Zen Habits has moved! Redirecting…

You should be automatically redirected. If not, visit http://zenhabits.net and update your bookmarks.

zen habits: Zen Mind: How to Declutter

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Zen Mind: How to Declutter

One of the things that gives me most peace is have a clean, simple home. When I wake up in the morning and walk out into a living room that has been decluttered, that has a minimalist look, and there isn't junk lying around, there is a calm and joy that enters my heart.

When, on the other hand, I walk out into a living room cluttered with toys and books and extra things all over the place, it is chaos and my mind is frenetic.

I've been a simplifier and a declutterer for years now (probably 8-9 years) and I've gotten pretty good at it, but I've found that you have to keep coming back to revisit your clutter every once in awhile.

Here are my top decluttering tips:

  • Do it in small chunks. Set aside just 15 minutes to declutter just one shelf, and when that shelf or that 15 minutes is up, celebrate your victory. Then tackle another shelf for 15 minutes the next day. Conquering an entire closet or room can be overwhelming, and you might put it off forever. If that's the case, just do it in baby steps.
  • Set aside a couple hours to do it. This may seem contradictory to the above tip ... and it is. It's simply a different strategy, and I say do whatever works for you. Sometimes, for me, it's good to set aside part of a morning, or an entire Saturday morning, to declutter a closet or room. I do it all at once, and when I'm done, it feels awesome.
  • Take everything out of a shelf or drawer at once. Whichever of the two above strategies you choose, you should focus on one drawer or shelf at a time, and empty it completely. Then clean that shelf or drawer. Then, take the pile and sort it (see next tip), and put back just what you want to keep. Then tackle the next shelf or drawer.
  • Sort through your pile, one item at a time, and make quick decisions. Have a trash bag and a give-away box handy. When you pull everything out of a shelf or drawer, sort through the pile one at a time. Pick up an item, and make a decision: trash, give away, or keep. Don't put it back in the pile. Do this with the entire pile, and soon, you'll be done. If you keep sorting through the pile, and re-sorting, it'll take forever. Put back only what you want to keep, and arrange it nicely.
  • Be merciless. You may be a pack rat, but the truth is, you won't ever use most of the junk you've accumulated. If you haven't used it in the last year, get rid of it. It's as simple as that. If you've only used it once or twice in the last year, but know you won't use it in the next year, get rid of it. Toss it if it's unsalvageable, and give it away if someone else might be able to use it.
  • Papers? Be merciless, unless it's important. Magazines, catalogues, junk mail, bills more than a year old, notes to yourself, notes from others, old work stuff ... toss it! The only exception is with tax-related stuff, which should be kept for seven years, and other important documents like warranties, birth and death and marriage certificates, insurance, wills, and other important documents like that. But you'll know those when you see 'em. Otherwise, toss!!!!
  • If you are on the fence with a lot of things, create a "maybe" box. If you can't bear to toss something because you might need it later, put it in the box, then close the box, label it, and put it in storage (garage, attic, closet), out of sight. Most likely, you'll never open that box again. If that's the case, pull it out after six months or a year, and toss it or give it away.
  • Create a system to stop clutter from accumulating. There's a reason you have tall stacks of papers all over the place, and big piles of toys and books and clothes. It's because you don't have a regular system to keep things in their place, and get rid of stuff you don't need. This is a topic for another day, but it's something to think about as you declutter. You'll never get to perfect, but if you think more intelligently about how your house got cluttered, perhaps you can find ways to stop it from happening again.
  • Celebrate when you're done! This is actually a general rule in life: always celebrate your accomplishments, no matter how small. Even if you just decluttered one drawer, that's great. Treat yourself to something delicious. Open that drawer (or closet, or whatever), and admire its simplicity. Breathe deeply and know that you have done a good thing. Bask in your peacefulness.
Other posts about decluttering elsewhere:
See also:


Shirley Twofeathers said...

This is great. All these good ideas! If you don't mind, I will probably put a link to this post over at theprosperityproject.blogspot.com, it fits right in with our current project.

Leo said...

Thanks, two feathers. I appreciate the comment and the link.

I'll also check out your project. What kinds of things are you doing that fit in with this?

Anonymous said...

Good job. This is on my list of things to do. Nice blog!

Anonymous said...

thanks for the tips. my husband and i are trying to do something similar. now if i could only get him to let go of his comic book and baseball card collections! lol.

Shirley Twofeathers said...

Hi Leo. I did put a link to this post over at the Prosperity Project, but this silly computer here at work won't let me copy and paste the direct link.

Our next project will be exploring if the Ganesh Mantra to remove obstacles really works. I don't know how that would fit into Zen Mind..

If we have anything in the future that coincides with anything you have going on, I will let you know. In the mean time, I have been enjoying your site.

Leo said...

Thanks Two Feathers! I checked out your site and it's pretty interesting. Definitely let me know if there's anything that can fit in with Zen Habits ... I'd love to feature it here on my site.

Ben said...

I am such a horder (is that spelt right?) that I declutter myself about once a year. I usually spend a whole day just going through every drawer and cupboard in my room and thoroughly clean everything in the process. I love doing it and feel awesome after it. I have recently started being more organised in my storage of stuff. I started by placing all my bills and letters in one place. Next I have bought a bookcase and put boxes and magazine holders onto it for quick depositing of various stuff. The one place I find I need the most work however is my computer desk. Its a mine field at the moment. Guess I will have to work out a system to keep it more organised. I look forward to some great suggestions of some things I can do.

Leo said...

Hi Benno ... thanks for sharing your experiences. I always feel liberated after a decluttering session. And when I look on my newly simplified closet or shelf or room, it is ... pure bliss!

As for your messy desk, I suggest you follow the GTD principles ... gather everything together off your desk, and in your drawers, put it all in one inbox, and just process through everything from top to bottom, making fast decisions on each: to put on an action list, to do immediately (2 min actions or less), to file immediately, to trash, or to delegate to someone else.

If you follow this system, you will clear your desk. Only deal with one piece of paper at a time, and never put a piece of paper back on the pile. Deal with it now. And don't start new piles!

Once your done, put every new piece of paper in your inbox, and deal with it the same way.

For more, see this post:

How to Get a Clear Desk.