How to Declutter Your Home with Mindfulness
If you Google “How to declutter your home” you’ll get over 19 million results. Wow! But it’s no wonder why decluttering is such a popular topic: in this time of abundance of information and material goods, many of us wind up having more “stuff” than we know what to do with.
When there’s a lot of stuff in your home, it can be….
- hard to find what you need when you need it.
- expensive to heat, cool, clean, and maintain all the excess stuff in your attic, home office, or storage unit.
- embarrassing to have people over when there’s clutter covering every surface and clothes strewn on the floor!
- hard to face the banker’s boxes of books and papers that you hid away somewhere when guests were coming.
- difficult to get around to going through the boxes that were hastily packed when you were moving (with the plan of going through it all later.)
Even if you lead a relatively minimalist lifestyle, there may be areas of your home or office that are not fully supporting you in meeting your soul’s deepest longings.
Thankfully, you don’t have to live this way. There are many resources available to help you pare down and declutter your space (over 19 million, in fact!). Your home or office can support and enhance your life, rather than detract from it.
So how do you declutter your home? The most effective and lasting approach is to declutter with mindfulness. Though popular, mindfulness is not always understood. And you’re probably wondering, how does it apply to decluttering? Read on and we will do our best to answer these questions.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is as old as the hills. Yet what it actually is can be hard to define. Does it require sitting on a meditation cushion or practicing yoga? Does it require somehow figuring out how to stop your monkey mind? And how can mindfulness be applied to decluttering your home!?
In an interview on the Science of Mindlessness and Mindfulness, social psychologist Ellen Langer (who some have dubbed “the mother of mindfulness) defines mindfulness as “the very simple process of actively noticing new things.” She emphasizes: “when we encourage people to be more mindful, we find enormous improvements.”
So, if we define mindfulness as the “process of actively noticing new things,” you can absolutely practice mindfulness while decluttering your home. Consider this: has the way that you feel about a gift your ex-boyfriend gave you shifted since your break-up? How about the way you really feel about those wash-by-hand china dishes you inherited from your great-grandmother?
Decluttering mindfully requires turning your attention to what’s happening right now: to what you are thinking, what you are feeling, and what your five senses are experiencing. This is not always a comfortable thing to do.
Often, people find that tuning in to their true feelings while decluttering brings up anxiety or judgmental voices from the past. I worked with a client who wondered what to do with her wedding dress since she was divorced and now in a new relationship. After we explored how the dress made her feel, and after some serious consideration on her part, I took it away and donated it for her. When I asked her about it later, she shared that it was a relief to no longer have the dress taking up space and mental energy in her attic.
We all have things like this in our lives. For years I held onto a pretty tray that my dad brought me when he came home from a trip. I kept it simply because he gave it to me and he passed away when I was 16. It would have been fine to keep it, except that it was so rusted that I could not enjoy using it. This is another example of how being mindful of your feelings and personal history is integral to decluttering.
Why Mindful Decluttering?
“My subconscious is smarter than I am.” Ray Davies of the Kinks
Mindfully decluttering your home has many noticeable benefits. One of our favorites is freeing up the energy that is often tied up in physical things without you being consciously aware of it. To learn more, explore the free Energetic Effects of Clutter.
With mindful awareness as your guide, you can become more conscious of your most cherished goals and values, and declutter your home to reflect them with integrity.
Decluttering Your Home with Mindfulness
Decluttering your home is sacred work. Your home is as unique to you as your fingerprints, and the objects you keep in your home are there for a reason. But some of these “reasons” might have outlived their usefulness and could actually be keeping you from living your best life or being your best self.
Folks often hold onto things that once had usefulness or meaning due to lack of time, not knowing how to start, indecision, or other unpleasant feelings. This is not something to beat yourself up about; our relationship to our things simply changes over time. If you’re in such a situation (and let’s face it, almost ALL of us are in some way or other!), be gentle and compassionate with yourself as you work through unsettling feelings.
Here are just a few ways that decluttering from a mindful perspective can bring more ease and joy into your physical and mental space and even open doors for you:
- You can let go of remnants of an old job or relationship and create space for new relationships and opportunities to flow into your life.
- You can feel comfortable letting go of objects that remind you of painful periods in your past and let go of the past to feel more free. As our wise friend, anonymous, once said “The past is a good place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.”
- You can make peace with your current weight and physical abilities and let go of the clothes that no longer fit or the camping gear that you know deep down you will no longer use.
- You can find joy in passing things on to someone else who can appreciate and use them (even if you don’t know who they are!) For places where you can feel happy to send your donations check out our donation and recycling links.
Mindful Decluttering & Organizing is a resource you won’t want to miss. Pam Holland’s pleasant personality, calm demeanor, practical good sense, objective questioning, and patient discussion combine to fill a particularly thoughtful and effective toolbox of resources. She shows up promptly ready to work, dives right in, and doesn’t let you get away with procrastination!
Before & After Decluttering Gallery
Declutter Your Home Through Transition
What is best for you and your home will change over time. If you are reaching retirement age and preparing to downsize to a smaller home, what you choose to let go versus what you choose to take is often a challenging process. It can be a journey fraught with memories both painful and joyful and often tinged with sadness and a longing for times and experiences long past.
Mindfully tuning in to your relationship with your things and how they serve you right now is an important step during times of transition. It is particularly freeing to let go of objects from your past that are loaded with tender memories. See how this wise client did just that in a virtual organizing session:
It is normal to experience a range of emotions when doing any type of decluttering, but especially during emotionally fragile times of transition. Transition could mean moving, welcoming a new baby, starting a new job, blending families, going through divorce, or going through the death of a loved one. Clutter from trauma or loss is especially difficult to go through, and we encourage you to be gentle and patient with yourself and reach out for support as you do so.
Read what one client has to say on Yelp about one of our organizers supporting her family through several transitions.
Transitions can drain your energy and leave you snapping at your loved ones even if the reason for the transition is joyful. Change is just hard. And that’s the truth!
We would rather be ruined than changed; We would rather die in our dread; Than climb the cross of the moment; And let our illusions die. — W. H. Auden
Mindfulness is a Decluttering Asset
Mindfulness will support you through every step of the home organizing process. Being mindful of your body will ensure that you take breaks when you are hungry, thirsty, or ready for rest. When you feel overwhelmed, taking a few deep breaths or changing activities for a period of time will calm you.
We bring mindfulness to our decluttering sessions with clients by starting the first session with a brief meditation, and by taking breaks as needed during each session to pause and reflect on our progress. To see how we integrate mindfulness into our sessions with clients, watch this 1 minute time-lapse video of our founder Pam organizing a basement utility room with Lori and John.
Learn more about how mindful decluttering works on our process page. It outlines the six steps we work through with our clients during our hands-on or virtual decluttering and organizing sessions!
What are your decluttering goals?
Many folks are eager to dive right into decluttering and make visible progress right away! Though we certainly want to encourage decisive action, jumping into the decluttering jungle can end badly if you are not clear on your goals. When tackling a new decluttering project, the best place to start is slowing down to clarify and reflect on your decluttering goals. Skip this step and you may expend a lot of energy without getting your desired outcomes.
For those of you who are familiar with the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator, I am a very strong J. If you’re not familiar with the Type Indicator’s system of understanding our unique motivations, just know that I, along with other J’s, really like to jump right into a project and find it incredibly diificult to stop and think it through first!
Pause for a brief period of time and get clear on just one of your goals for this particular phase of decluttering. It will be time well-spent!
Are you making a space to exercise, to write, to play music, to have guests over? How do you want to feel in this space? Will others in the household also be using the space? The answers to these questions will shine a light on how to proceed. In fact, clarifying goals and visions is where my organizers and I begin when working with clients and workshop participants.
If you’re not sure where to start, consider how your clutter makes you feel:
Then, envision how you will feel in your clutter-free space:
We encourage you to get in touch with your vision for each different room or space in your home. As you look at your guest room or a space that has become a collection spot for homeless things, ask yourself, “How would I like to feel in this space?” and “What would I like to do in this space?”
We encourage you to draw or write down your vision and to share it with others in your household and with other who may be willing to support you in making your vision a reality. Involve the entire household in the envisioning process! For a step-by-step guide to creating a shared vision without quibbling, pick up a copy of our book All in The Family ~ Clutter and your Primary Relationships in our shop.
Example goal: “To feel more free”
Many of our clients express feeling lighter, more buoyant and feeling more free after we declutter together! Letting go of the objects that no longer serve them brings a sense of relief, hopefulness and new energy.
The truth is that getting rid of stuff feels good! Part of the reason is practical: fewer things means less to clean, to repair, and move around with. But getting rid of stuff also feels good for energetic reasons. When you are surrounded by items that are old, broken, or simply not useful to you anymore, your vital energy gets tied up in them. When you release these items that don’t serve you, you free up space for new opportunities to flourish!
Thankfully, there are resources to help you let go of stuff and feel more free. New Dream, for example, is a fantastic non-profit dedicated to helping people have more fun and less stuff. Our article Your Stuff. Their Stuff. Our Stuff was featured on their blog!
For more on exactly why decluttering feels good, our popular post Why Does Decluttering Feel So Good? explains it all.
How to Declutter a Home
Many things which cannot be overcome when they are together, yield themselves up when taken little by little. ~ Plutarch
Now that you understand mindful decluttering and its powerful impact on your energy, let’s get started!
What are some of the best methods to declutter your home, and how do you even know where to start? One way is to check out this guest post on Decluttering for Beginners from our friend Courtney Carver.
In addition to the practical suggestions that Courtney makes, one simple concept to keep in mind throughout the decluttering process is to focus on letting go of items that are high cost and low joy! Makes perfect sense, right? We thought so, so we wrote a post about high-emotional and high-financial cost items that don’t serve you and that can negatively impact your energy.
The most important thing that you can do is to start today! Don’t fall into the trap of procrastinating because you don’t yet have the perfect tool, plan or strategy. Are you a closet perfectionist like me!?
The good news is that you don’t have to follow Marie Kondo’s structured, one-size-fits-all plan, get rid of everything you own and become a monk, or even hire a professional to declutter!
Wondering whether to hire a professional organizer? Check out Why Work With a Professional Organizer? to guide your decision.
And there is a way to declutter your home or office without succumbing to stress and overwhelm – mindful decluttering! In over 13 years of doing this work, we have supported over 200 clients in mindfully decluttering their spaces and each and every situation required a slightly different approach. What my organizers and I find is that each person’s situation is unique and their needs vary. Your needs will vary due to your relationships, stage in life, personality and beliefs.
There is no end of possible methods for how to declutter your house. You could declutter:
Room by Room
The most obvious strategy for decluttering a household is to declutter one room at a time. This approach has the advantage of keeping your efforts contained to a relatively small space. It can also be easier to create specific goals and a clear vision for a particular room. It has the potential disadvantage of failing to consider whether there are objects in other parts of the home that functionally or logically belong in this room. This can result in the challenge of not allowing space for such items to eventually make their way into this room.
Category by Category
In this big-picture method, you work by category instead of by room, and the process may require more dedicated time, space, and planning. Say you’re starting by assessing and decluttering your clothes. You would first hunt down all of your clothes from different closets, drawers, and boxes and gathering them all to declutter!
Despite this challenge, some people work best when they can see all of the items they own in a certain category, whether it’s clothes, shoes, books, papers, dishes, or otherwise. Does this approach make sense to you? One client of mine was adamant that this was the only way she could address the books in their household. We gathered the books from all three levels of the home into the basement and spread them out on the floor. We then sorted them into categories that made sense to her. The advantage of taking this whole house approach was that she could easily see any duplication of books and also take the opportunity to pick the ones that were the most meaningful to her from each collection. After we had indentified the treasures, we were able to accurately assess which categories of books would best fit onto which bookshelves and the organizing part was easy.
The KonMari Way
If it appeals to you, you might try the KonMari method, and declutter by doing one big purge. This method is trendy due to Marie Kondo’s bestseller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Ms. Kondo recommends that you hold each and every object in your hand and ask yourself “does this spark joy?” It is a simple and charming way to simplify the process of decluttering and it can be quite time consuming. We are then encouraged to thank each item to be discarded for its service before sending it on its way. For me personally, not many pieces of paper spark joy so I find that different approaches work best for different types of objects.
I have a colleague who spent an entire day with her partner going through every article of clothing that they owned and she found the process to be very liberating (if not a wee touch tiring!) We find that most of our clients work best by breaking their decluttering projects into small, manageable steps, and completing these one at a time. However, if you can make the time and one big purge appeals to you, give it a shot and let us know how it goes!
This approach became popular in the United States through Margareta Magnusson’s book The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning. This approach is gentle, simple, and very practical! Get the details about this method in our post The Life-Changing Magic of Death Cleaning.
The “Slow-Drip” Method
The “slow-drip” method is what works best as a long-term strategy for most of our clients. Though working with a professional organizer can offer a jump-start to get the decluttering energy moving, we can also assist you in breaking daunting projects into manageable action steps with estimated timeframes. Then you are empowered to do a little at a time, using mindful awareness to determine when it’s time to take a break, eat a snack, or work through difficult feelings. If this slow and steady method appeals to you, we recommend Your Spacious Self by Stephanie Bennett Vogt. In our post on How to Declutter if You’re Not Marie Kondo, we go into more detail about the implementation of the slow-drip method.
Seasonally, as in “Spring Cleaning” (or any season you prefer!)
The changing of the seasons are perfect times to refresh. You might feel a burst of energy to wash the car, repaint your office, or tackle a decluttering project. That’s why “spring” cleaning is so popular!
Other popular times to tackle decluttering or organizing projects are at the start of the January New Year, the Jewish New Year Rosh Hashanah, or the Chinese New Year.
Whatever time of year you choose to begin (and there is no right or wrong time!), make sure to give decluttering the space it deserves in your schedule. Setting aside a weekend each season to declutter the home is a smart way to make sure you make progress toward your goal of creating a decluttered home. If you’re not sure where to start, why not start with your treasures (aka the high-joy items in your home)?
Daily: A little each day adds up to less clutter
The chart below illustrates how even five minutes per day really does ad up!
Can’t decide which things to do in five minutes? Check out this resource with 18 excellent ideas from Zen Habits.
Choose the method that feels right to you
Each of these methods has its merits. Try one and then try another, or create your own combination of approaches. One of my virtual organizing clients finds that if she looks intently at a particular area she wishes to tackle, then sleeps on it, she seems better able to indentify the most logical action steps when she returns to the project the next day.
By adding mindfulness to any of these approaches, you will make your decluttering experience more thoughtful, meaningful and long-lasting.
How to Finish Decluttering Projects
You know from experience that starting a project is exciting and energizing. But it can be hard to keep the motivation and momentum going through the middle of the project and to the end. And our experience confimrs that it often “gets worse before it gets better”!
Before you start decluttering, read 5 Simple Ways to Keep the Decluttering Energy Moving! (And Avoid Decision Fatigue). It guides you through how to start projects from a place of mindfulness and connection with your body.
If you feel a sense of overwhelm or anxiety in the middle of your decluttering project, it’s very normal! Having someone help you, whether a friend or professional, can make all the difference between a project that peters out and a project that gets completed. If your energy starts to lag, you might also benefit from some expert tips on how to avoid getting stuck in 5 Ways To Finish What You Start And Why You Often Don’t from Psychology Today.
If you were making great progress and then suddenly hit a wall, check out How to Keep the Decluttering Momentum Going, where you will discover three tips to ensure that you have success in finishing your decluttering work!
When Are You Done Decluttering?
If you are committed to living a life of freedom and have made a commitment to keep positive energy flowing in your home and in your life, you will never truly be done decluttering. As our roles, ages, and passions change, so will our choices about what we wish to make space for in our lives and homes. Tools and supplies from previous passions and stages of life will need to go in order to make physical, mental and emotional space for new passions.
When will you be able to reap the benefits of your decluttering efforts? Right away! But in order to experience the joy of having devoted time, energy and perhaps money into living a clutter-free life, you will need to do these three things:
- Focus on what you have done rather than what remains to be done.
- Create systems to keep your useful items and treasures organized and accessible.
- Keep clutter from re-entering your life.
Here are three signs that you are on the right path as you journey to a less cluttered life:
- You will begin to notice clutter more than you did in the past. As one wonderful client put it, when clutter has been present for some time, it sometimes seems as if there is an invisible film over it. You can enter a room and not even “see” the stack of books and papers that have accumulated or the DVDs that you pulled out to sort through last month. As you begin to see with new eyes, you may notice that you have developed less of a tolerance for clutter. It is critically important at this stage that you look with compassion at areas that no longer feel tolerable to you. You could not address these concerns before you were able to see them, could you?
- You may begin to want to spend time decluttering or organizing. One of my clients refers to this as “catching the decluttering bug.” Before our virtual work together, she dreaded the thought of decluttering and organizing. After she began to make progress and could see the results of her efforts, she found that she wanted to make more time to tackle her decluttering projects, and that she was willing to give up time spent reading or relaxing in order to experience more progress.
- You begin to be able to find things when you need them and no longer make duplicate purchases as a result of being unable to find something that you really knew you already had (if only you could remember where!).
How to Keep your Home Clutter-Free
The problem with clutter in our lives, like clutter in our closets, is it arrives one piece at a time, never in basketfuls. It’s not too difficult to refuse a huge, overwhelming load of additional responsibilities; it’s tough, however, to decline ‘just one more.’ Benson Wright
Once you meet your short-term decluttering goals and your home supports your ease and joy again, it’s time to switch from decluttering mode to maintenance mode. The difference between a cluttered home and a clutter-free one boils down to creating productive habits.
Consider these simple habits that prevent clutter from accumulating:
- Sort mail as soon as you bring it into the house. Sort right by the recycling bin, so you can immediately toss junk mail (or better yet, register to reduce junk mail). Open the important mail and deal with it right away or put it by your desk to take care of at a designated time!
- Spend 10 minutes before bed putting away anything left on your surfaces that doesn’t belong there: kids’ homework, dishes, papers, jewelry, etc. For more tips and examples follow our Declutter Your Surfaces steps here!
- Designate three minutes when you get home to unpack your briefcase or purse. Put lunch items away, place your keys where you can find them, and remove any papers, makeup, notes, or other items that do not belong in your bag. You will thank yourself in the morning!
It’s lifestyle changes like these that will ensure that clutter stays at bay in your home. Our free Master a New Habit resource will support you in making these clutter-free habits a reality. You can also discover 10 more easy habits to prevent clutter here!
What about gifts that create clutter?
Many of our clients struggle to handle clutter in the form of gifts. While gifts from friends and loved ones are usually thoughtful and well-intentioned, sometimes they are simply not to your taste!
It’s perfectly normal to have mixed feelings about gifts you receive. Fortunately, there are ways to honor these gifts without letting them add clutter to your space. If this is a struggle for you, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I need this gift to know the giver cares about me, and that I care about them?
- Would the gift giver want their present to make me feel trapped or guilty?
- Can I take a picture of myself with this gift, and keep the memento instead of the gift itself?
As time goes on, consider requesting consumable gifts or other clutter-free gift alternatives. One lovely way to honor someone is to make a donation to a cause they support. Perhaps you have family and friends who would support you in your decluttering goals by making such a donation. I frequently give gifts of experiences such as a visit to a museum or planetarium or concert. There are many exciting, fun, and personal options out there and we offer a lot of great ideas below!
More ideas and resources for no-clutter gifts:
- For Less Clutter: Choose Consumable Gifts consumable products like foods and household products are a fantastic way to give useful and enjoyable gifts.
- Weddings and Birthdays and Parties, oh my! A guide to clutter-free gifts has ideas for how to request clutter-free gifts and give them for celebratory events throughout the year.
- 10 Clutter-Free Gifts to Make the Holidays Special! guides you to a number of creative gift options for the holidays.
Move Forward to Declutter with Mindfulness
We hope you are now feeling more confident, inspired and capable of decluttering your home with mindfulness. Letting go of that which no longer serves you creates space for fresh energy, new activity and joy to enter your life.
By now you understand how mindfulness supports the process of decluttering, and you have the tools you need to approach your clutter using a variety of methods. We encourage you to bookmark this page for inspiration and reference!
If you wonder if you might benefit from professional guidance, take advantage of our free and confidential 20-minute consultation. You’ll come away with even more clarity about why and how to tackle your clutter.