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!
- Sell (online or at flea markets, garage sales…).
- 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!