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

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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

I’m not gonna lie, times are rough right now – and it feels almost impossible to keep life simple. As I write this, the COVID-19 pandemic is raging hard and many of us are cooped up in isolation… which is a whole struggle in itself, amirite?

This past year has basically been one crisis after another: devastating wildfires, hurricanes, political unrest, the worst global economic decline since the Great Depression, and now a pandemic. And on a personal level, it’s brought the loss of two loved ones. Like, are you freakin’ kidding me, 2020?!

And the cherry on top of this shit sundae? Many of our usual activities and healthy coping strategies have been put on hold, leaving us with no choice but to cocoon ourselves in blankets and cry and re-watch Friends for the 874th time. (Oh wait… is that just me?!)

 

Being the potty-mouthed optimist that I am, I honestly believe that we can get through this shit together. Our routines may be totally out of whack right now, but there are still things that we can do to create little moments of meaning and, dare I say it, legit happiness. That’s why I gathered some of my favourite experts from the sustainability, mindfulness, and decluttering communities and asked them the following question:

What’s your best tip for keeping life simple and intentional during the pandemic?

Get ready for them to drop some kick-ass knowledge about self-compassion, finding calm in the chaos, and oh-so-much more. (Plus, if you stick around, you get my not-so-expert tip down at the bottom!😉) The best part is that these tips can apply to both a global crisis and a personal crisis, so feel free to share this with any friends going through a tough time… whatever the reason.

Now let’s get to it, shall we? Here are 21 ways to live simply and intentionally during a crisis:

1. Reframe your to-do list.

“What’s been helping me recently is focusing on a ‘done’ list versus a ‘to do’ list. It’s easy to feel unproductive and then down on myself if I’m looking at an unrealistic list of things I’d like to do in a day.  It’s quite uplifting and motivating to see a list of all the *small and big* things I have accomplished.”

– Sophi Robertson | yourecofriend.ca

 

2. Find balance between routine and easing expectations.

“While there are many things out of our control during this time, it’s helpful to work on finding balance between easing the expectations we hold for ourselves and still doing small things consistently that move us forward. Just like any major transition, even the strongest habits are easily disrupted in this environment. Be kind to yourself and others while still looking for tiny bits of familiarity in your routine to gain some consistency day to day, even if it’s much less than you’d typically expect of yourself.”

– Anthony Ongaro | breakthetwitch.com

 

3. Acknowledge your feelings, and ask for help if you need it.

“These times are fucking hard, but you are a lot stronger than you think. Don’t deny what you are feeling. You can’t avoid your emotions, but if you’re not quite ready to face what you’re feeling, learn something or do something that you always wanted to learn or do. It might surprise you! If that doesn’t help, and you still can’t shake the feeling, it’s best to seek help (if you can). Showing that you need help is the strongest thing you can do.”

– Simple(ish) Living | instagram.com/simpleishliving

 

4. Focus on being, rather than doing.

“It’s a simple approach that applies whether or not we’re in a pandemic, but it’s difficult to apply. Focus on BEING rather than DOING. I can easily get caught up in doing activities with little energy spent on how I feel in the process. This is the fastest way I’ve seen burnout occur and this puts my physical and emotional wellness at risk. When I shift the focus to BEING in the present moment, I can more easily tap into connecting with myself in a way that benefits me the most.”

– Sandy Park | tidywithspark.com

 

5. Prioritize what's most important to you.

“It’s funny because the question seems simple on the surface, but it’s really more like an onion once you pull back the layers of each person’s personal circumstances. Right now I believe the best way to keep life simple and intentional during this pandemic is to prioritize what is most important to you. For some people, that might mean keeping their kiddos fed and occupied while juggling working from home. For others, it might be about maintaining their mental health as anxiety has been kicked into overdrive. Some people might have more free time, in which case it’s a good chance to prioritize learning about sustainability and how to avoid excess – while others might be overwhelmed and hanging on by a thread. No matter what we’re experiencing right now, it’s all valid.”

– Tara McKenna | thezerowastecollective.com

 

Woman of colour stands in a field with a mountain in the background
6. Get some fresh air.

“Spend as much time outside as nature (and your local government) allows. It’s amazing how the monotonous task of laundry folding can become a peaceful practice when done in the presence of fresh air and sunlight.”

7. Try out some new skills.

“Before the pandemic I was one of those people who had every hour of every day booked with something. Now that business is not as usual, I have a lot more free time. Rather than fill it up with TV or excessive Zooms (it seems like there are opportunities to be on Zoom calls all day every day), I have honed in on opportunities to teach myself new skills. After some trial and error, I figured out how to make kombucha (nailed it with strawberries). Now I’m onto sourdough bread.”

– Jonathan Levy | zerowasteguy.com

 

8. Focus on your values.

“I spend more time focusing on what I value, and I spend a lot less time with everything that distracts me from what I value. I’m pulling myself away from the inevitable hurry and hustle.”

– Marie Beecham | mariebeecham.org

 

9. Create mindful rituals.

“For me, simple and intentional living all comes down to little rituals: small moments of joy or mindfulness that I actively create through the day and aim to follow routinely. Especially when I’m running around after my toddler son, these little rituals mean so much! It can be as simple as making a cup of tea, having a hot shower with a DIY body scrub, or taking a few deep breaths. Even wiping down the kitchen counters or unloading the dishwasher can be meditative and helpful for living in the ‘now’ when I’m feeling stressed.”

– Leah Payne | leahstellapayne.com

 

10. Assess what you truly need.

“Quarantine has many of us sitting with everything we own, which can cause a lot of discomfort though we may not understand why. We are having to adjust our wants and our purchasing habits, something I hope we take with us when life returns to “normal”. Now is a great time to assess what you (and you family) truly love, use, and need. If you are using this time to declutter, please do so with the environment in mind! Consider actively giving your items away to folks who will use them, rather than doing a big donation dump. Let this time be your gateway to the sharing economy, sustainable consumption, and community resilience.”

– Sarah Robertson-Barnes | sustainableinthesuburbs.com

 

 

Pssst – if y’all are interested in learning how to declutter sustainably, I’ve got a whole blog post about it! There’s also some info about what to do with your decluttered items in my Ultimate Decluttering Guide. Grab your copy here:

11. Dive into hands-on projects.

“One of my favourite ways to keep life simple and intentional during these tough times is to take my mind off the chaos by diving into hands-on projects! Gardening is a great way to connect with nature and food. We’ve been growing everything from chilies, cabbage, squash, tomatoes and more! Another thing that has helped is learning new recipes and baking from scratch. This trying time has taught me that we humans have always been self-sufficient, we just need to reconnect with those traditions and bring them back into our systems. Brampton, a city in Ontario, has even given free soil and seeds to its residents! Growing our own food is so important especially when we need to focus on reducing our contact with others during this and future pandemics.”

– Elizabeth Teo | instagram.com/zerowastecutie

 

12. Keep a gratitude journal.

“My best tip for keeping life simple during the pandemic is to keep a gratitude journal. We can get so caught up in the daily stresses and fear of the unknown that we forget that we have a lot of great things going on in our life NOW. Taking 5 minutes every evening to write down what you are grateful for, it will remind you that you have many things in your life that spark joy. Choosing to look at the bright side of life and being intentional about where you invest your time and emotions will help you find peace in the midst of chaos.”

– Janine Morales | tidycloset.net

 

13. Have a plan for your day.

“Have a plan, even if it is a loose one. I am working from home with my husband and 2 children, 3 and 14. Very early on everyone got their own daily schedule. Very simply put, have purpose. Make your bed, get dressed for the day, read a little, play a little, move your body a little. My main focus was to keep everyone mentally healthy. If we are happy and safe, only then can we focus on environmental sustainability.”

– Leslie Acevedo | instagram.com/salt.light.provision

 

14. Listen to podcasts.

“For me, it’s all about recreating positive relationships with objects that would be considered ‘waste’ and shifting my idea of waste to create. During this time, I’ve been able to tune in to a lot of podcasts when I’m cooking, exercising, or doing nothing and enjoy conversations from people that have interesting thoughts to say. While I miss in-person human interactions, I’ve found podcasts to provide me similar forms of energy, and it makes me happy. Do whatever makes you feel comfortable at home since that’s the most important thing!”

– Isaias Hernandez | queerbrownvegan.com

 

15. Keep things flexible.

“As a mom of a toddler with a husband who’s now working from home, we do our best to keep things simple, flexible and intentional without putting too much pressure on things. For example, my son has as much independent play time both indoors and outdoors as possible rather than structured, one-on-one play time with me. This simplifies the day because I get to feel refreshed doing my own thing as much as possible.”

– Elsbeth Callaghan | practicallyzerowaste.ca

 

16. Reflect on each day.

“Every night I write a list with what I did well during the day, and what my intentions are for the next day. It has been a great help to keep track of what I’m doing with my time. And it has prevented me from falling out of balance by either procrastinating or overworking. And if I do overwork one day, I’m allowed to procrastinate on the other!”

– Ana Sofia Batista | subtler.org

 

A person is dropping food into a pot of water in the kitchen.
17. Get creative in the kitchen.

“I can only speak for myself and what’s helped me maintain a feeling of calm during the pandemic! Cooking simple meals and challenging myself to use up as many ingredients as possible before heading back to the market; learning about the useful wild plants that grow around me and finding ways to incorporate them into my life; slowly and without pressure picking up new skills like fermentation and growing food; and most importantly, finding little ways to celebrate each day. Fresh sheets, an old jazz record, candlelight — just something special that makes me happy to be alive.”

– Allison K. | instagram.com/nonlocal.joy

 

18. Be inventive and resilient.

“One of the things that most attracted me to minimalism and sustainable living was that it gave me the opportunity to be inventive and resourceful. An unexpected result is that it has taught me resilience. So my best tip is to be flexible, and find creative ways to work with your limitations. Lose yourself in a rabbit hole of flourless baking, and seek out space-saving, long-lasting natural products, things like shampoo bars and soap nuts, which are not only eco-friendly, but are also incredibly practical right now.”

– Nash Gierak | defyingspace.com

 

19. Reframe your thinking.

“Don’t focus on the things you could, should or would ordinarily do. Think of what you can and will do, and use this to inspire you.”

20. Focus on well-being and connection.

“I have been trying my best to maintain these three things to keep myself well during this time: physical health (exercise, staying hydrated, adequate rest and a balanced diet); mental health (journaling, meditation and virtual therapy); and community (staying in touch with family, friends and neighbors as well as volunteering).”

21. Determine what's within your control.

“For me it has been about categorizing what I can do to make the world a better place and what is beyond my control. I do the best that I can and try not to sweat the rest. I want us to be remembered as a society that dealt with this pandemic with grace and not with panic. We’ve used these credos to get us through this challenging time.”

– Meera Jain | instagram.com/thegreenmum

 

Now if you’ve made it this far, woohoo! Here’s my quick tip for living simply and intentionally right now:
BONUS: Keep life simple by dancing your ass off!

“To find some mindfulness in all this shit, I plug my headphones into my old iPod, blast an upbeat song, and then proceed to dance around my tiny apartment like an absolute fool. Doesn’t matter if it’s Motown or N’Sync or Lizzo, you bet I’ll be shaking my ass like I’m Beyoncé‘s backup dancer – even though all I really know are awkward Dad-style dance moves. It might not be a fancy meditation, but giving myself permission to boogie unabashedly for three minutes is a total gamechanger for mindfulness.”

– Sara Brigz (das me!)

 

Final thoughts:

So far, 2020’s been kind of a pain in the ass, hasn’t it? It’s easy to get lost in the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic, and I hope these tips can help you take little steps toward intentional living. Here are some of the key takeaways from our experts:

Prioritize your time. Figure out what’s most important in your life, and then guard it at all costs. It might be family time, or time in nature, or “you” time to recharge.

Have a routine. Whether it’s regular mealtimes or mindfulness activities or dancing around in your underwear in the mornings, pick some sort of routine that grounds you. And then…

Be flexible. The situation is changing from day to day, and sometimes things don’t go as planned. Allow yourself to go with the flow.

Distract yourself. Find enjoyable hobbies that help you grow as a person and connect with the world around you. That might mean gardening or cooking or decluttering your kitchen – whatever it is, immerse yourself in the awesome feeling of learning a new skill.

by Sara Brigz

Has decluttering been on your to-do list for weeks… months… maybe years? But it’s like every time you try to sort through your things, your eco-friendly values kick in and conflict with your urge to purge? Or maybe you’re no stranger to the phrase “But I don’t want it to go to waste!” and you know you want to declutter sustainably.

Then stick with me, my friend. I’ll show you the four steps to decluttering without waste… and with less guilt.

I hear ya – I also want to live in a calm, tidy home that doesn’t look like Mick Jagger just threw a raging party. But I also want to divert as much stuff from the landfill (and the oceans!) as possible.

The desire to declutter without making waste can be oh-so-strong, but it can be tough to know where to start. So if you’re wondering how the heck to declutter without feeling overwhelmed by guilt, I gotchu. In this post I’ll show you how to forgive your past decisions, change your future habits, and take charge of your clutter by re-homing them in a sustainable way. Each step is super important to help you declutter responsibly and – this is a biggie – get lasting results.

Pssst – want a free workbook to help you get started with your decluttering? Grab it here:

STEP ONE: MAKE PEACE WITH THE PAST

 

I see you, friend – you’re compassionate AF, and you want to do what’s right for the earth. So it totally makes sense why you might feel some “eco guilt” in getting rid of your stuff. But here’s the thing: that guilt isn’t going to serve you, even when you declutter sustainably.

It’s time to forgive yourself for decisions made before you knew better. Heck, forgive yourself for the crap you bought even after you knew better.

This is no place for perfectionism or shame – because if you’re anything like me, both of those mentalities will just make you want to procrastinate decluttering and binge-watch Netflix instead. (#BeenThere) Or those feelings of shame might drive you to seek comfort using old coping mechanisms (*cough* retail therapy, anyone?).

If you have an item you’d like to get rid of, but fear that it’s wasteful, here’s what I want ya to do:

  • Reflect on why you got the item in the first place, and why it isn’t being used now. Focus on the facts, here, and remember that you’re not a bad person (or a bad environmentalist, or a bad declutterer) for having this item.

  • Acknowledge the guilt or sadness or shame or whatever you’re feeling about getting rid of the object. Really feel them. Write them down, scream them into a pillow, cry about them while listening to a long-lost Backstreet Boys ballad. (I won’t judge… much.)😉
  • Look for the learning experience. In all mistakes there are lessons to be learned… or something corny like that. If nothing else, this item taught you a little bit more about who you are (and who you’re not), and that’s actually pretty cool.

STEP TWO: FOCUS ON THE FUTURE

Sweet, you’ve started to make peace with past clutter! Now what? Many folks jump straight to sorting through their shit, but they’re skipping a seriously crucial step. And it’s going to be basically impossible to declutter sustainably without learning how to stay clutter-free.

For your results to stick, you have to change your accumulation habits. There’s no point spending all that time and energy decluttering, only to re-clutter your home again. I mean, if a sink were overflowing, you’d want to turn off the tap before mopping up the water, amirite?

If your clutter is mostly non-donateable, non-recyclable stuff, you may want to brainstorm some less wasteful versions of those things in your community. Otherwise, while shopping in the future, you can ask yourself:

  • Do I really even need it?
  • Do I already own something similar, or something that could do the trick?
  • Can I borrow/rent/steal one (JOKES, guys, obviously stealing is terrible) instead of buying it?

One of the most sustainable things you can do is to buy less crap in general – especially new stuff, and especially stuff you don’t need. This shit is the real key to living a clutter-free and eco-friendly life.

Items in a sustainable kitchen that are being decluttered

STEP THREE: PRETTY IT UP

Want to know a secret for re-homing your things while you declutter sustainably? You’ve got to pretty them up a bit. Here are a few actions you can take to make your item more desirable to its potential new owners:

  • Repair or mend it


    Ugh, no one wants to buy something exciting and new and…broken. Take the time to fix it up – sew on that spare button, get the lamp re-wired, or tighten up the screws. Broken shit is way less likely to get picked up, so it’s worth it to show it a little TLC before saying “see ya never”!

  • Clean it

    Just like broken things, dusty or gross things are kind of… ick. So make it look its best by giving it a wipe down, a polish, or a scrub before sending it off.

  • Part with the whole set
     
    Now, I’m all for keeping one thing out of a collection if it’s sentimental, and if doing so helps you let go of the rest. But you’d have a heck of a time finding someone who wants an encyclopedia set that’s missing half the books because you wanted to keep the other half. (For any Gen Z out there, in pre-Wikipedia days, people used to have to look facts up by hand. In a book. Which was part of a whole set of books. Just to find out some random detail about sloths. And yes, it sucked.) Try to keep sets together when you part with them, if you can.

  • Take good photos
     
    This applies to posting things to sell, give away, or trade online. (I actually don’t recommend donating to big thrift stores, but stay tuned for more on that in Step 4.) The photos you post might be the difference between someone saying “heck yes!” to your secondhand item, or buying it new somewhere else – and we all know that secondhand shopping is way more sustainable. Never underestimate the power of good lighting, clear focus, and shots from multiple angles.

  • Craft a detailed write-up
     
    No need to write flowery poetry, here, but people want to know exactly what they’re going to get if they take your item. Give them as much detail as you can: things like the brand (if applicable), dimensions, how old it is, and any quirks or flaws. You can even throw in a sentence about why it’s useful, or explain what condition it’s in.

STEP FOUR: RE-HOME RESPONSIBLY

I know how appealing it can be to dump bags and boxes of stuff at big box thrift stores. The problem is that lots of the stuff we donate doesn’t actually make it onto the shelves. *Insert Homer Simpson’s “D’OH!” here.* According to CBC, only 25% of clothing donations actually gets sold in stores. So it seems like despite the warm fuzzy feeling we get with donating our stuff, there’s a very good chance it’ll end up in the landfill anyway.

We want to be sure that our items are going to find their way into the hands of someone who will value them. So here are some tips for how to declutter your stuff without throwing it away or donating it to a thrift store!

  • Sell it


    This might involve selling it to a person or a consignment shop, but selling items is one of my favourite ways to declutter – for a few reasons. First, it means more money in your pocket to put toward your financial goals. Second, if the future owner pays for it, it actually helps them value the item more (and likely take better care of it). And third, if you set an expectation that anything you bring into your life, you’ll have to sell one you’re done with it… well, you might think long and hard next time before bringing any new clutter into your home.

  • Trade or barter it
     

    There are a number of apps and Facebook groups these days for trading or bartering unwanted stuff. I’ve used Bunz and a couple of others to trade my clutter for things I can use: transit tickets, pantry items, bags of coffee… I once even traded a bunch of old wine corks (someone wanted them for wedding decor) for a new bottle of wine. Basically, you can exchange your clutter for consumables you would buy anyway, and IT ROCKS.

  • Donate to a shelter
     

    This is one of my favourite ways to re-home items, but PLEASE always call ahead to ask what items they need. For example, some animal shelters and wild animal sanctuaries will gladly accept your stained, torn, or otherwise non-donate-able bedding and towels. And there’s a women’s shelter in my area that was looking for coats and space heaters recently. But it’s not fair to saddle them with your old stuff if they don’t explicitly need it.

  • Donate to your community
     

    It often just takes a quick Google search to find creative places in your community that might have a need for your stuff. Old magazines can go to little free libraries. Tools and construction supplies might find new life at high school woodshops, or the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. Tote bags and elastic bands might be super useful at your local farmers market. Some independent cafes in my area even accept mismatched mugs to use for their “for here” coffee drinkers. A little research can go a long way in helping you find sustainable ways to declutter!

  • Freecycle or “Buy Nothing” it
     

    This is a great way to pay it forward in your community. Cut out the thrift store middle-man, and offer up your stuff to people nearby who might need it! And be sure to implement the tips from Step 3 before you post. 😉

  • Curb it


    Like freecycling, curbing (or kerbing, if you’re British) your items can be a great way to get your belongings into the hands of someone who can use them – without having to donate to a thrift store. The downside is that people may not be looking for that specific item, and might pick it up “just in case” or just because it’s there – so I prefer freecycle, where it’s more likely to end up in the hands of someone who is already looking for it.

  • Repurpose it


    This option is great for things that can’t be or otherwise used. But overall, this is actually my least favourite option – and I’ll tell you why. I’m not immune to keeping things for years, with brilliant plans of finding a use for them or “upcycling” them… one day. So if you know you’re the kind of person who will likely never actually get around to that repurposing project (and that’s okay!), then this ain’t the option for you. But if you can transform something (like make a planter out of a chipped teacup or cracked rubber boot) today – like RIGHT NOW – then this could be an awesome solution for ya.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

It took time to acquire your stuff, so it’s natural that it may take time to let it go. Remember that in order to declutter sustainably it needs to be a lifestyle change, not a fad. And going too quickly can actually be detrimental to your decluttering success, especially if it leads to yo-yo decluttering.

I definitely recommend processing one category of stuff at a time, so that you can re-home the excess all in one go and not have to keep making trips for the same purpose. For instance, if you can, try decluttering all your magazines on the same day, rather than having to make like 27 different trips to the little free library.

I hope these tips help you declutter without waste, in a way that’s in line with your rockin’ sustainable values.

Hey! I'm Sara.

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

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