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A Guide to Decluttering – From Someone Who Has Done It

June 19, 2017
A Guide to Decluttering (From Someone Who Has Done It) | Tiny Ambitions

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.

However.

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.

Start Slow

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.

Toss

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.

Donate

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.

Sell

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!

My favourite apps/marketplaces for selling your stuff online include VarageSale, Letgo, Kijiji, and eBay (if you’re willing to ship!).

Repurpose

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.

Your Turn!

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!

Does any of this resonate with you? Let me know in the comments!

Image Credit: Tiny Ambitions

  • […] myself, it was only when I started decluttering my life that I was able to recommit to something I’ve wanted for many, many years – a tiny […]

  • […] A Guide to Decluttering – From Someone Who Has Done It […]

  • Brittany June 25, 2017 at 3:19 pm

    Hi Brittany! I’ve been following you via Twitter for a little bit but have yet to comment. Firstly, love your blog! So well organized and your articles are great.

    You asked for decluttering questions so here is mine: What do you think are the benefits of decluttering by room versus category (KonMari method)?

    Thanks,

    Brittany
    -ps it’s pretty cool we share a name. Kudos to your parents for spelling it correctly 😉

    • tinyambitions June 25, 2017 at 3:25 pm

      Ha! It’s so rare to find someone who spells their name like me!! Thanks for your question. I think the benefits of each boil down to how your brain works and comfortable you are ‘checking in’ with your emotions in relation to your stuff. It can be overwhelming to jump into KonMari and have to assess your emotional response to every single thing you own. But at the same time, it means you end up only with things that are truly important to you. Decluttering by room makes more sense sometimes on a practical level, depending on how your living space is laid out. It also helps break it down into more manageable chunks(IMO). I’ve done both and I think they both have their place in the minimalist world! Thanks for the question and thanks for reading!

  • Angela June 24, 2017 at 8:52 am

    I’ve been decluttering with focus for 2 years now and I’ve used both methods – by room and by category (a la Konmari) and they’ve both been really helpful. I started with our overflowing entryway because it’s used so much and it provided a big reward for decluttering. I love how decluttering can reveal so much about ourselves and our values.

    • tinyambitions June 24, 2017 at 9:00 am

      Congrats on tackling your clutter! I’ve used both ways too, I think it depends on the person for which was will work better. Thanks for reading Angela!

  • jessicarosewilliams June 23, 2017 at 7:35 am

    By far my favourite post of yours! Such good advice, I loved it. I know what you mean about the how to guides too. The photo is also epic x

    • tinyambitions June 23, 2017 at 7:38 am

      Thanks Jessica! I’m glad you enjoyed it. And ha- that might be the most epic photo I have of myself. I didn’t know the camera was rolling (obviously 🤣).

  • Kathy Mader June 22, 2017 at 4:38 pm

    That was so good, Brittany. Very clear and easy to read. I liked how you cut off the collar. Sometimes I don’t like a sleeve but I never thought to repurpose the shirt like that. Going slow will be hard for me because minimizing has been on my mind for years but is yet to happen. So if I can get started I’ll want to fly but I’ll try to remember your advice. Thank you.

    • tinyambitions June 22, 2017 at 4:43 pm

      Hey Kathy! Thanks for reading! I’m glad you found my tips useful. As for the ‘going slow’ – you don’t have to do it. I just don’t want people to feel pressured into decluttering if they aren’t ready for it. And don’t forget that my version of Slow could be different than yours. I did the majority of my decluttering over a couple of months, which for some might be too long. It’s really about finding a pace that is sustainable for you in the long run. Thanks again! And good luck on your decluttering!

  • Sarah June 21, 2017 at 4:40 pm

    Thanks, Brittany! I kept thinking I wanted to do things KonMari style but then I found it too overwhelming. The way you explained puts me in a better frame of mind about the whole process. I keep having yard sales every couple years which helps, but for everything else, the repurposing is the hardest part for me!

    • tinyambitions June 21, 2017 at 4:48 pm

      Ya! I’m glad you found it useful! Repurposing is definitely tricky and I don’t think it needs to be a part of your decluttering process unless you want/can commit the time to it. Let me know if you have any more minimalist questions- writing this post was so fun!

  • MyStrategicDollar June 21, 2017 at 12:32 pm

    Loves this post! Being a minimalist and frugal person myself, not cluttering things up is so important! Clutter makes my skin crawl….

    • tinyambitions June 21, 2017 at 12:41 pm

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who hates clutter! Thanks for reading!

  • Ms. Frugal Asian Finance June 20, 2017 at 10:41 am

    I’m not a minimalist per se, but like Tim @TubofCash, I’m pretty frugal and want to keep things simple. Mr. FAF and I just cleared our storage shed a couple of weeks ago, and I felt like I had just shed a couple of pounds. Thanks for the great tips!

    • tinyambitions June 20, 2017 at 10:45 am

      It’s such a load off eh?? I’m glad you found the tips helpful! And you definitely don’t need to be a ‘minimalist’ to take advantage of the benefits of decluttering. Decluttering is just one of many tools to help simplify your life (and be frugal!). Thanks for reading Ms. Frugal Asian Finance!

  • Yaz | The Wallet Moth June 20, 2017 at 9:21 am

    Great post – I think often becoming a ‘minimalist’ can sound so vague, it’s completely overwhelming for a lot of people!

    I wrote a similar post to you, de-constructing the best places to start decluttering, and it definitely makes the goal seem a whole lot more achievable. The ‘Get it out of your house’ tip is so important – it can be so easy to sort stuff out and leave it in the garage for months! 😛

    • tinyambitions June 20, 2017 at 9:24 am

      I completely agree! ‘Minimalist’ could mean so many things and I think people get bogged down in what it ‘should’ mean. I’m lucky that I don’t have a garage- if I did I’m sure I would use it as an excuse to keep more stuff I don’t need. Thanks for reading Yaz!

  • Kellee June 20, 2017 at 7:45 am

    We moved in March, and it amazed me how much stuff had accumulated in our 900 sq ft apartment and how long it took to pack and move. Once we were in the new house, I started decluttering by getting rid of books (took them to a local bookstore for cash), clothes (gave to family), more clothes and shoes (donate), then old toiletries (toss). Then I tackled a huge box of files (shred). I’m still in the process of decluttering, but it feels so good not to be weighed down by all of our things!

    • tinyambitions June 20, 2017 at 7:46 am

      It is honestly such a great feeling! Thanks for reading Kellee.

  • Tim Kim @ Tub of Cash June 19, 2017 at 6:14 pm

    Not a minimalist here. But I was always fairly frugal. It’s so easy accumulate way too much through years and years of consumption. Even very small levels of consumption adds up over a long period of time. It’s worse with a house, because you eventually end up filling it up with stuff. Thanks for sharing your tips. I really need to take a look at some of the boxes I have in my garage. Most are filled with books that I’m sure I can sell. Or old clothes I’m sure I’ll never ever wear again.

    • tinyambitions June 19, 2017 at 6:23 pm

      Thanks for reading Tim! I’m lucky, in that I don’t have a garage to stash stuff away in. Clutter makes me anxious so paring back my possessions was very much a necessity for me. Good luck with decluttering!

    Hey! I'm Britt. I write about living a tiny, simple, intentional life. Because life doesn't need to be lived big.

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