Minimalism for Messy People: Decluttering 101

decluttering minimalism creative artists

Creating exactly the home you imagine is a big project. Yet you may find your greatest challenge comes before you can even start. How do you make space for beauty and pretty things? Here’s your beginner’s guide to decluttering.

Like a lot of creatives, I am a messy person. I hoard things. I have a hard time throwing out even scraps of paper because, you know – “I might be able to use them for a creative project!”. Sometimes this habit does come in handy. For example, a few months ago I made a rug entirely out of old T-Shirts and socks. Most of the time, however, things just end up sitting in a box or on a shelf. As the clutter slowly takes over, it feels as if it crowds out creativity, lightness, calm and beauty. If you’ve ever felt like this before, don’t worry. You have come to the right place.


Not all clutter is created equal

I know some people – very few, admittedly, but they do exist – who have a ton of stuff, but manage it so well that it doesn’t feel like they do. Their homes look full, but in a light, happy, loving way. What’s important to note is that those people are often collectors. Their “clutter” is lovingly collected, curated and displayed. If there’s a good kind of clutter, that’s it. For most of us, however, we are talking about a bunch of stuff that you just don’t really know what to do with. If we’re honest, getting rid of it sounds like the most appealing option – but at the same time, it can be so difficult to part with. So how do you start – and how do you decide what has to go?

Decluttering is a process

You will not be able to declutter your home in a day. Between clothes you no longer wear, art supplies you no longer use, projects you will never finish, and all the papers, tools and paraphernalia you hold onto because they “might be useful some day”, decluttering is a process. Most likely, it won’t be truly finished for quite some time, and even when it is, you may have to repeat it at some point in the future. To expect yourself to declutter your home in a day is to set yourself up for frustration and overwhelm. As clichéd as this sounds, you need to fall in love with the process.

The very first steps

Just as it’s near impossible to declutter your entire home on a Saturday, it is also near impossible to cover the topic in one post. That’s why I plan on going into the details of the process in a future series of posts. For today, let’s focus on the very basics: How do you know if your space needs decluttering? Where will you start? What will you do with everything?

How do I know if my space needs decluttering?

I’d say you reading this post past the first paragraph is already a pretty good indicator. If that answer does not satisfy you, also consider the following questions:

  • Does your space feel crowded?
  • Do you find yourself constantly trying to organize your possessions?
  • When you are cleaning, how much clutter is there on the surfaces in your home? Does it bother you?
  • Do you have a closet full of clothes but hardly wear half of them?
  • Do you have would-be supplies for art projects (styrofoam, toilet paper rolls, old t-shirts…) that you have been meaning to use for ages but haven’t quite gotten around to yet?
  • Would you like to own less? Less of what? What feels superfluous?

Where do I even begin?

Take an inventory of your space, considering the questions above. Which areas of your home and life feel especially crowded? Maybe your closet needs decluttering most of all, or maybe it’s your creative space. It could also be your desk, bookshelf or kitchen cabinets. Take note of everything that you think you have too much of: books, paint brushes, t-shirts, scraps of paper. Then, pick the one area that needs the most urgent attention.

If you are still scared to throw out anything, ask yourself which area would be easiest for you to tackle. Maybe you have a really hard time giving away art supplies, but making space in your closet seems manageable. Start there, then. The very first time I decided I needed to own less, I began by sorting out my mugs – even that was tough. Thinking back now, it’s amazing how much easier it has become to part with things. Decluttering is definitely an art that improves with practice!

What do I do with everything?

What definitely doesn’t count: Storing things in boxes in the basement or the attic. That’s not decluttering. It may make you feel a little better, but thinking about those boxes will still make you uncomfortable. And what if you decide to move?

The simplest answer would be to just throw everything out. However, in the interest of sustainability, I’m all for finding alternatives – so long as they don’t involve you hiding a box somewhere! I have collected some ideas below. Feel free to comment with your own so I can add them to the list!

  • Upcycle / repurpose and re-wear (immediately – don’t make another pile of projects for “when you get around to it”).
  • Repair and re-wear (for old favourites that you’d love to keep wearing if only there wasn’t a button missing / a zipper broken / a seam torn…). Also do this immediately!
  • Donate.
  • Sell (online or at flea markets, garage sales…).
art supplies
  • Donate to childrens’ homes, schools, etc.
  • If they are absolutely essential for that one project you have had in mind for ages, either get on with that project or decide that you won’t – just don’t keep putting it off and pushing stuff from one corner to the next.
paper scraps, notes
  • Digitize! Nothing is as handy, liberating and clutter-free as having all your notes in one place, such as Evernote or OneNote.
  • Anything you need on paper for whatever reason (official documents or important bills for instance): Create a properly labeled folder and sort it away. Transparent plastic pockets help keep smaller paper scraps together. No, this is not technically decluttering, but official documents, bills and the like aren’t technically clutter.
  • Donate them or gift them to someone you know who might enjoy them. Tossing books in the trash is not cool!
  • Alter them for art journaling.
  • Make a floating bookshelf, a nightstand or a book-safe – admit it, you have at least one of those pinned on Pinterest anyways!

Preparation is key

Deciding in advance what you’ll do with your clutter. It is often easier to get rid of things when you already have a new purpose in mind for them. Knowing you’ll donate your art supplies makes the process much easier than imagining them in the trash!

You’ve taken inventory. You have decided what area needs the most urgent attention and you have thought about what to do with the things you get rid of. It’s time to get started!

If you are having trouble deciding what to keep and what to toss, stay tuned. There will be more posts on the decluttering process coming up soon! You may also want to sign up for the newsletter below to be among the first to receive access to my upcoming free email course on establishing a creative habit and de-cluttering your home and your brain in the process!

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  1. Wow this is a really detailed and helpful post!

    I’ve just moved house so it was a great opportunity to get rid of stuff so I’m hoping to do a big de-clutter on a more regular basis.

    • Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed it!

      Decluttering always feels so good, doesn’t it?

    • You’re welcome! Happy you liked it 🙂 I’ll be doing a few more posts on this soon.

    • Jasmine, thank you!
      I used to live in a relatively tiny apartment too, about 400 square feet for two people – that’s where I first realized how important it is not to have too much stuff!

  2. Wow, I so need to de clutter evey room and closet in my apartment. These are great ideas. I must find the time to begin one task. Thanks for the information.

  3. I really liked this post and look forward to the next in the series! There’s just one point I disagree on: tossing books. Tossing (recycling) books is just fine! I’m a librarian, and I can safely tell you that there is nothing wrong with this. Unless someone is a rare books collector, the books they have aren’t unique or valuable. Tossing them isn’t an act of hate, suppression, or censorship. Librarians weed their collections to keep them healthy and useful, just like weeding a garden (yup, we call it ‘weeding’). And while some of those books might be sold in library book sales, most will end up in the recycle.

    And if you are thinking of “donating” the books to a library, please understand that most city libraries will not put them into their collection (there’s a bunch of reasons for this which I won’t get into here). if the books are in saleable condition, they’ll put them in a book sale fundraiser. If the books aren’t in good condition, they’ll throw them out or recycle them. And dealing with donated books is costly in terms of storage and the staff time needed to deal with them, so many large libraries won’t accept book donations at all.

    So if you need to toss books, toss them and don’t feel bad! You’ve done your home, your brain, and your personal book collection a good, healthy thing!

    • Thank you for the input! I guess I just always feel sad for discarded books. Probably a sentimental thing more than anything else!

      • We have “Donate Book” bins in our area (Just like Salvation Army boxes) that we can put unwanted books into – it’s great!

  4. Thank you for this article. I am by no means a minimalist. I actually have a room driving me nuts right now….my studio. I want…no need less. But I find many minimalist books and articles off-putting because the authors often take a dogmatic, condescending or an eye-rolled “superior” tone. Last thing I need is another one telling me all the things to fix with a “you’re doing it wrong” attitude.

    Appreciate this article lots. I’ll be poking around the site now. 🙂

    • I’m so glad you’re finding it helpful! I’m definitely no hard core minimalist – I’m also still learning how to combine my creative mess of a brain with a living space that will allow me to breathe 🙂 It’s a journey!

  5. I find that I am more interested in creating out of what random bits I have on hand, rather than going through my collection of bits to find inspiration for a project. This past Christmas I made gift tags out of pieces of cardboard that were coming into the house — so having a large collection of possibilities does not actually support my creativity.
    However, if I don’t give away my projects, I find that they often become clutter (like art books. I’d love to make one, but then what?). What do you do with completed projects, and how do you keep them from becoming clutter themselves?

    • That’s a great question! I give away most of what I create outside my art journals. The art journals themselves have a shelf, so they don’t cause too much clutter. Other than that I try to only DIY when I have an actual need for something – I needed a new pot for my plant the other day, so I made one, but I don’t try DIY projects for the sake of creating any more. That’s where I turn to my art journals.

      I think an art book could be beautifully displayed on a shelf – not everything that does’t have practical use needs to be clutter. If it makes your room beautiful, go for it. If there’s too much decoration already, maybe see if you can get rid of some of that first?

      I completely agree that sometimes a large collection of possibilities actually limits you. It’s amazing how creative you can get when you suddenly have very limited supplies! Something about the constraints actually inspires creativity I think 🙂

  6. Keao Daniels

    Loved every word of your post and am inspired to start my creative journey to minimalism! Thank you so much for sharing!

  7. “I know some people – very few, admittedly, but they do exist – who have a ton of stuff, but manage it so well that it doesn’t feel like they do.”

    That used to be me. By the time our kids were in high school, we had a ton of stuff, all neatly organized behind closed doors. I spent every Christmas break and summer break, and many weekends, organizing and re-organizing, until I was over it. Then we got rid of half our stuff (haven’t missed a single thing) and downsized from a 2700 sq. ft. suburban home to a simple 1200 sq. ft. beach cottage. NEVER BEEN HAPPIER!!

  8. Pingback: How to De-clutter (Even When You Really Don’t Want To) – Lolly Locket

  9. In our neighbourhood we have many “little free library boxes” – a perfect place to share the books you no longer want with others! Thank you for the post….I need to start somewhere!

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