One Key Trick for Successful Decluttering

2018 was a huge year for our family. A year ago today, I thought to myself, “Will this be the year we make the big change that’s been an elephant in the room for years?”

As it turned out, it was. But things were up in the air for months. January just daydreaming, February yes something’s going to change, March are we moving, April yes but where, May ok here’s the plan, June house selling and hunting, July pack, August MOVE.

Over the course of those months, I was mentally preparing for the possibility of a move. I thought about what I would pack—and more importantly in this case, what I wouldn’t. It was almost like that exercise in which you declare what you would take with you if you had just five minutes to pack before a fire or other disaster causing you to flee your home.

That mental trick—thinking you might move, or even just pretending it may be so—turns out to be a winning secret for successful decluttering.

For the smaller things you wouldn’t want to take with you—go ahead and get rid of them! Do we really need so many sweaters or Tupperware? If we haven’t used it in a year or two, would we really want to bother packing it? We put numerous tables out for the neighborhood yard sale, filled with random gadgets, decorative items, baby stuff, and more that we hadn’t used in years but had never felt enough motivation to purge.

I reflected on things I had held onto for sentimental reasons that, when I really thought about it, didn’t carry all that much meaning anymore. Out they went. I used sites like Nextdoor and OfferUp to sell things that I wanted a little more for than the pittance a yard sale transaction would bring.

Thinking about the style, size, and layout of the home we’d want to look for if we ended up in the market, I thought about furniture we could jettison. I realized that I didn’t really want a separate, formal dining room, or quite so many lamps. I wanted less—fewer pieces of furniture, fewer accessories, fewer square feet. When we found our new house and knew what space and layout we were working with, I was prepared to sell the dining room set and several other large pieces of furniture without a twinge of regret.

Imagine what your ideal living space would look like. If you envision less clutter, do it now! If you needed to prepare your house for showings, what would you put away? There’s a reason realtors suggest keeping things sparse when showing homes—the tidiness and uncluttered aesthetic just makes us feel lighter and more at peace. Some of that sparseness is impractical or impersonal, of course (we need our coffee maker on the counter and we want some family photos around) but keeping that goal of sparseness in mind, we can weigh the value various “displayed” items bring to our life.

In the end, even if you aren’t actually moving, you’ll have clarified for yourself what of your stuff really matters, what contributes to the lifestyle you want—and what doesn’t. Viewed through this lens, excess and clutter stand out in stark relief. Make it your rule of thumb: if you wouldn’t take it with you in a move, don’t keep it with you now.

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