Taking your house from cluttered and overstuffed is totally overwhelming—not gonna lie. A few years ago, when I first walked down the stairs of our over-sized house with the intent to minimize, I could feel the overwhelm forming a pit in my stomach. However, I had reached a point where I was desperate enough for change to move forward. I was William Wallace that day—determined, adamant, and my face was painted blue with purpose.
No, it wasn’t. But I was seriously over feeling trapped by my stuff, tired of always cleaning up, and ready to get out of survival mode once and for all.
This is the solution to the chronic overwhelm mothers are battling today, so it’s not surprising to me that so many women come across the philosophy of less stuff and can’t seem to shake it.
The thing that keeps them from taking action and making this their reality, is that staggering thought of actually having to go through every little thing taking up residence in their home and making a decision about what to do with it.
The fact is though, that very little truly good things come to us. We have to go get most of it.
So do you want this? Do you want a life of less clutter, more free time in your daily routine, more breathing room? Do you want the feeling that you can have company drop by anytime and not feel embarrassed by the current state of your house? That doesn’t come from staying on top of the housework. It comes from limiting what you own, so that it’s much more difficult for things create messes.
If you want to be separated from the dreamers and come over to the doers side of life, let me break it down into steps for you, from someone who’s been there.
1. I just started.
This is what I tell my students when they email me not knowing how to regain momentum in their journey, and I realize it’s an annoying tip, but hear me out. When something is as overwhelming as de-cluttering your entire house, your brain kind of shuts down. Following through in this is going to change your entire life, and that’s not a matter of “well, maybe. It might.” It will! But you have to do it. So just start.
Choose a non-threatening area of the house- one that doesn’t mean you have to sift through sentimental things or things you’ve been avoiding for years. The bathroom is a great place to start.
Just choose an easy area, walk in there, and pick something up.
Anything. Just pick up the first thing you see in that room without even thinking about it, then look at the item, and make a decision about it. This leads to my next point.
2. I asked questions + made decisions about each item.
As I went through the rooms, drawers, and cupboards in my house, I asked myself a few questions about each thing I held in my hands.
—When was the last time this was used? (if it hasn’t been used in two months or more, it’s a pretty safe bet you can do without it, unless it’s a sometimes needed item, like a Thanksgiving casserole dish.)
—Do I really, truly need this?
—Does this bring me joy and complement my life purpose?
I answered these questions and didn’t give myself much room to re-think or dwell on them for too long, and as I answered them I would get a feeling for which pile the item belonged in: keep, trash, or donate. I sorted as I went accordingly.
3. I didn’t set a time limit, but I had set times.
At this point in my life, there was no one really talking about this. Minimalism wasn’t a trend, I had no one writing blog posts or coaching me through the process of simplifying, so I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was simply on a mission to have more time with my babies and to relieve myself of the depressive lull I couldn’t seem to shake because all I did was clean up.
I maybe would’ve done things differently if I had had more clarity about the process, but it got done. I did not have a set time limit for how long I wanted the purging process to take. I didn’t tell myself, “I want to have the whole house finished by March.”
I did however, make a purging date with myself a couple times a week.
I know myself, and I typically get amped up and start a big project, then get tired and let it go, never to return to it again. Not this time. I was determined to be a finisher (remember, William Wallace), so I set a de-cluttering date with myself for twice a week.
Every Monday and Saturday morning for three hours I would work on decluttering the house. No excuses, no cancelling. I actually ended up purging more often than just those two days, but having those times set meant that even on hard weeks when other days didn’t happen, I at least always did the work on Mondays and Saturdays for three hours.
4. I started with the toys.
I know I told you a minute ago to start in the bathroom, but that’s just a suggestion for the truly overwhelmed, that’s not what I actually did. For me, the kids’ toys were the most overwhelming thing in the house time-wise. We had a large area downstairs that you could see when you walked in the front door or when you stood in the kitchen, and it was the dedicated playroom.
It was full of bins, toy chests, and boxes, and those bins, chests, and boxes were all overflowing with toys. It was totally out of control, and it felt like all I did was go in there before someone came over and clean it up, only for the kids to dump everything out again. I realized my kids weren’t even actually playing very often when they were in there—they would go in there having been told to “go play”, bicker with each other, and wander back out at my feet ten minutes later complaining of boredom. This wasn’t even worth it.
So the first thing I did was gut that playroom. I eliminated the biggest time-sucker right off the bat, and this left me feeling amazing!
I instantly had more time on my hands and felt lighter as a person.
5. I tackled things in order of how much time they took up.
After I purged the playroom and immediately saw a difference in my time, I decided to purge my home in order of how much time all the areas took up in my week. The toys were done, so the next biggest time-suck for me was the laundry. I was always washing clothes and never really able to catch up. This simply meant we owned too many clothes. There’s no need for things to be that way, even with six people in the house, so I purged.
The next thing that took up most of my time was the dishes. I would try to keep them rinsed and the counters wiped as I went about my day, but somehow, no matter what I did, at the end of a long day I always had to stand at the sink for an hour. I was over it.
Knocking these two big areas out changed the structure of my day probably the most out of anything else I did.
(Note: When I finished purging the laundry and dishes, the biggest chunk of my time was freed up. I put together a free guide to help you declutter your laundry and dishes in the same way I did. You can download it at the end of this post.)
6. I did it in waves.
Something I noticed about my own journey and that I see in my students again and again, is that purging never seems to happen all at once. When you do your first purge of the clothes, you usually end up going back later and doing another clothing purge because you didn’t get rid of enough.
I think this happens because we’re afraid to get rid of things when we first start, and because you learn as you go.
When I first went through all our dishes, I only got rid of the things I didn’t even like or use (ugly mugs, a broken hand mixer, chipped bowls, etc). I noticed I was saving time by having a few less things to wash and sort through when I was cooking dinner, but later I realized I could do a lot more to free myself up, so I did another wave in the kitchen.
Just be aware that this might happen to you, and if it does it’s okay! You could also learn from those who have gone before you, and use this information to take a shortcut through the purging process by making sure you get everything purged your first time through. #bossbabe
7. I got strict with some rules.
I noticed really quickly that there were certain hurdles in the purging process that could make or break me. One of the main ones was after I’d purge a room, my husband and kids would meander over to the donation pile and start to say things like, “hey! Cool! I haven’t seen this in forever!” Then they’d take those items out of the pile and i was taking two steps backward. Ugh.
So I made a rule for myself. Immediately after a purge sesh, I would bag up all the trash and donation stuff and take it where it needed to go.
This meant the trash went straight out to the trash cans, and the donations went straight to the trunk of my car to be taken to Goodwill later. I even set alarms in my phone for three days after each purge, and that alarm was my deadline—I had to take the stuff to Goodwill by that date or it had to be thrown away. Creating a “no excuses” setup for myself helped me follow through and increased my success for sure.
8. I removed my crutch.
I think we all have a room, a closet, or at least a cupboard where we throw all the junk we’ll “get to later” and shut the door when company comes over. I had an entire room that was a clutter catch-all, and when I wasn’t finished cleaning and a friend was dropping by or when I didn’t know what to do with something that was in the room I was decluttering, I’d throw it in that room and shut the door, telling myself I’d deal with it later.
But later kept being pushed out later and later, and I found myself using this room as a crutch. I knew I could procrastinate making decisions about the hard stuff by putting it in this room “for later.” I noticed my pattern and saw that if I didn’t man up, I was never really going to deal with it. I wanted to purge my home, not purge certain things and transfer the hard stuff from one room to another.
I made a note on my calendar that on my next two purging dates, I was going to tackle that room. Once I did it (it was exhausting because it held all the sentimental, hard things I’d been avoiding) I felt like a new person. A weight was lifted and I could breathe in big, deep sighs. So worth it! After I did this, my decluttering started to go much quicker, and I found making decisions about my items to be much easier.
9. I tackled the little things.
Once I’d done the playroom, dishes, laundry, and my clutter catch-all room, I felt like the biggest areas were done and I started focusing on the smaller things. Kitchen utensils, jewelry, shoes, the things in my laundry room, lingerie, the kids’ artwork, photos, the pile of mail I’d been avoiding, etc.
This just kept the snowball rolling and had my house looking noticeably uncluttered.
This is when people really started to take notice of how my house had changed and how I had transformed as a person. I just felt so much better about everything and it leaked through my smile.
10. I purged as I went about my day.
Once the big things and small details were under control, I found the rest of the house to be really easy and began purging things as I went about my normal cleaning routine (which was much smaller and lighter now—yay!). I would go through the house in ten-minute chunks and pick up, purging things we no longer needed as I went.
For example, when I would do my normal living room pick up before we sat down for dinner, I would grab an empty hamper (one of my fave little tricks!) and put anything I saw that we didn’t need in it. Then I’d dump the items in a trash bag to be donated later that week. The great thing about getting to this point is that you’re in a rhythm.
Purging is no longer a soul-sucking, time-consuming, dreaded task you have to push through. It’s second nature and just a way of life for you.
My kids even got used to it and started saying things like, “Hey Mom, I never play with these cars anymore. Can we give them to someone else?” It was awesome.
(Note: don’t let go of your weekly purging dates with yourself yet though! You still need to make those happen so you don’t lose steam and slowly get back to where you were.)
Those are the main steps that took me from Point A to Point B in my de-cluttering process, but a lot of other things have helped me maintain this lifestyle.Purging is like getting healthy. If you do it like a diet, you’ll just gain back all the clutter and end up totally discouraged, having wasted your valuable time on something you didn’t keep up. If you treat it as a mindset, as a lifestyle change you’re implementing for good, you’re going to stick to your guns and keep the weight off. 😉
You have to learn to be intentional about what you allow in your home.
Everything that takes up your space takes away some amount of your time, and you’ll really see that once you start getting uncluttered. When we are intentional, we give or throw away the things that find their way into our space that aren’t needed or loved, we work with our families to create a clean space we can make memories and be present in, and we go against the grain by asking “why?” about everything we consider bringing home.
If you’re wanting to really dive in and make this happen in your life, I’m excited for you! It’s so worth it, it changed the course of my entire life and led to more time, more adventures, and more focus on my family. I’m very grateful for and passionate about minimalism.
Psst! Check out Allie’s free guide to decluttering your laundry and dishes here.
A version of this article was originally published on The Purposeful Housewife.