Ready to conquer clutter - but for realsies this time?​

GET THE SYSTEM I USED TO DECLUTTER
75% OF MY STUFF (FOR FREE!)

Grab your copy of my 20+ page Ultimate Decluttering Guide
for a simple, step-by-step process to help you get
from stressy & messy to clean & serene.

Ready to conquer clutter - but for realsies
this time?

GET THE SYSTEM I USED TO DECLUTTER 75% OF MY STUFF (FOR FREE!)

Grab your copy of my 20+ page Ultimate Decluttering Guide
for a simple, step-by-step
process to help you get from
stressy & messy to clean & serene.

Ready to conquer clutter - but for realsies this time?​

GET THE SYSTEM I USED TO DECLUTTER
75% OF MY STUFF (FOR FREE!)

Grab your copy of my 20+ page Ultimate Decluttering Guide
for a simple, step-by-step process to help you get
from stressy & messy to clean & serene.

by Sara Brigz
TW: This post discusses toxic diet culture and restrictive eating as part of an analogy related to decluttering.
 

 

For years I didn’t really notice the yo-yo decluttering pattern, but whoo boy – it was there.

Every time I got frustrated with my piles of crap (which happened a lot), I’d spend a whole day tossing some clothes and décor items into a donation bag and hauling them out the door. I’d then meticulously organize the remaining 90% of my stuff and vow to never let my home get that messy again.

But within a few months (okay, okay… sometimes weeks), it would be just as bad as before. If not worse. And I had no idea how it had gotten that cluttered again.

Does that sound like you too? Because if so, you might be a yo-yo declutterer.

 

WHAT’S YO-YO DECLUTTERING?

 

Like with the toxic yo-yo dieting culture, where you lose weight too quickly and then gain it right back, it’s a cycle of decluttering a space and then cluttering it back up again.

When we’re in that situation, the clutter-free results never last. And as the yo-yo decluttering cycle keeps repeating, the problem can often get worse and worse.

For you, maybe it looks like:

  • Clearing out a space, and then going on a few shopping sprees and filling it up again
  • Decluttering on a whim, without really planning it out or doing introspection about why you acquired the stuff in the first place
  • Getting the urge to declutter around the same time every year, and then getting the urge to accumulate lots of things at a different time of year
  • Impulse shopping, hunting for deals, or collecting things from the curb – without stopping to question if you actually need it
  • Not knowing why the clutter always comes back, and feeling a little helpless and frustrated AF

THE DECLUTTERING TACTIC THAT’S WORKING AGAINST YOU


You might have noticed that you tend to declutter in a frenzy (especially when you’re fed up with the clutter). Here’s the thing, though – often, that spur-of-the-moment decluttering is working against you in the long run.

And here’s why.

It doesn’t allow you to slow down and explore the root cause of our clutter. And as we often talk about here, the only way to get lasting results with decluttering is to dive deep into our feels. Decluttering on a whim is basically a desperate attempt to get some control over our surroundings – but without doing the emotional work, the clutter will continue to control us.

Freeing yourself from yo-yo decluttering cycle involves three main components: mindful decluttering, mindful consumption, and maintenance. So if you’re ready to declutter for good, then read on, my friend.

Oh, and don’t forget to grab my Ultimate Decluttering Guide while you’re at it!

1. SLOW DOWN YOUR DECLUTTERING WITH SOME MINDFULNESS

 

I know some decluttering methods (*cough* Marie Kondo *cough*) that encourage you to declutter in one big sweep. As I understand it, their strategy is to shock the system into noticing a clear before and after. And for some folks, that may work – but I advocate a more mindful approach.

When you’re going through your things, you need time to figure out any patterns that you have when it comes to clutter. Grab a notebook (or even the notepad function on your phone) and start taking notes to see if you notice any patterns.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • What time of day, day of the week, or season did I buy this item?
  • Did I buy the item full price, or on sale?
  • What was I feeling at the time? (Maybe you were shopping alone to blow off steam, or shopping with friends to celebrate something?)
  • Was the item an impulse buy? What problem was I trying to solve by buying it?

For example, you might start to notice that you tend to accumulate clutter in the fall and winter. When you dive into your feels, you see that as the days get shorter and you hunker down at home, you turn to online shopping as a means of comfort – oh, and all those holiday sales don’t help either. But come spring, you’re sick of the clutter and you start purging it as a kind of “spring cleaning”. Then the next year, the cycle continues again.
 

Recognizing the specific details of your clutter pattern is crucial to putting an end to it. And decluttering mindfully is the first step.

2. PAUSE BEFORE YOU SHOP

 

The next step is to ending the yo-yo decluttering cycle is to pause before you buy (or before you accept free things from people).

Just like you did with your decluttering, I want you to slow down with your accumulating. Otherwise, old habits are likely to kick in, and before you know it you’ll be up to your eyeballs in “but it was on sale!”

When you get the urge to take something home, ask yourself questions like:

  • What am I feeling right now? And am I using shopping as a way to try and avoid those emotions?
  • What needs – physical or emotional – am I trying to meet by buying this? Can I meet those needs in another way?
  • Where would it live? If it doesn’t have a specific home or function – like, an exact shelf or cupboard or drawer – it will almost certainly end up cluttering up your space.

Once you discover a pattern in your shopping triggers, make a plan for how you’ll manage when the triggers arise in the future.

For example, if you tend to shop as a social activity or a way to pass the time, brainstorm other non-shopping activities that you can propose to your friends. If your friends can be a little pushy about buying things, you might also consider practicing phrases like “you’re right, it’s super cute, but I actually don’t need any more decorations right now.” Or “I agree that the shirt would look awesome on me, but it’s not in the budget for this month.”

With practice, you’ll gain confidence in saying no to any purchases that you don’t really need.

3. PREVENT YO-YO DECLUTTERING WITH A NEW “MAINTENANCE MODE”

 

The last step to staying clutter-free is maintaining your newly clean and organized home. Honestly, the biggest game changer I recommend introducing a daily gratitude practice into your routine. Because until you appreciate the shit you already have, you’ll always want to accumulate more!

Oh and if you’re decluttering or transitioning into “maintenance mode,” definitely check out my Grateful as Fuck Challenge. I designed it specifically to help you appreciate your things during or after the decluttering process. You can find it here.

There are plenty of different strategies to staying clutter-free, and I explored them in another recent blog post. Hop over to give it a read, and pick out a couple tips that you feel will be easiest for you to follow!

FINAL THOUGHTS

 

Breaking the yo-yo decluttering cycle can take a different set of skills and habits than we often use for decluttering. But by decluttering deliberately, shopping more mindfully, and practicing the maintenance strategies above, I really believe that you’ll be able to kick the cycle for good!

by Sara Brigz

Decluttering can seem daunting sometimes, can’t it? Especially when we have mountains of crap and big goals for a simpler life, but we’re not sure where to start. When I first started paring down my stuff, I drew a ton of inspiration from people living in tiny homes, and people exploring life in an Airstream. (And this was long before my partner and I ended up sharing our own tiny apartment!) These folks took the concept of downsizing to an extreme, questioning everything that they owned and only keeping the things that really mattered.

Even if you have no desire to live tiny – or even to downsize at all – I know you’ll find value in hear from today’s guest, Melanie from A Small Life.

In 2013, Melanie decluttered and downsized into an Airstream travel trailer with her husband. They lived there for four years and blogged about their experience, from the first renovations (seriously – the before photos are BANANAS) to the decision to sell it and move into a small house.

Today we chat about transitioning to life in an Airstream, the perks of living tiny, and what it means to live a small life. (Oh, and how to handle decluttering with a partner!) Enjoy, friends.

 

 

1. Hey Melanie! So happy to have you here. For those who don’t already know you, tell us a bit about yourself!

 
Hi Sara! Thanks for having me. My name is Melanie and I live in beautiful Asheville, North Carolina. I am a writer, blogger and stylist. I help people simplify and beautify their homes, and I have a focus in sustainability and small spaces. In my free time, I love puttering around my garden and hanging out with my chickens and dog.
 

2. What led you to start your blog, A Small Life? And what does it mean to live a small life?

 

In the original iteration of my blog, I talked about all kinds of things– mostly what was going on in my life at the moment. Back then, I was about to get married and I was really focused on that. But the change in my blog came after our wedding.

We wanted to relocate, but most of the rentals in that area were out of our price range. One night I was browsing Etsy and came across an interview with a couple that lived in a Winnebago. I told my husband about it and he said, “You know we could do that.” That moment completely changed my life.

To me, living “a small life” isn’t necessarily about the size of your home. To me it means: living below your means, owning less stuff, having a “make do and mend” attitude and prioritizing your happiness.

3. You lived in an Airstream for about four years, right? What drove you to make that change?

I did! After we got married we really felt like we were stuck on a hamster wheel financially and just could not ahead. Living in the Airstream allowed us to save money and helped us to focus on what we truly wanted in life.

 

4. How smoothly did the transition go for you?

It wasn’t an incredibly difficult transition for me. I’ve never been one to have mountains of stuff, but I will say that life is never all sunshine and rainbows either. Just like living in a traditional home, stuff in the Airstream broke and it still got messy. Even though I love living in a smaller environment, I also acknowledge that it won’t solve all your problems either.

5. What did a typical day look like for you in the Airstream?

A lot of people think that because I lived in an Airstream, that I was travelling all the time. I wasn’t! The Airstream never left the land it was parked on. I had a full-time job as a librarian, so I went to work every day and came home to my little Airstream refuge. My husband worked from home, so when I got home, we’d eat dinner together and watch some TV. It was a very normal life.

6. Did you have to declutter much prior to moving? And if so, what was the toughest part of that process for you?

 

I did declutter a lot, but I had a tight timeline, so I think in some ways that really helped. I’m one of those people who gets in moods where she just wants to throw everything away and start over. Moving is kind of miserable!

Learning to be honest with myself is probably the toughest part of the process. I think myself, and many people, keep things because we want to be the person who wears the smaller size or makes 5 course meals. Knowing myself and being honest about what I will and won’t do has been the biggest game-changer for me.

 

7. Were there any decluttering strategies or quotes that especially helped you while you were simplifying your stuff?

I love the William Morris quote: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

8. Do you have any tips for getting a partner or family member on board with decluttering?

This is one of my most frequently asked questions and most people don’t like the answer! Haha! I think that you have to be incredibly gentle and patient with family members. Sometimes clutter comes from deep-rooted trauma. You know your family best and you probably know what the best way to approach them will be.

But in general, you have to set an example. Tell your family your intentions and what you intend to do, but don’t declutter their stuff for them. This needs to be their choice. (Unless they are very small children, then declutter away! Haha!)

For example, my husband is not a minimalist and he has a lot more stuff than I do. And that’s ok. Over the years, he has simplified his things, but he’ll never be a minimalist. I accept that and love him anyway.

9. How is your life different now than life in an Airstream? And what did you learn from the experience?

Living in the Airstream allowed us to save enough money to put a downpayment on a small, fixer-upper home. It also allowed us to be able to save enough money to where I was comfortable quitting my job and starting a small business. It completely changed my life for the better.

From the experience, I learned that most “stuff” is meaningless. How I spend my day, freedom of choice and experiences are so much more important.

10. What would you say to someone who is considering downsizing?

Do it! It’s an incredibly freeing experience. And if you want a jumpstart, I have a course. 😉 It’s called The Two Week Declutter and for two weeks you’ll receive an email with a task to help you minimize your stuff, so you can maximize your happiness.

Final Thoughts from Sara

 
Not all decluttering needs to involve downsizing. And hey, not all downsizing needs to involve living in an Airstream! But we can learn so much from people like Melanie, who show us that not only is living an uncluttered possible – but it can also be done in style. 😉
 
For more from Melanie, you can find her at asmalllife.com and on Instagram @asmalllife.

by Sara Brigz
Woohoo! You’ve decluttered your crap, and now you’re looking for ways to stay clutter-free. Or maybe you’re still up to your earlobes in clutter, but you’re in it for the long-haul and determined never to let it get this bad again.
 
Either way, you’re in the right place my friend!
 
When it comes to a clutter-free home, purging your stuff is really just the first step. The real test is whether you can maintain a tidy space without the clutter creeping in again. (Which, let’s be real, ain’t always an easy task.)

 

WHY IT’S SO HARD TO STAY CLUTTER-FREE

 
Honestly, it’s not that different from dieting. Like, losing weight takes a specific strategy and mindset, but maintaining a goal weight is a whole other can of worms, you know? That’s why it’s so easy to fall victim to the yo-yo dieting culture. You know, where we diet, lose a bunch of weight, stop the diet, and gain it right back.
 
Or in the case of decluttering, we declutter and have a clean and fresh home for a bit. Then we start up our old habits again, and the clutter comes back.
 
Does any of this sound familiar?
 
  • You’ve decluttered your closet, then felt like you had nothing to wear. So over the course of the next few weeks or months, you ended up going on multiple shopping sprees and your closet ended up just as jam packed as it was before.
  • You’ve dropped off items at the donation center, only to pop in “just to see what they have” and ended up with more crap you don’t need.
  • Or, you know, maybe you got swept up in the Marie Kondo craze a few years ago and ruthlessly purged anything that didn’t “spark joy.” But your home felt kinda empty, so you started acquiring new things that “sparked joy” – and before you knew it, the clutter was back with a vengeance.
Been there, my friend!
 

MY CLUTTER STORY

 
I was a yo-yo declutterer for years before I finally saw results that stuck. I’d spend a weekend going through my crap and donating items, only clutter up my space again. Like, real talk… sometimes within weeks. Then the cycle would continue again.
 
And again.
 
And again.
 
By 2016, I was fed up with my clutter after a big move (and a major panic attack). And in less than a year, I’d successfully sold and donated 75% of my belongings. Now, don’t get me wrong – I made a whoooole bunch of decluttering mistakes along the way. But by simplifying my life and implementing these six strategies for staying clutter-free, I was able to move into the cutest little 300 square foot apartment with my partner. Oh, and become mortgage free by 30… but that’s a story for another day.
 
For now, let’s get on with the good stuff. These six strategies can help you get out of the yo-yo decluttering cycle, and stay clutter-free for good!
 

1. FIGURE OUT WHICH SHIT YOU’RE ACTUALLY USING

 

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably so used to seeing all the things that you own – but you rarely stop and think about whether you actually use them on the reg.

Luckily, there are plenty of little hacks you can use to figure out what you’re actually using day-to-day! Here are some strategies I’ve tried over the years:

  • Every laundry day, look at all the clothes still in your drawer or hanging up in your closet. These are clothes that, for whatever reason, aren’t getting worn. Maybe they’re for a different season (which is fine), but if they don’t fit or they aren’t your style, then it’s time to either alter them or say “see ya never!”
  • Divide any drawer (or shelf, or cupboard, or even closet!) in two. Put everything on the left-hand side. Like, literally everything. Then, when you use something, put it back on the right-hand side. You’ll learn very quickly which things you reach for, and which ones are gonna collect dust forever on the left-hand side. This works especially well for small stuff like jewellery, hair accessories, and socks.
  • For things made of metal, glass, or hard plastic, grab a wax pencil or China marker and put a marking on the item. After a couple of weeks, you’ll have a clear visual of which items aren’t getting used. I recommend this for things like spice jars, cleaning products, and some toiletries.

Sometimes we need a little visual of what we’re using, and what we’re just accustomed to looking at every day. Implementing these little tactics – or, hey, creating your own! – can be a great way to stay on top of clutter.

2. HAVE A PLACE FOR YOUR “QUESTION MARK” ITEMS

 

As you figure out what you’re actually using, you might come across some shit that you know you don’t use (or don’t use often), but you just caaaaan’t quite part with.

This is where you can designate a cupboard specifically for those things. (We call ours the purgatory cupboard – you know… because the stuff inside is awaiting judgment.😂) Write a reasonable “expiry date” on each item, and if you don’t miss it by that date, then you know you can get safely rid of it without that nagging “what if” question rolling around in your noggin’.

Many of the things we’ve kept in our purgatory cupboard got sold or donated – especially kitchen clutter like our toaster, tin foil, and garlic press! But some of them we actually ended up missing and brought back out into circulation again, this time with way more gratitude for how they help us live comfortably.

 

3. KEEP BASKETS BY THE DOOR

 

A really useful step in decluttering 75% of my stuff was keeping all my decluttered items by the door. I separated them into different baskets (or boxes, or whatever) and organized them into piles for selling/freecycling, donating, or placing out on the curb. And it’s still a handy practice, long after that initial decluttering is done.

Having a designated spot to put your decluttered stuff means that you can immediately find the stuff you’re selling when the buyers came to the door. It also means you have a visual cue to take the stuff with you when you leave for the day, so you can drop it off at a shelter or wherever else may need it.

There are plenty of places to donate items to that don’t involve dumping them at a big box thrift store (I explain here why I’m not a fan of them). Having different baskets by the door can make it easier to get your items to places and people that really need them, all year ’round.

4. HOLD A YEARLY CLUTTER “CHECK-UP”

 

Our needs naturally change over time, so there’s no such thing as decluttering once and then never having to declutter again. That’s why it’s important to hold a yearly clutter “check-up” after your initial declutter, where you go through everything you own again and reflect on questions like:

  1. When was the last time I used this?
  2. Will I need it again in the coming year?
  3. Could I make do without it?
  4. Could it benefit someone else?

By taking stock of your stuff like this, you can figure out if an item still reflects your needs, your style, and your goals. If not, it’s time for it to find another home! (Oh, and if the thought of going through everything you own again stresses you out, it might be a sign that you really need to do it.😉)

Choose a time of year when you naturally get the urge to set goals and establish new habits – it could be the new year, or spring cleaning time, or even the back-to-school rush. Then ride that motivation wave, baby!

5. BUY LESS CRAP

 

I can totally see you rolling your eyes and being all, “yeah… no shit, Sara.” But stick with me here.

If you want less clutter, you have to stop bringing clutter into your life. There’s no way around it, my dude. So here are five questions you can ask yourself before you buy anything, that’ll help you acquire less clutter overall:

  1. Do I actually need it? Like, for realsies?
  2. Could it wait a week? (Or a month?)
  3. Do I already own something that could do the trick?
  4. Could I borrow it instead?
  5. And if it’s a sale item, would I buy it at full price?
Next time you get the urge to buy (or otherwise acquire) an item, ask yourself these questions – and being brutally honest with your answers. You might just surprise yourself on the amount of clutter you cut down on!

6. PRACTICE GRATITUDE

 

Look, here’s a cold hard fact for ya. Until you’re happy with what you have, you’re always going to want more. (And I’m sure you know as well as I do that constantly wanting more is what ultimately leads to clutter!)

There are plenty of ways to incorporate more gratitude for the items in your life. I’m talking simple things, like slowing down with your morning cup of coffee and thinking about how awesomesauce it is that you have a mug to drink it out of.

But my personal favourite is carving ten minutes a day for a month-long gratitude challenge. I actually created one called Grateful as Fuck! It’s specifically for people who are decluttering, to help you appreciate all the awesome shit in your life. I recommend it to all my students, because when it comes to maintaining a clutter-free home, gratitude is still the best and easiest skill I’ve ever come across.

If you want to up your decluttering game (or you’re determined to stay clutter-free forever), you can grab a copy of the Grateful as Fuck challenge here.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The methods you use to declutter aren’t always the same ones that’ll help you stay clutter-free. The strategies above can help you switch your mindset from “purge” to “maintenance mode,” which means you’re much less likely to fill your space back up again in a few months.

Because yo-yo decluttering is super discouraging, amirite?!

If you want to make sure your clutter doesn’t come crawling back, then it’s time to implement strategies like:

  • Decipher which crap you actually use, and which you don’t
  • Designate a place to keep all the items you want to get rid of, but aren’t sure if you’ll miss
  • Keep a “sell/donate” basket by the door, so you can remove items as soon as you realize you don’t need them anymore
  • Schedule a yearly clutter “check-up” to go through everything you own
  • Buy less crap in the first place, by using strategic questions before taking out your wallet
  • Practice gratitude on the reg – because appreciating what you already own is the best way to prevent clutter!

In order to stay clutter-free, it’s all about prioritizing what’s important in life and creating habits to stay on top of the stuff in your home. And whether you’re just starting out or you’ve hit a decluttering wall, my free Ultimate Decluttering Guide can help you reach your goals! Grab your copy here:

by Sara Brigz

Okay, so you might be wondering: why am I posting about decluttering habits in the middle of the year, and not on January 1st? The short answer is that I think new year’s resolutions are kind of crap.

The long answer is that I don’t believe in choosing goals just because an arbitrary date rolls around. See, the only thing that can really propel you to make changes is deciding you’re ready to make those changes. It’s also having such a strong reason why you need to do something that you feel there’s no real choice but to make your life better.

Or, as I prefer to put it…

Real growth starts when you're tired of your own shit.

(You can find more motivational decluttering quotes here, by the way.)

CHANGING YOUR DECLUTTERING HABITS

Now, obviously being tired of your own shit can sometimes coincide with a new year. These are generally the people who successfully keep their resolutions. But for many of us the timing doesn’t line up – which could be why we convert back to our old ways again by January 23rd.

My biggest life changes sure as hell didn’t coincide with January 1st. I went vegan overnight on a random day in October 2014. I started decluttering in the fall of 2015. And I started adopting a low-waste lifestyle in the spring of 2017 – honestly, I can’t even remember which month it was.

Each one of those changes required a clear reason why I wanted to change. But they also required me to create and practice new habits. Otherwise, there’s no way I could have stuck with the goals!

So if you’re fed up with your clutter and ready to make a change, I gotchu. Here you can find 12 decluttering habits that will completely transform your home in a year.

And if you’re ready to get your home in gear, I highly suggest grabbing my free decluttering guide:

1. SHOP WITH A LIST


You’ve probably heard this advice for grocery shopping, because we tend to impulse shop when we’re hungry. (Guiltyyyyy!) But did you know it works for anything? Seriously!
 
I have a “wish list” on my phone of things I need or am looking for. That way, when I’m tempted to buy something, I can consult the list. If it’s not on the list, then chances are I don’t need it and can move on.
 
I buy most of my clothing (and other stuff) secondhand, and the list method actually works especially well for thrifting. I can pop into a store and know exactly what to look for, because I have “jean shorts” and a “black t-shirt” on my list. So basically, it keeps me from buying a bunch of shit impulsively that’ll just end up cluttering up my home.

2. DOCUMENT YOUR PROGRESS


There’s pretty much nothing more motivating than accountability, and documenting your progress is a great way to achieve that. I mean, for one thing, it’s a reason to get your ass in gear. But it’s also super inspiring to see the progress you’ve made since the initial “before” photo!

I recommend taking photos of any space you’re looking to declutter before you start. Then, take progress photos every day or week (or even month), depending on how quickly you’re able to get through the space.

And if you’re looking for an extra dollop of accountability, you can share your goals and progress photos on social media! (Feel free to use the hashtag #lettingthatshitgo on Instagram, and I might even feature your success in my stories. 😉)

3. KEEP A BOX BY THE DOOR


If you’re decluttering and you’ve identified some items you know you want to part with, keep them in a box by the door. You can even pick up a cute basket or tote bag to keep there, if that’s your aesthetic!
 
Having them in view is a great reminder to take them with you when you step out the door. And I mean, having them there might even be a minor inconvenience, so you’ll be more inclined to want them gone, amirite?

A person's decluttering habits include folding the laundry.

4. USE LAUNDRY DAY AS A GUIDE


This is such a simple little hack that I tried out a few years ago, but it works! Every time laundry day rolls around, have a look at what’s still in your closet and drawers. Generally speaking, these are the clothes that you’re not reaching for regularly – the ones that don’t fit quite right, or don’t match enough of your other clothes. (Obviously I’m not counting out-of-season clothes in this.)
 
Of the clothes that didn’t get worn since the last time you did laundry, choose one item to declutter. If you start making it a habit to part with one item every single laundry day, your closet could look completely different in a year.

5. GET SCIENTIFIC


I run experiments in my home all the time. And while I know that makes me sound like Dr. Frankenstein (or, let’s be real, more like Dr. Frankenfurter!😉), hear me out.

If there’s something you’d like to get rid of but aren’t sure if you’ll miss it, tuck it away in a cupboard as an experiment. (A drawer or closet works too, depending on how many things you have!) The important thing is that it’s out of sight.

Then, try living without it for a week, or even a month. I’m willing to bet that a bunch of the things you put in your cupboard won’t be missed at all, so you can get rid of them without as much worry!

6. IDENTIFY YOUR “FANTASY SELF”


Your “fantasy self” is the person you wish you were, and often the person you tend to shop for. For example, your fantasy self might be a fashionista, so you have all sorts of fancy dresses – but your real self rarely goes out, and the dresses all still have tags on them. Or maybe your fantasy self is a knitter, so you have all sorts of yarn – but you never use it, and it just gathers dust.

One of my favourite decluttering habits is to become aware of your thought patterns. So start by noticing the things you’re keeping for your fantasy self – specifically, the shit you see and think “I should do that” or feel guilty about not using. And then give yourself permission to let go of (and stop buying) those items.

7. GET YOUR GOALS ON


Choose one Big Scary Goal (BSG, as I call it) each month as you work toward decluttering or sustainable living, and tell someone about it. Maybe your goal is to finally declutter your kitchen, or to meditate every day.
 
If we set too many goals, it’s easy to get analysis paralysis and not accomplish any of them. So I recommend focusing on one big scary goal for the month, something that’s just a little outside your comfort zone, and working toward that. You’ll see more progress than if you strive for lots of smaller goals – and seeing tangible progress can be super motivating.

8. DO THE IMPORTANT SHIT FIRST


Mark Twain once said: “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” What he meant is that if you have a big ugly task that you’re probably going to want to put off, it’s best to get it done right away. Otherwise you’ll probably end up procrasti-watching Schitt’s Creek all day (or is that just me??) and the task won’t get done. Again.

So when you create your to-do list for the day, get the “frog” task done first and rip off that band-aid. You’ll see that the task probably wasn’t quite as unpleasant as you thought it’d be, and you’ll gain momentum for the rest of your day.

A bed and night stand look uncluttered and peaceful.

9. RECHARGE YOUR BATTERIES


Treat your “recharge time” as sacred, and commit to it the same way you commit to your goals. And yes, sleep counts!

Decluttering is mentally draining (in fact, there’s a concept called decision fatigue which can totally derail your efforts) so you need to prioritize rest. Real rest. Quiet rest. None of the mindlessly-watching-TV-or-scrolling-through-social-media nonsense while you recharge. And if I may quote Ron Swanson… “never half-ass two things, whole-ass one thing!”

Make recharging your one thing that you focus on when you do it, and take time to fill your cup back up in a way that actually helps you feel rested – so you can tackle your decluttering with more energy.

10. FEEL YOUR FEELS


Rather than avoiding unpleasant emotions that arise while decluttering, sit with them. Feel them. Name them. Write about them. Talk about them with someone you trust. I know it might feel easier to ignore feelings of anger or sadness or guilt, but unless you allow yourself to really feel them, they don’t actually go away. They’ll continue to simmer under the surface, and chances are that they’ll come up in other ways (like snapping at a loved one).
 
Decluttering habits are all about retraining our brain. And feeling the waves of emotion, processing them, and letting them go is one of the best tricks there is. Because only then can you see lasting results with your decluttering – and avoid the dreaded clutter rebound!

11. PAY ATTENTION TO PATTERNS


Are you constantly putting off one task in particular? Do you get halfway through a project and then abandon it? Do you go through the decluttering process and then never actually sell or donate the items?
 
These patterns can be a HUGE indicator of some emotional blocks in your way that need to be addressed. And noticing the patterns is the first step to coming up with a plan to tackle them.

12. STRENGTHEN YOUR RELATIONSHIPS


This might sound overly simplified, but hear me out. So much of our physical clutter is a replacement for external needs that aren’t being met. You might have a tendency to keep certain things to feel “cool” – but if you strengthen your friendships, you’ll feel cooler even without those things. Or you might keep things “just in case” – but if you strengthen your bond with your community, you could borrow those items if you ever needed them in the future. (Even though chances are, you won’t actually need them.)

Every time you get the urge to buy something new, or struggle to declutter something, consider what emotional needs you’re trying to fill. Then, ask yourself how you can meet that need in another “non-stuff” way.

FINAL THOUGHTS ON DECLUTTERING HABITS


The state of our home – how cluttered and stressful it is, for example – is often a direct result of the decluttering habits we have. So by adopting a few specific habits, you can dramatically alter your surroundings, and create the peaceful and clutter-free home you’re craving.
 
From straightforward actions like shopping with a list to more emotional work like examining your needs and confronting your fantasy self, each habit is important to transforming your relationship with your home.
 

 

by Sara Brigz

They say the only thing certain in life is death. And let me tell ya, after coping with the losses of three of my loved ones this year, that realization hit me like a ton of bricks.

Anyone who’s had to go through the pain of losing a loved one – and figure out how to sort through their belongings after they pass – knows that it comes with a buttload of challenges. Things like:

  • not knowing where to even start in sorting the clutter
  • powerful waves of grief that interrupt the decluttering process
  • the reminders of your loved one around every corner
  • the guilt of parting with items that you know you won’t use, but were important to your loved one
  • and sometimes even tension with family members over specific sentimental pieces (especially since old family dynamics can resurface when emotions are high – helloooo middle child syndrome!)

Frankly, nothing can make this situation less sucky. Because in my opinion, grief is pretty much the suckiest of all the emotions. But there are certain things that can keep the situation from feeling even worse. In this post, I share some of my strategies for decluttering after a death, from practical tips you can implement right away to deeper emotional work that may take more time.

If you’re also looking for general strategies on how to cope during a personal crisis, here’s a post where I asked 21 experts to share their best tips of how to live intentionally in times of stress.

Please let me say that if you’re needing to read this, I’m so sorry for your loss. My thoughts really are with you, friend. And even though decluttering after a death is never easy, I hope these strategies can help in some small way.

1. THE STUFF IS NOT THE LEGACY

 

Want to know one of the biggest game changers for my own decluttering after a loss? Here it is. Legacies do not live in our stuff.

In my experience, the stuff is merely a symbol – a placeholder – of a quality you admired about them. A baking tray is less about the tray itself, and more about the recipes they taught you. It’s about the quality time spent in the kitchen together – the sharing of experience through food.

In the same way, a souvenir from their travels is less about the object itself. Or even the specific memory it evokes. Instead, i’s a reflection of their adventurous spirit.

Here’s the thing. If you’ll use the object regularly and think of your loved one fondly every time you do, then by all means keep it. But it can be freeing to realize that you don’t need to keep it in order to honour their legacy. You can declutter the baking tray and honour and remember them by baking their signature cookie recipe every holiday season. Or let go of the souvenir and celebrate them by taking an impromptu trip to somewhere new.

2. START EARLY

 

I think the natural tendency is to put off going through someone’s belongings until you feel ready. But the thing is, you’ll never really feel ready, you know?

It can be so tempting to just chuck everything into storage (or hide it away at home) to deal with at a later date – but by trying to avoid the negative emotions, we rob ourselves of the ability to feel, process, and start moving past them.

Obviously I’m not saying you need to declutter right away, or even in the same week or month. But it’s important to realize that it’s going to be emotionally taxing regardless of when you start, and postponing it won’t actually make it any easier – and it can actually be super useful in helping you work through your grief.

 

3. START SMALL

Begin by decluttering a category of things that might be less emotionally charged, especially at the beginning when the waves of grief are the most powerful and close together. Maybe it’s their thumbtacks. Or their charging cables. Or their Tupperware. If you come across anything particularly sentimental in the process, set it aside and come back to it at a later date.

If you’re new to decluttering, I also recommend grabbing my free guide. It’ll help you through the basics of how to start, what mistakes to avoid, and how to develop a clear vision of your decluttering goals:

 

4. RIDE THE WAVE, BABY

You know what’s funny? According to Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroanatomist at Harvard, a wave of sadness only takes 90 seconds from start to finish… but only if you allow yourself to really notice it and feel it. That means that the negative emotions that we spend days (and even months or years?) trying to avoid and distract ourselves from could actually be felt and released in a matter of seconds!

Honestly, it works. For example, I’ve started letting myself cry – like, UGLY cry – when I need to. I’ll feel the grief in all its glory, and then starts to fade within a minute or two. Now, at the start of the grieving process, I might have a bajillion of those little waves in a day… but gradually, they get further apart.

The key is to let yourself feel it fully. So if you’re decluttering and you feel the urge to cry, don’t hold back. Stop everything you’re doing, cry as hard as you need to, stop once it passes, and carry on. Also maybe grab a snack and some water, because crying all the time is dehydrating AF.😉 And maybe practice a little mindfulness while you’re at it?

 

5. LET GO OF THE GUILT

Just because it was important to your loved one doesn’t mean it needs to be important to you. I know that sounds a bit harsh, but hear me out here. The process of decluttering someone else’s items involves figuring out who you are, what you enjoy, and what matters most to you.
 
Chances are, you didn’t share 100% of your interests or hobbies or interior decor preferences with your loved one. And it’s okay not to share 100% of their preferences for their belongings after they’ve passed.
 
Oh, and if you’re feeling guilty about things going to waste while decluttering? I wrote a blog post all about how to declutter sustainably which should help.

 
Decluttering While Grieving

 

6. TAKE LOTS OF BREAKS

Going through a deceased loved one’s things can be exhausting emotional work – especially in the early days of bereavement. Decision fatigue from decluttering is a very real thing, Take naps, eat snacks, drink water, and meditate regularly to recharge. (I’m also a big fan of hug breaks – and yes, self-hugs count!) You could even take a long shower, a brisk walk in the fresh air, phone a friend, or bring a little more simplicity into your day.
 

Self-care is always important, but it’s even more so when you’re grieving. All of these are non-negotiables in my mind. So if you can, opt for slow and steady rather than powering through, so that you can rest up and not burn out.

 

7. NORMAL DECLUTTERING METHODS MIGHT NOT WORK

I’m a sucker for Gilmore Girls. Now, the revival was disappointing in a number of ways (but let’s save that discussion for our next round of patio beers, shall we?). That said, one of the most compelling aspects of it for me was watching Emily Gilmore navigate the grief surrounding her late husband.

There’s this one scene, for example, when she’s cavalierly getting rid of all her possessions – her furniture, her clothes, practically everything in sight, because it doesn’t “spark joy.”

And look, I’ve got nothing against Marie Kondo’s methodology, because I know it works for plenty of folks! My point is that grief can really fuck with the joy-detecting process. It’s like our ability to determine what sparks joy becomes unreliable: either we feel no joy about any of our stuff, like Emily, or we confuse joy with our love for the person and end up keeping everything.

Honestly, the same goes for many decluttering strategies I’ve seen. Like you know how people say you should declutter something if you haven’t used it in six months? Yeah, that doesn’t work so well in this situation.

When you’re decluttering in bereavement, remember that no two people’s grief is the same. So a method that works well for someone else may not be right for you, and that’s absolutely okay.

 

8. BE PATIENT WITH YOURSELF

I’m going to say something kind of obvious, but stick with me here.

There’s no such thing as an A+ in grieving.

Everyone feels things at their own pace. That means you’re no better or worse of a person based on how deeply you feel. Or even how quickly this process goes. The key is to find self-compassion, because you’re coping with a lot right now – and in this moment, you’re doing the best you can.

As much as you probably wish it could be, progress likely won’t be consistent or linear. You’re going to find things that trigger grief, so give yourself lots of space for that. And while it’s totally fine to have general goals (like, I want to spend this week going through the living room), try not to stick too heavily to a pre-determined schedule. After all, grief just doesn’t work like that.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS ON DECLUTTERING AFTER A DEATH

Decluttering ain’t easy at the best of times, but when you throw grief into the mix – well, it’s a lot to deal with. It can be overwhelming and guilt-inducing and stressful, and can leave us feeling helpless, confused, and wanting to scream into a pillow. (Or is that just me?!)

While we never really “get over” a loss, learning how to declutter after a death can be an important step in finding more peace. And by pacing ourselves, working through our guilt, and strengthening our self compassion, the process becomes more straightforward.

I hope the tips above on how to declutter while grieving will help you feel a little more in control, and will be the first step for healing through the process of letting go. (And for more decluttering help, you know where to look.)

 

Hey! I'm Sara.

I help big-hearted people master their mindset and kiss clutter goodbye.😘

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