Tuesday 15th January

How to declutter your life

New Years are great times for new beginnings and a fresh approach to life. This can be a little hard to do if you're overwhelmed by the possessions (or is it perhaps junk?) that you've accumulated over the years.

Over time, it's hard to avoid accumulating things which you no longer have any need for, whether for sentimental reasons or because you haven’t got time to tidy. If you’re wondering how to declutter your life, the answer is a step-by-step approach.

Taking the time to do a proper clearout is beneficial, not just for finding things but for feeling mentally lighter. Check out our tips on how to declutter your life and get some information on where all that junk comes from in the first place.

Why we end up with clutter

Whether it’s mountains of magazines, empty glass jars that may come in handy one day or endless souvenirs from our travels, we all have stuff we don’t need at home.

Why do we end up overwhelmed by our possessions? There are plenty of reasons. Some of them are diagnosable psychological disorders, but don't worry too much - this only affects about 2.6% of the Australian population.

Some people are just collectors. Once they have one of something they must have the set. Then, whaddya know, the manufacturer releases a few more must-have items which we feel we can’t go without.

Many of us receive gifts we feel guilty getting rid of. You may not love that green vase but you loved Aunty Irene and she meant well so it is hard to part with it.

Others don’t have time to go through their things and worry that they will need something the day after it has gone in the trash or been passed on to somebody else. It is so easy to pop that rubber band in a drawer, just in case (nevermind there are already 750 of the things in there).

Kids are another dastardly cause of clutter. From an early age, they hate to part with things so it is easier to buy more storage containers than to do battle over a Shopkin.

The benefits of decluttering

While it is nice to have stuff, the number of things you have can get overwhelming. You end up feeling trapped in your own home, embarrassed to ask people over and you can never find what you’re looking for.

Here are some motivators to do a clear-out before we look at how to declutter your life:

  • Less dusting: There’s a reason people call knick-knacks dust collectors. Either you get in there every week and dust everything (and more power to you if you do) or the dust piles up. If anyone in the house has asthma or other respiratory problems, the dust covering your things could cause a serious issue.
  • Less stress: Believe it or not, decluttering can reduce stress considerably. Without stuff everywhere, it is so much easier to find your keys! Not only this, but studies have shown that people who classify their homes as peaceful have lower levels of stress.
  • More focus: Studies have also shown it is much easier to concentrate in an uncluttered environment. The human brain craves stimuli and will find distraction in whatever it can. If you have nothing to look at but your work you can maintain focus.

Overcoming psychological barriers to decluttering

Hopefully, you’re already inspired to get started with a big clean.

If not, you may be suffering from a psychological barrier. These can come in many forms; guilt, sentimentality, a sense of being overwhelmed or the old “it might come in handy” problem.

Ultimately it is up to you to make a change. You’re the decision maker and you need to take the first step (even if this means seeing a therapist to talk about your problems with letting go).

Starting small can help. Get rid of a few things of little to no importance and which are just taking up space. It will probably feel good to have them gone. Once you break the barrier and realise what is possible, you can start taking the next steps.

How to declutter your life: the best place to start

There is no right or wrong way to declutter, just what works for you.

You might want to start small by cleaning out that one drawer you know is a mess, or dive straight in and sort out the worst room in the house first.

Another tactic is to sort your stuff out by category, for example, go through your jeans and decide which ones you no longer need. Then work through your hats, your dishes and your coffee mugs.

Starting with a list of what needs doing is often a good idea too. You can tick things off as you go so you feel a sense of accomplishment

Decluttering techniques

Now it’s time to get into it, there are a few key techniques that you can try:

  • Marie Kondo: Marie Kondo is THE name in decluttering and organisation. Her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, is the bible for organisers and a perfect source to show you how to declutter your life. Marie has a lot to say but her basic mantra is only to keep objects that ‘spark joy’. If they do spark joy but they no longer fit in your home or are worn out, take a moment to ‘thank’ the items and let them go.

A quick Google search will provide plenty of information on Kondo and her methods.

  • Swedish Death Cleaning: A method to downsize in in order for loved ones to deal more easily with your belongings after you die, Swedish Death Cleaning is still useful at any time during your life.

Ok, we know this sounds a bit grim, but the origins are pretty noble. The basic idea is to ask yourself, “Will it make anyone happier if I save this?”  Will your loved ones really want your essay on economics from year 10? Starting with your closest cupboard, simply make a keep pile and a throw pile. You’ll be surprised at what can go.

  • The Traffic Light System: This system is simplicity itself. Label everything either green for keep, red for throw or orange for undecided. Put the orange items in a box and store them for a year. If, after a year, you haven’t looked for them, they can go.

What to do if decluttering is too hard

In theory, this all sounds easy enough. For some people though, the problem of clutter may just be too big. Whether it’s an emotional issue or simply too much work to handle alone, there may be a time you need to call in help.

Friends and family are always a good place to start. Most will be happy to find a weekend to help you out and you will find they don’t suffer from the emotional attachment to your scarf collection that you do. Let them make some of the tough decisions and if it’s all too much, look away!

If family and friends are not an option, there are professionals you can call. These teams will come in and do the work for you. They will clean and sort and declutter and they can even give advice on the value of your items and where to sell them.

Some professional declutterers tell of making their clients money by listing antiques and collectibles on eBay on their behalf, or even having them professionally valued. Your decluttering professional also knows which places are desperate for donations of specific items like handbags or clothing.

How to say goodbye

It may be hard to part with some items that have a strong connection to a lost loved one. Firstly, you don’t have to get rid of it. Some things ARE important and need to stay - no matter how old and seemingly useless they might be.

However, if it does need to go, there are options. You can always take some pictures of the item. Store them digitally or print them out and keep them in an album dedicated to your loved one.

When it comes time for a sentimental item or collectible to go and it is too difficult to throw away or even sell, you can always pass it on. Perhaps a sibling has coveted the piece or maybe it’s time it went to one of your children. Then at least you know it’s staying in the family and you can even visit it from time to time.

What to do with the things you no longer want

Now you’ve sorted everything, what do you do with the stuff you don’t want? First, you can always bin it. Skips are relatively cheap to hire, especially if you shop around. If the item is no good to you, and you don’t think it will be good for anyone else, just chuck it out.

Of course, there is always the option to make a little money from the whole enterprise. The good old garage sale is always great, you can get rid of a whole lot of stuff at once and even make some pocket money. Just remember to price things reasonably - after all, you're aiming to get rid of them.

There are many online methods for selling your old stuff too. Though generally, you will have to sell things individually or in small lots, you can make more than you might at a garage sale. Ebay is always a popular option although Gumtree and Facebook are now more common places to sell second-hand goods.

Take clean clothes which are in good condition to the op-shop for donating or look into overseas organisations which are in need of children's’ belongings.

How to clear the kids’ clutter

No one makes more mess than kids. Unfortunately, it’s up to you to help sort them out.

One of the best ways is to make sure everything has somewhere to go to start with. With that established, a good trick is to have a large basket for each child. When they’re finished playing they must put all their stuff into the basket.

Once a day, or when it gets full, the basket can be emptied out and everything put back in its place. This will at least keep the mess minimal and creates an easy and quick step before the longer task of putting everything away.

The hardest part is getting rid of what the kids don’t need. Go through their clothes regularly and get rid of anything too small or worn out. You can discuss with your kids which toys they might want to donate or wait until they’re out and cull the toys yourself (being careful not to dispose of any true favourites).

One tip is to put toys which don’t get played with away out of sight. If your child doesn’t ask for them for six months, these toys can go to a new home.

How to convince your parents to declutter

Many older folk have almost monumental clutter problems. The problem is, the longer people have their things the harder it can be to part with them. Some of the stuff your parents have might be older than you! So how do you convince them to start the cull?

Leading by example is always a good start. You can tell them and show them how successful you’ve been and how much easier life is without so many belongings.

Tell them you’re an expert now and will be happy to help. Once your parents have let you in the house, start with the kitchen, where items tend to be less sentimental.

When helping your parents to declutter, take it slow and don’t be too pushy. You may need to give them some time to farewell their belongings.

How to maintain the zen and stop ending up back where you started

Once you have achieved decluttering enlightenment, you have to keep it that way! The good news is, maintenance is nowhere near as hard as the initial assault.

Keeping your home organised starts with the One Minute Rule. If a job will take less than a minute, do it immediately. For example, don’t dump your shoes next to the couch, put them away. Rinse your dishes immediately. This means things will stay where they are supposed to be and not end up cluttering the house again.

Secondly, no new junk! Think very carefully before you bring more stuff into your tidy house. You may have made a few bucks from selling stuff and have more room now but resist the urge to spend. There are also strong environmental reasons for reconsidering new purchases. The average person these days has so many more possessions than they did a generation ago. Things have become intentionally disposable, which our planet can't sustain! Considering these statistics might cure you of your desire to go shopping ever again.

Don't forget to reward yourself

One thing that all the decluttering experts say is that as you hit milestones, you need to reward yourself. There's no better way than a night out at MaZi at Lantern Club with a beautiful dinner for the family. Why not book today so you have something to work towards?