learn how to declutter your house in one week or less.
Download the FREE step-by-step guide to declutter your house when it’s an overwhelming mess as a bonus for joining my newsletter: From Chaos to Calm Decluttering Guide
More Helpful Articles to Help You Declutter Your House:
20 Crazy Easy Things to Declutter When You Feel Stuck
Exactly Where to Start Decluttering Your House When It’s an Overwhelming Mess
How to be Crazy Organized When You’re Tired of the Mess (21 Expert Tips)