Decluttering is a big job. When you’ve got years – or even decades – of accumulated stuff, sifting through your belongings can feel nearly impossible. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed at the thought of making sense of all your things. But you can declutter your house in one super-simple step without buying a fancy organization system or blocking out a whole weekend. All you need is a minute or two each day. You’ll be surprised at how much progress you can make with minimal effort.
My husband and I have moved three times together. Our first move was from our respective parent’s houses into a two-bedroom apartment that was 900 square feet on a good day. As newly minted college grads, our belongings were mostly hand-me-downs from family and friends. The dingy white walls of our humble abode went virtually undecorated – save for a few small photos – and we couldn’t afford to buy extraneous knick-knacks, trinkets, or tchotchkes. We subsisted on Ramen noodles and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made with the cheapest store-brand bread we could find.
When our lease was up two years later, we bought a cute 1,200 square foot ranch with vaulted ceilings and a galley kitchen. Now that we had a place to call our own, we went to town buying furniture, linens, kitchen gadgets, and gobs of other “necessities” to upgrade our space. We packed the hand-me-downs away in the unfinished basement and convinced ourselves that we’d give them away or sell them at a garage sale someday. Six years later, those boxes – caked in dust and cobwebs by then – laid untouched. Over the years, the smooth cement floor had transformed into an awkward menagerie of castaway objects that accumulated during our tenure.
When we decided to start a family, we looked for a new, larger space. We scoured the market for months with no luck until finally we stumbled upon a 3,600+ square foot behemoth of a house. It was a smidge outside of our price range and much larger than what we thought we’d need, but we fell in love with its white crown molding, hardwood floors, and open design.
The thing about big spaces, however, is that unless you want them to look barren, you need to fill them with stuff. Some of the items we chose are useful, such as the dining room table and an extra sofa. And some of the objects are beloved and beautiful, like original artwork from my sister in law and souvenirs from vacations to the Caribbean islands. About a year after moving into this mini-mansion, our dreams of starting a family came true. Our precious little boy brought us joy, fulfillment, pride… and more stuff. Blankets, pacifiers, miniature utensils, toys (so. many. toys.); you name it, we had it.
Cracking Down On Clutter
Now that our boys are almost 4 and 2, the number of “things” in our house has increased exponentially. Being surrounded by unnecessary crap makes me anxious, so I’ve spent the last few months digging myself out from under loads of household posessions. First, I tried the KonMari method. This approach involves gathering up every item in a given room, holding each object in your hands, and keeping only those which “spark joy”. I quickly discovered this path requires mindfulness and a substantial block of free time. I searched my calendar for an opportunity for several hours of quiet contemplation. I’m a mom though (remember?) so that space doesn’t exist.
I also tried the capsule method of closet organization. This one wouldn’t help me with the rest of my house, but it would help with my closet, and that seemed like a good place to start. This system demands paring your wardrobe down from however many things are there (200?) to just 33 items. It sounded marvelous until I realized that those 33 items are supposed to include accessories (like sunglasses and handbags) and jewelry! I broke into a cold sweat thinking of all the beautiful – if a bit eccentric – necklaces I’d have to part with if I pressed on with this mission.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single stepChinese proverb
I couldn’t shake the feeling that there must be a better, simpler, and less stressful way to declutter my house. Whatever the ideal solution was, it had to be something that didn’t take up a lot of time and didn’t add stress to my life. After all, isn’t one of the goals of decluttering to feel less stressed?
The 1 Simple Step
Instead of subscribing to one of the methods en vogue right now, I took a different route. I decluttered my house in 1 simple step. It’s easy: I purge one item per day from my house. It can be something big, like a rarely-used kitchen gizmo taking up too much valuable space in my cabinets. Or, it can be something as tiny as a pair of earrings that, despite going out of style in 2005, are still loitering in my jewelry case. I’ve used this method to get rid of everything from clothes to expired cold medicine and even a waffle maker.
Here’s how you can put this into practice: Each day, pick one thing that needs to go. Once you decide what it is, classify it into one of three categories.
Category #1: Donate
Donate things that are in good or great condition. But remember: other people don’t want your crap any more than you do, so faded t-shirts or tarnished costume baubles do not make the cut. Too often, we donate things for our benefit; to feel good about ourselves for not “wasting” things. But we aren’t doing the recipient or the environment any favors by pushing our worn-out possessions onto someone else.
Category #2: Sell
If something has substantial value and you could use a little extra cash, go ahead and sell it. I have a basic rule that unless I’m preparing for a garage sale, I don’t attempt to sell anything valued at under $10. It’s just not worth the time to list the item, find a buyer, coordinate with said buyer, and schlep the item to the meeting spot. Set your own minimum value and stick to it. For small goods that fall below your threshold, redirect them to either the donate or toss category. If it’s low value but in really good condition, set it aside for a friend or take it to a thrift shop. Otherwise, into the trash heap it goes.
Category #3: Toss
This category is the easiest one to choose from a logistic standpoint, but the hardest to pick on an economic or emotional level. Unfortunately, some items just belong here. If it’s not in good enough shape to donate and not worth the hassle of selling, toss it into the garbage and use the icky feeling that results as fuel to make a better shopping choice next time.
Here’s a little tough love for ya: Whatever you do, don’t dwell on the amount of money you spent on the item or hold onto some unwanted thing just because of how much you paid for it. Get familiar with the term “sunk costs”, which refers to money that has already been spent and can’t be recovered. No amount of hemming and hawing or self-pity is going to put that cash back into your pocket, so just let it go.
Prevent More Clutter
As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The best way to prevent clutter from collecting in your house in the first place is to avoid unnecessary purchases. Not only is this good practice for your checkbook but you also interrupt the cycle of clutter for good. Next time you’re wandering through the clearance aisle at Target eyeing some cheap wooden sign that says “gather” on it, remind yourself that someday this, too, will need to be purged.
How do you keep your house organized? Do you think the one-item-per-day approach would work for you? Share your thoughts in the comments below!