How to start decluttering your home in the next 30 minutes

You’re here because you’re at your wits’ end with all the clutter inside your house.
 
I know. I was where you are right now. I used to sit in my living room looking at everything I needed to organize. The more I looked, the less motivation I had.
 
Over the TV, the shelves filled with memorabilia, books of every subject, an army of little things. Each closet is a trap. I open drawers, look at all the clutter inside and quickly close them again, wishing it will go away on its own.
 
My home wasn’t a happy place to live in. At first, I thought it was depression. I spent a lot of time indoors during the weekend, feeling sad and powerless. I lived like this for many years, and I didn’t realize how much my cluttered house was to blame.
 
There was always a little tension when I needed something in a hurry. I wasted a lot of time trying to keep track of things I need around the house.
 
It was too much to handle. How did all these things get here in the first place? How did I let so much stuff get accumulated? I felt there was a sense of failure to all this, how could I let things get to this point? Have I become a hoarder?
 
But the important question was: how do I get my living space back?

See Behind the Scenes

Before any actual writing starts, a creative brief is produced to set things such as:

  • The target audience;
  • The tone and style used;
  • Any target keywords;
 
Take a look at the creative brief used to produce this post.
I had a lot of people giving me advice, pointing me to organization techniques and all kinds of hacks. I was tired of reading up on yet another miraculous solution for my problem. It didn’t get me started. It didn’t get me going.
 
I read, and read, and read. Nothing happened.
 
One weekend I was so frustrated I yelled myself off the couch. I got a trash bag and swiped everything I had on top of the coffee table inside. I took it out of the house and placed it in the bin.
 
I was still upset when I came back in, but seeing the coffee table finally clear after so many months…

Oh, my. That was the flicker of hope I needed!
 
This irrational action gave me the sensation that I could do it. If it is as easy as taking things out of the house, then maybe there’s still a chance to get my home back.
 
So, if you’ve been reading a lot of advice, make this the last piece of advice you’ll ever read. I am holding you accountable for getting it done. You don’t need to do it all today, you don’t need to think of it as a monstrous task that will never be finished. Let’s get practical.
 
Follow along and, in the end, you’ll have:
  1. A list to guide you;
  2. A schedule to make it happen;
  3. Tips to prevent the clutter from ever coming back.
 
Ready? Let’s begin!

3 steps to get started

Step 1: Create a checklist

“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

How do you declutter a home? Biting away one object at a time. Not literally, of course.

A checklist is an important part of the process because it allows you to break down the task into manageable chunks. Also, it’s good for checking your progress, see how your efforts are going at a glance.
 
So, grab a piece of paper or your word processor of choice and write down:
  1. The rooms in your house;
  2. The specific areas inside each room. For instance, my bedroom has two closets, the area below the bed and nightstand drawers;
 
Now, look at this list. Take it with you and visit the specific places in your house it refers to. Did you forget any area? Make sure this list is complete.
 
Now, choose the room where you’ll start. You don’t have to set a clear order after the starting point if you don’t want to.

Step 2: Set a schedule

You know what you have to do, now you need to set the time aside to do it.
 
Don’t think about setting a full day, or even many hours to get this done. This is not about willpower. You have nothing to prove. It is about doing a little each day, consistently, and the results will speak for themselves.
 
Set a timer on your phone to 30 minutes. While those 30 minutes are going, stick to one of the areas in your house that you wrote down on your list.
 
If after the alarm rings you still feel pumped to go on, then put 30 more minutes and keep going. But remember, don’t force yourself. This is a marathon, not a sprint.

Step 3: have a sorting strategy

To help you keep control over the objects as you move them around, set three bags for:
  • Items you want to throw away;
  • Objects that you want to donate and/or sell;
  • Undecided items, where you still don’t know if you’ll be keeping them or not.
 
This last bag I mentioned is optional. It presents an added risk: if you’re too indecisive you might end up with a lot of things in this bag. This will lead to a lot more sorting work in the future. Keep this in mind, save yourself the future trouble and, in doubt, let it go.

How to stay on track

Right, so now you have the list, a schedule and a way to sort things around the house. In the next few days, you’ll come across some tricky challenges.

The process wasn’t smooth for me and it’s very likely that you’ll have a similar experience. Here are a few tips I can share to help you with your project.

Procrastination

I am a professional procrastinator. Simple things can take hours, even weeks to get done. I improved a bit after understanding the science behind procrastination.
 
You see, when there’s something we recognize we must do and it appears troublesome in any way, there’s a pain signal going inside the brain. As we’re wired to avoid pain, we switch to a more pleasant task, usually with better short-term benefits. But these rarely align with our long-term goals.
 
What is interesting about this pain signal is that it only lasts for a couple of minutes after you start the activity you wanted to avoid. This means that, even though it was difficult to start, once you start you can enjoy it.
 
The most difficult thing is starting. Once you do, things will feel simpler.
 
This is the reason why I started decluttering only 30 minutes a day every day. Doing something for 30 minutes is manageable enough for my brain, it doesn’t feel like a huge effort. And I know that after the alarm marks the end I can stop, drop what I’m doing, and be confident that I made good progress.

Focus

Ok, you decided to clear your bathroom of clutter as your top priority. On the way to the bathroom, you notice your study could use a clean-up today.
 
This is tricky. Of course, working on the study is beneficial. But it is important you stick to your plan.
 
Why? You need to see the results of your effort. You need to see them as soon as possible. If you don’t, you’ll feel the strain of work without any reward.
 
In this example, it is better to commit to the bathroom until you’re completely done with it. You’ll feel good for two reasons: looking at the organized space, and feeling like you did a good job.
 
Don’t lose focus. Stick to the list.

Decisions

You will come across many different things. You’ll feel joy, nostalgia, even anger. Sometimes all three within the same closet.
 
Some objects you’ll clearly know if you want to keep them or throw them away. Others will represent a bigger challenge.
 
For things without emotional significance, in doubt, I always threw them away. We’re trying to get space back, so the safer option is to be decisive here.
 
For the items that trigger emotions, you’ll have to see how important it is. You don’t have to throw everything away, of course. But even if you decide to let a special memento go, you’ll still have the memory associated with it.
 
The objects are not your emotions. In the same way, these objects don’t characterize you. You don’t need to keep them around to still have all the experiences you cherish. Let them go. I felt a lot of freedom in doing this, and I hope you can feel the same way too.

Beware the useful stuff

You will come across many different things. You’ll feel joy, nostalgia, even anger. Sometimes all three within the same closet.
 
Some objects you’ll clearly know if you want to keep them or throw them away. Others will represent a bigger challenge.
 
For things without emotional significance, in doubt, I always threw them away. We’re trying to get space back, so the safer option is to be decisive here.
 
For the items that trigger emotions, you’ll have to see how important it is. You don’t have to throw everything away, of course. But even if you decide to let a special memento go, you’ll still have the memory associated with it.
 
The objects are not your emotions. In the same way, these objects don’t characterize you. You don’t need to keep them around to still have all the experiences you cherish. Let them go. I felt a lot of freedom in doing this, and I hope you can feel the same way too.

No new purchases

During your decluttering project, it is important not to buy anything new. Your main focus is taking things out, creating space, not bringing new things in.
 
There’s one more thing. After you’re done your house will feel different. That might be an opportunity to work on the style of your home. But right now we’re decluttering, so let’s not focus on that.

Hard time letting go? Say "thank you."

I watched Marie Kondo’s decluttering TV series. I confess, I thought the ritualistic aspect wasn’t important. Then I started thanking the objects that I was sending away.
 
They didn’t feel anything, but I did. There’s a sense of closure associated with gratitude that allowed me to move on. This can be helpful when you have to say goodbye to objects with emotional impact.

Don't give up

There isn’t a lot to say about this topic, it’s pretty self-explanatory.

Trust that you’re progressing bit by bit. The results will come. Hundreds of baby steps can cover a large distance. Trust these small results.

Don’t give up.

And then...

You followed your plan. You kept to your schedule religiously, made an honest effort to declutter, said goodbye to many objects that once defined you.
 
Look around your house. How does it feel?
 
There’s more space. The surfaces have fewer objects, the ones you really need and value, not loads of distracting things. There’s room for possibility.
 
When I finished, I sat in my living room. The nagging sensation to get up and organize was gone. The shelves look great. The area on top of the TV is finally the way I want it to be. The coffee table is still clear, after that first raging effort!
 
I could finally relax. And you will be able too, sooner than you think!

Don't let it come back

Completing a decluttering project is a great feeling, but you’re not safe from junk coming back again. You need to keep using some of the habits you developed during this process.
 
This is a great time to draft an on-going plan for you and for your family. Nothing big or complex, just some guidelines to keep your living space enjoyable.

before you buy anything new, ask yourself

  1. Do I really need it?
  2. Will I use it many times? If not, consider renting or borrowing from someone else.
  3. Ok, I need it. Where will I put it? Do I have space to store it?
 
As you buy new things, consider letting go of one thing. One in, one out. This will keep the number of objects inside your home balanced.

Keep the schedule active

If you’ve kept to the project for more than 30 days, you might have developed the habit of organizing.
 
Use those 30 daily minutes to sort through bills, see to clutter building up in the kitchen or the bathroom. These sessions will be much easier than the ones you had during the project, but no less important for the long-term organization of your home.

Receiving objects from friends and relatives

A friend or a relative will sometimes want to give you something they don’t need. Maybe they think you’ll give it good use.
 
This is an innocent trap. Their well-meaning intentions will leave you with an object that you can’t dispose of. It will seem to you like a disrespectful thing to do.
 
If getting rid of these objects will be noticeable by the giver, consider talking to them. Explain how this object doesn’t fit your needs. Do so in a gentle manner, so they won’t feel like you’re rejecting their offer. You’re only keeping your space organized.
 
When someone passes away in your family, you might be faced with their possessions. Understand that their belongings don’t contain their essence. Their memory will always be with you. Choose a small selection of significant objects to keep, and donate the rest.

Go digital

With so many parts of our life going digital, it is easy to dematerialize stuff you had to keep around in the past.
 
You can:
  • Receive your bills electronically in your e-mail;
  • Digitize old photographs and notebooks;
  • Invest in ebooks;
  • Rely on streaming services for music and films.

Time to get down to it

When you read articles about decluttering, you might nod your head at each bullet point. You feel better knowing that there’s a way out, there’s hope for your home. But it won’t be a reality if you don’t commit to the work.
 
You might be tempted, like I was, to read one more article or guide about decluttering. There’s that feeling you need to know one more thing to get started. You get that small glimmer of hope again, but you’ll let it die if you don’t follow through.
 
Don’t let it die this time.
 
You already know what you must do. You have it within you. You are fully capable of fighting against that avalanche of stuff and come out victorious.
 
This is it. Grab your list, set that 30-minute alarm and take the first step to a more organized and enjoyable home.
 
Photo by DESIGNECOLOGIST on Unsplash

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