Do you want to live a life with intention and mindfully reduce and declutter the “stuff” that blocks you from living a soulful life and having a home and life that you love?
Do you feel like there is too much clutter in your home? When you open your junk drawer, closets or other storage areas how does it make you feel? Do you feel overwhelmed? Do you feel like you don’t know where to start? Do you say to yourself; I’ll get to this one day and then shove another thing in there and walk away only to find that you carry the anxiety with you for another day? I want to share how to stop this dis-empowering behavior because it really does not help you live a happy life or serve your purpose in this world. There are tons of books and programs out there that can teach you “how” to declutter, but there are not many that share with you how to empower yourself by taking small steps that transform your actions and thoughts about keeping too much stuff.
In today’s episode of The Soulful Designer, I share some simple steps to apply to your life and a personal story of how and why I declutter 50 things EVERY month and how it creates a more soulful home and a happier life.
When I met my husband over 10 years ago, we found that there was a clash in our approach to “stuff.” He is a minimalist and I am a collector. I’m not a hoarder or anything, but I love collecting ethnic things from my travels and up-cycling from thrift stores and estate sales. When we first become a couple, he often felt uncomfortable with my “stuff.”
Our home is decorated with things we truly love. It also has a lot of my mother’s artwork. It is a blend of traditional and ethnic, which honors a little bit of my husband and a little bit of me. But what it doesn’t have is clutter because neither of us value that.
It was actually my husband who inspired me when we first met to start decluttering in a practical, but soulful way. At that time, my 600 square foot apartment had 5 rooms: A kitchen, living room, bedroom, bathroom, and a very small office. For 1 month, I committed to getting rid of 5 things per room.
5 things x 5 rooms = 25 things
And I also committed to de-cluttering for only 5 minutes. When I broke the decluttering down into small parts and a small-time commitment, I found the overall task to be a lot less daunting. I also found the experience so joyful, that I committed to doing it another month and then another month and it eventually became a monthly routine, which was labeled on my calendar.
Then after about 2 years of dating my minimalist future-husband, he invited me to move into his condo. We both had 2 complete sets of everything—bedroom sets, couches, dining room tables and chairs, and complete sets of pots and pans, etc. For the bigger furniture items, we obviously had to make a decision of whose furniture to keep, but we decided that for all of the smaller stuff that we would keep EVERYTHING and then he would also start decluttering 25 things a month too. Which became the official start of our monthly “50 Things” routine.
25 things of mine + 25 things of my husband's = 50 Things
So, every month we would go around to each room and we had a big trash bag and we would make a decision about all of the smaller stuff. For example, whose spatula is getting used more frequently and then donate the unused one. And I give you the example of the spatula because I have tried to donate this giant spatula at least 5 times and my husband loves it. I am the cook in the family, and he doesn’t use it, so obviously I have tried to get rid of it several times, but he keeps pulling it out of the “50 things” bin. The other thing that I have learned about creating a soulful home is sometimes you just have to let him keep the spatula!
How to get Started?
You may be saying to yourself, that’s a great story, but I could never get rid of 50 things a month. That’s insane, that's so much stuff! Or decluttering takes too much time, I can't do that. While at the same time, you look at your home and feel completely overwhelmed by the clutter of paper, knickknacks, your closet, your pantry or your kid’s toys. Whatever it is, it creates anxiety. I want to get rid of that anxiety for you, so that you can live a soulful life.
Here’s your action plan:
Be powerful and move through any roadblocks that arise while decluttering
If you are not sure how to start decluttering, remember, I started small, only 5 things per room for 5 minutes in total. I am 100% positive that if you set a timer for 5 minutes you could go into any room in your house and find 5 things per room that you don’t use or don’t love anymore. Then gather up those things and put them in a box labeled DONATE in a closet next to your front door or in your garage, next to your car. And then make a commitment later in the month to drop off the stuff to the thrift store.
If decluttering 5 things in a whole room in your house is still too daunting… Let’s break in down even smaller. Let’s do just 1 of these examples:
- 1 drawer + 5 things
- 1 box + 5 things
- 1 closet + 5 things
And then show yourself some Love because you did it!
Here are a two more tips:
Start with choosing between duplicates. Which one do you really use? Remember, my spatula story?
Throw away broken or damaged items
Since we have broken this big task into a small part, it seems easy, doesn’t it? Then schedule another decluttering session of 5 things in your calendar. Maybe for next week or next month. Keep it simple and make it easy. It’s important to put it on your calendar because it will prevent you from procrastinating and when you know that the task is not that daunting it will make it easier to get it done. It will actually bring you joy and give you more time for all of the things that you would LOVE to do with your life, which is really the ultimate goal!
Now that you understand the value of starting small, I give you 4 tips on how I declutter in a small way.
Let’s open up the junk drawer. Everybody has one. My husband loves to de-clutter the junk drawer because it’s mostly pens, pencils, marker with no tops, random shoelaces, rubber bands and craft materials and projects of our daughter’s. We can easily find 5 things to trash or donate in our junk drawer. So, I challenge you to declutter ONLY the junk drawer, nothing else and find 5 things. Also, it would be helpful to stop calling the junk drawer, “the junk drawer” because using that name means it will attract junk. The real definition of junk is stuff you don’t want. So, honestly, if you’re like my family, then decluttering the junk drawer is easy because it really means everything goes in the trash!
Here’s another example: Let’s pull out a box from the basement or storage unit. My mother likes to put a lot of random things inside boxes. Here she is de-cluttering one of her boxes. I am sure that you can pull out one box… not a box of Christmas or holiday stuff. Leave those items alone for now. You can declutter those in December. I’ve often found the boxes of random stuff is changeling because there is ALWAYS sentimental stuff in it. I recommend creating a box and labeling it “Sentimental” and then put all the sentimental things in that box. It’s always better for “like” things to be with like things. For me, my textile collection is sentimental. So, I have a special box for just my textiles. But actually, the better way to deal with sentimental stuff is to display it and/or frame it. If it’s precious, let it would probably bring you joy to see it.
Medicine Cabinet or Pantry
One of the easiest places to declutter is the pantry or medicine closet because everything has an expiration date on it. So it makes it easy to throw away anything that has expired. While the medicine cabinet often has a bunch of expired open containers and packages that just need to be thrown away, the pantry on the other hand gives you an opportunity to donate anything that is not expired and that you don’t need anymore to your local food pantry.
Your Kid’s Artwork
I believe strongly in the value of creativity and I want to motivate my daughter to create and use her imagination, but the amount of kid art can be overwhelming for me. We have a large gallery wall in her playroom where we display her work. It’s her room so she gets the honor of hanging her work with blue tape. It might look cluttered, but it’s only in 1 place in the house and it does get de-cluttered every 6 months. Depending on the age of the child and their desire to “keep everything,” I generally say that you should include the child in choosing with of her art to keep on display, what to gift away to others and who, and lastly what to toss. We do a lot of up-cycling with her artwork, where we turn them into greeting cards and wrapping paper.
One easy way to corral papers is set up you’re recycling and garbage area with a shredder. That way, when you are sorting mail or other papers it makes it quick and easy to recycle or shred. Ours is in our pantry, but maybe you need one in your home office so that papers don’t build up.
My last tip for making a “small” declutter change is how I declutter my closet. Decluttering a closet can often be extremely hard because we really want to be able to fit into that dress, pants, etc. Clothing is emotional, especially for women. But we have to be honest with ourselves. I don’t want you to feel like de-cluttering your closet is an emotional roller coaster. Here’s is how I take the emotion out of it: Every 6 months when the seasons change, I switch all of my hangers backwards. Then as I wear things, I remove the empty hanger and put it on another rack and then when the clean laundry gets hung up it gets hung up forwards. Then when the season’s change, I look at what clothing is still backwards and then I know that I never wore that item and perhaps it’s time to donate it.
Wait 30 days
Another tip to add about “how” we declutter 50 things every month is that we don’t actually get rid of the stuff immediately after we put it in our 50 things bin. We actually put the bin of stuff in the coat closet next to the garage and then we leave it there for about a month and then we donate it before the next month’s 50 things clean-out. I often found that it was stressful when I was looking at an object and would say, “I can’t get rid of that, I might need it.” Or “as soon as I get rid of it, I will need it.”
By putting the 50 things bin in the closet for a month and knowing that I can always reclaim an item that I need, helped remove my anxiety about whether or not to get rid of it. And then at the end of the month, I found that when I looked in the bin just before I donated it, that 98% of the time, there was no more anxiety about letting the items go. And I could let go with love.
While my husband and I typically wait 30 days before we donate our items, sometimes it is tremendously freeing to just get rid of the stuff NOW. And I am totally in favor of that if that rush of freedom is the major motivating factor in why you de-clutter.
As the years have gone by and we have continued this practice of “50 things” every month, we often share the joys of our de-cluttering with our friends and family. Some of them have been inspired and have adopted our method of de-cluttering, but more often than not, they comment, “do you have any stuff left?” And we reply, “yes, we still have stuff, but we donate the things that are not needed anymore” or that don’t spark joyful memories, as Marie Kondo would say. Then gather up those things and put them in a box labeled DONATE in a closet next to your front door or in your garage, next to your car. And then make a commitment later in the month to drop off the stuff to the Goodwill thrift store.
Declutter as a Family
Another significant thing that we found was that the act of decluttering together on a monthly basis improved our relationship because it helped our communication, and it released the stress that the excess stuff was bringing into our lives.
“50 Things” is like a the physical, mental, and emotional housecleaning created space for us to create a more soulful life, where we make joint decisions about what really matters. Actually, my husband loves to do our monthly 50 things purge so much that about 8 years ago, we started doing a super-charged version of 50 things on the day after Christmas, where we purge about 500 things. It’s my husband’s favorite day of the year!
Challenges & How to Overcome Them
Be Honest with yourself
When challenges arise about deciding to keep or get rise of something, I need you to be truthful with yourself and move through any anxiety or fear. You are an extraordinary soul, don’t let stuff drag you down. If you find that the amount of stuff that you have to be overwhelming, start small, but declutter regularly.
Don’t be Too Ambitious
Don’t be too ambitious with your decluttering, it will actually cause you to get stuck on that one sentimental item and then you’ll abandon the task. I also recommend not decluttering a HUGE project or space. Trust me, you will bite off more than you can chew, it will leave you with a big mess, and it will leave you more stressed than before. So, keep it simple. Just do 5 things.
Give “it” a Home
Clutter doesn’t build up as quickly when things have a home. And when something has a home it saves you time looking for that item and it saves you time to putting it away. There is a lot of information out there about how to organize and if this is an area where you struggle, I would encourage you to learn more. But all in all, giving everything a “home” will really help your sanity and the function of every space in your home.
It is often difficult to get rid of an item that still has a tag on it or if there is a memory of “how much it cost” because it feels like wasted money. And I hate wasting money. The way that I overcame this particular challenge is to ask myself the question, “has it served me?” And with honesty and willingness I let it go if my answer is "it has not served me.”
One of the ways that my husband overcomes his fear of wasting money is, and of course he is a super analytical guy so only he would think of it this way. He asks himself, how much did this item cost? How many times did I use it, wear, watch it, etc. and then he divides the number of times he used it by the total cost and if he feel like it got his money’s worth then he donates it. And if feel like he has not then he keeps it.
If the challenge of letting something go creates financial anxiety, I think of it as paying it forward by donating the item to a thrift store, women’s shelter, etc.
I also love giving and receiving things from my local Buy Nothing Group. The Buy Nothing project is a global network of community-based groups that encourages giving of consumer goods for free to members in your community, which in turn improves the community in which you live. The groups are often small Facebook groups where you can post what you want to gift away. But what also makes it really unique is that each group is hyper local meaning it might only be a few blocks of your neighborhood or maybe a few miles if you are rural. So the act of having be hyper-local reduces travel expenses to exchange items and helps build networks in your neighborhood. I would encourage you to check out https://buynothingproject.org/ and find your local group. I was pleasantly surprised that within 3 miles of my house there were almost 900 members. I love it and it has helped me declutter and make friends!
Ultimately, I believe in donating to a Goodwill or a thrift store is the most altruistic way to free up space in one’s home and in one’s mind and spirit, while also serving our local communities. Donating to the Goodwill “pays it forward” and can bring a lot of joy:
Moving stuff out of your home relieves your own stress.
Donating the stuff to a Goodwill brings LOVE to the person who is buying that item.
Goodwill hires a workforce of people with special needs, who cannot work a traditional job. These jobs lead to personal and professional empowerment.
Thrift store sales often support charities, like food banks or animal shelters in your own community.
When we think differently about how a donated item “pays it forward,” we can begin to not look at it as wasted money, but money invested in our community many times over. So, it’s not wasted money if it’s donated; it’s wasted if we hold onto the item and to the idea that keeping the item somehow helps to keep the spent money.
The Gifts of Decluttering
A Lighter Soul
One of the greatest gifts of decluttering is that feeling of lightness that you get once the things are gone. It feels like there is space. Space to breathe. Space to invite new possibilities. Space to manifest our dreams and serve our core values. Space to be instead of having the feeling that you are drowning in the stress that “stuff” and clutter brings into your life. Once you experience the freedom that a routine of decluttering offers, you may find that you want that same freedom in other areas of your life too.
Time is a gift. We honor the things that matter most to us by choosing how to use our time and how we share it with others. You might be saying to yourself; I don’t want to give my time to decluttering 5 things. I understand. I don’t love the physical action of decluttering, but I do it because I like the “feeling” that it gives me when I’m done. That feeling makes me less stressed and when I am less stressed, I am more present for the other activities in my life.
When we reduce the clutter and the number of items in our home, it gives us the gift of time. Time NOT spent cleaning, tidying, and maintaining these items. By reducing the clutter, the gift of time creates space for you to devote to what you truly value in your life.
Believe it or not, decluttering creates financial abundance in a really unique way. When we declutter with intention, we start buying with intention and gifting others in a more mindful way. I have found that when I am making a decision to purchase something, I ask myself the following questions more frequently:
Is this a want or a need?
How does this item serve me?
Do I love it?
Is this item worth my money?
Could I get it cheaper or make it myself?
In addition to buying with intention, a routine of decluttering also generates money because we often find money in pockets or checks not cashed in our mail pile. Decluttering also gives us opportunities to sell items that we no longer need. However, selling items takes time. So, I always recommend asking yourself, “what is the goal of selling this? Do I want to make money or just get rid of it? Is the money more valuable than my time? Or is my time more valuable than the $5 I will get from the sale of said item.”
My husband and I found that purging 50 things every month was hugely beneficial to our relationship because it reduced my husband stress of “too much stuff” and it relieved my stress of disorder.
I like order and I like it when an item is always put back in the same location. But with a busy family, I have had to let go of that idea of organized perfection in my house. Our monthly 50 things clean-out gives me an opportunity to put things back where I want them, while also asking myself the questions: “Does this thing bring my life value? and “Does this item really matter to me and why?” or “Is it meaningless clutter that I can now let go of?”
All in all, decluttering and donating your unloved or unused stuff serves every area of your life.
Start small but declutter regularly. Start with 5 things.
Transform your anxiety about wasting your money by thinking of paying it forward to serve your community.
Shift your mindset about how you decide to get rid of something by asking yourself the questions, has it served me? If it has not, let it go. Trust me, when you let go of it, it will create tremendous freedom.
Decluttering is a mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual housecleaning and it helps a lot of people too. Donating your things keeps them out of landfills, it helps our planet, and it creates a more holistic and soulful way of living.
If you have tried decluttering "50 Things" or any # of things, please share your story below. When we share our success stories it makes the world a whole lot brighter and sweeter for the rest of us. I hope that by watching “The Soulful Designer,” I will inspire you and you will use some tip or trick to make your home a little bit more soulful and a lot more “you.”
I’ll be back soon with a brand-new episode! Till then, be good to yourself. You’re a precious and extraordinary soul.
This episode and this article does NOT contain paid promotion. But it does feature, with full legal permission, two wonderful organizations that I believe support a soulful approach to decluttering. These organizations create community and personal empowerment.
A special thank you to Goodwill Industries International
For more info: https://www.goodwill.org/
A Special thank you to The Buy Nothing Project
For more info: https://buynothingproject.org/
The music featured in the episode was composed by Donald Quan.
Additional music via creative commons license from Jason Shaw on Audionautix.com