Today, I’m going to be a giant hypocrite. I’ve written previously about how I don’t like “How-To” guides for living minimally. This is because I feel they take the onus of responsibility off the person starting their minimalist journey.
I had a real-life, non-blog world friend ask me on my Facebook page about where to even start in terms of decluttering. And I realized, I’ve never fully shared what I did when I started out. So now I’m going to.
Mega-Disclaimer: This is less of a ” Do this and you will be a minimalist” article, and more of an “I did it this way, maybe parts of it will resonate with you?” article.
With that caveat out of the way, let’s get to it! (Settle in, this is a long one!)
Have a Reason
Chances are, if you’re reading this, you have more than a casual interest in minimalism. So ask yourself, why do you want to go through the sometimes long, tedious and downright boring process of decluttering?
It could be to help you get out of debt, simplify your life or make room in your life for the things that you love to do. In my case, it was all three. And, in particular, I started down this minimalist road as part of my tiny house plan. Whatever it is for you, write it down and keep it somewhere you can see it.
If you’re constantly reminded of your ‘why’, it will be much easier to stick with the decluttering process.
I really cannot stress this enough. If you are anything like me, when you start something new, you want to go all-in immediately.
But, don’t forget, your ‘stuff’ isn’t going anywhere. So don’t feel like you have to chuck everything you own on Day 1. You also don’t have to start with the ‘big’ stuff (like furniture or mementos). Start small. Literally.
My first decluttering efforted started with something very small – the junk drawer in my desk. It wasn’t glamorous or particularly memorable, but it was an easy way to get started without being discouraged.
Declutter By Room/Area
Now, this goes against the KonMari method – but it’s what worked for me and my hyper-logical brain. It’s also pretty self-explanatory. Declutter one room or area of your house at a time, and then move on to the next. Bedroom–> Kitchen–> Bathroom (or whatever order makes sense to you).
There is a practical reason for this (that goes back to Start Slow). Breaking your decluttering down into chunks may be more manageable for you in the long term. It will also keep you from running around your house looking for every last sock so you can go through all your clothes at once.
Use It/Love It/Repurpose It or Toss It. End of Story.
There is a lot of room for interpretation here, and that’s the point. No one can tell you what adds value to your life. But, if an item falls into one of these categories (don’t use, don’t love or can’t repurpose), it’s probably safe to get rid of it.
When I first starting decluttering, the majority of my ‘stuff’ fell into the ‘don’t use’ category. Now, several years on, it’s morphed more into ‘can’t repurpose’. Once you start editing your life, you might notice something similar.
Pick Your Pile
Once you’ve picked your starting point, make 4 piles: toss, donate, sell, repurpose.
The toss pile is for stuff that no one else would be able to use (i.e. anything broken or worn-out). Make sure to check your local area for special drop-off locations/times if you have toxic items that need to be disposed of, like paint, solvent, nail polish, etc.
My general rule is, if I wouldn’t want to use or wear an item because of the condition it’s in, probably no one else would either.
The donate pile can be donations for a second-hand store or friends and family. An even better option would be to find specific charities that accept items on behalf of particular groups (like Project Beauty Share that accepts makeup and toiletries and distributes them to women’s shelters).
I sometimes struggle with the wasteful aspect of minimalism that can arise from dumping all your stuff onto someone or something else. So, if I can find a meaningful home for an item, I’ll do it.
The sell pile is for your best possessions. Stuff that is in great working order, but you just don’t need or use anymore. The biggest piece of advice I can give you here is: Be realistic.
If you’ve read any of my Minimized Monthlies, you’ll notice that I have marked a couple of items to be sold. The problem is, I haven’t sold any of them so far.
It takes time, effort & coordination to sell your stuff, so don’t put an item in your sell pile unless you absolutely wouldn’t part with it without money.
For me, the problem is geographic. I live in a rural area where demand is low. But, if you live in a more urban area, you might have more success than me!
The repurpose pile is for the crafty people out there. If you have something that doesn’t quite work for you right now – change it so it does! Have a beautiful pot collecting dust? Turn it into a planter! Have an old shirt that has sentimental value and lots of holes? Put it in a frame and turn it into art!
Case in point – I had a lovely 2nd hand shirt from a fancy brand that I almost never wore because I didn’t like the collar on it. Solution? I cut the collar off and now I wear the shirt all the time!
Like I said above, minimalism can be wasteful in the beginning. So, if you can find a way to reuse an item (in a way that you’ll actually use it) – then give it a try! If you choose to go this route, give yourself a deadline. If you haven’t done the repurposing in a certain amount of time, you likely never will. Add it to the donate pile and move on!
Get It Out of Your House
If you’ve followed me so far, you’ve ended up with three or four piles of stuff – now what?
Your toss and donate piles need to get out of your house ASAP! I keep a big Rubbermaid storage tote in our utility room that I put ‘to donate’ items in -once it’s full, off to our local charity shop we go. Nothing will foil your hard work like keeping your unwanted stuff around – that’s how temptation starts!
If you have sell or repurpose piles, give yourself some time to tackle each item and make a game plan depending on what you want to do with it. Dealing with these piles will take more time, but the payoff (literally, in the case of the sell pile) will be worth it.
I asked for your questions specific to getting started with decluttering on all of my social media platforms and I had one taker! (If you have one, post it as a comment below and I’ll answer it in a future post).
Samantha asked: I’m moving, and hoping to downsize even more! Where do I even start? Help!
This question has been on my mind since I too am moving soon!
For starters, it might be useful to look around at everything you still own and ask “Do I really want to go through the hassle of moving this?” If you are feeling stressed and worn out just from thinking about having to pack, move, and unpack something, you can probably kick it to the curb.
And, since you asked, chances are you already have a couple things in mind you want to part with. Now you just have to follow through.
- If you want to go the extreme route, you could pack up everything you own now and only unpack it as you use it. Set yourself a deadline (like three weeks), and at the end of that time, get rid of anything you haven’t unpacked. (Check out Ryan Nicodemus of The Minimalists for a full explanation of his Packing Party.)
- If you want to go the other route, check out Cait Flanders, who experimented with Slow Moving (i.e. mindful moving) this past March. I love that she didn’t immediately buy all the furniture she ‘thought’ she needed for her space. Instead, she let her routine and daily life in the new space dictate what she ended up buying.
Phew! If you’ve made it this far, you deserve a cookie (I’m still working on my Internet cookie delivery system).
I know starting the decluttering process can be scary – I’ve been there! But, hopefully, this guide has taken out some of the mystery for you so you can get on with your minimalist life!