A small step can change everything: Your home – your mind – your life.

Small steps matter.

They create change, step-by-step.

The first small step is the most powerful. Nothing happens without it.

Having a clear and organised home (or not) has to do with how successful we manage two different but closely related activities:

    • we have to be good at decluttering / organising physical stuff
    • and we have to be good at decluttering/organising our mind.

Our home and our possessions should reflect and support our lifestyle and our values, instead of making life more difficult and stressful.

However, when we are surrounded by belongings that we don’t use, like, need, we can’t relax and refuel our energy resources.

Instead, the mess sucks up our attention and energy. It clutters our mind, the physical clutter bombards our brain with excessive stimuli. We find it hard to focus on our daily lives – it’s all too much!

If we struggle to take action to declutter and organise our home and life, it’s often because the task seems to be so huge that we feel overwhelmed and end up with doing nothing.

We look at the mess and feel stuck, we feel incapable of getting active and making changes.

In this situation, it often helps to just get started – to take the first tiny step:

We choose one small area to focus our decluttering project on and forget about the big rest of the mess for now.

Instead of planning the clear up of the whole house, we decide, for example, to get one drawer in the kitchen sorted, or a little cupboard in the bed room, or our handbag. We set the timer for 20 or 30 minutes, and get the job done, from start to finish.

A small exercise like this, these 20 or 30 minutes, can change everything.

Choosing one small concrete project and tackling it successfully, creates not only new order and space in a little area of our home.

It also changes how we experience ourselves.

Decluttering and organising a small area delivers a visible real result. And this little success triggers a sense of ‘I can take action’, ‘I can organise’, ‘I can achieve results’.

It allows us to start believing in ourselves and our capacity to be(come) an organised person. 

Thus, even just a small successful experience like taking action and changing a cluttered drawer into a clear and organised drawer can have significant effects on our mind and our thinking. (Click Here to read about an example project: Decluttering and organising my office supplies’ drawer.)

It can have the power to set off a cascade of other changes in our life because our thoughts and beliefs are the cause of anything we experience in our life:

As soon as we start to believe that we can organise our stuff, that we can achieve results by taking action, we start to feel more powerful and confident, which frees us up to take further action, which delivers further results.

Which then reinforce and intensify our thoughts of being capable of changing our life and taking control. Which strengthens our feelings of strengths, which … .

A tiny small action creating small but real results can get the ball rolling, can trigger a circle of success. 

A small step can change everything. Give it a try.

You can use your next – small or big – decluttering project to become an expert in mind-management while at the same time you are getting your physical stuff cleared up.

Sign up to the Kickstart Decluttering Training.

It’s your Magic Pill for all your clutter issues

These are the main features of the training:

    • 4 weeks short (4 one-on-one coaching sessions)
    • Focus on you and your next decluttering project
    • Mindful and practical
    • Key takeaways: detailed action plan, decluttering toolbox
    • RESULT: A clear mind ready to create a clear home – and a clear life

Are your ready to get ready?

Click the green button to book the

Getting-Started Session

The ‘Small-steps-approach’ helps us to get started with decluttering

Would it be possible to clear up your entire home by doing one little step (a single task) after the other?

I actually prefer to do things in one go – to start a job and only stop when it’s finished.

However, often it’s not possible to complete a decluttering project in one go. 

    • If we are in an extremely busy phase of our life we might just not have the time for a decluttering project that will take several days or even weeks to get completed.
    • There might be other reasons why we don’t feel physically or mentally able to go through a complex energy- and effort-demanding project.

Thus, the decision to do it all in one go can become the reason why we don’t start at all!

The solution is to let go of the idea that we have to do it all at once:

We move towards our decluttering goal by taking one little step after the other.

CLICK HERE to read more about the ‘Small-Steps-Decluttering Approach’.

Example of a small-steps decluttering project

Currently, I don’t feel comfortable in my home office. There is too much stuff lying around on my desk, the drawers are too full, I need to clear up the filing cabinets, and I also want to sort out and give away some of my books.

However, I don’t have the time to do all the work in one go and decided to do it step-by-step.

This is an example of my small-step projects:

Decluttering the drawer with the office supplies

Recently, I had 30 minutes before I had to leave the house to meet a client, and I was determined to finally get the drawer with my office supplies sorted out.

I followed my own advice – the sequence of actions I listed in my post (read more):

I set the timer, and took a photograph of my cluttered drawer.

Image of Office drawer content - BEFORE decluttering

I emptied the content of the drawer on the floor,

Image Decluttering Step 1 - Drawer s content emptied on floor

sorted out what was broken or no longer usable,

and sorted the rest into categories of like items.

Image Decluttering Step 2 - Drawer s content sorted in categories

Now I created 3 piles:

  • to give away (e.g. note pads I never use),
  • to keep in the drawer (one exemplar of all the different things I regularly need),
  • and to store away (all duplicates and extra stock)

Image Decluttering Step 3 - What has to go

I cleaned the drawer, arranged the ‘keep in the drawer’ stuff nicely, and put the ‘to store away’ things in a storage box. 

My drawer looks very organised now, and I know where to find more supplies as soon as something has been used up. And it took me 25 minutes to get the job done!

Image Decluttering Step 4 - To be kept

Yes, I start to like the ‘strategy of small steps’:

Image of Office drawer content - AFTER decluttering

How do you manage larger decluttering projects?

Do you divide bigger tasks into smaller steps? How does it work for you?

How to get started with decluttering your life – Free online coaching session

Decluttering our homes is not easy.

I haven’t yet met a single person who loves and masters their decluttering activities easily.

The physical act of decluttering – sorting out what we no longer wish to keep and getting it out of our home – is a strenuous practical activity.

Decluttering also is mentally demanding, it often gets very emotional, and it takes time.

Thus, it’s no wonder that most people don’t feel particularly excited about the idea of decluttering their home. 

Many of us struggle to get started with decluttering.

We postpone the beginning of our declutter project(s) again and again.

And soon this procrastination is making it worse.

We begin to feel bad about not getting our stuff done, we feel guilty because we know that we are responsible and that we should do something to improve the situation in our home.

Not only the sheer size of our declutter project feels daunting.

An additional obstacle of getting started is our feeling of overwhelm and confusion about the ‘How’.

How exactly has the decluttering to be done?

Yes, there is  a lot of information available if we search the Internet for expert guidance and instructions.

But how to find the book, the podcast or blog, the course that meets our needs best?

Which decluttering technique, which approach is best suited to your personality and life situation?

We don’t need the ‘best’ decluttering solution. We just need to get started.

As soon as we get started we have conquered the biggest hurdle.

We are now actively creating change and taking control. We soon begin to see first positive results, and experiencing the effects of our work gives our motivation a boost.

We learn by doing what’s working best for us, our decision-making skills get better and better, we make real progress. Step-by-step, we get the decluttering job done!  😊

The focus of my coaching services is on mind decluttering.

But – as a former professional organiser – I love to talk about and help people with physical decluttering issues as well. 

We can use the free online coaching session to figure out how I might be able to help you solve  your mind AND HOME decluttering problems

Take the first step of your mind- (and life-) decluttering journey today.

Schedule your free Getting-Started Session

How would a clutterfree home look and feel like?

Today, I would like to invite you to a little thought experiment.

Imagine you move to a new place.

The new home has the ideal size for your personal requirements and it has all the furniture and storage space you need to organise your belongings in a useful and practical way.

However, so far you don’t have any belongings. Your new home is completely empty.

It’s your task now to bring in all and only the things that you truly love, need and use. 

On day zero you will need to buy all the things you need

  • to prepare the first dinner in your new home (groceries, drinks, glasses, dishes, cutlery, pots and pans, appliances, gadgets, table cloth, napkins, potholder, kitchen towels, etc.),
  • to enjoy the free evening time with your favourite leisure activity (a book, for example, or a TV, or your arts and crafts supplies, etc.), 
  • to get a shower and clean teeth before your go to sleep (towels, shampoo, soap, tooth brush, toothpaste, body lotion, etc.), 
  • to spend a good first night in your new bed (duvet, pillow, linen, bedside lamp, pyjamas, slippers, etc.), 
  • to get dressed the next morning (for example, a business outfit or whatever you usually wear during a normal day, a pair of shoes, a handbag or briefcase, etc.), 
  • to enjoy the first breakfast in your new home (coffee machine, mugs, breakfast groceries, etc.)

On day one you will need to add other things, for example

  • to prepare another type of dish (for example, kitchen appliances and gadgets you didn’t need the day before, additional spices, etc.),
  • to have some friends over for dinner (additional plates, glasses, cutlery, perhaps a vase, some wine or other drinks, etc.), 
  • to get your washing done (washing machine, washing powder, basket, etc.), 
  • to do some sports the next morning (for example, running shoes and clothes), 
  • to put on fresh clean clothes the following morning (a second set of clothes, perhaps another pair of shoes, etc).

On day two you add whatever else you need to add to live your life in the way you want and need to live it. 

And so on – day by day.

However – and that’s important! -,

  • You always check what you have before you buy something new. 
  • You never buy duplicates (no second pair of running shoes! no extra tubes of toothpaste even if it is on sales today!). 
  • You only buy what you directly want or need to use (no hot water bottle in summer! no wine glasses if you don’t drink alcohol! only the one book you wish to start reading today! etc.). 
  • You also don’t buy more sets of clothes than you need for an exactly defined time period (for example, two weeks). Whenever you buy an additional piece of clothing, you sort out another piece of the same category. 
  • You also follow your own strict rules with regard to things you get as a gift or inherit but don’t need/like (they have to leave your house again – immediately!). 
  • And you allow only those papers to enter your home that you need to take care of.

Can you imagine 

  • to be surrounded by only things that really and directly serve you, that you truly value by loving/using/needing them? 
  • To know exactly what you own and where you can find it?

Now come back into reality.  ☹  

Walk around your home. Then sit down in one of your rooms. Imagine how it would look like if it was a room in your new ideal clutterfree home. 

What could you do now, how could you use the next 30 minutes or so to start bringing your current home closer to the ideal version of your home?

What’s your ‘Clutter-Percentage’?

What percentage of your home is occupied by clutter? What does it cost you?

Side-effects of the clutter in our homes

In a recent post, I discussed “The negative side-effects of clutter (read more)”.

At that time, I focused mainly on all the different reasons why clutter in our home can create clutter in our mind and life: Living in a cluttered environment can be very harmful to our general well-being, mental health and social relationships.

Today, I wish to look at the negative effects clutter can have on our finances.

This is not about the money we spent for buying things which (immediately or) later became clutter. The money is gone and we can’t do anything about it. (Even if we find a buyer for clutter-items, we usually get back only a fraction of the amount we originally paid for the items.)

However, there are other clutter-related costs that are actually avoidable.

Our clutter causes financial costs on an ongoing basis.  

Have you ever thought about how much of the monthly mortgage or rent is devoted to storing your clutter?

Usually, we are completely unaware of these ‘silent’ expenses.

I have to admit that I never ever thought about our monthly clutter-storing costs.

Clutter-Awareness Exercise

The following little exercise was an eye-opener for me.

You might wish to do this exercise, too. Be prepared to get surprised.

EXERCISE: What percentage of your home is occupied by clutter?

Step 1

Walk through your home and make a list of all rooms, include closets that are separate from rooms or have special functions (such as the linen closet, the pantry, or the broom closet). Don’t forget outside areas, such as the garden shed. The garage, the attic and the basement, of course, need to be added to the list, too.

Step 2

Go into each room and estimate the percentage of space that is taken up by clutter. Include space on book shelves, space under the beds, the built-in shelves and cupboards/wardrobes. Don’t make rash estimations, take some time. Try to take a ‘stranger’s point-of-view’ – this can help to make your estimations more neutral and objective.

Write the estimated percentage behind each room on your list.

Step 3

Add up the percentages per room, then divide the sum by the number of rooms (see example below). The result is the average amount of clutter per area in your home. It’s also the percentage of the monthly mortgage or the rent that is eaten up by the clutter in your home.

My personal example:

I did the exercise and expected a very low clutter-percentage, something like 1 or 2 %. After all, I am a professional declutterer, thus my home should be a rather clutterfree!

This is my list of our rooms and the results of my clutter-percentage estimation:

  • Home office – 10 %

I have some business-related books that I no longer need, they should go. We need to declutter our folders and organise our paperwork better. My husband has lots of magazines and piles of papers that have been on his to-do list for a while.

  • Bedroom – 3 %

Our bedroom is very clear and clean. We could/should sort through the stuff on/in our bed side tables.

  • Entrance area and hallway – 15 %

We have some boxes we should clear up (winter accessorises like scarfs), also the shoe cupboard. We decluttered the book shelves recently but we still have too many travel guides we haven’t used for ages.

  • Guestroom – 3 %

It looks clear and empty but I am not sure what’s in the box under the bed.

  • Living room – 1 %

First, I wanted to assign 20 % to this room. The living room is the only room in the house where my husband and I have clutter-disagreements. For him his stereo system, the speakers and all the CDs are very valuable things – although he hasn’t used them for a very long time. (Today a portable system and Spotify do the job.) The piano is another issue. He hasn’t played it for some years but he loves and ‘needs’ it. I see it differently but our current agreement is that it’s not clutter. Thus, the 1% is correct, at the moment.

  • Bathroom – 8 %

This is my weak point – I buy toiletries too often and store too much stuff. We also have too many travel toiletry bags, filled with too much.

  • Kitchen, pantry and laundry – 10 %

We completely decluttered the kitchen and the areas next to it two years ago. I assume it’s time to do another round. However, I hope there’s not more than 10 % clutter.

  • Terrace and backyard – 3 %

There are some smaller garden tools we no longer use but otherwise it’s clear.

  • The garage – 2 %

There is some stuff that we don’t use often but we need it from time to time, it’s not clutter (golf bag, party chairs). We store some items in the garage that will go with the next council rubbish pick-up. 

My calculation: 10+3+15+3+1+8+10+3+2=55/9=6.1

The result: Our clutter-percentage is 6.1. This means that 6.1 % of our monthly rent is devoted to storing our clutter. I am not happy about this result.

My resolution: I am determined to start a declutter project. I’ll clear up the kitchen, the home office and the hallway/entrance area. I’ll finish the project before Christmas. Promise!

What about you?

Do you feel motivated to do the exercise now? Give it a try! 😊

And if you are not happy with the result – Don’t beat yourself up!

Awareness is a good thing. And it can be the first step in a change process.

Choose the room with the highest clutter-percentage and make a plan. Then start to declutter that room, step-by-step. Finish with a new estimation of the percentage. And celebrate your success.

Your sentimental items – Are they treasures? Or clutter?

Sentimental items – What do they really mean to us? 

The difference between aspirational and sentimental belongings

Most of us share the experience that it is particularly tough to make decluttering decisions with regard to these two types of belongings:

We particularly struggle to let go of aspirational and sentimental belongings.

Our aspirational belongings have to do with our future, or our former dreams of the future: They represent our current and past ambitions and aspirations, our ideas of our ideal ‘fantasy’ selves  and lives.

Our sentimental attachment to certain possessions is usually linked to our past – to previous phases in our lives and to our past identities: Sentimental belongings refer to past experiences, remind us of people who were/are important to us, keep memories of special events and accomplishments.

I shared my thoughts about aspirational belongings in a recent article (click to read).

Today I wish to discuss

Our struggle with letting go of sentimental items.

Why we ‘feel sentimental’ about some of our belongings

We all feel – more or less – emotionally attached to some (or many) of our belongings. These belongings remind us of something, usually something related to the past – they remind us of special people, eras, places, experiences, feelings in our life.

Often, sentimental items have no real use or monetary value. And in most cases, we are the only ones who appreciate and value them.

Some of us keep things from their childhood or teenager years such as stuffed animals, books or clothes, some of us have a collection of photographs and papers that remind them of important situations in their lives, some of us act as the guardians of the family heirlooms.

There is nothing wrong with these sentimental things.

If we truly value them and can easily store them in our home, there is not reason to say goodbye to them.

So, why does the expression ‘sentimental stuff’ have a slightly negative connotation?

Why do many of us feel uncomfortable when they talk about and explain the existence of their sentimental belongings? Why do we often feel we have to justify why we keep certain things?

Little Exercise – How well do you know your sentimental belongings?

Lean back for a moment and think about your home and all the things that ‘live’ there with you, all the items you have given permission to move in and to stay with you.

Imagine yourself walking through your rooms, looking at the walls and open shelves, opening cupboards, wardrobes, drawers, pulling the boxes from under the beds or behind curtains.

Now make a list of the things with emotional value that come up to your mind.

How does your list look like?

    • How many sentimental items do you remember (without getting up and checking out!)?
    • Do they all belong to one category of belongings, such as photos, images, papers, clothes, books, collections, etc.
    • Or do you have sentimental attachments to things in each of the categories?
    • Do all the things you remember refer to one special phase in your life? Are they all linked to one special person? Or one special experiences/event?
    • Or do you keep a wide variety of sentimental items linked to different phases of your past?
    • What kind of emotions do you have about the things your remember? Positive feelings? Or negative? Or neutral?
    • How much space does the sentimental stuff on the list occupy in your home?
    • Do you think your list is complete? Or do you assume there are many more things you keep for sentimental reasons but can’t remember in this moment?

Now look up from your list and evaluate the insights you gained from the little exercise.

Do you feel completely happy about the sentimental stuff in your home? Or is there a little nagging feeling now that there might be some value in having a closer look at them?

When do sentimental belongings become problematic?

There are three main reasons why sentimental items can develop into problem items and become a burden that causes feelings of overwhelm and stress:

We keep too many sentimentally charged belongings.

     It’s nice if our wedding photo on the shelf in the living room evokes a smile on our face whenever we look at it. But do we really need to keep the other 850 weeding photos in the huge box in the basement that we haven’t looked at for ages?

     Our favourite teddy bear is very successful in causing memories of our childhood and warm feelings in our stomach. But does it need 13 other stuffed friends around it?

     The vase from Auntie Mary looks really nice on the dinner table. But the three tubs with all the other vases, crockery and cutlery we inherited from her actually only collect dust and spider webs in the garage, don’t they?

We hold on to things that are not valuable to us personally.

     We never liked landscape paintings. Now we have four such paintings hanging on the walls in the guest room. They had decorated the living room of our grandparents as long as we can remember. We just didn’t dare to say ‘no’ when they moved to a small apartment and needed a new home for their paintings.

     We inherited our father’s coin collection which we actually hate. It reminds us of all the arguments our parents had whenever our father spent money for a new coin.

     We never enjoyed the endless piano lessons our parents arranged for us when we were a teenager. Now the piano sits in our living room, silently, collecting dust and causing bad feelings.

We surrounds ourselves with stuff that keeps us stuck in the past so that we are unable to enjoy our present life.

     Our mother passed away four years ago and we took all her belongings because it felt too hard to sort anything out. We still struggle to look through the stuff which occupies the guestroom and half of the basement.

     After our divorce we moved out and took along the dinner table from the old house. It’s actually too big for the new place, and it reminds us of the best and the worst times of the marriage. Often, when we sit at this big thing, we feel small and lonely. And angry.

     We always loved cooking and our kitchen is fully equipped with anything you need to prepare extraordinary meals. However, we switched to simple and easy-to-do meals many years ago and don’t need all the cooking stuff any longer. What we actually would need is more space for our arts and crafts supplies.   

How can we clear up sentimental clutter?

Asking the question ‘Why?’

This is the most helpful and effective question we can ask ourselves in any decluttering process but especially when we want to declutter sentimental stuff.

Ask yourself:

    1. Why do I keep this thing? What is the reason behind my decision?
    2. And – very important – Do I like my reason?

For example:

If you use only one of Auntie Mary’s vases but keep anther 11 vases in boxes in the attic, you could ask: Why do I keep vases I don’t like and use? If your reason is: ‘I have to. Aunt Mary was always so kind to me, I really liked her. I can’t give away her vases.’ – Ask again: ‘Why do I think I can’t give them away?’ Your next answer might be: “I’d feel guilty and bad if I gave them away.” Ask again: ‘Why would I feel guilty? Would Aunt Mary want me to feel guilty? And even if she did, is being afraid of feeling guilt a good reason to allow things to occupy space in my home and life that I don’t like and use?’

Finding answers to our ‘Why’-questions gets easier as soon as we are aware of our personal values, our goals and our visions for our life.

Choosing only sentimental items that give us positive feelings

It is important to uncover and ‘honour’ any negative feelings we have related to belongings from the past. But then we should let them go and close that chapter of our life – so that we can concentrate on the here and now.

Positive reminders of our past, on the other hand, can sometimes help us to feel positive in the present, too.

For example:

If after your divorce the wedding dress – that you keep hidden in the back of the wardrobe – makes your feel sad, or angry, you could decide to go through those feelings one more time, and then let them go – the negative feelings and the wedding dress.

The photograph of your happy face at the finishing line of the marathon last year, on the other hand, might deserve a nice frame and a special place on the shelf in your living room.

Choosing just a few special sentimental reminders and letting go of the rest

As soon as you have got a better understanding what’s truly valuable to you, you can make deliberate decisions about what you want to keep and take care of. And what you want to let go.

For example:

Knowing now better why you don’t have any interest in collecting coins and why you always hated your father’s collection, you are ready to give the collection to someone who does appreciate it. You might want to keep one coin as a reminder of your father and his enthusiasm for his hobby but you don’t need to hold on the whole set any longer.

Taking pictures as memory-keepers and letting go of the physical items

That’s often a good solution if we have so many sentimental belongings, or if want to keep reminders of our family heirlooms, or if we don’t like to let go of certain things but need to give them away because we don’t have the space to keep them.

For example:

If you have to drastically reduce the amount of personal belongings because you are going to move to a smaller place with much less storage space you might feel sad having to leave so much behind. Take a camera and walk around your current home and take pictures of anything you feel attached to but can’t take along. Then create a nice photo-book which you can keep forever and flip through whenever you wish.

Doing several rounds of sentimental decluttering

That’s a very good strategy if the idea of making let-go decisions about your sentimental stuff makes you freak out. You can avoid a panic attack by taking small steps to get through the process.

Take out some of your sentimental items, start thinking about them, without any obligation to make decisions. When you pull them out again some days later, you might notice that your feelings have slightly changed, you might feel less attached to some of the things, you might even be able to say goodbye to a few of them. Take out another set of sentimental items, and start the process again.

Spending some time with our sentimental items is a worthwhile experience – whether we finally decide to keep or to discard them – we always learn more about us, about our emotions and our values.

And that’s a good thing, isn’t it?

Why it’s so hard to declutter ‘aspirational stuff’

Clutter is a very personal issue.

We all have our own personal special clutter hotspots – those areas in our homes and those categories of belongings that accumulate the biggest amounts of stuff that actually no longer serves us.

We all define ‘clutter’ differently, which means that ‘your clutter is different to mine’ (read more).

We also struggle for different reasons to let go of useless possessions, and our decluttering strategies and solutions differ.   

However, most of us share the experience that it is particularly tough to make decluttering decisions with regard to these two types of belongings:  

We particularly struggle to let go of sentimental and aspirational belongings.

Our sentimental attachment to certain possessions is usually linked to our past – to previous phases in our lives and to our past identities: Sentimental belongings refer to past experiences, remind us of people who were/are important to us, keep memories of special events and accomplishments.

Our aspirational belongings have more to do with our future, or our former dreams of the future: They represent our current and past ambitions and aspirations, our ideas of our ideal ‘fantasy’ selves  and lives.

Today, I wish to share some thoughts about aspirational belongings – sentimental items will be discussed in another article. 

What are ‘aspirational’ items?

Aspirational items are the things that we bring into our homes because we want to

    • create and project a certain image and life style to impress others,
    • develop or improve a special capability or activity,
    • help ourselves believe that we are a certain type of person with a certain set of characteristics and abilities.

Any category of belongings can contain aspirational stuff and therefore can also contain aspirational clutter: books and papers, kitchen stuff, groceries, clothes and shoes, sports equipment, tools, arts and crafts supplies, etc.

Examples of aspirational stuff that turned into aspirational clutter:

    • We organise the transport of our grandmother’s dinner table with the 8 chairs to our home because we intend to entertain family and friends more often. However, we don’t make any changes in our social life. The dinner table is now a ‘waste paper collection centre’.
    • We decide to do start running to improve our fitness and health and buy trainers and running clothes. Our running career ends two weeks later but we keep the equipment because we truly plan to start running again, maybe next summer?
    • We dream about starting a small business and buy any book that offers advice for start-up entrepreneurs. Three years later we are very happy in our corporate job and plan the next step of our career. However, the never-read books were so expensive, it would be a waste to give them away, wouldn’t it?
    • We moved to a new place with a little backyard garden and were looking forward to realise our impressive landscaping plans. We bought and now own all the necessary equipment – but we lack the time and energy to use it. However, we can’t give up our dream of becoming a gardener, at some point in the future. That’s why we feel we have to keep all the gardening stuff. 

Why decluttering aspirational clutter is so hard

Letting go is rarely easy.

Letting go of aspirational stuff is particularly hard because it involves letting go of hopes, dreams, intentions, aspirations and ambitions.

    • We have to be willing to stop lying to ourselves, we have to admit failure.
    • We have to agree that we made some wrong decisions.
    • We have be very honest and brave to accept that some parts of our ideal fantasy selves just don’t exist.
    • We have to be willing to experience negative feelings – such as guilt or shame or disappointment – that might come up.
    • We have to invest time and thought work to find out who we really are (not who we wished we were), what’s really important to us and how we truly want to spend our time and life.

Practising self-awareness and decluttering go hand-in-hand

When we learn to get rid of excessive and useless stuff, we simultaneously learn about ourselves and what’s meaningful to us.

And when we begin to understand who we truly are and what we really want out of our life we find it increasingly easier to make decisions about what to keep in our life and what to let go.

How I decluttered my fabric painting supplies

Today I wish to use one of my own decluttering projects to demonstrate how you can successfully move through a little series of systematic steps to get a category of belongings cleared up:

Decluttering and Organising one category of belongings – Step by Step

This is an excerpt from my personal decluttering journal – the notes and photos I took when I decluttered my fabric painting stuff some months ago:

Margo’s Decluttering Journal

My fabric painting supplies have become a clutter-problem for me.

I know that I have too much stuff, and it’s not properly sorted.

This has been annoying for a while, and now it’s time to become active and to ‘clear the mess’.

Decluttering and Organising – Step by Step


A good preparation is the foundation of the success of any decluttering / organising-project.

Asking ourselves questions, giving honest answers and planning the process ensures that we exactly know where we are, why we want to make changes, where we want to go and how to get there.

Where am I now?

My fabric painting supplies are taking a lot of storage space in our guest room and in the utility room. The stuff occupies many shelves and fills boxes, bags and drawers.

Whenever I feel like starting a new project, I procrastinate and postpone, just because I know that I no longer can say where everything is and because I hate having to dig through piles of materials and tools.

How did I get there? Why?

Some time ago, I was a very active fabric painter. As a non-fiction writer I published how-to-do books for fabric-painting beginners.

I took lots of photographs to help my readers understand the techniques and processes I talked about in my books. To do so, I always stored a broad set of different painting materials and tools which I could use for different projects.

Where do I wish to go? Why?

I no longer publish fabric painting books. In future, I wish to use fabric painting as an enjoyable method to relax over the weekend.

I want my fabric-painting supplies to be well organised and I want to keep and store only those materials and tools I still like and intend to use regularly. And I wish to free up space which is currently occupied by painting stuff.

How will I get where I want to be?

I’ll now decide which fabric painting techniques I wish to apply in future, and which types of paints and tools I want to use, and also which colours I like most. Based on these decisions it will be easier to choose what I want to keep.

It is hard to sort out materials I spent so much money on, and to make it easier I want to make sure to give the out-sorted items to someone who is happy to use them.

I plan to invest about 2 hours into the decluttering process. And I want to assign all my painting stuff to one of three categories  – ‘Rubbish’, ‘Friend’, and ‘Keep”- to make the sorting process easy.


During this phase the hands-on decluttering and organising work gets done.

We take out what we have to get a comprehensive overview of our possessions, sort everything into categories, and then start making decisions about what to keep and what to give away. Finally, we organise what we decided to keep, – we arrange and store it in an easily accessible way.

Sort – What do I have and which types of categories of like items can I create?

I walk around the house and carry everything that has to do with fabric painting to a big enough working area – the floor in the living room.

Decluttering fabric painting supplies - photo 1
This looks a bit frightening! So much stuff!

Now I start creating categories.

The first category contains all types of paints. I take all paints and carry them to another area on the floor, where I assign them to sub-categories such as fabric painting markers, spray paints, etc.

Decluttering fabric painting supplies - photo 2
It’s really good to see all paints in one place! Now I know what I have.

Declutter – What do I need, use, love, and what do I want to toss?

Before I make decisions about what to keep, I check all my paints and sort those out that have dried up or got otherwise damaged and are no longer usable. These get transferred to my ‘rubbish’-labelled pile.

As I will only conduct fabric painting projects to create something for myself in future, I decide to keep only those colours that I personally like.

This helps a lot, as I can immediately assign, for example, all yellow and orange paints to the pile of supplies I’ll pass on to my friend. She is a primary school teacher and has happily agreed to take anything I want to give away.

Decluttering fabric painting supplies - photo 3
I assign every fabric-paint item to a pile: Rubbish, Friend, Keep

I realise that decluttering what I no longer want to use is much easier than I thought. In fact, I enjoy it to realise that I do have preferences and that I’m now able to restrict my paints selection to what I like.

Organise – How can I create an easily accessible place for everything?

My first idea is to place the paints directly on the shelves which will hold all my fabric painting supplies in future.

But I know that whenever I’m working on a project, I like to have a broad selection of paint colours close to me, on the working table, so that I can easily switch from one colour to another.

Thus, I decide to keep all paints of one type (e.g., all spray paints) together in one container, which I can carry wherever I wish to do a project.

Decluttering fabric painting supplies - photo 4
This looks fantastic! Only those colours of fabric paint I really like. And all organised by type of fabric paint.

I don’t need to buy new storage items because I have enough suitable containers and boxes at home.

It’s a great feeling to see everything nicely arranged and then to place the containers on the shelves!

I don’t think I have to label them: I’m the only one who uses the stuff and I (now) know what I have and where it is. And the containers don’t have a lid, I can easily pull them out and look inside.

After having decluttered and organised my fabric paints, I need a break. It took longer than I thought and I feel exhausted.

A cup of coffee later, I continue to apply the three steps – sort, declutter, organise – to the other categories of my fabric painting supplies (stamps and stencils).

The following images show, for example, how I get all my stamps sorted:

Decluttering fabric painting supplies - photo 5
Again, first I collect all the stamps and stamp-making supplies and sort them into sub-categories.
Decluttering fabric painting supplies - photo 6
Then I take each item up and decide to which pile it belongs: Rubbish, Friend, Keep.
Decluttering fabric painting supplies - photo 7
Finally, I arrange all stamp material in one container. Perfectly organised!

Then the stencils get sorted. And then – DONE!

This is my ‘after’ photo:

Decluttering fabric painting supplies - photo 8
Everything that I want to keep has a nice new home. And all the empty shelves! Extra storage room gained for other belongings.


Maintaining the order is obviously very important because we don’t want the sorted area to become messy again.

Creating and adhering to new ‘tidy’ routines and rules help. We also should ‘be on guard’ and evaluate regularly what works, and what doesn’t work and has to be adjusted.

In my case, I believe/hope that maintenance is not a big issue.

The very reduced assortment of fabric painting supplies should be easily to handle and keep in control.

But there is one rule I definitely have to adhere to: ‘Don’t buy new stuff!’ I promise myself to use up what I have and to buy, for example, new paint only when a special paint colour has been depleted.

I am very happy about the results of my project. Yes, it took longer than thought (4 hours instead of 2) and was a bit exhausting.

But now I can look forward to starting a new fabric-painting project again!

I wish you much success for your decluttering and organising projects. Enjoy the results but also the process!


Clutter Report Australia – Do you fit into the picture?

Clutter Report Australia  

As a clutterfree life coach, I am, of course, very interested in any study or report that focuses on clutter.

However, that type of information is not so easy to find. The Choosi Clutter Report 2017 is one of the rare successes of my ongoing research.

The report has been published by Choosi (an insurance comparison company) and summarises the results of a survey done by CoreData (a global market research consultancy).

CoreData surveyed 1,000 ‘typical Australians’ across the nation in October 2017 in order to explore the financial value of clutter in Australian homes.

I am not sure how representative the survey’s findings are, however, some of the research results are quite interesting.

These are some of the key findings of the clutter report:

Clutter occupies quite a lot of physical space of our homes, and the amount of our clutter has increased over the past years.
    • 54% of the survey participants estimate that they can fill half of a room or more with clutter,
    • and more than 25% say their home is more cluttered compared to five years ago.
Clutter is impacting on our health, wellbeing and relationships.
    • 25% of participants say that clutter creates stress or anxiety in their lives
    • and about 20% feel discouraged from inviting friends or family to their home because of the clutter.
    • Nearly 12% claim that clutter-related issues have even led to separation or divorce.
Proactively clearing clutter from our homes has positive impacts on our emotions.
    • The survey participants estimate that they get rid of approximately 6.8 large bin bags each year.
    • Key reasons for decluttering include feeling refreshed (49%) and happier (44%).

What are your answers to the survey’s clutter-questions?

When I was reading the report for the first time, I soon started to think about what my answers would have been to the survey questions – an interesting and self-awareness-increasing exercise.

Take a few minutes to consider your answers to these questions before you then have a look at the survey results below:

    • How much clutter do you currently have in your house? How much of a typically sized room could you most likely fill?
    • What is the total financial value of the clutter currently in your home (i.e. considering the cost of purchasing these things in the first place)?
    • How strong is the emotional/sentimental value of the clutter in your home?
    • What’s the most cluttered space currently in your home?
    • What impact does clutter have on your life?
    • What do you feel are the greatest reasons for clutter in your household?
    • What are the greatest barriers to decluttering your home?
    • What is your most valued household item?
    • How strongly do you currently desire to  declutter your home?
    • How does clearing the clutter in your home make your feel?

Now have a look at the survey results – where do you fit into the picture? 😊

How much clutter do you have in your home

What is the total financial value of the clutter in your home

How strong is the sentimental value of the clutter in your home

What is the most cluttered space in your home

What impact does clutter have on your life

What are the greatest reasons for your clutter

What are your greatest barriers to decluttering

Choose Clutter Report - what is your most valued household item

How strong is your desire to declutter

How does clearing the clutter make you feel

How to make decluttering easier – Experimenting with less

Experimenting with less – A playful way to learn more about ourselves and our relationship with our belongings

The purpose of daily-life experimentation

Experimentation – “the action or process of trying out new ideas, methods, or activities” (online dictionary) – can be very helpful if we wish to learn more about ourselves.

Creating and conducting daily-life experiments is a playful way to develop greater self-awareness and to try out new ways of behaviour or testing the effects of new ways to solve problems.

Experimenting with less

‘Living-with-less’ experiments can be very helpful when we wish to declutter our stuff but struggle to make decisions about what to keep and what to let go.

Shopping bans – Experimenting with buying less

Shopping bans, for example, are a way of temporarily experimenting with drastically changed shopping behaviours.

Do you have any experience with shopping bans?

Some time ago I imposed a 3-months-shopping-ban on myself – no spending on books and clothes for 3 months.

This is what my shopping-ban exercise taught me:

    • I appreciate more what I have and I use it with more care and attention if – for a while – nothing new is coming in.
    • A lot of my buying behaviour is directed by spontaneous shopping decisions.
    • I can break this circle of ‘automatic’ money spending if I postpone the decision for some days.
    • Often, I no longer want to have the desired item and don’t buy it, without any regret.
    • And if I decide to buy it after some days of consideration, I appreciate it more consciously and gratefully. 

The ‘Project 333’ – Experimenting with having less clothes

An even greater challenge is experimenting with a combination of ‘no shopping’ and ‘using less’ rules.

Courtney Carver introduced the minimalist fashion challenge ‘Project 333’ in 2010.

Since then, thousands of people around the world have experimented with dressing with 33 items or less for 3 months.

Click here to learn more about the ‘Project 333’: https://bemorewithless.com/project-333/

These are the rules:

    • Limit your closet to only 33 articles of clothing. All clothing, accessories, jewellery, outerwear and shoes count towards your number.
    • Exceptions include your wedding ring, underwear, sleep wear, and workout clothing.

This is the process:

    • First you get all your clothes, shoes, accessories and jewellery out.
    • Then you sort everything into the following piles: Love, Maybe, Donate, Trash.
    • Bag up the items to donate and throw out the trash.
    • Finally choose the 33 items who want to restrict yourself to for the coming 3 months.
    • Box the remaining items up and store them somewhere else in your home.

What do you think about this living-with-less experiment? Do you think it’s an eccentric or even stupid idea to restrict ourselves in this way? Do you feel it’s impossible to dress with only 33 items? Or do you consider to give it a try?

I conducted this experiment once, and I found it so useful and ‘enlightening’ that I assume I will do it again at some time in the future.  

And this is what my ‘Project 333’ taught me:

    • During the first days of the experiment, I enjoyed having a reduced range of items to choose from. It made it much easier to get dressed in the morning. 😊
    • However, after some days I realised that I had included 3 t-shirts in my selection which I actually didn’t like much. Now I had to wear them. ☹
    • I first missed my little weekend shopping trips a bit but then started to appreciate the extra time I gained for other things I like to do.

The ongoing effect of the experiment is that I learned to appreciate more what I have and I now use what I own with more care and gratitude.

I now know from experience that I need less than I thought in the past.

And I know better what I need and what I don’t need, what I like and what I don’t like. This also helps when I go shopping (which I do much less) – it now happens very rarely that I buy something I don’t need or like.

Yes, I think I’ll do this experiment again. What about you? I recommend you give it a try, especially if you are struggling with decluttering your wardrobe.

Small-steps decluttering – The benefits of 20 minutes sessions – And how to organise them

Is your decluttering task too big? Overwhelming?

If we own a lot of stuff and if most or all areas of our home are cluttered with too many things, the ideal solution would be to conduct a massive decluttering project, clearing up our home completely, and at once.

The decision to do it all in one go can become the reason why we don’t start at all.

    • If we are in an extremely busy phase of our life we might just not have the time for a decluttering project that will take several days or even weeks to get completed.
    • It could also be that we feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the decluttering task – we don’t feel able to plan and organise the work, have no idea how and where to get started. Thus, we procrastinate and postpone the project-start again and again.
    • There might be other reasons why we don’t feel physically or mentally able to go through a complex energy- and effort-demanding project.
    • Or we don’t have enough space for a big decluttering project: If our home is very small or fully packed with stuff, we might not be able to arrange the free flat working areas necessary for the sorting and organising processes.

The solution could be to give up the idea to sort it all out in one go.

We can decide to commit ourselves to conduct a series of shorter decluttering sessions over a period of weeks or even months.

The benefits of a small-steps decluttering approach

    • The small-steps decluttering approach allows you to achieve fast and visible results.
    • It’s easy to integrate the decluttering sessions into your daily life because they are short and have a clearly defined duration.
    • Scheduling the sessions as appointments in your calendar helps you to take them seriously and to develop a regular decluttering routine.
    • Regular decluttering sessions have a similar effect as regular exercises: you practice your decluttering skills and build up ‘I-can-do-it’ confidence.
    • At the end of your decluttering journey your home is – Clutterfree and Organised

How to get organised for the decluttering sessions

    • Determine the duration of the daily decluttering session. (20 minutes? Or 30?)
    • Schedule the declutter sessions as important appointments with yourself in your calendar.
    • Create a list of the rooms/areas in your home you wish to declutter and organise. (See below for suggestions)
    • Decide in which room/area of your home to start the decluttering.

How to do the decluttering sessions

Get started

    • Go to the small area that’s your first session’s focus. (See below for suggestions)
    • Take photos of the cluttered area.
    • Switch the timer on (for the duration you’ve determined for your sessions).
    • Take everything out from the chosen area and distribute all items on a flat surface (the floor, a bed, a table).

Sort and declutter

    • Sort out what’s broken or no longer usable and put it in the rubbish bin.
    • Sort what’s left into categories of like items.  (If applicable. This might not make sense when you, for example, declutter the counter top in the kitchen. It is necessary, however, if you, for example, declutter the cleaning stuff under the kitchen sink, or the underwear drawer.)
    • Sort out unnecessary duplicates.  (Directly into the rubbish bin or donation box.)
    • Sort out what no longer serves you

This is the tough part. Take everything that’s left into your hands and ask yourself: ‘Does this really serve me? Do I need, use or love it?’

If you can’t answer with a clear ‘yes’ it might be time to say goodbye to that item. Let it go. Into the rubbish bin or donation box.

    • Sort out what belongs into another room. And get it there.


    • Clean the decluttered empty space.
    • Take everything you decided to keep and place it back where it belongs.

You might wish to organise what belongs together in suitable space-dividers, such as little boxes, containers, baskets.

    • Clean your working area, get the rubbish/donations out.
    • Take photos of the decluttered area.
    • Celebrate the completion of this decluttering session!

And look forward to/plan the next session.

Areas to declutter – Some suggestions

Every home is different, and every space has its own challenges. And we declutterers are all unique, we all have our special requirements and preferences and our personal ideas how our home should look like.

Only you can decide which areas in your place need some decluttering and in which order your wish to organise the work.

Walk through your home and create a list of all those areas you wish to declutter and organise.

Some ideas to get you started with your decluttering to-do-list:

Focus on the very personal stuff

You may decide to concentrate on the very personal areas in your home first. This will let you experience the benefits of your decluttering work immediately and personally.

Examples: the content of your briefcase/handbag; the top of your dresser; the drawer with your underwear; your email inbox; the make-up drawer; etc.

Focus on open areas

It’s a good idea to focus on open areas in the beginning because you’ll see very quickly positive results of your work. This will keep your motivation up.

Examples of open areas: the top of the dresser; the top of the kitchen counter; the dinner table; the window sills; the stuff in and around the shower and the bath tub; etc.

Focus on one room

As soon as the open areas are clear and clean you could choose one room to declutter, step-by-step, over the course of the next days.

Example – the kitchen: the fridge, the freezer, one or several drawers or boxes in the pantry, the cabinet under the sink; the pet supplies/toys, one or several drawers or cupboards with the pots and pans, the cutlery, the dishes, glasses, flatware, etc; the drawer with the herbs and spices; etc.

Focus on one category

It is also possible to work on one category or sub-category of belongings at a time.

Examples: the gardening tools/equipment/supplies; the medicine cabinet; the linen closet; the shoes; the boxes/bags with the holiday decorations; the photo albums and lose photos; the hobby/craft supplies; the sports equipment; the socks;  the T-shirts;  etc.

Have you got some ideas for your small-steps decluttering sessions?

In which area in your home are you going to start the decluttering work? 

Keep the session short and easy – and have fun! 


CLICK HERE to learn from an example decluttering project

I used the small-step-decluttering approach to clear up the drawer with my office supplies.

Death Cleaning – It’s never too early to get our stuff sorted

Why we should prepare and keep easy-to-find instructions with our sentimental belongings

Some time ago, I wrote about Margareta Magnusson’s book ‘The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning‘ and about my personal experience with ‘death cleaning’ after my mother’s death.

Sorting through the belongings of a loved one is always tough and emotionally challenging.

My mother was very well organised and this made the unwanted decluttering task easier for us. However, there was one category of my mother’s belongings that we struggled to make decisions about.

We found a  collection of the letters my mother and my father had exchanged before they got married. And my mother hadn’t left any instructions or hints about how we should treat this.

Had she kept the letters just for herself so that she could read them again whenever she felt like doing so? Or had she wanted to share the letters with us, expecting us to read them now?

My sisters and I finally agreed on the assumption that she had kept the letters for herself, not for us, – and we burnt them. But even today, I still feel not completely comfortable about it, because we’ll never know for sure whether this really was what she’d have wanted us to do.

My personal set of ‘Death Cleaning’ guidelines

Based on my theoretical (Margareta’s book) and practical (sorting my mother’s belongings) learning experiences, I now follow

Three personal organising rules:

    • I take my yearly decluttering sessions even more seriously because I don’t want to burden someone else with clearing unnecessary clutter after my death.
    • I keep a permanently updated folder containing all our (my husband’s and mine) important papers and documents.
    • I have reduced the number of photos, sentimental items, and memorabilia. And I keep them all in two boxes. On top of these boxes, I placed a note: “Sentimental stuff, just important to me, you (whoever it is who has to sort out my stuff) can throw it away, without any feelings of regret or guilt”.

I think it is very human that most of us don’t like – and therefore try to avoid – considering the fact that our life will end at some point in time.

However, I do believe that we should feel responsible for the future and take care of our loved ones: We should make sure that they don’t have to ‘death clean’ for us.

I also believe that we should feel responsible for the present and take care of ourselves: Regularly sorting through our stuff can be hard work but consider the benefits for your life:

‘Death Cleaning’ (= Decluttering) can be a very positive and productive experience:

    • It’s an opportunity to learn about ourselves and our very personal values.
    • It helps us to re-focus our attention and energy towards our goals.
    • It clears our space and our mind.

Do you feel inspired now to do some ‘Death Cleaning’?

Take the first step of your mind- (and life-) decluttering journey today.

Schedule your free Getting-Started Session