10 tips on how to declutter

It’s the beginning of June and that means it’s almost summer. Decluttering better be on your agenda because now is the best time to purge and tidy up. You’ve already packed away your down jacket and those thermal leggings. Yes, indeed we made it through another tough winter. Let’s take it one step further and see what else you can do to organize and eliminate clutter. In part 1, I discussed eight reasons why you should start now. Welcome to part 2 for all of you practical purgers. I’ll be sharing ten tips today on exactly how to declutter. Let’s get right into it.


1. Set a concrete goal
My goal was simple: two suitcases and a carry on. Before I moved to Vietnam, I packed it all up. I couldn’t afford to pay for extra luggage beyond the airline limit anyway. The first step is to set a realistic, concrete goal. Give yourself a space limit or a time limit or, if you’re ambitious, both. Avoid ambiguous goals like “to feel refreshed” or “to get rid of clutter” because you’ll lose motivation early on. Having a concrete goal helps you stay focused and maintain momentum throughout. Write it down and constantly remind yourself of why you are doing this. Good examples are “to fit what I own in the back of my car by next year” or “to eliminate at least half my belongings to create more room in my apartment.” Or you can be admirably extreme like my friend, Jakub and trim down to a suitcase and a backpack.

2. Map out a plan
I started by listing what I absolutely needed. As I progressed, that list grew and then eventually some things were crossed out. Grab a notepad and a pen and start writing down your plan. Make a list of what you need to do and what to get rid of. Decide the order and set deadlines for each task. Design an approach that works with your tidying habits. If it takes you a long time to go through one bookshelf, that’s okay. What’s not okay is setting unrealistic deadlines such as cleaning your entire apartment in one day because that’s not going to happen. Start with the general stuff and then fill in the details. Anticipate your plan to evolve as you progress. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just enough to serve as a guide and a checklist. And most importantly, give yourself ample time to complete this project.

3. Start easy
Decluttering can be overwhelming and emotional so it’s best to start with the easiest part. If you start by going through the pile of poems you wrote in the first grade, you won’t get far since you’re roaming around memory lane. I recommend starting by scanning paperwork and then shredding hard copies (unless it’s your birth certificate, then certainly keep the original). Toss anything out if they passed their shelf life. Get rid of clothes that are old and no longer flatter you and books you don’t plan on rereading, assuming that you read it at least once. Work your way into items that gently tug those nostalgic nerves. When you get to the most difficult part of the project, you’ll already be a pro at decluttering. I guarantee that when you get rid of clutter, it’ll be refreshing and empowering.

4. Compartmentalize
After you’ve gotten rid of some things, begin to compartmentalize the rest of your belongings. This will help you get a better sense of what you own and where your major pain points are. Prior to my big project, I rarely purged so I had a monstrous amount of stuff from my childhood such as toys, dolls, books, journals and costumes. In addition, my clothes were all mixed up and my paperwork was barely organized. To get started, you should go to Target or The Container Store and buy substantially-sized containers to help you compartmentalize. Don’t go crazy and buy too much because you won’t truly know what containers you need until you tidy up. Put books with books, clothes with clothes and paperwork with paperwork. And whatever else you have in between.

5. Evaluate and eliminate
Now that your belongings are categorized, it’s time to make decisions on what to keep and what to discard. You have limited space so you should fill them with items that add value to your life. “Interview” each item and evaluate whether they fall into yes, maybe and no. Put no-brainer items in the yes pile. Eliminate things that are blatantly unimportant (or anything you don’t want). Set aside a maybe pile for items you’re unsure of and can’t be bothered to think about at the moment. When you’ve finished dividing your belongings, go back and revisit the maybe pile. Ask yourself if you have used those items in the past year and if they still fit into your lifestyle. Ultimately, everything in the yes pile should be items that are not only valuable but bring you immense joy.

6. Finish each task completely
It’s absolutely tempting to start in the closet and then move on to the bookshelf before finishing the first one. This is incredibly distracting and can be anxiety-inducing. Trust me, I did that in the beginning and absolutely regretted it. My things were all over the place and I wasted a lot of time and effort trying to re-compartmentalize. Start one task and finish it completely before moving onto the next. I cannot stress this enough. If it takes you a long time to finish the task, then so be it. It’s much better to manage one task slowly rather than to have a lot of things at once and put excess stress on yourself. Your analytical skills become clouded by emotion and anxiety and that is definitely not going to help you be productive in this endeavor. Plus, when you do complete the task, it’s the most rewarding thing in the world to be able to draw a strikethrough on your list.

7. Elicit the help of others
You would be a total superhero if you can do this by yourself. But unfortunately, we’re humans. It’s easy to get discouraged at times and that’s part of the process. Try to outsource tasks that aren’t worth your time. Have a printing company scan your documents. Hire extra hands to help you around the house. You should also elicit the help of friends and family who will provide that objective voice in decisions you try to make. In fact, their judgment might be even better than yours because they don’t have as much of an emotional attachment to your belongings. They will help you understand if something is valuable to your life from a practical standpoint. Additionally, having more hands helping out in the project is great because tasks can be completed quickly. And finally, it’s a nice bonding experience.

8. Take breaks
Since decluttering can be physically and emotionally draining, you should definitely take breaks when needed. I sometimes compare it to writing a senior thesis or training for a marathon. Your brain can feel overloaded at times so it’s important to give yourself breaks in between to recuperate. Use that time to recharge, gain motivation and reflect on your progress. Read articles online on how other people are decluttering and get inspired. Tell others about your project and seek out good advice. Finally, whatever you do, make sure you’re taking a productive break. Don’t go on massive shopping sprees because you got rid a ton of things and “you deserve it.”

9. Sell, donate, give away
This is my favorite part! Sell items that are in good condition to secondhand bookstores and thrift shops. Take advantage of the vast internet and sell things online. Look for apps with a good base of users to increase your chances of getting stuff sold for decent prices. Donate things to Goodwill and The Salvation Army and make sure you get a tax deduction slip. Give out things that you’ve outgrown and no longer need. It might be a good idea to host a clothing swap or general giveaway tea parties and let your friends and family take anything you’re getting rid of. You can also gather people together and have a public garage sale. Be creative with your approach to getting rid of stuff and have fun with it. You will be surprised with how much people are willing to take things off your hands. This part does take time so be patient and plan well.

10. Organize, categorize and breathe
Once you have a solid idea of what you’re keeping, organize and store them away by category. Take a trip back to The Container Store and pick up containers and boxes you need to keep your belongings effortlessly organized. I use plastic drawers to keep items that I’m constantly using for ease of reach while I have boxes with lids for things that are not as needed. Keep your belongings categorized. My jewelry used to be in many tiny boxes but now I have a nice box to keep them in one place. Compartmentalizing everything is key to maintaining the simple, clutter-free lifestyle. Whatever you do, again, don’t go out shopping and try to fill your place with more stuff. And finally, give yourself credit for finishing this project like a boss and take a nice breather.

Depending on your goal and lifestyle, this might be a one-time project or an ongoing endeavor. I’m a compulsive declutterer, as you already know, so I’m always looking for ways to trim down to the bare essentials. I’m planning a red Burberry trench coat purchase in the future so I envision my wardrobe pairing down to the fundamental neutrals of black, white, navy and grey. I’m digitizing as much as I can so I try not to keep more than twenty physical books. For now, I plan on growing professionally in New York City but I’m definitely ready to pick up and adapt the nomadic lifestyle if the opportunity comes along.




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