How to declutter and live clutter-free

In 2019, we decided to sell our house and travel across Canada. We planned to put all our belongings in storage so we needed to drastically declutter. It was a case of extreme decluttering but the process we went through is great if you want to simplify your life, free some space or have a big spring cleaning goal.  Decluttering will help you save money, free up time and studies show that it can even make you happier!

Are you overwhelmed when you open your closet? Feel like you need 4 hours to make the house look tidied and it takes 10 minutes for it to look messy again? It may be time to declutter (and keep your house clutter-free!)

What I want to share here is the process we went through and I hope it can help you declutter as well, even if you don’t go all the way to selling your house!

Less Mess, More Space

4 tips to start your declutter process

Tip #1 – Room By Room

We started with the least important and emotionally draining closet and rooms. Think basement or hallway closets where you store all the things you keep “just in case”, all the cardboards, all the seasonal items, etc…

I also did a lot of work in the bathroom at first.

Here is one process you can adopt: 

  • What didn’t you use for the last 6 to 12 month and have no emotional strings attached to at all? Get rid of that first. 
  • Come back to what is left a few weeks later and do a second round. What did you use in the last 2 months? Keep that handy and leave everything else in a box. 
  • Within the next month or so, if you need something from the box, take it out and then you are allowed to keep it. If it stays in the box, it probably means that you don’t really need it, so it should go!

Tip #2 – Bin system

We had 3 bins (or piles of things) for every room/closet we tackled: Keep, sell, donate (yes, I did a lot of trips to the thrift store, believe me!)

Within the Keep bin, we had “keep and store” (souvenirs, cherished items…) and “keep and use” (things we really use on a daily/weekly basis).

Our 3 bins system: Keep, Sell, Donate

Tip #3 – Get ready for a part time sales job 

If you decide to sell some of your things, be ready to spend a lot of time taking pictures, figuring out prices, posting ads, dealing with potential buyers’ schedules and working on your negotiation skills and meeting them.

This can be time consuming so we decided to only sell things that were worth the time. By this I mean selling big ticket items or selling bundles of smaller items. 

Example: Christmas decor bundle vs selling items one by one for $2 each, Pack of 6-12 month old clothes instead of $1 baby dress, camping gear pack for $50 instead of listing every item for $10 each. 

You may make more money when selling each item on their own but it will take you way more time. Just be aware of that and make a choice. How much is your time worth?

Tip #4 – Be ready for an emotional roller coaster

This is a big one… I remember the feeling of seeing the nursery dresser and changing table go and I can tell you it was not easy. At the same time I knew it was going to be loved and cherished by another family. I had to work hard on my thoughts to remind myself that it was a small sacrifice compared to what it meant for our future life (read: sell the house, travel and go on amazing adventures).

Remember, your memories are not attached to things! My memories are not attached to the dresser itself, it’s all in my head and forever there, I don’t need the dresser to remember it!

Another example is home decor. I had poured a lot of love, energy and let’s be honest here, money, into decorating this house and letting it go wasn’t easy. One day, someone came to buy a mirror and asked me if I had anything else to sell. I showed him our bedroom decor that I had just placed in the Sell bin. He asked how much I would sell the set for, I gave him a high price (hoping he would say no) and he took it all… He left with all the things and my heart crumbled. I wasn’t ready yet to let it go even though I put it myself in the Sell bin a few moments before…

Some things are going to be easy to let go and others won’t. Just be prepared for it and allow  yourself some grace. It is ok to cry over a few things, it is part of the process. It means you are doing the work!

Decluttering is an on-going process

Decluttering is an on-going process. We moved three times in 18 months and I had things to get rid of every single time! Staying away from clutter and buying stuff can be hard sometimes. Here are some ideas on how to stay away from creating clutter when you worked hard to declutter!

#1 – Stop accepting donations or “good deals”

Finding toys and power extension cords in a “FREE BIN” in your neighbor’s front yard during your walk, noticing a free microwave on FB marketplace that “may be useful when we will rent the basement room on AirBnB” or your friend offering cooking books because she is decluttering… No thank you!    

Stop accepting donations or good deals if you don’t really need it. Rule of thumb: if you were  not looking for it at the moment, you probably don’t need it!

#2- Take 48 hours to think about a new purchase

Stop impulse buying. When you think you need to buy something new, try to live without it for an extra 24 to 48 hours. If after that time you still HONESTLY feel that you need the thing, buy it. Impulse buying is based on emotions. If you wait before buying, your brain will process the emotion and you’ll have clearer thoughts about the purchase. You’ll be able to analyze better if you actually need the thing, if you wanted to buy it only because of the deal or to reward yourself…

This is hard and it requires practice. Impulse buying won’t go away on its own and easily but if you are reading this, you are on the right path!

Experiences are making you happier than things, that's proven!
Scientifically proven: experiences are making you happier than things.

#3- Reward yourself with experiences not things

Stop rewarding yourself by buying things. Go all in on experiences instead. It can be a massage, a night out, service of a cleaner, or a movie at the theatre with friends.

Research shows that experiences make people happier than possessions. You will remember your experience longer than you will remember a purchase and you’ll have more pleasure sharing or recalling an experience than a possession.

In his paper “Spending on Doing Promotes More Moment-to-Moment Happiness than Spending on Having“, Amit Kumar wrote “If you want to be happier, it might be wise to shift some of your consumption away from material goods and a bit more toward experiences.”

And in addition to making you happier, it will keep clutter away from your house!

Decluttering is not an easy process but it can make your life way easier, make you happier and allow you to save money at the same time. 

Do you feel like a little bit of declutter in your house would benefit your life? What is the first step you are ready to take? Let us know in the comment section so we can support you!

How to declutter and live clutter-free
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