Before you start throwing things away willy-nilly, we should first explore a few schools of thought on the simplification process. It pays to know which system will work best for you both for this purge and for keeping yourself on track afterward.
Five Methods of Decluttering
None of these methods are “more right” than the others. In fact, the right one is the one that is easiest for you to do. The easier it is, the more likely you’ll do it, and keep doing it.
We always advocate the easiest method because if it is too hard you simply won’t do it. We aren’t going to fight human nature; we’re going to work with it to get the best results.
One thing in, one thing out
Are you happy with your space and number of possessions? Then this is the method for you. The vast majority of people are not here yet, but this is a good practice to put into play even now.
For example, say you recently bought three shirts to replace some old ones in your closet. Following this rule, you would immediately donate/recycle/trash three old shirts as soon as the new ones come into your house.
It may sound like a small thing, but this practice will keep you from accumulating more unnecessary stuff as you begin the work to declutter the rest of your house and set you up for good habits going forward. By adopting this process now you can stem the flow of things into your life.
Now that we carry everything we own in two (2) backpacks this is the method we live by every day. While it was certainly not always this way, we love this approach whether you own 25 pounds (12kg) of possessions like we do or enough to fill a large home. Now we spent time thinking about every purchase and trying to determine what we need to throw away in order to make the acquisition. More times than not we end up passing on the new purchase and saving the money as well as the additional stuff.
Relieve yourself of a thing a day
Can you part with just one thing every day until you hit your simplification “sweet spot?” There are groups online documenting their decluttering efforts, and each post is usually a list of what was taken in as well as “relieved” that day. (It can make for some really funny reading, until you run across items you actually own.)
When you relieve yourself of just one thing a day you have to keep in mind what you are taking in as well, so if you bring in a new book then two other things have to go to keep the number of possessions at a net -1 from the previous day. This method can be amped up based on your level of motivation on any given day.
The key to this method is to define a total number of possessions you want to get rid of or number days you want to do this. The nice thing is you can start off at thirty days and see big progress and get yourself used to the decluttering process.
Small is the new significant
Decluttering does not have to be a huge ordeal that takes entire weekends for a year.
The Japanese principle of Kaizen states that numerous small improvements done continuously are more effective than big improvements done sporadically.
Do you have fifteen minutes a day to clean out a drawer, recycle old magazines, or combine your duplicate cleaning products? This is progress, and every day you can easily build on it by making another small continuous improvement. Remember, small is the new significant.
Getting started is often the hardest part of decluttering, and by promising yourself fifteen minutes of daily effort, you’ll often find yourself sticking with it for an hour or more. Once you get over the hump of starting, you’ll be motivated to keep going.
One complete project at a time
It can be overwhelming to think of decluttering your entire home and office, especially if you are the only one who wants to do it. By breaking the job down into smaller complete projects, it will be easier to reach your goal.
If you have one day a month to devote to decluttering, think about a project you can actually finish. And by finish we mean completely decluttered, trash taken out, donations made, things sold or moved to the staging area (more on this later), and recyclables in bins.
If you leave any little piece of this undone, it will only add to your clutter and frustration. Better to completely declutter one closet than to attempt three and have bags of clothes to donate in your garage for the next year.
Cash for clutter
You’ve probably seen those shows on TV: Clean House, Clean Sweep and the like. Part of the entire decluttering/organizing process in the show is a yard sale to raise money for redecorating. In each episode is seems the people are surprised at how much money can be made.
You can sell your items through a yard sale, online at Craigslist or eBay, or through consignment shops or specialty stores.
One key to this method is to have a “staging area” in your home. By removing the items from your daily life, you can continue your decluttering process until the item is sold.
Keep your staging area relatively small because the goal is to move it out fast, like inventory at a store. If you make it big, like the entire garage, you’ll just end up with another permanent storage area.
One rule is to have a sell-by date – a yard sale on the calendar, a schedule for listing items online, or a date to deliver items to consignment and specialty shops. Otherwise, your staging area will turn into a huge clutter zone before you know it.
This is the area where Warren excels. He turned our house into a Craigslist shopping mall. Each week for two years he would put items on sale by taking pictures, posting them, and moving them down to our staging area (aka, the den). Every single time he did it we were one step closer to living our dream life, and the pileup of cash made it easier for Betsy to let go of her packrat tendencies.
What method works for you?
During our years of paring down we experimented with all of these methods and used each to different degrees. The one that proved the “most fun” (in Warren’s words) was the cash for clutter system with Craigslist and our shared focus on small is the new significant.
The key is to dive in and start trying one out today. See how you feel after living with the new model for a couple weeks. Then you can try another until you find a fit with your goals and comfort level. In the end, focusing long-term on the one that fits you best will help you stay on track.
With a firm strategy in place, you will be able to easily dispose of your unwanted items and have a little extra cash in your pocket to celebrate your newfound simplicity.