Nothing screams “we have way too much stuff in our house” like preparing to move to a new place. It’s a wakeup call to declutter and get organized.
When my wife and I moved to New York City from Florida, we downsized from a large two-bedroom apartment to a studio. You want to get an idea for how to live with less? Try squeezing your entire life into a tiny 500-square-foot Manhattan apartment.
Then we had a kid. And the junk piled up once more.
Random toys and crap. Boxes of diapers and wipes. Baby toys. Pictures books. Strollers. Cribs. Baby clothes. Baby blankets. All of it squeezed into our one-bedroom New York City apartment.
It’s important to find the right balance between stuff and your own sanity in order to survive. Simply put, we end up being prisoners of our stuff and it takes control of our lives. Here’s how to start your declutter:
Go through everything and set up a traffic light system: Green items can stay, red items are junk and can go, yellow items you may want to revisit once you’re done going through everything in case you discover there’s a reason for keeping it or junking it.
For a challenge, just stick to green vs. red. And don’t trick yourself into thinking that you need everything. Once we start learning to live with a little less, we actually start to realize how much stuff we already have.
Again, the key is to start small so as not to overwhelm. But once you get into a rhythm, it all starts flowing. Go through the kids’ closets and dresser drawers and under the beds. Find the kitchen appliances you aren’t using and determine if you’ll ever actually use them.
Start small to build a declutter habit
When we first start exercising, our muscles need to adapt. We likely feel the delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) kick in a few days after that first session. If that DOMS is so bad we don’t have the ability to get back in the gym again for another week, chances are, the good habit of a consistent workout will have already been broken. That’s the case here, too.
Dedicate a few minutes over a weekend to start getting the feel of the declutter process. Start with the stack of papers that has been sitting on your desk for far too long, for example. Don’t overwhelm yourself so much that you won’t want to return the next day to continue the adventure.
Five minutes certainly won’t be enough to clear the entire household. But it’s a start. Celebrate that. Then get back at it again tomorrow with another five minutes. And then the next day. And the next.
Toy with your emotions
Kids have way too much crap. Buy a bin or two, fill both up with the best and most used toys and then dump the rest. Give those old toys to charity for a double win that declutters and teaches a valuable lesson to kids about giving back.
Want to gift your kid with something? Not a problem, just encourage your child to first give up a toy or two to make room.
Buy less stuff
Curb the desire to constantly bring in new material items into the home and try to find that appreciation for what you already have.
Of course, if you’re still wearing some nasty ass underwear that’s got a ton of holes in it and some questionable track mark stains, it’s definitely time to make a purchase. Or if you’re toaster burns bagels to the point where the fire department is on speed dial, by all means, buy a new toaster.
Just try to learn to live life with a little less.
Clothes it out
If a piece of clothing is collecting dust, it’s time to get rid of it. Here’s a challenge: open up the drawer or closet right now and find 10 items that you can give away. Practice doing this every quarter or every six months at minimum to open up a vast new world of space and comfort.
The key is not to run to the store to replace those clothes once you’ve cleared the space.
Wash the dishes
Letting items pile up in the sink leads to massive clutter that spills over into other areas. Suddenly it’s OK to leave a few papers on the kitchen counter because you’ll straighten it up when you wash the dishes. Then, papers end up on the dining room table, and the family is eating on the couch.
Don’t let that happen. Washing dishes as you go. It takes less than a minute to scrub a bowl and a spoon and put it away. Don’t be lazy.
There’s a reason why we sometimes shy away from putting up our coats or clothes in their respective spaces. Our homes are so slammed with objects that it’s a hassle to put everything away!
When you declutter the house, be sure to leave some extra room to make things a little more manageable for re-entry.
Encourage decluttering habits
Our family puts away all toys before eating any meals and at the end of the night. We should be eating dinner as a family in a comfortable, junk-free setting and not needing to remove a G.I. Joe from dad’s butt.
Designated a time each day for clothes and toys to be put away. Then take an extra step to add in a 30-minute cleaning ritual every weekend that teaches the entire family the importance of chipping in to keep the living space clean.
Declutter your home regularly
From new toys to seasonal clothing to school paperwork, families collect a bunch of crap. It’s important to stay on top of this with regular check-ins. Schedule a monthly purge of old junk and declutter the house to ensure you don’t ever fall behind and end up right back at square one.
It’ll open up a whole new world of space, mental clarity and perhaps provide some additional calming sanity to your life.
A version of this first appeared on Daddy Mind Tricks.