There are many excellent reasons to declutter, most of which boil down to this: living in decluttered, orderly spaces are good for our mental well-being as well as our physical health. And there is science to back this conclusion!
When it comes time to declutter, though, it can feel overwhelming just to think about dealing with a houseful of stuff. Many people begin a decluttering project only to abandon it midway because of the emotional and physical toll it takes.
The question I hear most often from people who want to declutter, but are a bit afraid to start, is “How do I make sure I won’t regret getting rid of something?”
My 5 Key Principles For Successful Decluttering (Without Regret), which I call my CLEAR Framework, are not a step-by-step guide to the physical act of decluttering; instead, these principles will guide how to approach decluttering so that it’s no longer emotionally taxing and won’t cause you regret!
The C.L.E.A.R. Framework: 5 Key Principles For Successful Decluttering Without Regret
Follow my C.L.E.A.R. Framework, which stands for:
1. Clarify how you want your home to look and feel before you begin. Then come up with the first tiny step forward.
You know how elite athletes use visualization to mentally rehearse their performance to achieve better results?
Well, I’ve found that if you have a clear picture in your mind of what your decluttered space will look and feel like, you’re more likely to push through the most challenging phases of decluttering to achieve your goal. So get clear on that look and feeling before you begin!
But that’s not the ultimate key to success. You also need to identify the first micro-step to get started, and that will give you a quick win, so that you stay motivated. Without these tiny steps forward, you’re more likely to give up.
Why? Think about a smoker trying to quit. Of course the picture in her mind, the thing she envisions, is her without feeling the urge to smoke.
But having that vision alone won’t get her to stop smoking. Starting tiny (I won’t smoke until 9am) will give her a win, and she can look forward to more small wins until she achieves her final goal.
The same applies for your organizing project. Go ahead and clarify the ultimate look you want for your space, and how you want to feel when you’re in that space. Then, clarify the first tiny step you need to take in that direction.
[This is the Stepladder concept that Sean Young writes about in his book Stick with It. If you’re interested in the nitty gritty of the psychology and the research studies behind this concept, take a look at his book.]
2. Limit what you own to no more than what can be comfortably stored in your space – and then strive for even less than that.
Homes become cluttered simply because we’ve acquired more stuff that can comfortably fit within their walls.
The single most powerful strategy to limit your possessions to match your space is mindful consumption.
Each and every time you’re thinking about bringing something into your home, whether purchased or gifted, think about why you want it, and if it’s worth the space and energy it will take up in your home. (More clutter=more stress)
What exactly does “comfortably stored” mean? It means easy in-easy out. You should be able to take something out of its storage spot easily, use it, and then put it back easily.
3. Edit your possessions by choosing what you need and love, not what to get rid of.
The fear of regretting getting rid of something holds many people back from decluttering. Most people will start decluttering by looking at their possessions and deciding what they should get rid of.
The reason this doesn’t work is that we intrinsically place a high value on things we already own, no matter what their real value may be (it’s called the endowment effect).
So, you may own 5 blue shirts, and in trying to declutter, you try to convince yourself that you should get rid of 3 of them. But you spent good money on them! What if one gets a stain? And what if you lose a button on one, and don’t have time yet to repair it? What if one looks really good with those jeans, and so maybe you should hang on to it? Each of the shirts has a value to you, and so it’s difficult, and for some people, impossible, to make a decision. So, they give up, and keep all 5 shirts.
I’ve found that a better approach is to choose what you need and love instead.
Just a little twist in the questions we ask when decluttering makes the decision-making process easier, clearer, and minimizes regret later on. “Which of these blue shirts do I love? Which ones do I really need?” Once you answer these questions, it’s an easy thing to release the shirts you don’t love or need.
By the way, if you continue to be hung up on “What If”, try asking yourself “Does it fit in my future life?” Think about the visualization you did in Principle 1 above (Clarify). Do you see yourself using or enjoying the item in that vision of your home and your life after you’ve decluttered and organized?
4. Assign a home to everything you’re keeping: display it, or use it.
Everything you own must have a home.
If you’re displaying something (your aunt’s teapot collection, your daughter’s Lego Death Star), that’s its home.
“Storage” is a home, but a temporary one. Everything that’s in storage must be used at some point during the year. (Remember Principle 3 above: choose to keep only what you need and love, and remove “what if” from the equation.)
5. Review often.
Keep mindful consumption top of mind, and review what you have in your home often.
You’ll find that after decluttering and organizing, reviewing your possessions will become second-nature. Each time you open your closet door, or walk into the play room, you’ll find yourself thinking whether these things are loved or needed!
And ultimately, the amount of stuff that you own will decrease, along with your stress level as you live in your space.
Use my 5 Key Principles for Successful Decluttering to practice decluttering without regret, which I call my CLEAR Framework:
- CLARIFY how you want your home to look and feel before you begin. Then clarify your first tiny step forward for a quick win.
- LIMIT what you own to no more than what can be comfortably stored in your space.
- EDIT your possessions by choosing what you need and love, not what to get rid of.
- ASSIGN a home to everything you’re keeping: display it, or use it.
- REVIEW often, keeping mindful consumption top-of-mind.