3 Practical Ways to Declutter Your Life by Laura Grotenhuis, LPC

Have you ever started a project with great intentions only to become overwhelmed almost as soon as you start? I am in the process of cleaning out my basement. I have attempted to tackle parts of my basement in the past, but after sorting through a couple of items I ended up feeling discouraged, paralyzed and ultimately defeated. Sometimes we just need the right motivation to get things started.

Before image of a cluttered office space

My motivation is my son. He is a month shy of being 16 years old. Our basement was once a space where he created with Legos for hours on end. He is super organized and has an engineering type brain. We loved being down there together...me sewing and him building. But the Lego era is over. So I am redesigning to accommodate a hang-out space for him and his friends.  This was just the inspiration I've needed to re-order and re-create my basement.

The interesting thing is that I could have just moved "my treasures" around, but instead I am going through every box, every shelf, and every corner of the basement. I finally have the impetus I need to get started on what seems like the impossible…simplifying, decluttering, and letting go.

You see, my husband passed away 2 ½ years ago, which along with grieving his loss and figuring out our new life without him, includes navigating the ‘stuff’ that a person accumulates over the years. The great thing is that my husband wasn’t a pack rat, but he was sentimental, so the amount of his things are manageable. I on the other hand tend to save just about anything that has sentimental value, economic value or is something that I might use in the future. Can you imagine the amount of stuff that is?

The worst part of it all is that I am a recovering perfectionist. Perfectionism takes different forms for different people. Personally, I like to have things perfectly organized, but I also tend to keep too many things to make that a reality. To make matters worse, I get super frustrated when I happen to need something I used to own and now I have to go buy a new one! I think you are beginning to see the dilemma here: ‘A place for everything and everything in its place’ vs. super-frugal, ‘you might need that someday’. Sometimes it’s awful being me.

Every once in a while though, I am a super hero: Decluttering Girl! I have the ability to think with Wise Mind (that special place where logic and emotion find equal balance) and therefore I'm able to get rid of the things that I don’t use or don’t add value/joy to my life. And wow does it feel good! No doubt I will end up donating some things that I will miss or wish I had, but for the most part I am so thankful to be ‘lightening the load’!!

Are you ready to declutter? Here are 3 practical ideas:

1.      Just Do the Next Thing. Most people become overwhelmed when a task is too large. For example: if we saw all of the laundry that we will do in our lifetime piled up in front of us, we would say, ‘it’s too much, I can’t handle it’. The truth is we don’t do it all at once. We do a few loads a week and that is how we tackle the literal mountain of laundry. Any task can be done the same way.

2.      Become an Investigator. Ask yourself some simple questions, when it comes to deciding what to keep and what to throw away.

These are the questions I ask for practical items:

  • How long has it been since I’ve used/needed this? (If it has been longer than 3 years, I’m getting rid of it.)

  • Will keeping this item be useful, even if I don’t use it? Example: I have recently gone down a clothing size and decided to keep one tote of bigger clothes, ‘just in case’.

  • If I really need this item in the future, can I replace it at a reasonable price?

I asked these questions for sentimental items:

  • Does this item bring me joy when I look at it or just knowing that I have it?

  • Is there a more appropriate item that I can keep to remind me of this person, place or time of my life?

  • Will a picture of this item preserve the memory just as well?

3.      Tell yourself the truth. I believe part of the reason I have failed to declutter in the past are all the lies that have bombarded me in the process. Here are some examples:

Lie: Aunt Lucy gave this to me, I can’t possibly get rid of it.

Truth: Aunt Lucy would not want me to keep this if it serves no purpose (sentimental or otherwise).

Lie: I can’t go through this whole box, I’ll just deal with it later.

Truth: Getting rid of things now means that someone else will not need to get rid of it later (including me). Procrastinating puts a larger burden on me than I realize. I will probably never ‘feel’ like looking through this box, but I will feel better when I do.

Lie: Keeping this stuff is no big deal, it doesn’t hurt me.

Truth: Managing clutter takes time and energy. Keeping things I don’t use, makes it harder to find the things I do use. Less clutter allows me to live more effectively in the present and do what I truly love.

after picture of a decluttered room

Although each of these suggestions are very useful, decluttering can be more complicated than that. Some people struggle with stubborn barriers that impede their ability to declutter. These may be Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, hoarding, Depression or Anxiety, each of which interfere with our ability to think clearly. If you struggle with any of those problems, finding support and help from a counselor can be exactly what you need to move forward.

Finally, remember that progress, not perfection is the goal. With the right mindset and motivation, you can do it!

cover image of a before and after pictures depicting decluttering your space.