Decluttering: Changing your life one item at a time

Odyssa Rivera Abille

Stop when it gets overwhelming.

Look at the stuff that surrounds you.

Do you see one or two items that you can get rid of right now? Can you identify things that are important to your daily life? Are there useless gifts you are keeping out of sentimental value?

Decluttering your home is never easy to start.

Aside from the physical work that comes with getting things out and sorting, you use a ton of mental energy to identify things worth keeping, donating, and selling. It can get emotional too.

It’s easier and more exciting to gain new things, receive gifts, and shop online. However, the effects of decluttering are worth every second you spend on it. It’s something you can start today.

These are five simple tips that you can use when decluttering your home.

Make decluttering a part of your life.

You don’t need to schedule it. It just has to be a regular activity, like walking the dogs on Sundays or doing self-care once a month.

Can you set aside this weekend to look at what you own? How about checking digital files to see which ones you can send to the trash bin every Monday?

Edit your life frequently and ruthlessly. It’s your masterpiece, after all. -Nathan W. Morris

As days, weeks and months go by, there’s stuff in your home that goes unnoticed, unused and forgotten. Decluttering regularly will keep fewer things from aging and your home gets updated.

How to apply it:

Start with a couple of hours this weekend. Set aside valuable items to sell online. Take photos, post them, then go back to your usual weekend activities. No biggie.

Test an item before letting it go.

Before deciding to post your items for sale online or send them to friends, make sure they work. You don’t want to gain a reputation for giving away useless things.

Is it functioning as it should? Will the new owner of this item be happy to receive and use it?

Minimalism isn’t about removing things you love. It’s about removing the things that distract you from the things you love. -Joshua Becker

The purpose of giving or selling items is to fill a need in another person’s life. If your item causes stress, frustration, and worse, more clutter, giving becomes pointless.

How to apply it:

Carefully select items you plan to transfer to another owner through gifting or selling. When you can’t salvage an item, find the most environmentally friendly way to dispose of it.

Stop when it gets overwhelming.

Be gentle with yourself. Clients of Japanese organizing guru Mari Kondo certainly feel relieved when they finish identifying things that spark joy like a weight came off their shoulders. Imagine releasing years of collected clutter.

This process takes time. It won’t always be fun. Is the process enjoyable or is it dragging you down?

Tidying creates confidence in your decision-making capacity. -Mari Kondo

Fumio Sasaki, the author of Goodbye Things, admits that he doesn’t enjoy organizing. It’s partly why he let go of most of his possessions. Now he enjoys cleaning his tiny apartment less than 300 square feet.

Learn when to pause for a warm cup of coffee. Remember the purpose of what you’re doing and make that one of your motivations to keep going.

How to apply it:

Start small by going over sections or categories. This book can be your guide.

Assess your lifestyle.

Our hobbies, interests, and preferences can change quickly. When we pick up a new activity, getting the right equipment and tools makes us more consistent and we possibly perform better. Therefore, we need to check if our stuff fits into our current lifestyle.

Did you recently drop a hobby? Is there a big chance that those dumbbells are better off with a gym buddy?

Say goodbye to who you used to be and focus on who you are right now. -Fumio Sasaki

Don’t be afraid. What you have does not define who you are.

How to apply it:

List down your activities, events, and commitments for the next 6 months to recognize the things that you need and don’t need.

When fear overtakes you, remember this: you can always rent or buy an item again.

Think of the outside world as one enormous warehouse where everything is available. Anything you want and need is there. These items don’t need to be in your home 24/7.

Are you keeping items that you only use once or twice a year? Can you consider borrowing or renting?

There isn’t a single item you’ll regret throwing away. -Fumio Sasaki

Your home is not a storage unit. There are rental websites and communities that encourage giving things for free. You can also buy secondhand items.

How to apply it:

If you need to purchase a brand new item, keep it in your cart for 3 days up to 1 week, then decide if it’s worth buying. If you forget, it’s not worth your money.

As you start your decluttering project, remember these tips:

  • Make decluttering a part of your life.
  • Test the item before letting it go.
  • Stop when it gets overwhelming.
  • Assess your lifestyle.
  • When fear overtakes you, remember: you can always buy that item again.

In the research entitled The Dark Side of Home: Assessing Possession ‘Clutter’ on Subjective Well-Being by Catherine A. Roster published in Journal of Environmental Psychology in June 2016, she found that ‘clutter had a negative impact on self-reported well-being and a strong negative impact on feelings of security, safety and other positive emotional benefits derived from a sense of psychological home, a term that refers to the concept of home as a vital source of meaning, belonging, and identity.’

So why do people declutter? Decluttering has various meanings and impact on people.

It keeps them sane. It’s a way to feel they’re in control. It addresses their anxiety. It cleans their house. It fixes their relationships. It gives them energy and clarity of mind. It makes people feel good about themselves.

From the same research, Roster found that ‘attachment to one’s physical, external environment reinforces positive feelings about one’s private home.’

It makes you appreciate where you are.

A clean home is one that’s easy to love and live in. There is no doubt that the results of decluttering are life-changing.

Time spent on it never goes to waste.

Odyssa is the author of two poetry collections on love and travel. This article was first published in Medium.

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I write about relationships, the complexities of human life, and writing. I'm a self-published author of two poetry collections entitled "Like A New Sun Rising" and "From Where I Stand" available at


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