10 Tips to Help You Declutter When You Don't Feel Like It

The basics of decluttering are pretty straightforward:  Put stuff you don't need or want into boxes or bags and remove it from your home by selling or donating it.  But motivating yourself to do something hard is a challenge for anyone.

You may have to declutter even if you don't want to when

  • you're moving
  • guests are coming to stay
  • it's making you sick
  • it's causing friction in your relationships
  • you just know it's time to simplify your life

You may think you don't have time to declutter, or you might not be "in the mood."  It can feel overwhelming when you're just starting out, but I promise life is better on the other side of decluttering your home and simplifying your finances, work, hobbies, and much more.  Read on for my best recommendations, and know that I'm rooting for you!

uncluttered living room

How to energize yourself to declutter (when it's such a big job)

1.  You need to know why.

There are many ways to declutter (and I'll discuss some as we go along), but knowing why is what will make it stick.  Why do you want to live with less?  What do you want to make room for in your life?

Consider this carefully, or you may find that you simply make space for new clutter.  Be sure that you're making room for life and your priorities, not just for stuff.

2.  Stop adding clutter.

If you already feel the burden of your clutter, stop adding to it!  Before you bring home even ONE new object (including something that's free), ask yourself these two questions:

  • Do I have a real need for this item?
  • What will I remove if I bring this item into my home?

To succeed at decluttering, you need to stop shopping for entertainment, stop walking into stores "just to look," and stop visiting yard sales, flea markets, or online buy/sell/trade groups.  When you start to control your clutter-collecting tendencies, you'll be able to make real progress on your current piles.

3.  Begin with a challenge to make it fun.

A decluttering challenge can help you get over that initial "I don't want to/I don't know where to start" hump.  Otherwise, you may be stuck in idle.

4.  Get everyone involved.

When you begin decluttering, invite your family to join you.  Don't demand, invite.  I know it's sometimes easier to see other people's clutter than it is to see your own, but resist that temptation.  Help your family to see the benefits of decluttering by demonstrating them yourself.

Here are some tips to get started:

  • Be specific and set a deadline.  "Please sort the video games into two piles by dinnertime.  I want to see those you play and those you don't."
  • Offer a carrot and a stick.  "You can have the money we get from reselling the old games."  And "After dinner, I'm moving all unsorted games into a donation box."

  • Randomize it.  Write 10 tasks on separate slips of paper and have family members draw them from a bowl.

cozy corner
5.  Do a Seinfeld chain.

Jerry Seinfeld has said that the way to be a better comedian is to create better jokes, and the way to create better jokes is to write every day.  His advice is to get a big calendar and put a red X on each day that you do your task of writing (or anything else).  "After a few days you'll have a chain," he says.  "Your only job is to not break the chain."

This isn't about motivation.  It isn't about whether you feel like it.  It's simply about being consistent.  Pick a goal that's meaningful enough to make a difference but simple enough that you can get it done.  Try just 10 minutes a day at first.

6.  Try timeboxing.

Instead of focusing on a big task, such as clearing out the garage, focus on time.  Set an alarm for a work period (say 25 minutes), and do as much as you can before the alarm goes off.  Then take a short break (5 minutes) for stretching, getting a drink of water, checking texts, or just sitting quietly.  Repeat if you can.

This works because you're looking at the job in small chunks, which helps you feel less overwhelmed by it.  You enjoy a sense of success at each stage, instead of deferring until the entire project is finished.  And each time you come back to the task, you have renewed energy and focus.

7.  Work like a machine.

Be methodical about how you approach any space you're decluttering.  Work from left to right, high to low, front to back – whatever makes sense for your project.  Don't jump around the space.  This will let you see your progress and keep you on track.

8.  Set a boundary.

Setting a limit can help you declutter until you reach a manageable number of items.  Perhaps you decide that you'll keep your four favorite pairs of jeans, and remove the rest.  Maybe you decide that two sets of sheets for each bed is ample, and the excess can go.  You could choose to keep one set of everyday dishes and one set of formal dinnerware.  Or maybe you can simply use one set for everything!  You might keep tools and supplies for just two favorite hobbies, and even limit those items to one bin per pastime.

Whether choosing just three favorite photos to place on top of the piano, or opting to keep just one box of holiday decorations, a boundary lets you focus on quality and function.  You can get excited about keeping the best while removing the rest.

9.  Turn guilt to gratitude.

If you struggle with guilt about letting go, money spent, or time wasted, shift your thoughts toward gratitude.  If you're thinking "I shouldn't have spent that money," think "I'm grateful that I have enough" or "I'm thankful that I understand what's important to me now."

Recognize that you've already received value from the item – you used it for however long.  Or that it no longer has value for you – it's just been in storage for however long.  Either way, you can give thanks for whatever the item meant in the past, and give up guilt about removing it from your space today.

10.  Overcome emotion.

The last stage of decluttering is usually reserved for sentimental items – stuff with emotional connections like inherited pieces, collectibles, handmade things, and possibly books.

You might benefit from having a neutral person help you at this stage.  When you don't physically handle your childhood Teddy bear or your Grandpa's paintings of old barns, you can be more clearheaded about whether or not they're keepers.

And remember that one item on display can be far more meaningful than boxes of stuff you never look at.  Get ready to enjoy your sentimental treasures instead of being burdened by them.

Remember rewards.

Do something positive for yourself as you finish each decluttering session or project.  Don't wait until your home is completely decluttered.  Celebrating along the way will make you excited for the next celebration!

This can be very simple:

  • Sit down with a restorative cup of coffee or tea.
  • Put on your favorite music and dance.
  • Ask your partner for a neck massage.
  • Call a friend to share your victory.
  • Read a chapter of a good book.
  • Savor a small portion of your favorite snack.
  • Post a picture of your success.
  • If you've decluttered your kitchen, host a small dinner party.
  • If you've decluttered the living room, plan a family movie night.
  • Simply relax in your newly decluttered space.

Your home should be a place of refuge and comfort, and you're making it happen!

Are you just starting your decluttering journey?  Do you feel like you need a "cheat sheet" to keep you on track?

I've written a pocket-size guide to decluttering that breaks the process into manageable tasks.  It's the road map you've needed, delivered in bite-size pieces to help you achieve the larger, cleaner, more organized home you're longing for.

Look for Decluttering: The Simple Guide from A to Z on Amazon.*  It's the first book in my best-selling Minimalist Basics series.

* This blog is reader-supported.  If you buy through my links, I may earn a small commission.


  1. Incredible compendium of great suggestions -- thank you! I will add one: I had an office mate who was a flight surgeon. He told me to clean my garage the way kidneys clean blood. Huh? That means, empty out the garage and pull in the things you need. Don't try to filter out what you don't. I put this into practice by completely emptying the closet or drawer or cabinet or whatever of every single item in it -- then pull back in the ones I want, discarding the rest.


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