The Best Way to Reduce Clutter

A friend asked me to help her clear her clutter, and walking into her house I could easily believe the statistic that the average American home contains 300,000 items.

That number sounds impossible (to me, anyway), but this house looked like it.

So where to start?  What's the most important thing to do?

The best way to clear clutter is to reduce what you bring in.

In fact, it's essential.  You cannot begin a decluttering journey unless you give some hard thought to your consumption habits and stop buying anything that isn't absolutely necessary.  That's because decluttering is as much about what comes in as what goes out.

Decluttering takes commitment and discipline, and a good way to begin developing both of those qualities is with a spending fast.  You really need to stop shopping for everything except food, personal care items, and items you need for cleaning or repair.

Stop bringing in new clothes, makeup, toys, hobby supplies, d├ęcor items, kitchen gadgets, additional technology, or whatever else you love to buy at Amazon, Walmart, Target, Home Depot, dollar stores, yard sales, or anywhere else.  Get your consumption habits under control or you'll just find yourself right back in the same spot, over-cluttered and weighed down.

Your goal is not just to get rid of more, but to buy much less.

Maybe you need to figure out why you shop so freely.  Why are you so tempted by all of the gadgets and gewgaws you don't really need?

Most of us have one or two (or three or four) unhealthy ways of hiding from our feelings.  We eat, drink, binge-watch TV, escape online, or shop so we don't have to deal with whatever is stressing, upsetting, or boring us at the moment.  We crave the dopamine hit we get from eating something sweet or buying something new.

This behavior has a tendency to multiply our problems, because now we have to deal with an overcrowded home, a larger waistline, a hangover, or some other less-than-optimal result in addition to whatever feelings we were trying to avoid in the first place.

Masking our negative feelings might sound better than experiencing them.  But real freedom and resilience comes when we begin to practice acknowledging and feeling our feelings rather than running from them.

Eating, drinking, watching, or buying a bunch of things we don't need won't make us feel better.  We might experience a few moments of joy, but they will be followed by guilt, regret, debt, weight gain, weakened relationships, clutter, stress – one or all of these, and maybe more.

A fast can jumpstart a new way of life, but be aware that it's going to force you to confront your addiction.  You're going to be tempted to eat, drink, shop, game – whatever it is you're fasting from – and you need to be ready for that.

So my friend wants to clear clutter, and I'm advising her to begin with a 30 day shopping fast.  I'm in the midst of a Buy Nothing Year, so we both need to do several things to help ourselves succeed.

12 Steps to a Successful Spending Freeze

1.  Be clear about your boundaries.

Decide how long your freeze will last (I recommend at least 30 days) and exactly what you can and cannot purchase during that time.

2.  Decide how to handle unexpected events.

How will you avoid shopping if you get invited to a wedding during your spending freeze?  Or will you make an exception for something like that?  Think about possible scenarios.

3.  Find at least one accountability partner.

Tell a friend what you want to accomplish and why, and check in with that person every day or two to talk about how you're doing.

4.  Immediately recycle marketing mail and unsubscribe from marketing email.

Those coupons and sales alerts are designed to make you shop, even if you don't need anything.  You don't want them.

5.  Prefer brick-and-mortar to online shopping.

It's much easier to add something you don't need to your virtual shopping cart, so strongly reconsider purchasing groceries, personal care items, paper products, diapers, pet food, etc. through an online service.  Instead, get in your car and go to a store when you need those things so you can spend less time browsing online.  No more shopping in your pajamas!

6.  Quit Amazon Prime.

The only things you really need overnight are available in your local grocery, hardware, or drugstore (chemist).

7.  Don't carry a credit card, and delete your card details from shopping sites.

If you want to purchase something, you'll have to pay with cash or a debit card in the store, and online shopping requires you to get the card out and enter all of the numbers.  That extra step gives you time to come to your senses before you buy.

8.  Make a wish list.

In real life or online, make a wish list of items that catch your eye.  What is it that tempts you?  Once an item is saved on the list, don't consider it again until the end of your spending freeze.  Do you even remember what you added to the list?

9.  Give yourself an allowance.

After the spending freeze, create a new line item in your budget for discretionary spending.  Keep using a wish list, and if an item stays on it for a specified amount of time (say a week), go ahead and buy it if you still want it and you have the money.  This places a limit on your shopping for extras, and makes the purchase intentional rather than impulsive.

10.  Find something else to do.

If you're tempted to shop because you "need a break," "deserve a treat," or feel bored, sad, or under stress, the impulse will be hard to resist.  But there are plenty of excellent ways to make yourself feel better, no purchase necessary:

  • listen to your favorite music
  • get some exercise
  • make a cup of tea
  • talk to a friend
  • give yourself a manicure
  • soak in a bubble bath
  • take a nap
  • watch a funny movie
  • savor a small piece of dark (at least 70%) chocolate
  • read an inspiring book
  • browse through some old photos of happy times and loved ones
  • work on a favorite hobby
  • spend time in nature

11.  Give thanks.

A focus on gratitude is really important when you decide to stop spending unnecessarily.  When we become aware of how much we already have, and give thanks for the fact that our needs are met, our whole outlook changes.  We start to savor all of the good things we already possess, and our sense of abundance increases.  Instead of feeling deprived of our treats and indulgences, we feel sated.

So may I suggest that my newest book/journal might be a necessary purchase?  Maximum Gratitude: Find Happiness and Contentment through the Habit of Giving Thanks, available on Amazon (paid link), can help you create and strengthen this mindset.

12.  Use imagination to motivate yourself.

Imagine what it would feel like to walk into your home and see belongings you use and love – and nothing more.  Imagine yelling at your kids a lot less because they have a fraction of the toys that now clutter your living space.  Imagine fixing meals more easily because your kitchen is more spacious and accessible.  Imagine all that you could do with your time if you spent much less of it managing all of your stuff.

It feels good to imagine all of that, doesn't it?

It feels even better to live it.

Photo by Kam Idris on Unsplash


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