This article is one of a five-part series decluttering and minimising a space. Read the introduction to decluttering and the idea behind it, here.
The following parts are going to be about physical decluttering, digital decluttering, mental decluttering and, in the last part, about how we wrap up the journey of decluttering and carry forth the beneficial effects of the process.
Welcome to part one: Physical decluttering.
Deciding what to keep
After the introduction, this is going to be the first part with practical content and actual decluttering. So you might be surprised when I tell you that we are still not going to decide what to get rid of to declutter your space.
Instead, we are going to decide what to keep.
Even though these two sound similar, there is a difference and that’s the attitude. Instead of coming from a mindset of having to part with items, the mindset is more about getting to chose your favourite things to keep. Deciding what you really want to surround yourself with and therefore automatically letting go of everything else.
Choosing those things can be difficult at the beginning but gets more and more intuitive further down the line. The most important thing to keep you going is to not lose sight of why you are starting. What do you want your space to look and feel like? What functionality and purpose do you want it to provide? Does your space reflect and cater to who you are right now in this current phase of your life?
Tidying, especially in times of stress, relates to a craving for regaining control and for achieving visible results to build a sense of accomplishment. There are quick wins (like filling the dishwasher or putting the washing machine on) that offer almost instant gratification in that sense. Decluttering – the act of structural tidying – will not be a quick win but in the long run, create the feeling of control and accomplishment as a permanent base value.
Physical decluttering can be done in many ways; one of them is the konmari method where it’s done by categories. Items of a similar kind get grouped together. Some categories of items are easier to declutter than others and baring in mind that picking the things to keep gets easier with practice, it is a good idea to start with the easier categories and work up to the more difficult ones. Once you started, make sure you keep the momentum going and swiftly move on to the next category.
Usually, the easiest category is clothes. Other categories, roughly sorted by their level of difficulty, are stationary, textiles, books, kitchen, electronics, bathroom with cosmetics and makeup, paper, hobby, home décor, seasonal items, photos and sentimental items plus a last category of choice for everything that is not covered in the above (like garden, garage, collectables, crafting, specialist equipment or the like). Looking at all of your items of one category will make it easy to grasp the actual amount of things you own or identify any duplicates you might have.
Does it spark joy?
To prepare yourself for decluttering each category, you will need guiding questions. Answering the guiding questions for each of your items will help you to decide what you want to keep without getting overwhelmed and lost in the pile of things in front of you. Make the questions easy and intuitive to answer and ensure that they all bring you closer to your “WHY” which you have defined earlier. Questions will differ from category to category, but their overarching theme is always: Does this spark joy?
Other questions might be: Does this represent my actual self or a fantasy/future/past self? Do I have this because it makes others see me in a certain way? Has this item already fulfilled its purpose in my life? Does this item require an action on my part? Am I legally required to keep or document this? Do I use this? Do I have multiple versions of this?
The first step to approach each category will always be to remove all items of that category from their normal space and put them in one designated area of your home. Make sure that no items escape that first step. When you’re doing clothes make sure that you have washed before so that the items in the laundry basket can’t escape. When you’re doing stationary or make-up, check all your handbags for pens and spare lip balms. Get it all, from all corners of your life, even the items that you are 100% certain you’re going to keep anyway – they all go into the same pile or otherwise you’ll miss out on the effects that it has to see all your stuff in one condensed space.
Yes or no
Once you have a category gathered up in front of you, the actual decluttering begins. Pick up every item and check them against your list of guiding questions. At first, it might take a while to come to a decision, but it’ll get easier over time. The “yes” items go to one side, the “no” items get sorted into discard/donate/recycle piles.
Once again: The aim is not to get rid of the maximum amount of things. The goal is to only keep what makes you feel good and get rid of what gives you a sense of obligation, guilt or overwhelm. Even though this process is a little different for categories that are work-related or concern paperwork (your birth certificate might not spark joy but it’s still not a good idea to discard it) the effects of only keeping the papers and documents that you need to keep are just as uplifting as your decluttered wardrobe.
After decluttering a category, your “yes” items return to their spaces or move into new ones. Make sure that everything that you keep has a home, a place to go. Since you ideally have just gotten rid of many things, there should be some space available to make this possible.
Be careful to also set time aside to deal with your “no” items. Get the piles into the car right away or move them to the door so that you can get to the dump or donation centre as soon as possible. Beware of sneaky items that sit in the unattended “no” pile for too long – they’ll try to make their way back into your home.
Moving along from category to category might leave you with some “maybe” items. That’s okay, store them in a box and keep them in there for about half a year. If you find yourself reaching for one of the items in that time, that one’s a “yes”; if you have forgotten after 6 months what’s in the box, it’s a “no”.
And then there’ll be some items where you know that your answer is “no” but you have this strong feeling that you cannot let them go for emotional reasons or because of their backstory. That’s okay, too. It’s okay to have sentimental items. As long as they make you feel good. If they make you feel guilty, shameful, stuck or keep you rooted in an old version of yourself whilst you are working on becoming the next version of yourself, it might be time to rethink if they have maybe fulfilled their purpose in your life already. Handling the physical items can trigger many emotions and memories and, in some cases, can therefore be hard. But removing the physical evidence of a memory or a phase does not alter the actual memory or phase it represents.
In the end, it is about achieving lightness and a sense of contentment whilst decreasing stressors and background noise in your life. Only you can determine what to keep and what to part with to get to this point.
And once you are done, read part two here (coming soon) to do the same for all of your digital spaces.