Let's talk about decluttering your life! Do you ever look around your home and feel completely overwhelmed by all the stuff you've accumulated? What about when you hop on your phone? Do you feel like you’re drowning in a sea of apps you never use and social media “influencers” you don't even actually like?
I’ve been in this same exact situation before — and the thing that helped me most was finally decluttering my life. Read on as I dive into why you should consider decluttering your life, along with six steps on how to do it and a free checklist to get you started.
Why is decluttering your life beneficial?
There are numerous benefits that come with decluttering your life. Once you clear out all the junk weighing you down, you finally have more room to think.
You experience reduced stress and improved focus. You have a newfound sense of energy and inspiration. There's less to clean and maintain. You finally enjoy your space especially if you feel like you've been hoarding things.
But that’s not where the benefits stop. Decluttering your life also has tons of financial benefits. Once you trim out all the excess, you’re less tempted to bring extra clutter back into life.
You're more mindful of your spending. And in the end, you have more money to pay off debt, save, and accomplish your goals.
Doesn’t that sound like a dream?
6 Steps to decluttering your life
If you’re to the point where you’re ready to start decluttering your life, here are six steps on how to do it.
1. Identify your “why” for decluttering your life
Before you even begin the process of decluttering your life, stop and ask yourself why you’re doing it. Is it to save money? Live a more minimalist lifestyle? Have more freedom to do the things you love? Have more mental clarity while you work from home? Make space for that side hustle you want to start?
Take a moment to journal about your “why” for decluttering your life. Be vivid with your answer. Put it present tense so you can begin to envision your soon-to-be reality.
For example, you could say, “My house is clean and organized. I’m only surrounded by the things that add meaning and value to my life and this makes me feel happy and inspired. I wake up every morning feeling renewed and refreshed, ready to take on my day. I love my home and the peaceful feeling it brings me.”
2. Set some ground rules
Decluttering your life can be difficult because you're forced to confront all the stuff you own, all the stuff you spent money on but never used, and all the stuff that's been buried deep in your closet for years.
To make the process easier for you, set some ground rules ahead of time for items you most certainly will not keep. You know yourself best, so really think about the things you never touch or use. For example, you could set rules that say you'll:
- Get rid of all your hand wash-only dishes if you swear by the dishwasher.
- Sell your dry-clean-only clothes if you never make time to go by the dry cleaners.
- Throw out all those flimsy plastic cups, bowls, and leftover containers if you usually gravitate toward the glass versions.
- Donate or sell any clothes you’ve owned for at least one year and still haven’t worn.
On the flip side, if you have items you really love (like books or shoes or craft supplies), set a limit for how many of that item you can keep.
For example, I really love cozy sweaters. But when I lived in Georgia, I told myself I could only own three sweaters at a time because it was never cold enough to wear them.
This ground rule really helped me pair down my belongings and think twice before bringing yet another sweater into my wardrobe. (It also saved me money.)
3. Answer these questions when decluttering your life
As you go through your belongings, you may come across an item and feel torn on whether you should keep it or not. When this happens, ask yourself these questions:
“Is this an item I’ve used in the past year?”
If the answer was no, get rid of it.
“Am I holding onto this item because I enjoy using it or because I feel obligated to keep it?”
If you feel obligated to keep it because it’s sentimental, take a photo of the item and then give it away. (By keeping the photo, you’ll still have the memory of the item without it taking up a ton of space in your house.)
If you feel obligated to keep it because you spent money on it but never used it, forgive yourself for spending the money and thank the item for helping you figure out what you do and don’t like.
This may seem odd, but it’s a technique I picked up from Marie Kondo's "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" and it really does help erase any guilt you may feel about wasting money on an item.
“Does this person I'm following on social media energize me and make me happy, or do they bring me down and make me question my self-worth?”
This last one is specific to your digital life, but it's still great to put into practice. Make an effort to surround yourself with people and accounts who lift you up and brighten your day. Unfollow anything that tears you down or stands in your way of accomplishing your dreams.
4. Focus on one space at a time
It took years (possibly even decades) to accumulate your stuff. It’s not going to magically disappear overnight. Take your time and prevent overwhelm by focusing on one area at a time.
- If you’re tackling your kitchen, focus on your food and pantry one day, your kitchen gadgets and appliances the next, and pots, bowls, storage containers, and utensils the next.
- If you’re downsizing your wardrobe, focus on the clothes hanging in your closet one day, your dresser drawers the next, and shoes and accessories the next.
- If you’re decluttering your social media, focus on one app at a time. Take one day to go through all the Instagram accounts you follow. Then, move on to Facebook.
5. Sort your items into these four categories
Whether you’re cleaning up a room or your finances, things will often look really messy before they get orderly. (Seriously, take a moment to picture all the clothes in your closet strung out on your bed and floor. It’ll look like a tornado ripped through your house.)
Stay organized through the chaos by creating four separate piles for items: Keep, Sell, Donate, and Throw Away.
Follow your gut when going through items. (It shouldn’t take you more than a few minutes to decide if you’ll keep or get rid of something.) If you start to linger on an item, go back to the ground rules and questions you created in Steps 2 and 3.
6. Set goals to hold yourself accountable
We’ve all heard the saying, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” Well, the same is true for decluttering your life. Hold yourself accountable by setting SMART goals for when you’ll finish certain tasks.
Here are two examples to see what I mean.
SMART goal for your decluttering your house
"I’ll have my kitchen completely decluttered by Monday. I’ll accomplish this goal by decluttering my fridge, freezer, and pantry on Friday, my appliances and gadgets on Saturday, and my kitchenware on Sunday. I’ll donate everything I don’t want to keep after work on Monday."
SMART goal for your decluttering finances
"I’ll set aside two hours next Saturday to automate all my bills. I’ll also set up a budget and connect all my accounts so I can track everything in one place. On Sunday, I’ll set aside one hour to roll over my old 401(k)s into an IRA."
Declutter your life checklist
It's totally normal to feel overwhelmed when you start decluttering your life. But that shouldn't stop you from getting started. To help simplify things, we created a free "declutter your life" checklist you can download and print off.
Think of this checklist as a mini-challenge — see how many items you can mark off as quickly as possible. Before long, you’ll be amazed at how much extra space you’ve freed up in your life and mind.
If you’d prefer to make your own declutter your life checklist, here are some areas to focus on:
Go through your:
- Wardrobe (closet, dresser drawers, accessories, shoes, etc.)
- Kitchen (pantry and food items, gadgets, and kitchenware)
- Bathroom (Toiletries, shower, towels, and washcloths)
- Office (desk, filing cabinet, paperwork, storage closet)
- Seasonal items (Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving, etc.)
- Junk drawers and junk closets
- Storage lockers, attic, and/or basement
- Kids’ stuff (toys, clothes, strollers, car seats, accessories)
- Entertainment (books, movies, board games, etc.)
- Old electronics (cell phones, laptops, smartwatches, etc.)
- Go through your friends and connections on social media
- Delete old apps on your phone
- Backup your photos to iCloud or Google Photos
Your personal life
- Practice saying “no” to opportunities that don’t energize or fulfill you. This could be a job opportunity that doesn’t align with your passions, time with friends you no longer feel close with, a networking event that doesn’t serve you, and so on.
- Rollover old 401(k)s
- Consolidate loans (if it makes sense for your situation)
- Automate your finances (so you can save money and pay bills in your sleep)
- Download a budgeting app (so you can connect all your accounts and see them in one place)
- Shred old paper files and learn how to declutter paperwork (opt into electronic statements if you haven’t already)
- Curb emotional spending
- Set clear financial goals
What is some decluttering inspiration?
On days when you feel completely overwhelmed by all that’s left to sort through (remember, it won’t happen overnight), let these quotes serve as your decluttering inspiration.
- “Done is better than perfect.” — Sheryl Sandberg
- “Every minute you spend looking through clutter, wondering where you put this or that, being unable to focus because you’re not organized costs you: time you could have spent with family or friends, time you could have been productive around the house, time you could have been making money.” ― Jean Chatzky
- “Edit your life frequently and ruthlessly. It’s your masterpiece after all.” ― Nathan W. Morris
- “The first step in crafting the life you want is to get rid of everything you don’t.” ― Joshua Becker
- “Tidying is the act of confronting yourself.” — Marie Kondo
- “Taking one action today — even if it’s a small one — is better than taking no action at all.” — Cassidy Horton (me)
Be sure to check out our list of best decluttering books for some extra inspiration!
Decluttering your life will improve your finances
Decluttering your life is hard work. But boy, is it worth it! When I first started getting on track financially, decluttering my life was one of the first things I did.
It freed up extra space in my home, mind, and wallet so I could focus on other things — like building my emergency fund, paying off my student loans, and saving up for a cross-country move I’d been dying to make.
I know decluttering your life will do the same for you, too. Set yourself up for success by reading books on decluttering and following the six steps outlined in this guide — and don’t forget to use our free declutter your life checklist to help get you started.