Mindful

Do you find yourself surrounded by too much stuff? Basement or attic brimming with things you haven’t used in years? Closets haunted by clothing from other eras? Have you rented a storage unit and filled it with stuff you never even look at? Enough! That stuff isn’t just cluttering your living space. It’s clogging up your mind. Here are suggestions for creating a clutter-free frame of mind and letting go of lots of stuff.

1) Create breathing room

The result of decluttering can be more open space. You can create a space you enjoy being in, instead of feeling like you’re surrounded by Jenga towers and rats’ nests of stuff. Designate a space for nothing. It’s a refuge from chaos, and your home will feel more uplifted when you walk in.

2) Don’t dread it. Enjoy it. 

If you just keep focusing on how miserable a task it’s going to be to sort through and offload decades of junk that you and your partner and your children have collected from various life stages, you will never take it on. It will just nag at you. Instead, contemplate the joy of purging your living space of the old moldy detritus of bygone days. It will be a load lifted. Letting go is a joy.

3) Take manageable bites or make it a BIG project

When you’re clear why you’re doing it—and how much fun it’s going to be!—you can get down to business. It helps to figure out what strategy fits your situation. If you have a lot of responsibilities (children, aging parent, start-up company) it’s probably hard to get big blocks of free time, so it may make sense to tackle the mess project by project, closet by closet, spending a couple of hours at a time. But some of us will never finish the job unless we take it all on at once—following Marie Kondo’s advice in the best-selling The Lifechanging Magic of Tidying Up—and make it into a festival of decluttering. (You can combine both approaches: the bite-sized approach can be the prelude to a big final push.) Figure this out early on—so you do less planning and more doing.

4) Find a clutter buddy

Trying to make tough decisions about whether to keep your daughter’s third grade art or the leash from the dog you had growing up? A friend can help you come to your senses and practice letting go. (If you have grown children, you can enlist them. If they want those old toys and board books, they’ll have to take them.)

5) Use three boxes

When digging through closets and cupboards, label three boxes to receive the items: keep, donate, and throw away. Start sorting.

6) “Not sure” box

You may need a fourth box
for stuff you’re not sure you should keep but can’t throw away on a whim. The not-sure box prevents you from deliberating for hours, fondling tattered teddy bears and speculating about whether it’s time to revive your passion for home canning. That can leave you exhausted. But if the box overflows too quickly, you might have to check yourself (this is a good time to deploy your clutter buddy).

7) Three-year rule

If you haven’t used it in three years, chuck it—this applies to clothing, kitchen gadgetry, geegaws stuffed away in the basement, gardening tools… you name it. Chances are no matter how nifty the gadget or how memorable the outfit, if you haven’t put it on or used it in three years it’s not worth your space.

8) Repurpose if the purpose is clear

Got a spare dresser you’ve cleared out? Good job! If you can think of a clear use for this newly liberated piece of furniture, repurpose it. But if you’re reaching for an excuse to hang on—I’ve had that thing since my first college apartment!—it’s time to let go. You might surprise yourself with how liberated you’ll feel.

9) Keep your shoes on the floor

Shoes have a way of taking up a lot of floor space in closets, in entryways, in mud rooms. Scattered about on the floor, they have a way of making a place feel very disordered. They can also make a closet impossible to navigate. Get some simple shelving, a rack, or a hanging shoe holder. Floor space will instantly open up. Don’t have room to store them other than on the floor? Get rid of some of your shoes or remove something else to make space to stow them. Yet another excuse for offloading excess crap!

10) Beautify!

Embellish your closets—or any nook or cranny where things like to pile up—with nice framed art or another special thing. Now you’ll think twice before you desecrate this uplifting space with mounds of junk.

11) Have a sense of humor

Sorting and wading through piles of useless things, unearthing prior and some- times painful parts of your life, realizing you mindlessly acquired a bunch of stuff and then held onto it out of the mistaken belief that these random objects held eternal meaning—this can put you in a funk. No biggie. Humans hoard. Humans are silly. You’re human. Laugh it off.

This article also appeared in the April 2015 issue of Mindful magazine.

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