Decluttering can be almost effortless if you do it in a way that suits you. Your individual pace, how you deal with your emotions about all that sentimental stuff, your need to get some money out of it—all of that makes a difference in how you should do it.
This article is not to theorize about this though. I want to give you some easy hands-on tips and basically a quick overview on the most important ways you can declutter your home, from quick and dirty to slow and mindful.
Table of contents
My categorization of »decluttering styles« here is not written in the intention to make you feel like you have to stick to one of these. Your own way to get this over with might be very individual. I made this overview for inspirational purposes, so you might find the best in every »technique« to apply it to your situation.
- All-in-one-go method
- Decluttering by category (KonMari)
- Room-by-room decluttering
- Slow & mindful decluttering
- The Volume-Inconvenience-$-Priority (VI$P) method
1. All-in-one-go method of decluttering
This is how I did it, back when I was 17 and still living with my mom. I basically ordered a container and threw out everything in < 2 days. Was it very mindful? No. Was it painful? Yes. Is that a bad thing to rush it though? I don’t think so, to be honest.
We put so much emphasis on things and what they mean to us already. Decluttering should be in the name of not doing that anymore. It should be about taking away the power that material possessions seem to have. (I mean, they are things, so they don’t really have any power, it is all just projection…)
Ripping off the band-aid might hurt for a short amount of time, but the big fat advantage is that you will be done with it fast. You get immediate results, an immediate dramatic change, and this might just do it for you. If you feel like you are that person that needs a new haircut to feel more empowered, or if you like to buy a new journal to feel like you enter a better chapter of your life, then this method is probably for you.
I am very much like that. So I can just give you this one tip: Don’t f_ck it up this time. The transition to less can be harder than you think. And while you will probably enjoy the emptiness in the beginning, you should really be aware of the fact that minimalism is a lifestyle. It is a practice essentially and not just a status. So you need to find your own dynamic and create that balance on a daily basis.
Minimalism and decluttering might help you have a more simplistic environment, but that does not automatically make you and your messy brain more put-together. You still have to work on yourself and the things that created the mess in the first place.
For me, this was helpful anyway. I would not want to do it differently. The faster, the better! And I never had these cravings for more stuff. Wherever I went, I always liked emptiness and spatial clarity more than filling the space with convenient items and decor. But you might be missing that in the beginning. You might feel deprived of certain things. So bring some back maybe. But if you do, do it slowly. Declutter super fast, okay… but then just know that the faster you did that first part, the more time you need for the »healing« part afterwards. For you to adapt to how different everything looks and feels.
- gets you mood- or life-changing results faster
- can initiate a massive release of endorphines
- makes you feel like you have really accomplished something fast
- can be triggering a lot of bad memories at once
- might make you more prone to »relapses«, i.e. having some FOMO and going out buying new things
- can be very stressful
This method is for you if…
- you really need a change
- in general, you benefit from external changes (e.g. getting a new haircut always gives you a boost in confidence)
- you are just so sick of all your clutter that has been bugging you for years and you haven’t seen much progress with any other method
Lastly, I want to add that this way of decluttering is less a systematic approach than the other ones. You just start and go on until you are finished, rigorously letting go of as much as you can. The goal should be about 80-90% of your things, depending on how much clutter you have. Keep that in mind and maybe combine this with KonMari or the room-by-room-method, which I will elaborate on below…
This method is not for you if…
- confrontation gives you anxiety
- you hate change and it stresses you out
- you have no way of disposing
2. Decluttering by category (KonMari)
This is essentially the KonMari method, and reading Marie Kondo’s book »Magic Cleaning« can certainly be an inspiration to get into it. But really, »decluttering by category« is just what the caption says. And your categories do not have to be the same as Marie Kondo’s.
For example, for a lot of parents probably »kids’ toys« alone would be a huge category. Or considering your wardrobe: It might not just be »clothes«. It might be sports, business and casual wear, right? So you decide how you want to do this. I personally think that the method has some disadvantages for families, especially if you live in a small home. And I also think that it promotes wastefulness.
When you read Kondo’s book, she always speaks about trash bags, loads of trash bags… she talks about getting rid of things, throwing them out and not looking back. I just don’t like how that sounds, even though most people nowadays should be aware of sustainable methods of letting go of things, like donating, upcycling or recycling. So just be mindful of that. KonMari, in my opion does not address that problem enough.
A huge advantage of the Marie Kondo method though is that it inherently creates order. By going about your things category by category, you will be able to rearrange them more easily. And that way, after the decluttering is done, you will have a more orderly home.
This does however also mean that you have to put more effort into that. It is not just about getting rid of things so you will have more space. It is about re-organizing everything that you own, and that alone can be pretty stressful.
To note one last positive thing about the KonMari method though, let’s talk about »spark joy«. This concept is really unique to the method and it requires you to take out your things. It requires you to try on the clothes you might want to get rid of before you do. And that is essentially both mindful and extremely practical. You will know right away when something is off and it helps a great deal with letting go.
- very systematic
- helps create order from the get-go
- ideal for people with storage space or a spacious home
- less suitable for messy people
- less practical / doable for families with small homes
- hard to do in sections, should be done in one go
3. Room-by-room decluttering
Decluttering room-by-room is just like decluttering by category with respect to spatial boundaries. I think, it is especially useful to families or people with small apartments. I explain why in this article about the method, where I also link some literature.
Basically what you do is going from room to room and just taking the time to declutter one after the other. I find this useful enough and personally like to combine it with the VI$P method. The major advantage of going room-by-room is that you don’t clutter up your space while decluttering it. You don’t have to worry about where you put things, and after you are done with one room, you have this little decluttering high—it just feels so much more done than having decluttered just your clothes, but the rest is still a mess…
However, you can not do this completely without categories. If you want to organize your stuff while decluttering it, I recommend using some sort of categories, as in the ones that are helpful with the rest of your apartment. E.g., I have most of my clothes in my closet in my room. But a part of them are also in our shared closet in the hall. So if I had to declutter my room, I would make sure that I’d do those right after and not neglect them just because they are not in my room.
In general though, with this method, you try to stick to one room until you are done. And by doing that you keep the mess out of the other rooms mostly, and you enable yourself to go through with it. I find that more motivating and less stressful overall.
- great method for families or people with small homes
- can be done in sections, does not need to be finished in one go to make it less messy
- can be taken at any pace
- does not inherently create order, you still have to find categories = good places for your stuff in the aftermath
4. Slow and »mindful« decluttering
Now this is where the controversy starts. I personally think that »mindful« or »slow« in the context of decluttering are just buzzwords. Words that want to make you feel less guilty about postponing things till kingdom come and make you believe that you can still do it, even if you are not really committing to it.
The truth is: It just makes it so much harder to slow the decluttering process down. And I do not at all recommend it.—And I am saying that as someone who constantly advocates for mindfulness practice. I find it the most useful thing. But in this context… no. Just no.
And also: Why exactly can’t decluttering be fast and mindful? Mindfulness just means to stay present, to be in the present moment, to recognize what you are doing… how again is that a contradiction to do it fast? It is so drilled into our heads that mindful living must be the same as slow living, but that is really just because slowing down makes being mindful easier. You have a lower density of events if you do things slowly. But that does not imply it’s impossible to be mindful and hurry up a little. Try it!
So yes, I think there is good reason to stay as mindful as possible while decluttering.
The benefits of mindfulness in this context are pretty clear:
- being less overwhelmed by your emotions,
- being able to remember more about the things you let go of,
- knowing when you need to take a break.
This makes sense. But it does not makes sense to link that with being extremely slow and overly careful. If you want a change, you need to get rid of the stuff eventually. Either way, it has to go. You gain nothing by doing it slow. You are literally procrastinating. So, in my opinion, unless you do not have any other choice due to some external factors like work, a little baby at home, or just being stressed out beyond crazy, don’t go with this method. There is no reason to waste time. And I don’t even believe that it will be more mindful to do it slowly. Furthermore, there are ten thousand better ways to practice mindfulness than over your baggage from the past. Do you want to suffer or do you want to move on?
- might help with some anxiety issues
- better than nothing
- slow is not always better, and »doing it more mindfully and slowly« can easily become an excuse to procrastinate
- slow process = no fast results = less motivating → you will essentially feel less proud of yourself, so make sure to take pictures every once in a while
- it can be really hard to keep going
This method is for you if…
- you are a total train wreck and the mere thought of decluttering freaks you out
- you just don’t have time right now to go on a massive decluttering expedition
This method is not for you if…
- you want results asap and in general fast results just motivate you
- you are able to deal with your emotions in a timely manner and confront yourself about negative emotions
- you are ready to start a new chapter and want final closure
5. The Volume-Inconvenience-$-Priority (VI$P) method
Now this is a method I developed especially for people who have a hard time decluttering. And here is how you do it.
First you need to make a list of all the things you need to get rid of. You can do this in categories or be more specific, i.e. list individual items. You can be vague and say »pantry« or distinct and say »the closet downstairs«. The method is just about how you prioritize in your decluttering process, it does not help you with deciding what to declutter.
You put all the things you think need to be decluttered in a table aka matrix like this:
|How much space does the item take up? The most bulky things go in this category.
|How much of a chore will it be to get rid of it? Is it a giant pain in the as_? Then it goes here.
|Is it a priority to get rid of it, e.g. it’s your summer wardrobe you want to reduce and it’s just getting warm outside? Time to sell!
|How much will you make by selling this item? If it has a good change of being resold, put it in this category.
I recommend actually not doing this in a matrix-form. That was just for illustration purposes! Put it in an Excel sheet / Google sheet / Libre Office sheet and give every category a grade range from 1-3 or so. Then you apply some conditional formatting and boom, there you go. Go with the most simple thing: 1 = green, 2 = yellow, 3 = red.
So if something is easy to get rid of (Inconvenience = 1), takes up a lot of space (Volume = 1) and will also earn you some money or be harder to get rid of in winter ($$$ = 1 or Priority = 1), then this is the item you want to get rid of first.
In general, I recommend getting rid of bulky things first, even if it is not convenient. The reason for that being, it will give you more range of motion in your space. With big bulky things out of the way, you will essentially have more fun decluttering the rest.
- helps you declutter faster
- can be used in conjunction with any of the other methods
- makes the whole decluttering process more structured and more motivating
- requires you to actually face what you have to declutter and organize it before you start
I always did this before I had to declutter anything. It does not take up much time and really helps with the whole process. It also gives me some clarity and basically helps me to stay focused.
This method is for you if…
- you like a systematic approach
- you don’t know where to start decluttering
- you want to get rid of things fast
This method is not for you if…
- you don’t like tables or sheets and just want to get started without thinking about it
Download my spread sheet
Hope this helps you declutter your stuff faster. It’s an easy-to-use ODS sheet (can also be used with MS Excel or Google Sheets) with conditional formatting. That way, you just have to look out for the green cells!