4 Ways To Declutter Without Regrets

Clutter is an annoying, energy-sapping roommate, threatening to take over your space from the closets to the countertops. No matter how much you say you want your clutter gone, it can feel impossible or overwhelming to make a dent in it.

Pile of files

Clients regularly approach me asking for tips and strategies to help them declutter. If you feel like you just can’t get rid of it, here are some of my favorite tips for winning the war once and for all:

1. Start with what bothers you the most. When you decide to attack clutter, don’t try to do everything at once. Start with the pile, area, or room that causes you the most stress—usually an eyesore that you have to look at daily. You’ll get the most relief from getting rid of that and feel deep satisfaction that will in turn motivate further decluttering.

2. Identify and change the root of the clutter. Consciously change the habit that perpetuates the problem. For example, I used to accumulate my recycling in a closet, and the pile would keep getting higher.  One day, a lightbulb came on and I realized that I could simply take it outside every day when I took my dog for her morning walk. That way, it goes directly into the container from which the city collects it and I can use my storage closet for much more useful things (the eyesore of all that recycling junk spilling all over the place is also gone, yahoo!). Identify your behavior habits and modify them to help prevent clutter.

3. Fight for your surfaces. Keep surface areas clear and do not let piles form. Piles are the enemy of sanity and clarity. When you have an item in your hand, store it where it belongs immediately. If you must make a pile, categorize by similar items and store it somewhere out of sight to avoid stress. I have a basket I keep stashed in a cupboard for receipts to sort later.  That also makes it in turn much easier to organize my finances, I’m never having to search everywhere to find receipts.

4. Give lots and lots of stuff away. “But what if I need it someday?” This is a common decluttering obstacle. To get clarity on whether or not to hold on to something, ask yourself, “If I saw this in a store today, would I buy it?” If not, get rid of it. Last year, one of my Club members proudly kicked 70 boxes of excess stuff to the curb where they were picked up by a local charity. I challenge you to beat that!

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  1. Lisa Tooes says:

    Hi Susan, This is so timely and thank you. I have revisited this once again in my life recently. It’s amazing how those “bad habits” sneak back over time. It’s a continual commitment to keep up the hard earned good habits. I think of you often. Will email you soon just to keep in touch. Love all your posts. As always, they are perfect for wherever I am on my path. Hugs.

  2. Candace says:

    Hi Susan –

    Thanks for this piece. Although most of my space looks tidy, I have little pockets of clutter, and one BIG clutter collector of a room, which is our dumping ground when we need to “hide” our accumulated piles when visitors are coming. Unfortunately, that was also supposed to be my office! Now it is almost too full – and completely un-functional! I’ll be attempting to apply the suggestions you’ve offered to attempt to address this problem spot.

    Blessings! – Candace Bishop

  3. Karenna Alexander says:

    I love the tip that deals with the “I may need it some day” objection. What about the objection of: “I paid so much money for that and never used it, it’s a shame to throw it away.”

    • Dr. Susan Biali says:

      Hi Karenna, I have a favorite charity that I donate to, most of those items go directly to low income women. I’ve found that it makes me feel really good to give something of value to someone who could never afford it. It hurts that I never wore a suit that I recently donated, but it doesn’t look quite right on me and I’m sure that God made sure it went to someone who would be beside herself at her luck at getting “my” brand new suit. That makes me feel good about giving something valuable to people who really need it.

  4. Caroline says:

    Hi Susan These are great tips, thank you – particularly the one about identifying the root cause of clutter in particular areas. What about the issue of getting rid of a deceased person’t things? I have a pile of things from my deceased parents that have taken over half a room of my house but every time I go in there to “make a start” I just end up upset (or endlessly putting it off). But I need the room back ! Can you help?

    • Dr. Susan Biali says:

      Hmmm…I wonder if there’s a way you can make it special, instead of just a chore. Can you use the process as a way to honor and remember your parents, perhaps thanking them for times together that their belongings remind you of, or to use it as part of your grieving process? (tears and grieving are so healing) Alternatively it may help to get someone else to come in and help you do it, so you’re not alone with your memories and grief…

  5. Caroline says:

    Thanks Susan. I realised that you’re right – it isn’t something that I’m going to be able to do alone. I have asked a lovely friend of mine to help me. She’s a counsellor and I know that she will help me to do this at my own pace rather than rush me though it.

  6. Lynne says:

    I can really identify with this!! Thanks for these tips…will start working on it. Yes! Yes! Yes!

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