Do you ever feel like you’re constantly trying to figure out what you can get rid of from your life to make more room for something else? Whether you’re looking to free up physical space in your home or something like your time, money, or mental energy, there always seems to be something hogging it up.
There never seems to be enough of these resources when we need them in any area of life. So we default to being cluttered and overwhelmed.
Well, consider this the official declutter-your-life checklist.
Throughout human history, there have been cultures, religions, philosophies, and big thinkers who have understood that 90% of everything is waste. Yet, at all times, we are surrounded by the unnecessary. This waste sucks up our limited resources, stresses us out, and leaves us overwhelmed and under-fulfilled. Therefore, reducing the extraneous and making more room for the few things that matter to us is the gateway to lasting happiness.
Below are six of the most effective ways to get rid of your unnecessary stuff and declutter your life. Together, they can show you how to declutter your life and mind.
Through these methods, you can finally give yourself the space you need in your life to live a simpler life, establish inner peace, achieve lasting success, and fill yourself up with explosive joy.
1. Minimalism – Make More Room for Your Stuff
Let’s kick off our list with one of the great juggernauts of simple living: minimalism.
While some of the later items in this list approach “decluttering your life” from a more metaphorical angle, minimalism is where we take it very literally. That is, dealing with the actual physical clutter in your home, car, office, etc.
Minimalism has been a hot topic lately (to put it lightly), with prominent personalities like Joshua Becker, Marie Kondo, and others spreading the message of creating a more peaceful and joyful life with your things.
If you’re not very familiar with minimalism yet, you may be afraid that I’m about to tell you to pick out one shirt, one bowl, and one spoon and throw out everything else you own. Well, you can relax, because it doesn’t really work that way. Of course, you will also need one pair of pants. Okay, I’m kidding.
At its core, minimalism is the belief that everything you own should meet at least one of two criteria. It should either
- Make your life significantly easier, OR
- Fill you with joy
In other words, if it’s not very useful and doesn’t make you feel happy, then why do you want it? The exciting thing about minimalism (which is also scary at first) is realizing that most of our possessions don’t make this cut.
Minimalism is not about sacrificing or giving up all your cherished things. It’s about stepping off the hedonic treadmill and making more room for the things you love most.
Try it out!
- Choose a room in your house and pick up each item in that room, one by one. Set aside the items you don’t absolutely love (or frequently use), then sell or donate them!
- Choose a category, like clothing. Put every item you own from this category in one place, and repeat the process above. It’s a great way to spot unnecessary duplicates and multiples!
- Practice digital minimalism: Open your phone or laptop, and clear out unused apps, shortcuts, files, etc. Your devices will perform better, last longer, and be much easier to use!
2. Essentialism – Declutter Your Day
Popularized by Greg McKeown in one of my favorite productivity/minimalism/happy life books ever written, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Essentialism is a relatively new addition to the conversation on reduction-based living.
It goes like this: Just like our homes accumulate clutter we don’t need that takes up too much space, our days become cluttered with unimportant activities and commitments that slow us down. This type of stuff clutters up the day and doesn’t leave nearly enough time to work on our passions, move our lives forward, or spend quality time with those we love.
In other words, essentialism is to your time as minimalism is to your space.
The world is a busy place and getting busier all the time. At any given moment, there are probably about 2,476 different things competing for your time, energy, and attention. I have encountered very few people in my life who suffered from a chronic abundance of free time. Quite the opposite is far more common.
With an essentialist mindset, you can bust through the distractions and make more room in your day for the activities that lift you and move you forward. Hack away at the distracting many to isolate the essential few. Focusing on a limited number of critical things in your day will feel like unlocking a superpower you didn’t even know you had. It all starts with learning to love the word “No.”
Try it out!
- The next time someone asks you to take on a task that would distract you from more important work, firmly but respectfully decline.
- Are you struggling to find the right words? Try this: “Thanks for asking – unfortunately, I’m not available to [come to that event/take on that project/help with that task].
- Pick something that you need to focus on, and block out a time for it on your calendar. Don’t let anything else interfere with that appointment.
- Put your phone and other notifications on “do not disturb” for a fixed period while working on a project.
3. Lean – Simplify Your Workflow
Okay, so you can use essentialism to make more room in your schedule for your most important work. But when it comes to optimizing that work itself, that’s where lean comes in.
Lean began as a methodology for streamlining manufacturing workflow and is now used all over the place as a framework for working efficiently and reducing waste. Here’s how it works:
Start by selecting a routine process or task that you often do. Next, look for a small change you can make that helps you finish that task quicker. You might:
- Store things that are used together in the same place
- Add labels to your working area to make it easier to put things away correctly
- Standardize the way you name the folders or files on your computer to make it easier to find that document you need
Implement the change, and repeat.
The lean philosophy believes that there are always more tiny improvements we can make.
With enough small changes, we can turn a 10-minute task into a 4-minute one. And then, if you do that task 10 times a day, those tiny improvements – just a few seconds at a time – can add up to a full hour each day. And that’s just by streamlining one task!
Try it out!
- Pick an activity in your routine and observe yourself doing it – which actions or movements are essential, and which ones are unnecessary?
- Make a “spaghetti map” of you completing a task at home or at work – sketch out all of the paths you walk during it. How often did you need to walk across the room to get something? How can you reduce that?
- Try “batching” an activity: Do more of it at once to reduce the cost of setting up and tearing down each time, like a meal prep Sunday!
4. Mindfulness – Declutter Your Thoughts
Now it’s time to start decluttering your inner world to make more room for peace in your mind.
Your stream of thought is likely one of the most congested and overcrowded areas in your life. Meditating for a few minutes a day can have numerous short-term and long-term benefits. If you’re like many others and feel that your head is the most crowded area in your life, this could be the key to slowing things down and growing your ability to sort out your thoughts and make more room for you.
If meditation isn’t your thing, there are many other mindfulness techniques and practices you can use to help your mind to feel a little less crowded.
For instance, you can work small pauses into your day to practice awareness. During each break, notice your surroundings, what you’re thinking about, and how you’re feeling. Another option is to try breathing exercises, like the 4-7-8: inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 7, and then exhale for 8 seconds. Repeat a few times. This practice sends a signal to the emotional parts of your brain to cool off, reset, and re-center.
Try it out!
- Add a 5-10 minute meditation habit to your daily routine.
- Stop for a minute at different points during the day to take stock of your thoughts and emotions. There is no need for judgment. Simply practice noticing.
- Slow down your thinking and break out of an emotional loop with a few rounds of 4-7-8 breathing.
5. Frugal Living – Make More Room for Your Money
If there is one way to improve your money situation and achieve financial freedom, it is to increase how much money you save. And if there’s one way to increase how well you save, it’s thinking like a saver.
Savers do everything they can to maximize their value out of every dollar they spend. Keeping expenses as lean as possible is the key to making room to save more. And when it comes to an abundant life with money, there is no better defense against problems or fuel for goals than a strong saving muscle.
Minimalists and essentialists build up their strength to say “no” to items and activities that aren’t fulfilling them. Minimalists save the resource of physical space for things they love and use. Essentialists save time for activities they love and that support their goals. The same is true for good savers and the resource of capital. They build up their strength to say “no” to certain expenses to save their funds and accomplish goals that move them forward.
Practice walking away from expenses that are not useful and will not bring you lasting joy. Instead, make room in your budget to build the future you want.
Try it out!
- Sign up for a free money-tracking app like Mint and look at a breakdown of your monthly spending. Where is it all going? What can you slim down?
- Try a “challenge month”: Pick a category of your budget, like groceries, bars, or clothing, and for one month, spend as little as humanly possible in that category. What insights did you gain? What can you take with you back to your regular budget?
- Next time you choose NOT to spend on something, celebrate yourself! Don’t worry about the “sacrifice” of not getting a new thing. Focus instead on the joy of paying yourself instead of someone else!
6. Energize Yourself – Make More Room for Joy
Are the pieces of your day giving you energy, jazzing you up? Or are they wearing you out, knocking you down, and leaving you with nothing? Spending time with people we love, getting good exercise, and doing challenging work that excites us are all things that can fill up our tanks. This energy keeps us moving to take on more of life. On the other hand, jobs we hate, people who bring us down, and monotonous routines leave us drained.
Take an active role in adding sources of energy to your life. Letting life drain your energy creates a downward spiral of complacency and fatigue. That fatigue takes up space in your day. And it holds you back from getting out there and getting after it!
What’s slowing you down right now? What’s propelling you? Building a life that gets you juiced up gives you the energy to keep growing and exploring. As a result, you’ll be able to spend fewer hours collapsed on the couch and more hours driving yourself further into a cycle of positivity.
Try it out!
- Spend a day asking yourself for each activity, “Is this building me up, or is this draining me?” – look for ways to reduce or remove the negative ones and fuel the positive ones.
- Make sure you’re moving around enough! Exercise is enormous for all areas of happiness and has a counterintuitive tendency to give people more energy, not less.
- If you’re introverted, make sure you’re getting some time to be alone in your own space during the day. Instead, if you’re extroverted, make sure you’re getting some time during your day to be around others you enjoy.
In each of these areas and many others, there are opportunities for you to do less. Try some of these tips to see if you can cut back on waste in these areas to make room in your life. Relish the newfound space you’ve made for what you love, what fulfills you, and what propels you toward your goals.